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Netanyahu meeting with Likud MKs over government positions

PM set to hand at least 12 portfolios to members of his party following Knesset vote to remove limit on number of ministers in cabinet

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset, May 4, 2015. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset, May 4, 2015. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
  • ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda (CC BY-SA 3.0, Max Koot Studio/Wikimedia)
    ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda (CC BY-SA 3.0, Max Koot Studio/Wikimedia)
  • The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands (Vincent van Zeijst/Wikimedia Commons/File)
    The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands (Vincent van Zeijst/Wikimedia Commons/File)
  • President Barack Obama shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Wednesday, May 13, 2015 (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
    President Barack Obama shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Wednesday, May 13, 2015 (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
  • Gilad Erdan of the Likud party, Tel Aviv, February 16, 2015 (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
    Gilad Erdan of the Likud party, Tel Aviv, February 16, 2015 (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
  • Illustrative photo: This image, from a video posted on September 18, 2013, shows Syrians in protective suits and gas masks conducting a drill on how to treat casualties of a chemical weapons attack, in Aleppo, Syria. (AP)
    Illustrative photo: This image, from a video posted on September 18, 2013, shows Syrians in protective suits and gas masks conducting a drill on how to treat casualties of a chemical weapons attack, in Aleppo, Syria. (AP)

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

IDF tank overturns in Golan, none injured

The IDF halts training activity in the Golan Heights after a tank overturned during a routine maneuver. No soldiers are reported injured, according to Israel Radio.

Assad’s army takes control of strategic region

Hezbollah fighters and Syrian army forces reportedly defeat rebels opposed to President Bashar Assad in a battle to take control of large areas in the strategic Kalamon mountain region, along the Syrian-Lebanese border, according to Haaretz.

Lebanese media reports continued heavy artillery shelling in the area.

Government releases policy guidelines

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s newly formed government releases its official policy guidelines. The document states that the government will enshrine Israel’s status as a Jewish state, while at the same time protecting minority rights in the country.

The guidelines also include a commitment to advance peace negotiations with the Palestinians, though no official mention of the two-state solution is present in the document.

The document adds that the government will work to lower the cost of living in the country, develop struggling communities and cities in Israel’s north and south, and place a special emphasis on encouraging Jewish emigration from abroad to the state.

Amir Peretz accidentally votes with Netanyahu

Zionist Union MK Amir Peretz, whose party vehemently opposes the advancement of Netanyahu’s bill to expand the cabinet, accidentally votes with the coalition.

MK Amir Peretz  on November 10, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

MK Amir Peretz on November 10, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Realizing his mistake moments later, Peretz approaches the Knesset plenum and urgently requests that his vote be changed. After several seconds of deliberations, the Knesset speaker accepts Peretz’s request.

Police chief calls for rethink of drug policy

Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino says Israeli authorities should reexamine their position on the illegality of soft drug usage, and consider decriminalizing marijuana possession.

Speaking at a school in Beit Shemesh, Danino says he has noticed an increase in public calls to legalize the use of cannabis and other drugs.

Israel Police Chief Yohanan Danino. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel Police Chief Yohanan Danino. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“I think it is time that the Israeli police, together with the State of Israel, check and reconsider their traditional position on the matter,” he says. “I think we should sit down and study what happened [when marijuana possession was decriminalized] in other locations across the world.”

Breakthrough in car ramming attack probe

The Shin Bet security service and police report that they have reached a major breakthrough in the investigation of a car ramming attack in Jerusalem late last month, suggesting that a suspect from the West Bank refugee camp of Shuafat near the capital had admitted to carrying out the act.

The suspect, 31-year-old Fadi Salah, was arrested one day after the April 25 attack, and was later transferred to Jerusalem police’s Central Unit offices for questioning.

Four police officers were injured in the attack, which occurred on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem.

PM caught reading Kissinger book in Knesset

Political blogger Tal Schneider uploads a post to Facebook showing an image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reading a book by former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger during a Knesset debate.

The book, “World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History,” is a summation of Kissinger’s “thinking about history, strategy and statecraft,” according to a review on Amazon.

Bill to expand cabinet passes final vote

Netanyahu’s Knesset bill allowing him to appoint more than 18 ministers — currently the limit — to his cabinet, becomes law after the government approves the third reading of the measure by a slim majority of 61-59, with MKs voting along coalition-opposition lines.

Netanyahu has said he seeks to increase the cabinet by two ministers and four deputy ministers. An amendment to a constitutional law (passed in the last government) that capped the number of government ministers at 18, and outlawed the institution of ministers without portfolio, has prevented him from doing so.

Likud members will be competing for at least 12 portfolios, among them the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Public Security, Communications, Culture and Sports, Immigration and Absorption, Intelligence, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water, Tourism, Transportation and Road Safety, Welfare and Social Services, Strategic Affairs and Home Front Defense.

Foreign Ministry snubs ICC on Gaza probe

Foreign Ministry officials dismiss a warning by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court that said if Israel doesn’t provide reliable information for a preliminary probe into possible war crimes in Palestinian territories, the court may be forced to decide whether to launch a full-scale investigation based on Palestinian allegations.

“The International Court has no jurisdiction in this case, among other reasons, due to the fact that Palestine is not a state,” the Foreign Ministry says, according to Ynet.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda (photo credit: CC BY-SA 3.0, Max Koot Studio/Wikimedia)

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda (photo credit: CC BY-SA 3.0, Max Koot Studio/Wikimedia)

“We hope that the court will not allow the abuse of its resources in order to advance an unfounded, cynical appeal with political motives behind it. The advancement of such a move will harm both the credibility of the institution and the chances to hold dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians,” the Israeli officials add.

Fatou Bensouda said in an interview with The Associated Press that she hasn’t received any information yet from either side regarding last summer’s Gaza war and urged Israel and the Palestinians to provide information to her.

The Palestinians accepted the court’s jurisdiction in mid-January and officially joined the ICC on April 1 in hopes of prosecuting Israel for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Gaza conflict, so they are certain to provide Bensouda with information. Israel, however, has denounced the Palestinian action as “scandalous,” with Netanyahu warning that it turns the ICC “into part of the problem and not part of the solution.”

Roadside bomb kills 7 in Sinai

Two bomb attacks kill three civilians and four Egyptian soldier in the Sinai Peninsula where Egyptian forces are fighting an Islamist insurgency, police and medics say.

Jihadists regularly attack security forces in the region in retaliation for a bloody crackdown on supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.

Three passersby were killed when a roadside bomb went off south of the town of Rafah, which borders the Palestinian Gaza Strip, a police officer says. In a separate incident, two officers and two soldiers were killed in a bomb blast during a search operation in the city, security officials say.

The area is a bastion of the jihadist group Sinai Province, formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis.

The organization has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, which has captured swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria.

An Egyptian army watchtower on the Rafah border with the Gaza Strip, July 2013. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

An Egyptian army watchtower on the Rafah border with the Gaza Strip, July 2013. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Officials say hundreds of Egyptian policemen and soldiers have been killed in jihadist attacks, including in Cairo, since the army overthrew Morsi in 2013.

A police crackdown targeting Morsi supporters, meanwhile, has left more than 1,400 people dead and thousands imprisoned.

Hundreds have also been sentenced to death after speedy mass trials, which the United Nations says is “unprecedented in recent history.”

– AFP

Peres kicks off soccer event for peace

Around 400 Israeli and Palestinian children gather to play in the opening game of a soccer event hosted by former president Shimon Peres and the staff of The Peres Center for Peace. The kids line up against a team of ambassadors from several countries and against a squad of all-star Israeli players, conveying a message of peace and tolerance.

“The ball belongs to everyone. Today I see you as ambassadors of peace. I call on FIFA to use this crisis to promote peace and not to deepen the rift. A day will come in which there will be an end to the battlefields and a flowering of the football field. You, the participants, are a symbol of peace and hope for the future,” Peres tells the children and the participating teams ahead of the first match.

Shimon Peres with the Peace Ambassadors team (photo credit: the Peres Center for Peace)

Shimon Peres with the Peace Ambassadors team (photo credit: the Peres Center for Peace)

At the event, the chairman of the Israeli Football Association, Ofer Eini, also calls on Palestinian officials to help advance peace by encouraging joint Arab-Jewish soccer games.

“I encourage the head of the Palestinian Association, Jibril Rajoub, to join us in action to bring the peoples together. Let’s talk, let’s play football,” he says.

The event is supported by Coca-Cola, Adidas, the Israeli Football Association and numerous other organizations.

Syria official seen with Assad after arrest claim

Syria’s security services chief Ali Mamlouk attends a meeting between President Bashar Assad and an Iranian official, after a newspaper claimed he was under house arrest for plotting a coup.

Mamlouk’s presence at the meeting, reported by the official news agency SANA, comes after Britain’s Telegraph newspaper said the top regime official had been sidelined.

SANA says Mamlouk was among the attendees at the meeting between Assad and the head of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, Alaedin Boroujerdi.

The news agency and the official social media accounts of the Syrian presidency also publish a photo of the meeting, showing Mamlouk in attendance and seated next to Assad.

The Telegraph had reported on Monday that Mamlouk, who heads the powerful National Security Bureau, was under house arrest after being accused of contacting countries that back Syria’s opposition, as well as exiled members of the Syrian regime.

It is almost unheard of for Syrian media to report on Mamlouk’s activities and publish photos of him, suggesting his presence was a direct rebuttal of the claims of his arrest.

Mamlouk’s presence at the meeting also appeared particularly symbolic as the Telegraph had said Mamlouk was angry about the growing influence of Iran in Syria.

Tehran is a key ally of Assad’s embattled regime, and has dispatched military advisers to guide his forces against an uprising that began in March 2011.

— AFP

Demolition of historical sites called war crime

The chief of the UN education and culture organization UNESCO says the destruction and looting of archaeological sites in the Middle East must be condemned as a “war crime.”

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova of Bulgaria also tells a conference that opened in Egypt on Wednesday that the theft and destruction of antiquities in the region was a “tactic of war” designed to terrify populations, finance criminal activities and spread hatred.

People observe ancient artifacts at the Iraqi National Museum on March 15, 2015 after its reopening in the wake of the recent destruction of Assyrian archaeological sites by the Islamic State group in Mosul, as they visit the museum in Baghdad. (Photo credit: Karim Kadim, AP)

People observe ancient artifacts at the Iraqi National Museum on March 15, 2015 after its reopening in the wake of the recent destruction of Assyrian archaeological sites by the Islamic State group in Mosul, as they visit the museum in Baghdad. (Photo credit: Karim Kadim, AP)

The two-day conference is being held in response to the destruction of ancient temples and artifacts in Iraq by the extremist Islamic State group as well as the looting and smuggling of antiquities in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Libya.

A total of 10 Arab nations are represented in the conference.

– AP

Knesset secretary alleges fake voting by MKs

The secretary of the Knesset complains that several MKs voted in place of fellow legislators who were not present during the deliberations on a bill to expand the cabinet.

Voting fraud in the Israeli parliament is a criminal offense.

According to Channel 1’s Knesset reporter Daniel Ofir, Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova was not present during the vote, and a different lawmaker voted in her place.

Vatican treaty recognizes ‘state of Palestine’

The Vatican officially recognizes the state of Palestine in a new treaty.

The treaty, which was finalized today but still has to be signed, makes clear that the Holy See has switched its diplomatic relations from the Palestinian Liberation Organization to the state of Palestine.

The Vatican welcomed the decision by the UN General Assembly in 2012 to recognize a Palestinian state. But the treaty is the first legal document negotiated between the Holy See and the Palestinian state and constitutes an official recognition.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is due to see Pope Francis on Saturday before the canonization of two new saints from the Holy Land a day later.

— AP

Israel pans Vatican decision on Palestine

The Foreign Ministry says it is “disappointed” by the Vatican’s decision to officially recognize the state of Palestine.

“We’re disappointed by the decision taken by the Holy See,” a Foreign Ministry spokesperson tells The Times of Israel. “We believe that such a decision is not conducive to bringing the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.”

The spokesperson says the ministry will study the treaty and consider its steps.

— Raphael Ahren contributed

Fire breaks out in northern town of Birya

Police evacuate a number of residents from their homes in the northern town of Birya, near Safed, after a fire breaks out in the area. Firefighters are working to extinguish the flames.

No injuries are reported.

Traces of chemical weapons at Syrian site

Officials from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons informed the US government several months ago that Syrian President Bashar Assad still likely possessed numerous chemical weapons and hazardous agents, including sarin gas, according to a report in Bloomberg Wednesday.

Inspectors from the monitor group found traces of two banned chemical weapons during a search through the Syrian government’s Scientific Studies and Research Center in the district of Barzeh near Damascus earlier this year, officials from the Obama administration told Bloomberg.

This image, made from a video posted on September 18, 2013, shows Syrians in protective suits and gas masks conducting a drill on how to treat casualties of a chemical weapons attack, in Aleppo, Syria (photo credit: AP)

This image, made from a video posted on September 18, 2013, shows Syrians in protective suits and gas masks conducting a drill on how to treat casualties of a chemical weapons attack, in Aleppo, Syria (photo credit: AP)

Rebels linked to Islamic extremists have been launching attacks on the Syrian government controlled-area around the facility in recent weeks, raising fears that the chemical weapons may fall into the hands of jihadists.

A report by Reuters on May 8 stated that OPCW inspectors also found traces of sarin and VX nerve agent at the site in separate inspections in December and January.

US President Barack Obama is said to have not yet decided how to respond to the report by the weapons monitor group.

IS makes gains in Syria’s central province

Syrian activists say the Islamic State group has seized more territory in the central province of Homs amid intense clashes with government forces.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory says Wednesday’s fighting killed at least 28 government troops and about 20 extremists. It says hundreds were wounded.

The Islamic State has a presence in the eastern countryside of Homs and has been pushing west. Twitter accounts affiliated with IS say its fighters reported advances northwest of the city of Palmyra.

Buildings damaged by Syrian government airstrikes and shelling, in the Jouret al-Chiyah neighborhood of Homs, Syria, July, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Lens Young Homsi)

Buildings damaged by Syrian government airstrikes and shelling, in the Jouret al-Chiyah neighborhood of Homs, Syria, July, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Lens Young Homsi)

An activist based in Homs, Bebars al-Talawy, says the Islamic State seized a large government ammunition warehouse outside Palmyra and was bombing a nearby government-controlled airport.

Al-Talawy says the extremists took advantage of government redeployment on Tuesday to Idlib province where troops are fighting to regain territory seized by rebels.

— AP

Iraq says airstrike kills senior IS commander

The Iraqi Defense Ministry says a senior Islamic State commander has been killed in a US-led airstrike in country’s north. While the US-led coalition says it carried out a strike there in the last 24 hours, American officials could not be immediately reached about the statement by Iraq, which has made incorrect claims before.

The Defense Ministry statement says the strike killed Abu Alaa al-Afari and others in Tal Afar.

A Defense Ministry official told The Associated Press that the airstrike late Tuesday hit a mosque. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to journalists.

The US-led coalition said Wednesday it carried out a strike in the past day near Tal Afar, destroying a “militant fighting position and a heavy machine gun.”

— AP

Israeli medical delegation flies to Nepal

A Magen David Adom emergency services delegation flies to Nepal in order to evacuate four Israeli babies born to surrogate mothers in Kathmandu after a 7.3-magnitude earthquake shook the region Tuesday.

A newborn baby in a neonatal facility put up by IsraAID in Kathmandu on May 12, 2015. (photo credit: Courtesy IsraAID)

A newborn baby in a neonatal facility put up by IsraAID in Kathmandu on May 12, 2015. (photo credit: Courtesy IsraAID)

Citing harsh conditions in the Himalayan country and the newborns’ fragile state, parents of the babies who were waiting in a car outside a Kathmandu field hospital appealed to the Israeli government to help bring their children to Israel as quickly as possible.

The earthquake struck near the Chinese border between the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu and Mount Everest early Tuesday afternoon, 17 days after another powerful quake left more than 8,000 people dead in the country.

Authorities in Nepal said Tuesday that at least 48 people were killed and more than 1,100 injured, while 17 people also died across the border in northern India.

The earthquake also brought fresh terror to a traumatized Nepal around noon on Tuesday as buildings already damaged in the monster quake last month came tumbling down.

New government to be sworn in Thursday

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s fourth government will be sworn in Thursday at 7 p.m., according to Channel 2, following the Knesset’s 61-59 vote to remove the limit on the number of ministers in the cabinet.

The narrow win for the bill was the coalition’s first significant victory in parliament, highlighting the difficulties that may come for a coalition of 61 out of a total of 120 Knesset members.

The prime minister says he wants to form a cabinet with 20 ministers to allow representation for all five parties in his coalition.

Likud members will be competing for at least 12 portfolios, among them the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Public Security, Communications, Culture and Sports, Immigration and Absorption, Intelligence, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water, Tourism, Transportation and Road Safety, Welfare and Social Services, Strategic Affairs and Home Front Defense.

Obama holds White House talks with Saudi leaders

President Obama welcomes Saudi Arabian leaders to the White House for discussions on his overtures to Iran.

Obama meets in the Oval Office with the Saudi crown prince and deputy crown prince. The president says the US and the Saudis are building on a strong relationship “during a very challenging time.”

He adds that they will discuss the situation in Yemen as well as broader issues for the gulf region.

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Wednesday, May 13, 2015 (photo credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Wednesday, May 13, 2015 (photo credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

The Saudi officials are representing the kingdom in Washington after King Salman announced that he no longer would make the trip.

Later Wednesday, leaders from other Gulf nations will join Obama and the Saudis for a dinner at the White House. They’ll head to Camp David Thursday for broader talks on Iran and regional security.

— AP

Officer who beat Ethiopian-Israeli disciplined

One of the police officers who was filmed beating an Ethiopian-Israeli IDF soldier earlier this month was summoned to a disciplinary hearing, Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino says.

The beating of Damas Pakada at the hands of two officers set off a series of violent protests in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Video footage showing policemen pummeling an Ethiopian-born IDF soldier, Damas Pakada, who alleged he was the target of a racist attack. (screen capture: YouTube)

Video footage showing policemen pummeling an Ethiopian-born IDF soldier, Damas Pakada, who alleged he was the target of a racist attack. (screen capture: YouTube)

An amateur video published following the beating showed two policemen pummeling a uniformed Pakada in an apparently unprovoked attack. The incident became a rallying cry for members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, who allege ongoing discrimination and racism against them.

More than 135,000 Jews of Ethiopian descent live in Israel, many of them having immigrated in two waves in 1984 and 1991. But they have struggled to integrate into Israeli society among lingering accusations of institutional discrimination.

PM to meet with Likud MKs ahead of portfolio handings

Prime Minister Netanyahu will hold a series of evening meetings with Likud Knesset members in order to inform them whether or not they will receive one of at least 12 government portfolios, after the Knesset earlier today approved a measure to remove the limit on the number of ministers allowed to serve in the cabinet.

Netanyahu has said he seeks to increase the cabinet by two ministers and four deputy ministers. An amendment to a constitutional law (passed in the last government) that capped the number of government ministers at 18, and outlawed the institution of ministers without portfolio, has prevented him from doing so.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s fourth government will be sworn in Thursday at 7 p.m., according to Channel 2.

Likud members will be competing for at least 12 portfolios, among them the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Public Security, Communications, Culture and Sports, Immigration and Absorption, Intelligence, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water, Tourism, Transportation and Road Safety, Welfare and Social Services, Strategic Affairs and Home Front Defense.

Yisrael Katz will likely remain in his position of transportation minister, Yariv Levin is assumed to be appointed as tourism minister, and Ze’ev Elkin as immigration and absorption minister. Miri Regev, Tzahi Hanegbi, Gila Gamliel and Ofir Akunis are also expected to head ministries but it is not yet clear which ones. Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports have surfaced claiming that Likud strongman Gilad Erdan may not be appointed as a minister in the new government.

Under coalition deals with his respective partners, Netanyahu agreed to hand over the finance, environmental protection, and housing and construction portfolios, as well as the leadership of the Israel Land Administration to the Kulanu party.

The Economy Ministry, the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, the post of deputy finance minister and the chairmanship of the Knesset Education Committee will go Shas, while the education, justice and agriculture ministries will go to Jewish Home.

UTJ’s Yaakov Litzman will be appointed deputy health minister, MK Meir Porush will be appointed deputy education minister and MK Moshe Gafni will head the powerful Knesset Finance Committee.

Ex-Lebanese minister convicted in bombing plot

A military court convicts a former Lebanese minister on charges of plotting a wave of bombings at Syria’s behest, sentencing him to four-and-a-half years in prison.

Lebanon’s state-run news agency says the court also stripped former Information Minister Michel Samaha of his civil rights in its verdict, issued Wednesday.

Last month, Samaha confessed to transporting explosives into Lebanon in collaboration with Syrian intelligence.

Former Lebanese intelligence minister Michel Samaha (photo credit: Image capture from YouTube video)

Former Lebanese intelligence minister Michel Samaha (photo credit: Image capture from YouTube video)

Lebanon, a country plagued by decades of strife, has been on edge since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad broke out in March 2011.

The 2012 arrest of Samaha, a close ally of Assad, and his indictment a year later dealt an embarrassing blow to Syria, which has long acted with impunity in Lebanon.

Khamenei says groups in Syria serve Israeli interests

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says the presence of Islamist extremist groups in Syria and Iraq serves Israeli interests, according to the Iranian PressTV news site. Khamenei does not elaborate any further.

He adds that “enemies” are attempting to “destabilize Syria” and “wreak havoc” on the region as a whole.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, June 4, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/HO/Iranian Supreme Leader's website)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, June 4, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/HO/Iranian Supreme Leader’s website)

 

Anti-drug authority chairman criticizes Danino

Zvi Hendel, the chairman of the Israel Anti-Drug Authority, criticizes Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino after the latter urged a rethinking of the drug policies in the country, specifically with regard to the use of marijuana.

“This kind of statement is not supposed to come from a law enforcement officer, all the more so from the Police Commissioner,” Hendel says, according to Ynet.

“Marijuana is a dangerous drug which significantly harms its users, especially teenagers and young adults up to the age of 25, the age at which the body and especially the brain is still in the developmental process,” he concludes.

Likud MK Erdan mulling not joining government

Likud strongman Gilad Erdan is considering not joining Prime Minister Netanyahu’s fourth government, according to a Channel 2 report, after the Israeli leader indicated that he might not appoint Erdan as a minister in the future cabinet.

Netanyahu is now holding a meeting with Erdan, who served as interior minister in the former government, as part of a series of evening meetings with Likud Knesset members.

Netanyahu is set to inform his party members whether or not they will receive one of at least 12 government portfolios, following the Knesset’s approval earlier today of a measure to remove the limit on the number of ministers allowed to serve in the cabinet.

Gilad Erdan of the Likud party, Tel Aviv, February 16, 2015 (photo credit: Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Gilad Erdan of the Likud party, Tel Aviv, February 16, 2015 (photo credit: Gili Yaari/Flash90)

The ministries for Likud members up for grabs include Foreign Affairs, Public Security, Communications, Culture and Sports, Immigration and Absorption, Intelligence, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water, Tourism, Transportation and Road Safety, Welfare and Social Services, Strategic Affairs and Home Front Defense.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s fourth government will be sworn in Thursday at 7 p.m., according to Channel 2.

IDF official says Hezbollah stockpiling weapons

A senior Israeli military intelligence official says the Iranian-backed terrorist Hezbollah group is building up a massive arsenal of weapons in neighboring Lebanon.

The officials say Hezbollah now has about 100,000 rockets that can hit central Israel and hundreds that can reach the whole country, most of them brought in from Syria, and originating either in Iran or from among Syrian army stocks.

A Hezbollah fighter stands behind an empty rocket launcher on May 22, 2010 (illustrative photo credit: AP/Hussein Malla)

A Hezbollah fighter stands behind an empty rocket launcher on May 22, 2010 (illustrative photo credit: AP/Hussein Malla)

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Israeli intelligence that has not been made public.

The last time Israel and Hezbollah fought a war was in 2006, when they battled to a stalemate. Both sides have mostly avoided any direct confrontation since a UN brokered cease-fire ended the fighting, but there has been some sporadic violence.

— AP

5 arrested for hurling Molotov cocktails

Police arrest five Palestinians suspected of hurling Molotov cocktails near the West Bank city of Bethlehem last month. The suspects reportedly incriminated each other during their investigation, according to Ynet.

3 alleged car thieves arrested in West Bank

Three Palestinian from the West Bank village of Ni’lin are arrested on suspicion they had threatened drivers and stole their vehicles. The three were apprehended following an extensive police operation, Ynet reports.

Jewish executive among missing after Amtrak crash

Rachel Jacobs, a 39-year-old mother of a 2-year-old, is still missing in the wake of an Amtrak train derailment near Port Richmond, Pennsylvania, an accident that killed at least seven people and injured more than 200 others.

Jacobs, who was recently hired as the CEO of ApprenNet, an online education start-up based in the University City section of West Philadelphia, apparently drew inspiration for her early nonprofit work from her Jewish roots.

Rachel Jacobs (r), with her husband and 2-year-old child. Jacobs is still missing after the train accident that killed at least six people and injured more than 200 others on May 12, 2015. (photo credit: JTA/Facebook)

Rachel Jacobs (r), with her husband and 2-year-old child. Jacobs is still missing after the train accident that killed at least six people and injured more than 200 others on May 12, 2015. (photo credit: JTA/Facebook)

Jacobs, who grew up in the Detroit suburb of Huntington Woods, Mich., spoke of her deep connection to Jewish community in a 2011 interview she gave as a Detroit fellow with Repair the World, a national nonprofit Jewish service-learning program that has a West Philadelphia-based branch.

Officials warned that the death toll could rise from the incident that took place late Tuesday along the busy northeast US rail corridor linking Washington and New York, as some of the 243 people believed to have been on the train had not yet been accounted for.

US ‘concerned’ over Syrian chemical weapons report

White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the US is “very concerned” over evidence on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

According to a report in Bloomberg Wednesday, officials from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons informed the US government several months ago that Syrian President Bashar Assad still likely possessed numerous chemical weapons and hazardous agents, including sarin gas.

Inspectors from the monitor group found traces of two banned chemical weapons during a search through the Syrian government’s Scientific Studies and Research Center in the district of Barzeh near Damascus earlier this year, officials from the Obama administration told Bloomberg.

This image made from a video posted on Wednesday shows a student wearing a gas mask and protective suit during a classroom session on how to respond to a chemical weapons attack in Aleppo, Syria (photo credit: AP)

This image made from a video posted on Wednesday shows a student wearing a gas mask and protective suit during a classroom session on how to respond to a chemical weapons attack in Aleppo, Syria. (photo credit: AP)

Rebels linked to Islamic extremists have been launching attacks on the Syrian government controlled-area around the facility in recent weeks, raising fears that the chemical weapons may fall into the hands of jihadists.

A report by Reuters on May 8 stated that OPCW inspectors also found traces of sarin and VX nerve agent at the site in separate inspections in December and January.

US President Barack Obama is said to have not yet decided how to respond to the report by the weapons monitor group.

US man sentenced for allegedly aiding terrorists

A man who admitted to trying to provide support to the Islamic State terrorist group is sentenced to 20 years in federal prison.

The US Department of Justice says that 44-year-old Donald Ray Morgan from North Carolina also faces three years of supervised release after he completes his prison term.

Morgan pleaded guilty in October 2014 to attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization and possession of firearm by a felon.

According to prosecutors, Morgan tried to provide support and resources to the Islamic State. He unsuccessfully tried to travel from Lebanon to Syria to join fighting.

Morgan was arrested last August at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on a federal indictment of possession of a firearm by a felon.

— AP

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