The Times of Israel live blogged Tuesday’s events as they unfolded.
We’re committed to Syria, says Rouhani
Iran will support Syrian President Bashar Assad “all the way to the end,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was quoted as saying by news agencies in the Islamic Republic.
“The Iranian nation and government will stand by the Syrian nation and government to the end of the crisis,” Rouhani tells Syrian Parliament Speaker Mohammad Jihad al-Laham. “Tehran does not forget its moral commitment to Syria and will continue providing support and assistance on its own terms to the Syrian nation and government,” he says.
Stressing that terrorists could never succeed in their plots against Syria, Rouhani expressed regret that some regional countries suffered from a “huge miscalculation” in thinking they could use terrorists as a tool for their own purposes, the IRNA news agency reports.
Iraq asks allies for more intel against IS
Iraq’s prime minister calls for more intelligence and more action from international allies against Islamic State extremists.
Haider al-Abadi says the flow of foreign fighters across the border into Iraq has not slowed, and the radical Sunni group now is majority foreign. A year ago, he said, it was 60 percent Iraqi.
Tuesday’s meeting in Paris of Iraq and international allies, including the United States and France but not Russia, Iran or Syria, comes after IS conquered both the Iraqi city of Ramadi and the historic Syrian city of Palmyra.
More than 4,100 airstrikes by the US-led coalition have failed to stem gains by Islamic State radicals. France and the US have pushed al-Abadi’s government to open to Sunnis.
No sharp change in strategy is expected to be announced.
Arab laborers barred from kibbutz cafeteria
Arab laborers working in Kibbutz Hatzerim near Beersheba are barred from eating in the kibbutz cafeteria, Yedioth Ahronoth reports.
According to the report, several kibbutz members asked the cafeteria’s management to tell employers of the laborers not to allow them to eat there, and the managers agreed. After a furor was raised, the management decided to allow the laborers to eat in the cafeteria if accompanied by a Jew.
A kibbutz member, Renen Yazerski, posted on Facebook: “Last week the kibbutz management decided that Arab laborers are good enough to enter the kibbutz and renovate and build our homes, but not, God forbid, eat in the same space with us in the cafeteria. Why are they not allowed to eat there? Because some mothers complained to the managers that the laborers look ‘scary’ […] a decision that is miserable, ugly, anti-democratic and racist…”
The kibbutz management said in its defense that “Kibbutz Hatzerim is private property, where no foreign persons are allowed without accompaniment.”
Lebanese report: IAF jets attack targets near Syrian border
Israeli jets attack targets on the east Lebanon border.
It is as yet unknown if there are casualties, according to Lebanese media.
IDF has no comment on reports from Lebanon
The IDF has no comment on reports from Lebanon saying Israeli jets attacked targets in the eastern part of the country.
Lebanese security officials say IAF jets attacked targets south of Baalbek, in Britel on the Lebanese-Syrian border. According to Lebanese paper the Daily Star, several Lebanese civilians were wounded in the strike.
Another paper, A-Nahar, denies that the explosions in the area are the result of an airstrike. Residents say they heard explosions on the Syrian side of the border.
Russia wants US to work with Syria to stop IS
Russia urges a US-led coalition fighting against the Islamic State group to coordinate their air raids with the Syrian government, warning that jihadists could go “very far” if not stopped.
“It is absolutely clear to me it was a mistake — still is — not to coordinate the airstrikes with the activities of the Syrian army. That’s what we believe must be done,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov tells Bloomberg Television in an interview.
“And that is what unfortunately our American colleagues cannot accept for ideological considerations.”
Lavrov speaks as the Western coalition gather in Paris for talks involving Iraq discussing the advance of IS jihadists who have declared an Islamic caliphate in large parts of Syria and Iraq they now control.
Russian firm says BUK missile downed flight MH17
The Russian firm making missiles similar to the one the West claims downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Ukraine says the passenger jet was likely hit by a BUK missile system.
All 298 passengers and crew on board the Malaysia Airlines jetliner — the majority of them Dutch — died when it was shot down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine last year.
Officials from state-controlled missile producer Almaz-Antey say they could not pinpoint which side shot down the plane, but intimated that the Ukrainian army was responsible as they unveil their own report into the incident based on publicly available photographs of the wreckage.
“The first stage of our analysis showed that the type of missile system used was a BUK-M1,” company official Mikhail Malyshevsky says at a press conference, according to Russian news agencies.
Company officials say that the BUK-M1 missile has not been produced in Russia since 1999 and is in the arsenal of the Ukrainian armed forces.
Almaz-Antey alleges that the missile was probably fired from close to the village of Zaroshchenske to the south of the jet’s flight path.
Court orders review of Arab prisoner’s parole request
The Haifa District Court instructs the parole committee to reexamine the parole request of one of the people who attacked Jewish terrorist Eden Nathan Zada, who carried out the terror attack in Shfaram in 2005.
Shfaram resident Jamil Saffouri was sentenced in July 2013 to two years behind bars for attempted homicide, assaulting a police officer, obstructing police officers from carrying their duty and rioting. Six other residents of Shfaram were convicted apart from Saffouri – of which three were convicted for attempted homicide. Saffouri entered prison on January 2014 and applied for parole after having completed two thirds of his jail term.
Saffouri was part of a group of people who in August 2005 lynched Zada, a soldier who used his military-issued rifle to assault travelers on an intercity bus, killing four. Since he was attacked by multiple people, the state was unsure which of the blows he received killed him, and so the indictment against Saffouri and others accused all members of attempted homicide but none of murder.
Saffouri’s parole request was denied and he appealed the denial. The parole committee denied the request citing three reasons: intelligence reports saying Saffouri was conducting prohibited political activity behind bars; the defendant claims innocence and never expressed regrets for the outcome of his actions; and finally a lack of electronic cuffs allowing monitoring the wearer’s movement.
On Sunday, a panel of three justices at the Haifa court decided to instruct the parole committee to reexamine Saffouri’s parole request within 21 days. “The question which the parole committee must answer in this case is whether the prisoner’s conviction of being innocent poses any danger to the public and whether it is also expressed in negative behavior. In this case we did not find in the committee’s decision and in the material submitted for its perusal any indication that the prisoner’s conduct is inappropriate.”
IDF rues lone soldier’s pork punishment
IDF Spokesperson Moti Almoz writes a Facebook post admitting that the military erred in punishing a lone soldier for eating a nonkosher sandwich.
“In the bottom line, we were wrong. The IDF continues to keep kosher on the one hand, but will not pry into the sandwiches brought by soldiers on the other hand.”
The soldier was initially sentenced to 11 days in jail; his punishment was then lightened to a simple denial of Shabbat furlough. But today he was released home along with his colleagues in the unit.
“There are tensions in Israeli society and there are different positions and different views. The IDF has room for everyone. The punishment was canceled and the soldier will be released home just like his friends in the commanders’ course,” Almoz writes.
The story was revealed by Israel Radio yesterday. The soldier, who is a lone immigrant from the US, lives with his grandmother and she gave him the nonkosher sandwiches. The soldier was tried by his regiment commander and initially given jail time despite explaining that he was not aware of the IDF rules regarding kashrut.
Iraq allies, including US, to enable arms supply against IS
A senior US diplomat says the coalition of countries arrayed against Islamic State extremists will make it easier to get weapons to the Iraqi soldiers that need them.
Speaking at an international conference in Paris on the fight against the radical Sunni group, Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken says Iraq is putting the plan into place.
The US is shipping anti-tank rockets to Iraqi forces to use against suicide truck bombs.
Earlier, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told journalists his forces needed weapons from Iran and Russia, but were hampered by international sanctions against those two countries.
Iran, Russia and Syria didn’t attend Tuesday’s conference of a small group of Iraq’s allies. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Iraq’s problems wouldn’t end until Syria’s government changes.
Suicide attack at Nigeria market, many casualties feared
Heavy casualties are feared after a suicide attack at a busy cattle market in the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, civilian vigilantes battling Boko Haram tell AFP.
The blast in the Borno state capital happened at about 1:00 pm (1200 GMT) as traders ended business for the day, Shettima Bulama says in an account backed up by another local vigilante.
“We’re trying to sift human bodies from carcasses of cattle that are strewn all over the place… I can’t give you a death toll now but we should expect high casualties,” he says.
The attack came after Boko Haram terrorists again pounded Maiduguri with rocket-propelled grenades in the early hours of Tuesday, after hitting the city in a similar attack on Saturday.
‘Egypt, China sign deal on nuke reactors’
Egypt and China signed a memorandum of understanding to build nuclear reactors for the production of electricity, a report on the website World Nuclear News says. According to the report, the MOU was signed during a visit by a Chinese delegation in Egypt at the end of May.
In February Egypt signed a similar agreement with Russia. Rusatom Overseas, the international branch of the Russian state atomic company, will build a desalination plant and an electricity-producing reactor in El-Dabaa. The deal with Russia dates back to 1983 but was never embarked upon after the Chernobyl disaster.
Egypt announced its intention to build four reactors by 2025. The Arab Spring and political turmoil in the country delayed the implementation of the plan but President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi now put them back on track.
Soldier’s mother says ‘he gave up college’ for IDF
Osnat Levy, the mother of the lone soldier at the focus of the nonkosher sandwich scandal, tells Channel 2 that her son “gave up college” in order to join the IDF despite being “a very talented boy.”
“My mother made him a package for Shavuot… including sandwiches. A day later he told a friend [in the army] that there was pork in the sandwich. Somebody heard it and snitched, literally snitched to the commander,” Levi says.
She says her son’s commander was “vindictive” about the whole thing and told her son that he will “sit in prison until you understand what you did.”
Levy says that only calling Carmela Menashe, Israel Radio’s military reporter, turned the tide in her son’s favor.
Hundreds still missing after China cruise ship sinks
Rescuers pulled at least three people from the wreckage of a capsized Chinese cruise ship Tuesday as fears mount for the more than 400 people still missing after the boat sank in a storm.
Just 14 people have been confirmed as surviving after the Dongfangzhixing, or “Eastern Star,” a tourist boat, rapidly overturned late Monday on the Yangtze river in central China, the official Xinhua news agency reports.
Six bodies have been recovered from the wreckage, leaving hundreds more still missing, possibly trapped within the ship which apparently sank in a matter of seconds with 458 people on board, state media says.
Local reports said the passengers were mostly aged over 60.
Television footage showed rescuers on top of a section of the ship’s hull which remained above water, some pressing their ears against it.
“Rescuers knocked on the ship and received responses,” the Hubei Daily newspaper said. “Three people were found alive.”
Zhang Hui, a 43-year-old tour guide on board, described a storm roiling the boat which tilted by as much as 45 degrees just after 9:00 pm local time (1300 GMT) on Monday, Xinhua says.
“Rain poured down on the right side of the boat, many rooms were flooded,” Zhang said, according to Xinhua. “Even if the windows were shut, water leaked through.”
Second siren to sound in home front drill
A second siren will sound across Israel at 7:05 p.m. The siren is the second test of the warning system today and is sounded as part of Turning Point 15, a nationwide home front drill.
Media outlets say that in case a real siren will need to be sounded, it will follow the practice siren immediately.
24 lightly hurt as 2 buses collide in Jerusalem
Twenty-four people were injured in a traffic collision between two buses in Jerusalem in the Sanhedria neighborhood. One person is moderately hurt, while all others are lightly injured.
Magen David Adom paramedics are tending to the injured and are evacuating some of them to hospitals around the city.
Iranian FM hospitalized for serious back pains
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was hospitalized in Tehran after suffering severe pain in his back, Israel Radio reports. He was supposed to make a speech today but the speech was canceled due to Zarif’s medical condition.
Zarif suffered back pains in the past and during some of the time in Geneva, in negotiations with representatives of the US and other world powers, he was confined to a wheelchair.
Qatar announces $32 million projects in Gaza
Chairman of the Qatari rehabilitation committee in Gaza Muhammad al-Amadi says that Col. Yoiav Mordechai, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, approved Qatari plans to introduce dual-use materials to the Gaza Strip.
During a ceremony announcing several projects in Gaza Amadi says that the new projects are assessed at c. $32 million and that Qatar intends to invest $180 million more in improving the quality of life of Gaza Strip residents.
Blatter says he will resign as FIFA president
FIFA President Sepp Blatter says he will resign from soccer’s governing body amid a widening corruption scandal and has promised to call for fresh elections to choose a successor.
UK student body votes to join BDS movement
The British National Union of Students announces a boycott of what it calls companies violating human rights, support of the global Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment program, and a call on the British Parliament to stop arms sales to Israel.
The NUS announcement is declarative in nature since it has little actual influence outside university campuses.
According to the Jewish Chronicle, the proposal was passed with 19 votes for, four against and one abstention on Tuesday at a meeting of the NUS National Executive Council, which is made up of elected NUS representatives.
Motion 518a, titled Solidarity with Palestine: Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions, was put forward by the School of Oriental and African Studies students union in London.
Foreign Ministry says no practical implications from UK student body decision
A Foreign Ministry spokesperson says “the British student union decision to impose a ‘boycott of Israel’ has no practical implications, since this body has already voiced anti-Israel opinions in the past. Instead of expressing hatred, British students would do better to study a little bit of history and understand that the distance from expressing words of hatred and prejudice to committing despicable crimes is not that great.”
— Rapahel Ahren
Gazans holding hunger strike to protest closure of Rafah
Residents of the Gaza Strip are holding a hunger strike in a tent near the Rafah border crossing with Egypt in the south of the Gaza Strip, in light of its continued closure by Egyptian authorities, Ynet reports.
Among the participants are students who live in the Strip but study in other countries, as well as sick people who are waiting to leave the Strip to receive medical care outside the Gaza Strip.
A spokesperson for the protesters says some 15,000 residents are waiting to leave the Strip for different reasons. The crossing was recently opened for three days, but Egyptian authorities only allowed movement into the Gaza Strip and not out of it.
Obama interviewed by Israeli TV
US President Barack Obama was interviewed this weekend by Channel 2’s investigative journalism program “Uvda,” and the interview is being broadcast now.
The president speaks mainly about the nuclear deal with Iran – a point of contention between him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Times of Israel will be blogging here the main points of his interview. Stay tuned!
Obama says Netanyahu ‘skeptical’ about possibility of peace
Obama says Prime Minister Netanyahu is, in his opinion, skeptical about the odds of Israelis and Palestinians signing a peace deal:
“I think it’s always difficult to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes…. Netanayhu loves Israel deeply and cares about the security of Israel deeply and recognizes the history of hostility and anti-Semitism,” Obama says.
“I think he has been skeptical about the capacity” of Israelis and Palestinians to make peace.
“And of course, he’s also a politician,” says Obama, and must retain his coalition.
Obama rebuffs critics on his attitudes toward Israel
“Even my critics will acknowledge that the military cooperation and intelligence cooperation, when it comes to Iron Dome […] I have been there, for Israel,” says Obama in his interview with Channel 2.
Why do Israelis fail to recognize his support of the country? “There are a lot of filters between me and the Israelis,” he says. Israelis are “not receiving” the president’s messages directly from him.
Obama emphasizes that his commitment to Israel’s security is solid: “It’s a solemn commitment that I’ve made… It’s not conditioned on any policy.”
Obama on need for ‘real prospect’ of peace
When Netanyahu spoke right before the Israeli election he was quite unequivocal on the point that a Palestinian state would not be established under his watch, says Obama.
“Subsequently his statements have suggested that there is a possibility of a Palestinian state but there are so many caveats, so many conditions, that it’s not realistic to think these conditions will be met any time soon,” he says.
“The danger is that Israel as a whole loses credibility,” Obama says, adding that “it is difficult to accept at face value a statement made after the election” — when Netanyahu recommitted to a two-state solution — because this can be seen as an attempt to dial down the rhetoric back to the status quo.
Of course Netanyahu again now talks about peace, Obama says, but this is “talk about peace in the abstract […] It’s always tomorrow, it’s always later.”
The difficulty, he says, is that “up until this point we have pushed away European efforts or other efforts” against Israel at the UN,” but “if in fact there is no prospect of an actual peace process, it becomes more difficult to argue with someone concerned… by settlement construction.”
It’s more difficult to say ‘be patient, wait, there is a process here’,” when actually the prospect of peace is so dim, says the president.
Obama discusses Netanyahu’s speech to Congress
Speaking about Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on March 3, Obama says he understands Netanyahu made it because “he cares very much about the security of the Israeli people; in his view he was doing what’s right […] In my mind it is very much in Israel’s interest that Iran doesn’t get nuclear weapons.”
But the president disagrees with Netanyahu approach to achieve such an outcome: “The worst scenario is the path we’re walking if there’s no resolution” and the world is kept guessing whether Iran has in fact succeeded in covertly building a nuclear weapon.
Obama says he “respectfully disagree[s]” with Netanyahu’s decision to speak to Congress about the Iranian nuclear threat.
Asked about the way the speech was decided upon, without direct coordination with the White House, Obama smiles and says, “I think if I would get to the Knesset and speak to Mr. [Isaac] Herzog… it would be considered breaking the rules.”
When Obama visited Israel as president in 2013, he skipped an address to the Israeli parliament, opting instead to speak over the heads of Israel’s leadership directly to the Israeli public, mainly university students, at the Jerusalem Conference Center. The audience at the 50-minute address was extremely receptive. Ironically, the one heckler at the time was a Palestinian student.
Obama on the need to acknowledge Palestinian claims
Early on in the interview, President Obama finds vague equivalence between the fate of the Jewish people and the situation of the Palestinians under Israeli military control. He speaks about the “moral imperative” behind the establishment of Israel – “those things also require me, from my perspective,” he says, to acknowledge the claims of “a Palestinian family in Ramallah” who suffer restrictions of movement.
“They have a claim on us, they have a claim on me,” says the US president.
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