Live updates (closed)Latest: White House defends Israeli strikes on Gaza

Hollande condemns boycotts against Israel

Preliminary results show elections blow for Erdogan; Rivlin: Demographic changes have created a ‘new Israeli order’

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

  • President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the Herzliya Conference on June 7, 2015. (Screen capture: Herzliya Conference)
    President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the Herzliya Conference on June 7, 2015. (Screen capture: Herzliya Conference)
  • Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on May 31, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
    Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on May 31, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 7, 2015. Photo by Amit Shabi/Flash90
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 7, 2015. Photo by Amit Shabi/Flash90
  • Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog speaks at the Herzliya Conference, June 7, 2015. (Screen capture: Herzliya Conference)
    Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog speaks at the Herzliya Conference, June 7, 2015. (Screen capture: Herzliya Conference)
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a rally in the Golbasi district of Ankara, June 5, 2015. (AFP/Adem Altan)
    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a rally in the Golbasi district of Ankara, June 5, 2015. (AFP/Adem Altan)
  • Orange CEO Stephane Richard (screen capture: YouTube)
    Orange CEO Stephane Richard (screen capture: YouTube)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s developments as they unfolded.

Young woman stabbed in Ramle

A woman in her twenties is stabbed in the back and moderately wounded in Ramle.

The assailant is shot by police, and evacuated for medical care in moderate-to-serious condition.

The motive of the incident is not immediately clear.

“A young woman around the age of 22 was sitting on the sidewalk, fully conscious, with a stab wound on her upper body,” paramedics on the scene say. “She was in pain, and had trouble breathing. On the way [to the hospital] she told us that as she was walking on the street she felt a strong blow to her back, she sat down, and police who were on the scene alerted us.”

Stabbing likely criminal-related

Police are treating the stabbing in Ramle as a criminal incident rather than a nationalistically motivated attack, the Ynet news website reports.

The report says the woman was stabbed with a screwdriver.

“We heard her screaming and then I saw she had a screwdriver in her back. The man started running away. One cop who saw him chased after him, then we heard shots and he was arrested,” a witness says.

22 killed in Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen

A series of pre-dawn Saudi-led airstrikes on Sunday targeted the headquarters of Yemen’s armed forces in the rebel-held capital Sanaa, killing at least 22 people, security and hospital officials say.

They say the dead were mostly soldiers and that the airstrikes damaged several nearby homes and shook the entire city. Residents say the armed forces’ headquarters, a short distance away from the city center, was hit by at least three airstrikes.


Iraqi troops recapture key refinery town

Iraqi troops backed by Shiite militias recapture key parts of the northern refinery town of Beiji from Islamic State jihadists on Sunday, a general says.

The commander of the Interior Ministry’s Quick Reaction Forces, Brig. Gen. Nassir al-Fartousi, tells state TV that the Iraqi flag was raised on a local government building in Beiji and that troops were advancing to other areas, without elaborating.

There is no word on the fate of the contested refinery on the town’s outskirts.

Beiji, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of Baghdad, fell to the extremist IS group during its blitz across northern Iraq nearly a year ago, but parts of the town and nearby refinery have since been retaken by government forces. The town is strategically significant as it lies on the road to IS-held Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city.


Government approves new PMO chief

In a cabinet vote, the government approves the appointment of Eli Groner as director of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Groner, a dual US-Israeli citizen, formerly served as Israel’s economic envoy in Washington, DC.

“Eli has the optimal combination of experience within the system as the economic attache in Washington, and experience in the private sector in various positions, including work with McKinsey & Company,” Netanyahu says in a statement. “The new government faces significant economic challenges and I am certain that Eli can lead it. Eli will assist me in advancing reforms, advancing market competition, cutting red tape, in improving the government apparatus and in cooperation with the private sector.”

Eli Groner, the director of the Prime Minister's Office (Courtesy)

Eli Groner, the director of the Prime Minister’s Office (Courtesy)

Bon Jovi coming to Israel

Rocker Bon Jovi confirms an Israel concert in October.

The exact date has not yet been announced.

Saudi court upholds verdict against blogger

Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court upholds a verdict against a liberal blogger who was flogged in January after being found guilty of insulting Islam and breaking technology laws.

Raif Badawi was sentenced last year to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison. He was banned from traveling abroad for 10 years and fined $266,000.

A person close to the case says the Supreme Court’s decision, announced Sunday, has not made clear whether lashings are part of the final verdict. The person, who spoke anonymously for fear of retribution, says that because Badawi’s flogging has been halted since January, the ruling may exclude public lashings.

Saudi liberal blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced in May to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for criticizing Saudi Arabia's clerics and ridiculing the country's morality police on his blog. His family moved to Canada following the sentence for fear of retribution. (Photo credit: Amnesty International Canada/Screenshot from campaign ad)

Saudi liberal blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced in May to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for criticizing Saudi Arabia’s clerics and ridiculing the country’s morality police on his blog. His family moved to Canada following the sentence for fear of retribution. (Photo credit: Amnesty International Canada/Screenshot from campaign ad)

The Supreme Court’s decision is final and cannot be overturned without a royal pardon.

Badawi’s flogging has been criticized internationally by rights groups and Western governments.


Syrian army pushes IS away from Hasakeh

Syrian government forces have pushed Islamic State group fighters back after a bid by the jihadists to enter the city of Hasakeh in northeastern Syria, a monitor says.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says “fierce combat” had allowed government forces to push IS fighters away from the southern edge of Hasakeh, the capital of the province of the same name.

“IS, which has been at the southern entrance of the city since Thursday, was forced to pull back two kilometres after fierce combat with regime forces,” the Britain-based monitor says.

Syria’s official SANA news agency also reported the fighting, saying the army had retaken several positions captured by IS in recent days, including an electricity station and a prison being used as a military base.

The Observatory says fighting was now continuing in the area near the prison.

IS began an assault on Hasakeh on May 30, advancing to the southern entrance to the city last week.


PM says Orange CEO should explain himself here

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the Foreign Ministry to tell Orange CEO Stephane Richard that if he wants to explain himself, he can do so in Israel.

Richard had asked to meet with the Israeli envoy in France.

Orange CEO Stephane Richard (YouTube screen capture)

Orange CEO Stephane Richard (YouTube screen capture)

‘Boycotters will be boycotted’ – Bennett

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (chairman of the Jewish Home party) says those who boycott Israel will be boycotted.

“Let it be clear to any company or organization that is considering boycotting us: we will hit back, we’ll attack our attackers, we’ll boycott our boycotters.”

“Until today, it was very easy to hit Israel, because you didn’t pay a price. No longer,” he says. The boycott movement is a “double-edged sword,” he says.

“We will no longer remain silent,” he says.

Bennett urges world to recognize Israeli rule in Golan Heights

Bennett says that as jihadists take control over the Syrian Golan Heights, the world must recognize Israeli sovereignty in the Israeli Golan Heights.

“I urge the international community — stand with us, recognize the Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”

Israel’s control over the area enjoys “nearly total consensus” among Israelis, he says.

I understand that with regard to the West Bank “we’ll agree to disagree,” he says.

He also appeals to opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid: “Let’s unify over the Golan Heights.”

“We’ll continue to argue about the West Bank and Hamas, but let’s not argue about the Golan Heights and Daesh (Islamic State),” he says.

Bennett also urges increased settlements of the Golan Heights. He says his goal is 100,000 Jews in the Golan within five years and “it’s in our reach.”

“It’s simply the right thing to do.”

“This is the answer to the boycotts,” he says.

UTJ’s Gafni urges peace talks

Moshe Gafni of the United Torah Judaism party says he agrees with Bennett regarding the Golan Heights.

“The Golan is ours. Otherwise it will go to the Islamic State.”

He says the West Bank “God gave to us, it’s ours,” but nonetheless urges peace talks rather than international isolation.

Gafni says the US relationship is “strategically important.”

He says he’s in favor of peace talks “even if people will say there’s no one to talk to.”

“I don’t think we’ll reach a point that we will live in harmony and love with our neighbors,” he says. But Israel needs to engage in negotiations anyway, Gafni adds.

He says he told Netanyahu to speak with Obama. “We need the world,” he says.

“I am not a leftist” and not in favor of immediate territorial concessions, he says “but I think we need to have talks.”

Hanegbi says Israel safer than it’s ever been

Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi says the newspaper headlines in recent weeks were liable to give the average Israeli reader a “panic attack.”

He says the reality is “more complicated” than it appears. “Since 1967… the strategic status of Israel has improved, and continues to improve.”

Israel is more secure than it was then, he says.

“The map of threats that the State of Israel is facing has changed,” he says. The IDF hasn’t had to fight a conventional army since 1973, he says, due to the Egypt and Jordan peace accords and its increased capabilities.

Eighty-five percent of Israel’s fallen fell in the first 30 years since the establishment of the State of Israel, he says.

Since then, Israel has been fighting terror groups, he says. And the number of civilian casualties from terror attacks in the last decade is the lowest it has ever been, he notes.

The nine years since the Second Lebanon War “are the quietest years” Israel has seen.

He says that Hezbollah “which has immense strength” is distracted by the regional conflict in Syria, and even has forces in Yemen.

Hanegbi says there’s no concrete threat from Syria in the near future.

Still, Israel is threatened by Hamas in Gaza, “it’s clear that if there isn’t a sharp change of policy by Hamas.. this could lead to another operation, perhaps an operation more like Operation Defensive Shield.”

Israel is not interested in this, “but if it happens, it won’t be long” — but will likely exact a heavy death toll, he says.

Hanegbi says two-state solution possible

Hanegbi opposes a one-state solution, says “There won’t one [binational] state. We didn’t set up a Jewish state to become another Arab state.”

He says the two-state solution is possible if the Palestinians “take the steps that are very difficult for them” by giving up their demand for the right of return and addressing Israel’s security concerns.

Hanegbi says he believes that most Israelis are in favor of the two-state solution.

Polls close in Turkish election

Turkey has wrapped up a crucial parliamentary election that will determine whether ruling party lawmakers can rewrite the constitution to bolster the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Polls closed Sunday afternoon, but preliminary results are not expected to start coming in for some hours.

Erdogan himself was not on the ballot. Still, the election was effectively a referendum on whether to endow his office with extraordinary powers that would significantly change Turkey’s democracy and prolong his reign as the country’s most powerful politician.

Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP, is expected to win significantly more votes than any opposition party but it must win a supermajority of the 550 seats in parliament to change the constitution.

All eyes will be on the results for the main Kurdish party, HDP. If it crosses a 10 percent threshold for entering parliament as a party, that would extinguish AKP’s constitutional plans.


Rivlin warns of ‘new Israeli order’

President Reuven Rivlin addresses the Herzliya conference, outlining the “far-reaching transformation” that he see Israeli society undergoing in the coming years.

“Today, the first grade classes are composed of about 38% secular Jews, about 15% national religious, about one quarter Arabs, and close to a quarter Haredim,” he says. “While it is true that numbers and definitions are dynamic, neither identities nor birthrates remain static over time. But one thing is clear, the demographic processes that are restructuring or redesigning the shape of Israeli society, have, in fact, created a ‘new Israeli order.’ A reality in which there is no longer a clear majority, nor clear minority groups. A reality in which Israeli society is composed of four population sectors, or, if you will, four principal ‘tribes,’ essentially different from each other, and growing closer in size. Whether we like it or not, the makeup of the ‘stakeholders’ of Israeli society, and of the State of Israel, is changing before our eyes.

The “new Israeli order” with the four fractured social groups will alter its character, he says.

“A child from Beth El, a child from Rahat, a child from Herzliya and a child from Beitar Ilit – not only do they not meet each other, but they are educated toward a totally different outlook regarding the basic values and desired character of the State of Israel.”

The president warns that the economic situation won’t be viable, and that the IDF will no longer stand at the heart of Israeli identity.

“From an economic viewpoint, the current reality is not viable. The mathematics is simple, any child can see it. If we do not reduce the current gaps in the rate of participation in the workforce and in the salary levels of the Arab and Haredi populations – who are soon to become one-half of the work force – Israel will not be able to continue to be a developed economy.”

He says Israel must “look bravely at this reality” and seek common ground between its four “tribes.”

“We are all here to stay – Haredim and secular Jews, Orthodox Jews and Arabs. Now, if we truly want to deal with the significance of the ‘new Israeli order,’ then we must bravely face the issue, and ask ourselves some tough questions.

“We must not allow the ‘new Israeli order’ to cajole us into sectarianism and separation. We must not give up on the concept of ‘Israeliness’; we should rather open up its gates and expand its language.”

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the Herzliya Conference on June 7, 2015 (Screen capture/Herzliya Conference)

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the Herzliya Conference on June 7, 2015 (Screen capture/Herzliya Conference)

Herzog warns against binational state

In his address at the Herzliya Conference, Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog says “the biggest threat to the existence of the State of Israel” is a binational state.

“In about a decade, the Arabs between the Jordan and the Mediterranean will be a majority and the Jews a minority. The Jewish national home will become the Palestinian national home. We will be again, for the first time since 1948, a Jewish minority in an Arab state.”

“I want to separate from the Palestinians. I want to keep a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. I don’t want 61 Palestinian MKs in Israel’s Knesset. I don’t want a Palestinian prime minister in Israel. I don’t want them to change my flag and my national anthem. I don’t want them to change the name of my country to Isra-stine,” he says.

The current government is doing nothing to advance diplomatic initiatives, he says. He says 20 of the 30 Likud MKs are opposed to a Palestinian state.

Herzog urges a regional initiative to disarm and reconstruct Gaza. Herzog says that if he was prime minister, he would work every day toward peace efforts with moderate regional partners, establish the Jordan Valley as Israel’s security border, advance confidence-building measures with the Palestinians, and spearhead an international effort to rebuild Gaza.

Herzog condemns the “brainwashing” of the UK students who voted in favor of a boycott of Israel, but says Netanyahu hasn’t done enough to stop it.

Russia, Qatar may lose World Cups if bribery proven

Russia and Qatar could lose the 2018 and 2022 World Cups if irregularities are proven in them being awarded the hosting rights, a FIFA official tells a Swiss newspaper published Sunday.

“If evidence exists that Qatar and Russia received the (World Cup) awards only thanks to bribes, then the awards could be annulled,” head of FIFA’s auditing and compliance committee Domenico Scala tells the Sonntagszeitung weekly.

He stresses though that “this evidence has not been provided” so far.


Czech foreign minister urges peace talks

Lubomír Zaorálek, minister of foreign affairs of the Czech Republic, urges peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and warns that if Jerusalem doesn’t advance an initiative, it will face “inevitable” international isolation.

“The two-state endeavor is about 80 years old… We have seen numerous attempts to bring the idea to life. We have not, however, seen any results,” he says.

The various rounds of peace talks begin with enthusiasm, end with rage and a “blame game, which is in a sense an overture to the next round of negotiations.

“Too much history, too little land, and zero progress,” he continues.

“A privilege of a good friend is to be frank and outspoken,” he adds, affirming Czech-Israel ties.

And if Israel does not advance a peace initiative, he opines, “I fear that the years to come may be very difficult.

“We emphasized in the past, and we are pointing out today… the only outcome we envisage is two independent states living side by side in peace and security.”

Zaorálek says that he recently visited the Gaza Strip, and maintains Prague “strictly condemns” rocket fire on Israeli civilians.

“But at the same [time], when I saw this very large amount of unemployment in this territory… it is something that must be solved,” he says.

The minister adds that, in Europe, Israel is largely seen as responsible for the lack of negotiations.

“Israel will take most of the punches. The prevailing notion in the EU is that Israel is responsible for the diplomatic deadlock,” primarily due to settlement construction. He says the Palestinian internal divides must be resolved before a two-state solution can be implemented.

“To sum it up, the current picture is pretty grim.” He claims that, since the last round of peace talks, “not much has changed,” but “we have to keep trying, though.”

The minister of foreign affairs offers to host peace talks in Prague and lays out what Israel and the Palestinians must do to push them forward. Israel must release tax funds and halt settlement construction — “the biggest obstacle to a viable Palestinian state” — which the Czech Republic “strongly opposes.

“It goes without saying that the Palestinians must do their homework too,” he goes on, demanding “unequivocal and sincere condemnation of violence against the Israeli population” as well as “concrete measures” to stop violence.

“The State of Israel is a great country,” he says, praising its economic and military strength. “Israel has every reason to be self-confident and courageous, and is in a comfortable position to take up the challenge.”

But if Israel does not work to reinstate peace talks (a move that he says will force Palestinian participation), “our cooperation will become more difficult,” he warns, adding that he would sincerely regret that.

Police thwart Jerusalem stabbing

Police arrest a Palestinian man in Jerusalem’s Old City, who confesses to plotting a stabbing attack.

The suspect, a 25-year-old man from Hebron, is detained by cops near the Temple Mount for suspicious behavior, police say. Once in custody, he confesses to purchasing a knife and says he planned to stab Jewish civilians.

He leads police to Damascus Gate, and shows them a backpack he hid in the bushes, which contains knives and screwdrivers.

Preliminary results in Turkey show blow for Erdogan

Preliminary vote counting in Turkey’s parliamentary election suggest that voters have rejected the ruling party’s bid to remake the constitution.

With about two-thirds of the vote counted, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP, was well ahead of other parties with just under 44 percent. But the projections had it hovering around the bare minimum to retain a simple majority in parliament.

In a blow to the ruling party’s chances, the main Kurdish party was running slightly above the 10-percent minimum threshold for representation.

AKP received around 49 percent in general elections in 2011. If the current trend holds, it would be first time that the party is faced with falling short of a majority to rule alone since it swept into power in 2002.


Netanyahu, Hollande discuss boycott, peace talks

Netanyahu speaks to French President Francois Hollande on the phone about the Orange telecom boycott.

“During the conversation, the French president expresses strong opposition to boycotts on Israel and his desire to keep the economic ties between the countries,” a statement says.

The prime minister also denounces the emerging Iran deal, and reiterates his commitment to the two-state solution. He also condemns France’s bid for a UN Security Council resolution that would force a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Such an attempt “would only make the chances of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians more distant,” he says, adding that “these attempts give the Palestinians the incentive not to enter direct negotiations [with Israel] without preconditions.”

Israeli takes $457K prize at poker tournament

An Israeli takes home nearly half a million dollars in winning a tournament at the 2015 World Series of Poker.

Idan Raviv, 24, of Holon, finished first in the $1,500 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em Six-Handed tournament, a three-day competition at the Rio casino in Las Vegas that ended on Friday night, the World Series of Poker says in a statement.

Raviv, an IT professional, defeated a field of 1,650 to take the $457K top prize. Last year he finished in 181st place.

It was the second year in a row that an Israeli has won a World Series of Poker title. In 2014, Asi Moshe took the gold bracelet in the $1,500 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em event.


45 dead in Saudi-led raids on Yemeni capital

Twenty civilians were among at least 45 people killed in Saudi-led air strikes on the rebel-held armed forces headquarters in the Yemeni capital on Sunday, a medic says.

The raids on the army headquarters in central Sanaa came a day after the kingdom’s air defenses shot down a Scud missile fired from the war-torn country.

“At least 20 civilians and 25 soldiers and officers were killed” in four raids that hit the headquarters in the Tahrir residential neighborhood in central Sanaa, the medic adds.

The raids hit residential buildings, including five houses that were completely destroyed, witnesses report.

The rebel-controlled Saba news agency says 44 people were killed and more than 100 wounded, “including woman and children.”


Egypt to expand Gaza buffer zone — report

Egypt will evacuate thousands of houses in the Egyptian Rafah to expand its buffer zone with the Gaza Strip, the Walla news website announces, citing Palestinian reports.

The Egyptian army will begin broadening the zone by 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) in July, the report says, as the military cracks down on smuggling tunnels in the area.

Egypt aims to ultimately expand the buffer zone to five kilometers (3.1 miles).

White House defends Israeli strikes on Gaza

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest addresses the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes, maintaining that Israel has the right to defend its citizens.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 31, 2015 (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, March 31, 2015. (AP/Susan Walsh)

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