Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged Tuesday to build 3,500 new settler homes in a super-sensitive area of the occupied West Bank, just a week before a tight general election.
Netanyahu’s controversial statement is the latest in a string of election promises on settlement construction as the premier faces not only a general election but the beginning of a corruption trial.
“I gave immediate instructions for a permit to deposit (plans) for the construction of 3,500 units in E1,” Netanyahu said.
The international community has warned repeatedly that Jewish settlement construction in the E1 corridor, which passes from Jerusalem to Jericho, would slice the West Bank in two and compromise the contiguity of a future Palestinian state.
“We are building Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s outskirts,” Netanyahu said at a conference in remarks relayed by a spokesman.
In 2013, Netanyahu vetoed construction in the E1 corridor in the face of pressure from the United Nations, the European Union and the United States.
The move to advance new homes, which would constitute a new neighbourhood of Maale Adumim, a nearby settlement town, were praised by the Yesha Council, a settler lobby group, which noted that plans for homes there have existed since 2004.
“Advancing the issue will enable broad and strategic construction between Maale Adumim and Jerusalem,” Yesha Council head David Elhayani said in a statement.
But Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, co-director of Jahalin Solidarity, an NGO working to prevent the displacement of Palestinian Bedouin living in the E1 area, said the construction could mean their forced expulsion and constitute a “war crime”.
“If allowed to go ahead, this move will end the potential for a viable, sustainable Palestinian state, and is yet another example of how desperate Bibi (Netanyahu) is to buy votes so as to stay out of prison at the expense of our future,” she said.
On Thursday, Netanyahu announced plans for thousands of new homes for Israelis in annexed east Jerusalem, with critics calling the move a last-minute incentive to nationalist voters ahead of next week’s election.
On Monday, Israeli authorities moved ahead with those plans, inviting tenders for 1,077 housing units for Givat Hamatos, which would be a new settlement neighbourhood.
Settlement watchdog Peace Now said the Givat Hamatos area was “the last point enabling territorial continuity between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem,” saying that the plan to build there was proof Netanyahu was “doing everything to prevent peace”.
Israel seized east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.
Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank are considered illegal by the United Nations and most foreign governments.
Netanyahu, 70, will stand trial next month after being indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
He denies wrongdoing but the indictment has complicated his bid to extend his tenure as Israel’s longest serving prime minister.
Two elections in April and September last year failed to produce a clear winner.
Recent polls are forecasting another tight race between Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and the centrist Blue and White party led by former armed forces chief Benny Gantz.
Fourteen people were injured in central Jerusalem on Thursday, including one critically, in a possible car-ramming at a popular nightspot, emergency responders and the military said.
Israel’s Magen David emergency medical service said it had “treated and evacuated” 14 people to hospitals following the incident at Jerusalem’s First Station, an area that includes several bars and restaurants.
A military spokesperson told AFP that the army was aware of a possible attack perpetrated by someone driving a vehicle in the area and would have more information later on Thursday.
Israel’s Haaretz newspaper quoted police as saying that a manhunt was underway for the suspected attacker.
The United Hatzalah medical emergency volunteers said their team had treated “people for injuries at the First Station in Jerusalem.
“Due to the nature of the incident, United Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit were dispatched to the scene and treated eight people who were suffering from emotional or psychological shock,” it said in a statement.
There was no immediate indication as to the motivation of the possible attack, but it comes amid heightened tension between Israel and the Palestinians following the release of US President Donald Trump’s controversial Middle East Plan.
Palestinians have angrily rejected the plan, which they describe as blatantly pro-Israeli, and launched protests against Trump’s proposal in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday held talks with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and called for the opening of missions in each others’ countries, during a visit aimed at boosting ties.
Netanyahu last visited Uganda in July 2016 to mark the 40th anniversary of a hostage rescue at Entebbe airport, in which his brother Yonatan died.
“There are two things we very much want to achieve… one is direct flights from Israel to Uganda,” Netanyahu told Museveni at a joint press conference.
“And second… you open an embassy in Jerusalem, I’ll open an embassy in Kampala,” he added.
“We are studying that,” Museveni replied.
Traditionally, most diplomatic missions in Israel have been in Tel Aviv as countries maintained a neutral stance over the status of Jerusalem.
But US President Donald Trump shocked the world in December 2017 by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and shifting the US embassy from Tel-Aviv to that city.
In recent years, Israel has boosted its links with African nations, improving ties following a difficult period when many post-independence African leaders sided with Israel’s Arab rivals and viewed Israel’s support for apartheid, South Africa, with intense suspicion.
Israel now has diplomatic relations with 39 of 47 sub-Saharan African states.
Netanyahu is on his fifth visit to Africa in less than four years. The continent is a lucrative market for defence equipment and the agriculture sector.
As Israeli expertise in military and agricultural technology has developed, the opportunity for trade with Africa has grown.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Wednesday that Israel would strike a “resounding blow” if attacked by arch-foe Iran, as regional tensions soar after the US killing of a top Iranian general.
“Anyone who attacks us will receive a resounding blow,” the premier told a Jerusalem conference after Iran launched a salvo of retaliatory missile strikes on bases used by US troops in Iraq.
Netanyahu has described the target of last week’s US drone strike — Major General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards foreign operations arm — as a “terrorist-in-chief”.
“Qasem Soleimani was responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people, he destabilised many countries for decades, he sowed fear and misery and anguish and he was planning much worse,” Netanyahu said.
“He was the architect and driver of Iran’s campaign of terror throughout the Middle East and the world.”
The Israeli premier praised US President Donald Trump for “acting swiftly, boldly, and resolutely” in killing Soleimani in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.
The drone strike has put the United States and key allies on alert for Tehran’s response to the killing.
A senior Iranian official on Monday warned the Israeli cities of Haifa and Tel Aviv would be turned “to dust” if Washington carried out further military action in response to its retaliatory moves.
The indictment comes as Israel edges closer to its third general election in a year, after two inconclusive polls in April and September, with Netanyahu and centrist rival Benny Gantz unable to form a government.
Gantz’s Blue and White party won one more seat than Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud in the September polls.
Parliament now has less than three weeks to find a candidate who can gain the support of more than half of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers, or a deeply unpopular third election will be called.
Israel’s embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was indicted on a range of corruption charges Thursday, potentially spelling an end to his decades-long political career.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit “decided to file charges against the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for offences of receiving a bribe, fraud, and breach of trust,” a justice ministry statement said.
Netanyahu, who strongly denies all the charges, becomes the first Israeli prime minister to be indicted while in office.
Rightwinger Netanyahu, who is nicknamed “Mr. Security” and “King Bibi” and has been in power since 2009, is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister and dominates the country’s political scene.
The indictment comes as Israel faces a potential third election in a year, with neither Netanyahu nor his main rival able to form a government after two deadlocked elections.
Netanyahu is not legally required to resign until he is convicted and all appeals are exhausted, but political pressure is likely to be intense.
A close ally of US President Donald Trump, the 70-year-old may now ask the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, to grant him immunity from prosecution.
The charges against him range from receiving gifts worth thousands of dollars to a deal to change regulatory frameworks in favour of a media group in exchange for positive coverage.
Mandelblit said it was a “hard and sad day” for Israel to indict a leader but it was an “important” one as it showed no Israeli was above the law.
“The citizens of Israel, all of us, and myself, look up to the elected officials, and first and foremost — to the prime minister,” Mandelblit said.
He said the decision had been made with a “heavy heart, but also with a whole heart.”
“Law enforcement is not a choice. It is not a matter of right or left. It’s not a matter of politics.”
He stressed that Netanyahu was innocent until proven guilty.
Netanyahu was expected to respond later Thursday evening.
The justice ministry said copies of the charge sheet had been sent to both Netanyahu’s lawyers and the Knesset.
A perennial fighter, Netanyahu has outlived many political rivals and Hugh Lovatt, Israel-Palestine analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the indictment may still not be “the end of the story”.
“Israel will now have to brace for a political roller-coaster ride over the coming months. Now more than ever Netanyahu will be fighting for his political and personal life.”
– ‘Witch-hunt’ – Netanyahu has vehemently denied all the allegations, calling the corruption investigation a “witch-hunt” and alleging it has been motivated by his enemies’ desire to force him from office.
Of the three cases against Netanyahu, the third, known as Case 4,000, is seen as the most serious.
He is alleged to have negotiated with Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Israeli telecommunications giant Bezeq, to get positive coverage on his Walla! news site in exchange for policies benefiting Bezeq.
Elovitch and his wife were also indicted.
Mandelblit indicted Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in this case.
Case 1,000 involves allegations Netanyahu and his family received gifts including luxury cigars, champagne and jewellery from wealthy individuals, estimated to be worth more than 700,000 shekels ($200,000, 185,000 euros), in exchange for financial or personal favours.
Another case, known as Case 2000, concerns allegations Netanyahu sought a deal with the owner of the Yediot Aharonot newspaper that would have seen it give him more favourable coverage.
– ‘Sad day for Israel’ – The next steps in the process remain unclear, with no date yet set for the trial.
The country has also been without a government for nearly a year due to political infighting.
Neither Likud leader Netanyahu nor rival Benny Gantz, head of the centrist Blue and White party, have been able to form a coalition government following deadlocked elections in April and September.
Netanyahu has remained prime minister in an interim capacity.
The Knesset has 21 days remaining to find a candidate capable who can command the support of the majority of the country’s 120 MPs and the indictment is likely to strengthen former army chief Gantz’s claims.
Gantz has reportedly tried to woo MP’s from Netanyahu’s Likud to join him in a broad national unity government, but there have so far been no takers.
Gantz said Thursday evening the indictment of a sitting leader was a “very sad day for the State of Israel”.
Ofer Zalzberg, analyst with the International Crisis Group think-tank, said Netanyahu would be severely weakened by Mandelblit’s announcement and could now face leadership challenges from within Likud.
“Netanyahu has a weaker hand for the coming 20 days so may agree to compromises toward Blue and White he so far ruled out,” he said.
The Israeli army carried out a “wide-scale” attack against Iranian forces and Syrian army targets in Syria Wednesday, killing at least 11 fighters, the Israeli army and a monitoring group said.
In a rare confirmation of their operations in Syria, the Israeli army said they carried out dozens on strikes against the Iranian elite Quds Force and the Syrian military, in response to four rockets fired at Israel a day before.
At least eleven “fighters” were killed in the strikes, said Britain-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
Seven were foreigners, its head Rami Abdel Rahman said, though he could not confirm whether they were all Iranian. Four civilians were also wounded, he added.
Iran has fought alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the country’s eight-year civil war, heightening Israeli concern over the presence of its arch foe along its border.
“Whoever hurts us, we will hurt him,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
“This is what we did overnight vis-a-vis military targets of the Iranian Quds Force and Syrian military targets in Syria after a barrage of rockets was launched at Israel.”
The Israeli army said they had targeted around a dozen military sites, including warehouses and military command centres.
“It was very intense,” spokesman Jonathan Conricus told AFP said.
The most important target, he said, was a control facility at the main international airport in Damascus.
“It is the main building that serves the (Iranian) Revolutionary Guards… for coordinating the logistic facilities of transport of military hardware from Iran to Syria and from Syria onwards,” he said.
Israel has carried out frequent air and missile strikes against Iranian targets inside Syria since the country descended into civil war in 2011, but rarely comments on them.
On Tuesday four rockets were fired at Israel from Syria, with the army blaming an “Iranian force”.
Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system intercepted the rockets.
Conricus said it was the sixth time Iranian forces had attacked Israel directly in recent years, most recently in August.
The Israeli attack Wednesday began in the early hours, with a series of large explosions rocking Damascus, an AFP correspondent in the city said.
Syria’s state media SANA said Syrian anti-aircraft defences responded to a “heavy attack” by Israeli warplanes over the capital.
The Israeli army confirmed missiles were fired towards its jets but denied any were hit.
In response to the fire, it said, “a number of Syrian aerial defence batteries were destroyed”.
“We hold the Syrian regime responsible for the actions that take place in Syrian territory and warn them against allowing further attacks against Israel,” the army said.
SANA added that the strikes were carried out from “Lebanese and Palestinian territories”. Israel sometimes launches its attacks on Syria from planes flying over neighbouring Lebanon.
Syria’s civil war has been complicated by the involvement of multiple foreign powers, with Russian, Iranian and US forces on the ground backing various parties.
The SOHR monitoring group said Tuesday’s rockets were fired from positions around the Syrian capital held by groups loyal to the Damascus government.
The flare-up follows a major escalation in and around Gaza last week when Israel killed a top commander of Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad, which is allied with Damascus.
The killing was accompanied by a second strike, unconfirmed by Israel, on an Islamic Jihad leader in Damascus that killed his son and another person.
The hundreds of strikes carried out by Israel in Syria have mostly been against Iranian targets or positions of Iran’s Lebanese ally, Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
Both are sworn enemies of the Jewish state and have backed the Syrian president’s forces with advisers and fighters.
The war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long grip on power appeared in jeopardy on Wednesday after elections left him tied with his main challenger Benny Gantz raising the prospect of tough negotiations to build a unity government or even the end of the premier’s record long rule.
In a sign of the demanding negotiations to come, sources in Netanyahu’s office told AFP he was cancelling a planned trip next week to the UN General Assembly in New York due to the “political context” in Israel.
He had been due to meet his “friend” US President Donald Trump on the fringes of the international gathering to discuss a defence treaty between the two allies.
But Israel’s longest-serving premier is staying home as he battles to retain his grip on power.
According to Israeli media, with more than 90 percent of ballots counted, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud had 31 seats, while Gantz’s Blue and White took 32 places in Israel’s 120-member parliament.
The reports cited elections committee sources, as the data results had not yet been officially posted.
Gantz’s slim lead, however, gave no obvious path for either party to form a majority coalition, raising the possibility of negotiations towards a unity government.
“There are only two options, a government led by me or a dangerous government dependent on the Arab parties,” Netanyahu told a press conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday night.
“In these times, more than ever, when we face enormous security and political challenges, it cannot be that there will be a government that depends on anti-Zionist Arab parties,” he said.
Throughout his campaign, Netanyahu warned, as he has in previous elections, that left-wing and Arab voters were showing up in large numbers to try to oust him.
Media said the mainly Arab Joint List alliance was set to become the third-largest bloc in parliament with 13 seats.
End of “Netanyahu era” ?
“The Netanyahu era is over,” said Ahmed Tibi, one of the list’s leaders. “If Gantz calls, we shall tell him our conditions for supporting him.”
If the initial results hold, it will be a major setback for Netanyahu, who hoped to form a right-wing coalition similar to his current administration as he faces the possibility of an corruption indictment in weeks ahead.
Gantz, addressing supporters in Tel Aviv, called for a “broad unity government” but cautioned that he was waiting for final results.
“We will act to form a broad unity government that will express the will of the people,” the former armed forces chief said.
“We will begin negotiations and I will speak with everyone.”
Ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman could prove to be kingmaker, with the reported results giving his secular-nationalist party Yisrael Beitenu nine seats.
He has not declared in favour of either of the two leading contenders.
“There is only one option for us,” he has stated.
“That is to form a broad, liberal, national unity government” with Yisrael Beitenu, Blue and White and Likud.
Such a government would not include the ultra-Orthodox Jews.
The staunchly secularist Lieberman has long campaigned against what he sees as their undue clout which he accuses of seeking to impose Jewish religious law on Israel’s secular population.
He would also not partner with Arab parties.
‘Disease of hatred”
“Israel has a problem,” the top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot newspaper wrote Wednesday.”We have been afflicted with the disease of hatred.”
“Some people want to sharpen the divisions and to see a clear division between ‘left’ and ‘right’ but that is precisely the way to worsen the disease.”
Whatever the shape of the next Israeli government, the Palestinians are prepared to talk peace, said their foreign minister, Riyad al-Maliki.
“Whoever will be able to form a government, we are ready to sit with him or her in order to restart the negotiations,” Maliki told reporters in Oslo, accompanying president Mahmud Abbas on a two-day visit.
Israel’s Arab parties have traditionally not endorsed anyone for prime minister.
“The main difference in this vote is the turnout among Arab citizens,” Joint List leader Ayman Odeh told journalists outside his home in the northern city of Haifa.
“There’s no doubt that this is what made the difference. Without that, Netanyahu would already be prime minister.”
The election was the second in five months for Israel.
President Reuven Rivlin, who must appoint someone to attempt to form the next government, said there was a “need to avoid a third”.
Netanyahu suffered one of the biggest defeats of his political career after the previous elections in April.
His Likud along with its right-wing and religious allies won a majority, but he failed to form a coalition and opted for a second election rather than risk having Rivlin choose someone else to try.
The stakes could not be much higher for 69-year-old Netanyahu, who many believe will seek immunity from prosecution should he survive as prime minister.
Jordan summoned Israel’s ambassador on Sunday in protest over “violations” at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the foreign ministry said.
It summoned envoy Amir Weissbrod to voice its “condemnation and rejection of Israeli violations” at the highly sensitive site, where Israeli security forces clashed with Palestinian worshippers last week.
Israeli police and Palestinian worshippers clashed at a flash point Jerusalem holy site on Sunday as overlapping Jewish and Muslim holidays led to tensions there, an AFP journalist reported.
Police fired sound grenades as Palestinian protests intensified at the highly sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount.
The Palestinian Red Crescent reported injuries without specifying a number.
Sunday marked the start of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday and thousands of Palestinians prayed at the Al-Aqsa mosque.
It coincided with the Jewish Tisha B’av holiday, which typically sees an increase in Jewish visits to the holy site.
In a bid to ease tensions, police barred Jewish visits to the site on Sunday but Muslim worshippers still feared they would be allowed in and protested there. The clashes with police broke out afterward.
The compound, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, is one of the most sensitive sites in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It is the third-holiest site in Islam and the most sacred for Jews, who revere it as the location of the two biblical-era temples.
It is located in east Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.
Jews are allowed to visit but not pray there to avoid provoking tensions.