Israeli ‘Change’ Bloc Steps Up Effort To Oust Netanyahu

In this file photo taken on February 9, 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP.

 

Israelis waited Sunday to see whether nationalist hardliner Naftali Bennett would agree to join a governing coalition that could end the rule of the country’s longest-serving leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lawmakers opposed to right-wing Netanyahu were in intense talks ahead of a Wednesday deadline, as a ceasefire held following the latest deadly military conflict with Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu, 71, who faces trial on fraud, bribery and breach of trust charges which he denies, has clung to power through a period of political turmoil that has seen four inconclusive elections in under two years.

After a March vote in which Netanyahu’s Likud party gained the most seats but again failed to form a government, former TV anchor Yair Lapid is now trying to build a rival coalition.

Centrist Lapid has until Wednesday 11:59 pm local time (2059 GMT) to build a coalition of at least 61 deputies, a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

The 57-year-old is seeking to forge a diverse alliance the Israeli media has dubbed a bloc for “change”, which would include Bennett as well as Arab-Israeli lawmakers.

In his determination to bring down the hawkish prime minister, Lapid has offered to share power and let Bennett, 49, serve the first term in a rotating premiership.

Bennett was expected to speak Sunday evening after a meeting with his party, a spokeswoman said.

Netanyahu, in office for 12 consecutive years after an earlier three-year term, tried to cling to power Sunday by offering his own, last-ditch power-sharing agreement to several former allies including Bennett.

He warned that Israel would otherwise be ruled by a dangerous “left-wing” alliance.

‘Desperate position’

A Lapid government would also include the centrist Blue and White party of Benny Gantz and the hawkish New Hope party of Netanyahu’s former ally Gideon Saar.

Avigdor Lieberman’s pro-settlement Yisrael Beitenu party as well as historically powerful Labour and the dovish Meretz party would also join.

The shaky arrangement would the backing of some Arab-Israeli lawmakers of Palestinian descent in order to pass a confirmation vote in parliament.

The intense talks follow weeks of escalating tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, including a deadly 11-day exchange of rocket fire from Gaza and devastating Israeli airstrikes.

The war with Hamas that ended with a May 21 truce, as well as tensions in the occupied West Bank and in mixed Jewish-Arab towns in Israel, initially appeared to leave Netanyahu more likely to hold onto power.

But political scientist Gayil Talshir at Hebrew University told AFP on Sunday that Israel was now “closer than ever” to a coalition of change, adding that “Netanyahu is in a desperate position”.

Netanyahu’s Likud party won 30 seats in the March elections but failed to form a governing coalition after his far-right partners refused to sit with Arab factions or receive their support.

Lapid, whose party won 17 seats, was then given four weeks to form a government.

Netanyahu had previously pushed for yet another election, which would be the fifth since April 2019.

“Now that he sees a change coalition may be announced this evening or tomorrow, he has to move forward with a more serious deal,” Talshir told AFP.

More elections?

On Sunday Netanyahu offered a rotation agreement to Bennett and Saar. But Saar on Twitter said he remained committed to “replacing the Netanyahu regime”.

Netanyahu in a video then called on Saar and Bennett to “come now, immediately” to meet him and join a three-way rotation government, warning they were “in crucial moment for the security, character and future of the state of Israel”.

Lapid’s “change” coalition also still faced several obstacles.

Some right-wing lawmakers object to a partnership with politicians from Israel’s Arab minority, around a fifth of the population.

The recent Gaza conflict sparked inter-communal clashes between Jewish and Arab Israelis in mixed cities.

Arab politicians have also been divided about joining a government headed by Bennett, who supports expanding Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinians hope to create a future state.

Even with support from an Arab party, a new coalition in Israel is unlikely to reverse years of Israeli settlement construction or bring peace any time soon with Hamas in Gaza.

If the anti-Netanyahu camp does not manage to form a government on time, a majority of 61 lawmakers could vote to ask the president to name a new premier.

Another scenario would be for the country to gear up for yet another general election — Israel’s fifth in a little more than two years.

Hundreds Hurt In Jerusalem As Isreali Police Clash With Palestinians

Palestinians run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces in Jerusalem's Old City on May 10, 2021, ahead of a planned march to commemorate Israel's takeover of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP
Palestinians run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 10, 2021, ahead of a planned march to commemorate Israel’s takeover of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP

 

More than 300 people were wounded Monday in renewed clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in Jerusalem, Palestinian medics said, as an Israeli celebration of its 1967 takeover of the holy city threatened to further inflame tensions. 

Palestinians hurled rocks at Israeli officers in riot gear who fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas on the esplanade of the revered Al-Aqsa mosque, an AFP correspondent at the scene said, following a night of sporadic clashes.

Loud booms and angry screams echoed from the ancient stone walls of the compound, revered by both Jews and Muslims, where tear gas filled the air and the ground was littered with rocks, stun grenade fragments and other debris.

The violence was the latest in days of the worst such disturbances in Jerusalem since 2017, fuelled by a long-running bid by Jewish settlers to take over nearby Palestinian homes in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

A Palestinian argues with Israeli security forces in Jerusalem's Old City on May 10, 2021, ahead of a planned march to commemorate Israel's takeover of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP
A Palestinian argues with Israeli security forces in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 10, 2021, ahead of a planned march to commemorate Israel’s takeover of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War.
EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP

 

Despite mounting international condemnation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he supported the Israeli police force’s “just struggle” amid the Jerusalem clashes.

“We insist on guaranteeing the (religious) rights of all, and this from time to time requires the stability and steadfastness that the Israeli police and our security forces are currently displaying,” he said.

Police said Jewish “prayers continue as usual” at the Wailing Wall, which adjoins the esplanade, adding that “we will not let extremists threaten the safety of the public”.

Jerusalem Day

The UN Security Council was to meet at Tunisia’s request later Monday on the unrest that has escalated since the last Friday prayers of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

A key court hearing scheduled for Monday on Sheikh Jarrah, the flashpoint east Jerusalem neighbourhood at the centre of the property dispute, has meanwhile been postponed.

There were fears of further violence ahead of a planned march Monday by Israelis to commemorate the takeover of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, an anniversary known as “Jerusalem Day” in the Jewish state.

Israeli police had, as of Sunday, approved the march, which was re-scheduled to start around 5:00 pm (1400 GMT).

The Palestinian Red Crescent put the toll at 305 injured, including more than 200 who were hospitalised, five of them in critical condition.

A Palestinian protester argues with Israeli security forces in Jerusalem's Old City on May 10, 2021, as a planned march marking Israel's 1967 takeover of the holy city threatened to further inflame tensions. EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP
A Palestinian protester argues with Israeli security forces in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 10, 2021, as a planned march marking Israel’s 1967 takeover of the holy city threatened to further inflame tensions. EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP

 

Three people lost one eye each, said surgeon Firas Abu Akari at east Jerusalem’s Maqassed hospital.

Near the Old City, a car carrying Israelis was pelted with stones, lost control and rammed into Palestinians, according to police and footage from a journalist on the scene.

Once stopped, the vehicle was attacked by around a dozen people who continued to hurl projectiles at the passengers before an Israeli policeman dispersed the crowd by firing into the air.

The Israeli police reported nine injuries in their ranks.

US ‘serious concern’

The United States expressed “serious concerns” about the situation.

In a White House statement, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan “encouraged the Israeli government to pursue appropriate measures to ensure calm during Jerusalem Day commemorations”.

The Israeli role in the hostilities — especially Friday’s clashes at Al-Aqsa, Islam’s third holiest site — has met widespread criticism.

All six Arab nations that have diplomatic ties with Israel — Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — have condemned the Jewish state.

Palestinians run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces in Jerusalem's Old City on May 10, 2021, ahead of a planned march to commemorate Israel's takeover of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. ahmad gharabli / AFP
Palestinians run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 10, 2021, ahead of a planned march to commemorate Israel’s takeover of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. Ahmad Gharabli / AFP

 

In Jordan, the custodian of Jerusalem’s holy Islamic and Christian sites, King Abdullah II condemned “Israeli violations and escalatory practices at the blessed Al-Aqsa mosque”.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, urged “the UN Security Council to take measures on the repeated violations carried out by Israel”.

The Middle East quartet of envoys from the EU, Russia, the US and the UN — and Pope Francis — have all called for calm.

Court case delayed

Much of the recent violence stems from a long-running legal effort by Jewish settler groups to evict several Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah.

A lower court ruling this year backing the settlers’ decades-old claim to the plots infuriated Palestinians.

A Supreme Court hearing on a Palestinian appeal had been set for Monday, but the justice ministry said Sunday that in light of “all the circumstances” it would delay the hearing.

Israel annexed east Jerusalem following the 1967 takeover, a move not recognised by most of the international community.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has expressed “full support for our heroes in Al-Aqsa”.

Hamas Islamists who control the Gaza Strip have also voiced support for the Palestinian protesters and warned Israel of retribution if evictions proceed in Sheikh Jarrah.

AFP

Pope Francis Calls For End To Clashes In Jerusalem

File photo of Pope Francis delivering his message during a private Angelus prayer live broadcast from the library of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. VATICAN MEDIA / AFP.

 

Pope Francis on Sunday called for an end to violence in annexed east Jerusalem, where clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police have left scores of Palestinians injured.

After delivering his Regina Caeli prayer from the window overlooking St Peter’s Square, the pope said he was “following with particular concern the events that are happening in Jerusalem”.

“I pray so that this might be a place of encounter and not violent clashes, a place of prayer and of peace,” he said.

“I invite everyone to seek shared resolutions so that the multi-religious identity and multi-culture of the holy city might be respected and so that fraternity might prevail.

“Violence only generates violence. Let’s stop these clashes.”

Tensions ran high Sunday in east Jerusalem after hundreds of Palestinians were wounded in a weekend of clashes between protesters and Israeli security forces, sparking global concern that the unrest could spread further.

READ ALSO: At Least 15 Dead After Guinean Gold Mine Landslide

The violence around Jerusalem’s revered Al-Aqsa mosque compound and the Old City, mostly at night, is the worst since 2017, fuelled by a years-long bid by Jewish settlers to take over Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem.

The pope also offered his prayers for the victims of the attack on Saturday on a school in Kabul, describing it as “an inhumane action that killed many girls as they were leaving school”.

“Let us pray for all of them and for their families, and that God might grant peace to Afghanistan,” he said.

A series of blasts outside the school during a peak holiday shopping period killed more than 50 people, mostly girl students, and wounded over 100 in Dasht-e-Barchi, a west Kabul suburb populated mostly by Hazara Shiites.

Finally, the Argentine pontiff offered some words for a small crowd of people bearing Colombian flags who had come to St Peter’s Square hoping for some reference to the demonstrations and clashes in their country.

“I would also like to express my concern for the tension and violent clashes in Colombia which have left many wounded. There are many Colombians here, let’s pray for your country,” he said.

 

Kosovo Establishes Israel Ties, To Open Embassy In Jerusalem

Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi gives a statement during a ceremony held over Zoom with his counterpart from Kosovo marking the establishment of diplomatic ties between Israel and Kosovo, at the Israeli Foreign Ministry headquarters in Jerusalem on February 1, 2021. (Photo by menahem kahana / AFP)

 

Israel and Kosovo established diplomatic ties on Monday, with the Muslim-majority territory recognising Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital, putting it at odds with the rest of the Islamic world.

Israel has since August established ties with a four Arab states under a series of deals brokered by former US president Donald Trump, collectively known as the Abraham Accords.

But the majority-Muslim parties to those accords — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — have all said their diplomatic missions will be in Tel Aviv, in line with global consensus against recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital until the Palestinian conflict is resolved.

READ ALSO: Liverpool Expected To Boost Defensive Options On Transfer Deadline Day

In exchange for setting up its mission in Jerusalem, Kosovo gets recognition from Israel, as it seeks to further legitimise its 2008 declaration of independence from its former war foe Serbia.

Because of coronavirus restrictions, officials on Monday signed joint declarations separately in Jerusalem and Pristina.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said the ceremony marked “the first time in history that diplomatic relationship are being established over Zoom”.

He added he had approved Kosovo’s “formal request to open an embassy in Jerusalem”.

– ‘Historical bond’ –

Kosovo’s top diplomat, Meliza Haradinaj-Stublla, thanked Israel for becoming the 117th country to recognise its independence, joining much of the Western world.

China, Russia and five European Union members have not granted recognition to Kosovo.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (L), mask-clad due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, signs a joint declaration establishing ties with Kosovo during an official ceremony held over Zoom with his counterpart from Kosovo Meliza Haradinaj Stublla (screen), at the Israeli Foreign Ministry headquarters in Jerusalem on February 1, 2021. – Israel and Kosovo established diplomatic ties on February 1, with the Muslim-majority territory recognising Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital, putting it at odds with the rest of the Islamic world. (Photo by menahem kahana / AFP)

“Kosovo has waited for a very long time to establish diplomatic relations with Israel,” Haradinaj-Stublla said.

“We mark a new chapter in the historical bond between our two countries who have witnessed a long and challenging path to existing as a people and to becoming states,” she added.

Haradinaj-Stublla also thanked Trump, who announced in December 2017 that Washington would move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem.

Trump’s successor, President Joe Biden, has said he does not intend to reverse the move.

But Biden’s presidential campaign indicated his administration would seek to reopen a mission in east Jerusalem to engage the Palestinians, who consider the eastern part of the city as the capital of their future state.

– Serbia reaction –

In September, Trump announced at a summit originally organised to strike a deal between Kosovo and Serbia that Kosovo and the Jewish state would establish diplomatic ties.

But the most standout part of the summit was an announcement by Kosovo that it would mutually recognise Israel, and Serbia saying it would follow Washington’s lead in moving its embassy to Jerusalem.

So far, however, Serbia has failed to honour its pledge, with some officials claiming the deal was non-binding.

Ashkenazi said Israel was committed to working towards a “stable Balkans”, but Monday’s ceremony could have diplomatic consequences.

Briefing journalists this week, the head of the Balkans division at Israel’s foreign ministry, Dan Oryan, said recognition of Kosovo causes the Serbs significant “pain”.

In one of Europe’s most intractable disputes, Serbia has refused to recognise Kosovo’s declaration of independence since the province broke away in the bloody 1998-99 war that was ended only by a NATO bombing campaign against Serb troops.

More than 13,000 people died in the war, mostly Kosovo Albanians, who form a majority in the former province.

The two sides have been in EU-led talks for a decade to normalise their relationship, but little progress has been made.

Fatah, Hamas Say Deal Reached On Palestinian Elections

In this file photo taken on March 22, 2018 Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas gestures while speaking during a joint press conference with the visiting Bulgarian president at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. 
ABBAS MOMANI / AFP

 

Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas and their rivals Fatah in the occupied West Bank agreed Thursday to hold the first Palestinian elections since 2006, united by their opposition to Arab-Israeli normalisation deals.

Polls will be scheduled within six months under a deal reached between Fatah leader Mahmud Abbas and Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh, officials from both sides told AFP.

“We have agreed to first hold legislative elections, then presidential elections of the Palestinian Authority, and finally the Central Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO),” said Jibril Rajub, a senior Fatah official.

The last Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 saw Hamas win an unexpected landslide and the following year the Islamists seized control of the Gaza Strip in a near-civil war between the two factions.

Saleh al-Arouri, a top Hamas official, said the deal was reached during meetings held in Turkey.

“This time we reached a real consensus,” he said, speaking to AFP by phone from Istanbul.

“Divisions have damaged our national cause and we are working to end that,” he added.

The intra-Palestinian reconciliation attempts took on greater urgency after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain normalised relations with Israel, becoming only the third and fourth Arab nations to do so.

Egypt and Jordan respectively signed peace deals with the Jewish state in 1979 and 1994.

– ‘Long overdue’ –

Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi welcomed the announcement to convene new elections, saying it was a “long overdue” move to “revitalise and unify” Palestinian ranks.

“The promising developments emerging from talks between Fatah and Hamas are welcome news for the Palestinian people,” Ashrawi said in a statement.

“Ending the ongoing rift in the political system is a pressing priority that is long overdue.”

Ashrawi called on Palestinian factions “to include women and youth in advanced positions in their electoral tickets”.

She also urged the international community to “ensure that Israel does not hamper or obstruct” the vote.

The 2006 Palestinians polls resulted in a brief unity government, but it soon collapsed and in 2007 bloody clashes erupted in the Gaza Strip between the two principal Palestinian factions.

Hamas has since ruled Gaza, while Fatah has run the Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Numerous attempts at reconciliation, including a prisoner exchange agreement in 2012 and a short-lived coalition government two years later, have failed to close the rift.

Including PLO elections in the agreement paves the way for Hamas to join the organisation, which unites various Palestinian factions including Fatah.

The PLO signed the 1993 Oslo peace accords with Israel, which have long since floundered.

Fatah has not said whether Abbas will seek re-election in the proposed polls.

The 84-year-old has been in office since the 2005 presidential election, when he won 62 percent of the vote.

According to a rare poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Research carried out earlier this year, Hamas’s Haniyeh would beat Abbas in a presidential election.

The Fatah leader has repeatedly pledged elections over the past decade, but hurdles remain in spite of the Hamas deal.

Enabling Palestinian residents of occupied east Jerusalem to vote will prove particularly challenging, as Israel controls the city and prevents Palestinian officials from working there.

The accords between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain — both inked at the White House on September 15 — broke with decades of Arab consensus that ties with the Jewish state should not be established until it has signed a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians.

Turkey and Iran, both Muslim non-Arab nations, have been the most vociferous countries in opposing normalisation.

Ankara has “an ambition to lead” the Palestinian cause, pointing to “the hypocrisy of both Arab states and the West for not emphasising” the cause enough, according to Gallia Lindenstrauss of Israel’s National Institute for Security Research.

AFP

EU Warns Serbia Over Jerusalem Embassy Move

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

 

The EU voiced “serious concern and regret” on Monday over Belgrade’s commitment to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, casting a shadow over the resumption of Serbia-Kosovo talks.

President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti are to meet in Brussels for a second round of EU-brokered face-to-face talks to resolve disputes two decades after clashing in war.

The meeting follows a high-profile summit at the White House where Vucic and Hoti signed statements agreeing to measures to improve economic relations — and in Serbia’s case, committing to moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The EU is still committed to the so-called “two state solution” in which Jerusalem will be the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state, and its own diplomatic mission is in Tel Aviv.

The bloc expects prospective members like Serbia to align with its foreign policy positions.

“In this context any diplomatic steps that could call into question the EU’s common position on Jerusalem are a matter of serious concern and regret,” EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano told reporters in Brussels.

Breaking with longstanding diplomatic practice, President Donald Trump’s administration in December 2017 recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US embassy to the city.

– Long-running dispute

Washington touted the agreements signed by Vucic and Hoti on Friday as a major breakthrough, but on Monday the two leaders issued a joint statement giving a far more cautious read.

“The recently agreed documents in Washington DC, building on previous dialogue-related commitments undertaken by the two parties, could provide a useful contribution to reaching a comprehensive, legally binding agreement on normalisation of relations,” the statement said.

In one of Europe’s most intractable disputes, Serbia has refused to recognise Kosovo’s declaration of independence since the province broke away in the bloody 1998-99 war that was ended only by a NATO bombing campaign against Serb troops.

Both Kosovo and Serbia are facing mounting pressure from the West to resolve the impasse which is seen as crucial to either side joining the EU.

More than 13,000 people died in the war, mostly Kosovo Albanians, who form a majority in the former province.

One key question is diplomatic recognition for Kosovo — five of the EU’s 27 countries do not acknowledge its independence.

The two sides have been in EU-led talks for a decade to normalise their relationship, but little progress has been made, with a raft of agreements concluded in 2013 yet to be fully implemented, and the previous round of negotiations broke down in 2018 after a series of diplomatic tit-for-tats.

Vucic and Hoti resumed face-to-face talks in Brussels in July but the effort got off to a frosty start, with the Serbian leader accusing Pristina of trying to “blackmail” Belgrade.

EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell, who is hosting the Brussels talks along with the EU’s special representative Miroslav Lajcak, said Monday’s meeting would focus on “non-majority communities and the settlement of mutual financial claims on property”.

“Both topics are very sensitive and very important for the future relationship between Kosovo and Serbia and for the everyday life of their people,” Borrell said.

AFP

Al-Aqsa Mosque In Jerusalem Reopens After Two Months

Palestinians walk past the Dome of Rock at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, before the start of the dawn prayer (salat al-fajr) inside the compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, on May 31, 2020, after being closed for over two months because of the coronavirus pandemic. AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP

 

 

Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound — the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia — reopened on Sunday after being closed for more than two months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dozens of worshippers in protective masks were let into the compound before the first prayers of the day, held in a cool and windy night.

Chanting “God is greatest, we will protect Al-Aqsa with our soul and blood”, the group gathered in front of the large wooden doors were welcomed by mosque director Omar al-Kiswani, who thanked them for their patience.

It followed a fraught day in annexed East Jerusalem, where the compound is located.

Israeli police on Saturday shot dead a disabled Palestinian they mistakenly thought was armed, prompting furious condemnation from the Palestinians.

The religious site, which houses Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, had closed its doors in March as part of measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven there, and the site has often been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is also the holiest site to Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount and believe it to be the location of two biblical temples — the second of which was destroyed in 70 AD.

On the first day of the Eid holiday, scuffles had broken out between Israeli police and Palestinians as worshippers tried to break through barriers to enter the compound.

Known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, the site is under the custodianship of neighbouring Jordan, which controlled the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, up until occupation by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967.

With the number of COVID-19 cases declining, in recent days both Israel and the Palestinian territories have eased restrictions.

Israel has reported more than 17,000 cases, including 284 deaths.

Fewer than 500 infections and just three deaths have been confirmed in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, which have a combined population of around five million.

Following the deadly shooting on Saturday, the Palestinian leadership demanded that whoever killed the man be brought before the International Criminal Court.

The incident happened in the alleys of the walled Old City near Lions’ Gate, an access point mainly used by Palestinians.

There have been fears that Israeli plans to take advantage of a controversial green light from US President Donald Trump to annex swathes of the West Bank could stoke further violence.

Muted Easter Sunday At Jerusalem’s Church Of Holy Sepulchre

A Christian clergyman waits for the Easter Sunday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre before the start of the Easter Sunday service amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Jerusalem’s Old City on April 12, 2020. – All cultural sites in the Holy Land are shuttered, regardless of their religious affiliation, as authorities seek to forestall the spread of the deadly respiratory disease. Christians will be prevented from congregating for the Easter service, whether this coming Sunday — as in the case of Bitar and fellow Catholics — or a week later on April 19 in the case of the Orthodox. Sebastian Scheiner / POOL / AFP.

 

A handful of priests celebrated Easter on Sunday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected.

In the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City, the church — which had not been closed over Easter for at least a century — has been shuttered to worshippers along with all cultural sites in the Holy Land to curb the spread of the COVID-19 respiratory disease.

“Easter is a time for life,” said Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, who arrived at the church under the watchful eye of Israeli security forces.

“Despite the signs of death everywhere, life will prevail as long as someone is giving life out of love for others,” he added, before entering the church.

A few faithful had gathered at the church’s inner courtyard, including one man in an immaculate white gown who had prayed in front of the closed door.

The Sepulchre is considered the holiest site in Christianity, and it typically attracts thousands of worshippers over the Easter weekend.

READ ALSO: EASTER: Pope Offers Prayer For COVID-19 Sick

But the Old City, in east Jerusalem, has been rendered a ghost town following strict social distancing measures imposed by Israel, which has reported nearly 11,000 cases of the novel coronavirus.

Israel occupied east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six day war and later annexed it, in a move never recognised by the international community.

AFP

Israel Postpones Netanyahu Graft Trial By 2 Months Over Virus

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, on July 8, 2018. ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial has been postponed until May 24 due to concerns about coronavirus, Jerusalem’s District Court said Sunday.

Netanyahu, the first Israeli premier ever to be indicted in office, had been scheduled to stand trial from Tuesday over alleged bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

In a statement, the court noted that given the coronavirus pandemic it had been instructed to hear “only urgent matters”.

“We have decided to postpone the first hearing (in Netanyahu’s trial) until May 24,” the court said.

Israel has 200 confirmed cases of the virus with tens of thousands of people in home quarantine.

Netanyahu has been charged with a range of offences including receiving improper gifts and offering a media mogul lucrative regulatory changes in exchange for favourable coverage.

He denies wrongdoing.

Despite the indictments, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party won the most seats in March 2 elections and he is aiming to form a new government.

But Likud and its allies fell short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in the Knesset, or parliament. It was Israel’s third inconclusive vote in less than a year.

Netanyahu has called on his main challenger Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party to form an emergency, national unity government to tackle the coronavirus crisis.

Gantz has said he is open to discussing the proposal, with negotiations set for this week.

Netanyahu To Build New Settler Homes In Sensitive West Bank Corridor

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) checks the area map during a visit to the Israeli settlement of Ariel in the occupied West Bank on February 24, 2020. Sebastian Scheiner / POOL / AFP

 

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.

AFP

14 Injured In Possible Jerusalem Car Attack

 

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.

Netanyahu Asks Uganda To Open Jerusalem Embassy

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech in Jerusalem on October 10, 2019.
GALI TIBBON / AFP

 

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.

AFP