Netanyahu Indicted For Bribery, Fraud And Breach Of Trust

(FILES) A picture dated on February 25, 2018, shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office.

 

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.

AFP

Palestine, Israel Hold Truce As Life Returns To Gaza

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri is carried by Palestinians as they celebrate what they said was a victory over Israel following a ceasefire in Gaza CityA ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians aimed at ending their seven-week conflict in Gaza appeared to be holding early on Wednesday as the focus shifted to securing an arrangement for the long term.

No clear victor emerged from what had become a war of attrition between the Middle East’s most powerful armed forces and the dominant Hamas militant movement in the Gaza Strip.

Exacting a heavy toll in Palestinian lives and property, Israel said it dealt a strong blow to Hamas, killing several of its military leaders and destroying the group’s cross-border infiltration tunnels.

But Israel also faced persistent rocket fire for nearly two months that caused an exodus from a number of border communities and became part of daily life in its commercial heartland.

Palestinian and Egyptian officials said the deal, which was mediated in Cairo and took effect on Tuesday evening, called for an indefinite halt to hostilities, the immediate opening of Gaza’s blockaded crossings with Israel and Egypt and a widening of the territory’s fishing zone in the Mediterranean.

A senior official of the Islamist group Hamas, which runs Gaza, voiced willingness for the security forces of Western-backed Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas and the unity government he formed in June to control the passage points.

Both Israel and Egypt view Hamas as a security threat and are seeking guarantees that weapons will not enter the territory of 1.8 million people.

Under a second stage of the truce that would begin a month later, Israel and the Palestinians would discuss the construction of a Gaza sea port and Israel’s release of Hamas prisoners in the occupied West Bank, possibly in a trade for body parts of two Israeli soldiers believed held by Hamas, the officials said.

After the ceasefire began, crowds and traffic filled the streets of Gaza. Car horns blared and recorded chants praising God sounded from mosque loudspeakers. Celebratory gunfire killed one Palestinian and wounded 19 others, hospital officials said.

“Today we declare the victory of the resistance, today we declare the victory of Gaza,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Israel gave a low-key response to the truce, saying it would facilitate the flow of civilian goods and humanitarian and reconstruction aid into the impoverished territory if the “open-ended” ceasefire was honored.

“We have no problem with civilian support for Gaza,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We don’t want to see Hamas rebuild its military machine.”

Many residents of southern Israel remained skeptical, and some officials recommended against returning home too soon.

“We had ceasefires in the past that didn’t succeed or work out well, and (Hamas) continued with their terror, destruction, with all their craziness, and we no longer believe them,” said Israeli Meirav Danino outside a supermarket in the border town of Sderot that for years has been hit by rockets.

The United States and United Nations urged both sides to comply with the terms of the agreement.

“We are all aware that this is an opportunity, not a certainty,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. “We have been down this road before and we are all aware of the challenges ahead.”

Palestinian health officials say 2,139 people, most of them civilians, including more than 490 children, have been killed in the enclave since July 8, when Israel launched an offensive with the declared aim of ending rocket salvoes.

Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel have been killed – a civilian died after the ceasefire was announced from a mortar attack earlier in the day.

Thousands of homes in the Gaza Strip United Nation have been destroyed or damaged in the most prolonged Israeli-Palestinian fighting since a 2000-2005 Palestinian uprising. The  has named a panel to investigate possible war crimes committed by both sides.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said 540,000 people had been displaced in the Gaza Strip. Israel has said Hamas bears responsibility for civilian casualties because it operates among non-combatants and uses schools and mosques to store weapons and as launch sites for rockets.

“We have mixed feelings. We are in pain for the losses but we are also proud we fought this war alone and we were not broken,” said Gaza teacher Ahmed Awf, 55, as he held his two-year-old son in his arms and joined in the street festivities.

Many of the thousands of rockets fired at Israel were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, a partly U.S.-funded project hailed by many Israelis as an example of their nation’s high-tech capabilities.

But short-range mortar bombs rained down on farming communities and towns near the Gaza border, putting into question the start of the school year in the area on Sept. 1.

Palestinian Officials Say ‘Agreement Has Been Reached’

Palestinian boy cries as he stands in a debris-strewn street near his family's house in Rafah in the southern Gaza StripPalestinian officials said on Tuesday a Gaza ceasefire deal with Israel has been reached under Egyptian mediation and a formal announcement of an agreement was imminent.

There was no immediate confirmation from Israel, where a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment.

“An agreement has been reached between the two sides and we are awaiting the announcement from Cairo to determine the zero hour for implementation,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in Gaza.

A spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, one of the Gaza militant groups that has been firing rockets into Israel, said the announcement could be made within two hours.

Cairo’s initiative, Palestinians officials said, called for an indefinite halt to seven weeks of hostilities, the immediate opening of Gaza’s blockaded crossings with Israel and Egypt and a widening of the enclave’s fishing zone in the Mediterranean.

Under a second stage that would begin a month later, Israel and the Palestinians would discuss the construction of a Gaza sea port and an Israeli release of Hamas prisoners in the occupied West Bank, the officials said.

Both Israel and Egypt view Hamas as a security threat and are demanding guarantees that weapons will not enter the economically crippled territory.

Increasing pressure on Palestinian militants to end their rocket strikes, Israel bombed more of Gaza’s tallest structures on Tuesday, bringing down a 13-storey apartment and office tower and destroying most of a 16-floor residential building.

The strikes flattened the Basha Tower and wrecked the Italian Complex, after occupants were warned to get out, and no deaths were reported.

Declining to comment specifically on the attacks, the Israeli military said it had hit 15 “terror sites”, including some in buildings that housed Hamas command and control centers.

Crisis Zones: Israel In Ground Offensive In Gaza

Tommi VincentThis week’s Diplomatic Channel considered crisis in the Middle East, as Israel’s ground offensive claims more Palestinian lives.

It also looked at what led to the crash of the Malaysian flight MH17. Was it an honest mistake, or was the alleged missile fire deliberate on a passenger airplane, with no stake in the Ukraine-Russia stand-off?

Then it also examined how the French celebrate Bastille Day in Nigeria.

Just like the Americans, it’s a party, but in a more formal environment.

The French love their wines, and variety of cuisine.

Scores of people have been killed since Israel began its offensive on the Gaza Strip last week. However, more people have died since it launched its ground offensive.

There are reports that as at Sunday, 60 people had been killed in one area alone. The number of death toll, since the offensive began, the number has gone up to 18, mostly soldiers.

Nevertheless, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to continue operations in Gaza, despite the growing number of fatalities.

Three days since it announced the ground offensive, Israel has kept true to its word.

The growing number of casualties has been more on the part of the Palestinians, with only a quarter or so of the more than 400 people, who have been killed since the offensive began, on the part of Israel.

A guest on the programme from Pan Atlantic University, Tommi Vincent, gave his opinion on the war, insisting that the Israel and the Palestine should consider going back to the table for negotiation.

Palestinian Rocket Fire Persists, Israel Warns Truce At Risk

Israeli police survey the scene after a rocket fired from Gaza landed in AshdodPalestinian militants fired rockets at Israel on Tuesday after it agreed to an Egyptian proposal to end the week-old Gaza conflict, and a Hamas leader said the Islamist group was still undecided on whether to accept the ceasefire.

Under the terms of the blueprint announced by Egypt – whose military-backed government has been at odds with Hamas – a mutual “de-escalation” of fighting was to begin at 9 a.m. (2 a.m. EDT), with hostilities ceasing within 12 hours.

Hamas Undecided To Stop Ceasefire In Israel were fired at Israel after 9 a.m. and live television showed the Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepting several projectiles over the port city of Ashdod, where a factory was hit. Emergency services said no one was hurt.

Sirens sounded in other parts of southern Israel after what Channel Two television reported had been volleys of at least 10 rockets.

Israel said it had halted its attacks in the Gaza Strip but would respond strongly if Palestinian strikes persisted.

At Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet approved the Egyptian offer, an official statement said. Political sources said the vote in the forum was 6-2.

Hamas’s armed wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, rejected the reported text of the deal announced by Egypt, Gaza’s neighbor, saying: “Our battle with the enemy continues and will increase in ferocity and intensity.”

But Moussa Abu Marzouk, a top Hamas official who was in Cairo, said the movement had made no final decision.

“We are still in consultation and there has been no official position made by the (Hamas) movement regarding the Egyptian proposal,” Moussa Abu Marzouk, who was in Cairo, said in a Facebook posting.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said earlier on Tuesday that the Islamist group had not received an official ceasefire proposal, and he repeated its position that demands it has made must be met before it lays down its weapons.

Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli defense official and envoy to Cairo, said Hamas had been weakened by the air and sea bombardment of Gaza that medical officials in the densely populated enclave said had killed at least 184 people, many of them civilians.

“Look at the balance, and you see that Hamas tried every possible means of striking at Israel,” Gilad told Israel’s Army Radio. Hundreds of rocket attacks on Israel have caused no fatalities, largely due to Iron Dome. But the strikes have disrupted life across the country and sent people rushing into shelters.

Israel had mobilized tens of thousands of troops for a threatened Gaza invasion if the rocket salvoes persisted in the worst flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian hostilities in two years.

“We still have the possibility of going in, under cabinet authority, and putting an end to them (the rockets),” Gilad said.

In overnight attacks, Israel said it had bombed 25 sites in Gaza. Palestinian medical officials said a 63-year-old man and a 52-year-old woman were killed.