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.

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 Warns Of ‘Resounding Blow’ If Iran Attacks Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference regarding his intention to file a request to the Knesset for immunity from prosecution, in Jerusalem on January 1, 2020.
GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP Inset Iran Top General Major General Qasem Soleimani

 

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.

Netanyahu Can Stay On As PM Despite Indictment, Says Attorney General

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can stay on in his post although he has been indicted on corruption charges, Israel’s attorney general said Monday.

Avichai Mandelblit, in a statement, said: “there are no legal obligations for the prime minister to resign”.

Under Israeli law, while ministers cannot keep their posts after an indictment, a prime minister is not legally required to step down unless convicted and with all appeals exhausted.

But the embattled premier has faced calls to resign from several politicians since Mandelblit last Thursday charged him with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.

READ ALSO: Defiant Netanyahu Rejects Graft Indictment, Vows To Stay

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.

Netanyahu remains the country’s interim premier.

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

‘Wide-Scale’ Israeli Strikes Kill 11 Fighters In Syria

 

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.

‘Heavy attack’

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.

Flare-up

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.

AFP