Israel MP holds ‘protest’ office outside Jerusalem holy site

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A rabbi and lawmaker from Israel’s ruling party held office hours Monday outside a sensitive Jerusalem holy site to protest a government ban on visits by MPs and ministers.

Yehuda Glick, who was shot in 2014 over his campaign for Jewish prayer rights at the Haram al-Sharif compound, known to Jews as Temple Mount, said it was a one-day action.

“I’m here to protest the fact that the prime minister won’t enable police to allow us to enter the Temple Mount,” Glick told AFP.

“I suffer every day I can’t enter the Temple Mount,” he said, as he held court at one of the gates to the compound alongside a number of bodyguards.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had in October 2015 imposed the ban on visits by MPs and ministers to the flashpoint religious site in an effort to restore calm after an outbreak of violence.

The unrest was fuelled in part by fears among Palestinians that Israel was planning to assert further control over the compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

The site, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, is the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest in Islam, and it is central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Glick had in March petitioned the supreme court against Netanyahu’s ban.

The government decided in response to allow lawmakers to visit the compound for a “pilot number of days” in July, but an outbreak of violence there put off the plan.

- ‘We don’t want to harm Muslims’ -

Glick, a US-born rabbi, survived a 2014 assassination attempt by a Palestinian over his campaign for Jewish prayer rights at the site before he joined parliament as a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Violence erupted in and around the site after three Arab Israelis shot dead two Israeli policemen on July 14.

Israel responded by installing metal detectors at the entrance to the Al-Aqsa mosque complex, used as a staging point for the attack.

For nearly two weeks, worshippers refused to submit to the checks and staged mass prayers in surrounding streets.

Ensuing protests and clashes left seven Palestinians dead, while three Israelis were stabbed to death by a Palestinian assailant.

The crisis abated when Israel removed the detectors.

Jews are allowed to visit the compound but not pray there, and the site has been the scene of regular confrontation when they try to flout the rule.

Glick described the site as “the essence of my life.”

“There’s no reason in the world to think that my entering the Temple Mount will stir trouble,” he said.

“The Jewish god is inclusive… he wants to see the prayer of Muslims and Jews and Christians and Indonesians and Mexicans,” Glick said.

“We don’t want to harm the Muslims, on the contrary… when I see a Muslim praying at the Temple Mount it fills my heart with great joy. It shows me the fulfullment of the prophecies of our prophets.” afp

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Clashes between Palestinians, Israeli police at Jerusalem holy site

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Clashes erupted between Israeli police and Palestinians at a sensitive Jerusalem holy site Thursday as thousands of Muslim worshippers entered to end a boycott of the compound over new Israeli security measures.

An AFP correspondent witnessed the clashes erupt shortly after the worshippers entered.

The Palestinian Red Crescent reported 46 people wounded both inside the Haram al-Sharif compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, and in the immediate area.

The reasons for the clashes inside the compound were not immediately clear.

Outside, clashes broke out when a group of policemen walked in the middle of a crowd. Palestinians threw plastic bottles and Israeli forces fired stun grenades.

Thousands of worshippers had earlier streamed into the compound for afternoon prayers, ending a boycott after Israel removed controversial new security measures, installed after a July 14 attack killed two policemen.

The site includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

Some cried as they entered while others shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest).

Muslims had refused to enter the compound and prayed in the streets outside after Israel installed the new security measures.

Palestinians viewed the move as Israel asserting further control over the site.

Israeli authorities said the measures, including metal detectors, were needed because the July 14 attackers smuggled guns into the compound and emerged from it to attack the officers.

Deadly unrest erupted in the days after the new measures were introduced, with clashes breaking out around the compound and in the occupied West Bank, leaving five Palestinians dead.

A Palestinian also broke into a home in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank last week and stabbed four Israelis, killing three of them. afp

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Israeli ex-PM Olmert freed from prison after parole in graft case

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Israeli ex-prime minister Ehud Olmert was freed from prison on Sunday (July 2) after being granted parole in a corruption case that reduced his sentence by a third.

Olmert, the country’s first former premier to serve jail time, did not speak to reporters when leaving the Maasiyahu prison in central Israel.

Wearing a dark-coloured T-shirt, he was seen exiting the jail shortly after dawn on Sunday before being driven away.

The 71-year-old, premier between 2006 and 2009, was convicted of graft and entered prison in February 2016. He had been sentenced to 27 months.

Olmert was granted early release by a parole board on Thursday and prosecutors decided not to appeal the decision.

He had resigned as prime minister in September 2008 after police recommended he be indicted for graft, but remained in office until March 2009, when right-wing Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in to the post, which he has held ever since.

Olmert won international acclaim for relaunching peace efforts with the Palestinians at the Annapolis conference in the United States in 2007 but they failed to bear fruit and the corruption charges against him have come to define his legacy.

The parole board said last week that while Olmert’s crimes were “severe”, he was “punished for his deeds and paid a heavy price”.

“The inmate underwent a significant rehabilitation process in prison and displays motivation to continue it,” it said.

“All this significantly diminishes the risk he will deviate again from honest practice.”

The decision came after Olmert was recently rushed to hospital after experiencing chest pains in prison.

The former premier underwent examinations which determined he was healthy and he returned to prison after a number of days.  A picture of a gaunt Olmert in hospital robes eating from plastic utensils found its way to social media, evoking a wave of sympathy from the public as well as politicians calling for his early release.

‘SECRETIVE’ CONTENT?

Even after his release, Olmert could still face new criminal charges, though some Israeli media reported that the probe is expected to be dropped.

Last month, the state attorney’s office instructed police to investigate suspicions Olmert had smuggled a chapter of a book he was writing out of prison, an act that would constitute a felony due to the “secretive” content, the justice ministry said.

Police had raided the office of the Yediot Aharonot publisher and seized Olmert’s manuscript as well as other materials out of fears their dissemination – prior to the mandatory censorship they would be subject to – could cause “severe security damage”, the ministry said.

The investigation was ongoing, with the state attorney’s office expected to announce in the coming days whether it would seek to press charges against Olmert over his conduct around the book.

Olmert’s original 27-month prison term was comprised of 18 months for taking bribes in the early 2000s in connection with the construction of Jerusalem’s massive Holyland residential complex, eight months for a separate case of fraud and corruption, and another month for obstructing justice.

The main convictions against him dated to before his time as prime minister, to the years when he served as mayor of Jerusalem and economy minister, among other positions.

In a video message released just before he began his sentence, Olmert, a debonair man reputed to have a taste for fine cigars, maintained his innocence.

“You can imagine how painful and strange this change is to me, my family, loved ones and supporters,” said Olmert, looking haggard and downcast.

“I totally deny all the bribe charges attributed to me.”

He added that “over the course of my extensive career I also made mistakes, though none of them were criminal by nature in my opinion. I’m paying a dear price for some of them today, perhaps too dear.

“With a very heavy heart, I’m accepting my sentence today. Nobody is above the law.” afp

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Designer draws from Israel’s many tribes

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Designer Hed Mayner is not afraid to play with the totems of Israeli life, from a trench coat made from a military tent to a sleeveless beach top cut from a Jewish prayer shawl.

The 30-year-old from a hippyish village in Galilee joyously mixed djellabas, jogging pants, jeans and PVC jackets in his debut Paris men’s fashion show this weekend.

He started designing at 16 inspired by the collection of kimonos a neighbor in his forest community near the Lebanese border had brought home from her time in Japan.

“When you’re isolated from urban life, you have this fantasy of it that never really fits with reality and you can kind of develop this universe,” he told AFP of his eclectic influences.

His village of 40 families near Amuka in the north of the country is a pilgrimage site for Orthodox and Hasidic Jews who flock to the tomb of a famous rabbi to pray for a good marriage.

This helped kindle his fascination with Orthodox Jewish clothing, although he was never religious himself.

“They wear tailored pieces but not in a sharp suited way,” said Mayner, whose parents are artists.

‘Multicultural to the extreme’

“You have the big shoulders, the jacket and the sleeves that are too long… I really like this idea of disproportion but it’s still tailored and very structured.

“They have these shops which sells one jacket in a million sizes.”

Orthodox Jews like their clothes to “really wrap the body” and handed them down from “from one kid to the another, he added.

Mayner said he drew much of his inspiration from both the military and religious uniforms of the Jewish state’s diverse though not always harmonious communities.

“Israelis don’t see fashion in the same way Europeans see it. It is not something that is very important in everyday life. In Israel people are in uniforms.”

Nowhere more so than in the contested holy city of Jerusalem, he said.

“I love Jerusalem but it’s a very difficult place to live because it’s super intense. You have craziness there all the time, you know the ‘Jerusalem syndrome’, you really feel it.

“Society there is very uniformed, everybody is in uniform and it’s kind of multicultural to the extreme.

“Israel is very split. You have the most secular people and very religious people.”

Mayner preferred to set up his studio in the more liberal beach-side city of Tel Aviv with its creative and international outlook.

As well as French style influences, “Tel Aviv is also linked to Berlin culture,” he said. “The city is half very old, half very new buildings and everything is under construction.

“There is so much around and the idea of creating something is very strong,” not only in fashion but “from start-up people to industrial designers.”

His clothes, however, are not are yet sold in his homeland, instead going to shops in Europe and the United States.

And being a fan of the Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto, he is chuffed about how well they sell in Japan.

“I think the Japanese understand my clothes better than I do myself,” he said. afp

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Londoners hold vigil for mosque attack victims

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Londoners bearing flowers and messages of solidarity gathered Monday at the spot where a man plowed a van into Muslims leaving prayers at a mosque, the fourth terror strike in Britain in four months.

Eleven people were injured in the attack, which took place early Monday near Finsbury Park mosque, north London, raising fears of retaliation against Muslims after recent assaults by Islamic extremists.

One elderly man, who had collapsed just before the incident, was pronounced dead at the scene, but it is not yet known whether his death was directly linked to the van assault.

Among the roughly 100 people at the vigil, some carried signs reading “United Against All Terror.”

“One of the things that all these terrorists share is a perverse ideology that wants to fuel division and divide our communities. We’re not going to let them,” said Mayor Sadiq Khan, speaking after prayers at the Muslim Welfare House on Monday evening.

Flowers were left at the scene where hours earlier the 47-year-old van driver was pinned down by locals and shielded from violence by an imam, before being detained by police.

The driver was later arrested on suspicion of “the commission, preparation or instigation of terrorism including murder and attempted murder”, the police said.

The suspect was identified by British media as Darren Osborne, a father of four who lived in the Welsh capital Cardiff.

As police searched a property, five residents speaking to journalists from the Press Association news agency identified images of the arrested man as their neighbour, Osborne.

Security Minister Ben Wallace told BBC radio that the suspect was “not known to us.”

London police chief Cressida Dick said the incident was “quite clearly an attack on Muslims” and promised a stepped-up police presence near mosques as the holy month of Ramadan draws to a close.

Witness Abdiqadir Warra told AFP the van “drove at people” and that some of the victims were carried for several meters along the road.

“He was shouting: ‘I want to kill all Muslims,’” another witness, Khalid Amin, told BBC television.

The Finsbury Park Mosque said the van “deliberately mowed down Muslim men and women leaving late evening prayers” at the mosque and the nearby Muslim Welfare House shortly after midnight.

Eleven people were hurt, all Muslims, with nine requiring hospital treatment. Two were in a very serious condition, police said.

One Algerian man was among those injured, the north African country said.

Locals pinned down the driver and the imam of the Muslim Welfare House stepped in to stop him receiving a mob beating.

France and Germany quickly condemned the attack and Egypt’s Al-Azhar institution, the leading authority in Sunni Islam, condemned it as “sinful.”

“Al-Azhar affirms its total rejection of this terrorist, racist, sinful act, calling on Western countries to take all precautionary measures to limit the phenomenon of Islamophobia,” it said in a statement.

US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka expressed solidarity with the worshippers in a tweet but her father has so far not commented.

Prime Minister Theresa May, who was heavily criticized for failing to meet survivors of a devastating fire in a London tower block last week, visited Finsbury Park Mosque where she met local faith leaders.

May condemned the assault as “sickening,” saying Britain’s determination to fight “terrorism, extremism and hatred… must be the same, whoever is responsible.”

The use of a vehicle to mow down pedestrians drew parallels with this month’s London Bridge attack.

In that incident, three men slammed a van into pedestrians before embarking on a stabbing spree — an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.

In March London was hit with another car and knife rampage, that one near parliament. It was also claimed by IS.

This time the attacker deliberately targeted Muslims, according to the police.

“Over the past weeks and months, Muslims have endured many incidents of Islamophobia and this is the most violent manifestation to date,” said Harun Khan, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella body.

After the London Bridge attack, the mayor’s office reported a 40 percent increase in racist incidents in the capital and a five-fold increase in anti-Muslim incidents.

Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of the Finsbury Park Mosque, described the attack as “cowardly.”

“Our community is in shock,” he said, urging people attending prayers to remain vigilant.

It was the third major incident in the capital this month, after the London Bridge attack and last week’s devastating fire in the Grenfell Tower block, in which 79 people are thought to have died.

“This is an extraordinary city of extraordinary people,” May said outside Downing Street after chairing an emergency government meeting.

“Diverse, welcoming, vibrant, compassionate, confident and determined never to give in to hate.”

Last month, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a pop concert in Britain’s third city of Manchester, killing 22 people, many of them children.

The Finsbury Park Mosque was once a notorious hub for radical Islamists but has changed markedly in recent years under new management.

Its former imam, Abu Hamza, was jailed for life in New York on terrorism charges in 2015.

Despite the change in leadership and the focus on bolstering inter-faith relations, the mosque reported it had received a string of threatening emails and letters in the wake of the Paris attacks. afp

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Israeli officer killed, three Palestinian attackers shot dead: police

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An Israeli policewoman was stabbed and killed in an attack outside Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday and security forces shot dead three suspected Palestinian assailants, police said.

The attack took place as Muslims marked the end of the third Friday of the fasting month of Ramadan, during which tens of thousands of Palestinians from east Jerusalem and the West Bank attended prayers at the nearby Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third-holiest site.

“Female border policewoman injured critically in attack at Damascus gate,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld wrote in a statement. “3 Arab terrorists shot by police units that responded at the scene.”

Police said the three were killed.

The policewoman was taken to hospital in critical condition and later died of her wounds. She was identified as Hadas Malka, 23, a staff sergeant major.

According to police, two perpetrators opened fire at a group of police officers who returned fire, and a third stabbed the border policewoman a short distance away before being shot.

Jerusalem police chief Yoram Halevy identified the three attackers as Palestinians from the West Bank.

- Ramadan activity -

Israel had eased restrictions on the entrance of Palestinians from the West Bank for Ramadan, including permitting daily family visits during Sundays through Thursdays.

“During Ramadan there are large numbers of (Palestinian) youths who enter without permits, they take advantage of Ramadan to be in Jerusalem,” Halevy told media at the scene of the attack.

Following the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a phone consultation with the chief of police and public security minister, and decided to cancel the family visits, a police statement read.

Netanyahu, however, did not revoke the permission given to Palestinian men aged over 40 from the West Bank to enter Jerusalem for Friday prayers, police said.

The area around Damascus Gate was sealed off in the hours after the attack, with a few youths throwing fireworks at security forces.

A road leading to Damascus Gate full of stalls opened especially for Ramadan was closed off by police, and a shopkeeper said this would normally be one of the busiest nights of the year.

Inside the Old City shops were open but the atmosphere was subdued and numbers of people much lower than normal.

Large numbers of heavily armed security forces were patrolling throughout the Old City, an AFP reporter said.

- ‘Popular terror activity’ -

The Shin Bet internal security agency identified the three perpetrators as Braa Salah and Asama Atta, both born in 1998, and Adel Ankush, born the following year.

All three were from Deir Abu Mashal, a village near Ramallah, and had been arrested for or involved in “popular terror activity,” a Shin Bet statement read.

A fourth Palestinian, a Hebron resident who had been identified by Palestinian security as a perpetrator, was in fact a passerby who was wounded by gunshots and taken to hospital, Israeli police said.

Medics said four people besides the officer were wounded in the incident, two of them moderately and two lightly. Two of those wounded were Palestinians from east Jerusalem.

The Islamist movement Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip condemned the shooting of the Palestinians as a “crime by the occupation.”

A spokesman for the movement, Hazem Qassem, said the attack was “proof that the Palestinian people are leading a revolution against the enemy.”

He also said the attack proved the Palestinian Authority’s policy of security coordination with Israel was wrong, calling it “a national crime”.

A wave of unrest that broke out in October 2015 has claimed the lives of 272 Palestinians, 42 Israelis, two Americans, two Jordanians, an Eritrean, a Sudanese and a Briton, according to an AFP tally.

Israeli authorities say most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks.

The Old City in annexed east Jerusalem is one of the focal points of the wave of violence. afp

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Jordanian stabs Israeli officer in Jerusalem, shot dead: police

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A Jordanian man stabbed and wounded an Israeli officer in annexed east Jerusalem on Saturday before being shot dead, police said.

The officer was taken to hospital with “moderate” injuries after the attack in the walled Old City, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said in a statement.

Police identified the assailant as Mohammad Skaji, a 57-year-old Jordanian who the statement said had “entered Israel a few days ago”.

They said he brandished a knife and stabbed the policeman in one of the alleys of the Old City before the wounded officer, who had just come off duty, shot him dead.

Two Israeli passers-by tried to help the policeman, police added.

The Jordanian government denounced the “crime” of the death of its citizen, giving his full name as Mohammed Abdullah Salim al-Kassaji.

“The Israeli government, which is the occupying force, bears responsibility for the shooting of a Jordanian citizen in occupied east Jerusalem which led to his martyrdom,” government spokesman Mohamed Momani said in a statement.

“The government denounces this heinous crime… and has asked Israel to provide full details about it,” he added.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office responded, condemning what it called “the Jordanian government spokesman’s support for the terrorist attack”.

“The security cameras clearly show a Jordanian tourist stabbing an Israeli officer,” it said in a statement.

“Just as Israel condemns terrorist attacks in Jordan, Jordan should condemn attacks in Israel.”

In 1994, Jordan made peace with Israel. Jordan and Egypt are the only two Arab countries to have peace agreements with the Jewish state.

A wave of unrest that broke out in October 2015 has claimed the lives of 263 Palestinians, 41 Israelis, two Americans, two Jordanians, an Eritrean, a Sudanese and a Briton, according to an AFP count.

Most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, the Israeli authorities say.

Others were shot dead during protests or clashes, while some were killed in Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip.

The violence has subsided in recent months. afp

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Newly restored shrine at Jesus’ tomb reopened in Jerusalem

 

The ornate shrine surrounding what is believed to be Jesus’ tomb was reopened at a ceremony in Jerusalem on Wednesday (March 22) following nine months of delicate restoration work.

Religious leaders opened the ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built at the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried.

Centuries of candle smoke and visiting pilgrims had left the 19th-century ornate edicule or shrine discoloured and almost black.

Parts of it were also coming loose, with warnings that it was structurally unsound and posed a risk to the millions of pilgrims who visit the site every year.

Israeli authorities briefly closed it in 2015 over security fears.

Following a US$3.7 million (S$5.1 million) renovation led by the church’s three main Christian denominations, the tomb has been painstakingly restored to its former glory – including a warm reddish-yellow colouring.

“Before this the monument was black,” chief renovator Antonia Moropoulou told AFP at the site. “This is the actual colour of the monument, the colour of hope.”

Unlike other parts of the church, which were renovated between the 1960s and 1990s, the edicule had been neglected.

Mr Moropoulou explained that they had systematically dismantled, cleaned and renovated almost all of the edicule, including the columns and upper and inner domes.

A window has been installed to allow pilgrims to see the bare stone of the ancient burial cave for the first time. The new structural integrity means a protective cage installed 70 years ago by the British is no longer necessary.

“The deformations of the holy edicule are addressed and the structural integrity is assured,” Mr Moropoulou said.

Mr Samuel Aghoyan, the superior of the Armenian Church at the Sepulchre which co-financed the project, said that after the renovation the edicule looked “like a brand new building”.

DRAMATIC MOMENT

In October, perhaps the most dramatic moment in the renovation occurred when the cave thought to be the tomb of Jesus was opened for the first time in centuries.

Marble slabs were removed to allow for the chamber’s reinforcement. They found a top slab dating from the era of the Crusades, indicating that the tomb had not been opened for 700 years, Mr Moropoulou said.

Underneath they found another from the era of Constantine the Great, the emperor who began the Roman empire’s transition to Christianity in the fourth century AD.

“When we opened the slabs we discovered within the internal masonry all the layers of history – from Constantinian to Byzantine, to Crusaders to Renaissance,” Mr Moropoulou said.

Whether the site is indeed the place of Jesus’s burial has long been a matter of dispute.

Some Christians believe he was buried in the Garden Tomb, outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, but Mr Moropoulou said their findings supported the Sepulchre as the location.

Asked if the slabs supported the argument that Jesus was buried there, she said it was “not a matter of an argument”.

“It is a matter of revealing a tomb which is alive and which is influencing us working here and all the world.”

The work is not the end of plans to renovate the church.

Mr Aghoyan said they have “tentative” plans to fix the basement of the edicule as well as the “entire floor of the church”.

Such work would require around US$6 million, according to estimates.

The Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic denominations share custody of the church, but disputes between the three have led to renovations being delayed for decades.

Mr Aghoyan admitted there were tensions between the churches at times. “We are not in love with each but we love each other,” he said with a smile.

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Israel president Reuven Rivlin refuses to pardon jailed former PM Ehud Olmert

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Israeli President Reuven Rivlin today rejected a request for clemency by jailed ex-prime minister Ehud Olmert, who is serving a 27-month prison sentence for corruption, his office said. Olmert, who was premier between 2006-2009, was convicted of graft and entered prison in February 2016.

The president noted that the grounds for the request — including Olmert’s contributions to Israel over the years — were known to the court when it sentenced the former prime minister. Rivlin also said in a statement that Olmert was due to face a parole committee, which would discuss his request to have his sentence shortened by a third.

If the parole board shortens Olmert’s sentence, Rivlin said he could consider a pardon that would allow the 71-year-old to avoid being considered a convict after he is released. Olmert is Israel’s first former premier to serve jail time. He resigned as prime minister in September 2008 after police recommended he be indicted for graft, but remained in office until March 2009, when Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in to the post, which he has held ever since.

Olmert won international acclaim for relaunching peace efforts with the Palestinians at the Annapolis conference in the United States in 2007, but they failed to bear fruit and the corruption charges against him have come to define his legacy.

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Jewish youth arrested in Israel over anti-Semitic threats abroad AFP

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A Jewish youth was arrested in Israel on Thursday on suspicion of making dozens of anti-Semitic threats in countries around the world, police said.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the suspect was “a resident of the south (of Israel) from the Jewish community”.

Police said the suspect was 19, but gave no further identifying details. Israeli media said he was a dual Israeli-US national.

“The investigation began in several countries at the same time, in which dozens of threatening calls were received at public places, events, synagogues and community buildings that caused panic and disrupted events and activities in various organisations,” a police statement said.

It said that the investigation was undertaken in cooperation with the FBI “as well as other police organisations from various countries.”

Israeli authorities did not directly link the arrest with a wave of more than 100 bomb threats against US Jewish organisations since the beginning of the year.

“We hope that this investigation will help shed light on some of the recent threats against Jewish institutions, which have caused great concern both among Jewish communities and the Israeli government,” Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan said in a statement. AFP

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