Israeli PM Netanyahu Questioned By Police Over Corruption Allegations

Israeli police reportedly questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday. Police declined immediate comment, but Israel Radio said Netanyahu was being questioned over allegations he awarded regulatory favours to Bezeq Telecom Israel in return for favourable coverage on a news site the company’s owner controls.

The questioning was over his alleged dealings with the country’s largest telecommunication company, Israel Radio said, one of three corruption cases weighing on his political future.  A vehicle carrying police officers pulled up at the entrance of the prime minister’s official residence, where a clutch of protesters called for Netanyahu to resign over the investigations.

Netanyahu, who has been questioned twice before in so-called Case 4000, and Bezeq have denied wrongdoing.

In February, police recommended Netanyahu be charged with bribery in two other cases. Israel’s attorney-general is still weighing whether to indict him.

In the first investigation, known as Case 1000, he is suspected of bribery over gifts from wealthy businessmen, which police say were worth nearly 300,000 dollars.

The other, Case 2000, involves an alleged plot to win positive coverage in Israel’s biggest newspaper by offering to take measures to curtail the circulation of a rival daily.

In both those cases, lawyers for Netanyahu said he has committed no crimes.

In spite of the probes, the right-wing leader’s popularity has risen in the past few weeks, a reflection, commentators said, of his tough security policies, U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal he opposes, and the opening of the American Embassy in contested Jerusalem, a move Netanyahu has long advocated.

The surveys predicted that Netanyahu’s Likud party, which heads a coalition largely comprised of right-wing and religious factions, would add up to four seats to the 30 it already holds in the 120-member parliament if an election were held now.

Israel is due to hold its next national ballot no later than November 2019.

Israeli’s Prime Minister, Netanyahu Associates Named As Suspects In New Corruption Probe

Israeli police revealed on Tuesday that two close associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were among the suspects in a new corruption probe, with five others central figures in the Bezeq telecommunications group.

The seven were arrested on Sunday, just days after police said there were grounds to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of public trust, in the biggest challenge yet to the right-wing premier’s long tenure in power.

Those arrested included Nir Hefetz, a former personal spokesman for Netanyahu’s family, and Shlomo Filber, a Netanyahu confidant appointed as director of the communications ministry by the premier.

Others included Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq, members of Elovitch’s family and senior Bezeq executives.

Police suspect that Bezeq’s controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch was granted business concessions in return for Netanyahu receiving positive coverage on Elovitch’s news website Walla.

“As part of the investigation, suspicions accumulated on felonies concerning ethics, fraud, money laundering and securities violations, conducted over extended periods of time, frequently and systematically as part of relationships between Bezeq executives and public servants and their associates,” police said on Tuesday.

Elovitch has already been investigated over a deal merging Bezeq with cable company Yes which saw him pocketing dozens of millions of dollars.

Netanyahu has not been named as a suspect in the Bezeq affair, but a spokesman for his family had responded to media reports on the investigation, calling them “yet another empty probe” that would yield nothing.

Meanwhile, police believe Netanyahu sought a secret deal for favourable coverage with the publisher of top-selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot, whose publisher Arnon Moses could also face bribery charges.

The attorney general must now decide how to move forward with the police recommendations, a process that could take months.

AFP

Israel Removes Metal Detectors From Holy Site

Israel decided on Tuesday to remove metal detectors it had placed at the entrance to a holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City and replace them with smart, less obtrusive surveillance means, a Cabinet statement said.

Israel installed metal detectors at entry points to Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem after two police officers were fatally shot on July 14, triggering the bloodiest clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in years.

The spike in tensions and the deaths of three Israelis and four Palestinians in violence on Friday and Saturday have triggered an international alarm and prompted the United Nations Security Council to convene a meeting to seek ways of calming the situation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet voted to remove the detector gates after a meeting lasting several hours convening for a second time on Monday after it had broken off discussions a day earlier.

A statement issued after the forum of senior ministers concluded their meeting said they had decided to act on the recommendation of the security bodies and replace the detectors with “smart checking” means.