Jerusalem, Dec 2 (AP/UNB) — Israeli police on Sunday recommended indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on bribery charges related to a corruption case involving Israel's telecom giant, prompting immediate calls for his resignation.
Police say their investigation has established an evidentiary foundation to charge Netanyahu and his wife Sara with accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust. The case revolves around suspicions that confidants of Netanyahu promoted regulations worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the Bezeq telecom company in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister on Bezeq's subsidiary news website, Walla.
Police have already recommended indicting Netanyahu on corruption charges in two other cases. One involves accepting gifts from billionaire friends, and the second revolves around alleged offers of advantageous legislation for a newspaper in return for positive coverage.
The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing, dismissing the accusations as a witch hunt orchestrated by the media.
"The police recommendations regarding me and my wife don't surprise anyone," Netanyahu said in a statement. "These recommendations were decided upon and leaked even before the investigation began."
The Bezeq case, known as Case 4000, is the most serious of all those of which Netanyahu has been accused. Two of his top confidants have turned state witnesses and are believed to have provided police with incriminating evidence. Netanyahu held the government's communications portfolio until last year and oversaw regulation in the field. Former journalists at the Walla news site have attested to being pressured to refrain from negative reporting of Netanyahu.
Police say the investigation, which included the testimony of 60 witnesses, revealed that Netanyahu and Bezeq boss Shaul Elovitch engaged in a "bribe-based relationship."
From 2012 to 2017 the prime minister and his associates "blatantly intervened" on a near-daily basis in the Walla news site, using the connections with Elovitch to influence appointments there and to promote flattering articles and pictures while quelling critical stories of the prime minister and his family, police said.
Police are also recommending charges be brought against Elovitch and members of his family.
"The most serious bribery case yet leaves no room for doubt: a prime minister who is accused of the most serious offense for a public servant in the Israeli rule book cannot keep serving one minute longer," said Tamar Zandberg, head of the dovish opposition Meretz party.
"The prime minister has no moral mandate to keep his seat and must resign today. Israel must go to elections."
Other opposition figures, including opposition leader Tzipi Livni, quickly joined in the call for Netanyahu to resign.
Netanyahu's colleagues in the ruling Likud party have lined up behind up, attacking outgoing Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh for releasing the recommendation on his last day on the job. The appointment of Alsheikh's potential successor is being held up after a government-appointed committee rejected his candidacy.
The other coalition partners have previously deferred bolting, saying they would await a formal decision by Israel's attorney general to press charges. But the latest development further threatens the wobbly government, already weakened by the recent departure of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his party. Netanyahu's coalition currently enjoys only the slimmest of parliamentary majorities.
Elections are currently scheduled for November 2019.
Police are also recommending that charges be brought against Netanyahu's wife, Sara, who has been at the center of much of the corruption allegations surrounding the longtime Israeli leader. Reports have surfaced of Sara Netanyahu relaying requests to Bezeq officials.
She has already been charged with fraud and breach of trust for allegedly overspending roughly $100,000 on private meals at the prime minister's official residence, even as there was a full-time chef on staff.
Sara Netanyahu has long faced allegations of extravagant living and abusive behavior. In 2016, a court ruled she abused an employee and awarded the man $42,000 in damages. Other former employees have accused her of mistreatment, charges the Netanyahus have vehemently denied, and of excessive spending and charging the state for her private, expensive tastes.
Bangkok, Nov 29 (AP/UNB) — Feeding a hungry planet is growing increasingly difficult as climate change and depletion of land and other resources undermine food systems, the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization said Wednesday as it renewed appeals for better policies and technologies to reach "zero hunger."
Population growth requires supplies of more nutritious food at affordable prices, but increasing farm output is hard given the "fragility of the natural resource base" since humans have outstripped Earth's carrying capacity in terms of land, water and climate change, the report said.
About 820 million people are malnourished. The FAO and International Food Policy Research Institute released the report at the outset of a global conference aimed at speeding up efforts to achieve zero hunger around the world.
"The call for action is very clear. It is possible in our lifetime and it is also realistic to end hunger and malnutrition," Inonge Wina, vice president of Zambia, told the gathering.
Food security remains tenuous for many millions of people who lack access to affordable, adequately nourishing diets for a variety of reasons, the most common being poverty.
But it's also endangered by civil strife and other conflicts. In Yemen, where thousands of civilians have died in airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition, the aid group Save the Children says 85,000 children younger than 5 may have died of hunger or disease in the civil war.
In Afghanistan, severe drought and conflict have displaced more than 250,000 people, according to UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency.
FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva noted that the number of hungry and malnourished people in the world has risen to levels last seen a decade ago.
"After decades of gains in fighting hunger, this is a serious setback and FAO and the U.N. sister agencies, together with member governments and other partners, are all very concerned," Graziano da Silva said in a videotaped address to the conference.
Hunger is still most severe in Africa, but the largest number of undernourished people live in the Asia-Pacific region, the report said. It said good public policies and technology are the keys to improving the situation.
The FAO estimates that global demand for food will jump by half from 2013 to 2050. Farmers can expand land use to help make up some of the difference, but that option is constrained in places like Asia and the Pacific and urbanization is eating up still more land that once may have been used for agriculture.
Increasing farm output beyond sustainable levels can cause permanent damage to ecosystems, the report said, noting that it often causes soil erosion, pollution with plastic mulching, pesticides and fertilizers, and a loss of biodiversity.
China destroys 12 million tons of tainted grain each year, at a loss of nearly $2.6 billion, according to the report.
Tehran, Nov 26 (AP/UNB) — Iranian authorities said Monday that the number of injured in the magnitude 6.3 earthquake in western Iran the previous night has risen to 716. No fatalities were reported from the temblor.
According to Iran's state television, most of the injured were immediately released from hospitals and suffered only slight injuries in the quake on Sunday night. The TV said 37 remained hospitalized.
It said more than 160 aftershocks occurred in the region, including two quakes stronger than magnitude 5. Dozens of rescue teams and several rescue dogs were deployed to the region.
The TV showed footage of hospitalized people. Dr. Hossein Rahnimi, the head of a local hospital, said many of the injured also suffered panic attacks.
The earthquake struck western Iran near its border with Iraq, damaging buildings and sending fearful residents running into the streets.
It hit near the town of Sarpol-e Zahab in Iran's Kermanshah province, which was the epicenter of an earthquake last year that killed more than 600 people and where some still remain homeless.
That earthquake had a magnitude of 7.3 and also injured more than 9,000 people.
Sunday's temblor also downed power lines and caused brief power outages into the night as temperatures hovered around 8 degrees Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit).
The quake struck just after 8 p.m. in Iran, meaning most were still awake at the time and able to quickly flee.
The region, nestled in the Zagros Mountains, largely rebuilt in recent decades after Iran and Iraq's ruinous 1980s war, saw many buildings collapse or sustain major damage in the 2017 quake.
Iran is located on major seismic faults and experiences an earthquake per day on average. In 2003, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake flattened the historic city of Bam in southern Iran, killing 26,000 people.
Damascus, Nov 25 (AP/UNB) — Syrian warplanes attacked rebel-held areas in northern Syria for the first time in weeks on Sunday, as Syrian officials said more than 100 people were treated at hospitals following a suspected poison gas attack by rebels in the northern city of Aleppo.
The latest wave of shelling and airstrikes in northern Syria is the most serious violation of a truce reached by Russia and Turkey that brought relative calm to the country's north for the past two months. The rebels, who have denied carrying out any chemical attacks, accused the government of trying to undermine the cease-fire.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Thiqa News Agency, an activist collective, said government warplanes pounded rebel-held areas west and south of Aleppo city. The airstrikes were the first since the truce went into effect on Sept. 17.
Syria's Arab News Agency, SANA, said the alleged chemical attack late Saturday was carried out by "terrorist groups positioned in Aleppo countryside" that fired shells containing toxic gases on three neighborhoods in Syria's largest city.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Russian chemical weapons specialists have been dispatched to Aleppo. Russia is a close ally of President Bashar Assad and has intervened in recent years to turn the tide of the civil war in his favor.
"According to preliminary data, particularly the symptoms shown by the victims, the shells that bombarded residential areas of Aleppo were filled with chlorine gas," Konashenkov said.
Syria's forensic medicine general director, Zaher Hajo, told The Associated Press that all but 15 of the 105 people who were treated have been discharged. He said two people who were in critical condition have improved.
The Observatory said 94 people were treated, with 31 remaining in hospitals.
The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists and contacts throughout Syria, said the airstrikes hit the Rashideen district on the western outskirts of Aleppo and the village of Khan Touman south of the city.
The truce brokered by Russia and Turkey, which supports the rebels, has been repeatedly violated, but until Sunday there had been no airstrikes.
Syrian state media meanwhile reported that rebels shelled the Christian village of Mahradeh in northwestern Syria, causing material damage but no casualties.
Dubai, Nov 24 (AP/UNB) — Polls opened in Bahrain on Saturday to elect a new parliament, but absent from the ballot is the country's Shiite-dominated opposition, whose most prominent figures are serving lengthy prison sentences.
Up for grabs are 40 seats in Bahrain's lower house of parliament and 30 municipal council seats. Runoffs will be held next month.
It's the second election in Bahrain since mass protests led by the country's Shiite majority erupted in early 2011. The government, which is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, crushed the Arab Spring-inspired protests with help from Saudi and Emirati forces, but disenfranchised Shiite youth continue to hold scattered street protests in the tiny Persian Gulf nation.
Rights groups say Saturday's vote is taking place in a repressive environment that is not conducive to free elections.
Just before Bahrain held its last parliamentary elections in 2014, the country's largest opposition bloc, Al-Wefaq, was suspended. Fourteen Shiite candidates won seats in those elections, which were boycotted by much of the Shiite-dominated opposition.
Since then, Al-Wefaq has been ordered dissolved and its leader, Sheikh Ali Salman, has been sentenced to life in prison. Courts also dissolved the secular Waad group and closed the last independent newspaper in the country, Al-Wasat.
Just this month, prosecutors detained and charged a former lawmaker for expressing his intention on Twitter to boycott the elections. Prosecutors say the tweets sought to "hamper the democratic process."
More than 100 Bahrainis have been stripped of their nationality in recent years, forced to take up residence in Iraq and other countries.
Human Rights Watch noted that in June, King Hamad signed legislation that disqualifies opposition candidates from these elections by banning anyone who belonged to a dissolved political organization or who was previously convicted and sentenced to more than six months in prison from running for political office.
"By jailing or silencing people who challenge the ruling family and banning all opposition parties and independent news outlets, Bahrain is failing to create the conditions necessary for a free election," said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
The government, however, has defended the election as free and fair, saying the vote is being monitored by the judiciary and local civil society groups.
The state-run Bahrain News Agency carried a report in the lead-up to the election saying those barred from running had been found guilty of violating the law. It accused some of the barred opposition groups of receiving support from Iran and Qatar, which Bahrain has repeatedly accused of sowing instability.
Some Shiite protesters have taken up arms amid the crackdown and have carried out attacks on security forces. The government accuses Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard of training and supporting them.
Bahrain, a nation of around 760 square kilometers (290 square miles) in size, is home to some 1.4 million people. About half are Bahraini citizens, the majority of them Shiite. There are 365,467 eligible voters. Polls close at 8 p.m. (1700 GMT), and it's unclear when results will be announced.
The island is also home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet and a new British naval base.
The country has been ruled since the 1780s by the Al Khalifa family. King Hamad, who took the throne in 1999, initially took steps to move the country from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one.