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Benjamin Netanyahu begins forming coalition as US hails prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peace

Benjamin Netanyahu begins forming coalition as US hails prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peaceBenjamin Netanyahu yesterday began negotiations to form a new Right-wing coalition after seeing off a centrist challenger in a close election and securing a fifth term as Israel’s prime minister.  Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party won the same number of seats as Blue & White, a centrist coalition led by former general Benny Gantz, but the victory of other Right-wing parties gave the prime minister a clear path to a majority government.  “I already began talks with the leaders of the Right-wing parties, our natural partners,” Mr Netanyahu told his cheering supporters in Tel Aviv. “I intend to finish the work quickly, with the aim of forming a stable national government.”  The result was hailed by Donald Trump, who said the prime minister’s victory meant “a better chance” for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but was met with dismay by Palestinians. The election will cement Mr Netanyahu’s reputation as the most successful election-winner in Israeli history and prove that his brand of divisive Right-wing politics is the country’s dominant political force. Israel election The 69-year-old has been in power for 13 years and is now on course to overtake David Ben Gurion, Israel’s founding father, as the country’s longest-serving prime minister.  Despite his election success, Mr Netanyahu is still facing criminal corruption charges that have the potential to drive him from office by the end of the year. Opponents suspect he will use his new majority to try to pass an immunity law to shield himself from prosecution.  Mr Netanyahu, known in Israel as “Bibi”, denies all wrongdoing and claims the prosecutions are part of a politically-motivated witch hunt against him and his family.   Mr Netanyahu (left) defeated Benny Gantz (right) Credit: ABIR SULTAN/EPA-EFE/REX That explanation appeared to satisfy a majority of Israeli voters, who cast their ballots for parties committed to keeping Mr Netanyahu in power.  “I know some of the things Bibi did are wrong but I’m not looking for a rabbi. I’m looking for a leader,” said Yaakov Lemash, 76, after voting for Likud. Mr Netanyahu’s Likud and Mr Gantz’s Blue & White each appeared to have won 35 seats in Israel’s 120-member parliament. But while Likud and the Right-wing parties had a clear route to a majority, Mr Gantz did not have enough allies on the Centre-Left.   The former general, who rose from a commando to the head of Israel’s military, conceded the election on Wednesday evening. But his party said it was already gearing up to fight another election next year if the criminal case against Mr Netanyahu drives him from office Letters from Jerusalem RHS Speaking at the White House, Mr Trump praised Mr Netanyahu as a friend and ally. "I never made it a promise but everybody said you can’t have peace in the Middle East with Israel and the Palestinians," Mr Trump said. "I think we have a chance and I think we have now a better chance with Bibi having won.” The president handed Mr Netanyahu a major pre-election boost by recognising Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights two weeks before polling day.   The White House has said it will release its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, referred to as “the Deal of the Century” sometime after the Israeli elections.  Skeptics question whether the long-awaited plan will ever be released, as it has been pre-emptively rejected by the Palestinians and may cause political difficulties for Mr Netanyahu and America’s Arab allies.    “I never made it a promise”pic.twitter.com/Npi6wDwQJ6— Noa Landau נעה לנדאו (@noa_landau) April 10, 2019 Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian official, said Israelis “overwhelmingly voted for candidates that are unequivocally committed to entrenching the status quo of oppression, occupation, annexation and dispossession in Palestine”. The next step in the election is for Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, to summon party leaders for consultations before formally announcing next week who will be tasked with forming a government.    Mr Netanyahu’s potential coalition partners began publicly announcing their demands in return for joining the government. One small Right-wing party demanded two ministerial posts, while another called for a harder line against Hamas in Gaza.   Israel’s two ultra-Orthodox parties increased their standing from 13 to 16 seats, giving them more sway within a future coalition.  The parties are focused on budgets for religious communities but also on preventing public transportation on Shabbat, the Jewish holy day, and blocking a compromise to allow more liberal Jews space at the Western Wall.  Mr Netanyahu was dogged throughout his last term by Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked, two ambitious young ministers from a hardline conservative party who perpetually assailed the prime minister from his Right.   In a disastrous political miscalculation, Mr Bennett and Ms Shaked’s new party looked like it failed to pass the minimum vote threshold, leaving both of them without ministries or even parliamentary seats.



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Major weekend winter storm packing heavy snow begins 2,500-mile cross-country sprint

Major weekend winter storm packing heavy snow begins 2,500-mile cross-country sprintA major winter storm threatens heavy snow and rain from California to New England this weekend. Forecasters warn Midwest motorists could be stranded.



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Canada begins extradition of top Chinese executive to US

Canada begins extradition of top Chinese executive to USCanada began extraditing Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to the United States on Friday, the latest move in a case that has roiled relations between the North American neighbors and China. The 47-year-old businesswoman was changing planes in Vancouver in December when she was detained at Washington’s request on suspicion of violating US sanctions on Iran — sparking arrests of Canadians in China that were seen as retaliatory. “Today, Department of Justice Canada officials issued an Authority to Proceed, formally commencing an extradition process in the case of Ms. Meng Wanzhou,” the government said in a statement.



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Final battle to liberate last Islamic State village begins after civilians evacuated

Final battle to liberate last Islamic State village begins after civilians evacuatedWestern-backed forces say they plan to crush the Islamic State terror group within two days after launching an operation to clear out the group's final stronghold. The Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish-led group that has been the US-led coalition’s main ally against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) in Syria, commenced their final assault on the village of Baghuz just after sunset on Friday night. “After evacuation of thousands of civilians and our comrades who were held hostage in Baghouz, the operation to clear the last remaining pocket of Isil started at 18:00 this evening,” Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the SDF said. Mr Bali told The Daily Telegraph that said the operation is expected to last two days, but may take a week to complete as hardened jihadists fight back with heavy weapons and suicide car bombs. Isil, which once ruled over eight million people in a proto-state covering large swathes of Syria and Iraq, now controls a patch of land about 700 metres across on the banks of the Euphrates river. The demise of ISIL in Syria and Iraq The operation follows three weeks of evacuations of civilians from the tiny pocket. About 17,000 people, mostly women and children, have left in the past 16 days. SDF commanders estimate there are around 1,000 Isil fighters remaining in the pocket, along with an unknown number of non-combatants.   They may include John Cantlie, a British journalist who was kidnapped in 2012. Ben Wallace, the UK Security Minister, said last month that there was reason to believe Mr Cantlie is still alive. Photo Dispatch: Syria's fight against ISIL Although the fall of Baghuz would mark the end of the group’s pretensions to a caliphate, SDF officials have warned it will continue to present a security threat.   Sleeper cells using guerrilla tactics continue to carry out drive-by shootings and suicide bombings in liberated areas. Some fighters still hold some desolate territory in a remote area west of the Euphrates River. “All the remaining fighters are experienced and professional. They the true radicals and jihadist fighters. Therefore they will fight to the end,” Mr Bali said. “We do not expect any to surrender.”



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Lima Group begins meeting on next steps in Venezuela crisis

Lima Group begins meeting on next steps in Venezuela crisisVenezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido and US Vice President Mike Pence took part in a meeting of the Lima Group in Colombia on Monday to discuss a joint strategy to resolve Venezuela’s crisis. “In the Lima Group we’re fighting to find a peaceful solution,” said Peru’s Foreign Affairs Minister Hugo de Zela. “We have reaffirmed again and again our commitment to a democratic transition (of government) and the restoration of constitutional order in Venezuela,” added Colombia’s Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo.



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North Korea's Kim begins long train trip to Vietnam for summit with Trump: report

North Korea's Kim begins long train trip to Vietnam for summit with Trump: reportThe reports of Kim’s departure from North Korea came after Vietnam announced that Kim would make an official visit in “coming days”, as the Southeast Asian country prepares to host the summit with Trump on Wednesday and Thursday. Trump and Kim will meet in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, eight months after their historic summit in Singapore in June – the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader – at which they pledged to work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. The Trump administration has pressed North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program, which threatens the United States, before it can expect any concessions.



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North Korea's Kim begins long train trip to Vietnam for summit with Trump: report

North Korea's Kim begins long train trip to Vietnam for summit with Trump: reportThe reports of Kim’s departure from North Korea came after Vietnam announced that Kim would make an official visit in “coming days”, as the Southeast Asian country prepares to host the summit with Trump on Wednesday and Thursday. Trump and Kim will meet in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, eight months after their historic summit in Singapore in June – the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader – at which they pledged to work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. The Trump administration has pressed North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program, which threatens the United States, before it can expect any concessions.



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Saudi crown prince begins Asia tour with $20 billion Pakistan investment pledge

Saudi crown prince begins Asia tour with $  20 billion Pakistan investment pledgeKicking off his tour of South Asia and China with a far higher Pakistan investment than expected, the crown prince said the $ 20 billion figure represents only the start of an economic tie-up that would bring the historic Muslim allies even closer. “It’s big for phase 1, and definitely it will grow every month and every year, and it will be beneficial to both countries,” said the crown prince. “We have been a brotherly country, a friendly country to Pakistan.



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Ocasio-Cortez Begins to Sketch Out Details of ‘Green New Deal’

Ocasio-Cortez Begins to Sketch Out Details of ‘Green New Deal’Now, as Ocasio-Cortez prepares to release a blueprint, details are emerging. “Next week, we plan to release a resolution that outlines the scope and scale of the Green New Deal,” according to a letter the New York Democrat sent to colleagues.



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US begins withdrawing gear from Syria, but not troops

US begins withdrawing gear from Syria, but not troopsThe US military has begun moving non-essential gear out of Syria but is not withdrawing troops for now, defense officials said amid uncertainty over America’s planned exit from the war-battered nation. Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton on Sunday announced conditions for a withdrawal that appeared to delay it indefinitely. Adding to the confusion, a military spokesman said the US had already begun “the process of our deliberate withdrawal” from Syria.



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