JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli court on Wednesday found former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman innocent of all charges in a graft trial, clearing the way for the powerful hard-line politician to return to his post as the nation's top diplomat.
The trial had threatened to reshape the makeup of the government. But in the end, Lieberman was handed a resounding victory that instantly raises his clout in a bitterly divided coalition.
The verdict was delivered inside a closed courtroom, and minutes later, a jubilant Lieberman appeared outside.
"This chapter is behind me. And I am focusing on the challenges ahead, and there are plenty of challenges," he said, claiming he had been persecuted by overzealous prosecutors for 17 years.
Lieberman, an ally and sometime rival to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has long been dogged by allegations of corruption. This case was the first time he had been accused of criminal behavior.
Lieberman was charged with fraud and breach of trust for allegedly trying to advance the career of a former diplomat who relayed information to him about a separate criminal investigation into Lieberman's business dealings.
Prosecutors said they respected the court's decision and would study it before deciding whether to appeal.
Lieberman was forced to step down as foreign minister before parliamentary elections early this year to face the charges.
Speaking to reporters after Wednesday's verdict, Lieberman refused to say whether he would return to the post.
But he is widely expected to do so. Since the January election, Netanyahu has left the job open, saying he would only fill it after the verdict in Lieberman's case.
Lieberman, who was born in the former Soviet republic of Moldova, is one of the most polarizing figures in Israeli politics. With a tough-talking message that has questioned the loyalty of Israel's Arab minority, criticized the Palestinians and confronted Israel's foreign critics, he has at times alienated Israel's allies while becoming an influential voice at home.
During his stint as foreign minister, he pushed a series of legislative proposals that critics said were discriminatory against Israel's Arab minority, including a failed attempt to require Israelis to sign a loyalty oath or have their citizenship revoked. He also embarrassed Netanyahu by expressing contrary views to the government, including skepticism over the odds of reaching peace with the Palestinians.
Before the January election, Lieberman led his nationalist Yisrael Beitenu into a merger with Netanyahu's Likud Party. But the alliance, meant to solidify a victory by Israel's hardline bloc, backfired and the combined list fared poorly.
Lieberman is considering whether to break up the alliance. Such a move could increase his influence since he could potentially rob Netanyahu of his parliamentary majority.
JERUSALEM (AP) — A senior Israeli official says the government will not agree to the borders that the Palestinians are demanding for an independent state.
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said Israel would not let such a state be established within the regional boundaries that existed prior to the 1967 Mideast war. Palestinians want east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza — territories captured by Israel in that war. Danon's remarks were broadcast on Israel Radio Sunday.
His remarks came ahead of another visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to the region this week.
The government has distanced itself from similar comments made by Danon last week.
Israel's chief negotiator Tzipi Livni told the station Sunday she was hopeful talks will resume with the Palestinians despite "elements" within the Israeli government.
BEIRUT (AP) - A Syrian activist group says Israel's weekend airstrike on a sprawling military complex near the Syrian capital Damascus has killed at least 42 Syrian soldiers.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday that the toll is based on information from sources in Syrian military hospitals.
The Syrian government has not released a death toll. Immediately after Sunday's predawn strike, Syrian state media said the attack caused casualties, but did not elaborate.
So far, Israel has carried out three airstrikes in Syria this year, according to Israeli and U.S. officials, though Israel's government has not formally confirmed involvement.
The officials say the attacks were meant to prevent advanced Iranian weapons from reaching Lebanon's Hezbollah militia, a Syria ally and Israel foe.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel has come to a standstill for two mournful minutes as sirens pierced the air to remember the 6 million Jews systematically murdered by German Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust in WWII.
Israelis stopped what they were doing and stood in silence as sirens wailed nationwide Monday at 10:00 a.m.
People stood with heads bowed in reflection. Traffic froze as drivers stopped their cars and stepped outside in respect for the solemn day.
Ceremonies are held around the country. The main wreath laying ceremony is held at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day is marked worldwide on Jan. 27, the date of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. Israel's annual Holocaust memorial day coincides with the Hebrew date of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.
Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says one rocket exploded in the courtyard of a house in the border town of Sderot, causing damage but no injuries. The other landed in an open field.
As a presidential candidate in 2008, Obama visited Sderot, which is frequently targeted by rocket attacks from the nearby Gaza Strip. The territory is ruled by the militant Palestinian Hamas group.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for Thursday's attack, which came as Obama was in Jerusalem. He is to visit the West Bank city of Ramallah later in the day.
Obama arrives today in Israel for his first visit to the country — and only his second to the Middle East, outside of a quick jaunt to Iraq — since taking office.
He will also be making his first trips as president to the Palestinian Authority and Jordan this week. But on an itinerary laden more with symbolism than substance, an Israel that is increasingly wary of developments in Syria and Iran will be the main focus of his attention.