Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to win re-election after his main rival conceded defeat.
With more than 99 percent of votes counted, Netanyahu’s Likud party was set to lead a right-wing bloc with 65 of the 120 seats in parliament.
His main challenger, Benny Gantz, accepted the result on Wednesday, acknowledging that he had failed to unseat the prime minister.
“We respect the decision of the people,” he told reporters.
Although Gantz’s Blue and White Party was set to win a similar number of seats to Likud, there was no obvious path for its leader to find a parliamentary majority.
A number of right-wing parties expressed their support for Netanyahu and are on course to give him a parliamentary majority.
Addressing a jubilant gathering of supporters early on Wednesday, Netanyahu praised the crowd for an “almost inconceivable achievement”.
“I was very moved that the nation of Israel once again entrusted me for the fifth time, and with even greater trust,” he added.
Final results are expected to be announced on Thursday.
Despite facing the possibility of being indicted on charges of corruption, fraud and breach of trust in three cases, Netanyahu is now set to embark on a record fifth term in office and will also become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
His previous terms have been marked by a rightward shift in Israeli policy towards the occupied Palestinian territories, as peace talks with the Palestinians have collapsed and the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank had accelerated. In the run-up to the election, he said he would annex Israeli settlements if he won a fifth term.
“I think the whole rules of the game are changing, because now Israel is clearly superimposing all of Greater Israel on all of historical Palestine,” said Hanan Ashrawi, PLO executive committee member.
“They have totally cancelled any agreements. They have nullified the two-state solution. They have totally negated the requirements of peace. They have totally violated international law. Now we need a whole new strategy to deal with this.”
US President Donald Trump phoned to congratulate Netanyahu on his victory, the Israeli leader said later on Wednesday.
Trump told reporters at the White House that Netanyahu’s re-election improved the chances of a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
“He’s been a great ally and he’s a friend. I’d like to congratulate him on a well-thought-out race,” Trump said.
However, Diana Buttu, a Palestinian Haifa-based analyst and former legal adviser to Palestinian peace negotiators, told Al Jazeera that Netanyahu’s renewed mandate will allow him to continue his “policies of apartheid, colonisation and racism”.
Buttu said that for as long as Netanyahu has been prime minister, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been urging the international community to intervene during the bombing of Gaza, construction of illegal settlements, demolition of Palestinian homes, passage of the nation-state law and regarding the annexation of the West Bank.
“Netanyahu is ideologically opposed to Palestinian freedom he’s going to continue to do whatever he wants against Palestinians,” Buttu said.
“The message that the Israeli public has sent is very clear. They support him, they support his policies of apartheid, they support his policies of colonisation and they support a racist.”
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin is due to begin meeting with the political parties who won entry into the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, next week to see who they will support for prime minister. He will then select a leader to try and form a coalition.
Voter turnout was 67.9 percent, down from 71.8 percent in 2015. Turnout in the Arab community was significantly lower, standing at 46 percent an hour before the polls closed.
Despite a low voter turnout among Palestinians, the Arab alliances of Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balad passed the threshold, gaining six and four seats respectively.
However, their total of 10 Knesset seats is lower than in the 2015 elections, when the Arab Joint List won 13, making them the third-largest faction in parliament.
Some voters blamed the low turnout on the split between Arab factions, which had united for the 2015 vote, while there was also a campaign to boycott the election.
On Tuesday, Likud activists placed 1,200 hidden cameras in Palestinian polling areas, prompting the Central Elections Committee (CEC) chairman Judge Hanan Melcer to file a complaint to police.
Netanyahu responded saying there should be cameras everywhere to “ensure a fair vote”. The cameras were subsequently removed.
Irish Bishop Against Practicing Yoga in Christian Schools
An Irish bishop has written to Catholic schools urging them to ban yoga as it is ‘not of Christian origin’ and the children should spend their time ‘in adoration of Jesus’ instead.
Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan, wrote to principals, teachers and school staff members in Waterford City and County, Ireland, on October 10.
In his letter, he said: ‘Yoga is not of Christian origin and is not suitable for our parish school setting and especially not during religious education time.
‘I have been asked by several people to say a word on yoga and mindfulness. My question is, ‘Will they bring us closer to God or replace him?’
The bishop claimed that Christian Mindfulness is ‘meditation on Christ’ which empties the mind of ‘everything unnecessary’ in order to become ‘aware of the presence and love of Christ’.
While he also quoted Pope Francis that practices like yoga are ‘not capable of opening our hearts up to God’.
The bishop added how people can ‘take a million courses in spirituality’ but this activity ‘will never be able to give you freedom’, echoing Pope Francis’s speech in 2015.
He said Pope Francis’s philosophy was in keeping with Ireland’s Grow In Love programme. This touches on Christian doctrine, Scripture, morality and prayer.
Teacher’s were reminded that October is the ‘month of the Rosary’ and they should each pray in a bid to get closer to Jesus, in the letter.
But the primary school curriculum allows a degree of flexibility about how its implemented, according to the Irish National Teachers Organisation, who hit-back at his view.
John Stokes, a yoga instructor in Waterford, said the practice of yoga, meditation and mindfulness should be ’embraced’ in ‘an age where children are really suffering from anxiety and stress’.
‘There is no dogma taught in our classes and Yoga in it’s truest sense is a movement and breath awareness practice for health and wellbeing.
They said ‘here’s to tolerance, love and unity’ and invited him to a one-to-one yoga session or class of his choice’ at their Wellness Centre in Youghal, Ireland.
The Irish National Teachers Organisation said the primary school curriculum allows schools a certain amount of flexibility and autonomy with regard to its implementation.
They said the schools ‘are best placed’ to make the decisions about how the subjects are taught, taking into consideration the ‘school culture, ethos and needs of the pupils’.
This is not the first time Bishop Cullinan has received backlash for his views as he said he was to establish a ‘delivery ministry’ group to rid people of the devil through exorcism, last year.
He also claimed the cervical cancer vaccine could lead to promiscuity in 2017.
The bishop said the vaccine ‘lulls girls into false sense of security’ and encourages sexual activity, adding: ‘Prevention, the number one and most effective protection, is abstinence. A good old traditional value.’
He later apologised and admitted he was not fully informed about the vaccination programme. Cullinan’s ‘intention was solely motivated to protect people from HPV’.
China Demolishes 3,000-Seat Megachurch during Worship Service
The People’s Republic of China destroyed a church that reportedly could seat 3,000 people and detained its pastors, according to a human rights organization.
An international nonprofit Christian human rights group based in Texas, reported the incident in a statement released Saturday. According to the group, Chinese authorities provided no legal papers to justify the demolition.
The church was located in Funan, Anhui province. Its pastors, Geng Yimin and Sun Yongyao, were detained under suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order.”
China Aid President Bob Fu said in a statement that the incident was “yet another clear example showing the escalation of religious persecution today by the Chinese Communist regime.”
“The total disregard of religious freedom’s protection as enshrined in the Communist Party’s own Constitution tells the whole world President Xi is determined to continue his war against the peaceful Christian faithful. This campaign will surely fail in the end.”
While China’s persecution of religious groups has existed for many years, recently under President Xi Jinping a wave of crackdowns on religious practices in China has taken place.
The Communist government has destroyed or damaged several churches, reflecting concerns about the increasing Christian population of the country.
In the summer, True Jesus Church in Henan province was razed to the ground, according to persecution watchdog Bitter Winter. Police officers reportedly dragged out all believers from the church before they demolished the property.
Bitter Winter also reported last month that the Ten Commandments have been removed from nearly every Three-Self church and meeting venue in a county of Luoyang city and replaced with the President Xi Jinping’s quotes as part of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to “sinicize” Christianity.
In addition to cracking down on its Christian minority, China has engaged in violent persecution of its Uighur Muslim and Falun Gong communities.
The China Tribunal, a human rights group, told the United Nations Human Rights Council last month that the Chinese government is harvesting organs from religious minorities, with possibly hundreds of thousands of victims.
“Forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience, including the religious minorities of Falun Gong and Uighurs, has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale, and that it continues today. This involves hundreds of thousands of victims.”
“Victim for victim and death for death, cutting out the hearts and other organs from living, blameless, harmless, peaceable people constitutes one of the worst mass atrocities of this century.”
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