The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they unfolded.

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Sophisticated weapons used in Sinai attack

A newspaper close to the Egyptian government says the Islamic State-linked militants who attacked troops in the Sinai Peninsula used sophisticated weaponry, including Russian-made Kornet anti-tank missiles.

In a graphic on its front page Thursday, el-Watan daily says the attackers also used mortars, anti-aircraft guns and other guided missiles.

The attack, which included a wave of suicide bombings and assaults on security installations by dozens of militants, was Sinai’s deadliest fighting in decades. Security officials said dozens of troops were killed, along with nearly 100 attackers.

Newspapers led their front pages with the attack, with many describing it as a “war.” Graphic photographs released by the military showed the bodies of extremists killed in the fighting who were wearing combat fatigues.

— AP

9 Muslim Brotherhood members killed in Cairo

The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group is accusing Egypt’s security services of killing nine of its members in retaliation for yesterday’s Sinai attacks, Daily News Egypt is reporting.

A spokesperson for the group says the members were killed in a residential flat in the capital and that they were unarmed.

Egypt’s interior ministry is refuting this claim, however, saying that the nine were armed and were wanted in connection with the murder of state prosecutor Hisham Barakat on Monday.

One of those killed was Abdel Fattah Attia, who has been on Egyptian internal security’s wanted list in connection with Muslim Brotherhood activity.

Egypt says 100 IS fighters killed

An Egyptian military spokesperson is reporting that over one hundred fighters have been killed thus far in Sinai, after an Islamic State affiliate launched simultaneous attacks yesterday on military checkpoints in the restive peninsula.

More than 15 different sites were targeted in the northern Sinai attacks.

PM lauds ‘UK’s Schindler’ who saved 669

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin both mourn the passing of Sir Nicholas Winton, a humanitarian who almost single-handedly saved 669 children — mostly Jewish — from the Holocaust.

Winton arranged trains to carry children from Nazi-occupied Prague to Britain, battling bureaucracy at both ends and saving them from almost certain death. He died yesterday aged 106.

“The Jewish people and the State of Israel owe an immense debt to Sir Nicholas Winton, who on his own, saved hundreds of Jewish children from the clutches of Nazism,” Netanyahu says, adding that “in a world permeated by evil and apathy, Winton dedicated himself to saving the helpless and the innocent.”

Rivlin also noted that “just as the Holocaust will forever remain etched in the Jewish consciousness, so too the names of those who risked their own lives to save Jews, and especially Jewish children, will remain in our memory as heroes of those darkest of times. Sir Nicholas Winton was a man who valued human life above all else, and there are those who are alive today as a testament to his dedication and sacrifice. May his memory be blessed.”

Britain says ‘no breakthrough’ in Iran talks

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond tells reporters in Vienna that Iran and the world powers have not yet achieved a breakthrough in nuclear talks.

“The work goes on. You are going to see ministers coming and going to maintain the momentum of these discussions. I don’t think we’re at any kind of breakthrough moment yet and we will do whatever we need to do to keep the momentum,” Hammond says, according to Reuters.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is currently meeting with Hammond along with other partners from the P5+1, before direct talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif this evening.

The June 30 deadline has been extended until at least July 7.

Death commuted for Afghanis who killed woman over Koran burning

A court in Afghanistan has commuted the sentences of four men convicted of killing a young woman in Kabul in March following a false accusation that she had burned a copy of the Koran.

The group were originally given the death sentence, but their sentence was reduced to 20 years each, Al Jazeera is reporting.

A woman named only as Farkhunda, 27, was beaten to death in a frenzied attack by a mob on the streets of the capital. Some religious figures noted that her death would have been justified if it had been ascertained that she did in fact burn the Muslim holy book.

The charges against the men included assault, murder and encouraging others to participate in the assault. In addition, 11 police officers were indicted for failing to prevent the attack.

Tunisia arrests 8 linked to beach massacre

Tunisian security forces have arrested eight people, including a woman, suspected of having direct links to the jihadist killing of 38 foreign tourists at a beach resort, a government minister says.

“Eight people with direct links to the carrying out of the operation, including a woman, have been arrested,” Kamel Jendoubi, the minister in charge of government relations with civil society, told a press conference.

“The whole of the network behind the operation has been uncovered,” he said, without specifying whether more arrests would be made.


Hamas holds family of killer of Italian activist

Hamas is forcibly holding the Gaza-based family of a Salafi man who escaped from jail in the Strip, Israel Radio is reporting, quoting the Palestinian daily Al-Quds.

Muhammad A-Salafiti was convicted of murdering Italian journalist and pro-Palestinian activist Vittorio Arrigoni in Gaza in April 2011. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labor in September 2012, but managed to escaped from prison and made his way to the Sinai this year.

Hamas believes A-Salafiti is traveling to Syria to join the Islamic State. His father, uncle and brother are being held by the group in connection with the escape.

Anti-Israel Illinois professor hired in Beirut

Steven Salaita, whose appointment as a professor at the University of Illinois was rescinded over his anti-Israel tweets, has announced that he will teach at the American University of Beirut this fall, he said in a tweet.

The governing board at the University of Illinois made the move after being made aware of tweets he made attacking Israel and its US supporters in harsh language during Israel’s operation in Gaza last summer. The tweets appeared on Salaita’s personal Twitter account.

Donors to the university reportedly had complained about the tweets and called on the university to rescind his appointment.


Rivlin to hold iftar meal at his residence

President Reuven Rivlin says he will hold an iftar meal at his official residence for the wider Muslim community on Sunday night.

Iftar is the evening meal when Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at nightfall. Rivlin announced that he will be welcoming Muslim community leaders to the event.

Sunday also marks the Jewish fast of the 17th of Tammuz, so both Jews and Muslims will be breaking their respective fasts at the same time.

23 IS fighters killed in Egypt airstrikes

Egyptian security sources are saying that 23 Islamic State operatives have just been killed in airstrikes in Sinai.

Earlier, 100 jihadists had been killed Wednesday through Thursday, Reuters is reporting.

According to another source, more than 200 militants have escaped thus far.

Iran deal ‘not there yet,’ German FM says

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier doubts whether major powers and Iran have enough “will and courage” to seal an elusive deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear program, AFP is reporting.

“It is clear that we are not there yet,” Steinmeier tells reporters, adding “whether everyone’s will and courage will be enough at the end of the day is a question that we can’t answer yet.”


Abbas denounces Sinai attack

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expresses his condolences to Egypt’s president over yesterday’s attack in Sinai, Palestinian Ma’an News Agency is reporting.

“We strongly denounce these brutal, criminal and terrorist acts and those who stand behind them,” Abbas tell Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, adding that those who carried out the attacks are “cowards and terrorists.”

Iran deal ‘nuclear nightmare’ for Lebanon

The chairman of Lebanon’s secular-liberal Option Party says that a bad nuclear deal will enable Iran to funnel millions of dollars to Hezbollah, which is currently in dire financial straits.

Ahmad Al-Assaad writes in the Wall Street Journal:

The Obama administration is negotiating a flawed nuclear deal with the Iranian regime that will see Tehran get a windfall of up to $150 billion. With so much cash on hand, Tehran would surely create new Hezbollah franchises elsewhere in the Middle East and order all these radical proxy groups to wage even more wars in the region.

At the very least, Tehran would be eager to give a good boost to its pride and joy—Hezbollah—and help it buy its way out of the problems it is facing in Lebanon now.

Over the past two years, more than 1,000 Hezbollah fighters have died in the Syrian war, and the Lebanese people’s resentment toward the group has increased.

I recently met in Washington D.C. with senators, members of Congress and think-tank analysts. When I shared my worries with those close to the Obama administration, the response was, “Let’s get a deal now on the nuclear issue and then we’ll work out a plan on how to stand up to this Iranian invasion of the Middle East.”

Shooter on the loose in Washington, DC

US media is reporting that a gunman is rampaging through the Navy Yard in Washington DC.

An employee inside the 41-acre complex reports that alarms are sounding and the buildings are on lockdown, USA today is reporting.

Shots heard, but officials mum on details

An official says shots have been reported in a building on the Washington Navy Yard campus, AP reports.

Navy spokesman Petty Officer 1st Class Pedro Rodriguez says a lockdown is underway.

He did not give information on injuries or other details.

In September 2013, military contractor Aaron Alexis killed 12 civilian workers at the Navy Yard’s Building 197 before he was fatally shot by police.

The Navy Yard, in southeast Washington, is the country’s oldest naval installation.

— AP

14 Muslim Bulgarians charged for supporting IS

Bulgarian prosecutors on Thursday charged 14 Muslim Roma with inciting racial hatred and spreading the ideas of the Islamic State jihadist group.

The 13 men and one woman from the central cities of Plovdiv and Pazardzhik were arrested at the end of March after a seven-month investigation, the chief prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

They have been charged with “preaching racial hatred” and “propagating war by spreading the ideas of the terrorist group Islamic State,” the statement said.

Twelve of the charged were placed under arrest and two released on bail, the office added.

A majority Orthodox Christian country, Bulgaria also has a 13 percent Muslim population, including ethnic Turks, Muslim Roma and Pomaks.

Pomacs are Slavs whose Christian ancestors were forced to convert to Islam during the country’s Ottoman domination.


Jewish town in Arab Triangle to have 100,000 inhabitants by 2030

Housing Minister Yoav Galant says that Israel plans to rapidly expand a small Jewish town located in a predominantly Arab area of northern Israel.

Galant says that he envisions the town of Harish will have 100,000 inhabitants by 2030, up from 4,000 today.

Yoav Galant (R) inspects construction currently underway in the town of Harish, July 2, 2015. (courtesy)

Yoav Galant (R) inspects construction currently underway in the town of Harish, July 2, 2015. (courtesy)

“We currently have 6,000 housing projects under construction in the town, with an additional 6,000 planned immediately afterward,” he says.

According to Galant, Harish is the most significant building project in the country since Modiin, a large city between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that was constructed during the 90s.

Harish sits in the so-called Arab Triangle, abutting the West Bank and containing Arab towns and villages with few Jewish communities.

Naval Yard shooting not a hoax

Reports alleging that a possible shooting at Washington’s Naval Yard were fabricated are being rescinded. Sky News said on Twitter that “hoax calls about Navy Yard shooting were about a separate incident.”

Initial reports of the hoax were published on the Sky News Twitter account.

British government spied on Amnesty

Amnesty International has expressed outrage after a British tribunal confirmed that Britain’s government had spied on the human rights organization, AP reports.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal told Amnesty that Britain’s electronic intercepting agency, GCHQ, had violated its rules when it kept intercepted communications from the human rights group. The tribunal, however, said the way the communications were obtained was lawful and proportionate.

Amnesty said the tribunal did not tell it when or why the agency was spied on, or what was done with the information obtained.

The tribunal had said in June that GCHQ failed to delete data intercepted from two other rights groups on time. It said Thursday that it was mistaken, and that one of the groups was Amnesty.

— AP

China sees ‘high possibility’ of Iran deal

China’s foreign minister says Thursday that he sees a “high possibility” of Iran and major powers agreeing a nuclear deal.

“We have confidence that finally the parties concerned will arrive at a fair, balanced and just agreement… I think there is high possibility,” Wang Yi tells reporters through an interpreter as he arrived at talks in Vienna.


Security finds Navy Yard building empty

A federal official says Navy security has seen surveillance video of two people jumping the fence in the vicinity of a building where gunfire was reported on the Washington Navy Yard campus.

The official said Thursday that the video showed the two jumping the fence a couple of minutes before the first report of the shots.

The official also says security has cleared the building and found no one inside.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity for lack of authorization to discuss details publicly.

— AP

No shooter or victims found at Navy Yard

The Washington DC Fire Department tells Reuters that no victims have been found at the city’s Navy Yard, while a local CBS station reports that police have not found a shooter either.

The facility is still under lockdown.

IS begins destroying Palmyra statues

The Islamic State has begun defacing and destroying ancient historical artifacts in the city of Palmyra, according to unverified reports on social media.

In the images, operatives armed with sledgehammers can be seen shattering a row of stone sculptures.

Likud MK says Egypt ‘furious’ with Hamas for aiding IS

Likud lawmaker Tzachi Hanegbi tells Channel 2 news that Egypt is “furious” with Hamas for providing assistance to the Islamic State affiliate in Sinai that launched yesterday’s deadly attacks.

“We know for certain that IS in Sinai is getting help from Hamas,” Hanegbi says, adding that Cairo is extremely upset with the Gaza-based terror group.

Effigy of Zenobia, ancient queen, among statues destroyed by IS

Islamic State thugs have destroyed a rare sculpture of Zenobia, the third-century queen of the Palmyrene Empire in Syria, who led a famous revolt against the Roman Empire, the International Business Times reports.

According to the terror group, the statues were smuggled privately from Palmyra to Homs, north of Damascus. The smuggler was “disciplined” according to Islamic Law, and the artifacts were taken to the city of Manbij, in Aleppo governorate, where they were destroyed.

Images released by the Islamic State of statues slated for defacement, July 2, 2015. (screen capture)

Images released by the Islamic State of statues slated for defacement, July 2, 2015. (screen capture)

“With thanks to Allah, Isis groups spread throughout the province have managed to stop a man who had in his possession a group of smuggled statues from Tadmur [Palmyra in Arabic] in the Homs province,” a statement posted online by the group says.

“He was then taken to the Islamic court in the town of Manbaj where it was ruled that the smuggler was disciplined to the legal limits according to Islamic law, and the statues were destroyed, with thanks to God before and after,” it continues.

A Syrian antiquities director, Maamoun Abdulkarim, tells the paper that IS will continue destroying historical monuments under its control, though he would need to examine the destroyed sculptures in person to determine their authenticity.

“I’m sure that if Palmyra stays under IS we’ll see a lot more of those pictures,” Abdulkarim says.

“We know they will destroy all the statues in their hands, it’s part of their ideology. There are hundreds of similar statues in Damascus, after they have been evacuated from Palmyra’s national museum. To prove the authenticity we would need to examine them in person,” he says.

IDF says Hamas directly assisting Islamic State in Sinai

The IDF has acquired intelligence that Hamas is providing weaponry and other support to the Islamic State’s Sinai affiliate, Wilayat Sinai (Province of Sinai) — the group thought to be behind yesterday’s deadly attack on Egyptian security services.

IDF coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Major-General Yoav Mordechai in a photo from July 2013. (screen capture: YouTube/IDFSpox1)

IDF coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Major-General Yoav Mordechai in a photo from July 2013. (screen capture: YouTube/IDFSpox1)

Yoav Mordechai, head of COGAT, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, tells Al-Jazeera that along with military support, Hamas is also providing medical support to injured IS operatives. He says that a high-ranking officer in Hamas’s military wing, named as Wa’al Faraj, smuggled injured Islamic State fighters into the Gaza Strip for medical treatment.

Another top Hamas commander involved in training Hamas fighters, Abdullah Kishta, has been lending his expertise to Islamic State jihadists in Sinai as well, Mordechai says, adding that the IDF has “proof” of these direct ties.

Wilayat Sinai was previously known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis before it pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State.

Senior Abbas adviser says Israel benefits from IS attacks

The religious affairs adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas claims that Israel is the principal beneficiary of yesterday’s Islamic State attacks on the Egyptian military in Sinai.

Supreme Shariah Judge Mahmoud Al-Habbash writes on Facebook that “I have no doubt that the main beneficiary – and perhaps the only one that really benefits – of the attack in Egypt is Israel. Simply put, this means that whoever harms Egypt is acting for the good of Israel, whether or not they want to.”

The comments are translated by Palestinian Media Watch.

‘Our hearts are with the Egyptian people,’ Netanyahu says

The Israeli prime minister warns of the growing threat to the region from Islamic State militants and expresses condolences to Egypt over the deadly IS-linked attacks in Sinai the day before.

Benjamin Netanyahu said that “we see in front of our eyes IS acting with extraordinary cruelty both in our northern border and at our southern border.”

He says: “Our hearts are with the Egyptian people. We send our condolences to the Egyptian government and the families of those who were killed in battle with the cruel terror.”

Egypt and Israel share a border in the Sinai and have cooperated in the past on cross-border militant threats.

— AP

Jewish-American held in Cuba was never debriefed after release

Alan Gross, the Jewish-American government contractor who was jailed in Cuba for five years as a spy, was never debriefed after his release from prison and return to the United States, according to a new report.

Alan Gross at Finlay military hospital during his prison sentence in Havana, Cuba, November 27, 2012. (AP/James L. Berenthal, File)

Alan Gross at Finlay military hospital during his prison sentence in Havana, Cuba, November 27, 2012. (AP/James L. Berenthal, File)

No US government official has debriefed Gross since his release from prison in Cuba more than nine months ago, the Daily Beast reported Thursday citing an “authoritative source.” The report comes a day after President Barack Obama announced that the United States would open an embassy in Havana more than 50 years after diplomatic relations were severed. Cuba also plans to open an embassy in Washington.

While he was in prison it was rumored that Gross was an undercover CIA agent.


Argentina signs $111m deal with Israel to upgrade tanks

Argentina’s army signed a $111 million contract with Israel to upgrade 74 tanks made in Argentina.

The deal to upgrade the Argentinian Medium Tanks, or TAM, was signed in Buenos Aires by the Argentina’s Minister of Defense Agustin Rossi and Mishel Ben-Baruch, director of the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s International Defense Cooperation Division.

“This is an extremely important step, not only for the project but for the excellent relations between both countries. It’s also the beginning of a great friendship between the two ministries,” said Ben Baruch, who also praised the work done by Israeli and Argentinian technical teams to reach the agreement.

The agreement includes different tools designed to ensure that Argentina can develop its own technology and capabilities provided through co-production projects with Israel, and also human resources training and technical assistance to upgrade the tanks in Argentina.


Firefighters work to contain Galilee blaze

Four firefighting teams and two planes are working to extinguish a wildfire in northern Israel between the towns of Sarona and Yavne’el, Ynet is reporting.

This is the third such fire in the area this season, and locals believe the fires may have been intentionally lit in a struggle over grazing pastures in the area.

Palestinians protest to mark year to Abu Khdeir death

Hundreds of Palestinians are demonstrating in East Jerusalem to commemorate the first anniversary of a teenager being burned to death by Israeli extremists in the run-up to the Gaza war.

Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, was abducted and killed on July 2, 2014, weeks after the kidnap and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank.

Palestinian protesters block a road leading to the Adam settlement in the West Bank, during a demonstration to mark the first anniversary of the killing of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khder, July 2, 2015. (Flash90)

Palestinian protesters block a road leading to the Adam settlement in the West Bank, during a demonstration to mark the first anniversary of the killing of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khder, July 2, 2015. (Flash90)

The June 2014 abduction of Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach from a hitchhiking stop near Hebron sparked a vast Israeli search operation that indirectly led to last year’s conflict between Hamas and Israel in Gaza.

Protesters are on the streets of Abu Khdeir’s Shuafat neighborhood, waving Palestinian flags and holding up posters and images of the boy in a beige baseball cap, an AFP correspondent says.

Israeli riot police and vehicles are deployed in force in the area as well.

Three Israelis were eventually charged with the killing, saying it was in revenge for the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank.

They are currently on trial in Jerusalem.


Boko Haram kills nearly 100 in Nigeria

Suspected Boko Haram militants killed at least 97 people who were praying in mosques or cooking at home in a northeastern Nigerian village, witnesses said Thursday.

“The attackers have killed at least 97 people,” a local from Kukawa village, who gave his name as Kolo, told AFP, while a fisherman who also witnessed Wednesday’s attack corroborated the figure.


Palestinians pelt Jerusalem light-rail with stones

In two separate incidents, Palestinians have thrown stones at Jerusalem light-rail carriages, apparently in protest to mark the one-year anniversary of teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir’s death, Ynet is reporting.

No injuries were reported, although damage was caused to tram carriages.

Protesters have gathered in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat to mark the death. The light rail passes through the neighborhood.

UN slashes funding to Syrian refugees in Lebanon

The World Food Program says it will have to cut food aid for Syrian refugees in Lebanon by half because of a funding crisis, and may soon have to halt all food support for most refugees in Jordan.

Lebanon and Jordan are among five countries that host some four million Syrian war refugees. The UN refugee agency warned last week that with the Syria conflict in its fifth year, funding levels for refugee aid programs dropped to a dangerous low in 2015.

Many refugee families have been struggling to get by, and cuts in food aid are having a devastating effect, said Joelle Eid, spokeswoman for the WFP in Amman.

“Today, parents have to make decisions that no parent around the globe should be making,” she said. “They are forced to skip meals. They are accumulating a lot of debt. They are moving their children out of school and even sending their children to work.”

The WFP, which had to reduce food aid in the past due to the cash crisis, said that refugee food aid in Lebanon is being cut in half in July, to $13.50 per person per month. About 440,000 refugees in Jordan who live outside refugee camps and currently receive food aid are escaping cuts this month, but could be left empty-handed if funds don’t arrive by August, Eid said.

The WFP said it needs $139 million to continue helping Syrian refugees in the region through September.

— AP

US church delays divestment motion

A leading Mennonite group has delayed a decision on divesting from companies with businesses tied to Israel.

The Mennonite Church USA was set to vote this week on whether they should sell off stock in companies “known to be profiting from the occupation,” and from “destruction of life and property” in the territories. A church spokeswoman said delegates at a national meeting in Kansas City, Missouri, voted 418-336 to delay the resolution until their next assembly two years from now. Twenty-eight delegates abstained.

The Mennonite Church USA has about 95,000 members and is one of about 40 U.S. Mennonite groups.

— AP

‘IS operatives wore Egyptian army uniforms’

An Egyptian army spokesperson is saying that Islamic State operatives who attacked military installations in northern Sinai yesterday wore Egyptian army uniforms in order to confuse troops, Channel 2 is reporting.

The source noted that Palestinians from Gaza took part in the attacks along with foreign jihadists. The report speculated that the terror operation’s commander may have been killed in the ensuing counter-attack by the Egyptian army, although no confirmations were made.

One Egyptian commentator called the coordinated attacks “an attempt to amputate Sinai” from mainland Egypt.

In response, angry protesters poured onto the streets of Cairo to demonstrate against the killing of 13 Muslim Brotherhood activists killed in residential areas of the capital.

“Arise, protest and overthrow Sisi,” a crowd at the funeral of one of the activists can be heard chanting, in reference to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.