The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they unfolded.
Deri moves to strip Israeli IS fighters of citizenship
Israel will strip 20 citizens who left the country to fight with the Islamic State jihadist group of their citizenship, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri says.
According to Deri, an amendment to Israel’s nationality act which went into force this month allows those engaged in hostile activity to be stripped of their citizenship in absentia.
“I asked that the citizenship of 20 such Israelis be revoked,” he tells army radio.
The Shin Bet security service has in the past estimated that several dozen Israeli nationals had been fighting for IS in Iraq and Syria but yesterday announced that “about 20” remain active.
— with AFP
Female rabbinical students ‘strip searched’ at Western Wall
Security guards at the entrance to the Western Wall complex in Jerusalem “strip searched” four female rabbinical students ahead of the Women of the Wall’s monthly prayer service at the holy site, according to a local Reform group.
The Israel Religious Action Center says the four Hebrew Union College students were delayed and questioned by guards before being asked to lift up their shirts and skirts.
“This is a new low for the Rabbi of the Kotel trying to intimidate, humiliate, and exclude liberal women trying to pray at the Western Wall. Despite today’s events these four brave Jewish leaders will continue to love Israel, the Wall, and justice,” IRAC director Rabbi Noa Sattath says in a statement.
Sattath says the group will file letters of complain to the attorney general and the Prime Minister’s Office to “demand they act to address the events of this morning,” the statement says.
Spanish police find bomb belt in attacks workshop
Police in northeastern Spain say they have found a belt with real explosives at the house where the terror cell accused of killing 15 people in attacks on Barcelona and another town last week had been preparing a bigger attack.
Six of the attackers shot dead by police were wearing fake suicide belts.
A police spokesman says the belt with viable explosives was found at a house in Alcanar, south of Barcelona, where two other cell members died in an explosion last Wednesday prior to the attacks.
Police had already found over 100 tanks of butane gas and materials to make TATP, an explosive used by Islamic State militants, at the house.
Egypt criticizes US decision to cut aid
Egypt criticizes a US decision to reduce financial aid and withhold some military assistance as a “misjudgment” of strategic ties between the two allies.
The foreign ministry says it “regrets the decision” to reduce some funds allocated under a US assistance program and withhold the disbursement of other military aid.
The foreign ministry calls the step a “misjudgment of the nature of the strategic relations that binds the two countries over decades,” and reflects the lack of understanding of the importance of supporting the stability and success of Egypt.”
It provided no details of the cuts, but US media reports said Washington yesterday denied Egypt $96 million in aid and delayed $195 million in military funding because of concerns over its human rights record.
— with AFP
Iran opposition leaders ‘protected’ under house arrest, court official says
Iranian opposition leaders are being “protected” under house arrest for six years and would regret facing trial, a court chief says, amid calls for them to be allowed to face justice.
“A trial will bring regret for these people… because the court and the system do not joke around with anyone and do their legal duty with determination, power and precision,” says Mousa Ghazanfarabadi, the head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court.
Quoted by the Dana news website, he was responding to renewed demands that former presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi finally face trial for their part in the Green Movement protests of 2009.
The protests — known as “the sedition” by hardliners — followed allegations of rigging in that year’s election, which they lost to hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
They were put under house arrest in early 2011 but have never been charged with a crime.
“Under house arrest, the heads of the sedition are protected and cared for,” says Ghazanfarabadi.
Bnei Brak construction worker killed in worksite accident
A construction worker is reportedly killed at a work site in Bnei Brak.
According to reports in Hebrew-language media, the 30-year-old worker died after falling from a height of 3 meters.
Paramedics called to the scene were unable to resuscitate him and pronounced him dead shortly after they arrived.
Netanyahu warns Putin Iran will fill Mideast power vacuum after IS defeat
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns Russian President Vladimir Putin that Iran will fill the vacuum of power after the Islamic State group is defeated by the coalition of nations fighting it.
“In a joint effort, we are defeating Daesh,” Netanyahu tells Putin using an alternate name for the jihadist group. “But the bad part is, that wherever Daesh is defeated, Iran is taking its place.”
“We cannot forget for a single minute that Iran threatens every day to annihilate Israel,” he says. “It arms terrorist organizations, it sponsors and initiates terror.”
Key UN panel urges US to reject racist hate speech, crimes
A top UN body on racial discrimination is taking an unusual step in calling on the United States to “unequivocally and unconditionally” reject racist hate speech and crimes following a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Without specifically referring to President Donald Trump, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination pointed to “the failure at the highest political level to unequivocally reject racist violent events” in the U.S.
The committee was acting on its “early warning and urgent action” procedure, which has been applied 20 times since 2003.
In a statement Wednesday, CERD pointed to its decision Friday calling on the US government to investigate any human rights violations during the Aug. 12 demonstration in Charlottesville, and ensure that freedom of expression does not promote racist speech or crimes.
Austria Holocaust survivors warn of far-right revival in upcoming elections
An Austrian committee representing victims of one of the Third Reich’s biggest death camps is warning against the risk of seeing the “malicious” far-right return to power in October elections.
Founded by former Nazis in the 1950s, the Freedom Party (FPOe) is currently in third place with 24 percent in surveys of voter intentions, behind the Social Democrats (SPOe) with 27% and the centrist People’s Party (OeVP) with 32%.
But for the Mauthausen Committee, the far right still shares a “distinct closeness to Nazi ideology.”
“If someone wants to share power with the FPOe, they can’t pretend afterwards that they didn’t know about their diehard attitude,” committee chairman Willi Mernyi says in a statement.
The committee says the FPOe continued to stoke scandals “with a Nazi whiff,” citing at least 60 anti-Semitic and racist incidents involving FPOe politicians since 2013.
“They may be isolated cases but they aren’t rare or atypical,” it said in the statement.
The organization was created in memory of the 200,000 prisoners who passed through the Mauthausen concentration camp in northern Austria during World War II.
Lebanese PM says victory is near against IS along Syrian border
Lebanon’s prime minister visits troops near his country’s border with Syria, and says that victory against the Islamic State group is near.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri spoke to reporters in Ras Baalbek, where he inspected the military’s command center for the ongoing military operation against hundreds of IS militants.
Hariri says: “I never doubted the Lebanese army.”
The US-backed Lebanese military is now preparing for the last phase of the operation that began last week to end the militants’ presence along the border.
Earlier, the military said it now controls over 80 percent of the areas previously held by IS.
The army launched its operation on Saturday and has since driven out the militants from some 100 square kilometers (62 square miles).
Police defuse bomb outside Nahariya apartment building
Police safely defuse a bomb placed outside an apartment building in Nahariya, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.
The bomb was taken to a police lab for further investigation.
Reports say the incident appears to be criminally motivated, not a terror incident.
Suspect admits killings in Finnish stabbing spree
The main suspect in last week’s stabbing attack in Finland admitted to killing two people and injuring eight others but denied any intent to murder, his lawyer says.
The Turku district court placed Abderrahman Mechkah, an 18-year-old Moroccan citizen, in formal custody after he made his statement to the court via video link from hospital, where he is being treated for a police gunshot wound to the thigh.
“The main suspect admits acts which led to deaths, but denies that they were murders,” his lawyer Kaarle Gummerus tells AFP, adding that his cleient “didn’t explain the motive of the acts
The stabbing is being investigated as Finland’s first terror attack.
“The offender in Turku incident is suspected on probable cause of murders and attempted murders with terrorist intent and placed in detention,” the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) says in a Twitter post.
“He didn’t explain the motive of the acts,” Gummerus adds.
Netanyahu-Putin meeting in Sochi over
The meeting between Netanyahu and Putin in the Russian city of Sochi is over, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.
In remarks to Russian journalists ahead of the meeting, Netanyahu expressed concern that Iran was filling the power vacuum in Syria in the wake of the Islamic State group’s defeat.
Lebanese beauty queen stripped of title over visit to Israel
A Swedish-Lebanese beauty queen is reportedly stripped of her crown after pageant organizers discovered she visited Israel last year.
Amanda Hanna won Miss Lebanon Emigrant 2017 earlier in August, but according to the Independent, a 2016 school trip to Israel on her Swedish passport is costing her the title of Miss Lebanon Emigrant 2017.
“After communicating our decision with Lebanon’s Minister of Tourism, he decided that Hanna should be stripped of her title because her visit to Israel violates our country’s laws,” says a statement from The Festival of Lebanese Emigrants in Dhour Al Choueir to newspaper Al Modon reads.
— Jeffrey Guterman (@JeffreyGuterman) August 23, 2017
US envoy to Israel says Trump response to Charlottesville was ‘not fine’
US ambassador to Israel David Friedman says his president’s response to the racially motivated violence in Charlottesville earlier this month was “not fine.”
When asked by a Channel 10 reporter whether he agreed with Trump’s handling of the aftermath of the deadly rally was “fine,” Friedman responds by saying: “I think it wasn’t fine,” and declines to comment on the issue further.
Friedman also says that Trump is “being treated unfairly by the media,” and that he believes the president “will do a great job for America.”
— נדב איל Nadav Eyal (@NadavEyalDesk) August 23, 2017
11 beheaded in attack on Libya checkpoint, say pro-Haftar forces
At least 11 people were beheaded after an attack on a checkpoint controlled by Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar south of Tripoli, says a spokesman for his forces.
“At least nine soldiers were beheaded… in addition to two civilians” at the checkpoint about 500 kilometers (300 miles) south of Tripoli, Colonel Ahmad al-Mesmari says, blaming the Islamic State jihadist group for the gruesome attack.
No group has yet claimed the dawn attack on a checkpoint run by Haftar’s forces in the Al-Jufra region.
Libya has been rocked by chaos since the 2011 fall and killing of longtime dictator Muammar Ghaddafi in a NATO-backed revolution.
PM says Israel, Russia aligned in combating Iranian influence
After his three-hour meeting with Putin in Sochi, Netanyahu says Israeli and Russian interests are aligned in combating Iran’s growing influence in the region.
“Most of the conversation we discussed Iran’s efforts to establish itself in Syria in areas where Daesh is being driven out,” Netanyahu says, using the Arabic name for the jihadist group. “The victory over Daesh is welcome, Iran’s encroachment is not, and in my opinion it endangers the region and the entire world.”
“I expressed our positions on the matter to President Putin clearly — that this is unacceptable for us,” he says.
The prime minister goes on to say he believes that Israeli and Russian interests are aligned when it comes to Iran.
Palestinians say Trump must commit to two states before peace talks
Donald Trump’s team must commit to the two-state solution and opposing settlement construction before the US president’s peace push will move forward, say Palestinian officials.
Ahmed Majdalani, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, tells AFP they are demanding “a clear and frank answer on the position of the administration on the two-state solution and settlements.”
“Without a clear American commitment to the two-state solution and stopping settlements and ending the occupation we don’t expect much from this administration.”
Jibril Rajoub, a senior member of Abbas’s Fatah party, says they will demand a clear commitment from Kushner and Greenblatt to an independent Palestinian state.
“We hope that the American administration and the envoys of President Donald Trump that will meet tomorrow with president Mahmud Abbas will announce the American administration’s adoption of the two-state solution to move the peace process forward,” he tells AFP.
“It is time for President Trump to pay serious attention to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
— with AFP
UNIFIL says no evidence of weapon smuggling to Hezbollah
The head of the UN peacekeepers in Lebanon says his force has no evidence that weapons are being illegally transferred to the country’s south, pushing back against US and Israeli criticism of the mission.
The UN Security Council is expected to renew the mandate of the force, known as UNIFIL, which is due to expire Aug. 31.
US and Israeli officials have called for improvements in its efforts to prevent Hezbollah expanding its arsenal following the 2006 war between Israel and the Lebanon-based terrorist group.
Maj. Gen. Michael Beary says the 10,500-strong force has successfully maintained the peace for more than a decade.
“We should not be looking to upset that,” he tells The Associated Press aboard the UNIAO, the Brazilian flagship for the UNIFIL maritime force.
— with AP
Egyptian leaders meet Kushner despite aid cuts
Egypt’s president and foreign minister have met with White House envoy Jared Kushner hours after the Trump administration cut or delayed hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Cairo over human rights concerns.
A modified version of Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry’s schedule Wednesday had earlier showed the meeting with Kushner cancelled, which was widely seen as a snub in protest at the aid cuts. But Shoukry later sat in on Kushner’s meeting with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and met with the American delegation separately at the Foreign Ministry.
Kushner, who is also President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, was in Cairo as part of a Middle East tour aimed at exploring ways to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which last collapsed in 2014.
Israel delivers food aid to South Sudan
The Foreign Ministry says six tons of food aid was delivered to a drought-stricken village in South Sudan earlier today.
In a statement, the ministry says the food products were in part distributed by Israel’s ambassador to Juba, Hanan Goder.
It says the food aid was welcomed by local residents and state authorities.
Lawyer denies ex-Sara Netanyahu employee turning state’s witness
A former caretaker at the Prime Minister’s residence, Menny Naftali, is being treated as a state’s witness in the police investigation into Sara Netanyahu for allegedly diverting public money for her private housekeeping expenses, Channel 2 reports.
But attorney Daniel Haklai, who represents Naftali, tells The Times of Israel that there has been no offer from the state prosecution for his client to become a state’s witness, adding that such a deal would not even be possible given that Naftali is not a suspect.
“You can only become a state’s witness if you are questioned as a suspect. My client has never been treated as or questioned as a suspect and therefore cannot become a state’s witness,” he says following the report on Channel 2.
“It would appear to me that there has been some sort of misunderstanding in the language,” he adds. “Perhaps the prosecution is considering using Naftali as a regular witness, but as a state’s witness? I don’t see how that could be possible.”
Naftali himself was unavailable to comment on the report.
— Raoul Wootliff
Palestinian said seriously injured by IDF fire in northern Gaza
A Palestinian man was reportedly seriously injured by IDF fire in the northern Gaza Strip, according to reports on Palestinian media.
The reports say the man was at a training camp of an unidentified group when he was shot.
IDF lieutenant under investigation for lewd act on a minor
An IDF lieutenant has been suspended from his duties and is under investigation for attempting to commit a lewd act on a minor.
The lieutenant was interrogated by police at his home on Saturday, and was placed under house arrest for five days.
He was also relieved of his army duties for 14 days.
Report finds steering malfunction responsible for fatal helicopter crash
The team investigating this month’s deadly Apache helicopter crash submitted an interim report to the head of the Israeli Air Force yesterday, the army says.
The colonel-led commission found that, as initially suspected, the helicopter suffered a steering malfunction, which necessitated an emergency landing on an air force base.
As the attack helicopter came in for a landing, it crashed. The aircraft’s pilot Maj. (res.) David “Dudu” Zohar was killed, and the co-pilot, Lt. On, was seriously injured.
The interim report found no connection between the crash and a crack in a rear rotor blade that was discovered on an Apache helicopter in June and forced the air force to ground the entire fleet for three weeks, the army says.
In light of the report, IAF chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin decided to keep the Apache helicopter fleet grounded until the full investigation “is completed and all the actions required to return them to full fitness are carried out,” the army says.
— Judah Ari Gross