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Pentagon okays $1.9 billion arms sale to Israel

Weapons include Hellfire missiles, bunker buster bombs; deal needs approval from Congress; PM reiterates commitment to two-states

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

  • Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL/FLASH90)
    Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL/FLASH90)
  • Leader of the  Joint (Arab) List, Ayman Odeh (C) seen at a memorial service during a rally marking the Nakba anniversary at the Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv on May 20, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
    Leader of the Joint (Arab) List, Ayman Odeh (C) seen at a memorial service during a rally marking the Nakba anniversary at the Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv on May 20, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
  • Arab Israeli and left-wing student activists hold a rally marking the Nakba anniversary at the Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv on May 20, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
    Arab Israeli and left-wing student activists hold a rally marking the Nakba anniversary at the Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv on May 20, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
  • Tzipi Hotovely in the Knesset. (Abir Sultan/Flash 90)
    Tzipi Hotovely in the Knesset. (Abir Sultan/Flash 90)
  • European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini (L) shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas following a meeting at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on May 20, 2015. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)
    European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini (L) shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas following a meeting at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on May 20, 2015. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)
  • FIFA president Joseph Blatter (R) shakes hands with Palestinian children during his visit to the sports club in the village of Dura al-Qaraa, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, on May 20, 2015.  (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)
    FIFA president Joseph Blatter (R) shakes hands with Palestinian children during his visit to the sports club in the village of Dura al-Qaraa, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, on May 20, 2015. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)
  • Syrians stand and look out on the street of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra on May 18, 2015, a day after Islamic State (IS) group jihadists fired rockets into the city, killing several people.  (AFP PHOTO /STR)
    Syrians stand and look out on the street of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra on May 18, 2015, a day after Islamic State (IS) group jihadists fired rockets into the city, killing several people. (AFP PHOTO /STR)
  • Arab women watch Jerusalem Day celebrations through their bus window, May 20, 2012 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
    Arab women watch Jerusalem Day celebrations through their bus window, May 20, 2012 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

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

Hotovely meets EU chief

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely meets with EU chief Federica Mogherini in her office in Jerusalem, and reassures her that Israel is committed to peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Hotovely emphasizes that it was the Palestinians who abandoned the last round of peace talks, and for future negotiations to work, the Palestinians cannot take any unilateral steps.

She points to the car-ramming terror attack in Jerusalem earlier today, telling Mogherini that Europe must strongly condemn terror attacks and back Israel’s demand that the Palestinians recognize it as a Jewish state.

European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini speaks during the informal Ministerial meeting gathering foreign ministers from the European Union and the southern Mediterranean nations in Barcelona on April 13, 2015. (AFP/LLUIS GENE)

European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini speaks during a gathering of foreign ministers from the European Union and the southern Mediterranean nations in Barcelona on April 13, 2015. (AFP/LLUIS GENE)

Rivlin says bus segregation ‘unthinkable’

President Reuven Rivlin says the segregation of Israelis and Palestinians on West Bank buses is “unthinkable.”

“This morning (Wednesday May 20th), as we witnessed the terror attack in Jerusalem, we received a painful reminder of the complex security situation Israel’s faces and the price we pay for our basic principles. We must confront terrorism firmly, whilst defending our democratic values ​​as a country and as a people. I spoke this morning with the Defense Minister, and I welcomed halting the process that could have led to an unthinkable separation between bus lines for Jews and Arabs,” he says.

The president decries support for the torpedoed initiative, saying “the discordant voices that we heard this morning, supporting the separation between Jews and Arabs on the basis of ideas that have no place being heard or said.”

These statements “go against the very foundations of the State of Israel, and impact upon our very ability to establish here a Jewish and democratic state. Such statements cause great damage to the State of Israel, and to the settlement movement. It is important we remember that our sovereignty obligates us to prove our ability to live side by side,” the president says.

Reuven Rivlin speaking at the United Nations in New York on January 28, 2015. (photo credit: Mark Neyman/GPO)

Reuven Rivlin speaking at the United Nations in New York on January 28, 2015. (photo credit: Mark Neyman/GPO)

Erdan still negotiating with Netanyahu

Likud’s No. 2 Gilad Erdan has met with the prime minister “over the past few days” to negotiate a portfolio for Erdan to grant him entry to the cabinet, according to Israeli media reports.

Erdan reportedly demanded the Foreign Ministry, but Netanyahu turned him down, and the two have yet to make a deal.

Gilad Erdan on July 8, 2013. (photo credit: Flash 90)

Gilad Erdan on July 8, 2013. (photo credit: Flash 90)

IS enters Palmyra city limits — monitor

Jihadists from the Islamic State group entered the northern city limits of ancient Palmyra Wednesday, seizing a state security building after intense fighting, a monitor says.

“The jihadists are once again in the north of Tadmur, after taking over the state security building,” Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, tells AFP, using Palmyra’s Arabic name.

“They also seized a checkpoint in the same area,” he says. IS’s new advance comes after fierce clashes with Syrian government forces Wednesday on the northern and eastern edges of Palmyra.

On Saturday, IS seized most of Palmyra’s northern neighborhoods, but was pushed out by regime forces less than 24 hours later.

Syrian citizens walking in the ancient oasis city of Palmyra on March 14, 2014. (AFP/JOSEPH EID)

Syrian citizens walking in the ancient oasis city of Palmyra on March 14, 2014. (AFP/JOSEPH EID)

AFP

‘Damage to Israel image already done’ – Lapid

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid praises the prime minister for backtracking on the decision to enact de facto segregation of Palestinian laborers on Israeli buses, but says “you can’t imagine what damage has already been done out there.”

“All the media outlets in the world are reporting on Israel as if we are doing this separation,” he says.

Lapid urges the government to hire security guards to man the buses.

“A government that wastes billions on its corrupt coalition deal ought to fund 20 security guards on buses instead of causing this kind of damage to Israeli security and its foreign affairs.”

There is “nothing more important” than ensuring the safety of Israel’s citizens, he asserts. “We don’t want another Gil-ad, Naftali, and Eyal,” he says, referring to the kidnapping and killings of three Israeli teenagers last year.

Leader of the Yesh Atid party, MK Yair Lapid, seen at the swearing-in ceremony for the 20th Knesset, at the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on March 31, 2015. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Leader of the Yesh Atid party, MK Yair Lapid at the swearing-in ceremony for the 20th Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 31, 2015. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Palestinians refuse to drop FIFA bid

The Palestinian Football Association will not drop its bid to have its Israeli counterpart suspended from FIFA, the organization’s chief says Wednesday after talks with the head of the world footballing body.

“We will keep the proposal on the agenda (of the upcoming FIFA Congress) for sincere and open discussions by the 208 FIFA member associations,” Palestinian soccer chief Jibril Rajoub says at a joint press conference with FIFA chief Sepp Blatter.

“There will be no compromising on free movement of our athletes and officials.”

AFP

Rajoub says soccer peace game is a good goal

Palestinian soccer chief Jibril Rajoub on Wednesday welcomes the idea of an Israel-Palestine “match for peace” but says conditions are not yet ready for such a game.

“Yesterday, you raised a very great idea … It’s a creative idea, I like it,” he tells FIFA president Sepp Blatter at a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

“But we have to pave the road for that, we have to prepare the environment. But this should be an endgame, this should be a purpose for you and I urge you not to give up,” he says.

AFP

IS seizes one-third of Palmyra, monitor says

Jihadists from the Islamic State group took control of the northern sector of Syria’s historic city of Palmyra on Wednesday, a monitor says.

“IS fighters seized the northern parts of the city, which amount to a third of Palmyra,” says Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Regime forces fled from these neighborhoods,” he adds.

AFP

PM wants Erdan in ‘as soon as possible’

The Likud party says in a statement that the prime minister is working to add Erdan to his cabinet “as soon as possible.”

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned to MK Erdan, and is holding talks, with the goal of adding him to the cabinet as soon as possible,” a statement from the party says, according to the Walla news website.

“The two have yet to reach an agreement on this matter. The prime minister views Erdan as a senior partner and leading minister who must be [included] in the cabinet for his talents, accomplishments, and leadership. The prime minister will continue to work to reach an agreement with Erdan on joining the cabinet,” it says.

Iran not against extending talks, again

The Iranian Foreign Ministry says it is not opposed to extending the negotiations over the nuclear talks beyond the June 30 deadline.

“We have said that if the path of drafting the text and reaching a possible agreement requires prolonging the talks, we won’t have any problem and will be ready to do it,” spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham says, according to the semi-Fars News Agency.

“Progress will show how the trend of talks and drafting of the text has been. If the trend of affairs leads to the point that makes the talks longer than the end of June, this needs to be done. The main job and the comprehensive agreement… is much more important than the timetable that many emphasize, and the important point is reaching a good agreement,” she adds.

IMF says Gaza reconstruction moving slowly

The International Monetary Fund says that reconstruction of the Gaza Strip is going “far more slowly than expected” after the war between Israel and Hamas last year.

In a report released Tuesday, the IMF says that just over a quarter of the $3.5 billion pledged for reconstruction has been disbursed. The pledges were made in an international conference in Cairo hosted after the end of the 50-day war last summer.

AP

Thousands flee Ramadi, allowed in to Baghdad

An Iraqi official says the government has granted conditional entry to Baghdad for thousands of displaced people fleeing violence in nearby Anbar province.

Athal al-Fahdawi, an Anbar councilman, says that thousands of civilians from the city of Ramadi were allowed to cross a bridge spanning the Euphrates River and enter Baghdad province.

Residents from the city of Ramadi, who fled their homes on May 16, 2015 as Islamic State (IS) group militants tightened their siege on the last government positions in the capital of Anbar province, wait to cross Bzeibez bridge on the southwestern frontier of Baghdad with Anbar province. IS group jihadists took control of all the other routes connecting the province with the Iraqi capital. (AFP/ SABAH ARAR)

Residents from the city of Ramadi, who fled their homes on May 16, 2015 as Islamic State (IS) group militants tightened their siege on the last government positions in the capital of Anbar province, wait to cross Bzeibez bridge on the southwestern frontier of Baghdad with Anbar province. IS group jihadists took control of all the other routes connecting the province with the Iraqi capital. (AFP/ SABAH ARAR)

According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 40,000 people have been displaced from Anbar province since Friday when the provincial capital Ramadi was conquered by the Islamic State group. In the past, people fleeing Anbar have been prevented from entering Baghdad due to fear that militants might mingle with the crowds and sneak into the capital.

AP

Mogherini meets with Abbas in Ramallah

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday at his West Bank headquarters at the start of a 24-hour visit to the region.

Mogherini’s aim is to discuss bilateral relations “as well as prospects for the Middle East peace process,” her office said ahead of the trip.

Later on Wednesday, Mogherini was to travel to Jerusalem for dinner with Netanyahu, then meet President Reuven Rivlin and opposition leader Isaac Herzog on Thursday.

During her talks with Abbas, she was expected to raise the issue of the intra-Palestinian unity deal between his Fatah movement and the rival Hamas, whose stronghold is in Gaza. The accord was signed in April 2014 but has largely run aground.

AFP

Rabbis to hold vigil for detained migrants

More than 40 rabbis from all streams of Judaism will hold a prayer vigil and pre-Shavuot study session at the Holot detention center for African migrants.

The program, organized by leaders of Rabbis for Human Rights, and supported by the New Israel Fund, is scheduled for Wednesday outside the open-detention facility in the Negev Desert.

African migrants protest outside Holot detention center in the Negev Desert, southern Israel on February 17, 2014. ( Photo credit: FLASH90)

African migrants protest outside Holot detention center in the Negev Desert, southern Israel on February 17, 2014. ( Photo credit: FLASH90)

The event was scheduled, according to organizers, “to mark Shavuot, our turning point from freed slaves to a nation in covenant with God, by demanding that Israel honor our most commanded mitzvah,” citing Leviticus 19:33-34 which calls on Jews to love the stranger.

The date also was chosen because 12 of the detainees are facing immediate deportation, according to Haaretz.

JTA

UK Jewish teacher guilty of sexual assault

A former teacher at several Jewish schools in England is found guilty on sexual assault charges.

Todros Grynhaus, 50, of Salford, reportedly faces a “substantial prison sentence,” according to Manchester Crown Court judge Timothy Holroyde.

The victims are now adult women.

The conviction comes after a two-week trial, and after an earlier trial ended in March with a hung jury, that failed to reach a verdict in the case.

The verdict is announced after two hours and was approved by the jury with a vote of 10-2. The trial lasted two weeks. Grynhaus has denied the charges.

Grynhaus, who is ultra-Orthodox, had fled to Israel in 2013 after being accused of sexually assaulting two teenage girls from 1996 to 2005. His flight with a false passport breached his bail conditions. Grynhaus applied for citizenship there under the Law of Return in a bid to evade extradition. He was arrested in Jerusalem and deported in 2014.

JTA

Tel Aviv U holds ‘Nakba Day’ ceremony

Dozens of Arab students and left-wing political activists at Tel Aviv University mark “Nakba Day,” or the “catastrophe” of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

At the same time, right-wing students hold a counter-rally.

Two activists — one right-wing and one left-wing — are detained by police for disturbing the peace.

The ceremony is attended by the Joint [Arab] List’s Ayman Odeh, as well as right-wing activists Michael Ben-Ari and Bentzi Gopstein.

“We can argue about what happened here in ’47 and ’48, but one thing we cannot argue about — that the Arab, Palestinian nation, the villagers, paid the heaviest price through no fault of their own,” Odeh tells Channel 2.

Arab Israeli and left-wing student activists hold a rally marking the Nakba anniversary at the Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv on May 20, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Arab Israeli and left-wing student activists hold a rally marking the Nakba anniversary at the Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv on May 20, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

An event marking "Nakba Day" at Tel Aviv University  on May 20, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

An event marking “Nakba Day” at Tel Aviv University on May 20, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Leader of the  Joint (Arab) List, Ayman Odeh (C) seen at a memorial service during a rally marking the Nakba anniversary at the Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv on May 20, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Leader of the Joint (Arab) List, Ayman Odeh (C) seen at a memorial service during a rally marking the Nakba anniversary at the Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv on May 20, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Cops hurt in car-ramming attack released from hospital

The two border police officers lightly hurt in Wednesday morning’s car-ramming attack in Jerusalem are discharged from the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital, the Ynet news website reports.

Israeli police cordon off the site of an attack in East Jerusalem after two Israeli policemen were injured when they were hit by a car driven by a Palestinian, who was then shot dead, May 20, 2015. (AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)

Police cordon off the site of an attack in East Jerusalem after two Israeli policemen were injured when they were hit by a car driven by a Palestinian, who was then shot dead, May 20, 2015. (AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)

Ya’alon defends bus pilot plan

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon says his pilot plan for buses in the West Bank does not segregate Israelis and Palestinians.

“There is no separation between Arabs and Jews on public transportation in Judea and Samaria,” Ya’alon says, using the biblical term for the West Bank. “There was no discussion about this, there was no decision about this, and there will not be any decision about this.”

The defense minister says the plan was implemented purely for security reasons, due to the large influx of Palestinians who enter Israel without documentation.

“We started a pilot plan this week, an experiment, at four crossings in Judea and Samaria to check workers who are going to work in Israel on their way back. Every state has the right, and particularly in our delicate security situation, to check those who are coming in and out. This is what is it, and nothing more.”

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, March 10, 2015. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, March 10, 2015. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)

Iran allows inspection of Yemen-bound aid ship

Iran says its aid ship bound for war-torn Yemen is to dock in Djibouti for inspection, heading off a potential confrontation with the United States.

The aid “will be inspected in Djibouti. The ship will dock in Djibouti and the protocol laid down by the United Nations will be implemented,” Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian says, quoted by the ISNA news agency.

Iran had said the ship was expected to reach the Yemeni port of Hodeida on Thursday without stopping in Djibouti, in defiance of warnings from Washington and a Saudi-led coalition conducting air strikes on Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The vessel, renamed Nejat (Rescue), is carrying 2,500 tonnes of aid including flour, rice, canned food, medical supplies and bottled water, all urgently needed in the conflict-wracked and impoverished state.

AFP

Defendant’s ill health delays Nazi trial

A German court says this week’s session in the trial of a 93-year-old former SS sergeant who served in the Auschwitz death camp has been called off due to the defendant’s poor health.

The Lueneburg state court says that Oskar Groening is ill and not able to stand trial on Thursday as planned.

Groening is charged with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder on allegations he helped the death camp function in his job sorting cash and valuables seized from Jews. He told the court as the trial opened last month he felt a “moral guilt” but said it was up to the judges to decide if he was legally guilty.

The trial is to resume next Tuesday.

One other session has already been canceled due to Groening’s health.

Oskar Groening, center, being led into the courtroom for his trial in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (photo credit: Philipp Schulze/Pool/AP)

Oskar Groening, center, being led into the courtroom for his trial in Lueneburg, northern Germany, Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (photo credit: Philipp Schulze/Pool/AP)

AP

2 horse statues from Hitler’s office surface

German authorities have recovered two bronze horse statues that once stood in front of Adolf Hitler’s grand chancellery building in Berlin, as well as other Nazi-era pieces that have been lost for decades.

Berlin police say that authorities in five states conducted coordinated raids as part of a long-term investigation into illegal art trafficking and seized pieces including bronze sculptures by artist Josef Thorak and a granite relief by Arno Breker.

Authorities say eight suspects aged between 64 and 79 are being investigated.

The Bild newspaper reports the two bronze horses by Thorak and two statues of women were last seen in 1989 standing at a sports field that was part of a Soviet barracks near Berlin in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

AP

Palestinian flags daubed in national park

The Haluza archaeological site in the Negev is vandalized with Palestinian flags painted on stones, police say.

Police open an investigation.

French conman in Israel sentenced in absentia

A con man who swindled dozens of French banks and businesses into giving him millions of euros by pretending to be their boss or a secret service agent, is sentenced in absentia to seven years in jail on Wednesday.

Gilbert Chikli, 49, who fled to Israel in 2009 after being charged, was the mastermind of a scheme which saw him fleece some of France’s top companies, and is the subject of an international arrest warrant.

AFP

Egypt gets anti-Islamist justice minister

Egypt swears in a new justice minister Wednesday whom critics accuse of “elitism” and who is known for his anti-Islamist views, nine days after his predecessor resigned over controversial comments.

“Ahmed al-Zind was sworn in in front of the president and in the presence of the prime minister,” a statement from President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s office says.

Zind takes over from Mahfouz Saber, whose resignation was announced on May 11 after he said that becoming a judge was too lofty an ambition for the sons of cleaners.

Zind has never concealed his animosity toward Islamists and the 2011 uprising that ousted ex-president Hosni Mubarak.

AFP

UNESCO ‘deeply concerned’ by IS Palmyra gains

The head of UNESCO on Wednesday says she is “deeply concerned” about fighting in Syria’s historic city of Palmyra and calls for an “immediate” end to the hostilities.

Irina Bokova says in a statement that the fighting is “putting at risk one of the most significant sites in the Middle East,” as Islamic State group fighters recaptured the north of the city earlier Wednesday.

AFP

Man held in Italy for Tunisia attack

A Moroccan man arrested in Italy on suspicion he helped organize the attack on Tunisia’s Bardo Museum had been ordered to leave Italy after having arrived a month earlier with other migrants on a smugglers’ boat, authorities say.

The arrest of Abdelmajid Touil, and details about his voyage to Italy, fueled criticism of Europe’s Mediterranean rescue operations by anti-immigrant politicians, who held it up as evidence that Islamic extremists were slipping into Europe aboard migrant boats to then plot attacks.

This photo released by Italian Police on Wednesday May 20, 2015, shows Touil Abdelmajid, who was arrested Tuesday evening May 19 at the home of his mother in Gaggiano, near Milan. (Italian Police via AP)

This photo released by Italian Police on Wednesday May 20, 2015, shows Touil Abdelmajid, who was arrested Tuesday evening May 19 at the home of his mother in Gaggiano, near Milan. (Italian Police via AP)

Touil was arrested Tuesday night on a Tunisian arrest warrant at the home of his mother and two brothers in Gaggiano, near Milan, anti-terrorism investigator Bruno Megale tells reporters.

The accusations against Touil include premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit attacks against the state, belonging to a terrorist group and recruiting and training others to commit terrorist attacks, Megale says.

“He was wanted internationally for co-participation in, planning and executing the March 18 attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis,” Megale says.

Twenty-two people were killed, four of them Italian.

AP

France kills 2 key jihadist leaders in Mali

French special forces have killed two key jihadist leaders in Mali, one of whom has been linked to the kidnapping and execution of foreigners, the defense ministry says.

Four jihadists were killed in the operation in northern Mali, including Ibrahim Ag Inawalen and Amada Ag Hama, known as “Abdelkrim the Tuareg,” “two of the main leaders” of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Ansar Dine, a ministry statement said.

Abdelkrim the Tuareg was believed to have masterminded the kidnapping of two French journalists who were murdered in Mali in 2013.

AFP

PM says he’s committed to two-state solution

In a joint press conference with Mogherini, Netanyahu says he is committed to the two-state solution.

He says he would like to end the conflict with the Palestinians once and for all, but adds that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

The prime minister was under fire earlier this year after he disavowed the two-state solution in a pre-election interview. He later retracted the statement, but the repudiation was rejected by the US.

2 Palestinians accused of trying to aid Hamas

Two Palestinians from Hebron are suspected of attempting to smuggle equipment to Hamas in the Gaza Strip that would be used to manufacture weapons, Israel Radio reports.

The two cousins hid thousands of welding electrodes inside marble slabs, but the truck driver transporting the marble to the coastal enclave discovered the stash at the Kerem Shalom crossing, it says.

Germany okays compensation for Soviet POWs

Germany plans to compensate former Soviet prisoners of war for their suffering during World War II, a politician says.

The German parliamentary budget committee approves a total 10 million euros ($11 million) in funding “for symbolic financial recognition” of ex-Soviet soldiers held prisoner by the Nazis, lawmaker Hans-Ulrich Krueger says.

It is unclear how many possible claimants there could be.

But Krueger, who is deputy spokesman on budget matters for the Social Democrats’ parliamentary group, says that around 5.3 million Soviet soldiers were held by German forces between 1941 and 1945, more than half of whom died.

He says they were the second biggest group of Nazi victims after Jews.

AFP

Libya Islamists battle IS jihadists near Sirte

Islamic State group jihadists and members of the Fajr Libya Islamist coalition engaged in fierce clashes on Wednesday in Sirte east of the capital Tripoli, an official says.

Mohamed al-Shami, head of press at Fajr Libya, says the fighting with IS took place in an area some 15 kilometers (nine miles) south of Sirte, home town of Libya’s late dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Shami says it began when the jihadists attacked a position manned by members of Infantry Battalion 166. One coalition fighter and 23 jihadists were killed, he adds.

There has been sporadic fighting between the battalion and IS for more than two months.

AFP

US sending Iraq 1,000 anti-tank missile systems

The United States is sending Iraq 1,000 anti-tank missile systems to help fight suicide car bombings, which played a “devastating” role in the capture of Ramadi by Islamic militants, a top US official says.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi asked the US administration for weapons systems to help counter car bombings during a recent visit. “We made the decision immediately while he was here to get 1,000 AT4 anti-tank systems to Iraqi security forces and those are going to be arriving fairly soon,” a senior State Department official tells reporters.

AFP

US set to approve $1.9 billion arms package for Isael

The US is reviewing a possible arms sale to Israel, estimated to cost some $1.9 billion.

The details were sent in for congressional review on Tuesday, and has been approved by the Pentagon.

The full list of weapons, which includes 750 bunker buster bombs and 3,000 Hellfire missiles, is as follows:

“The Government of Israel has requested a possible sale of 14,500 KMU-556C/B Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) tail kits consisting of 10,000 for Mk-84; 500 for Mk-83; and,4,000 for Mk-82; 3,500 Mk-82 bombs; 4,500 Mk-83 bombs; 50 BLU-113 bombs; 4,100 GBU-39 Small Diameter bombs; 1,500 Mk-83 Paveway kits; 700 BLU-109 Paveway kits; 3,000 AGM-114K/R Hellfire Missiles, 250 AIM-120C Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles; and 500 DSU-38A/B Detector Laser Illuminated Target kits for JDAMs. The total estimated cost $1.879 billion.”

“The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to US national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability. This proposed sale is consistent with those objectives,” a statement from the Petagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency says.

It notes that Israel “already has these munitions in its inventory” and “will have no difficulty absorbing the additional munitions into its armed forces.”

“The proposed sale of these munitions will not alter the basic military balance in the region,” it says.

Illustrative photo of Hellfire missiles (photo credit: CC BY-Wikipedia)

Illustrative photo of Hellfire missiles (photo credit: CC BY-Wikipedia)

Netanyahu to meet Joint (Arab) List leader

Netanyahu will meet with Joint (Arab) List leader Ayman Odeh on Thursday.

Odeh says in a statement that he will discuss issues pertaining to the Arab Israeli housing crisis, budgeting for Arab Israeli government offices and municipalities, and reforms on the planning of Arab cities “which will respond to the painful issue of house demolitions.”

“The government of Israel cannot continue the policy of perpetuating the occupation and denying the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel, according to all relevant UN resolutions,” he says. “The peace efforts must be honest, because the Palestinians are entitled to independence and a place in the sun.”

Channel 2 reports that Odeh refused to allow Foreign Ministry representatives into his meeting with the Norwegian foreign minister on Wednesday, saying the “occupation’s representatives will disturb us.”

An unnamed political source terms the incident “crass and ugly.”

Ya’alon apologizes to new deputy

Ya’alon apologizes to new Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan for failing to brief him that the West Bank bus plan was called off, the Walla news website reports.

Ben-Dahan was in the Knesset earlier defending the segregation of Palestinian laborers, unaware that the plan had been terminated.

The defense minister says he is sorry that he put Ben-Dahan in an unpleasant situation, and hopes the mix-up won’t harm their work relationship.

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Egypt gets anti-Islamist justice minister

Egypt swears in a new justice minister Wednesday whom critics accuse of “elitism” and who is known for his anti-Islamist views, nine days after his predecessor resigned over controversial comments.

“Ahmed al-Zind was sworn in in front of the president and in the presence of the prime minister,” a statement from President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s office says.

Zind takes over from Mahfouz Saber, whose resignation was announced on May 11 after he said that becoming a judge was too lofty an ambition for the sons of cleaners.

Zind has never concealed his animosity toward Islamists and the 2011 uprising that ousted ex-president Hosni Mubarak.

AFP