The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s developments as they unfolded.
Rivlin meets Dempsey in Jerusalem
President Reuven Rivlin tells Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the United States’ Joint Chiefs of Staff, that Israel respects the recent US Supreme Court ruling that Jerusalem-born Americans cannot list Israel as their birthplace.
“Of course we have no criticism of the decision of the Supreme Court in Washington. We salute the rule of law, and we appreciate and understand that they [US Supreme Court justices] have decided not upon if Jerusalem is part of Israel or not, but who is going to decide upon those matters once it is a matter that goes between the Congress and the administration and the president,” he says. “And they have ruled what they had to rule.”
“But I would like only to mention that I am a Jerusalemite and even though I was born nine years before the State of Israel was established, I was born in Jerusalem and I am Israeli,” Rivlin adds.
Dempsey says security ties between the two countries remain strong.
“I am happy to back in Israel. I am here to gain a better understanding with our counterparts in the IDF, of the threats and security challenges, and of what we can do to address them. While this is my sixth time here, my Israeli counterpart has been to America eight times. And at a staff level we are interacting constantly, and this kind of interaction is necessary for us to face the security challenges that face not only Israel but the United States. You have our deep commitment to continue to build on that relationship, but you don’t have to thank me, this is something we are honored to be part of,” he says.
Huge fire breaks out at Dimona chemical plant
A massive fire breaks out at the Rotem Amfert factory in Dimona. Some people are feared trapped in the building.
Firefighters were fighting the 20-meter (65 ft) high flames at the chemical plant, according to Ynet, and are concerned the structure could collapse.
מתקן 42 ברותם, שריפה רצינית חשש ללכודים pic.twitter.com/lqmlKpJ7dn
— zohar cohen (@zoharco77) June 10, 2015
Highway workers stumble on ancient church
Workers widening the main highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have stumbled upon the remnants of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine church.
The site’s excavation director, Annette Nagar, says that the church outside Jerusalem served as way station for travelers en route from the Mediterranean coast. Mosaics, ceramic lamps and a Baptism site were uncovered.
Israel’s antiquities authority says the site will be preserved in consultation with the highway company.
Israel’s Warsaw embassy seeks to pull Auschwitz video from display
Israel’s embassy in Warsaw asks organizers of an art exhibition about Auschwitz to remove a controversial video of naked people playing tag in a gas chamber.
The video is part of an exhibition titled “Poland – Israel – Germany. The experience of Auschwitz,” which opened last month at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow, or MOCAK, about the former Nazi death camp’s impact on public discourse. It was endorsed and sponsored by the Israeli embassy in Poland.
“The embassy has learned of criticism regarding the video in question and has contacted organizers with a request that the parts deemed offensive be removed,” Michael Sobelman, the embassy’s spokesperson, tells JTA Wednesday.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel both criticized the video and called it inappropriate for an exhibition with sponsorship from the embassy.
Belarus activists condemn ‘Holocaust’ cocktail
Human rights activists in Belarus complain about a pub owner’s decision to name one of his signature cocktails after the Holocaust.
The controversy about the Holocaust cocktail was reported last week by Radio Racyja, which displayed on its website a picture of the menu at the Red Pub in Gomel, Belarus’ second-largest city, located 190 miles southeast of the capital, Minsk.
Andrei Strizhak, founder of Belarus’ Freedom Movement, a nongovernmental organization working to improve human rights in the country known as Europe’s last dictatorship, tells the radio station the incident reflects “ignorance, but not necessarily anti-Semitism.”
Strizhak, who has participated in Holocaust commemoration ceremonies and activities in Belarus, calls on the Red Pub’s owners to apologize to the local Jewish community and remove the item, calling it “something that is difficult to swallow.” He also said that “the next step is to name a cocktail after Khatyn,” in reference to the site of a village in what is today Belarus, where German occupation forces in 1943 massacred thousands of civilians.
The ingredients of the cocktail marketed as “Holocaust” are listed as sweet liqueur, tequila and Sambuca. Listed with other drinks in the “head shots” category, the Holocaust cocktail is priced at $7.80, making it the priciest beverage on its page of the menu.
None injured in Dimona fire
There are no workers trapped in the Dimona factory where a massive fire is raging, according to Hebrew media reports, and no reported injuries.
There are 17 firefighting teams at the site, and efforts to extinguish the blaze are ongoing.
PM said to back Edelstein on Hazan
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supports Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s decision to suspend the scandal-ridden Oren Hazan from his duties as deputy speaker until further notice, Israel Radio reports, quoting Likud sources.
The allegations of drug use and solicitation against Hazan first surfaced Monday evening in a Channel 2 report, drawing a threat of a libel suit from Hazan.
Adelson summit said to raise north of $20m
A summit to organize against anti-Israel boycotts and anti-Israel activity on campus hosted by US billionaire Sheldon Adelson raised at least $20 million.
The meeting last week in Las Vegas of pro-Israel Jewish philanthropists and organizations had a funding goal of $50 million, the daily Forward reported, citing a Jewish communal leader who did not attend the meeting but who spoke to the organizers.
It is not known how much was raised at the summit, since participants have declined to say what they or their fellow activists pledged. However, according to the Forward, participation in the event was limited to donors willing to pledge at least $1 million over the next two years to the initiative, dubbed the Campus Maccabees. At least 20 donors took part in the meeting, according to the Forward.
Many of the groups attending the prepared presentations for the donors, according to the Forward. Potential funders could then decide which groups to fund and at what level.
Cop killed by suspected jihadists in Mali
Suspected jihadists killed a policeman in a rare attack on a town near Mali’s southern border with Ivory Coast on Wednesday, government sources tell AFP.
A minister says on condition of anonymity that the “cowardly terrorists” killed the warrant officer in Misseni, while a local councillor says “30 jihadists” had briefly occupied the town’s military camp and killed a policeman.
Hamas blames PA for Gaza bombings
Hamas is blaming security officials in the Palestinian Authority for several bombings in the Gaza Strip in recent weeks.
The terror group alleges that the PA paid several Gazans to carry out the attacks, according to Israel Radio.
Convicted terrorist appeals US sentence for lying about past
A Chicago activist is appealing the 18-month prison sentence she was given for lying about her convictions for bombings in Israel when she sought US citizenship.
A federal judge in March also stripped Rasmieh Odeh of citizenship, meaning she’ll be deported, but she was allowed to remain free while she appealed.
Odeh’s lawyer says Tuesday’s appeal in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals asks for a sentence that includes no more time behind bars.
Odeh was convicted of two bombings in Jerusalem in 1969, including one that killed two people at a market. But in 2004, she answered “no” on her US citizenship application when asked about any past criminal record.
She also didn’t disclose it a decade earlier when she was granted a visa.
Vandals deface Greek Holocaust memorial
A memorial to the 13,000 Greek Jewish children murdered in the Holocaust has been desecrated with Nazi images.
The memorial, which sits next to a children’s playground erected in their memory in central Athens, was defaced earlier this month with a Nazi swastika and Nazi SS signs, according to the Jewish Community of Athens.
“All that (the vandals) manage to do is unite us together against fascism, racism and intolerance,” the community says in a statement issued on Sunday.
Al-Qaeda in Libya declares ‘holy war’ on IS
Al-Qaeda-linked militants in eastern Libya declare a holy war on a local Islamic State affiliate after one of their senior leaders was shot dead by masked gunmen, setting off clashes between the rival jihadist groups that leaves 11 people dead on both sides.
The clashes erupted after gunmen opened fire on Nasr Akr, an al-Qaeda-inspired militant once jailed in the UK on terrorism charges. The 55-year-old veteran jihadist, who fought in Afghanistan, was killed along with his aide.
Akr’s group, known as the Shura Council of Darna’s Jihadists, announced his killing in a statement on Wednesday, blaming it on Islamic State militants. It accused the IS group of “tyranny and criminality,” and vowed to wage “holy war against them until none of them are left.” It also called on residents to rise up against the extremist group.
The ensuing clashes killed at least nine IS militants and two from the Shura Council, including Salem Derbi, the commander of the so-called Abu Salem Brigade, which has history of enmity with IS.
The IS group began as an al-Qaeda affiliate but had a bitter falling out with the global jihadist network in 2014. The two groups have also clashed in Syria.
‘Israel-linked virus hacked hotels where nuke talks were held’
The Wall Street Journal reports that a cybersecurity firm discovered a computer virus believed to be linked to Israeli intelligence at three European hotels where nuclear talks between Iran and world powers were held.
Kaspersky Lab ZAO identified the virus as an updated version of Duqu, the report says. “Current and former US officials and many cybersecurity experts believe Duqu was designed to carry out Israel’s most sensitive intelligence-collection operation,” it reports.
The hotels were hacked two to three weeks before negotiations took place there, it says.
The cybersecurity firm hasn’t named Israel as the country behind the hacking, but the report notes that only someone familiar with Duqu could have created it.
The FBI is reviewing the report.
The Moscow-based Kaspersky set out to investigate who was behind the virus after its own system was attacked.
Ministry shutters slaughterhouse over alleged animal abuse
The agriculture ministry has ordered the indefinite closure of Israel’s largest slaughterhouse, an official says, following an investigative report exposing cruel treatment of animals.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel ordered the Dabbah slaughterhouse in northern Israel to immediately cease activities “following suspected violations of the animal welfare act and slaughtering regulations,” his office says Tuesday.
The decision came following a request from Australian veterinary authorities, who received footage and details from rights group Animals Australia of the alleged violations.
Footage broadcast on Israel’s privately-owned Channel 2 on Sunday showed Dabbah employees beating calves with sticks and electrifying them with shockers on their way to being killed.
IS said to blow up gas pipeline to Damascus
Jihadists from the Islamic State group blew up a pipeline feeding natural gas from eastern Syria to the suburbs of the capital Damascus early Wednesday morning, a monitor says.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says IS blew up the pipeline near the T-4 military airport in the east of central Homs province shortly after midnight.
“This pipeline was used to carry gas into the suburbs of Damascus and Homs to generate electricity and provide heating in individual homes,” says Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
Erdogan holds surprise confab with opposition
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan holds a surprise meeting with a senior figure from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), as Turkey’s political forces weigh up coalition options after legislative elections.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its overall majority in Sunday’s polls, in what was seen as a major blow for Erdogan and the Islamic-rooted AKP which has ruled Turkey for the last 13 years.
The result has plunged Turkey into a period of political uncertainty unprecedented since the AKP came to power, with the country facing either a coalition government or early elections.
Erdogan, who has yet to speak in public about the results, held two hours of unannounced talks in Ankara with Deniz Baykal who was CHP leader until 2010 and retained his seat.
Dimona plant fire under control
Firefighters in Dimona have mostly extinguished the massive blaze at a chemical plant, Ynet reports. One firefighter is lightly hurt and evacuated to the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba for treatment.
Remains of almost 600 exhumed at Iraq massacre site
Iraq has so far exhumed the remains of 597 people believed to have been executed by jihadists in the so-called Speicher massacre, the human rights minister says.
“The remains of 597 Speicher martyrs have been exhumed,” Mohammed al-Bayati tells journalists in Baghdad.
In June 2014, armed men belonging or allied to the Islamic State jihadist group captured hundreds of young, mostly Shiite recruits from Speicher military base, near the northern city of Tikrit.
They were then lined up in several locations and executed, as shown in pictures and footage later released by IS.
9,000 Syrians flee to Turkey in past week
More than 2,000 refugees crossed from Syria into Turkey on Wednesday, fleeing clashes pitting Kurdish fighters against the Islamic State (IS) group, a Turkish official says.
“Of those displaced, 686 are Iraqi nationals who first fled their country and then were forced to flee Syria,” a Turkish official tells AFP.
They left their war-torn country via the Turkish border post of Akcakale, which faces the IS-held Syrian town of Tel Abyad, the official says.
Nearly 9,000 refugees have entered Turkey since last week, the official adds.
Kurdish forces launched an offensive two weeks ago against the IS, and took over a dozen villages either side of Raqa.
Hazan backtracks on taking polygraph test
Disgraced Likud MK Oren Hazan retracts his earlier offer to undergo a polygraph test amid allegations he used crystal meth and solicited prostitutes in Bulgaria.
“I am not lying about my past, and I do not intend to take a polygraph test every time someone decides to harm my good name,” he writes on Facebook.
Hezbollah fighting IS on Lebanon border — Nasrallah
The head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement announces that the powerful Shiite militia had begun to fight the Islamic State jihadist group along the rugged Syrian-Lebanese border.
“The battle with Daesh in Qalamun has begun, in the eastern (mountain) chain and on the Syrian-Lebanese border,” Hassan Nasrallah says in a televised speech, referring to IS by its Arabic acronym.
He says fierce clashes had left dozens of IS fighters dead, and that Hezbollah had lost men, without specifying a number.
“They (IS) began the fighting, but we will continue the battle,” Nasrallah says.
Nasrallah vows to see the fight with the jihadists through.
“I assure you that defeat will come to these men. It’s a matter of time, and we are not in a hurry,” he said.
Nasrallah says that Syria’s army and Hezbollah were in control of Qalamun’s major mountains and hills after defeating IS’s jihadist rival and Al-Qaeda’s Syria branch, Al-Nusra Front.
US blacklists ‘key Hezbollah support network’
The US Treasury places on its sanctions blacklist Wednesday three Lebanese men and companies they are tied to, calling them part of a “key Hezbollah support network.”
The Treasury places asset freezes and restrictions for doing business on real estate businessman Adham Tabaja and his Al-Inmaa group of companies, Kassem Hejeij and Husayn Ali Faour, and the company he manages, Car Care Center.
It says Tabaja is a member of Hezbollah, which is officially labeled a terrorist organization by Washington, and that Al-Inmaa is used by Hezbollah for investment and holding properties.
It says that Al-Inmaa Engineering and Contracting has recently obtained oil and construction projects in Iraq that “provide both financial support and organizational infrastructure to Hezbollah.”
Hejeij, the Treasury says, works with Tabaja and also provides financial support to Hezbollah.
It says that Faour is a member of Hezbollah’s operations unit Islamic Jihad, and the company he runs, Car Care Center, helps Hezbollah with transportation.
Saudi airport workers jailed for harassing Iranian pilgrims
A Saudi security official says two airport employees have been convicted and sentenced to four years in prison each for sexually harassing two male Iranian pilgrims.
The official says the court also ordered that the two workers at Jiddah International Airport receive 1,000 lashes each. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media.
He says the criminal court in Jiddah, a Red Sea city that’s the main gateway for pilgrims visiting Mecca and Medina, handed down the ruling on Wednesday.
The harassment incident in March prompted Iran to suspend all minor pilgrimages, or umrahs, to Saudi Arabia.
Details of the abuse were not disclosed. The two pilgrims said they were sexually harassed at the airport before their flight back to Iran.
Deputy defense minister dismisses spying report
Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan (Jewish Home) denies Israel spied on the European hotels where nuclear negotiations were held, as the Wall Street Journal reported earlier Wednesday.
Ben-Dahan flatly rejected the report in an interview with Israel Radio, though he later conceded that if such a covert operation had been launched by Israel’s intelligence services, the deputy defense minister would not have been informed.
After Hyper Cacher attack, prison chiefs meet on radicalization
Prisons chiefs and justice officials of 47 countries meet in Bucharest to look at ways to fight radicalization in prisons after the January terror attacks in Paris.
Prisons face a problem “of the utmost importance,” says Philippe Boillat, human rights and rule of law chief for the European Council, who cited the case of Amedy Coulibaly, the jihadist who killed four Jewish hostages and a police officer in the attacks in Paris that left 17 dead.
Coulibaly is believed to have been radicalized during a stint in prison.
Boillat warns that “the most dangerous extremists learn to hide their beliefs and intentions.”
The Bucharest meeting aims to draft “guidelines” defining the role of prison services in the fight against radicalisation and violent extremism, which will be submitted to the Committee of Ministers in December.
Hazan threatens legal action against reporter
Speaking to reporters, Hazan warns he will seek legal action against Channel 2 reporter Amit Segal for his report accusing the Likud lawmaker of using crystal meth and soliciting prostitutes, while working as a casino manager in Bulgaria.
“Since when have we become a society that believes, forgive me for the phrasing, prostitutes and drug addicts hiding in the shadows rather than someone who was democratically elected and received thousands of votes, and who, at this very moment is getting thousands of ‘likes,’ voicemails and support from the public?” Hazan says.
“Amit Segal — get ready, you and I are going to meet in court,” Hazan adds. “The lies you spread will soon be dispelled.”
Obama okays 450 more troops for Iraq training mission
US President Barack Obama approves the deployment of up to 450 more US military personnel to Iraq, in a bid to reverse gains by the Islamic State group.
The White House says the forces will take part in an already 3,000-strong US mission to “train, advise and assist” Iraqi army and Sunni tribal fighters.
Recent Islamic State victories in Ramadi in Iraq and Syria’s Palmyra seem to have rubbished Obama’s strategy of depending on US airpower and an amalgam of disparate ground forces to “defeat and degrade” the Islamic State.
Amid the criticism, the White House also announces the “expedited delivery of essential equipment and material” for tribal and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters — in coordination with the central government in Baghdad.
NPR host thinks Bernie Sanders is Israeli
Interviewing presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, NPR host Diane Rehm asked the Jewish Democrat about his “Israeli citizenship” which she learned of from an unspecified “list.”
Below is a partial transcript from the Jewish Journal:
Diane Rehm: Senator, you have dual citizenship with Israel.
Bernie Sanders: Well, no I do not have dual citizenship with Israel. I’m an American. I don’t know where that question came from. I am an American citizen, and I have visited Israel on a couple of occasions. No, I’m an American citizen, period.
Rehm: I understand from a list we have gotten that you were on that list.
Rehm: Forgive me if that is—
Sanders: That’s some of the nonsense that goes on in the internet. But that is absolutely not true.
Egyptian court orders probe of leading rights group
An Egyptian judge has ordered an investigation into a leading human rights group in Egypt, days after its director spoke before a committee of the European Parliament.
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies says on its website on Wednesday that investigators from the Ministry of Social Solidarity visited its offices Tuesday to look into the legality of its activities. It says the investigators did not give them a warrant.
The institute says the move is in retaliation for the May 28 speech its director, Bahey Eldin Hassan, gave to the Human Rights Committee of the European Parliament.
Rights groups and activists alleged widespread abuses since the ouster of Egypt’s Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, in 2013, and say torture is being used to punish detainees or extract confessions.
American fighting with Kurds killed in IS battle
An American fighting with Kurdish forces against the Islamic State group in Syria has been killed in battle, authorities says, likely the first US citizen to die fighting alongside them against the extremists.
Keith Broomfield of Massachusetts died June 3 in a battle in the Syrian village of Qentere, which is near the border town of Kobani, says Nasser Haji, an official with a group of Kurdish fighters known as the YPG. He had joined the YPG on February 24 under the nom de guerre Gelhat Raman, Haji says.
Haji does not elaborate on the circumstances of Broomfield’s death, nor does he know the man’s hometown.
State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke confirms Bloomfield’s death, but declines to provide any details about the circumstances. He says the US is providing consular assistance to his family.
— NBC Investigations (@NBCInvestigates) June 10, 2015