Police say larger attack averted by fast response
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Border policewoman killed; Obama slams ‘inexcusable’ anti-Muslim rhetoric

Hadar Cohen succumbs to wounds suffered during shooting; PM convenes security brass after fatal Jerusalem attack

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

  • US President Barack Obama greets attendees at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, in Windsor Mill, Maryland, on February 3, 2016. (AFP/MANDEL NGAN)
    US President Barack Obama greets attendees at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, in Windsor Mill, Maryland, on February 3, 2016. (AFP/MANDEL NGAN)
  • Border Police officer Hadar Cohen, 19, was killed in a terror attack at Damascus Gate outside of Jerusalem's Old City on February 3, 2016. (Israel Police)
    Border Police officer Hadar Cohen, 19, was killed in a terror attack at Damascus Gate outside of Jerusalem's Old City on February 3, 2016. (Israel Police)
  • Police at the scene of a shooting and stabbing attack  near Damascus Gate, Jerusalem, February 3, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Police at the scene of a shooting and stabbing attack near Damascus Gate, Jerusalem, February 3, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Illustrative image of a police sapper in Jerusalem, February 3, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Illustrative image of a police sapper in Jerusalem, February 3, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Police and medics at the scene of a shooting attack outside the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem's Old City  on Wednesday, February 3, 2016 (Hatzalah)
    Police and medics at the scene of a shooting attack outside the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem's Old City on Wednesday, February 3, 2016 (Hatzalah)
  • Police and medics at the scene of a shooting attack outside the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem's Old City  on Wednesday, February 3, 2016 (Magen David Adom)
    Police and medics at the scene of a shooting attack outside the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem's Old City on Wednesday, February 3, 2016 (Magen David Adom)
  • Reform Jews from 'Kol Haneshama' congregation in Kiryat Yovel  sing and dance as they carry Torah scrolls  during the celebration of Simhat Torah at the end of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, on Oct 8,2012. (Oren Nahshon / FLASH90)
    Reform Jews from 'Kol Haneshama' congregation in Kiryat Yovel sing and dance as they carry Torah scrolls during the celebration of Simhat Torah at the end of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, on Oct 8,2012. (Oren Nahshon / FLASH90)

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

PM slams ‘disparaging’ remarks on Reform Jews

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemns remarks by ultra-Orthodox lawmakers against Reform and Conservative Jewry.

“I reject the recent disparaging and divisive remarks by ministers and members of Knesset about Reform Jews. Reform and Conservative Jews are part and parcel of the Jewish people and should be treated with respect,” he says.

The prime minister also hails the “historic” new mixed-gender section at the Western Wall, approved by the cabinet earlier this week.

“The government approved this week a historic compromise that ensures that the Western Wall will continue to be a source of unity and inspiration for the entire Jewish people. This is the government’s policy. This is my policy,” Netanyahu says.

This week, following the approval of the new non-Orthodox area, Knesset Finance Committee head Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) called Reform Jews “clowns,” while Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush said Women of the Wall should be “thrown to the dogs.”

Initial reports on stabbing at Damascus Gate

A Palestinian stabs Israelis at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, according to preliminary reports.

Several people are injured.

3-4 Israelis injured, one critically

Three or four Israelis are injured in the stabbing outside Jerusalem’s Old City.

One of the victims, an Israeli woman, is critically hurt.

Passersby report sounds of gunfire, and there are unconfirmed reports that more than one terrorist is involved in the attack.

One critical, one seriously hurt in attack

An Israeli woman in her 20s is receiving treatment at the scene. She is in critical condition.

Another woman is seriously injured.

Three Palestinians are involved in the attack. Two are shot and killed. The third terrorist has been “subdued,” according to Channel 2.

A suspicious package, thought to include a pipe bomb, is found at the scene.

Damascus Gate sealed off amid suspected bomb threat

Police seal off the area around Damascus Gate to examine a suspicious package, believed to contain a pipe bomb.

Police confirm 2 hurt in shooting attack

Police say that the attack was a shooting attack.

“Three terrorists armed with Karl Gustav rifles, knives, and pipe bombs arrived at Damascus Gate,” police say. A team of border policemen spotted them, and asked for ID. One terrorist pulled out his identification papers, while another pulled out a gun and began shooting, police say.

Two female policewomen are hurt in the attack, police confirm.

“The goal was to carry out a large attack,” police say.

The terrorists were from the Jenin area in the West Bank, Channel 2 reports.

— Judah Ari Gross

Police say larger attack averted by fast response

Police are saying that a far more deadly attack was thwarted by the fast response by security forces, who shot and killed the terrorists moments after they opened fire.

“This is a combined attack, a serious attack, that was prevented by the vigilance of police at the scene,” says a police spokesman.

Injured cops taken to hospital

The two injured policewomen are evacuated to the Hadassah Mount Scopus hospital for treatment.

The border police “served as a protective vest” for the people of Jerusalem, says a police spokesperson. “The police are here for you. I call on Israeli civilians to be alert. Call us if you see anything suspicious.”

Police confirm 3 terrorists killed

Police confirm that all three Palestinian attackers have been killed by Israeli forces.

Wounded cop was unconscious when paramedics came

A paramedic who treated the two injured policewomen describes the scene of the attack.

“When we arrived on the scene we saw two young women, approximately 20 years old, lying on the ground with puncture wounds to the upper body. One was unconscious, the other was still conscious, but dazed,” says Nissan Hefetz.

“We quickly gave them treatment on the scene and then transported them, while giving lifesaving medical treatment, to the hospital. They were in serious condition.”

Another paramedic from the Hatzolah emergency service says locals started rioting “and even tried to attack the emergency staff.”

Judah Ari Gross

Police investigating whether 3 attackers acted alone

Police are investigating whether the three Palestinian terrorists were acting alone, or whether they received help — either locally or from Jenin, Channel 2 reports.

Police are sweeping the area and questioning witnesses.

2 Israeli hikers missing in Argentina

Rescue services are searching for two Israelis in their early 20s who went missing in southern Argentina two days ago, the Ynet news website reports.

The pair — a 22-year-old man and 21-year-old woman — were scheduled to meet a friend in Ushuaia after a trek, but never showed up.

‘Time has come’ for statehood referendum — Kurd leader

Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani declares that the “time has come” for the country’s Kurds to hold a referendum on statehood, a move likely to raise tensions with Baghdad.

But even if the various political challenges to independence are resolved, the major economic problems the region faces due to low oil prices are another bar to Kurdish independence.

“The time has come and the conditions are now suitable for the people to make a decision through a referendum on their future,” Barzani says in a statement released Wednesday.

“This referendum would not necessarily lead to (an) immediate declaration of statehood, but rather to know the will and opinion of the people of Kurdistan about their future,” says Barzani, who has remained in power despite the expiration of his term as president.

Barzani, who has made similar calls in the past, does not specify when the vote would take place.

AFP

Attackers had no history of violence — Shin Bet

The Shin Bet domestic security service says the three Palestinian attackers had no history of violent activities, a Haaretz reporter writes on Twitter.

Israeli hikers located in Argentina

The two Israeli hikers who were said missing in Argentina are located on a hike unharmed, Ynet reports.

The two were reported missing by a friend, after the pair failed to show up to a pre-planned location for two days.

Dutch government denies stopping Holocaust payments

The Dutch Foreign Ministry denies reports in Israel that it stopped or was considering stopping payments to Holocaust survivors living in Israel.

Irgoen Olei Holland, the umbrella group of Dutch citizens who immigrated to Israel, informs its members Wednesday of the foreign ministry’s denial following the publication on Monday in Israeli media of a report on the alleged stoppage.

“These reports are incorrect,” the embassy of the Netherlands to Israel writes in a statement that it posted on its website and that Irgoen sent out. “It is in no way the intention of the Dutch government to stop these payments.”

However, the embassy’s statement also says that there is a discussion about scaling back of a complementary payment referred to as WUV, which is given by the Dutch government Pensions and Benefits Council to needy recipients on a per-case basis in addition to special pensions given to all Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. The discussion about scaling back WUV payments is a result of additional funds that Holocaust survivors in Israel began receiving in June 2014, the statement says.

But, also on the WUV issue, “no definite decisions were made and discussion on this issue is ongoing with the Israeli authorities,” according to the statement.

JTA

Jerusalem deputy mayor says attack ‘an escalation’

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Dov Kalmanovich says the Damascus Gate attack is an “escalation.”

“When terrorists come armed with knives, guns and explosives, you cannot continue to claim that these are ‘lone wolf’ terrorists,” he says, according to Channel 2.

Damascus Gate attackers named

The attackers are identified by the Palestinian news agency Ma’an as Ahmed Abou Al-Roub, Mohammed Kameel and Mohammed Nassar.

Jerusalem mayor says residents must be vigilant

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat says Jerusalem residents should not be afraid to “engage” suspected Palestinian attackers.

“I spoke to the brave fighters who were not afraid to engage,” says the mayor, praising them for “preventing a larger catastrophe.”

“The preparedness of the policemen is what led to the engagement and saved lives. The residents of Jerusalem need to open their eyes, and in a case like this, not to fear engaging [the attackers]. This vigilance is what will thwart attacks.”

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat seen at the Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City, following a terror attack where a Palestinian woman stabbed an Israeli man near the Lions’ Gate on October 07, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat seen at the Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City, following a terror attack where a Palestinian woman stabbed an Israeli man near the Lions’ Gate on October 07, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Rand Paul said to quit presidential bid

Republican Senator Rand Paul is dropping his White House bid, Politico reports, citing three sources close to his campaign.

In this April 7, 2015 file photo, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. holds up his cell phone as he speaks before announcing the start of his presidential campaign, in Louisville, Ky. (AP/Carolyn Kaster, File)

In this April 7, 2015 file photo, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. holds up his cell phone as he speaks before announcing the start of his presidential campaign, in Louisville, Ky. (AP/Carolyn Kaster, File)

1 cop ‘stable’; another ‘fighting for her life’

The policewoman who was critically injured in the Damascus Gate attack, sustaining head wounds among other injuries — is “fighting for her life,” the head of the Hadassah Mount Scopus hospital tells Channel 2.

The second cop is stable, after sustaining wounds throughout her body and face.

Hamas praises ‘heroic’ Jerusalem attack

The Hamas terror group praises the “heroic” Damascus Gate attack, which it says is an “important turning point.”

It hails the three “martyrs” for “overcoming the [army] checkpoints” from their West Bank homes near Jenin.

But the terror group stops short of taking credit for the attack.

Top Israeli general calls IS ‘our enemy’

A top Israeli general says the Islamic State group is “our enemy” and that Israel is sharing intelligence with allies battling the extremists despite remaining on the sidelines of Syria’s civil war.

Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon says that while Iran remains the greatest threat to Israel, the IS group is also an adversary.

Israel has kept its distance from the civil war on its northern doorstep, wary of appearing to side with any of the warring parties — nearly all of which are hostile to it.

But Alon, who heads the military’s operations branch, tells reporters Wednesday that Israel is essentially part of the international coalition against IS and shares intelligence with its allies.

AP

Jerusalem terrorists reportedly entered Israel illegally

The Damascus Gate attackers, residents of the West Bank, entered Israel illegally, the Ynet news website reports.

Police mum on how attackers entered Israel

Police say they are investigating how the three terrorists entered Israel, but will not comment on details of the case for the time being.

Judah Ari Gross

Iran, Germany call for cooperation against terror

Iran and Germany agree on the need to cooperate against “terrorism” Wednesday as Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier became the latest official to visit Tehran since the implementation of a landmark nuclear deal.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani says the two countries could “cooperate on resolving regional and international issues, especially on fighting terrorism,” the official IRNA news agency reports.

“The flow of arms and financial resources to terrorism must be stopped,” Rouhani says.

Steinmeier’s visit comes after a landmark deal between Tehran and world powers to limit Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting international sanctions against it came into force last month.

The German foreign minister will next visit Saudi Arabia.

AFP

Woman attacked by husband dies of wounds

The 69-year-old woman attacked by her husband with a hammer Sunday for interrupting the tennis game he was watching on TV died of her wounds, Channel 2 reports.

Health Ministry disputes Haifa pollution report

The Health Ministry says babies born in Haifa do not have smaller heads than the national average, disputing a much-contested report on pollution rates in the northern city and its effects on newborns.

The ministry emphasizes that this refutation is based on a preliminary evaluation of the subject.

Pollution in the Northern Israeli city of Haifa. April 15, 2015. (Photo credit: Basel Awidat/FLASH90)

Pollution in the northern Israeli city of Haifa. April 15, 2015. (Photo credit: Basel Awidat/FLASH90)

Hamas claims tunnels extend into Israel

Senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar claims tunnels from the Gaza Strip reach into Israeli territory.

The tunnels “extend out of Gaza into the territory occupied in 1948,” he says, according to Channel 2.

Israel slams ‘biased’ CBS News headline on Jerusalem attack

The Foreign Ministry blasts CBS News for their coverage of the Damascus Gate attack, with a headline that reads: “3 Palestinians killed as daily violence grinds on.”

The headline is “unprecedented hutzpah,” and is “biased and false,” says a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

The ministry is working to have the news outlet revise their headline, he adds.

Raphael Ahren contributed

Jerusalem assailant’s friend carried out attack months ago

One of the Damascus Gate attackers was a childhood friend of a Palestinian who was killed as he tried to stab an Israeli soldier in the West Bank three months ago, reports Israel Radio’s Gal Berger on Twitter.

Over the weekend, the Palestinian assailant posted on Facebook about his friend and how much he misses him, he reports.

In first, Obama set to visit US mosque

US President Barack Obama’s first visit to a US mosque comes as Muslim-Americans say they’re confronting increasing levels of bias in speech and deeds.

Obama is scheduled to visit the Islamic Society of Baltimore on Wednesday. Its campus contains a mosque and school that runs from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Last week, Obama became the first sitting president to speak at the Israeli Embassy. In remarks at the embassy, he warned of growing anti-Semitism in the world.

Obama’s message in Baltimore will follow a similar tack. The White House said he will focus on the need to speak out against bigotry and reject indifference. It’s the kind of effort that Muslim-Americans said they’ve been waiting for from America’s political and religious leaders.

“For some time, we’ve been asking for pushback. Perhaps this will start a trend,” says Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Attendees at the Baltimore mosque are predominantly of Turkish heritage, although immigrants of other nationalities also participate, says Akbar Ahmed, an Islamic studies specialist at American University who has researched mosques around the US.

Obama “left it literally to the last” to visit a US mosque, Ahmed notes, “but better late than never.”

Ahmed says the visit will be reassuring to US Muslims amid the heightened rhetoric of the 2016 presidential campaign. “The president going there means he hasn’t forgotten us,” Ahmed says.

Obama will also be sending a signal to the world that the US has not abandoned its commitment to religious pluralism, Ahmed says.

AP

After Israel complaint, CBS tweaks headline

A short while after the Foreign Ministry denounces CBS for its headline of the Jerusalem attack, the news outlet tweaks it.

It now reads: “Israeli police kill 3 alleged Palestinian attackers.”

Border policewoman dies of wounds

The policewoman who was badly injured in the Damascus Gate attack dies of her wounds, police say.

She is identified as Hadar Cohen, 19, of Or Yehuda.

Photo of Hadar Cohen, 19

Police release a photo of policewoman Hadar Cohen, 19.

Cohen is the 31st casualty in the wave of violence that began in September.

Policewoman was drafted 2 months ago

Israel Police says Cohen was drafted to the Border Police just two months ago.

She is survived by her parents, a brother and a sister.

Her funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

Slain cop was shot in head, ‘never had a chance’

Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus says Cohen was shot in the head, Channel 2 reports.

The head of the hospital says medical staff attempted to revive her for hours, but Cohen “never had a chance.”

Border policemen who witnessed the attack said Cohen managed to shoot at the attackers before she was injured, the TV report says.

Jerusalem attacker hinted at shooting in FB post

One of the Jerusalem gunmen wrote several months ago on his Facebook profile that he would soon arrive in paradise “by gunfire,” hinting at a future shooting attack, Channel 2 reports.

The post did not come to the attention of Israel’s security forces.

Jewish Voice for Peace behind fake anti-Israel NYT

Jewish Voice for Peace takes credit for distributing thousands of fake and anti-Israel versions of The New York Times in Manhattan and on social media.

The organization, which supports the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement, says in a statement released Wednesday that it distributed 10,000 copies of the parody, which includes such articles as “Congress to Debate US Aid to Israel” and “In the Footsteps of Mandela and King: A Non-Violent Movement Gains Ground Ten Years On,” as well as an editorial, “Our New Editorial Policy: Rethinking Israel-Palestine.”

Members of Jewish Voice for Peace New York and Jews Say No!, a New York City-based pro-Palestinian organization, created the paper to “point out how biased current reporting is on Israel and Palestine and to show what a paper that was fair and accurate could look like,” Just Say No! member Alan Levine, one of its writers, says in a statement.

JTA

A screenshot of a fake, anti-Israel edition of the New York Times distributed in New York City on February 2, 2016.

A screenshot of a fake, anti-Israel edition of the New York Times distributed in New York City on February 2, 2016.

Politicians pay tribute to ‘heroic’ policewoman

Israeli politicians praise Cohen for her heroism is fighting off the Damascus Gate attackers.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz says Cohen “paid with her life” to protect others. “There are no words to describe the loss and the pain,” he writes on Facebook.

Cohen’s actions are “admirable,” adds Interior Minister Aryeh Deri.

“My heart aches for Hadar Cohen, the border policewoman, just 19 years old, who thwarted with her body a more serious attack today at Damascus Gate. Hero,” writes Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni on Twitter.

Trump accuses Cruz of fraud, demands re-vote

Donald Trump on Wednesday accuses rival Ted Cruz in the Republican race for the White House of stealing victory in the Iowa caucuses, demanding a re-vote or his win nullified.

He makes the sensational accusations on Twitter, telling his nearly six million followers that the first-time senator from Texas had committed fraud and lied to voters.

“Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he stole it. That is why all of the polls were so wrong and why he got far more votes than anticipated. Bad!” Trump writes.

He criticizes Cruz for putting out a statement saying that a fellow candidate, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, was quitting the race, and accuses Cruz of lying to thousands of voters about Trump’s policies.

“Based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa Caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified,” Trump writes.

The accusations, interpreted by critics as an attempt to hog the media spotlight, come in stark contrast to his gracious concession speech in Iowa on Monday, saying he was “honored” to finish second.

AFP

Hamas official denies saying tunnels reach Israel

Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar denies saying that tunnels from the Gaza Strip reach into Israel territory.

Mahmoud Al-Zahar (photo credit: Wissam Nassar/ Flash90)

Mahmoud Al-Zahar (Wissam Nassar/ Flash90)

After attack, Netanyahu convenes security meeting

After the Damascus Gate attack, Netanyahu convenes an urgent meeting on Israeli security, with the participation of a number of ministers and security officials, Channel 2 reports.

Jewish-owned Seattle business targeted with swastikas

Swastikas are painted on the front of a Jewish-owned business in Seattle, Washington.

It is the second incident in the last six months at Sleepers in Seattle, which has been located in The Junction business district for 25 years, according to local reports.

The swastikas are discovered on the sidewalk in front of the store when it opened Tuesday morning.

The owners tell Komonews.com that they feel targeted because they are the only Jewish-owned business on the street.

“Now being the second time it just doesn’t feel random,” says the owners’ son, Max Alcabes. “It feels real ugly and it’s kind of a sick feeling.”

The family did not report the first incident. This time, according to West Seattle Blog, it is reported to the police and the Anti-Defamation League.

Meryl Alcabes tells the West Seattle Blog that after news of the swastikas got out, people came into the store all day on Tuesday offering their support.

JTA

IDF, Shin Bet chiefs to attend security meeting

Channel 2 reports that Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot will attend the prime minister’s meeting to discuss the response to the Damascus Gate attack.

Iraq building wall, trench around capital

Iraq says it has begun building a wall and a trench around the capital, Baghdad, to prevent militant attacks and reduce the number of checkpoints inside the city.

Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Saad Maan tells The Associated Press Wednesday that work began this week on the northern and northwestern approaches of the capital.

The wall will be three meters (10 feet) high and partially made up of concrete barriers already in use across much of the capital. He declines to specify the measurements of the trench.

Baghdad has for more than a decade been hit almost daily by roadside and suicide bombings that mostly target Shiite civilians or members of the security forces, which are dominated by Iraq’s majority Shiites.

AP

Hamas buries two fighters killed in tunnel collapse

Hamas on Wednesday buries two fighters killed in a tunnel collapse, as concern grows in Israel over the rebuilding of underground passageways that could be used for attacks.

Hundreds of men, many armed and wearing balaclavas, take part in the funeral.

Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s leader in Gaza, calls the two men “martyrs” and praises “those who work silently underground for us to live in dignity on earth.”

The collapse was the second such incident since last week. A tunnel collapse caused by bad weather on January 26 killed seven terrorists.

Israeli concerns increased on Friday after Haniyeh, in comments at the seven men’s funeral, highlighted the growth of new tunnels.

AFP, Times of Israel staff

Palestinian members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement during the funeral of fellow militant Ahmed al-Zahar in the village of Al-Moghraga near the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on February 3, 2016. (AFP / MAHMUD HAMS)

Palestinian members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement during the funeral of fellow militant Ahmed al-Zahar in the village of Al-Moghraga near the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on February 3, 2016. (AFP / MAHMUD HAMS)

IDF to seal off Palestinian village after fatal attack

After the deadly Damascus Gate attack, the army will impose a closure on the hometown of the attackers — the Palestinian village of Qabatiya near the West Bank city of Jenin.

More soldiers will also be deployed in the West Bank.

Syria talks ‘paused’ until February 25

The UN special envoy for Syria announces on Wednesday a “temporary pause” until February 25 of troubled talks in Switzerland aimed at ending the civil war.

“There’s more work to be done,” Staffan de Mistura tells reporters in Geneva.

His comments come after several days of fruitless talks aimed at starting indirect negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition.

The hoped-for six months of indirect “proximity talks” are part of an ambitious roadmap agreed by outside powers embroiled in the conflict in November in Vienna.

AFP

Cohen disarmed first attacker; was shot from behind

Border Police official Shlomi Yosef praises Hadar Cohen for her “heroic” and “determined” response.

He says Cohen managed to shoot the first attacker who opened fire. The second gunman was killed by other policemen in the area, he says.

But then the third Palestinian attacker came up behind her and shot Cohen several times in the head, he says.

Obama slams ‘inexcusable’ anti-Muslim rhetoric

US President Barack Obama on Wednesday slams what he calls “inexcusable” anti-Muslim rhetoric in the political sphere — a veiled jibe at Republican White House hopeful Donald Trump and others.

Making his first visit to a mosque while in office, Obama praises American Muslims as upstanding citizens and thanked them for helping their community.

“Recently we’ve heard inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim-Americans that has no place in our country,” Obama tells the members of the Islamic Society of Baltimore, without specifically naming anyone.

Trump recently called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.

AFP

Too many people conflate Islam, terrorism — Obama

Obama thanks the American Muslim community.

“The first thing I want to say is two words that Muslim-Americans don’t hear often enough, and that is thank you,” Obama says at the start of his speech, to applause.

“Thank you for serving your community, thank you for lifting up the lives of your neighbors, and for helping keep us strong and united as one American family.”

He decries the “hugely distorted impression” of Muslims given in the media — both in film and television portrayals, and in the news after acts of terror.

“Since 9/11, but more recently since the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, you have seen too often people conflating the horrific acts of terrorism with the beliefs of an entire faith,” he says.

AFP, Times of Israel staff

Checkpoints in Qabatiya, but no closure — IDF

The IDF denies that a closure has been enforced in Qabatiya.

The army has set up checkpoints and is checking Palestinians entering and leaving the West Bank village, a spokesperson says.

Judah Ari Gross

Upstate NY village settles lawsuit alleging voter fraud

An upstate New York village will appoint an election monitor after settling a lawsuit that accused its board of elections of attempting to cancel the voter registrations of some 160 Hasidic Jewish residents.

Ten residents of the Catskills village of Bloomingburg, New York, which has a total population of about 420, filed a lawsuit against the Sullivan County Board of Elections in March after the board requested proof of residency from the Hasidic voters.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan accused the elections board of “engaging in an unyielding discriminatory campaign to deprive Hasidic Jewish residents … of the fundamental right to vote,” the New York Post reports.

The board continues to deny discriminating against Hasidic Jewish residents, but settled to avoid the soaring costs of the lawsuit, the local Times Herald-Record reports.

The settlement requires the county to pay legal fees topping $55,000 and $2,500 to each resident who signed on to the lawsuit for a total of $25,000. The monitor, which will oversee voting in the county for the next five years, is to be appointed jointly by both sides.

Also as part of the settlement, voting materials, as well as signs advising voters of their rights, will be posted in both Yiddish and English, according to the Post.

JTA

Rick Santorum said dropping White House run

Rick Santorum is quitting his presidential campaign, and will endorse another Republican candidate, CNN reports.

Sanders raises $3 million in 24 hours after Iowa caucuses

After virtually tying with Hillary Clinton in the Iowa Democratic caucus, Sen. Bernie Sanders raised $3 million in a 24-hour period, a record for the insurgent presidential candidate.

Sanders, I-Vt., who has abjured raising money from major givers, scored the amount from small donations online in the 24 hours after Monday’s vote, The Associated Press reports Wednesday. Clinton, long the presumed front-runner, claimed victory in Iowa, the first state to hold a vote, with a razor-thin margin.

Sanders and Clinton also agreed to add debates to what has been criticized as a sparse schedule of six for the Democratic candidates. A newly scheduled debate will be held Thursday in New Hampshire.

JTA

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks in Claremont, New Hampshire on February 2, 2016 (Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images/AFP)

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks in Claremont, New Hampshire on February 2, 2016 (Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images/AFP)

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Police say larger attack averted by fast response

Police are saying that a far more deadly attack was thwarted by the fast response by security forces, who shot and killed the terrorists moments after they opened fire.

“This is a combined attack, a serious attack, that was prevented by the vigilance of police at the scene,” says a police spokesman.