Lebanon PM’s party calls for his return from Saudi Arabia
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Lebanon PM’s party calls for his return from Saudi Arabia

Saad Hariri's return 'is necessary to restore dignity and respect to Lebanon,' his Future party says

  • Workers hang a poster of outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri with Arabic words that read, "We are all Saad," on a seaside street in Beirut, Lebanon, November 9, 2017. (AP/ Hussein Malla)
    Workers hang a poster of outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri with Arabic words that read, "We are all Saad," on a seaside street in Beirut, Lebanon, November 9, 2017. (AP/ Hussein Malla)
  • Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman (2nd L) takes his seat to meet with US Defense Secretary James Mattis and his delegation on April 19, 2017 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool/Getty Images via JTA)
    Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman (2nd L) takes his seat to meet with US Defense Secretary James Mattis and his delegation on April 19, 2017 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool/Getty Images via JTA)
  • The Twitter app on a mobile phone. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
    The Twitter app on a mobile phone. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
  • A frame grab from video provided by the government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media shows a tank firing on militants' positions on the Iraq-Syria border, November 8, 2017. (Syrian Central Military Media, via AP)
    A frame grab from video provided by the government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media shows a tank firing on militants' positions on the Iraq-Syria border, November 8, 2017. (Syrian Central Military Media, via AP)
  • Illustrative: A man stands outside the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
    Illustrative: A man stands outside the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

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

Islamic State evacuates last stronghold in Syria to government forces

BEIRUT — Islamic State fighters withdraw from their last stronghold in Syria, a strategic town near the border with Iraq called Boukamal, following a government offensive that has effectively left the extremist group’s fighters dispersed in villages and small towns in the desert.

The Syrian military declares the town liberated on Thursday after intense battles that kill a large number of IS fighters, including leaders. The military says they are still chasing other IS operatives in different directions in the desert.

“The liberation of Boukamal is of great importance because it is a declaration of the fall of this group’s project in the region generally and the collapse of its supporters’ illusions to divide it, control large parts of the Syria-Iraq borders and secure supply routes between the two countries,” says Army spokesman Gen. Ali Mayhoub in a televised statement.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says government forces and allied troops, including Iraqi forces who linked up from across the border, are combing through Boukamal after IS withdrew.

With the collapse of IS in Boukamal, Islamic State has no major territorial control in Syria and Iraq and is believed to have dispersed in the desert west and east of the Euphrates River.

— AP

Baby dies after being hit by a car in Negev Bedouin village

A 1-year-old baby is dead after he was run over by a car in a Bedouin village near Arara in the Negev.

According to the Magen David Adom ambulance service, the baby was brought to the Arara clinic by family members with a severe head injury.

Police have launched an investigation into the circumstances of the death.

Jerusalem rabbinic court conditions divorce on woman not filing rape charges

The Jerusalem rabbinical court has approved a divorce settlement that included the husband’s demand that the woman not be allowed to file a police complaint for rape against the husband.

The divorce was prompted by the woman’s claims that her husband raped her and was violent toward their two children. In order to ensure she could obtain the divorce — which under traditional Jewish law must be granted by the husband — the woman agreed to withdraw her complaints.

Her representatives said she faced pressure from rabbinic court chief judge Rabbi Yosef Goldberg to agree to the stipulation.

The agreement also forces the woman to agree to move all proceedings related to alimony and custody of the children, as well as the withdrawal of financial claims against the husband for his alleged crimes, out of the civil courts to the rabbinical court.

IDF says last week’s rocket siren in Tel Aviv was human-caused false alarm

A false alarm that occurred in central Israel last week seems to have been caused by human error, according to an investigation by the IDF’s Home Front Command, the army says.

Just before 3:00 a.m. on November 2, rocket alert sirens went off in south Tel Aviv and the surrounding suburbs, sending residents into stairwells and bomb shelters.

The incident was quickly determined to be a false alarm, but it was not immediately clear if it was caused by a technical malfunction or human error. An investigation led by the head of the Home Front Command, Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai, determines it to be the latter.

“The Home Front Command learned lessons from the event, which will be fully integrated, and it will work to limit the incidents of false alarms in order to protect the daily routines of Israeli citizens,” the army says in a statement.

— Judah Ari Gross

Rebel-held Sanaa braces for ‘famine’ as Yemen blockade tightens

SANAA, Yemen – Residents of Yemen’s rebel-held capital say rising food and fuel prices are making life increasingly difficult because of a Saudi-led blockade that the UN warns could bring the world’s worst famine in decades.

Sanaa residents say the price of gasoline has jumped 50 percent, the value of the national currency plummeted and prices of basic goods rose after the Saudi-led coalition sealed off Yemen’s borders on Monday.

Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in neighboring Yemen in March 2015 with the stated aim of rolling back gains by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and restoring the government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to power.

Since then, the coalition has enforced a de facto blockade on land crossings and air and sea ports, and the UN and other international humanitarian organizations are required to obtain permission for sporadic aid deliveries.

On Monday the coalition said it was closing Yemen’s borders and ports, accusing Iran of being behind a rebel attack in which a missile was intercepted near Riyadh airport over the weekend.

The coalition said the tightened blockade was temporary and aimed at filling gaps in inspection procedures to halt the “smuggling of missiles and military equipment.”

— AFP

As tensions soar, Saudi Arabia orders all its citizens out of Lebanon

Saudi Arabia orders its citizens out of Lebanon amid skyrocketing tensions between their two governments.

A brief statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency calls on all Saudis living in or visiting Lebanon to depart, and warns against travel to the country.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri shocked his country Saturday when he announced in a televised statement out of Saudi Arabia that he was resigning. He has not been seen in Lebanon since.

He said his country had been taken hostage by Hezbollah, a partner in his coalition government and a major foe of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia says it considers Hezbollah’s participation in the Lebanese government an “act of war” against the kingdom.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun has said he will not consider the premier’s resignation until the two meet in person.

— AP

Hezbollah calls on Saudis to stay out of Lebanese affairs

BEIRUT — Hezbollah calls on Saudi Arabia to stay out of Lebanese affairs, saying the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, announced from Riyadh over the weekend, “has raised many questions.”

In a statement, the group’s parliamentary bloc says Saudi Arabia was mired in crisis after the failure of its 2 ½-year military intervention in Yemen, which has led to a military stalemate.

Saudi Arabia has demanded that Hezbollah, a powerful Iran-backed group, play no role in Lebanon’s government.

The Shiite group has been represented in Lebanon’s parliament since 1992 and is a key member of the coalition government. Its armed wing is more powerful than Lebanon’s army, and its fighters battle alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in Syria.

— AP

Syria, Russia slammed at chemical weapons watchdog meeting

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Syria and its close ally Russia face harsh criticism at a meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons following an investigation that blamed Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime for a sarin attack that killed about 100 people in April.

At a closed-doors meeting of the chemical weapons watchdog’s executive council, US representative Kenneth D. Ward says Russia “continues to deny the truth and, instead, collaborates with the Assad regime in a deplorable attempt to discredit” the joint UN-OPCW investigation.

Russia has denounced the results of the investigation into the Khan Sheikhoun attack and vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to renew the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, known as the JIM, which expires this month.

The OPCW has a team called Fact Finding Mission, which investigates whether chemical weapons have been used in Syria. The JIM was set up by the Security Council to apportion blame for such attacks.

— AP

Russia Twitter trolls deflected Trump bad news

SAN FRANCISCO — Disguised Russian agents on Twitter rushed to deflect scandalous news about Donald Trump just before last year’s presidential election while straining to refocus criticism on the mainstream media and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, according to an Associated Press analysis of since-deleted accounts.

Tweets by Russia-backed accounts such as “America_1st_” and “BatonRougeVoice” on Oct. 7, 2016, actively pivoted away from news of an audio recording in which Trump made crude comments about groping women, and instead touted damaging emails hacked from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.

Since early this year, the extent of Russian intrusion to help Trump and hurt Clinton in the election has been the subject of both congressional scrutiny and a criminal investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. In particular, those investigations are looking into the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

AP’s analysis illuminates the obvious strategy behind the Russian cyber meddling: swiftly react, distort and distract attention from any negative Trump news.

The AP examined 36,210 tweets from Aug. 31, 2015, to Nov. 10, 2016, posted by 382 of the Russian accounts that Twitter shared with congressional investigators last week. Twitter deactivated the accounts, deleting the tweets and making them inaccessible on the internet. But a limited selection of the accounts’ Twitter activity was retrieved by matching account handles against an archive obtained by AP.

— AP

UK’s May names Brexit campaigner to replace ousted aid minister

LONDON – British Prime Minister Theresa May promotes a junior minister to replace ousted aid secretary Priti Patel, avoiding a major personnel shuffle and maintaining the delicate Brexit balance in her cabinet.

The Conservative leader names Penny Mordaunt, a minister in the welfare department and a strong supporter of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, as her new international development secretary.

On Wednesday evening, Patel became the second minister to quit within a week, after a row over unauthorized meetings she had during a holiday to Israel in August, including with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Patel is a prominent Brexit supporter, and some Conservative MPs had pressed for a replacement that would maintain the political — and gender — balance.

Britain’s newly appointed international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt leaves 10 Downing Street in London on November 9, 2017, after being appointed to the position. (AFP Photo/Daniel Leal-Olivas)

Mordaunt had initially been tipped to replace Michael Fallon as defense secretary when he quit on November 1 following allegations of sexual harassment, but that job went to one of May’s close aides, Gavin Williamson.

Mordaunt, a 44-year-old Royal Navy reservist, is the MP for the English naval town of Portsmouth, and served as a junior defense minister before becoming minister for disabled people last year.

— AFP

Austrian far-right party ditches ‘Nazi’ flower

VIENNA, Austria – Austria’s far-right Freedom Party raises eyebrows in parliament on Thursday by ditching their usual blue cornflowers, a symbol associated by many with Nazism despite the party’s strenuous denials.

The anti-immigration party’s 51 MPs instead sport an edelweiss, a white-and-yellow Alpine flower, in their lapels at the opening session of parliament following last month’s elections.

The edelweiss stands for “courage, bravery and love,” FPOe leader Heinz-Christian Strache, who is set to become deputy premier in a likely coalition currently being negotiated with the conservatives, said on Wednesday.

Traditionally, like when parliament last opened after elections in 2013, FPOe lawmakers have worn cornflowers, which matches the party’s colors and which it said symbolizes the ideals of the 1848 liberal revolutions in Europe.

However critics say that the cornflower is better known from being worn by Austrian Nazis as a secret way of recognizing each other when they were banned in the 1930s, before Adolf Hitler annexed his native country in 1938.

— AFP

Olympic ethics panel to study allegations against Alex Gilady

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — The IOC says it is looking into allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Olympic official Alex Gilady, stemming from his work as a television executive in Israel.

Gilady, an International Olympic Committee member since 1994, has temporarily stepped aside as Keshet Broadcasting president.

Screen capture from video of a television interview with founder of the Keshet media group Alex Gilady. (YouTube/23TV)

The IOC says its “Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer is currently looking into the situation and will report to the IOC Ethics Commission.”

A TV journalist and a newspaper columnist in Israel have accused Gilady of inappropriate behavior dating back to the 1990s. He denied accusations by two other women that he raped them.

Gilady is vice chairman of an IOC panel overseeing the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The 74-year-old official is a former sports executive at NBC.

— AP

201 detained in Saudi sweep over $100B in corruption

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia announces it has detained 201 people as part of a sweeping probe, estimating that $100 billion has been misused through embezzlement and corruption in the past decades.

Saudi Attorney General Saud al-Mojeb says in a statement that 208 people had been called in for questioning since Saturday evening, and that seven people were released without charge, leaving 201 people still in detention.

“The potential scale of corrupt practices which have been uncovered is very large,” he says, adding that based on investigations over the past three years, at least $100 billion has been misused through corruption and embezzlement over several decades.

Critics and observers say the purge that has targeted dozens of top princes, officials, military officers and businessmen is a power grab by the crown prince to sideline potential rivals and critics.

Among those detained earlier are billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and two of the late King Abdullah’s sons, including Prince Miteb who until Saturday had headed the powerful National Guard before he was ousted and detained.

— AP

Bicyclist, 45, killed in traffic accident on Route 42

A 45-year-old bicyclist is killed in a traffic accident near the central Israeli city of Yavne. According to Magen David Adom rescuers, the man was hit while cycling along Route 42 and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Hundreds rally at Western Wall calling for return of Goldin, Shaul from Gaza

Hundreds participate in a rally at the Western Wall holy site calling to return to Israel the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul who are held by Hamas in Gaza.

The protesters call on the government to up its pressure on Hamas in order to ensure the bodies are returned.

Several prominent rabbis identified with the religious right were present at the rally, as well as Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev.

NATO commander tells Russia: ‘Stop meddling’

BRUSSELS, Belgium – The commander of NATO forces in Europe, US General Curtis Scaparrotti, demands Russia “stop meddling” in European elections, amid concerns about Kremlin interference in the Catalan crisis.

Spanish media have accused Moscow-backed outlets such as Russia Today and Sputnik — which have Spanish language services — of playing a destabilising role in the crisis triggered by Catalonia’s banned October 1 referendum.

Moscow is also suspected of interfering in last year’s US presidential election and Britain’s Brexit vote, and Scaparrotti said he was concerned by “Russian malign influence” in other countries.

Head of US European Command Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti meets with IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot in the military’s Tel Aviv headquarters, as part of an official visit, on March 6, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

“It is something that we’ve seen in the United States, we’ve seen it in a number of countries here in the elections of late,” Scaparrotti said when asked about claims of Russian interference in Catalonia.

“It should stop meddling in other nations, (in) what is their sovereign right to determine their government and how it works,” he told reporters at a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said NATO ministers had “discussed at length Russia’s now constant efforts to intercede in our sovereign democratic processes”.

Bogus news reports and images shared widely online have helped fuel the crisis triggered by Catalonia’s banned October 1 independence referendum.

Amid rising tensions, France’s Macron announces surprise trip to Saudi Arabia

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — French President Emmanuel Macron announces a surprise trip on Thursday night to Saudi Arabia, saying he wants to speak to the kingdom’s young, assertive crown prince about Iran and the war in Yemen.

Macron says he made the decision earlier in the morning about heading to Saudi Arabia, in part over Shiite rebels in Yemen launching a ballistic missile that targeted Riyadh, the kingdom’s capital. He bluntly blames Iran for the attack, saying that while he still supports Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, a new agreement needs to be reached over Iran’s missile program.

“The missile which was intercepted by Saudi Arabia launched from Yemen, which obviously is an Iranian missile, shows precisely the strength of their” program, Macron tells journalists at a news conference held at a French school in Dubai.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron (L) greets Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the Millennium Hotel in New York on September 18, 2017, in New York. (AFP Photo/Ludovic Marin)

Iranian state media does not immediately report the remarks. Iranian officials, while backing the Shiite rebels known as Houthis in Yemen, have denied directly arming them.

The ballistic missile launched Saturday night flew near Riyadh’s international airport before Saudi officials said they shot it down. By early Monday, the kingdom responded by closing off Yemen’s land, sea and air ports and warning Iran the rebel missile launch could be “considered as an act of war.”

“I believe it’s important that we work with Saudi Arabia for the purpose of guaranteeing stability in the region and the fight against terrorism,” Macron said.

The surprise trip to Saudi Arabia comes at the end of a two-day trip by Macron to the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula.

— AP

Lebanon PM’s party calls for his return from Saudi Arabia

BEIRUT — The political party of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who resigned from Saudi Arabia under mysterious circumstances five days ago, demands that he return from the kingdom immediately in a statement that seems to imply he is being held against his will.

Saudi Arabia meanwhile ordered all of its citizens to “immediately” depart Lebanon amid heightened tensions with Hezbollah and the militant group’s patron, Iran. A brief statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency also warned Saudis against travel to the country.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir warned earlier this week that his government would “deal with” Lebanon as a hostile state as long as Hezbollah was in the government. He said Hezbollah’s participation in government is an “act of war” against Saudi Arabia.

Saudi King Salman, right, meets with outgoing Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 6, 2017. (Saudi Press Agency, via AP)

Hariri surprised the country by announcing his resignation Saturday in a pre-recorded message during a visit to Saudi Arabia. Even close associates in his party, the Saudi-aligned Future Movement, have said they don’t know why he resigned.

On Thursday, the party called on him to return.

“The return of the Lebanese prime minister, the national leader, Saad Hariri, and the head of the Future Movement, is necessary to restore the dignity and respect to Lebanon at home and abroad,” it said in a statement read by former Prime Minister Fouad Saniora, who heads its parliamentary bloc.

— AP

‘Transparent’ star Jeffrey Tambor accused of harassment by former assistant

Amazon Studios is investigating sexual harassment allegations against “Transparent” star Jeffrey Tambor.

The entertainment website Deadline first reported the investigation on Wednesday.

Tambor, 73, has won two Emmys portraying the transgender matriarch of a Jewish California family in “Transparent.” He is accused by his former assistant, Van Barnes, a 42-year-old transgender actress, of groping her, making sexual comments and propositioning her.

Barnes made the accusations in a private Facebook post which does not identify Tambor by name, Deadline reported.

Tambor denies the allegations. “I am aware that a former disgruntled assistant of mine has made a private post implying that I had acted in an improper manner toward her,” Tambor says in a statement first provided to Deadline. “I adamantly and vehemently reject and deny any and all implication and allegation that I have ever engaged in any improper behavior toward this person or any other person I have ever worked with. I am appalled and distressed by this baseless allegation.”

“Transparent” currently is on a regularly scheduled hiatus after a season largely set in Israel.

— JTA

Jewish woman, 70, attacked in London by assailant shouting ‘Jew’ in Polish

A 70-year-old Jewish woman is hospitalized with a concussion after being attacked by an assailant who called her “Zyd,” Polish for “Jew.”

The male attacker smashed her head into a brick wall while shouting “Zyd” during the attack on Saturday afternoon in London’s Stamford Hill neighborhood, which has a large Orthodox Jewish population, the London-based Campaign Against Anti-Semitism reported on its website.

The incident was first reported by the London chapter of the Shomrim Jewish neighborhood watch organization.

— JTA

McGill student group admits using anti-Semitic tropes to keep Jew off board

A student group at McGill University admits that it used anti-Semitic propaganda to prevent a Jewish candidate from being re-elected to the student government at the Montreal school.

At a meeting last month of the General Assembly of the McGill’s Student Society, or SSMU, seven students were voted onto the board. But three others – one of them Jewish and a previous board member, and all known for their pro-Israel stances – were denied seats.

“I was blocked from participating in student government because of my Jewish identity and my affiliation with Jewish organizations,” Noah Lew, a third-year arts student, posted on his Facebook page after the vote.

The Arts Building at McGill University in Montreal, Canada (Wikimedia Commons via JTA)

Lew and Jewish groups in Canada alleged that campus groups supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel were behind the bid to keep pro-Israel students off the undergraduate board. One group, called Democratize SSMU, includes Igor Sadikov, a student who earned notoriety last February for his “Punch a Zionist today” tweet.

Democratize SSMU, in a Facebook post in the days following the vote, admitted that its campaign to unseat pro-Israel students “was insensitive to anti-Semitic tropes of Jewish people as corrupt and politically powerful,” and apologized “ureservedly” for it.

The post also said: “We thoroughly apologize for any harm that the statement caused. We want to validate that anti-Semitism is not acceptable anywhere, and is a real and toxic force in our society and on campus.”

In a second post, the group further explained: “BDS politics should not have to play a part in the (Board of Director’s) decisions, actions, or electability. These matters are outside the scope and jurisdiction of this unelected body. However, Lew, an active member of Zionist organizations, could not separate his politics from his duties as a Director.”

The post continued that Lew’s support of a Student Society Judicial Board decision that would deem BDS and other similar movements unconstitutional “constitut(ed) an abuse of power, effectively preventing Palestine solidarity efforts on campus.”

McGill’s principal, Suzanne Fortier, said in a statement that the university is addressing the “disturbing allegations of anti-Semitism,” and that a task force and support line will be created for the campus community.

— JTA

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