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

Dankner ‘surprised’ by court ruling adding years to sentence

Former tycoon Nochi Dankner says he is “surprised and disappointed” by a court decision to extend his jail term to three years behind bars.

The Supreme Court ruled that Dankner, the former IDB Holding Corp’s controlling shareholder, will begin serving his prison term on October 2 for his role in carrying out millions of dollars’ worth of fraudulent transactions in an attempt to influence the share price of the troubled company.

Dankner had been given a two-year prison sentence in 2016.

His lawyer says “we were not expecting this,” Hadashot news reports.


‘Bad news’ golden statue of Erdogan removed from German art fest

A golden statue of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that was installed at an art festival whose motto is “Bad news” has been taken down after authorities in the German city of Wiesbaden said it was becoming a security issue.

The dpa news agency reports that the 4-meter (13-foot) sculpture depicting Erdogan with a raised right arm, evoking the statue of Saddam Hussein toppled by American forces in Iraq, was removed just after midnight in the central city.

Firefighters lift a four-meter tall golden statue featuring Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to remove it on late August 28, 2018 in the western German town of Wiesbaden, where it had been placed on August 26 as part of the Biennale art festival. (AFP PHOTO / dpa / Sebastian Stenzel)

Since its erection Monday, authorities said it had become a magnet for pro- and anti-Erdogan speeches and provoked conflict.

Wiesbaden State Theater director Uwe Eric Laufenberg defended that debate as being the installation’s purpose, saying “we displayed the statue in order to discuss Erdogan.”

He says “in a democracy, one must tolerate all opinions.”

— AP

Iranian news outlet speculates ex-minister spy claim refers to Israel

Iran’s Tasnim news agency is speculating that Iranian intelligence minister Mahmoud Alavi was in fact referring to former Israeli minister Gonen Segev in comments that may represent Tehran’s first confirmation it recruited him as a spy.

Tasnim is a private news outlet, but is closely linked to the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The open speculation in Iran’s closely supervised media may represent a signal toward confirmation.


Hot cable network begins carrying i24 news station

Four years after starting up, the Jaffa-based i24 news station will begin being carried on the Hot cable network, the first time it will be watchable on Israeli TV.

i24 broadcasting in French, on August 29, 2018. (Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel)

The station, which broadcasts news in English, French and Arabic, is owned by Patrick Drahi, who also owns Hot. It received a license to be broadcast on TV in Israel last year.

The station will be broadcast in English on channel 34, in French on channel 144 and in Arabic on 174.

Time running out for Iranians, regime says in court over sanctions challenge

Iran says ‘time is running out’ for its people as they suffer economic turmoil that Tehran blames on renewed US sanctions.

“For the Islamic Republic of Iran, time is running out,” Iran’s representative Mohsen Mohebi says closing arguments in a challenge to the sanctions at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

An Iranian family walks past the shuttered window of the closed offices of a travel agency showing the logos of various air lines in the capital Tehran on August 24, 2018. (AFP/ STRINGER)

“The lives of millions of people residing in this country are already deeply suffering from the sanctions reinstated by the United States… and will further suffer as these sanctions are expanded and aggravated.”

US lawyers have retorted that the sanctions are necessary to protect international security.


Khamenei to Rouhani: Burn midnight oil to solve economic woes

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has told President Hassan Rouhani to work “day and night” to solve the country’s economic crisis.

“There is need for full force, large-scale and proficient work; and authorities in charge of economic affairs must work hard day and night to resolve the problems,”Khamenei said, according to state-run Press TV.


Ministers rave over court’s outpost legalization decision

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the pro-settler Jewish Home party says the Jerusalem District Court’s decision to legalize the Mitzpe Kramim outpost was an “important achievement” for the settler movement.

The court ruled late Tuesday that settlers acted in “good faith” and were unaware they were building on privately owned Palestinian property. Analysts say the ruling may pave the way for more outposts to be legalized.

A general view shows the Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Kramim , near Ramallah in the West Bank, on August 29, 2018. (AFP / THOMAS COEX)

Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) also praises the court for “strengthening Jewish settlement and not just dismantling it via judicial activism in complete defiance of the spirit of the legislature.”

Both Shaked and Regev say the ruling proved outpost evacuations are unnecessary and express hopes they won’t be repeated.

— with AP

Greenblatt meets Kahlon to discuss boosting Israeli, Palestinian economies

As the US cuts hundreds of millions of dollars in aid funding for the Palestinians, White House negotiator Jason Greenblatt tweets that he met with Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to “discuss concepts for building economic opportunities for Palestinians and Israelis.”

Kahlon earlier tweeted that he was “looking forward to continuing our work together with the goal of bringing prosperity, stability and security to the region.”

The meeting took place on Tuesday.

Palestinian kids head to school under shadow of UNRWA cuts

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children are returning to school after the summer holidays, though major US cuts to the UN relief agency have thrown their funding into jeopardy beyond next month.

Children wearing checkered uniforms and backpacks thronged schools across the Palestinian territories for the first classes of the new school year, AFP correspondents reported.

Palestinian school student study at their school that was demolished by Israeli authorities in the area of Khallet al-Daba south of Yatta in the city of Hebron on August 29, 2018. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said all 711 schools it runs for 526,000 pupils in Gaza and the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria would reopen in the next few days despite the $300 million US funding cut.

Pupils gather in front of a school run by the United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza City on August 29, 2018, on the first day of classes after the summer holidays. (AFP PHOTO / Mahmud Hams)

Fears raised by UN chief Antonio Guterres that the schools might not be able to reopen at all failed to materialise but UNRWA warned it might still be forced to close them again in a month if addition new funding is not found.

“At the moment, we do not have enough money to keep the schools open after the end of September,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness tells AFP.

“At the end of September, UNRWA will be running on empty for all its services, including schools and medical facilities.”


Disabled crash victim named as former wheelchair basketball player

A disabled man hit and killed by a car while crossing a street in north Tel Aviv has been named as Akiva Katz, a wheelchair-bound IDF vet who represented Israel at the international Stoke Mandeville Games, which takes place in years the Paralympics do not.

Katz, 69, was on Israel’s wheelchair basketball team and represented Israel at the Stoke Mandeville tourney in Holland in 1981, according to the Ynet news site.

Israel’s wheelchair basketball team won gold at the 1980 Paralympics.

Police have opened an investigation into the crash.

Iranian leader says Tehran may shelve nuclear deal

Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says Iran will leave the nuclear deal if it finds it is not useful, the semi-official Mehr news agency reports.

“Leader underlined that JCPOA is not a goal but a tool, and if we come to the conclusion that it is not possible to maintain national interests by the deal, we will put it aside,” Mehr reports.

It quotes Khamenei, who has final say on all policy matters in Iran, as saying that Iran “should be careful about suspicious-looking promises,” from other signatories of the deal.

Abbas blasts ‘racist, apartheid’ nation-state law

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has slammed Israel’s nation-state law as “racist” and reminiscent of South African apartheid.

Abbas says he complained about the law to Bosnian leader Bakir Izetbegovic.

“I told his excellency about the latest illegitimate laws that Israel legislated including the racist, apartheid nation-state law,” Abbas says at a press conference in Ramallah.

Abbas and Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of a tripartite inter-ethnic Bosnian presidency, met at the PA presidential headquarters in Ramallah today.

Mahmoud Abbas, left, and Bosnian leader Bakir Izetbegovic in Ramallah on Wednesday August 29, 2018. (Wafa images)

The nation-state law, which the Knesset passed in a 62-55 vote on July 19, enshrined Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people,” recognized Jewish holidays and days of remembrance, declared Hebrew the state’s national language and vowed to encourage Jewish settlement.

The legislation included no reference to the equality of all Israeli citizens akin to the one made in Israel’s Declaration of Independence — which pledged that the nascent state would “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex” — and it appeared to grant the Arabic language a lesser status than that of Hebrew.

— Adam Rasgon

UN human rights chief says US funding cuts won’t be fatal

The UN human rights chief says threatened US funding cuts wouldn’t be “fatal” for his office, but says he hopes other countries won’t follow suit.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein insisted “the office will continue to survive” even if the US carries out the promise made by US National Security Adviser John Bolton in an interview with The Associated Press last week.

Outgoing United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein reacts during an interview with AFP on August 20, 2018, in his office in Geneva. (AFP/ Fabrice COFFRINI)

Zeid told reporters Wednesday that “clearly what one doesn’t want to see is a whole series of withdrawals and withdrawal of funding.”

Bolton’s pledge that the US will cut funding to the rights office, and the UN’s top human rights body was the latest Trump administration salvo against UN institutions.

The US is the UN’s largest single donor, providing about 22 percent of its budget.

— AP

Netanyahu invites new Australian PM to visit

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has invited new Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to Israel.

The two spoke by phone this morning, Netanyahu’s office says.

“The leaders emphasized the excellent relations and deep friendship between the Israeli and the Australian governments and peoples, and agreed to work to further strengthen security and economic relations,” a statement from the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office reads.

German police accused of leaking arrest warrant to rioting far-rightists

Police in eastern Germany are being accused of stoking tensions by leaking to far-right groups the arrest warrant over a fatal stabbing that sparked racist mob violence.

“It’s unacceptable that some police officers think they can leak things like this even though they know they’re committing an offense,” says Saxony state’s deputy premier Martin Dulig, calling the release a “scandal.”

Saxony, in Germany’s ex-communist east, has again become a hot spot for xenophobia after a knife killing early Sunday in the city of Chemnitz led to protests that degenerated into right-wing extremists hunting down immigrants in the streets.

Police on Monday arrested a 22-year-old Iraqi and a Syrian, 23, suspected of killing a 35-year-old German identified only as Daniel H. with multiple stabbings in the late-night altercation.


Egypt says it killed 13 jihadists in Sinai raids

Egypt’s army says it has killed 20 jihadists in the latest round of military operations in the Western Desert and Sinai Peninsula.

The military launched a sweeping operation in February focused on Sinai in eastern Egypt aimed at wiping out militants, including from the Islamic State group, who have been waging a bloody insurgency.

Operations over the past few days “resulted in the elimination of seven extremely dangerous” jihadists close to Egypt’s western border with Libya, the army says in a statement.

It says 13 jihadists were also killed in shootouts with government forces during army raids in central and northern Sinai.

Security forces in Sinai had arrested 18 wanted suspected militants and destroyed 18 hideouts.


UN rights chief says Trump could be held to account if journalist attacked

Outgoing UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein says US President Donald Trump could be held responsible if a journalist is attacked because of his “dangerous” incitement against the media.

“All of us would be horrified, but perhaps not shocked if we heard of a journalist that was attacked and severely beaten for example at one of the rallies,” Zeid says, stressing that if that happens “the president would bear some responsibility.”

“As the campaigning seasons heat up, whether it be for the midterm elections or the presidential elections to come, the conduct of the president should be under very careful scrutiny by the international community and by this office,” Zeid says.

Meanwhile, Trump has let loose with a fresh attack on the media, accusing CNN of being an “enemy of the people.”

Zeid also urges Facebook to more proactively address hate speech.

The Jordanian national, who is set to be succeeded by former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, says Facebook should not wait until a full-blown crisis erupts to act against hate speech.

“We’ve seen from the jurisprudence of the past that if you’ve enabled, you’ve abetted, you’ve been an accessory,” Zeid says, stressing that while he was not accusing Facebook of that, “they have to be sure that they know where they are and what side of the law they are on.”

“They should be thinking proactively about what steps they will take to mitigate that,” he says.

— with AFP

Russia warns West to back off as rebel ‘abscess liquidated’ in Syria’s Idlib

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov says the West must not stand in the way of an “anti-terror operation” in Syria’s Idlib, calling remaining rebel groups an “abscess” that “needs to be liquidated.”

“I hope our Western partners will not give in to (rebel) provocations and will not obstruct an anti-terror operation” in Idlib Lavrov says amid speculation Damascus is planning a Russian-backed offensive on the rebel-held province.

Lavrov also accuses the West of “actively heating up” the idea of a “so-called planned chemical attack by the (Syrian) government.”

Over the last week, Moscow has accused Syrian rebels of planning to stage a chemical attack in the northwestern province that would “provoke” Western strikes on its ally Damascus.


Germany returns remains from early 20th century Namibian genocide

A Namibian delegation has taken possession of the remains of 27 countrymen whose bones were taken by German colonial forces more than a century ago for pseudo-scientific racial experiments seen as a precursor to the Holocaust.

At a church ceremony in Berlin, two skulls in glass boxes along with a coffin covered with a Namibian flag are placed in front of the altar ahead of the handover.

The repatriation of the remains is a reminder of Germany’s short-lived past as a colonial power in Africa which included the bloody suppression of a Herero and Nama uprising between 1904 and 1908 that left tens of thousands dead.

The skulls of two people killed in the the Herero and Nama uprising between 1904 and 1908 are flanked by candles during a ceremony in Berlin Wednesday, August 29, 2018 before the repatriation of the remains to Namibia. (Gregor Fischer/dpa via AP)

“We intend to do something today we should have done many years ago, namely to give back mortal human remains of people who became the first victims of the first genocide of the 20th century,” German Lutheran Bishop Petra Bosse-Huber tells the fully packed church.

Herero skulls are packed into boxes by German South-West-Africa troops, to be sent to the pathologic institute in Berlin, so that they might be used for scientific measurements. The skulls were from Herero’s killed in action or of those hung. (Courtesy)

Germany is returning 19 skulls, five full skeletons and bone and skin fragments that were stored in hospitals, museums and universities for decades.

In the early 20th century, German scientists tried to prove the “racial superiority” of white Europeans over black Africans by, for example, analyzing the facial features of the skulls, well before Nazi-era scientists conducted similar experiments on Jews and others.

The genocide in Africa is largely seen as having set a precedent later followed by Adolf Hitler in exterminating Europe’s Jews.

— AP

Saudi foreign minister blasts Iran nuclear deal as flimsy

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir says he told Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov that the Iran nuclear deal was too weak.

At a joint press conference, Jubeir says the pact falls short “particularly with regard to the time period that prevents Iran from enriching uranium,” according to the Arab News website. 

Russian Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, right, speaks with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir during their meeting in Moscow on August 29, 2018. AFP / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV)

He also says the agreement needs to address Iran’s support for terror and its development of ballistic missiles.

MK thanks police for harsher response to lap dances

MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) is welcoming a police decision to step up enforcement against strip clubs and certain types of lap dances that justice officials say cross the line into prostitution.

Rozin says the change was made after she asked police to crack down on the lap dances in line with a law against prostitution currently working its way through the Knesset.

“Stripping is a form of prostitution,” she says. “We can’t have women and men selling their bodies for sex.”

Trump says White House lawyer McGahn to leave

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is tweeting that his White House counsel, Don McGahn, will be departing in the fall after the Senate confirmation vote for Judge Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the Supreme Court.

Trump praised his top White House lawyer on Wednesday, saying he has “worked with Don for a long time and truly appreciate his service!”

McGahn has played a major role in Trump’s overhaul of the federal judiciary with conservative judges. And he played a prominent role in Trump’s selection of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and the president’s nomination of Kavanaugh.

McGahn has had a tumultuous tenure, marked by his threat to resign last year if Trump continued to press for the removal of Robert Mueller as the special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russian election interference.

In this February 22, 2018, photo White House counsel Don McGahn speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), at National Harbor, Maryland. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that McGahn had “cooperated extensively” with Mueller’s team, taking part in at least three interviews with investigators totaling 30 hours.

Trump said he had authorized his team to cooperate with investigators, but speculation rose about what McGahn might have specifically said about whether the Republican leader sought to obstruct justice.

— Agencies

At nuclear facility, Netanyahu threatens IDF will hit Iran with all its might

Speaking at a ceremony at Israel’s reported nuclear weapons development center, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatens that Israel will continue to act against Iran in Syria.

“We are working to prevent Iranian military entrenchment in Syria. We won’t desist from this goal, just as we did not desist from the effort to get the bad nuclear deal with Iran canceled,” he says at a ceremony renaming the Dimona nuclear research center after former prime minister Shimon Peres, who died last year.

Peres had pushed for the reactor’s construction, which the international community was told was a textile factory.

“The IDF will continue to act with total determination and all its might against attempts by Iran to station troops and advanced weapons in Syria, and no agreement between Syria and Iran will scare us, nor will any threat scare us,” the prime minister says.

“Anyone who threatens us with annihilation will find himself under the same threat, and they won’t succeed anyway.”

According to foreign reports, the Dimona nuclear center is where Israel has built dozens of nuclear weapons, although Israel has never officially acknowledged having nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu also praises growing ties with “countries central to the Arab world,” which he says would have been unthinkable a few years ago, citing Israel’s position of strength for the change in attitudes.

Duterte to visit Yad Vashem, dedicate Holocaust memorial while in Israel

Israel has released an official schedule for Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, scheduled to land in Israel Sunday night for a four-day visit.

The relatively sparse schedule includes a lunch meeting with Netanyahu and visit to Yad Vashem Monday afternoon and a short meeting with President Reuven Rivlin and watching an emergency response demonstration on Tuesday.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte jokes to photographers as he holds an Israeli-made Galil rifle which was presented to him by outgoing Philippine National Police Chief Director General Ronald ‘Bato’ Dela Rosa, left, at the turnover-of-command ceremony on April 19, 2018, at Camp Crame in suburban Quezon city northeast of Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

On Wednesday afternoon, Duterte, who once compared himself to Hitler, will dedicate a Holocaust memorial in Rishon Lezion’s memorial park before taking off.

Duterte has since apologized to the Jewish community over his Hitler remarks and his government has pointed out the Philippines gave refuge to around 1,300 Jews fleeing the Holocaust.

The president, who will be the first Filipino head of state to ever visit Israel, recently denied media reports that he was going on the trip for medical reasons, saying he would be checking on guest workers given tensions over possible war in the region.

NATO says massive drill shows Russia focused on large-scale war

NATO says major military exercises between Russia and China next month demonstrate that Moscow continues to focus on large-scale conflict.

Acting Deputy Spokesman Dylan White said Wednesday that Vostok 2018, billed as the biggest war games since the Cold War, “demonstrates Russia’s focus on exercising large-scale conflict.”

The exercises in central and eastern Russia will involve about 300,000 Russian troops. China’s state Xinhua news agency has reported China plans to send 3,200 troops and about 900 weapons units.

White said they fit a pattern revealing “a more assertive Russia, significantly increasing its defense budget and its military presence.”

NATO is weighing Moscow’s invitation to send observers to the September 11-15 war games.

— AP

Eurovision officials tour cities ahead of song contest host pick

Senior officials from the European Broadcasting Union are in Israel to vet potential host cities for the 2019 Eurovision.

A statement from the EBU says the officials heard pitches from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Eilat.

Pictures show EBU Executive Supervisor Jon Ola Sand and Event Supervisor Nadja Burkhardt meeting Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai, touring Jerusalem’s Pais Arena (currently being used as a skating rink) and getting a pitch from Eilat.

Israeli officials had originally demanded the competition be held in Jerusalem, as in years past, but have since reportedly backed off after Europeans expressed worries over the contest being politicized.

“We are open to out-of-the-box solutions, as we were in the past, if they would meet the schedule,” Sand says in a statement.

Jewish LA mayor visiting South Carolina ahead of decision on 2020 run

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is returning to South Carolina next month as he continues to mull a 2020 presidential bid.

The Charleston County Democratic Party says Garcetti will give the keynote address at next month’s Blue Jam. The event has become a showcase for national-level Democrats.

This is Garcetti’s second trip in a year to South Carolina, home to the first-in-the-South presidential primary, where in February he hosted a fundraiser that brought in $100,000 for the state’s Democrats.

In a wide-ranging interview earlier this month, the two-term Democratic mayor — who already has also visited the important presidential election states of Iowa and New Hampshire — said he intends to make a decision on his candidacy by March. No candidate has ever ascended directly from a mayor’s office to the presidency, but Garcetti has argued that the work of mayors is essentially the type of chief executive work a president does.

New York’s Michael Bloomberg, who like Garcetti is Jewish and only has mayoral experience, has also mulled a 2020 run.

— AP

No cure for Gaza, US ambassador reportedly says

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told a group of American Jews that it was not possible to solve Gaza’s humanitarian crisis, Walla News reports.

“This is a disease with no cure. At this juncture, Israel can only manage it, and not provide a long-term solution, because the conditions do not allow it,” he said on Tuesday in a conference call with the American Jewish Congress, according to the report.

Friedman, who compared the situation to a Rubik’s Cube, said going to war against Gaza would be too dangerous for Israel and so a ceasefire was the best option.

Friedman blamed the Strip’s dire situation on PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who he accused of speaking out of both sides of his mouth, but also said the PA was “much more preferable,” to Hamas, according to the report.

The comments come as Israel is reportedly in indirect talks with Hamas for a long-term calm along the restive frontier. On Tuesday, Abbas reportedly said he would allow a deal between Israel and Hamas “over my dead body,” rejecting the terror group’s ability to make policy moves in the Strip, where it is the de facto ruler.

A US peace plan, which has been rejected by Abbas, reportedly includes major infrastructure projects in Gaza as a path toward easing the humanitarian crisis there.

Abbas’s health reportedly deteriorating

Channel 10 news reports that PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s health has seen a serious deterioration lately, with the 83-year-old leader managing only two hours of work a day and experiencing memory loss.

The report cites a number of unnamed sources close to Abbas in Ramallah.

Abbas has kept up a regular public schedule, meeting a Bosnian leader Wednesday and a group of Israeli academics Tuesday.

Friedman says Trump wants Israel to ‘lean in,’ not pay higher price

The Jewish Insider has more details of David Friedman’s call with the American Jewish Congress, including the envoy clarifying Trump’s comments about Israel paying a higher price in peace talks:

“The president feels that if the parties are lucky enough to be sitting in a room and making progress, he might say to the Israelis, ‘Look, can you do a little bit more? Look what we did for you. Is there’s something more that you could do?’ It’s not that he has something specific in mind, but just that under the circumstances that the United States has engaged in really significant good faith efforts to strengthen Israel and strengthen its historical multi-thousand-year connection to Jerusalem, maybe the Israelis could make it clear by leaning in a little bit as well”

Friedman also said Trump is more popular in Israel than anywhere else, including the US.

“If his popularity rating were this high in the United States I don’t think the Democrats would even field a candidate,” he’s quoted saying.

Ramallah official says Abbas healthy, working normal hours

An official in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s office is denying a report on Israel’s Channel 10 News that the Palestinian leader’s health has significantly deteriorated in recent weeks.

“The president has been coming to work regularly. He has been coming to work for four hours in the morning and early afternoon and then again in the evening for five hours.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with the Palestinian Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah on August 15, 2018. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

Channel 10 had reported that Abbas, 83, could only muster two hours of work a day.

The official says Abbas had been ill when he spent 10 days hospitalized in the spring, but has been re-energized since attending the World Cup.

“He fell ill in May. But since just before he went to Russia to meet President Putin in June, his health has improved tremendously. It has been business as usual in recent weeks,” the official says.

— Adam Rasgon

UN chief warns of catastrophe in Idlib offensive

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is warning of the growing risk of a humanitarian catastrophe in rebel-held Idlib province in Syria if there’s a full-scale military operation.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric says Guterres is urgently appealing to the Syrian government and opposition forces to exercise restraint and make the protection of civilians a priority.

He says Guterres called on Russia, Iran and Turkey as guarantor states trying to end the violence in Syria to find a peaceful solution in Idlib.

Syrian residents and members of the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as White Helmets, search for victims amid the rubble of a building following a reported overnight airstrike in the rebel-held town of Armanaz, in Idlib province near the Turkish border, September 30, 2017. (AFP/Omar haj kadour)

The Syrian government is gearing up for an expected offensive in Idlib, home to nearly 3 million people. The US, Britain and France have warned they will respond to any use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Dujarric says Guterres “reaffirms that any use of chemical weapons is totally unacceptable.”

— AP

German-Turkish woman cleared of IS links in Iraqi court

An Iraqi judge has cleared a German-Turkish woman of having ties to the Islamic State group, a judicial source said, more than a year after she was detained.

Hadya Abdel Qader had been held without charge since her arrest by Iraqi security forces in Mosul, in a part of the northern city held by IS.

The jihadist group was ousted from Mosul in July last year after a months-long battle, during which suspected members of the jihadist group were rounded up.

But a judge at Baghdad’s central criminal court found no evidence to link Qader to IS, a judicial source says.

The 40-year-old will remain in prison while prosecutors are given a month to decide whether to confirm or overturn the judge’s ruling.


Arizonans pay final respects to John McCain

Arizonans are paying their respects to John McCain as the body of the late senator lays in state in the capitol for a final farewell.

“He dedicated his life to serve his country,” former Arizona senator Jon Kyl says during a ceremony in the capitol rotunda in Phoenix attended by McCain’s wife, Cindy, and children.

“When he saw challenges to its institutions or values, he fought to protect them,” Kyl says.

The Arizona National Guard carries the casket of US Senator John McCain during a memorial service at the Arizona Capitol on August 29, 2018, in Phoenix. (AFP/Pool/Rob Schumacher)

McCain’s remains were driven to the state capitol in a black hearse escorted by four policemen on motorcycles. An honor guard made up of veterans, servicemen, and members of law enforcement and firefighters greeted the flag-draped casket.

McCain’s daughter Meghan sobbed openly as her father’s casket was placed on the Arizona state seal where it will be displayed for the public until Thursday.

Cindy McCain, wife of the late US Senator John McCain, sits with her son Jack, second right, during a memorial service at the Arizona Capitol on August 29, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. (AFP/Pool/Jae C. Hong)

Cindy McCain placed her cheek on the casket and patted it delicately following the intimate ceremony.

The two-time Republican presidential candidate, naval aviator and prisoner-of-war in Vietnam died on Saturday after a year-long battle with brain cancer.


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