The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has cleared the way for the release of five American citizens detained in Iran by issuing a blanket waiver for international banks to transfer $6 billion in frozen Iranian money, from South Korea to Qatar, without fear of US sanctions. In addition, as part of the deal, the administration has agreed to release five Iranian citizens held in the United States.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed off on the deal late last week, but Congress was not notified of the decision until today, according to the notification, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
The waiver is likely to draw criticism of US President Joe Biden from Republicans and others that the deal will boost the Iranian economy at a time when Iran poses a growing threat to US troops and Mideast allies.
The waiver means that European, Middle Eastern, and Asian banks will not run afoul of US sanctions in converting the money frozen in South Korea and transferring it to Qatar’s central bank, where it will be held for Iran to use for the purchase of humanitarian goods.
The transfer of the $6 billion was the critical element in the prisoner release deal, which saw four of the five American detainees transferred from Iranian jails into house arrest last month. The fifth detainee had already been under house arrest.
Due to numerous US sanctions on foreign banks that engage in transactions aimed at benefitting Iran, several European countries had balked at participating in the transfer. Blinken’s waiver is aimed at easing their concerns about any risk of US sanctions.
RABAT, Morocco — At least 2,862 people were killed in the strongest-ever earthquake to hit Morocco, the interior ministry says today, revising an earlier toll of nearly 2,700 dead.
Another 2,562 people were injured, the ministry says, with rescue workers now facing a race against time to find survivors.
Police clear a number of anti-overhaul protesters blocking traffic on Jerusalem’s Begin highway.
A video clip shows officers lifting up demonstrators sitting on the highway and forcibly moving them to the side of road.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) September 11, 2023
Protesters at this evening’s rally outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem have begun marching to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apartment on Azza Street, in the nearby Rehavia neighborhood.
At the head of the march, a group of demonstrators carry a banner reading, “The court is supreme.”
Netanyahu, who owns a home in the coastal town of Caesarea, has been living in the Jerusalem apartment, during ongoing renovations at the Prime Minister’s Residence, a stone’s throw up the road.
Israeli activists opposed to the judicial overhaul project a message protesting Prime Minister Netanyahu onto the UN Headquarters building in New York, ahead of Netanyahu’s visit to the General Assembly next week.
The message says, “Don’t believe Crime Minister Netanyahu. Protect Israeli democracy.”
Activists say the message was projected onto the building for about 30 minutes on a recent night. Images released by protesters show the message clearly visible on the skyline and from FDR Drive, a major road along the east side of Manhattan.
The New York protest organizers are planning a series of demonstrations against Netanyahu during his visit to the UN, which will include a meeting with US President Joe Biden.
“The slogan projected on the UN building wall is just a small taste of what is awaiting the indicted defendant Netanyahu on his visit to NYC. The fight for Israeli democracy is global,” the New York protesters say in a statement.
“We will be waiting to greet him. In the air, on land and at sea. The whole world will know that Netanyahu is a liar. We will not allow him to disgrace Israel and deceive world leaders with his speeches that have long since become a joke,” the statement says.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly to Jerusalem, saying that their two countries share a lot in common — including democracy.
“We’re two of the like-minded smart countries, and the world belongs to those who innovate,” Netanyahu tells his counterpart, “We’re innovation nations, where democracy is strong and vibrant and cooperative.”
In his own comments, Cleverly says that he wishes he could have returned to Israel sooner, but “I’m here now, and let’s just say there are some fantastic opportunities for us to work together. I’ve been looking at innovators, the range of technologies — it’s great to be here.”
Netanyahu’s office says the pair discussed the importance of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, as well as cooperation in security, technology and economic projects. There was no immediate readout from the UK side.
The 15 justices who sit on the Supreme Court are said to receive boosted security ahead of tomorrow’s key High Court hearing on the government’s recently passed “reasonableness” law.
According to Hebrew media reports, security figures are concerned that activists may try to block the justices from reaching the court tomorrow morning. Channel 13 news reports that some of the justices are expected to not sleep at their homes tonight, staying elsewhere to minimize such attempts.
Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians publishes new travel guidelines for US citizens from the Gaza Strip who will henceforth be able to enter Israel for short-term stays, to visit the West Bank or to travel abroad.
The move by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) is the latest in a series that Israel has taken in order to qualify for the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP). A key condition for entry into the VWP is a commitment by the countries that apply to participate to grant equal travel rights to all US citizens. This has been a sticking point for the Biden administration, in light of longstanding allegations of discrimination of Arab and Muslim Americans at Israeli ports.
In August, a senior Israeli official announced that Gazan Americans would indeed be able to enter Israel on a B2 tourist visa, while clarifying that authorities needed another month to prepare.
Israel kept its word, rolling out the eased travel restrictions for Gazan Americans today.
Former justice minister Tzipi Livni says the government’s judicial overhaul plan reveals its “messianic” intentions.
“The difference between [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael] Eichler is that one already calls the country a ‘Jewish ghetto’ and the other is likely to turn the country into one if we stop fighting.”
Livni was referring to Eichler’s ire yesterday at Netanyahu, after the prime minister observed that “God did not always protect Jews in Europe,” in an appeal to worshipers to not travel to Uman in Ukraine. Eichler hit back that it was really Zionists who turned their backs on “the Jews of the ghettos.”
Livni adds that while many have been saying “that we are ahead of a [potential] constitutional crisis, the constitutional crisis is already here.”
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid repeats his assertion that reports of a potential compromise deal on the judicial overhaul are just an attempt to interfere in the upcoming High Court hearing.
“What we are seeing in the past few hours is an attempt to disrupt the most important hearing in the history of the High Court of Justice,” Lapid says. “The opposition will not lend a hand to such fraudulent attempts.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani replies to Mossad chief David Barnea’s threat to strike Iran’s leaders if Israelis or Jews will be harmed, saying, “You have been hit by us before. We will not hesitate to respond to any foolish aggression.”
In a statement reported by Hezbollah’s news agency, al-Mayadeen, the spokesman says Iran will not take lightly threats by any party, including the “Zionist regime,” when ensuring its security.
The Mossad head’s “declared intention to assassinate officials in Iran clearly indicates the nature of the [Zionist] entity and its terrorist face,” Kanaani adds.
On Sunday, Barnea warned Iran’s leaders that they would pay a direct price if Israelis or Jews are harmed, in what he said was an ongoing, state-organized Iranian terror effort worldwide, carried out in accordance with a “political directive by the leader” — an apparent reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Speaking at a conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, Barnea revealed that the Mossad and its allies in the international intelligence community have foiled 27 Iranian attacks against Jews and Israelis abroad over the past year, and declared that Israel would exact “a different” price from Iran if Israelis or Jews were harmed.
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen meets with British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly in Jerusalem, and discusses Iran’s nuclear program and expanding the Abraham Accords, according to the Foreign Ministry.
“Three years after the signing of the Abraham Accords, we are working with our friends in the world to expand the circle of peace and normalization,” says Cohen in a statement. “Britain and Israel are united in their position regarding the importance of stopping the Iranian nuclear program and Iran’s terrorist activities and its terrorist proxies throughout the Middle East and the world.”
Cohen also asks Cleverly to help advance a bilateral free trade agreement.
Cohen invites Rabbi Leo Dee, a British citizen whose wife and two daughters were murdered by Palestinian terrorists earlier this year, to meet with Cleverly as well. Dee recently became a Foreign Ministry special envoy.
Earlier in the afternoon, Cleverly paid a visit to Yad Vashem, where he was hosted by chairman Dani Dayan.
Speaking at an event marking 50 years since the Yom Kippur War, the chief of the Israel Defense Forces says Israel should not underestimate its enemies, warning of a potential large-scale conflict similar to that of 1973.
“We must respond to every declaration of our enemies, in words or actions, not to underestimate them, and not to exalt ourselves,” IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi says, at the Glilot military base near Herzliya.
“We must be more prepared than ever for a multi-front and extensive military conflict, which will include maneuvering in close contact and with high friction with the enemy, will involve losses and casualties, and where the home front is also a front,” Halevi continues.
“Our enemies may be tempted to see an advantage in the multi-front threat to us. It is better for them to know that when Israel is threatened, it knows how to mobilize all its resources, put the differences aside — and attack,” he says.
“As it was in the Yom Kippur War, it will be so today, if we are required to,” Halevi says.
In an apparent reference to national tensions over the government’s controversial judicial overhaul, Halevi says “one cannot but wonder, can such cohesion only exist amid a great threat?”
“The State of Israel has one IDF that protects it from many enemies. It is the responsibility of all of us to protect [the IDF], because it is the basis of our safe existence here, and because our security is above all else,” he adds.
Thousands of anti-overhaul protesters are gathering outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem just ahead of a portentous hearing tomorrow on the “reasonableness” law.
Former justice minister Tzipi Livni is expected to address the protesters, as is Israel Bar Association head Amit Becher and other figures in the protest movement.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich says his Religious Zionism party will agree to some “concessions” to reach judicial compromises, but will not budge on its demand to increase right-wing representation the nation’s top court.
“I told the prime minister that we are ready for dialogue and agreements, including concessions, in order to bring about unity among the people, in order to keep the IDF united and strong, and Israeli society intact,” Smotrich says in a statement in Jerusalem.
“But at the same time, we strongly oppose dictates and ultimatums from those who lost the elections, did not win the trust of the people, and are trying, by threats of refusal [to perform military service] and harm to state security, to dictate their position to us by force,” he continues.
“Under no circumstances will we agree to give up on diversity in the selection of judges in order to represent all the communities in the State of Israel, and we will not agree to a situation in which the opposition, which lost the elections, can trample and run over the right-wing in the Judicial Selection Committee,” the Religious Zionism party head says.
Smotrich, who says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed him of ongoing efforts to reach a broad agreements on judicial reform, says he is in favor of dialogue but will not accept the “anti-democratic ramming” of opposition party “dictates” on change.
“We are making great efforts to lead to honest dialogue, but unfortunately I see how, at the same time, Lapid and Gantz, who blew up the talks at the President’s Residence, prevent any possibility of dialogue, and don’t want agreements — they want to receive 100% of their dictates and we won’t allow that. This is an anti-democratic ramming against the right-wing camp,” the far-right leader says.
The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog says he is concerned the international community is losing interest in holding Iran to account over its advancing nuclear program.
The comments follow an easing of tensions between Iran and the United States, which announced a prisoner swap last month.
Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in confidential reports seen by AFP that Iran had made “no progress” on several outstanding nuclear issues.
IAEA director general Rafael Grossi says he has noticed a “decrease in interest” from IAEA member states, without naming them.
“There is a certain routinization of what is going on there [in Iran] and I am concerned about this, because the issues are as valid today as they were before,” he tells reporters on the first day of the IAEA board of governors’ meeting in Vienna.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant reveals that Iran is establishing an airport in southern Lebanon, 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Israeli border, which is being used “for terror purposes.”
Speaking at an annual conference of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism Policy (ICT) at Reichman University in Herzliya, Gallant says the airport is being built in the Qalaat Jabbour mountain region.
“In the pictures, you can see the Iranian flag flying over the runways, from which the ayatollah regime plans to operate against the citizens of Israel,” Gallant says.
“In other words: The land is Lebanese, the control is Iranian, and the target is Israel,” Gallant says.
“If it comes to a conflict, we will not hesitate to activate the lethal force of the IDF. Hezbollah and Lebanon will pay heavy and painful prices,” he warns.
Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis backs the prime minister’s calls for negotiations over the judicial overhaul.
“Akunis calls on all sides to continue efforts to reach a compromise and a wide agreement which will be accepted by a large majority of the Israeli public,” his office says in a statement.
“Most people in Israel are expecting things to calm down, an agreement, and to start the new year in a conciliatory manner,” he adds.
The statement from Akunis’s office spells out that “this message is not coordinated with the Prime Minister’s Office and was not requested by it.”
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly lands in Israel ahead of his meeting later today with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen.
He will also deliver an address tomorrow to an Institute for Counter-Terrorism Policy (ICT) conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, and will travel to Ramallah to meet senior Palestinian Authority officials.
Hungarian Auschwitz survivor Eva Fahidi — active in speaking out against the Holocaust, as well as known for her dance performances at the age of 90 — dies at age 97, according to the Buchenwald memorial foundation.
“It is with great sadness that we learned this morning that Eva Fahidi-Pusztai, survivor of the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps and committed fighter for democracy and human rights, died in Budapest,” the Memorial Foundation Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora says in a statement. “We will sorely miss her wisdom and warmth.”
Fahidi was an 18-year-old schoolgirl when she was put on a train and deported from Debrecen in eastern Hungary to Auschwitz — one of nearly 440,000 Hungarian Jews sent to death camps between May and July in 1944. Forty-nine of her relatives perished in the Holocaust, including her parents and 11-year-old sister. She last saw her mother and younger sibling at a sorting ramp after arriving at Birkenau.
After the camp’s liberation, it took Fahidi nearly six decades before she was ready to open up about her trauma.
A 2003 visit to the camp exactly 59 years after her first journey there prompted her to write her memoir.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he is working to “exhaust every possibility” of reaching a wide agreement on the government’s judicial overhaul plans.
According to a statement from his office, Netanyahu is working “to reach a national agreement which will bring balance between the three authorities,” the legislative, executive and judicial.
The statement adds that if such an agreement is reached, “nobody will prevent it from being implemented.”
His comments are widely seen in Hebrew media as aimed at far-right coalition partner Itamar Ben Gvir, who just issued a statement decrying the possibility of “surrender” in such talks.
Some opposition figures have dismissed the idea of such negotiations, since they do not believe Netanyahu’s coalition partners will allow him to agree to any compromise deal.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir says he is in favor of negotiations on the judicial overhaul, but against “surrender.”
“The reform is important to the State of Israel. It will balance the three authorities — the legislative, the executive and the judiciary,” he says. “Surrendering in the President’s Residence would mean humiliating more than half the nation… harming right-wing values.”
Ben Gvir says that his party “will not support this surrender. I call on my fellow coalition heads to make their voices heard, let us oppose this caving and surrender.”
Ben Gvir’s comments follow reports claiming that negotiations brokered by the President’s Residence have restarted.
A former senior Mossad official claims that the warning issued by spy agency chief David Barnea to Iran yesterday was in fact a message to the United States that Israel has the freedom to act, even in the heart of Tehran.
Haim Tomer, a former Mossad chief of intelligence and operations, additionally claims that the warning would have been issued only with the approval of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Barnea did not threaten the Iranians. He is a man serious enough to understand that that has no meaning. He made a threat to the Americans,” Tomer tells Radio 103FM in comments cited by the Walla news site. “[Barnea] is reflecting the harsh criticism of the current US administration… he is telling the Americans that he has freedom of action, and that he is not interested in what they do in Tehran or about the nuclear issue.”
A woman is shot dead in Rahat, with initial reports suggesting that she was killed by her husband.
According to police, a 30-year-old woman was shot and killed in the southern Bedouin city.
First responders say that they arrived at the scene and confirmed the woman’s death on site, and also brought a wounded 35-year-old man to the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba for treatment.
Hebrew media reports claim that the wounded man is the woman’s husband and was arrested by police on suspicion of an attempted murder-suicide.
Ukraine has increased security in the city of Uman as Jewish pilgrims arrive there to spend Rosh Hashanah, despite warnings not to travel to the war-torn country.
“A special regime of entry and exit and movement around the city has been introduced,” says Igor Taburets, the head of the Cherkasy region, where Uman is located. He says nine checkpoints have been set up around the city, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of Kyiv, to control the flow of people.
“Despite warnings from diplomatic services and the regional administration, we have already had more than 3,000 pilgrims,” Taburets says.
A UNESCO diplomat says the agency’s director general, Audrey Azoulay, was instrumental in securing Israel’s participation at a UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in Riyadh.
“It’s the result of several years of work by Audrey Azoulay to create, in the heart of UNESCO, the conditions for a dialogue between all the states of the region,” said the diplomat, who did not want to be named.
An unnamed member of the Israeli delegation tells AFP that “we are happy to be here — it’s a good first step… we thank UNESCO and the Saudi authorities.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will visit Russia and hold a summit with President Vladimir Putin, Pyongyang state media says, after South Korean media reported Kim’s train had departed.
Kim “will soon visit the Russian Federation at the invitation of… Putin,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency says. “The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un will meet and have a talk with Comrade Putin during the visit.”
The Israeli Air Force says it has received a new and advanced unmanned aerial vehicle, dubbed Spark.
The Spark UAV, developed by the Rafael and Aeronautics defense firms, will be operated by the IAF’s 144th Squadron.
The military does not provide further details on the model of the drone.
According to the IDF, the Spark UAV “will significantly improve the ability of the operating troops to act offensively and effectively according to data that will be received.”
At least six people have been killed and dozens wounded in clashes in a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon, first responders say, as fighting rages for a fifth day.
Violence broke out late Thursday in the Ain al-Helweh camp on the outskirts of the coastal city of Sidon, just weeks after similar clashes pitted members of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement against Islamist militants.
The toll has risen to at least “six dead, one of them killed on Monday, and more than 60 wounded,” says Imad Hallak from the Palestinian Red Crescent’s Lebanon branch. The casualties include both fighters and civilians, he adds.
An AFP correspondent in Sidon reports ongoing clashes with automatic gunfire and shelling, after fighting had subsided somewhat overnight.
Lebanon’s official National News Agency (NNA) says the city’s southern entrance is closed to traffic. The NNA had reported Saturday that three fighters and one civilian had been killed.
The European Union’s home affairs commissioner makes an impassioned appeal for the release of a Swedish employee of the EU’s diplomatic corps who spent a second birthday in an infamous Iranian prison.
Sweden said last week that Johan Floderus, who worked for the European Union’s External Action Service, was arbitrarily detained in Iran last year. He has been in custody for more than 500 days and turned 33 yesterday.
Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson says Floderus was part of her Cabinet for almost two years but had asked to work for the EU delegation in Afghanistan before he was detained in Iran.
“I’m very sad. I’m very worried,” Johansson tells journalists. “This has been with me for such a long time now. Of course, my feelings, my worries, are nothing compared to the situation of Johan or the worries that his closest family are living with every day.”
Johansson says it is up to the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to work for Floderus’ release in coordination with the EU’s diplomatic service.
A former soldier facing terror charges appears in court in London, accused of escaping from the prison where he was being held.
Daniel Khalife, 21, was arrested on Saturday after a huge four-day hunt to locate him after his disappearance from Wandsworth prison in south London. He strapped himself to the underside of a food delivery truck, possibly using bedsheets, to escape, Westminster Magistrates Court was told.
Khalife, wearing a gray jumper and jogging bottoms, appears in the dock flanked by two police officers and a security guard. He speaks only to confirm his name and date of birth and is remanded in custody until a further hearing at the Old Bailey court in London on September 29.
Khalife was awaiting trial over two incidents at the Royal Air Force based in Stafford, central England, near the army barracks where he lived. He is accused of “attempting to elicit information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism” in August 2021.
The death toll from Morocco’s devastating earthquake has risen to 2,497, the interior ministry says, as search and rescue efforts continue.
Another 2,476 people are injured, the ministry says, updating a previous toll of 2,122 dead and 2,400 wounded.
Rabat has accepted offers to send search and rescue teams from Spain, Britain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, but have not responded to other nations — including Israel.
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