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As first fatalities named, PM says Israel grieves for lives cut short in flood

Text messages reveal teen hikers’ fears before setting off on desert trip in which nine died, one still missing, when rains turned dry trail into lethal torrent

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Volunteers from the ZAKA emergency response service transport the bodies of Israeli teenagers killed in a flash flood near the Dead Sea on April 26, 2018. (ZAKA)
Volunteers from the ZAKA emergency response service transport the bodies of Israeli teenagers killed in a flash flood near the Dead Sea on April 26, 2018. (ZAKA)

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

Iran’s Khamenei says Arab states that befriend Israel ‘bring misery to Muslims’

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei slams Muslim nations that maintain ties and friendships with Israel, saying it “brings misery to Muslims.”

“Friendship with the unbelievers brings misery to Muslims, like the friendship some Muslim states have with the Zionist regime, exchanging kind words and establishing economic or political relations,” Khamenei writes on Twitter after attending the 35th International Quran Contest in Tehran.

“Muslims should stand firmly against the US and other domineering powers’ bullying,” he says, repeating comments he reportedly made to the contest’s participants and audience. “If they don’t observe that, they will be humiliated.”

Responding to a comment made recently by US President Donald Trump, Khamenei said: “That the US president shamelessly says, ‘without the US, heads of some Arab states cannot maintain themselves even for a week,’ is a humiliation for Muslims.”

— Michael Bachner

Bank bandit given life in prison for murdering security guard

The Lod District Court sentences Gabi Korsonsky, 35, to a life sentence plus an additional 18 years in prison for a series of high-profile bank robberies as well as the murder of a security guard during one of the thefts.

He is also ordered to pay NIS 258,000 ($72,000) in damages to the family of his victim, Yaniv Engler.

Korsonsky murdered Engler when the bank securty guard tried to stop him from entering and robbing a bank in Be’er Yaakov, near the central city of Lod, in 2011.

Korsonsky was convicted in October 2017 of Engler’s murder, as well as 14 robberies, illegal firearm possession and use on multiple occasions, and opening fire in a residence.

In their sentence, the judges wrote: “The defendant carried out a cruel murder, taking the life of a young man who tried to do his duty toward the customers and employees of the bank. As if that were not enough, after causing the senseless death of Yaniv Engler, the defendant calmly continued to carry out his plan, robbing the bank for sheer greed.”

Iran orders providers to stop hosting Telegram App

Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency is reporting that authorities have ordered network providers to stop hosting the popular social-messaging app Telegram.

The report comes after a top Iranian lawmaker said last month the government would block Telegram for reasons of national security. Since then, many government affiliated users of the app have migrated to local alternatives.

Telegram in the past said it rented nodes for its content delivery network, which allowed servers to provide fast content delivery in many regional countries, including Iran. Thursday’s report said the order will lead to slowness and delays.

The app, with some 40 million users in Iran, was temporarily shut down during protests in early January. However, some 10 percent of users reached it through proxies and VPN services.

— AP

Man on horseback spots human skull, police say

A man riding a horse near the Belinson Hospital in Petah Tikva called authorities to report having seen a human skull in an open field, police say in a statement.

Officers are currently investigating the report at the site.

Palestinian convicted of trying to bomb Jerusalem light rail

A Palestinian Hebron University student who attempted to bomb the Jerusalem light rail and was found with three pipe bombs, explosives and knives is convicted of attempted murder.

In its ruling, the Jerusalem District Court said that 20-year-old Ali Abu Hassan “planned to carry out a mass a terror attack” which judges likened to a suicide attack.

Ali Abu Hassan, a Palestinian student from Hebron who was arrested two weeks ago with explosives in his bag at a Jerusalem light station, is brought for a court hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrates Court on August 2, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On July 15, Hassan entered Israel through a valley outside of the eastern Tsur Baher neighborhood, with the intention of carrying out an attack in the capital as a form of “revenge for visits by tourists and Israeli Jews to the Temple Mount,” police said in a statement at the time.

He was armed with three pipe bombs he had linked together into one large explosive and had covered with nails and screws dipped in rat poison. In his bag there were also two knives and a cellphone.

16-year old settler questioned for ‘price tag’ attacks

The Honenu legal aid organization says a 16-year-old boy was detained this morning in the northern West Bank and brought in for questioning over suspected involvement in a “price tag” attack earlier this month.

He has since been released, they say.

On Sunday, the Shin Bet security service released statistics showing far-right hate crimes against Palestinians have increased significantly since the beginning of 2018.

Through the first four months of the current calendar year, the Shin Bet documented 13 anti-Arab attacks (not including incidents this week). That was in contrast with only eight such incidents in all of 2017.

Three such attacks were reported overnight Wednesday-Thursday.

Police arrest man suspected of toppling headstones in St. Louis Jewish cemetery

Police arrest a man from suburban St. Louis for allegedly toppling more than 100 headstones at a local Jewish cemetery more than a year ago.

Alzado Harris, 34, was arrested after police matched DNA found in a jacket left at the scene of the February 2017 vandalism to Harris, who has a prior criminal history.

After his arrest at his home, Harris confessed to the vandalism at the Chesed Shel Emeth Jewish cemetery, the St. Louis Dispatch reports.

FOX2NEWS broadcasts footage of vandalized headstones at a St. Louis area Jewish cemetery. (Screenshot)

Harris faces up to seven years in prison on the charge of one count of institutional vandalism. He is not charged with a bias or hate crime.

“There is no evidence to indicate the incident was racially, ethnically or religiously motivated,” University City police say in a statement. According to the police statement, Harris said that “he acted alone, was angry over a personal matter and was under the influence of drugs when he committed the offense.”


Prince Harry asks brother William to be best man

Britain’s Prince Harry has asked his brother Prince William to be his best man when he marries US former actress Meghan Markle next month, Kensington Palace says.

“Prince Harry has asked his brother the Duke of Cambridge to be his best man at his wedding to Ms Meghan Markle,” the London royal residence says in a statement.

Britain’s Prince William, left, and Prince Harry arrive at the premiere of the film ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ in London, December 12th, 2017. (Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

“The Duke of Cambridge is honoured to have been asked, and is very much looking forward to supporting his brother at St George’s Chapel, Windsor on May 19,” the statement adds.

Harry was best man at William’s wedding to Kate Middleton in 2011, and the announcement comes after the birth of William and Kate’s third child on Monday.


Macron says Trump ‘not very much eager’ to defend Iran deal

French President Emmanuel Macron says that he has no “inside information” on whether US President Donald Trump will pull the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal but that it’s clear Trump “is not very much eager to defend it.”

Macron’s remarks to French reporters Wednesday come at the end of a three-day trip to Washington, during which he urged Trump not to withdraw from the 2015 pact aimed at restricting Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.

In this photo taken on April 24, 2018 US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron hold a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC.(AFP PHOTO / Ludovic MARIN)

Trump on Tuesday called the deal “ridiculous” but did not say whether he would withdraw the US by the May 12 deadline he has set.

Macron points out that withdrawing the US from the deal is “a campaign commitment that (Trump) took a long time ago.”

— AP

Nine missing after school trip gets caught in flash flood

Nine schoolchildren are missing after their bus got caught in a flash flood during a school trip south of the Dead Sea.

Six children were rescued but there is currently “no visual contact” with the rest of the group, police say.

Police and volunteers are currently trying to find them, along with a number of police helicopters.

Three students in critical condition after caught in flash flood

Three students are in critical condition after having been rescued from a flash flood when their group got caught in a storm near the Dead Sea.

The three are currently being flown by helicopter to the Soroka hospital in Beersheva.

The Magen David Adom paramedic service says 15 students have been extricated so far.

The group of some 25 students is from a religious pre-military academy in the north of Israel.

The Israeli Air Force’s Elite 669 Search and Rescue Unit has been called in to search for the remaining students.

Divers preparing to enter river to search for missing youths

Divers are reportedly preparing to enter Nahal Tzafit to search for missing students who got caught in a flash flood in the area.

Channel 10 reports that a number of boats with search and rescue teams on them are being launched in an effort to find up to 10 people still unaccounted for.

Police set up hotline for families of missing students

Police have set up a hotline for families to obtain information on a group of students missing in the south of Israel after they got caught in a flash flood.

Search and rescue teams are still searching for 10 people, having rescued up to 15 so far.

Police say that concerned family members should call 0505073789 for information.

Body of Hamas rocket maker killed in Malaysia said to have arrived in Gaza

Hamas say the body of an assassinated Palestinian scientist said to be a rocket-making expert who was killed in Malaysia earlier this week has arrived in Gaza, according to Hebrew media reports.

Fadi Mohammad al-Batsh, a member of the Islamist terror group Hamas, was shot by motorbike-riding attackers Saturday as he walked from his Kuala Lumpur home to a mosque for dawn prayers.

Family and friends of the 35-year-old, along with Hamas, have accused Israel’s Mossad spy agency of carrying out the killing, but Israel has denied the claim.

7 youths critically hurt, others missing in Dead Sea flooding

Seven youths from a premilitary academy are in critical condition and five others are reported missing after they were swept away in torrential floods in Nahal Tzafit, a riverbed in the southern Dead Sea area.

Education Ministry says it didn’t know about trip to storm-battered south

The Education Ministry says it was not informed of a trip to the south of Israel in which dozens of students were caught in a flash flood and several are feared dead.

“The trip was not reported to us, our situation room was not told in advance and we did not give any permission for such a trip,” the ministry says in a statement.

The students are reportedly from a pre-military academy in the north of Israel.

Rivlin: ‘Thoughts and prayers’ with those caught in floods

Responding to reports of missing students in a flash flood in the south of Israel, President Rivlin said that his “thoughts and prayers are with our brothers, children and loved ones currently facing danger.”

“I call on all of you, please follow police and search and rescue instructions,” he says.

Woman injured when her car is crushed by tree felled in raging storm

Magen David Adom paramedics are treating a 40-year-old woman injured when a falling tree crushed her car in the north of the country amid nationwide storms.

The woman is being taken to the hospital with light injuries, MDA says.

The incident took place at the Kinneret Junction south of the Sea of Galilee.

Police: ‘We are preparing for a long night of rescue operations’

With darkness falling, police say that search and rescue efforts to find two missing students caught in flash floods in the south of Israel could continue well into the night.

“We are doing all we can to find those still missing. Some have been rescued and some are still out there. We will keep going until we find them all,” police spokesperson Meirav Lapidot tells reporters at the scene.

“We are preparing for a long night of search and rescue operations,” she says.

Eight youths from a premilitary academy were in critical condition and two were missing after they were swept away in torrential floods during a hike in Nahal Tzafit, a riverbed in the southern Dead Sea area.

Some 13 members of the group were found and retrieved by rescuers without harm. Two were lightly hurt.

Search and rescue teams find additional student in critical condition

Search and rescue teams find one more member of a group of students who got caught in a flash flood south of the Dead Sea.

Medical teams say the student joins eight others in critical condition.

One further student is currently missing.

Netanyahu on missing student in flash flood: ‘We are all praying for better news’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he is “praying for better news” as search and rescue teams continue to search for a missing student caught in a flash flood in the south of Israel.

Fourteen others from the group have been rescued, nine of them currently in critical condition.

“I send strength the security and rescue services that are working to save lives and find those missing in this terrible tragedy,” Netanyahu says.

“We are all praying for better news,” he says.

Conservative Party suspends council candidate for anti-Semitic tweet

George Stoakley, a UK Conservative council candidate for Fen Ditton & Fulbourn in Cambridgeshire, has been suspended by the Conservative Party after reports emerged of anti-Semitic and other offensive historic tweets.

In one tweet, which has now been deleted, Stoakley wrote, “Sweating like a Jew in an attic.”

Conservative Friends of Israel president Lord Polak and executive director James Gurd say in a statement: “George Stoakley’s historic tweets are reprehensible and unequivocally antisemitic. There must be no place for such vile views in the Conservative Party or anywhere in our society, and we applaud the Conservative Party for taking such swift action in suspending him.”

B’Tselem urges UN ‘to protect Palestinian lives’ in Gaza protests

Left-wing Israeli rights group B’Tselem is urging the United Nations Security Council to protect Palestinians taking part in the demonstrations on the Gaza border.

In an unusual move, the group’s executive director Hagai El-Ad writes to UN Secretary General António Guterres telling him that, “Preventing further loss of life is a responsibility that must be shouldered without delay.”

Palestinian protestors during clashes with Israeli security forces on the Israel-Gazan border east of Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip April 20, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Tens of thousands of Gazans have taken part in Friday protests along the border with Israel, supported by the Hamas terror group which rules the coastal enclave. Hamas leaders say the ultimate aim of the “March of Return” demonstrations is to see the removal of the border and the liberation of Palestine.

Mattis: Trump Administration still weighing Iran nuke deal

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says the administration is still considering whether the Iran nuclear deal can be improved enough to persuade President Donald Trump to remain in it.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Mattis was asked where the administration stands on the future of the 2015 agreement. Trump has called the deal “insane” and said he will decide by May 12 whether to withdraw from it.

US President Donald Trump (L) and Defense Secretary James Mattis at a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House on March 8, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

Mattis in the past has said he believes the US should stick with the agreement. In his remarks Thursday, he did not express an opinion but said discussions with European allies about improving the agreement are still in progress. Iran’s president on Wednesday ruled out any changes or additions to the accord.

— AP

Poll: Most US Jews believe in God, but don’t think God judges them

The vast majority of American Jews believe in God, but not in the God of the Bible, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center.

The survey shows that 89 percent of American Jews believe in God, compared to 99 percent of Christians, 72 percent of unaffiliated people, and 90 percent of Americans overall.

But only 33 percent of Jews believe in a biblical God, compared to 80 percent of Christians. A majority of Jews believe in “some other higher power of spiritual force in the universe,” according to the study. Ten percent of Jews do not believe in God.

There was a large margin of error for the Jewish sample of the survey: 12.9 percent, as 155 Jews were surveyed.


Haley slams Hamas for ‘using children as cannon fodder’

US Ambassador Nikki Haley lashes out at Hamas, accusing the Palestinian movement of “using children as cannon fodder,” following the deaths of dozens of people during protests in the Gaza Strip.

“Anyone who truly cares about children in Gaza should insist that Hamas immediately stop using children as cannon fodder in its conflict with Israel,” Haley tells a UN Security Council meeting.

Hamas claims that IDF has killed 41 Palestinians, including two journalists, since the protests began on March 30 near the Gaza-Israeli border fence.

Poland criticizes US claim that Polish law glorifies Nazism

Poland’s government is criticizing the claim of a US congressman that a new Polish law glorifies Nazi collaborators and denies the Holocaust.

The charge was made by Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California, one of two congressmen leading a bipartisan effort urging the US State Department to pressure Poland and Ukraine to combat state-sponsored anti-Semitism.

“Our government should be concerned with the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Ukraine and Poland. Both countries recently passed laws glorifying Nazi collaborators and denying the Holocaust,” Khanna wrote Wednesday.

In response, Andrzej Pawluszek, an adviser to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, says that Khanna’s words were “irresponsible and shocking.”

Poland’s deputy foreign minister Bartosz Cichocki, retort: “Sir, I would appreciate if you indicated a single law passed in my homeland Poland (recently or not), which glorifies Nazi collaborators and/or denies Holocaust.”

In a separate post, he adds: “Equally, I would love to learn what exactly your government did to combat [the] Holocaust after being requested to do so by the Polish government-in-exile.”

— with AP

Polish nationalists protest against restitution of Jewish property

Dozens of nationalists picket in front of the American embassy in Warsaw against the restitution of Jewish property.

Wednesday’s protest was held under the slogan “Stop Jewish property claims” and is related to a new US law on restitution.

The US House of Representatives on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill to support victims of the Holocaust and their families in the process of restitution and recovery of property. Under the measure, the State Department must report the progress of some European countries, including Poland, regarding the return of property unjustly confiscated during the war.

Polish lawmaker Robert Winnicki, president of the National Movement, who led the demonstration, said the goal is to protest “against extortion of money and Polish national assets rebuilt after World War II by Polish people.”


9 confirmed dead in flash flood

After long hours in which their condition was described as “critical,” authorities confirm that nine students who were swept away in a flash flood in the Judean Desert were killed.

Police: ‘A number of students have been killed’ in flash flood incident

Several of the students caught in a flash flood in the south of Israel have been confirmed dead, police say.

“A number of students have been killed in the flash floods,” police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld tells the Times of Israel.

Rescue authorities put the number at nine. One student is still missing.

Youths from a pre-military academy were swept away in torrential floods during a hike in Nahal Tzafit, a riverbed in the southern Dead Sea area.

Flash flood victims were on ‘bonding trip’ ahead of joining pre-military academy

The group of teenagers caught in a flash flood earlier today, of which nine died and one is still missing, were high-school students who had enrolled in a pre-military academy, Dani Zamir, chairman of the Council of Pre-military Academies tells Channel 2 news.

The students, 17- and 18-year-olds, were on a “bonding trip” ahead of the program which begins in September, according to a publicly available schedule of the institutions activities.

Zamir says that the trip was not under the auspices of either the Education Ministry or the Defense Ministry.


Bus tips over in heavy rains, no injuries reported

The Magen David Adom emergency service says it is responding to a bus that tipped over in heavy rains.

Initial reports described the episode, which took place at the Rotem Junction near the Dead Sea, as a “mass-casualty incident” but MDA said that there were no injuries.

“All the passengers are safe and units are at the scene,” police say in a statement.


Heavy rains lash roads, cities across country

Heavy rains continue to fall from the north to the south of the country, causing major traffic on roads and turning inner city thoroughfares into impromptu flowing streams.

Thirty-one centimeters (about 12 inches) of rain have fallen in Jerusalem in the past three hours while Tel Aviv, Tzfat, and Haifa have seen around 20 centimeters (almost 8 inches) each.

Several roads in the capital became flooded from the excess rain water.

Several major roads accross the country have been closed.

‘We will die’: Student predicted flash flood a day before she was killed

One of the nine teenagers killed in flash flood in the desert near the Dead Sea earlier today told a friend yesterday that she feared for her life in joining the hike that took place in an area known for treacherous weather conditions.

Text messages from the girl, published by Hadashot news, reveal her predicting a tragedy and saying she thought the trip was a bad idea.

“It makes no sense to go to a place where everything is floods,” she told her friend in a WhatsApp exchange ahead of the bonding hike organized by the Bnei Tzion pre-military academy in Tel Aviv. “We’ll die! I’m serious.”

Her friend tried to reassure her, saying that she was sure they would be going to somewhere else that was safe, telling her not to exaggerate.

Rescuers halt search for last teen missing in flash flood tragedy

As dark falls over the Arava desert, rescue teams halt their search for the last teenager missing in the deadly flash flood which claimed the lives of nine of her peers earlier today.

Police say that a “temporary pause” in the search efforts comes as heavy rains have restarted in the area, raising the possibility of further floods that could endanger rescue teams.

‘It was a very difficult sight,’ says paramedic who treated flash flood victims

MDA paramedic Nir Yafit, who was on the scene when the IDF helicopters carrying the victims landed, says it was “a very difficult sight.”

“We did an initial casualty assessment, the first causalities reached us were unconscious, without a pulse and not breathing, suffering injuries and showing signs of drowning.”

“With the help of an IDF medical team we did a medical check and after a short time we declared them dead. It was a very hard feeling — we had hoped that we would be brought injured people that could be saved, but sadly, we were helpless. The casualties who reached us showed no signs of life and we could do nothing but declare them dead.”

‘Don’t worry, we are well-prepared… it will be fun and wet,’ organizers of flash flood hike told participants

Organizers of the Bnei Tzion pre-military academy hike, in which nine teenagers died in a flash flood, told participants before setting off that they shouldn’t be worried about storm forecasts as they were “well prepared.”

Revealed by Kan news, a WhatApp message sent to the participants of the “bonding trip” were told that the hike would be “fun and wet and an experience.”

The participants had enrolled in the Bnei Tzion school and were set to begin the year-long program there in the coming months. The hike was organized by current students.

In the message they were told to bring “a rain coat,” “a rain cover for your bags,” and “a change of dry clothes in case you need.”

“Don’t worry,” the message read, “we are well-prepared for the hike and the academy has checked with the relevant authorities. It will be fun and wet and an experience!”

All roads to Eilat closed amid heavy rains and flash floods

The southern city of Eilat has been temporarily cut off from most of the rest of the country with the only two roads leading to it from central Israel closed due to heavy rains.

Route 90, which leads from Metula on Israel’s northern border, via the Jordan valley, to Eilat, has been closed around the Dead Sea to the Arava Junction following a deadly flash flood in the area in which nine teenagers were killed.

At the same time, police have also closed part of Route 40 from Mitzpe Ramon to Tzachor Juntion, due to dangerous conditions in the heavy rain.

Netanyahu: ‘Israel grieves the lives of those cut short’ in deadly flash flood

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expresses his condolences for the families of the nine teenagers killed in a flash flood in the Arava desert earlier today.

“The state of Israel grieves the promising young lives that were cut short by this tragedy in the Arava,” he writes on Twitter.

“We embrace the families in grief, and pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded,” he adds.

Two teens are curently being treated for injuries in the Soroka hospital in Beersheba and one remains missing.

Four of the victims of Judean Desert flooding tragedy named

Four of the nine fatalities in the Judean Desert flooding tragedy have been named.

Yael Sadan of Jerusalem who was killed in a flash flood in the south during a school trip on April 26, 2018. (Facebook)

Three of the girls killed in the incident were Yael Sadan, a student at the The Jerusalem High School for the Arts in from Jerusalem; Shani Shamir from Shoham; and Ella Or from Ma’ale Adumim.

Tzur Alfi of Mazkeret Batya who was killed in a flash flood in the south during a school trip on April 26, 2018. (Facebook)

The boy killed in the incident was Tzur Alfi, from Mazkeret Batya.

Ella Or of Ma’leh Adumim, who was killed in a flash flood in the south during a school trip on April 26, 2018. (Facebook)

Rivlin: ‘How much sorrow is sweeping the nation this morning’

President Reuven Rivlin sends his condolences to the families of the 10 students killed yesterday in flash floods during a hike with a pre-military academy they were set to attend.

“How much sorrow is sweeping the nation this morning,” says Rivlin on Friday. “We lost wonderful children, the best of our youth. Full of promises, full of expectations and [leaving us with] a broken heart.”

Rivlin thanks the rescue crews, IDF, police and volunteers for helping find the missing students, who were killed when their group was hit by flash floods in Tzafit, a riverbed in the southern Dead Sea area.

“From here I turn to the citizens of Israel and request: Please, go out to hike only after you checked you’re in a safe area. Don’t take unnecessary risks,” he says.

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