Liberman says Israel prepared for multi-front war
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Liberman says Israel prepared for multi-front war

Defense chief says military ready to inflict ‘harsh blow to the enemy’ as Netanyahu warns Iran against blocking key waterway

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks at a press conference on July 19, 2018. (Flash90)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks at a press conference on July 19, 2018. (Flash90)

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

Corbyn apologizes over talk he hosted where Israel was compared to Nazis

UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn apologizes over an event he hosted at the House of Commons in 2010 in which a Holocaust survivor compared Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip to the Nazis.

“In the past, in pursuit of justice for the Palestinian people and peace in Israel/Palestine, I have on occasion appeared on platforms with people whose views I completely reject,” Corbyn said in a statement quoted by British media.

“I apologize for the concerns and anxiety that this has caused.”

Corbyn was a relatively unknown Labour MP at the time of the talk, in which anti-Zionist Hajo Meyer also took aim at fellow Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel.

Corbyn’s hosting of the event was first reported by The Times.

According to The Times, the event was part of a UK speaking tour called “Never Again for Anyone — Auschwitz to Gaza.”

Assad tells troops ‘victory is near’ in Syrian civil war

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrian President Bashar Assad tells his troops today they are close to winning the country’s seven-year war after inflicting a succession of defeats on rebels.

Early last year, government forces held just 17 percent of the country’s territory but a series of blistering offensives has since forced the rebels out of many of their strongholds, putting Assad’s government back in control of nearly two-thirds of Syria.

“Our date with victory is near,” Assad writes in an open letter to the rank and file.

“They (the rebels) were ultimately forced to leave — humiliated, rolled back, their tails between their legs — after you gave them a taste of bitter defeat.”

Much of the territory was recaptured without any ground fighting as the rebels reluctantly agreed to leave their bombed out enclaves in Russian-protected convoys.

The army has been bolstered in its offensives by Russian air strikes, Iranian military advisers and militiamen from Lebanon, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Government troops are now mopping up the remaining rebel pockets in the south, and last week Assad promised a similar offensive against the rebels’ last major stronghold — Idlib province in the northwest.

— AFP

Syrian regime soldiers stand next to a picture of Syrian President Bashar Assad hanging on a tank at the Nassib border crossing with Jordan in the southern province of Daraa on July 7, 2018. (AFP Photo/Youssef Karwashan)

Iran’s parliament summons Rouhani over economic woes

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s parliament announces it will hold a special session to question President Hassan Rouhani about the plummeting currency and struggling economy.

In the announcement on the parliament’s website, lawmakers says Rouhani must appear within a month in an open session to answer questions, but no specific date is announced.

The rial has slipped since the US pulled out of the nuclear deal in May and said it would restore sanctions that had been lifted in exchange for Iran curbing its atomic activities. The first of those renewed sanctions go into effect Monday.

Iran is negotiating with other world powers that are parties to the deal — China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain as well as the European Union — in a bid to salvage it with new incentives.

Pressure is building on Rouhani as Iran’s economic woes mount. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered Rouhani, the speaker of parliament and the head of the judiciary to work together and find a way to resolve the problems.

— AP

Ex-Shin Bet head calls on Rivlin not to sign nation-state law

A former head of the Shin Bet security service is urging President Reuven Rivlin not to sign into law recently passed legislation defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

“According to the Basic Law, the presidential signature is required for the law to go into effect. Usually, signing off on a law is a matter of ritual and does not require special deliberation. This is not the case with this law – I believe that your hand will tremble once you reach for the pen,” writes Ami Ayalon in an open letter to Rivlin.

“If enacted, this law will place you, and the values you believe in and which have guided you in public life, before a dilemma: to violate your conscience or to fulfill your presidential oath of being ‘faithful to the State of Israel and its laws,'” he adds.

Ayalon, who went on to become a Labor Party lawmaker after leaving the Shin Bet, argues the law will undermine Rivlin’s efforts to promote national unity. He also says the law “negates the Declaration of Independence and debases its status as the foundation of our national values.”

Ami Ayalon in 2008 (photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi /Flash90)
Former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

High Court rejects petition to freeze funds for evacuees of illegal settlements

The High Court of Justice rejects a petition to freeze the government’s transfer of millions of shekels in compensation to the evacuees of illegally built West Bank homes in Amona, Ofra and Netiv Ha’avot.

The petition had been submitted last March by Shachar Ben Meir, an attorney who argued that cabinet decisions in December 2016 and February 2018 to approve such compensation encouraged further illegal building.

“The state cannot compensate building offenders for their homes being demolished when they built without a permit on land that wasn’t theirs. And if it decides to do so, it must be according to rules that are equal to everyone,” Ben Meir told The Times of Israel then.

— Jacob Magid

Defense Ministry vehicles dismantle the Amona settlement outpost in the central West Bank on February 6, 2017. (Courtesy/Amona council)

4 fires sparked in south by incendiary balloons from Gaza

Since the morning, firefighters have worked to extinguish four blazes near Israeli communities along the Gaza border that were started by incendiary balloons flown from the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave, a spokesman for the Fire and Rescue Services says.

— Jacob Magid

Druze officer quits reserves to protest nation-state law

A Druze reservist officer informs the army he will no longer serve in reserves in protest over recently passed legislation defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

“This law harms non-Jewish Israeli citizens. I have a feeling of discrimination,” Safa Mashur, a 49-year-old doctor in the 91st Division, tells Israel Radio.

His decision to no longer serve in the reserves comes after two conscripted officers from the Druze minority wrote Facebook posts criticizing the law and announcing their intention to leave the army. One of those officers, Amir Jamal, was suspended by Monday by the army for 14 days over the post.

UK far-right activist released on bail by appeals court

LONDON — A British court orders prominent far-right activist Tommy Robinson to be released on bail while he appeals a finding of contempt of court.

Robinson had been sentenced to 13 months after live-streaming outside a criminal trial in violation of reporting restrictions. Court of Appeal Judge Ian Burnett quashes the ruling Wednesday and orders a fresh hearing of the allegation.

Robinson, 35, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is the founder of the now-defunct English Defence League. He is a self-styled journalist and commentator who issues a steady stream of anti-Muslim statements online.

Supporters break into a round of applause as Burnett announces his decision. Robinson was not present for the hearing.

— AP

Supporters of jailed English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson celebrate outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London on August 1, 2018, after a Court of Appeals judge announced ordered him freed pending a new hearing. (AFP Photo/Daniel Leal-Olivas

US envoy meets American firefighters battling Gaza balloon blazes

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman visits a fire station in the southern city of Sderot to thank firefighters battling the ongoing blazes caused by incendiary airborne devices launched from the Gaza Strip.

Among those Friedman meets are 10 American firefighters who came to Israel to help extinguish the fires ravaging fields and forests in southern Israel.

“They demonstrated an amazing solidarity between the American people and the Israeli people. It’s an act of true friendship and true love and I think the people here know that if the United States would need help, the Israelis would come to the United States to help,” says Friedman in a statement from the US Embassy in Jerusalem.

“I don’t think there is a better way to demonstrate solidarity, love, and cooperation between the United States and Israel,” he adds.

Livni becomes Knesset opposition leader as Herzog leaves for Jewish Agency

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni becomes Knesset opposition leader today as her predecessor Isaac Herzog takes up his post as the new head of the Jewish Agency.

Livni previously served as opposition leader in 2009-2012 when she headed the Kadima party. Before then she was foreign minister under prime minister Ehud Olmert.

New head of the opposition Tzipi Livni speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv on July 23, 2018 (Flash90)

Saudi Arabia said to arrest prominent women’s rights activists

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabian authorities have arrested two high-profile women’s rights activists, Human Rights Watch says, amid what the organization calls an “unprecedented” crackdown on dissent.

Award-winning gender rights activist Samar Badawi was arrested along with fellow campaigner Nassima al-Sadah this week, “the latest victims of an unprecedented government crackdown on the women’s rights movement,” HRW says in a statement.

Their arrests “signal that the Saudi authorities see any peaceful dissent, whether past or present, as a threat to their autocratic rule,” says Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Amal al-Harbi, the wife of jailed civic rights activist Fowzan al-Harbi, was also taken into custody this week, HRW says while adding that it is unclear why she was targeted.

Saudi authorities do not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The arrests come weeks after more than a dozen women’s right campaigners were detained and accused of undermining national security and collaborating with enemies of the state. Some have since been released.

— AFP

Netanyahu appointees reveal plan to address Druze anger over nation-state law

A team tasked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with addressing the Druze minority’s complaints over the recently passed nation-state law reveals a draft of its plan to enshrine the community’s status in law.

The plan includes a number of elements, among them passing legislation anchoring the status of the Druze and Circassian communities in law; providing benefits for members of minority groups who serve in the security forces; and recognizing the contribution in defending the state.

Army announces arrest of cell that shot at West Bank settlement

The army releases for publication that it has captured the terror squad responsible for firing at the Beit El settlement last month.

The Israel Defense Forces does not disclose the number of suspects arrested in the operation, stating only that the members were from the Jalazone refugee camp in Ramallah.

“The Jalazone refugee camp is a focal point for terror from which a number of cells have originated,” the IDF says.

There were no casualties in the July 10 attack attributed to the cell. The military at the time said spent bullet casings were found outside the settlement.

— Jacob Magid

Druze leaders say they’ll examine nation-state compromise plan before responding

Druze leaders say they will examine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s compromise proposal to appease the community’s anger over the recently passed nation-state law and soon issue a response.

The proposal was presented to representatives of the Druze community today by a team appointed by Netanyahu.

Trump calls on AG Sessions to end ‘rigged’ Russia probe

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump calls Wednesday for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to put an end to special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, a day after Trump’s former campaign chairman went on trial.

Taking to Twitter to complain about the ongoing Russia investigation, Trump says Sessions “should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further.”

The relationship between Sessions and the president has been strained for more than a year, since the attorney general recused himself from investigations relating to the 2016 election because of Sessions’ role on the Trump campaign. Mueller’s team is accountable to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Tuesday marked the first day of Paul Manafort’s trial on charges of tax evasion and bank fraud brought by Mueller’s team, charges that stemmed from Manafort’s consulting work for Ukraine, for which he allegedly received millions he did not report to the US government.

— AP

Druze minister fetes compromise plan on nation-state law

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara praises the draft compromise revealed earlier today to address the Druze community’s furor over the nation-state law.

“I am excited to see the warm embrace, the love for the community and the results we succeeded in bringing to the Druze,” says Kara in a statement to Hebrew media.

“There is absolute recognition of the special status of the Druze community,” adds Kara, the only Druze minister in the government.

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara speaks at a Likud party event in Lod on December 31, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Druze spiritual leader calls nation-state compromise ‘historic, very important’

The spiritual leader of the Druze community calls a compromise plan to mollify the minority group’s anger over the nation-state law an “historic and very important proposal.”

“I think it a good proposal. We’re returning now to the north. We’re returning to meet with the heads of local councils, former [military officers], leaders of the community and we will of course make a decision together and get back to the prime minister,” Muafak Tarif says in an interview with Hadashot TV news.

“I, of course, hope the decision will be positive and will be for the good of the state, the Druze and all of us,” he says.

The head of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Moafaq Tarif, attends a celebration at the holy tomb of Nebi Shu’eib in northern Israel on April 25, 2018. (AFP Photo Jalaa/Marey)

7 fires sparked throughout day by Gaza balloons

Since the morning, firefighters have worked to extinguish seven blazes near Israeli communities along the Gaza border that were started by incendiary balloons flown from the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave, a spokesman for the Fire and Rescue Services says.

— Jacob Magid

Druze MKs said likely to drop petition against nation-state law

A group of Druze lawmakers who petitioned the High Court of Justice over the nation-state law are expected to drop the suit after a proposal is released to address the community’s concerns over the law, the Ynet news site reports.

“We gave the plan to our lawyer who said it is acceptable and good for the community. From our perspective this is a historic framework,” Kulanu MK Akram Hasson tells Ynet.

“It allows us to be proud and equal citizens among our nation and country. All we wanted is to be one people and one state,” he adds. “If the plan we received is indeed implemented, we will absolutely stop everything.”

Yisrael Beytenu MK Hamed Amar, who along with Hasson and Zionist Union MK Salah Sa’ad signed the petition, echoes Hasson’s praise for the plan.

“The historic plan enshrines for the first time my Israeliness. The plan acceptable to me. All that motivates me is what’s best for the Druze community,” Amar says to the Hebrew-language news site.

Report: Trump administration sought explanation from Israel on nation-state law

The Trump administration has asked for clarifications from the Prime Minister’s Office over the nation-state law, Channel 10 reports.

The report says the PMO informed the White House the legislation won’t impact the rights of any citizen in Israel or lead to discrimination against minority groups.

Netanyahu warns Iran against blocking key waterway

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns Iran against attempting to shutter a key waterway leading to the Red Sea.

“If Iran tries to block the Bab al-Mandab Strait, I am convinced it will find itself facing an international coalition determined to prevent this,” he says at a naval ceremony.

“This coalition will also include the State of Israel,” Netanyahu adds.

Saudi Arabia last week halted oil shipments through the strait after a pair of tankers were attacked in the Red Sea by Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

US sanctions Turkish ministers over detainment of US pastor

The US Treasury Department slaps Turkey’s interior and justice ministers with sanctions over the continued detainment of a US pastor.

“Pastor [Andrew] Brunson’s unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable,” says Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement. “President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says US President Donald Trump instructed the Treasury Department to implement the sanctions.

“We’ve seen no evidence that Pastor Brunson has done anything wrong and we believe he is a victim of unfair and unjust attention by the government of Turkey,” she says at the daily press briefing.

White House says Trump’s call for end of Mueller probe not obstruction

WASHINGTON — The White House says US President Donald Trump’s criticisms of the special counsel’s Russia probe is not obstruction.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says Wednesday that Trump’s broadsides are simply the president “fighting back.”

She also offers an explanation of the president’s tweet in which he said Attorney General Jeff Sessions “should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now.”

Sanders says “It’s not an order. It’s the president’s opinion.”

Trump unleashed several tweets on Wednesday attacking special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election interference and possible ties to the president’s campaign.

— AP

Liberman says military prepared for multi-front war

Amid recent security tensions in both the north and south, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman says the Israel Defense Forces is capable of fighting a war on multiple fronts.

“Courageous sailors, our ironmen, are ready at every moment for any mission,” Liberman says in a tweet after attending a ceremony for graduates of the navy’s sailor course.

“You’re also prepared in the Red Sea, as well as in the north and south. You are prepared for a campaign on all fronts at the same time, ready to give a harsh blow to the enemy,” he adds.

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