The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they happened.
Shin Bet denies threatening Iranian-American author questioned at border
The Shin Bet security service denies an Iranian-American author’s assertion that one of its agents threatened him when he was questioned upon entering the country.
Reza Aslan said Monday he was stopped and questioned two weeks ago when he entered Israel from Jordan. He said he was accused of denying Israel’s right to exist and told “we can make it so you don’t see your kids for a long time,” among other alleged threats.
“The claims of threats made toward Mr. Aslan during a conversation and the claims any political questions were asked were checked by the Shin Bet thoroughly… and it was found they lack any foundation and have no basis in reality,” the Shin Bet says in a statement.
The Shin Bet describes the interrogation of Aslan as “short” and says his behavior aroused suspicion. It stresses it acts in accordance with the law in order to maintain Israel’s security.
“The actions of the Shin Bet at border crossings during the past year have led to the thwarting of intended terror and espionage operations by foreigners on Israeli territory,” it says.
UK media identifies London attack suspect as Briton of Sudanese origin
LONDON — British authorities say Wednesday they are considering turning the area around Parliament into a pedestrian zone to prevent future vehicle attacks as police searched three properties for clues about the motivation of a man who plowed a car into cyclists and pedestrians, injuring three.
Local media on Wednesday identifies the suspect as Salih Khater, a 29-year-old British citizen of Sudanese origin. Police searched the suspect’s apartment in the central England city of Birmingham, as well as another property in the city and a third in Nottingham, about 50 miles (80 kms) away.
A Facebook page for a man of the same name says he lives in Birmingham, works as a shop manager, and has studied at Sudan University of Science and Technology. Coventry University in central England says Khater had studied accounting there between September 2017 and May 2018 but was no longer enrolled.
Ahmed Abdi, a neighbor of Khater in Birmingham, says he recognized him from news footage, “and I was shocked.”
“He was very, very quiet and he never spoke to anybody. He would say nothing to nobody,” Abdi says.
British authorities do not name suspects until they are formally charged. London’s Metropolitan Police force says the suspect was not known to counterterrorism officers or the intelligence services.
BREAKING: The suspect in the Westminster attack has been named as 29-year-old Salih Khater pic.twitter.com/abD0x146r8
— Sky News (@SkyNews) August 15, 2018
Police reveal foiling of Jerusalem stabbing attack
Police reveal today they thwarted a planned stabbing attack by a Palestinian man in the Old City of Jerusalem last week.
The suspect, a 26-year-old resident of the West Bank city of Hebron, was stopped and searched by officers in the Old City on August 8,and a knife and pepper spray were found on his person, police say.
According to police, the suspect initially said he was in Jerusalem to pray. Due to suspicions he was concealing something, officers then held him and further questioned him, with the proceedings under gag order.
“Police interrogators used a number of investigative techniques by which they succeeded in uncovering the true intentions of the suspect,” police say in a statement. “The suspect illegally entered Israel with a knife and pepper spray in order to carry out a stabbing attack in Jerusalem on citizens and/or security forces.”
The suspect’s remand has been extended until August 20 in order to complete the investigation, according to police.
Police say: “There is no doubt that the arrest of the suspect and uncovering of his intentions prevented an attempt to carry out an attack in the Jerusalem area that could have had serious consequences!”
Turkey hits US with $533 million more in retaliatory tariffs
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s trade minister says increased tariffs have been imposed on 22 types of produce and goods imported from the United States, amounting to $533 million of extra duties.
Turkey announces Wednesday increased duties on US products including cars, tobacco and alcohol in retaliation to US sanctions and tariffs on Turkey in an on-going feud over the detention of an American pastor.
State-run Anadolu Agency quotes Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan as saying: “We have responded to the sanctions with $533 million dollars of extra tax.”
She says: “The United States is an important trading partner, but it is not our only partner. We have other partners and alternative markets.”
Pekcan says Turkey would continue to “protect the rights of Turkish companies and retaliate” against unjust actions by the United States.
2 Arab teens barred from hometown for trying to take down Israeli flag
A pair of teenagers from Jisr az-Zarka are barred from entering the northern Arab Israeli town for 15 days after trying to remove an Israeli flag from a police station.
Police say the suspects, both 18, were arrested Saturday evening as part of “the determined struggle of the Israel Police against the phenomenon of violent crime and those that harm the symbols of the state and the foundations of democracy.”
Following their arrests, the suspects were interrogated and jailed before being conditionally released, police say, including staying away from Jisr az-Zarka for 15 days.
Police say the investigation is ongoing and that the findings will later be reviewed for a possible indictment over damaging state symbols.
UK terror suspect being investigated for attempted murder
LONDON — A British man accused of terrorism after driving into a barrier protecting the Houses of Parliament faces an investigation for attempted murder, police say Wednesday.
Three people were injured when the 29-year-old, named by media as Salih Khater, drove over a pavement and into cyclists before crashing into the barrier on Tuesday morning.
Police say the man, a British national originally from Sudan, was initially arrested on suspicion of terrorism offenses but revealed he had been “further arrested for attempted murder.”
Two of the injured victims — a man and a woman — were taken to hospital but have now been discharged. The third was treated at the scene.
Family of IDF soldier killed by stone slab demands death penalty for assailant
The family of an IDF soldier killed during a raid on a West Bank refugee camp lashes out at the state and military prosecutors for not appointing an ensemble of judges in the suspected assailant’s trial authorized to hand down a death penalty.
“This is a disgrace for which I have no words. The legal system is placing itself above the political system and deciding what will be before the start of the trial,” Vladimir Lubarsky, father of Ronen Lubarsky, tells reporters outside the Ofer military court in the West Bank.
“The panel of judges does not allow the death penalty. This is a disgrace,” he adds. “We want to prevent the next murder so there won’t be more bereaved families.”
Under current Israeli military law, the death penalty can be imposed if unanimously supported by three judges with a rank of lieutenant colonel or higher. The panel of judges appointed to the case does not meet this criteria.
Lubarsky, a soldier in the elite Duvdevan unit, died in May hours after being seriously wounded by a stone slab dropped on his head in the al-Am’ari refugee camp near Ramallah.
The suspect, Islam Yousef Abu Hamid, was arrested in a daylight raid on the camp in June. Hamid’s murder trial begins today.
Handball coach arrested on suspicion of sexually harassing over 140 minors
A handball coach from the central city of Herzliya was arrested last week on suspicion of sexually harassing over 140 minors, police reveal today.
The suspect, 35, is suspected of a number of offenses, including rape, sexual harassment, sodomy and computer crimes, among others.
According to police, the suspect contacted female minors on social media and pushed them to send him sexually explicit material.
“This is one of the most serious and difficult pedophilia cases, both in terms of the gravity of the offenses and the extent of the activity,” police say in a statement on the coach’s arrest.
Suspected Belgian member of PFLP terror group arrested trying to enter Israel
Israel arrested a Belgian national suspected of belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, when he attempted to enter the country through the Allenby Crossing from Jordan, the Shin Bet security service reveals.
Mustafa Haled Awad, 36, was born in a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon and later moved to Belgium and received citizenship there.
According to the Shin Bet, Awad joined the PFLP in 2010 and served the organization from Europe, maintaining contacts in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the West Bank.
“The investigation also found that Mustafa helped transfer terror funds from the ‘Popular Front’ in Syria and Lebanon to operatives in Europe,” the Shin Bet says.
Awad was arrested when he tried to enter Israel from Jordan on July 19, 2018, but details of the case were kept under a court-issued gag order until now.
The Central District Attorney’s Office is expected to file an indictment against Awad for his activities with the terror group in the coming days, the Shin Bet says.
The marxist PFLP group has conducted a number of terror attacks against Israel since it was formed in the 1960s, including the assassination of then-tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001.
“The investigation proves the threat posed by terror groups that bring into their ranks people with foreign passports, which allows them to enter the State of Israel,” the Shin Bet says.
— Judah Ari Gross
At least 25 killed in suicide bombing in Shiite area in Kabul
KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman says the death toll from a suicide bombing that targeted a Shiite neighborhood in Kabul has risen to 25.
The spokesman, Najib Danish, says at least 35 people were also wounded in the attack on Wednesday afternoon. He says the casualty tolls could rise further.
Afghan officials say the bomber targeted a private building in the Shiite neighborhood of Dasht-i Barcha where a group of young men and women, all high school graduates, were studying for university entrance exams.
The explosion initially set off gunfire from Afghan guards in the area, leading to assumptions that there were more attackers but all indications were that only one bomber was involved.
Jawad Ghawari, a member of the city’s Shiite clerical council, blames the Islamic State jihadist group for the attack, which carried all the hallmarks of past IS attacks that have hit Shiites mosques, schools and cultural centers.
He says that in past two years, there were at least 13 attacks on the Shiite community in Kabul alone.
عکسهایی که در رسانههای اجتماعی نشر شده اند نشان میدهند که این انفجار در داخل صنف درسی مرکز آموزشی موعود در دشت برچی کابل رخ داده. مقامها در این باره تاکنون جزئیات را به دست نداده اند. وزارت صحت عامه تأیید میکند در این انفجار نُه تن جان باختند و ۱۱ تن دیگر زخم برداشته اند. pic.twitter.com/U9TGqjDysu
— TOLOnews (@TOLOnews) August 15, 2018
After Gaza crossing reopened, incendiary balloon sparks blaze in Israel
Since this morning, firefighters have worked to extinguish one blaze caused by an incendiary balloon that fell near Kibbutz Alumim adjacent to the Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Israel Fire and Rescue Services says.
The balloon appears to be the first incendiary airborne device to spark a fire in Israeli territory since restrictions were lifted earlier today on the entry of goods to Gaza through the Kerem Shalom Crossing. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman attributed the decision to the relative calm on the border in recent days.
— with Jacob Magid
שריפה פרצה באזור קיבוץ עלומים, נבדק החשד אם כתוצאה מבלון תבערה @bokeralmog
(צילום: איתן סבאג – בטחון עלומים) pic.twitter.com/P8B1sGoB9L
— חדשות עשר (@news10) August 15, 2018
Livni discusses US-Israel ties, peace prospects with American envoy
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni meets with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at the American embassy in Jerusalem for the first time since becoming opposition leader earlier this month.
“The ties between Israel and the US are stragically important, critical for Israel and [we] must preverse them,” Livni writes in a tweet.
She says the two discussed Israel’s security, the prospects for a peace agreement and other regional matters.
פגישה ראשונה כיו״ר האופוזיציה עם שגריר ארה״ב @USAmbIsrael בשגרירות ארצות הברית בירושלים. היחסים בין ישראל לארה״ב חשובים אסטרטגית, קריטים לישראל ויש לשמור עליהם. דנו בפגישה לעומק בביטחון ישראל, בסיכויים להסדר מדיני ובנושאים הנמצאים על סדר היום של ישראל וארה״ב במזרח התיכון. pic.twitter.com/5kSora4u6v
— ציפי לבני (@Tzipi_Livni) August 15, 2018
Source: No ‘real arrangement’ with Hamas until citizens, troops’ bodies returned
A diplomatic source says there will be no “real agreement” between Israel and Hamas until the two Israeli citizens and a pair of IDF soldiers’ bodies are returned by the Gaza-based terror group.
“The current quiet is the result of the tough action by the IDF, which will continue as needed,” the source says.
The source credits the relative calm on the border to “the understandings advanced by the Egyptians and the UN,” without elaborating. Hamas last week said it reached a ceasefire with Israel brokered by Egypt and the United Nations to end a flareup in violence, though this was denied by Israel.
The source also attributes the decision to reopen the Kerem Shalom Crossing and expand the permitted fishing zone in Gaza to the quiet.
“As long as this commitment [to quiet] is maintained, it will be possible to deal with humanitarian issues, among them the return of our sons and citizens.”
— with Raphael Ahren
Jordan charges 5 with terror offenses after deadly raid
AMMAN, Jordan — Five suspected jihadists arrested during a deadly raid in a town northwest of Amman are charged with terrorism offences in Jordan’s state security court today.
Three alleged jihadists were killed and five others detained on Saturday when security forces raided a building in the town of Salt.
The operation, which also left four members of Jordan’s security forces dead, was linked to a bomb blast Friday that killed a policeman and wounded six others at a music festival in a nearby town.
The court’s prosecutor accused the five detainees of “carrying out acts of terrorism that led to the death of a person and the demolition of a building” and “conspiracy to carry out terrorist acts.”
It also charges them with the “possession and manufacturing of explosives for use in illegal activities” and the “possession of weapons and ammunition for use in illegal activities.”
Under the 2006 Prevention of Terrorism Act, the charges are punishable by hanging.
Interior Minister Samir Mubaideen said Monday that the jihadists supported the Islamic State terror group and “followed its takfiri (Sunni Muslim extremist) ideology.”
Netanyahu’s new military secretary sworn in
Col. Avi Blot is sworn in as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new military secretary in a changing of the guard ceremony at the Prime Minister’s Office.
Blot, who led the army’s Commando Brigade, takes over for Brig. Gen. Eliezer Toledano, who held the post for some three years.
“With my entry to the position, I feel awe and great respect to belong to such an important forum,” says Blot. “I am obligated to do everything I can in order to fulfill my responsibility in the broadest sense of the word.”
אני חושב שמי שהיה לוחם יהיה תמיד רגיש למחיר הפעולות שלו, למחיר המלחמה. מחיר המלחמה הוא כבד, הוא נורא, והידיעה שאין לנו ברירה אלא לשלם את המחיר הזה, הידיעה הזאת אומרת תמיד כיצד אנו מצמצמים אותו. אני חושב אליעזר, ואני בטוח שגם אתה יודע (בפנייה לבלוט), שהדבר הזה תמיד עמד לנגד עיניך. pic.twitter.com/Q33FoIarwO
— ראש ממשלת ישראל (@IsraeliPM_heb) August 15, 2018
Top PLO decision-making body kicks off meeting; Abbas to speak
A meeting of the Palestinian Central Council, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s second highest decision-making body, begins Wednesday evening.
Palestinian Authority President and PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is expected to deliver a long speech to the council later on Wednesday.
The meeting is slated to conclude on Thursday.
700 trucks carrying goods enter Gaza after border crossing reopens
Following the reopening of the Kerem Shalom Crossing this morning, the Defense Ministry says 700 trucks carrying goods entered the Gaza Strip throughout the day.
Of the trucks that entered Gaza 185 carried building materials, 88 food, 82 cement, 67 textiles and 48 wheat, among others.
During the over month-long restrictions on the entry of goods through the crossing, which were imposed in response to violence emanating from Gaza, an average of 100-150 trucks entered the Strip each day.
2 soldiers hurt by Palestinian rock throwers in Hebron
Two IDF troops stationed at a checkpoint in the West Bank city of Hebron were hurt after Palestinians hurled stones in their direction, the army says.
The soldiers were lightly injured and have been transferred to a nearby hospital for further treatment.
— Jacob Magid
IDF won’t charge soldiers over bloody ‘Black Friday’ in 2014 Gaza war
The Israeli military’s top lawyer closes the case on the events of “Black Friday,” one of the bloodiest battles of the 2014 Gaza war, deciding not to file any criminal charges against those involved in the fighting, the army says.
In the southern Gaza city of Rafah on August 1, 2014, Lt. Hadar Goldin was kidnapped and two other members of his unit were killed in a clash with the Hamas terror group. Troops in the area initiated the so-called Hannibal Protocol, a controversial order giving commanders near unchecked freedom to do anything necessary to prevent the capture of a soldier.
According to IDF figures, 42 armed Palestinian combatants were killed in the fighting in Rafah, along with 72 others, which the military acknowledged were likely civilians.
“The findings of the investigation indicate clearly that IDF troops were acting to prevent the capture of Lt. Hadar Goldin, may his memory be blessed, and to attack terror groups in the area, using attacks on military targets and combatants,” the IDF says in a statement.
Later, the IDF determined that Goldin had been killed and was no longer alive during the battle that was meant to rescue him, but this was not known at the time.
Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Sharon Afek dismisses the claims made by some human rights groups that the soldiers in the field were acting out of a desire to “avenge” Goldin’s capture or death.
The IDF says it found no indication that the approximately 70 civilian deaths were deliberate.
According to the military, Afek’s investigation determined that commanders in the field acted “to prevent injury to uninvolved civilians.”
— Judah Ari Gross
Netanyahu unveils plan to increase defense spending
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presents the cabinet with his “2030 security outlook,” which outlines the expected threats, military manpower needs and principles for using force over the next decade.
The full classified version of the document will soon be shared with the Knesset Subcommittee for the Intelligence Services, the Prime Minister’s Office says, as well as the IDF General Staff, Shin Bet and Mossad.
The unclassified version of the plan addresses security outlays and calls for an increase in defense spending of 0.2 to 0.3 percent of gross national product.
“Because of our small territory, concentrated population and multitude of threats around us, Israel’s security needs will always be much greater than those of a similar size,” Netanyahu says in a statement.
Praising Israel’s economy, Netanyahu says increased defense spending is needed to ensure further economic growth.
“The combination of our security and economic strengths will increase Israel’s credibility in the eyes of other countries and with this also increase our diplomatic strength,” he says.
Netanyahu calls for the additional security outlays to go towards improving Israel’s attack and cyber capabilities, missile defense and protection of the home front, as well as for the completion of security fences along the country’s borders.
Abbas accuses Hamas of lacking will to achieve reconciliation
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accuses Hamas of lacking intentions to achieve intra-Palestinian reconciliation.
“Hamas principally does not have intentions to achieve reconciliation,” Abbas says at a meeting of the Palestinian Central Council, the PLO’s second highest decision-making body, in Ramallah.
Abbas also says that Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership wants “one government, one law and one legitimate weapon without militias” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Hamas has controlled Gaza since ousting the Fatah-dominated and West Bank-based PA in 2007 from the territory.
Hamas’s armed wing and other groups in the Gaza Strip possess thousands of weapons.
— Adam Rasgon
Rights group blasts army over closing of investigation into ‘Black Friday’
The left-wing B’Tselem human rights group condemns the military’s decision to close its case on “Black Friday,” the name for the IDF’s offensive in the city of Rafah during the 2014 Gaza war in which approximately 70 Palestinian civilians were killed, alongside some 40 armed combatants.
“The military advocate general again proves that it does not matter how many Palestinians are killed and how arbitrary the reasons are for their deaths by the army. He, standing at the head of a white-washing Israeli mechanism, will always find a way to bury the facts,” the group says.
— Judah Ari Gross
Liberman doubles down on denial of ceasefire deal with Hamas
In an interview with Hadashot TV news, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman again denies the existence of a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.
Liberman’s denial comes as Hebrew media reports say a series of Egyptian and UN-brokered understandings took effect earlier today with the reopening of the Kerem Shalom Crossing with the Gaza Strip.
According to the reports, the understandings include a return to the status quo following the 2014 Gaza war, with Hamas stopping attacks from the Strip and Israel reopening the crossing and extending the permitted fishing area.
The cabinet was briefed on the understandings earlier today, the reports say.