The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they happened.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“I bring from Israel a new spirit,” says Bennett, returning to a theme he introduced before getting on the plane Tuesday, “a spirit of folks who sometimes harbor different opinions, but can work together in cooperation and goodwill, in a spirit of unity, and we work hard to find common things we do agree upon and move forward on, and it seems to be working.”
Bennett says that he wants to bring the spirit of cooperation, goodwill, and friendship to the US – Israel relationship.
He adds that the two will discuss many issues, including ways to curtail Iran’s pursuit of regional dominance, and its race to a nuclear weapon.
Bennett says that they will also discuss regional stability and climate change, and says that Israel’s unique technological innovations can help move the needle.
Blinken notes that Biden has known every Israeli leader since Golda Meir in the 1970s, and looks forward to working with Bennett.
He stresses that the US commitment to Israel’s security will always be unshakeable.
“We look forward to addressing all these challenges we face, particularly regional security,” he says, singling out Iran.
Blinken brings up “the relationships that Israel is developing in the region,” without using the term “Abraham Accords,” as seems to be administration policy. He says that the US looks forward to helping Israel build on those relationships.
Notably, Blinken brings up the importance of working on Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians, which Bennett did not mention in his statement.
“We’re just the opening act for the president,” says Blinken.
Before reporters were ushered out of the room, Bennett could be heard assuring Blinken that Israel has no more elections on the horizon after four in less than two years.
“I don’t want to intrude in your politics,” Blinken responded, smiling.
“Please do, maybe you’ll help!” Bennett replied with a chuckle.
Then after the camera lights went dark, the Israeli premier could be heard commenting on the US-led evacuation of Afghanistan amid the Taliban’s takeover, comparing the effort to Dunkirk.
“On that level alone, it’s one of the most extraordinary logistical operations,” Blinken responded.
A diplomatic source tells The Times of Israel that Egypt has conveyed stern warnings in recent days to both Israel and Hamas to maintain calm at the Gaza border.
The source believes that the sides internalized the message and that there will not be a significant escalation during Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s ongoing trip to Washington.
The source pointed to today’s Gaza border protests where Hamas operatives in yellow vests managed to keep demonstrators from getting too close to the fence.
Before his meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Pentagon, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stresses that Iran must be held to account for its regional activities, including attacks at sea.
“Iran must be held accountable for acts of aggression in the Middle East and on international waters,” he says, pointing the finger squarely at Tehran for the July 30 attack on the Mercer Street tanker in the Gulf of Oman.
He underscores America’s commitment to Israel’s ability to defend itself against Iran and, notably, its armed proxy groups.
“The Department of Defense is also committed to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, and to ensure that Israel can defend itself against threats from Iran, its proxies, and terrorist groups,” Austin says.
Austin notes Iran’s “alarming nuclear steps and continuing regional aggression.”
He adds that the “US is committed to strengthening its strategic relationship with Israel. The Administration is committed to Israel’s security and its right to self-defense.”
“That is unwavering. It is steadfast,” says Austin.
This can be seen, says Austin, in the defense aid the US provides to Israel as part of the current 10-year Memorandum of Understanding.
Austin adds that the US is committed to the replenishment of the Iron Dome missile defense system. “We are working closely with Congress to provide all the necessary information to respond positively to your request to provide 1 billion dollars in emergency funding. And it’s going to save more innocent lives.”
Austin adds that the US is watching closely “as Israel has been a global leader” against COVID-19, and says that the two sides will continue consulting.
Austin also says he is pleased that the US provided 500,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to the Palestinians.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett enters the Pentagon for his meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Among other topics, they will discuss the Iranian threat and arms procurement to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge over other militaries in the region according to Israeli officials.
RICHMOND, Virginia — A federal appeals court upholds Dylann Roof’s conviction and sentence for the racist 2015 slayings of nine members of a black South Carolina congregation.
A three-judge panel of the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond affirms Roof’s conviction and sentence in the shootings at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
In 2017, Roof became the first person in the US sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. Authorities have said that Roof opened fire during the closing prayer of a Bible study at the church, raining down dozens of bullets on those assembled. He was 21 at the time.
In his appeal, Roof’s attorneys argued that he was wrongly allowed to represent himself during sentencing, a critical phase of his trial. Roof successfully prevented jurors from hearing evidence about his mental health, “under the delusion,” his attorneys argued, that “he would be rescued from prison by white-nationalists — but only, bizarrely, if he kept his mental impairments out of the public record.”
Roof’s lawyers said that his convictions and death sentence should be vacated or his case should be sent back to court for a “proper competency evaluation.”
The 4th Circuit finds that the trial judge didn’t commit an error when he found Roof competent to stand trial and issued a scathing rebuke of Roof’s crimes.
“Dylann Roof murdered African Americans at their church, during their Bible study and worship. They had welcomed him. He slaughtered them. He did so with the express intent of terrorizing not just his immediate victims at the historically important Mother Emanuel Church, but as many similar people as would hear of the mass murder,” the panel writes in is ruling.
“No cold record or careful parsing of statutes and precedents can capture the full horror of what Roof did. His crimes qualify him for the harshest penalty that a just society can impose,” the judges write.
The Kan public broadcaster reports that top Health Ministry officials, including director-general Nachman Ash, held a virtual meeting with Dr. Anthony Fauci to discuss Israel’s COVID-19 vaccine booster shot campaign.
The report says that the Israeli officials updated Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and US President Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor, on figures showing that the third vaccine dose provides increased protection against infection and serious morbidity.
The US is planning to begin administering booster shots next month.
Revised Health Ministry figures show 10,001 new coronavirus cases were confirmed yesterday, the highest daily rise in the current wave and second highest since the pandemic began.
The ministry says that another 4,456 infections have been confirmed since midnight, with active cases standing at 75,403. There have been a total of 1,017,825 cases verified in Israel.
The death toll stands at 6,908, wih 25 fatalities recorded yesterday. Another 12 people have died from COVID-19 complications so far today.
The ministry also says that 5,927,650 Israelis have received at least one vaccine shot, 5,456,870 have gotten two, and 1,723,205 have received a third dose.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry reports that 14 Palestinians were injured in clashes with Israeli troops along the border, including five from live fire.
The ministry says that another two people were wounded by rubber bullets and seven were hurt after inhaling tear gas.
The third coronavirus vaccine dose boosts efficiency against severe illness from the virus to 97 percent, according to Health Ministry figures cited by Channel 12 news.
The network says that 16 days after the boosters are administered, protection against infection jumps to 95%.
The military is preparing for the possibility that the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group will fire rockets toward Israel during Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s visit to Washington, according to Channel 12 news.
Bennett is currently in the US capital and is scheduled to meet with US President Joe Biden tomorrow.
WASHINGTON — American officials understand that Hamas is provoking unrest in the Gaza border area, an Israeli official says.
He adds that the US is sending messages to Hamas through all the relevant channels, demanding the terror organization cease its provocations.
The remarks come ahead of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during which the premier will stress that his goal is maintaining stability, and avoiding drastic steps.
Bennett will not agree to negotiations with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, but is working to improve conditions for the Palestinian population.
The Israeli official emphasizes that Bennett will not agree to any building freeze in the West Bank, but will also make no moves toward annexation.
During his Pentagon meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Bennett will discuss arms procurement and IDF force design.
Pfizer is seeking US approval of the booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine.
The drugmaker says today that it has started the application process for a third dose of its vaccine for people ages 16 and older. The company says that it will complete the application with the US Food and Drug Administration by the end of this week.
The company’s move follows an announcement by US health officials last week of plans to give COVID-19 booster shots to all Americans to shore up their protection amid the surging Delta variant of the virus. Officials said that it is “very clear” that the vaccines’ protection against COVID-19 infections wanes over time.
Pfizer’s vaccine received full FDA approval earlier this week. The vaccine had been used since last December under an emergency use authorization.
The three vaccines used in the US, made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, are still preventing hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19. But the vaccines don’t appear to be quite as strong against the highly contagious Delta variant as they were against earlier versions of the virus.
Earlier this month, US regulators said that transplant recipients or others with weakened immune systems could get an extra dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
Thousands of mourners attend the funeral of Ra’am MK Said al-Harumi in the southern Bedouin town of Segev Shalom, following his death early this morning from a heart attack at the age of 49.
Numerous government ministers and lawmakers are among the mourners, among them Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy and Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) August 25, 2021
The Pentagon says that it will continue to evacuate people from Afghanistan until the US leaves next Tuesday, but during the final days it will need to prioritize getting US troops and military equipment out of the country.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby says today that the military will preserve as much military capacity at the Kabul airport as possible to continue the evacuation in the coming days.
He says that if evacuees need to get out, the military will “continue to evacuate needed populations all the way to the end.” He adds that in the final days and hours there will have to be a balance, as the 5,400 troops in Kabul and critical systems also get on aircraft to leave.
Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor says that flights were leaving the Kabul airport every 39 minutes over the last 24 hours, getting about 19,000 evacuees out. He also says that the US will maintain security at the airport until the end.
“We will have that ability to secure ourselves throughout multiple means to ensure flights are able to take off,” Taylor says.
Kirby and Taylor say that there was a helicopter flight into Kabul overnight to gather evacuees and take them to the airport. They say that there were fewer than 20 people on the flight, but would not say if they were Americans or Afghans or others. They say that this is just the third such helicopter flight done by the military during the evacuation.
Israeli military forces fire tear gas to distance Palestinians from the Gaza border fence.
A number of Palestinians light tires on fire near the fence.
According to Gaza-based media, 10 Palestinians were injured from tear gas inhalation, though there is no confirmation from the Hamas-run health ministry.
Palestinians set fire to tires near the Gaza border, but so far have mostly been staying clear of going right up to the fence, compared to Saturday. pic.twitter.com/Q3MNgNTQMz
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) August 25, 2021
TEHRAN, Iran — The Iranian parliament approves almost all of President Ebrahim Raisi’s cabinet choices in an open session, enabling him to form a government after he was inaugurated earlier this month.
Lawmakers approve one-by-one 18 out of 19 candidates chosen by Raisi for the ministerial posts, rejecting only the pick for the education portfolio, thus requiring the president to make another choice for that post.
Israel says today that Algeria should focus on its own problems a day after Algiers severed ties with Morocco, the latest Arab nation to normalize relations with the Jewish state.
Algeria says that it had cut diplomatic relations with Morocco because of “hostile actions,” following months of resurgent tensions between the North African rivals.
Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra also accused Foreign Minister Yair Lapid of “senseless accusations and veiled threats,” after Israel’s top diplomat expressed “worries about the role played by Algeria in the region.”
On his first visit to Morocco since the countries normalized ties, Lapid said his concerns were based on fears that Algeria was “getting close to Iran”, as well as “the campaign it waged against the admission of Israel as an observer member of the African Union.”
An Israeli diplomatic source calls Lamamra’s allegations “unfounded and without interest — they bring nothing new.”
“Algeria should focus on its own problems, serious economic problems especially, so its citizens can live the life they deserve, rather than trying to harm their neighbor and involve Israel in its disputes,” the source told AFP.
“What matters are the very good relations between Israel and Morocco.”
The Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group has deployed its so-called restraining force in an apparent effort to keep a lid on protests along the border, with Palestinians in reflective vests deployed to the area.
However, video aired by Filastin al-Yawm TV shows a group of Palestinians simply running around them toward the border fence.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) August 25, 2021
Police have arrested a man from southern Israel on suspicion of making threats against Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on social media.
He is suspected of writing “burn [Bennett’s] home,” according to the Walla news site.
The suspect has been released under restrictive conditions.
WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Naftali Bennett starts the first full day of his visit to Washington DC with morning prayers in his room at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel.
He is now meeting with AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr and president Betsy Berns Korn at the hotel.
At 1 p.m. local time (8 p.m. in Israel), Bennett will meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
He will then set out across the Potomac River to meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon.
Bennett’s day will end with a 6 p.m. (1 a.m. in Israel) meeting with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz visits the Gaza border, meeting with the top military brass there, ahead of a planned demonstration along the border by Palestinians in the enclave.
Gantz issues an ultimatum to Palestinians in the Strip, offering additional aid if calm is maintained and threatening military strikes if violence again breaks out on the frontier, as occurred on Saturday when dozens of rioters rushed the security fence, including a man with a pistol who opened fire into an Israeli sniper position, shot an Israeli border guard in the head and critically injured him.
“Our ‘toolbox’ is filling – we have increased capabilities in terms of aid and development of the Gaza Strip for the benefit of over 2 million Gaza residents, and also in terms of the military plans that we are developing, should we be required to take action. The reality on the ground will determine which of these tools we will choose to employ,” Gantz says in a statement following his visit.
Several hundred Palestinians have gathered outside the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis near the border with Israel in what is so far a peaceful demonstration, the military says.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, the protesters are so far not behaving violently and so Israeli troops have not used any riot dispersal weapons against them.
On Monday, Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip announced plans to hold a protest along the border, despite the violence that broke out during a similar demonstration over the weekend, in which dozens of rioters rushed the security fence, including a man with a pistol who opened fire into an Israeli sniper position, shooting an Israeli border guard in the head and critically injuring him.
Forty-one Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire during the riot, including a Hamas operative who later succumbed to his wounds, according to the terror group.
Rabbi Ratzon Arusi, the chair of the Chief Rabbinate’s Commission for Dialogue with the Holy See, has expressed concern over recent remarks by Pope Francis about Jewish law, Reuters report.
According to the report, Arusi sent a letter to the Vatican requesting clarification of comments the pope made to a general audience earlier this month.
On August 11, Francis spoke at the Vatican about the first five books of the Bible, known in Hebrew as the Torah. The pope referenced the biblical story of God giving the Torah to the Jewish people: “God offered them the Torah, the Law, so they could understand his will and live in justice. We have to think that at that time, a Law like this was necessary, it was a tremendous gift that God gave his people.”
Later, however, Francis said: “The Law, however, does not give life, it does not offer the fulfillment of the promise because it is not capable of being able to fulfill it. The Law is a journey, a journey that leads toward an encounter… Those who seek life need to look to the promise and to its fulfillment in Christ.”
Arusi sent a letter on behalf of the Chief Rabbinate to Cardinal Kurt Koch, whose Vatican department includes a commission for religious relations with Jews.
“In his homily, the pope presents the Christian faith as not just superseding the Torah; but asserts that the latter no longer gives life, implying that Jewish religious practice in the present era is rendered obsolete,” Arusi reportedly wrote in the letter. “This is in effect part and parcel of the ‘teaching of contempt’ towards Jews and Judaism that we had thought had been fully repudiated by the Church.”
The rabbi asked Koch to “convey our distress to Pope Francis,” and requested clarification from the pope to “ensure that any derogatory conclusions drawn from this homily are clearly repudiated,” Reuters reports.
Koch’s office says today that he has received the letter and is “considering it seriously and reflecting on a response.”
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman comes out against the imposition of further coronavirus restrictions.
“When we look at the morbidity situation, there is a stabilization in the figures and there is reason for optimism,” Liberman says during a briefing to reporters. “We need to stop talking about new restrictions and let the economy work.”
The Treasury chief also pushes back against calls by business owners for compensation.
“Go to Superland and restaurants — everything is full,” he says, referring to an amusement park in Rishon Lezion.
PARIS — A French government spokesperson says France will continue its evacuation operation in Kabul “as long as possible” ahead of American August 31 withdrawal date.
Gabriel Attal doesn’t provide a date for the end of the French operation, saying only “we will likely need to anticipate a few hours, maybe a few days ahead” of the American forces’ departure from Kabul airport.
“We will continue as long as possible,” he says. “Due to extreme tension on the ground… and the scheduled departure of American forces, these evacuations are a true race against time.”
Attal declines to elaborate on how many people are still waiting for evacuation by France in Kabul.
A 10th flight carrying evacuees landed in Paris today, with 21 French and 220 Afghan nationals, including 130 children, onboard, according to the French Office of Immigration and Integration.
In total, at least 1,720 Afghans and a hundred French people have been evacuated by France since the beginning of the operation last week.
French President Emmanuel Macron promised France would evacuate Afghans who worked for the country as well as activists and others under threat.
Israeli forces are gearing up for possible violence along the Gaza border ahead of protests called today by the enclave’s Hamas rulers and other Palestinian factions.
The military has sent additional troops to the area after a similar protest over the weekend saw rioting in which an Israeli soldier was shot and severely wounded.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s parliament is due to complete debate on President Ebrahim Raisi’s cabinet before an afternoon vote of confidence allowing the new government to start work.
The legislative vetting process began on Saturday and will resume early this afternoon, when the ultraconservative president will deliver a speech to lawmakers.
In an Islamic Republic where ultimate power rests with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Raisi inherits a difficult socioeconomic situation.
Iran has been been strangled financially by sanctions reimposed by Washington after then US president Donald Trump pulled out of a multilateral nuclear deal in 2018.
The country of 83 million people has since been hit by a severe economic crisis amplified by the COVID pandemic.
Iran is currently grappling with a fifth wave of infections — the strongest wave yet.
The country recorded its highest single day death toll yesterday, with 709 fatalities recorded by the health ministry in 24 hours.
The ultraconservative Raisi won a June 18 election marred by record low turnout and an absence of significant competitors.
Firefighters say they have gained control over a blaze near Givat Ye’arim, a town outside Jerusalem.
Teams will continuing operating at the scene “until the fire is finally extinguished,” according to a spokesperson.
An East Jerusalem resident is indicted for allegedly assaulting a police officer in flashpoint neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, which has been the scene of recent protests over the pending evictions of several Palestinian families.
Mahmoud Saleh, 19, is also charged with attempted assault with a racist motive, among other alleged offenses.
A blaze has broken out near Givat Ye’arim outside Jerusalem, a week after a massive wildfire tore through the area.
The Fire and Rescue Service says ten firefighting teams and six planes are taking part in the effort to put out the blaze, which has yet to be brought under control
The Eitanim psychiatric hospital evacuated its youth department as the fire nears the medical center’s grounds. It was not instructed to so by the fire department, but as a preventative measure.
BERLIN — The international community must maintain dialogue with the Taliban if it is to protect any improvements made in Afghanistan during the last two decades of NATO’s deployment, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says.
“Our goal must be to preserve as much as possible what we have achieved in terms of changes in Afghanistan in the last 20 years. This is something the international community must talk about with the Taliban,” Merkel says, in a speech to parliament.
DAMASCUS, Syria — A massive oil spill caused by leakage from a power plant inside one of Syria’s oil refineries is spreading along the coast of the Mediterranean country, Syria’s state news agency says and satellite photos show.
SANA says the spill reached the coastal town of Jableh, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the refinery in the town of Baniyas, adding that Syria’s environment department and the municipality of the coastal province of Latakia have placed all concerned departments on alert. It says work is underway to clean the coast in the rocky areas.
Yesterday, Syria’s government said that maintenance teams at Baniyas Thermal Station had brought a fuel leakage from one of the tanks under control.
Satellite images from Planet Labs Inc. today show what appear to be a massive 19-kilometer long spread oil spill from the Baniyas plant. An image from Monday showed no sign of the slick, suggesting whatever happened to cause the spill happened later.
The head of the Electricity Workers Syndicate at Tartous Workers Union, Dawoud Darwish, blames cracks in one of the fuel tanks at the thermal station. He points out that the tank was filled with 15,000 tons of fuel.
Syria’s oil resources are mostly outside of government controlled areas but its two refineries are under government control and operating. This makes Damascus reliant on Iran for fuel, but US Treasury sanctions have hindered the supply network, which spans Syria, Iran and Russia.
There has been a series of mysterious attacks on vessels in Mideast waters, including off Syria’s coast, for over a year. They have come amid rising tensions in the region between Iran, Israel and the United States.
In May, Syria’s foreign minister blamed Israel for mysterious attacks targeting oil tankers heading to Syria, saying they violate international law and will not go unpunished.
The Beersheba District Court convicts Aviad Moshe of the attempted murder of his wife Shira Isakov in September last year.
Moshe is also convicted of abusing their infant son, then 1.5, having repeatedly stabbed and beat Isakov in front of him at their home in the southern town of Mitzpe Ramon.
“The crime of attempted murder was proven above all reasonable doubt,” Judge Yael Raz Levi says.
Isakov, who attended the hearing, says she’s happy with the ruling.
“Justice was done here,” Isakov tells reporters. “I call on other women not to be afraid to complain.” She is no longer married to her attacker.
As The Times of Israel’s political correspondent, I spend my days in the Knesset trenches, speaking with politicians and advisers to understand their plans, goals and motivations.
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