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Police nab 2 Palestinians suspected of involvement in alleged rape of 7-year-old

It’s unclear how pair was involved in incident involving Israeli girl in West Bank settlement; arrests come more than month after police released suspect due to lack of evidence

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Illustrative: Girls arrive at their school. (Flash90)
Illustrative: Girls arrive at their school. (Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they unfolded.

Minister defends Litzman, who police say blocked extradition of Malka Leifer

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich of the United Right MK rushes to defend UTJ chairman Yaakov Litzman after police recommend that the deputy health minister be in indicted on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery.

Litzman allegedly pressured officials in his office to change their psychiatric assessments of alleged sex predator Malka Leifer in order to prevent her extradition to Australia, where she faces 74 charges of sex abuse.

Police also said that Litzman attempted to pressure officials in the Health Ministry in order to prevent the closure of a food business whose owner “he is close to” — a closure that had been ordered due to “serious sanitary findings found that led to the sickness of a number of people who ate from its products.”

Defending Litzman, Smotrich tweets, “I do not know the investigation material in Litzman’s case. I do know him and his dedicated office as those who give a personal and wonderful response [to every person who approaches them for help], regardless of race or gender religion.

“The police statement [announcing their recommendation] appears to be another attempt to deprive public officials of the power to act, instead forcing the delegation to unelected bureaucrats, thereby delegitimizing intervention by elected officials.

Shas says it’s confident Litzman will be found innocent

The Shas party issues a statement defending the leader of the Knesset’s other ultra-Orthodox party after police recommend that he be indicted for assisting a serial pedophile.

“The Shas movement affirms its support of Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, a faithful public envoy who has dealt with requests from the public for decades and his left his door open to all,” says the party. “We are sure that his innocence will be proven and that justice will soon be revealed.”

PA blasts ministers’ honoring of extremist rabbi as ‘sponsorship of terrorism’

The Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry lashes out at the slated participation of two hardline ministers at an event later this week honoring an extremist rabbi who has praised the Israeli settler responsible for mowing down 29 Muslim worshipers in a terror attack at Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriacrchs in 1994.

“The participation of the two Israeli ministers in the granting of a prize to ‘Ginsburg’ is formal sponsorship of terrorism,” the PA Foreign Ministry says in a statement.

Education Minister Rafi Peretz and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich are expected to attend an annual “Torah symposium” on Thursday put on by a religious NGO in the central town of Givat Shmuel called the Cathedra for Torah and Wisdom. At the end of the day-long event, Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh is slated to be honored with a “Torah creativity” award.

Ginsburgh’s writings include a pamphlet that praises Hebron massacre perpetrator Baruch Goldstein. Critics have accused him of fueling attacks by extremist Jews against Palestinians and other non-Jews in Israel and the West Bank.

He also endorsed “The King’s Torah,” a 2009 book by firebrand rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur. The book quotes religious sages as permitting, under certain conditions, the killing of non-Jews, including babies, “if there is a good chance they will grow up to be like their evil parents.” The book also says the commandment “Thou shalt not murder” does not necessarily apply to non-Jews.

— Adam Rasgon

State psychiatrists said they feared being axed if they didn’t follow Litzman’s illicit orders — report

Kan reports that breakthroughs in the police’s case against Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman came from the testimonies of various state psychiatrists. One of them told investigators, “I’m just a bureaucrat. A senior minister is sitting in front of me [making requests]. I know my place and I know his place and what is expected of me.”

Several psychiatrists told police that they feared they’d be fired if they didn’t follow Litzman’s orders, Kan says.

IDF names civilian employee killed in blast at base as Shai Gabai

The IDF identifies the civilian employee killed in a fire extinguisher explosion as Shai Gabai, 38, from the coastal town of Givat Olga.

Gabai was fatally wounded in the blast and pronounced dead at the hospital a short time later.

The army says Gabai worked as a technician on armored vehicles at the maintenance and repair center at the Tel Hashomer base in central Israel.

The IDF says it is still investigating what caused the explosion.

— Judah Ari Gross

Shin Bet says it thwarted terror bombing in Jerusalem planned by Hamas

The Shin Bet security service says it thwarted plans by Hamas members from Hebron to conduct a bombing attack in Jerusalem earlier this summer, retrieving the three-kilogram explosive device they intended to use.

The Shin Bet says the cell, along with others arrested by Israeli forces in recent months, had been directed to carry out attacks against Israeli and Palestinian Authority targets by Hamas’s military wing in the Gaza Strip.

“The operatives in the West Bank were instructed to form cells in order to carry out kidnappings, shootings, stabbings, purchase weaponry and to find and induct additional operatives for terrorist activities,” the Shin Bet says in a statement.

A member of the cell planning the Jerusalem bombing, university student Tamer Rajah Rajbi, was arrested in June, leading to additional arrests of other Hamas operatives, including other students, the security service says.

“During his arrest, Tamer handed over an explosive device that weighs three kilograms (6.6 pounds), which had dozens of pieces of metal attached to it to maximize fragmentation and injury in the explosion. The device was meant to be used to carry out a bombing attack,” the Shin Bet says.

According to the security service, Tamer had been recruited by Hamas to act as a bomb-maker for the organization and had trained to create explosive devices.

— Judah Ari Gross

Israel advances plans for over 2,300 settlement homes in West Bank

The Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction has advanced plans for over 2,300 West Bank homes.

During sessions on Monday and this morning, the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee cleared 1,466 homes through an early planning stage known as “deposit” while 838 homes received final approval for construction throughout the West Bank.

The batch of approvals is the first since the security cabinet last month approved a plan to grant 715 building permits for Palestinians in Israel-controlled Area C in the West Bank, where for decades only several dozen homes have been green-lighted for construction. Due to the political ramifications of the approval, several ministers insisted it be conditioned on the parallel granting of 6,000 building permits for Israeli settlers.

Police apologize for planting rifle in Arab man’s home for filming of TV series

Police apologize after Hebrew media reported that officers planted a rifle in the home of an East Jerusalem resident and then “found” it as part of a documentary broadcast on Israel’s public broadcaster.

Police apologize “for any harm caused to the civilian as a result of the segment’s airing” and add that the case is being probed and that conclusions would be drawn as necessary.

Senate calls on Pompeo to pressure Poland on Holocaust property restitution

A letter signed by 88 US senators, including those running for president, calls on US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to take urgent action on the restitution of the property of Holocaust victims left in Poland.

The bipartisan letter was spearheaded by two senators – Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, and Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican. Rubio also is responsible for work on “Law 447,” called Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today, or JUST, which was approved by Congress one year ago.

“Now is the time, while the last Holocaust survivors are still alive, to back up our words with meaningful action. We encourage you to pursue bold initiatives to help Poland to resolve this issue as quickly as possible,” write the senators in the letter.

Gideon Taylor, chair of Operations at the World Jewish Restitution Organization, points out that survivors of the Holocaust, Jews and non-Jews, “have waited too long for Poland to pass legislation to address property first taken by the Nazis and then nationalized by the Polish Communist regime.”

— AP

FM seeks peace agreements with Gulf states in ‘coming years’

Foreign Minister Israel Katz says that promoting Israel’s rapprochement with the Arab world is his top priority, adding that it was realistic to expect formal peace deals with moderate Sunni Gulf states within a few years.

“My goal, with the full backing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is to work toward an overt normalization, to extend it and turn it public, and to get to the signing of diplomatic [peace] agreements with the Gulf states. This is the challenge; this is the goal,” he tells the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Nobel laureate Toni Morrison dead at 88

Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison has died.

Publisher Alfred A. Knopf says Morrison died Monday night at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. She was 88.

She was the first black woman to receive the Nobel literature prize, awarded in 1993. The Swedish academy hailed her use of language and her “visionary force.”

Her novel “Beloved,” in which a mother makes a tragic choice to murder her baby to save the girl from slavery, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988.

— AP

Ohio gunman’s ex details mental health struggles

An ex-girlfriend of the Ohio gunman who killed nine people says he showed her a video of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting on their first date.

Adelia Johnson says in an emailed statement to The Associated Press that Connor Betts often joked about having dark thoughts. She says he told her that he had bipolar disorder and that his talk didn’t scare her because she thought it was a symptom of his mental illness.

Johnson says she met Betts in a college psychology class this year and they dated for a couple of months until May.

She says she doesn’t know what would have caused him to open fire outside a strip of nightclubs in Dayton early Sunday.

— AP

UN accuses Yemeni forces of attacks against northerners

The UN’s human rights office has accused southern Yemeni security forces of perpetrating “retaliatory attacks” against citizens from the country’s north.

“We have received information from multiple sources about arbitrary arrests and detention, forced displacement, physical assaults and harassment,” spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani says in a statement.

She says the UAE-backed Security Belt forces are “reportedly carrying out and enabling retaliatory attacks against civilians” originating from northern Yemen.

The United Arab Emirates is part of a Saudi-led military coalition backing the UN-recognized government against Huthi rebels in the country’s conflict.

Shamdasani says the alleged targeting of northerners is “apparent retaliation” for deadly attacks last week by jihadists and the Iran-aligned rebels.

At least 49 people were killed in two separate attacks Thursday in government-held Aden, on Yemen’s southern coast.

The first was a suicide car bombing carried out by jihadists on a police station, which was followed by a Huthi assault targeting newly trained police cadets, officials said.

A day later, Al-Qaeda gunmen killed 19 soldiers in an attack on an army base in southern Yemen, according to security officials.


FM Katz: Israel participating in ‘maritime security mission’ in Gulf

Foreign Minister Israel Katz says at a closed door session of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel is taking part in a maritime intelligence and security mission in the Gulf, Hebrew media reports.

7 civilians killed in Syria after failed Idlib truce — monitor

Pro-government forces and opposition fighters exchanged fire in northwest Syria, killing seven civilians, a war monitor says, after Damascus scrapped a ceasefire.

A Friday truce was supposed to protect three million people living in the Idlib region after three months of deadly bombardment.

But jihadists running the region on Saturday refused to comply with a key condition to that truce, declaring they would never withdraw from a planned buffer zone around the area.

On Monday, Damascus declared the truce over, accusing its opponents of attacking civilian areas and bombarding an air base of its ally Russia.

Today Russian air strikes on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province killed four civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights say.

In two government-held villages in Hama province, rocket fire by jihadist groups and allied rebels took the lives of three civilians including a child, the Britain-based monitor said.


US sanctions on Venezuela can hit third parties, Bolton says

United States sanctions against Venezuela’s government announced on Monday include the authorization of penalties against “foreign persons” who provide support for the regime, National Security Adviser John Bolton says.

“I want to be clear that this sweeping executive order authorizes the US government to identify, target and impose sanctions on any persons who continue to provide support to the illegitimate regime of Nicolas Maduro,” says Bolton at a meeting in Lima to discuss Venezuela’s political crisis.

Bolton’s clarification comes after US `President Donald Trump ordered a freeze on all Venezuelan government assets in the US and barred transactions with its authorities.

“We are taking this step to deny Maduro access to the global financial system and to further isolate him internationally,” adds Bolton.

Delegates from some 60 countries, most of whom support opposition leader Juan Guaido’s challenge to Maduro’s authority, were meeting in Lima on Tuesday to discuss ways of ending Venezuela’s political crisis.

Venezuela has been mired in a political impasse since January when Guaido proclaimed himself acting president, quickly receiving the support of more than 50 countries, including the US.


Iran ‘favors’ talks despite Trump snub

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says that Tehran favors talks with the US if it lifts sanctions against the Islamic Republic, despite his top diplomat turning down a meeting with US President Donald Trump.

Rouhani says that “peace with Iran is the mother of all peace” and “war with Iran is the mother of all wars” as he defended a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

“Iran favors talks and negotiations and, if the US really wants to talk, before anything else it should lift all sanctions,” Rouhani says in remarks aired live on state television.

Rouhani, speaking after meeting with his top diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif, says Iran was ready for talks regardless of whether or not the US was party to the nuclear deal.

“Whether they want to come into the JCPOA or not, it’s up to them,” says Rouhani, referring to the deal known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“All sanctions should be lifted so that there will be no criminals facing us,” he said, accusing the US of committing acts of “economic terrorism” for blocking food and medicine imports.


1,500 protest in Tel Aviv against deportation of foreign workers and their children

Some 1,500 have converged outside the Tel Aviv Museum to protest Israel’s ongoing efforts to deport foreign workers and their children.

Among those addressing the rally is 10-year-old Khean Esta. Last week, a court rejected an appeal seeking to block authorities from deporting him, his sibling and his mother who remained in Israel illegally after her visa expired.

“Maybe you saw me on TV when they took me from my home. They broke the window and the door. It was very scary. We did nothing wrong to anyone. They put me, my sister and my mother in jail. We were there for a long time. About a week, which was unpleasant for me,” Esta says.

“I’m an Israeli,” Esta continues. “I don’t understand why they want to deport me. I didn’t do anything. I’ve always been in Israel and I really love Israel. I love all my friends. Why take kids from their house and put them in jail and deport them? Please help us.”

Litzman threatened, offered bribes to employees in his ministry to keep deli open — report

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman threatened officials in his office in an effort to pressure them to keep open a Jerusalem deli despite serious sanitary findings that led to the sickness of a number of people who ate from its products, Channel 13 news reports.

“I’m the health minister! I’m the health minister! I carried out the dental reform! I did this, that as the other,” one of the ministry employees quotes Litzman as having said.

The employee who spoke to Channel 13 says Litzman then went on to offer him and others raises if they agreed to do what he asked.

Earlier today, police recommended that Litzman be indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust for using his office to illicitly provide assistance to an alleged serial sex abuser, as well as on a separate bribery charge for helping to prevent the closure of Goldy’s.

Lithuanian Jewry announces drastic steps to protest Conservative Party’s celebration of Nazi collaborators

The Lithuanian Jewish community announces two drastic steps to protest the “publicly-expressed desire” by the country’s Conservative Party to continue celebrating Nazi collaborators as national heroes.

In a statement, Jewish leader Faina Kukliansky says the community building and the city’s one functioning synagogue will remain closed for an undetermined period.

“Anti-Semitic comments and inscriptions which are posted to social media pages of political parties and their leaders are being tolerated and go unpunished … which makes us wonder even more whether we are safe or not,” she writes.

In recent days, Vilnius municipality has removed honors to two different Lithuanian anti-Soviet partisans revered by many locals as freedom fighters who also collaborated with the Nazis during World War II.

— Raphael Ahren

Prosecution slated to recommend AG indict Litzman before elections — report

The State Prosecutor’s Office is slated to hand down its recommendation to the attorney general that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman be indicted pending a hearing even before the September elections take place, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

While it is not clear if Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will also hand down a decision before the September 17 vote, his office is familiar with the case material and is prepared to work swiftly.

Report: 2 Palestinians arrested in rape case of 7-year-old one month after initial suspect released

Two Palestinians from the village of Qibya have been arrested on suspicion that they were involved in the alleged rape of a 7-year-old Israeli girl earlier this year at a central West Bank settlement, Hebrew media reports.

It is not immediately clear how the pair was involved in the incident.

Last month, police dropped their indictment against Mahmoud Qadusa, who had been the central suspect in their case. He had been arrested for over 50 days before police released him without pressing charges.

PM seeking to encourage Feiglin to bow out from race — report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been seeking to pressure Zehut chairman Moshe Feiglin to bow out of the election, Channel 13 news reports.

Likud officials have offered to cover the NIS 3 million worth of debt that Zehut incurred during the last election, according to Channel 13.


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