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

Britain slams Israeli settlement approvals

London is lashing Israel over its approval of some 2,300 settlement homes earlier this week, saying it “promotes the effective annexation of the West Bank.”

Conservative lawmaker Dominic Raab arrives at 10 Downing Street, London, July 24, 2019 (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

“We urge Israel to halt its settlement expansion, which is contrary to international law,” new Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says according to a statement from the Foreign Office.

It also urges more building permits for Palestinians in Israel-controlled Area C of the West Bank and expresses “serious concern” over Israel’s demolition of homes abutting the security barrier in East Jerusalem last month.

Construction work in the Dagan neighborhood of the settlement of Efrat, in the West Bank on July 22, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The statement comes after the EU said Tuesday that Israeli settlement expansion “erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace.”

Israel on Monday and Tuesday approved plans for 2,304 homes in the West Bank, many of them in isolated areas far beyond the settlement blocs Israel hopes to keep in a final status deal.

Death toll in Kabul blast up to 14

The toll from a Taliban suicide attack in Kabul has risen to at least 14 dead and 145 wounded, an Afghan official says.

“Fourteen were martyred, 145 injured in today’s explosion,” deputy interior minister General Khoshal Sadat tells reporters, hours after a huge blast shook the Afghan capital.


UN says Israel ‘advancing effective annexation’ of West Bank

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov is also panning Israel over its approval of settlement homes.

“The expansion of settlements has no legal effect and constitutes a flagrant violation of international law. By advancing the effective annexation of the West Bank, it undermines the chances for establishing a Palestinian state based on relevant UN resolutions, as part of a negotiated two-state solution,” he says.

“It must cease immediately and completely,” he adds.

East Jerusalem man files official police complaint over gun-planting episode

An East Jerusalem Palestinian who was falsely portrayed as having a rifle hidden in his home in a police documentary on TV has filed an official complaint with the police’s internal investigations department.

Police apologized for the incident Tuesday and said they would investigate, after Samer Sleiman said he had been identified and ostracized despite his face being blurred.

East Jerusalem resident Samer Sleiman who is suing police for planting a gun in his house during the filming of a television docudrama (courtesy)

He was set to file a complaint accusing the police of slandering him and harming his privacy.

“Why did they choose me,” he tells reporters upon entering police headquarters in Jerusalem to file the complaint. “I didn’t even know it was being filmed for TV. … they didn’t ask me and just said there is an order.”

Police said they had intelligence of smuggled weapons, but when they did not find one, planted one for the cameras instead. They blamed the show’s producers for the idea.

Sleiman also confirms a report that he received a threatening call from someone he understood to be a police officer telling him to back off the case.

“It’s not good for you to make so much noise. It would be better to put this in a quiet corner,” he says the person told him, according to Ynet.

Lapid: I’m a wild man, Gantz was cool with anti-Haredi video

Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid is denying reports of a rift within the party, which have multiplied in recent days after some fellow party members chided him for a video that was derided as anti-Semitic.

“Every Haredi person who was outraged first laughed,” he says of the video, which portrayed ultra-Orthodox members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government as money-grubbing pork-barrel politicians.

Blue and White party leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz ahead of a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 21, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

He claims aides of party leader Benny Gantz saw the video before it went out.

On Monday, Moshe Ya’alon, another member of the party’s top tier, said he and Gantz had opposed the video, which was “not their style.”

Lapid describes Gantz as “statesmanlike and levelheaded,” but says he himself is “a bit of a wild man.”

He also says an anti-Netanyahu mutiny in Likud is “already starting.”

1948 Einstein letter of warning to Israeli president being sold

A letter from Albert Einstein to the president of the fledgling State of Israel warning that the Jewish people may not be supported by the international community is being put up for sale.

A May 19, 1948 letter from Albert Einstein to Chaim Weizmann. (courtesy)

In the German-language letter, dated May 19, 1948, just days after Israel declared independence, the physicist tells Haim Weizmann that “one still cannot say that the powerful men of this earth mean well with us. The game the English play with us is miserable, and the American attitude appears ambivalent. However, I am confident that our people will overcome this last scare and that you will live to experience the satisfaction of having created a happy Jewish community,” according to a translation from the Pennsylvania-based Raab Collection.

Raab is offering the letter for $90,000.

In January, the letter sold at auction for $18,300, well below the $30,000 to $40,000 estimate.

Police probing harassment of attorney general

Police say they are opening an investigation into harassment of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a farewell ceremony for outgoing Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at Justice Ministry headquarters in Jerusalem on June 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A statement says Mandelblit has been subject to “repeated” harassment over the last several days, without going into details.

Ynet reports that the harassment was sent via text message to Mandelblit’s phone and two people have already been questioned, with more expected to be brought in.

According to Channel 12, the harassment is likely related to Mandelblit’s role in pending indictments against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mandelblit has been a frequent target of ire from Netanyahu’s allies. Last year, the grave of his father was vandalized in what was seen as a politically motivated attack.

The vandalized grave of the father of state prosecutor Avichai Mandelblit, December 28, 2018. (Adam Shuldman/FLASH90)

Leaving for Dayton and El Paso, Trump says his rhetoric not fueling violence

US President Donald Trump is denying that his rhetoric has played a role in contributing to anti-immigrant and white supremacist violence.

“I don’t think my rhetoric does at all — I think my rhetoric brings people together. Our country is doing really well,” he says.

US President Donald Trump speaks to the press as he departs the White House in Washington, DC, on August 7 2019. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

Trump makes the comments as he leaves the White House on Wednesday to visit Ohio and Texas, the scene of weekend mass shootings.

He dismisses criticism of him as by “people who are looking for political gain.”

Trump also says there is a “very strong” political appetite in Congress for bipartisan legislation that would address background checks or some restrictions for gun users.

“There’s a great appetite, and I mean a very strong appetite, for background checks. And I think we can bring up background checks like we’ve never had before,” he says.

— with AP

US, Turkey to set up join operations center in northern Syria

Turkey and the United States have agreed to establish a joint operation center to manage the tensions between Kurdish and Turkish forces in northern Syria, Ankara said Wednesday.

A statement from the Turkish defense ministry says the two sides had agreed to “implement without delay the first measures aimed at eliminating Turkey’s concerns. In that framework, to quickly create in Turkey a joint operation center to coordinate and manage the implementation of the safe zone with the US.”


Abbas tells members of Congress he rejects US diktats

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told a visiting delegation of US members of Congress that he rejects “American diktats and decisions related to Jerusalem, refugees, borders and security,” the official PA news site Wafa reports.

Abbas also contended that Israel has not respected “signed bilateral agreements” and was “insisting on destroying them, “a matter that has pushed the Palestinian leadership to decide to halt” them.

He told the Congressional delegation in Ramallah that he supports the two-state solution, Wafa says.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas talks to reporters at the Palestinian Authority headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on June. 23, 2019. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

The delegation, led by House majority leader Steny Hoyer, arrived in Israel on Tuesday and was slated to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

The members of Congress expressed their “complete support” for the two-state solution and achieving peace, the Wafa report says.

Abbas announced in late July that the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership had decided to halt the implementation of agreements with Israel and would begin creating mechanisms to do so.

The Palestinians have previously threatened to nullify agreements with Israel, but have taken little action to carry out such measures.

— Adam Rasgon

2020 hopeful Booker says racism a national security issue

Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker says racism and white supremacy are “issues of national security.”

The New Jersey senator doesn’t mention US President Donald Trump by name in South Carolina but uses some of the president’s own words to call out the racism Booker says underlies much of the violence in the country, including recent attacks that killed 31 in El Paso and Dayton.

Booker says white supremacy “allows political leaders to promise to ‘build the wall’ — while not building hospitals, schools, or infrastructure.” Trump has pushed to build a wall along the Mexico border.

Booker maakes his address in the sanctuary of Mother Emanuel AME, a historic South Carolina church where nine Bible study participants were slain in a 2015 racist attack.

— AP

Police release Palestinians held over alleged rape of 7-year-old girl

Two Palestinian men arrested Tuesday on suspicion of involvement in the rape of a 7-year-old Israeli girl in a central West Bank settlement earlier this year have been released, a police spokeswoman says.

The only condition for their release is that they appear at a nearby police station if summoned again, she says.

The two were the first arrests since police in June released a 46-year-old Palestinian man after holes emerged in the case against him. He had been held for nearly two months before public scrutiny of the evidentiary basis for the arrest forced the prosecution to backtrack on charges against him.

— Jacob Magid

Two more Palestinians held in connection to alleged rape

A police spokesperson says two Palestinians have been detained for questioning on suspicion of having aided the rape of the 7-year-old girl in an ultra-Orthodox settlement in the central West Bank.

The confirmation comes after police said they released two other Palestinians arrested in the case.

A police official said earlier that in the coming weeks they will be seeking to question all Palestinians that were in the settlement during the period they believe the girl had been raped, which may cover a three-month span. They also will be questioning other members of the community and have not ruled out the possibility that a fellow Jewish resident could have been the perpetrator.

— Jacob Magid

Kan pulls cop TV show that planted rifle

The Kan broadcaster has pulled episodes of the “Cops”-style docudrama “Jerusalem District” after it was revealed that producers had planted a gun in a Palestinian East Jerusalem resident’s home to liven up the show.

The broadcaster says it is investigating to see if any other parts of the show are also problematic.

The first and only season of the show is no longer available on YouTube and video on demand.

Billionaire Jewish philanthropist behind Genesis Prize probed in Spain

A Spanish court has put Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman under official investigation for corruption, accusing him of having helped orchestrate the bankruptcy of Spanish technology company Zed.

Fridman is a major philanthropist to Jewish causes, including the Genesis Prize and Holocaust memorial projects.

Left to right: Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, Genesis Philanthropy Group chairman Mikhail Fridman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Cabinet secretary general Tzvi Hauser (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/Flash90)
Left to right: Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, Genesis Philanthropy Group chairman Mikhail Fridman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and cabinet secretary-general Tzvi Hauser (Amos Ben Gershom/Flash90)

In a document seen by AFP, the National Court, which deals with major financial cases, summoned Fridman for questioning on September 12, placing him under investigation for corruption in business, market abuse, fraudulent insolvency and misuse of company assets.

One of the 100 richest men in the world according to Forbes, Fridman is accused of having led “a series of actions that led to the insolvency of the Spanish company ZED Worldwide SA… in order to buy it at a ridiculously low price, much lower than that of the market,” the court document says.

Fridman is co-owner of the Alfa Group, the biggest financial and industrial investment group in Russia.

— AFP and ToI staff

Welfare minister Katz set to be charged in bribery case — reports

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is reportedly set to announce his intention to indict Welfare Minister Haim Katz on charges of fraud and breach of trust in the coming days, according to Hebrew-language media.

Katz is accused of an illicit quid pro quo with businessman Mordechai Ben Ari.

The Likud minister is suspected of accepting financial benefits in return for using his position in the Knesset to advance the businessman’s interests.

Katz, a veteran Likud MK, is a criminal suspect in a separate corruption investigation relating to his time of as head of the Israel Aerospace Industries workers’ union.

Responding to the reports, the Justice Ministry says it has not yet reached a final decision.

Teva shares plunge over exposure to opioid suits; CFO quits

Teva stock has slightly rebounded after hitting a 52-week low earlier Wednesday after the Israeli pharmaceutical giant said it was setting aside $646 million for opioid painkiller settlements.

The Petah Tikva-based drugmaker reported slightly better than expected non-GAAP earnings of $0.60.

Shares slipped over 9.5% to a yearly low of $6.34, before rebounding to $6.90.  Once Israel’s largest company, the generics maker has seen its share price plummet from over $25 in the last year, amid concerns over lost market position and exposure to lawsuits stemming from its prescription painkillers.

Teva CFO Michael McClellan said earlier Wednesday that he was stepping down for personal reasons, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Israel, Cyprus, Greece, US drill down on energy cooperation

Energy ministers from Greece, Cyprus, Israel and the United States say they have been deepening their cooperation in the energy sector, noting that while energy issues can create regional tension, they can also foster cooperation.

Cyprus Energy Minister Georgios Lakkotrypis, speaking after talks in Athens, said he had received support from his counterparts from Greece, Israel and the US regarding his country’s right to drill for natural resources.

Greek Minister of Environment and Energy Kostas Hatzidakis, second left, shakes hands with Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, right, as US Assistant Secretary of State of Energy Francis Fannon, second right, and Cyprus’ Energy Minister Georgios Lakkotrypis , left, look on during a summit in Athens, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Tension has been mounting between Cyprus and Turkey over energy exploration, with Cyprus calling on Turkey to halt drilling for gas in waters where the ethnically divided east Mediterranean island nation has exclusive economic rights.

Israeli Minister of Energy Yuval Steinitz also expresses hope for speedy progress on the East Med pipeline, a project to link eastern Mediterranean gas deposits to Europe.

— AP

USA Today building evacuated after report of gunman

The USA Today building in northern Virginia has been evacuated after reports of a gunman in the building.

Fairfax County police say they are investigating at the suburban Washington building and have “found no evidence of violence or injuries.”

As fresh minister faces charges, Labor slams ‘joke’ of government

Responding to the news that Haim Katz is set to be charged with fraud and breach of trust, the Labor Party says a government with so many ministers suspected of crimes is “unprecedented.”

“The supreme interest of a large part of the government’s senior members is legal survival. This docudrama would be funny if the joke were not on us,” the party says.

Aside from Katz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman are facing possible charges, as well as Likud MK David Bitan.

Netanyahu says Likud and ultra-Orthodox together forever

In private conversation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he won’t challenge his ties with ultra-Orthodox parties, Channel 12 reports.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, speaks with Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, left, in the Knesset, on March 28, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu on Wednesday published an op-ed vowing that he would not seek a unity government, but would form a strong right-wing government instead, without mentioning specific partners.

“We will stick [with the ultra-Orthodox parties] through fire and water,” the channel quotes him saying, without citing a source.

He does not offer the same commitment to far-right United Right, led by Ayelet Shaked, with whom he has clashed with in the past.

Polish rabbi rails against invitation to honor Nazi collaborators

Poland’s chief rabbi Rabbi Michael Schudrich is criticizing plans by the country’s right-wing government to honor a group of ultra-nationalist underground fighters accused of collaborating with the Nazis during World War II.

Shudrich says he felt “insulted” by an invitation from the Polish veterans’ affairs ministry to a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the creation of the Swietokrzyska Brigade.

The event will be held under the auspices of President Andrzej Duda.

Michael Schudrich, Poland’s chief rabbi, reciting a prayer for the victims of the Jedwabne massacre at the town’s Jewish cemetery, July 10, 2016. Second from left is Jonathan Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

“The organization of these ceremonies insults the memory of all Polish citizens killed in the fight against Germany,” Schudrich says in a letter addressed to Veterans’ Affairs Minister Jan Kasprzyk.

The Swietokrzyska brigade, comprised of some 850 to 1,400 men, is accused of collaborating with the Nazis against the Soviets as the Red Army advanced from the east across Polish territory toward the end of the war.

“These anti-communists, they killed Germans, Russians and they killed Jews” who were Polish citizens, Schudrich tells AFP.


State Department official flagged as anti-Semitic white nationalist

The Southern Poverty Law Center says it has identified a State Department official who is heavily involved in white nationalism.

According to the SPLC, Matthew Q. Gebert, who works as a foreign affairs officer at the Bureau of Energy Resources, oversaw a Washington chapter of a white nationalist group, hosted white nationalists and published white nationalist propaganda online under the alias “Coach Finstock.”

Gebert has worked at Foggy Bottom since 2013 and became radicalized in 2015, according to the SPLC’s Hatewatch.

Twitter accounts linked to Gebert also posted anti-Semitic memes and propaganda, including swastikas.

It is not known if any action has been taken against Gebert. A State Department spokesperson tells the SPLC that  the department is “committed to providing a workplace that is free from discriminatory harassment and investigates alleged violations of laws, regulations, or Department policies, taking disciplinary action when appropriate.”


Bulgarian man looking to return watch that survived 1955 El Al crash

A man who has held on to a watch recovered from an El Al flight that was shot down in Bulgaria 64 years ago is looking to return it to relatives of its former owner, the Ynet news site reports.

Flight 402 from London to Tel Aviv was shot down by Bulgarian fighter jets in 1955, killing all 58 people aboard, after it strayed off its flight path, possibly because of bad weather.

According to Ynet, a memorial service was held recently at the site of the crash near the city of Petrich for the first time. At the end of the ceremony, a local who says his father recovered the Swiss timepiece from wreckage of the crashed plane approached the Israeli delegation and asked to help him return the watch.

Little remains of the watch, which was seemingly taken apart at some point, but the ambassador to Bulgaria tells Ynet she is committed to trying to help find its owner.

“On the back is written that it was made in Switzerland and there is an illegible stamp — maybe a symbol of the factory or name of some body,” Irit Lillian tells Ynet. “It’s definitely a complicated mission, but I can’t say we are hopeless.”

Palestinians grilled over alleged rape released

The two Palestinians detained for questioning in connection to the alleged rape of a 7-year-old girl in an ultra-Orthodox settlement have been released, a police spokesperson says.

The two were stopped earlier Wednesday and two others arrested a day earlier were released.

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