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

Trump says US commitment to NATO remains strong

US President Donald Trump says the US commitment to NATO “remains very strong” despite reports that he threatened to pull out in a dispute over defense spending.

Trump says at a news conference in Brussels that he told “people” that he would be “very unhappy” if they didn’t increase their commitments.

Trump says the US has been paying “probably 90 percent of the costs of NATO.”

Trump adds that he was “extremely unhappy with what was happening and they have substantially upped their commitment.”

NATO had no immediate comment.

He says: “I believe in NATO.”

Trump once declared NATO “obsolete.”

— AP

Syrian rebels agree to give up Daraa, cradle of 2011 revolt

Syrian activists and state media say rebels have agreed to surrender Daraa, the first city to revolt against President Bashar Assad with Arab Spring-inspired protests seven years ago, to government forces.

Ahmad Masalmeh, a media activist formerly based in the southern city, says fighters have the option of accepting an offer of amnesty from the government, or leaving Daraa with their families to other rebel-held parts of the country. Masalmeh says he left Daraa for Jordan four days ago. He spoke to the Associated Press by Skype.

Daraa governor Mohamad al-Hanous says government forces are in control of 80 percent of the city, according to the government-linked Central Military Media outlet.

Syrian state media reported late last night that rebels in Daraa had agreed to surrender their heavy and medium weapons.

— AP

IDF again fires warning shots at Gaza arson balloon cell

An Israeli drone fires two missiles near a group of Palestinians flying incendiary balloons into southern Israel from the northern Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian media.

This is the second such airstrike in less than 24 hours.

No injuries are reported in the airstrike, which is said to have occurred near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun.

— Judah Ari Gross and Adam Rasgon

Abbas heading to Moscow for talks with Putin, World Cup final

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will discuss efforts to hold an international peace conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this week, Ahmad Majdalani, a confidant of the PA president, tells The Times of Israel.

Abbas is slated to travel to Russia on Friday to meet with Putin and attend the 2018 World Cup final.

Abbas has not traveled abroad since he fell ill with pneumonia in late May.

Majdalani says that the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership believes Russia has an “important role” to play in the peace process.

— Adam Rasgon

Trump hails ‘tremendous progress’ on NATO defense spending

US President Donald Trump hails “tremendous” progress on defense spending commitments by NATO members.

“We made a tremendous amount of progress today,” Trump says after emergency talks with fellow NATO leaders prompted by his demands for allies to boost military budgets immediately.


Putin hosts aide to Iran’s supreme leader hours after talks with Netanyahu

Russian President Vladimir Putin receives the Iranian leader’s top adviser hours after conferring with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Iran’s presence in Syria.

The Kremlin says that Putin has met with Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but wouldn’t offer any details of the talks. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, says that Velayati handed Putin letters from Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Peskov says in a conference call with reporters that the letters dealt with bilateral relations and the situation in the region, but refused to elaborate.

Velayati’s visit comes hours after Putin hosted Netanyahu, who reaffirmed the Israeli demand for the Iranian withdrawal from Syria.

— AP

Trump says US pullout from NATO ‘unnecessary’

US President Donald Trump says he probably can withdraw the US from NATO but that such a step is “unnecessary.”

Earlier reports said Trump had threatened during the NATO summit in Brussels to pull the US out of the military alliance in a dispute over defense spending.

Trump says at a news conference that he was “extremely unhappy” with the situation, but that alliance members have upped their commitment in response to his complaints.

Asked whether he’s still threatening to pull out of NATO and whether he can do so without buy-in from Congress, Trump said: “I think I probably can but that’s unnecessary.”

— AP

Trump promises to raise US election meddling with Putin next week

US President Donald Trump says he’ll raise election meddling and arms control when he and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet next week.

Trump also says he is “not happy about Crimea.” Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. Trump continues to blame his predecessor, president Barack Obama, for allowing that to happen.

Speaking at a news conference during a NATO summit in Brussels, Trump says that alliance members “actually thanked me” for meeting with Putin.

Trump has been criticized for seeking the one-on-one meeting with Putin, scheduled for Monday in Helsinki, in part because of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump describes it as a “loose meeting” and says “we’ll see where it leads.”

Says Trump: “I think meeting with people is great.”

— AP

Trump says Putin is a ‘competitor,’ not an ‘enemy’

US President Donald Trump says that he sees his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin as a “competitor” but not an “enemy,” days before they meet in Helsinki on Monday.

“He’s not my enemy… ultimately he’s a competitor, he’s representing Russia, I’m representing the United States,” Trump tells reporters at a NATO summit.

Trump says his sit-down with Putin will be “just a loose meeting,” but says significant progress could be made in the relationship.

— Agencies

Macron denies Trump NATO spending claims, reports of US withdrawal

French President Emmanuel Macron denies US President Donald Trump’s claim that NATO allies agreed to boost defense spending beyond 2 percent of gross domestic product.

Macron says: There is a communique that was published yesterday. It’s very detailed.” He says it “confirms the goal of 2 percent by 2024. That’s all.”

Macron also denies reports that Trump threatened to withdraw from the military alliance over his complaints that many NATO members are lagging behind in their defense spending.

“President Trump never at any moment, either in public or in private, threatened to withdraw from NATO,” he tells reporters.

He says the leaders of the alliance’s 29 members met in an extraordinary session this morning at the request of NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

— Agencies

Main suspect in kidnapping of 7-year-old says he ‘has nothing to do with it’

The main suspect in the kidnapping of seven-year-old boy denies any connection to the the family of Karim Jumhour, who was snatched from outside his home in northern Israel two days ago.

According to reports in Hebrew-language media, the suspect tells the judge at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court during a remand hearing this afternoon that he “has no idea what [police] want from me, I don’t know the child or the family. I have nothing to do with it.”

Earlier today, police said four people had been arrested in connection to the disappearance of Jumhour.

Police requested the court extend the remand of all four suspects by 15 days.

Trump forecasts ‘escalation’ between US and Iran

US President Donald Trump is forecasting an unspecified “escalation” between the US and Iran.

Trump also says Iran is treating the US with more respect, though there is no evidence to support Trump’s claim.

Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal earlier this year, reinstating economic sanctions that had been lifted under a deal among Iran, the US and other world powers in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program.

Trump is asked about Iran at a news conference in Brussels, as he wraps up his participation in a NATO summit.

He says Iran is feeling a lot of pain as a result and that at some point Iran will “call me and they’re going to say let’s make a deal, and we’ll make a deal.”

— AP

UN says Israeli closure will worsen conditions in Gaza

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees says Israel’s new restrictions at the main commercial crossing into the Gaza Strip will worsen living conditions there.

Agency spokesman Chris Gunness says it could have “profound and far-reaching consequences for already desperate civilians.”

Gaza is home to nearly 2 million people, 80 percent of whom rely on humanitarian aid.

Israel this week shut Kerem Shalem, the only cargo crossing with Gaza, in response to incendiary kites and balloons sent across the frontier into Israel. It is still allowing food, medicine and humanitarian aid in through the crossing.

Kerem Shalom has been subject to a strict blockade by both Israel and Egypt for the past 11 years, meant to prevent terrorist groups from bringing weapons into the Strip.

The crossing has been closed a number of times in the past three months after sustaining damage from fires set by Palestinian protesters.

— with Agencies

Pompeo presses Europe to get tough on Iran

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is pressing European nations to get tough on Iran by cutting off all funding the country may use to foment instability in the Middle East and beyond.

Pompeo is meeting with European officials in Brussels following a summit of NATO leaders to make the case for clamping down on Iranian “terrorism and proxy wars.” He calls on America’s partners and allies to join a US-led economic pressure campaign against Tehran that began in earnest after President Donald Trump withdrew from the landmark Iran nuclear deal in May.

Pompeo says in a tweet that “there’s no telling” when Iran could act “in one of our countries next” and posted a map that accused Iran of sponsoring 11 terrorist attacks in Europe since 1978.

— AP

AG bans police from Knesset debate on PM probes, citing fears of ‘obstruction’

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is prohibiting law enforcement officials from appearing at a Knesset committee debate on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s graft probes, saying he fears lawmakers’ expected public pressuring of officials could amount to obstruction.

The committee was to discuss Netanyahu’s claims that a vindictive police officer is behind the numerous criminal investigations that he and his wife are currently embroiled in.

The former head of the Israel Police’s Lahav 433 anti-graft unit, Roni Rittman, reportedly believed the Netanyahus engineered his forced resignation in February on allegations of sexual assault.

Earlier this week, the Netanyahu family’s lawyers asked Mandelblit to reexamine evidence collected by Rittman, saying it was biased against the prime minister and his wife Sara.

UK releases long-awaited, already derided Brexit plan amid cabinet rebellion

Britain publishes a plan for future ties with the European Union after Brexit that prompted high-profile resignations from the cabinet and an ongoing rebellion among hardliners in Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative party.

May writes in a foreword to the controversial policy paper, which calls for a free trade area and common rules with the EU for goods, that reaching a Brexit agreement with Brussels “requires pragmatism and compromise from both sides.”

The British government has released proposals for what it calls a “principled, pragmatic and ambitious” Brexit — plans that have already triggered the resignation of two top ministers and face likely resistance from the European Union.

The long-awaited document has infuriated fervent Brexit supporters in May’s party, who think it would limit Britain’s ability to strike new trade deals around the world.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary David Davis both quit the government this week in protest.

— Agencies

Long-jailed Iran former deputy PM dies aged 86

A former Iranian deputy prime minister who spent years in jail on charges of spying for the US died today at the age of 86, state media reports.

Abbas Amir-Entezam, regarded as a liberal, had spent decades in jail after being found guilty of espionage and treason shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Amir-Entezam, who was in poor health following his years in prison, died following a “cardiac arrest,” according to state news agency IRNA.

The Fars news agency says he was home at the time and could not be resuscitated.

It was not clear how long he had been out of prison and under what conditions he had been allowed to return home.

Amir-Entezam was widely considered by human rights groups to be Iran’s longest-serving political prisoner.


Trump lands in Great Britain for first UK visit

US President Donald Trump arrives in Great Britain for his first visit as president amid NATO tensions, protests and Brexit turmoil.

Air Force One lands at London Stansted Airport, where Trump is beginning a four-day visit to the country.

Trump will attend a gala dinner tonight with British and American officials at Blenheim Palace, the ancestral home of former prime minister Winston Churchill.

Tomorrow, Trump will meet with Prime Minister Theresa May and Queen Elizabeth II and then spend the weekend at one of his private golf courses in Scotland.

Widespread protests of Trump are expected during his visit to the UK, which comes during a tumultuous week for May’s government as it seeks to navigate the Brexit process. Trump is arriving following a chaotic NATO summit.

— AP

Mayor of northern Israeli city questioned over breach of trust

The mayor of a northern Israeli city is under investigation for breach of trust, Hebrew-language media reports.

The unnamed mayor has reportedly been interrogated by the police anti-fraud unit Lahav 433.

MK draws ire for likening ‘Jewish State’ bill to Nazi-era bystanderism

Yesh Atid MK Yael German is under fire by coalition lawmakers for implying that allowing the so-called Jewish State bill was comparable to the silence of the Poles in the face of Nazi-era atrocities.

“Following a visit to the Majdanek concentration camp I understood that one cannot remain silent in the face of injustices against minorities,” German said at a committee meeting to discuss the controversial nation-state bill.

Likud MK Avi Dichter, who sponsored the bill, slams German for making “despicable” and “inappropriate” Holocaust comparisons, while Jewish Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli calls her comment “false and a serious distortion of history.”

The proposed legislation contains a clause seen as legally sanctioning Jewish-only communities in Israel, but the same provision could exclude not only Arabs, but also other minorities, such as Jews of Middle Eastern origin, ultra-Orthodox Jews, or homosexuals from certain communities.

Last Palestinian arrested at Khan al-Ahmar clashes released to house arrest

A military court judge orders the release of the last of a group of ten Palestinians arrested during clashes with Israeli troops at the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar last week.

Sara Abu Dahuk, is accused of throwing stones at troops, though her attorney Gaby Lasky says the judge at the Ofer Military Court acknowledged that the evidence against her is weak.

She is released on bail to house arrest until Sunday, giving the prosecution an opportunity to appeal the decision.

In May, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state’s decision to demolish Khan al-Ahmar, located near the city-settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. Officials across the Western world have since called on Israel reverse the plan.

— Jacob Magid

All 4 suspects in kidnapping of 7-year-old remanded until next week

The Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court remands all four suspects in the kidnapping of 7-year-old Karim Jumhour until next week.

A police statement says the investigation into the kidnapping is ongoing.

Jumhour was snatched from outside his home in northern Israel two days ago.

During the hearing, the main suspect told the judge that he did not know the Jumhour family and that he “had nothing to do with” the boy’s disappearance.

Syrian forces raise flag over Daraa, cradle of 2011 uprising, after rebel surrender

Syrian state TV says the government has raised the national flag over Daraa, the south Syrian city that was the cradle of the 2011 revolt against President Bashar Assad’s rule.

The al-Ikhbariya TV station is broadcasting footage of officials raising the government’s three-star flag over the rubble of the city after rebels agreed to give up the town earlier Thursday.

Daraa has suffered catastrophic damage as one of the cities at the center of Syria’s seven-year-long civil war. At least 400,000 people have been killed and 11 million people displaced in the fighting between the government, rebels, and the Islamic State group.

— AP

German charged over Nazi memorial found in French field

A suspected German neo-Nazi accused of erecting a headstone in a French field to honor a Nazi tank division is charged with glorifying crimes against humanity, French prosecutors say.

The monument to the 17th Panzer Infantry Division, whose members are suspected of massacring 124 people in a village in central France in August 1944, was discovered in January in a field outside the northeastern village of Volmunster, on the border with Germany.

It read, “In honor of the fallen of the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division. Approach, Engage, and Overrun!” according to pictures in French media. Set on private ground, the headstone was nonetheless visible to passers-by.

Investigators working with the Office for Fighting Crimes against Humanity, Genocide, and War Crimes seized the plaque and tracked down the owner of the field, a 34-year-old German living across the border in the Saarland region.


Iranians protest water scarcity, 1 killed by police

Iran’s state-run news agency says police killed a man while trying to disperse a protest over water scarcity.

IRNA quotes Col. Mohammad Ebadi Nejad, a local police chief in southern Iran, as saying police fired shots in the air after ordering a crowd to disperse. He says the man was shot in the neck and taken to a hospital, where he died.

IRNA says the clashes began after authorities removed illegal water-pumps from a river.

Protests have been held across southern Iran in recent weeks over water scarcity. Much of the country is suffering from drought, and in some areas tap water has turned muddy or salty. The water shortage has compounded Iran’s economic woes after the U.S. withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord.

— AP

Hamas welcomes Irish moves to criminalize trade with settlements

Hamas praises the Irish Senate for advancing a bill that would ban the import and sale of goods made in West Bank settlements.

The bill still faces several hurdles before it becomes law.

“We consider this an important step in criminalizing the occupation’s behavior and its settlement policies,” Hamas says in a statement.

— Adam Rasgon

High Court again freezes demolition of West Bank Bedouin village

The High Court of Justice extends a temporary injunction preventing the state from carrying out plans to raze a West Bank Bedouin village until it hears an appeal by local residents.

The court casts doubt on the state’s claims that its plans to raze Khan al-Ahmar were carried out legally, and orders that a hearing on the matter take place no later than August 15th, freezing the demolition of the village until at least after then.

The court initially issued the injunction last week in response to a petition submitted on behalf of the Bedouin community who claimed they never received eviction orders, and that their attempts to obtain permits for illegally built buildings were ignored by Israeli authorities.

— Jacob Magid

PM defends controversial Jewish state bill, says ‘majority have rights too’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defends the controversial Jewish State bill by saying most Israelis want to preserve the Jewish identity of the country, and that “the majority rules.”

“In the Israeli democracy, we will continue to protect the rights of both the individual and the group, this is guaranteed. But the majority have rights too, and the majority rules,” he says at a memorial service for Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

“The vast majority of people want to preserve the Jewish character of our country for generations to come,” he says. “This combination of individual rights and group rights are the definition of a Jewish and democratic state.””

Clause 7B of the Likud-sponsored legislation, which the government hopes to have approved by the end of the month, would allow the state to “authorize a community composed of people having the same faith and nationality to maintain the exclusive character of that community.”

That portion of the text is seen as allowing towns to exclude Arab citizens, or even other Jewish groups, and has come under criticism in Israel.

Germany says police punched anti-Semitic assault victim by mistake

German police say a 50-year-old Israeli professor was set upon by a German man with Palestinian roots who hit the victim’s kippah off his head and shoved him while yelling, “No Jew in Germany.”

Police in the city of Bonn say the assault happened in a park yesterday afternoon. A police statement says the professor’s companion reported it, but the officers who arrived knocked the professor to the ground and hit him in the face, initially mistaking the victim for the perpetrator.

Bonn Police Chief Ursula Brohl-Sowa met with the professor today to apologize for the officers’ mistake.

Police say a male suspect was identified and temporarily detained. They said he was a 20-year-old already known to police.

Concern has been rising about a resurgence of open anti-Semitism in Germany.

— AP

NATO chief: Trump approach ‘having an impact’

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg says that despite President Donald Trump’s fire-and-brimstone approach to this week’s summit, the US leader has had an impact on the commitment by alliance members to boost their individual military spending.

Stoltenberg says that “the clear message from President Trump is having an impact.”

Since taking office, Trump has criticized most alliance members for not spending more on their militaries and pressing them to do more.

Stoltenberg says Trump’s approach is paying off. The NATO secretary-general says allies have added $41 billion extra for defense spending — a figure he cited yesterday.

— AP

Trump releases ‘very nice’ letter from Kim Jong Un

US President Donald Trump releases a letter from Kim Jong Un, in which the North Korean leader voices confidence in efforts to end their nuclear standoff, while urging the US leader to take “practical steps” to build trust.

“A very nice note from Chairman Kim of North Korea. Great progress being made!” Trump tweets alongside a copy of the letter, dated July 6.

In it, Kim describes his landmark June 12 summit with Trump as the “start of a meaningful journey” and expresses confidence that the “sincere efforts” of both sides “will surely come to fruition.”

Kim also voices hope that “the invariable trust and confidence in Your Excellency Mr. President will be further strengthened in the future process of taking practical actions.”


EU envoy said to tell Likud MKs its Jewish state bill ‘reeks of racism’

The European Union’s ambassador to Israel reportedly told Likud MKs that passing a so-called Jewish state bill “reeks of racism,” and would harm the country’s international status.

According to Hadashot news, Emanuele Giaufret told lawmakers the bill, which has been criticized by some in Israel as discriminatory, is “distancing Israel from the accepted norms of democratic countries.”

“The legislation reeks of racism, and discriminates against groups, especially against Arabs, and harms the values that Israel is trying to uphold,” one Likud MK is quoted as telling the TV station.

The EU mission in Israel declined to comment on Giaufret’s reported comments, saying it “does not refer to private conversations.”

US accuses North Korea of illegally smuggling oil products

The United States says North Korea is illegally smuggling refined petroleum products into the country beyond the quota of 500,000 barrels per year allowed under UN sanctions.

UN documents sent to the UN Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea and obtained by The Associated Press cite 89 instances in which North Korean tankers likely delivered refined products “illicitly procured” via ship-to-ship transfers.

The documents said that even if each tanker delivered only one-third of its listed capacity the total volume would be above the 500,000 barrel annual quota.

The United States asked the committee to urgently inform all UN member states and the general public that North Korea has breached the quota — and to exercise “enhanced vigilance” against its attempts to obtain refined petroleum products.

— AP

Syrian bases struck by IAF were being used by Iran — report

The Syrian regime bases struck early this morning by the Israeli Air Force were in use by the Iranian military, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The airstrikes in the Quneitra region near the border came hours after a Syrian drone was shot down by the military after it entered Israeli airspace.

According to Kan, Israel struck three military observation posts used for intelligence gathering by the Iranian army operating in Syria.

It says that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed the regime bases were being used by Iran.

Israel summons EU envoy over criticism of Jewish state bill

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructs Foreign Ministry director-general Yuval Rotem to summon EU ambassador Emanuele Giaufret for a dressing-down over his reported criticism of the Jewish state bill.

“Not only does the EU fund NGOs that fight against Israel and illegal building [in Area C], now they are also getting involved in Israel legislation,” the statement from the PMO reads. “Apparently they haven’t understood that Israel is a sovereign country.”

Earlier, Hadashot news reported that Giaufret told Likud MKs the controversial legislation “reeks of racism, and discriminates against groups, especially against Arabs, and harms the values that Israel is trying to uphold.”

— Raphael Ahren

Three fires currently raging near Gaza caused by incendiary balloons

At least three fires are currently raging in the Gaza border region caused by incendiary balloons launched from the Strip, according to Hebrew-language media reports.

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