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Hamas vows to continue arson attacks ‘until blockade lifted’

Gaza terror group posts video denying recent reports claiming they intend to stop launching flaming balloons and kites at Israel

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

  • Illustrative: Gazans load balloons with flammable material to be flown toward Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border in al-Bureij, central Gaza Strip on June 14, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
    Illustrative: Gazans load balloons with flammable material to be flown toward Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border in al-Bureij, central Gaza Strip on June 14, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
  • Members of the LGBT community demonstrate   in Tel Aviv against a Knesset legislation that denies surrogacy rights for same-sex couples on July 18, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
    Members of the LGBT community demonstrate in Tel Aviv against a Knesset legislation that denies surrogacy rights for same-sex couples on July 18, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
  • On a four-day official visit in Hungary, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban walk during the reception ceremony in front of the Parliament building in Budapest, Hungary, July 18, 2017. (Balazs Mohai/MTI via AP)
    On a four-day official visit in Hungary, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban walk during the reception ceremony in front of the Parliament building in Budapest, Hungary, July 18, 2017. (Balazs Mohai/MTI via AP)
  • First responders participate in an emergency drill simulating an earthquake at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
    First responders participate in an emergency drill simulating an earthquake at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
  • Former Labour lawmaker John Woodcock speaking in a TV interview on May 2, 2017. screen capture: YouTube)
    Former Labour lawmaker John Woodcock speaking in a TV interview on May 2, 2017. screen capture: YouTube)
  • Some of the twelve Thai boys, rescued from a flooded cave after being trapped, arrive to attend a press conference in Chiang Rai on July 18, 2018, following their discharge from the hospital. (AFP PHOTO / Lillian SUWANRUMPHA)
    Some of the twelve Thai boys, rescued from a flooded cave after being trapped, arrive to attend a press conference in Chiang Rai on July 18, 2018, following their discharge from the hospital. (AFP PHOTO / Lillian SUWANRUMPHA)
  • A picture taken on July 18, 2018, from the Israeli Golan Heights shows smoke rising above buildings during unidentified ai strikes across the border fence opposite a camp for displaced Syrians near the village of al-Rafeed in the southern Syrian province of Daraa. (AFP PHOTO / JALAA MAREY)
    A picture taken on July 18, 2018, from the Israeli Golan Heights shows smoke rising above buildings during unidentified ai strikes across the border fence opposite a camp for displaced Syrians near the village of al-Rafeed in the southern Syrian province of Daraa. (AFP PHOTO / JALAA MAREY)

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

Labour lawmaker quits party, citing longtime tolerance of anti-Semitism

Labour MP John Woodcock, a prominent critic of party leader Jeremy Corbyn, resigns from the party over what he says is the spread of anti-Semitism in the party.

In his resignation letter, Woodcock says the party has been “taken over by the hard left” and has “tolerated” anti-Semitism. He also says Corbyn “would pose a clear risk to UK national security as prime minister.”

Woodcock was suspended by the party earlier this year over accusations he sent inappropriate messages to female staff members in 2014.

In his letter he also accuses the party of “refusing to appoint an independent investigator to rule on my disciplinary,” saying the process had been “manipulated for factional purposes.”

Arab MK suspended for calling ex-Shin Bet head a ‘murderer’

Joint (Arab) List MK Jamal Zahalka is suspended for calling ex-Shin Bet head and Likud MK Avi Dichter a murderer during a plenum debate on the Palestinian Authority’s policy of paying salaries to terrorists.

The suspension is handed down by the Knesset Ethics Committee, and will begin at the start of the fall Knesset session. Zahalka will be banned from committee and plenum debates but will retain his right to vote.

Zahalka called Dichter a “murderer” earlier this month during a stormy Knesset debate over legislation submitted by Dichter that would see Israel deduct the PA’s tax revenue by the amount it pays out to terrorists and the families of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks.

Iran nuclear chief says uranium stockpile reaches 950 tons

The chief of Iran’s nuclear agency says the country’s effort to acquire uranium has resulted in a stockpile of as much as 950 tons.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, tells state TV on Wednesday that Iran has imported some 400 tons of the stuff since the 2015 landmark nuclear deal with Western powers, bringing its stockpile to between 900 and 950 tons — up from 500 tons.

Salehi says that’s enough for Iran to run its longtime goal of 190,000 centrifuge machines for enriching uranium in the future.

The nuclear accord limits Iran’s uranium enrichment to 3.67 percent, enough to use in a nuclear power plant but far lower than the 90 percent needed for an atomic weapon.

However, since the US pulled out of the deal in May, Iran has vowed to boost enrichment capacity to put pressure on the remaining signatories to live up to the agreement.

— AP

Thai youth soccer team rescued from cave leaves hospital

Members of a Thai youth soccer team who were trapped in a cave have left the hospital where they have been treated since their rescue, and are slated to hold a news conference before they return to their homes.

The 12 boys and their 25-year-old coach had been pronounced generally healthy by doctors, aside from some minor infections.

The news conference, to be held in a government building, will be the first opportunity the members of the team have to speak directly to the media, though video of them was released previously. Officials are reviewing questions in advance to make certain none might cause damaging psychological effects.

— AP

Settlers hurl rocks at Israeli troops in West Bank, injuring 1

A border police officer is lightly injured when settlers from the hard-line settlement of Yitzhar threw rocks at Israeli security forces in the northern West Bank, according to a police statement.

The female officer was taken to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva for treatment.

The Palestinian villages around Yitzhar have seen a series of anti-Arab hate crime attacks in recent months, with the Israeli security establishment viewing the settlement as the source of a spate of Jewish ultra-nationalist crimes.

Turkish court orders jailed US pastor held in prison

A Turkish court on Wednesday ordered that an American pastor held for almost two years on terror charges must remain in prison, defying growing pressure from the US authorities for his release.

The judge said the next hearing in the case of Andrew Brunson, who ran a protestant church in the Aegean city of Izmir and was first detained in October 2016, would be on October 12, an AFP correspondent reported.

The 50-year-old evangelical pastor from North Carolina was arrested in the aftermath of a 2016 coup attempt for alleged links to outlawed Kurdish rebels, as well as a network led by US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the unrest.

Brunson, who faces up to 35 years in prison, denies the charges.

US President Donald Trump tweeted in Brunson’s defense earlier in the year, saying: “They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is.”

— Agencies

Mogherini urges Israel to reconsider decision to raze Bedouin village

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini calls on Israel to reverse its decision to demolish a Bedouin village in the West Bank, saying the

Mogherini in a statement says razing Khan al-Ahmad is “illegal under international law, would severely threaten the viability of the two-state solution and undermine prospects for peace.”

She says the EU “expects the Israeli authorities to reconsider their decision,” adding that the consequences of forcibly transferring the village’s 200 residents would be “very serious.”

After a years-long legal battle, the Supreme Court approved the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar in May. The state says the structures were built without the relevant building permits and pose a threat to residents because of their proximity to a highway.

But activists say the villagers had little alternative but to build without Israeli construction permits, as the documents are almost never issued to Palestinians for building in parts of the West Bank, such as Khan al-Ahmar, where Israel has full control over civilian affairs.

German court releases man convicted in neo-Nazi murder spree

A German court has ordered the release of a man convicted last week as an accessory to the murder of nine victims of a neo-Nazi group that targeted immigrants.

Ralf Wohlleben was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment at the end of a trial that lasted more than five years. Prosecutors alleged he was instrumental in supplying the National Socialist Underground group with a handgun and silencer and knew they planned to use it for the killings

The Munich state court says it has lifted an arrest warrant against Wohlleben, whose sentence has yet to be confirmed but he has already been in custody for six years and eight months so is unlikely to serve much longer. It said prosecutors approved the move.

Wohlleben was one of five people convicted in the trial.

— AP

Rocket sirens sound in Gaza periphery

Incoming rocket alert sirens sound in the Hof Ashkelon region in southern Israel.

The IDF says it is investigating what set them off.

— Judah Ari Gross

16 drown, 30 missing as refugee boat sinks off north Cyprus

Sixteen refugees were drowned and around 30 missing after their boat sank in the Mediterranean off the north of Cyprus, Turkish state media reports.

The boat was carrying 150 people when it went down off the village of Yeni Erenkoy in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot-controlled portion of the island, which is only recognized by Ankara.

Over 100 people were rescued in a joint operation by Turkish Cypriot and Turkish coastguards, reports say.

— AFP

IDF: Rocket sirens in southern Israel are false alarm

The Israeli military says the sirens heard in the Hof Ashkelon region in southern Israel are a false alarm.

— Judah Ari Gross

Judge in Bezeq probe dismissed over texting scandal

A disciplinary panel dismisses the judge who was caught earlier this year texting a lawyer from the Israel Securities Authority regarding suspects in a high-profile corruption probe into the Bezeq telecom company.

The panel found Judge Ronit Poznansky-Katz guilty of unbecoming behavior in April, but did not announce her formal punishment until today.

Additionally, Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked ordered a formal inquiry into Poznansky-Katz’s behavior.

Comptroller warns Israel unprepared for major earthquake

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira warns that Israel is inadequately prepared for a major earthquake, in a special report released a week after dozens of tremors were felt in the north of the country.

Shapira says a major earthquake along the Great Rift Valley could kill as many as 7,000 people, injure tens of thousands and leave another 17,000 homeless.

He calls for emergency services and local municipalities to review the country’s readiness for dealing with a possible major earthquake.

State Comptroller reports reviewing Israel’s earthquake readiness in 2001, 2004 and 2011 found that no funding had been allocated for strengthening older buildings and other precautionary measures, due to spats between ministries over responsibility for the work.

Experts have warned that a large earthquake could strike Israel in the near future. The last major earthquake to hit the region was in 1927 — a 6.2-magnitude tremor that killed 500 people and injured 700.

West Bank settlements evacuated due to brush fires

Residents of the West Bank settlements of Bat Ayin and Gva’ot are being evacuated from their homes due to a large brush fire.

Four firefighting planes have joined ground crews trying to put out the blaze.

No injuries are reported, but a number of buildings in Bat Ayin were damaged.

By late afternoon, police said firefighters were in control of the blaze.

British neo-Nazi leader gets eight years in prison

The leader of a banned British neo-Nazi group is sentenced to eight years in prison over a plot to murder Labour lawmaker Rosie Cooper and a female police officer.

Christopher Lythgoe, 32, leads National Action, which was banned in 2016 after supporting the stabbing and shooting murder of another Labour MP, Jo Cox.

He is convicted of membership in the group and stirring up racial hatred but found not guilty of encouraging Cooper’s murder at London’s central criminal court.

The plot to murder Cooper was uncovered after a whistleblower leaked the details of a meeting at a pub in Warrington in northwest England to campaign group Hope Not Hate in July 2017.

Judge Robert Jay says National Action had a “truly evil and dystopian vision” of waging a race war, and without Lythgoe’s determination, the group would have “withered and died on the vine.”

— AFP

Moscow says arrest of Russian ‘agent’ a bid to undermine Putin-Trump summit

Moscow slams the arrest in the United States of a Russian national for conspiring to influence US politics, saying it was intended to undermine the “positive results” of a summit between the US and Russian leaders.

“This happened with the obvious task of minimising the positive effect” of this week’s Helsinki summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US leader Donald Trump, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova tells reporters.

Maria Butina was arrested in Washington on Sunday and appeared in court on Monday. She was charged with conspiring to act as an agent of Russia “by developing relationships with US persons and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics.”

Trump has been accused of failing to stand up to the Russian leader over alleged meddling in the 2016 election in the United States, with many US critics calling him a “traitor.”

— AFP

Bromine leak forces evacuation of Haifa port

Emergency workers are evacuating the Haifa Port after a leak was detected in a bromine tank.

According to reports, five firefighting teams are dealing with the leak coming from the valve on one of the chemical tanks at the Carmel Terminal.

No injuries are reported.

Prosecutors okay early release for man who killed his rapist

State prosecutors have reportedly agreed to grant early release to Yonatan Heilo, who has served eight years in prison for killing his rapist.

Hadashot news reports that State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan has signed off on the deal for Heilo, reversing the state’s previous opposition to his early release.

Heilo, who has long fought for early release, was sentenced in 2013 to 20 years in prison for killing the man who repeatedly raped, robbed and blackmailed him in 2010.

He became eligible for early release in 2016, after the Supreme Court cut eight years from his original sentence, and President Reuven Rivlin commuted part of his remaining sentence in November 2017. But state prosecutors opposed Heilo’s release, leading the Israel Prisons Service parole board to reject his request at the time.

Israel welcomes controversial Hungarian PM Orban amid criticism

The Foreign Ministry welcomes controversial Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban as he arrives at Ben Gurion airport for a visit that has drawn criticism from Israeli politicians and Jewish groups.

The statement says the two-day visit will promote bilateral ties, strengthen European support for Israel and increase cooperation in combating anti-Semitism.

Orban’s visit has provoked concern in Israel over allegations he has stoked anti-Semitism in Hungary with nationalist rhetoric and a campaign against US Jewish billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

Seeking to mitigate the mounting criticism, the Foreign Ministry in its statement notes that Orban has “pledged to defend Hungary’s Jewish community and has expressed regret over Hungary’s actions during the Holocaust.”

Austrian province faces controversy over kosher meat

Proposals in an Austrian province for possible restrictions on the slaughter of animals according to Jewish and Muslim religious customs are drawing strong criticism.

An official in Lower Austria province, Gottfried Waldhaeusl of the nationalist Freedom Party, tells the Wiener Zeitung newspaper “we are examining whether the demand for meat can be coupled to residency.” He says he objects to people from nearby Vienna coming to have animals slaughtered.

A top official with Austria’s center-left opposition Social Democrats, Max Lercher, says that Waldhaeusl planned to make Jews who want to eat kosher meat register and called it “a clearly anti-Semitic demand.” Vienna’s Jewish community was also critical.

Klaus Schneeberger of the conservative People’s Party, which leads the regional government, tells the Austria Press Agency that authorities wouldn’t establish any such register.

— AP

Iran official says Trump asked to meet Rouhani 8 times at UN

The chief of staff to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani says his US counterpart Donald Trump asked for a meeting eight times during the UN General Assembly last year.

“During Rouhani’s last visit to New York for the UN General Assembly session, Trump asked the Iranian delegation eight times to have a meeting with the president,” Mahmoud Vaezi tells reporters, according to the conservative Mehr news agency.

He says the Iranian team had not responded to the requests, which came just after Trump announced he would no longer certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal — setting the scene for his eventual withdrawal from the pact in May.

“We have a transparent policy and clear position with regard to our relations with the US… that (we) will not yield to pressure,” Vaezi says.

Tehran said back in October that Trump had requested a sit-down with his Iranian counterpart during the UN meeting, but the claim of numerous requests had not previously been made.

— AP

Protest in Tel Aviv after Knesset passes surrogacy bill excluding LGBT couples

Hundreds of people are gathering in downtown Tel Aviv to protest legislation passed by the Knesset this afternoon that does not extend surrogacy rights to same-sex couples.

The surrogacy bill passed the Knesset vote as expected, but a last minute change removed a clause extending the right to men, which was proposed by openly gay MK Amir Ohana, a member of Netanyahu’s own Likud party.

On Monday, Netanyahu uploaded a video to his Facebook page, saying that he believed it “wasn’t fair” that Israeli surrogacy laws excluded LGBT couples. But today he voted against Ohana’s measure at the demand of the ultra-Orthodox parties in his coalition, who promised to support the contentious nation-state bill in a Knesset vote tonight.

Trump claims Europe trip a ‘tremendous success’

US President Donald Trump says his Europe trip last week, including meetings with NATO, British leaders, and Russian President Vladimir Putin was “a tremendous success.”

Speaking before a meeting of his Cabinet at the White House, Trump defends a trip that has drawn bipartisan criticism for his contentious treatment of American allies and embrace of the Russian leader.

The president held a closely watched summit with Putin this week in Finland. Yesterday, he sought to take back comments he made alongside Putin that called into question US intelligence findings of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

— Agencies

UK investigators probe Russian access to Facebook data

British authorities looking into inappropriate use of data gathered by political consultant Cambridge Analytica from millions of Facebook users say some of the systems that accessed the material appear to be in Russia or a group of former Soviet states.

The Information Commissioner’s Office, which is investigating data analytics by political campaigns, says in a statement Wednesday that “some of the systems linked to the investigation were accessed from IP addresses that appear to resolve to Russia and other areas of the (Commonwealth of Independent States.)”

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie has said he feared that the data may have been turned over to Russians who aimed to interfere with the US election. He has alleged the Facebook data was used to target voters by Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

— AP

Trump says no president has been as ‘tough’ on Russia

US President Donald Trump, facing criticism that he failed to hold Russian leader Vladimir Putin to account at their Helsinki summit, claims that no president has been as “tough” on Russia as he has.

“We’re doing very well, probably as well as anybody has ever done with Russia,” Trump says at a cabinet meeting at the White House.

“Look at what we’ve done. Look at sanctions,” he says. “And I think President Putin knows that better than anybody. Certainly a lot better than the media.

“He understands it, and he’s not happy about it,” Trump says. “And he shouldn’t be happy about it because there’s never been a president as tough on Russia as I have been.”

— AFP

Trump says Russia not still targeting US, again contradicting intelligence warnings

US President Donald Trump was asked at the end of a Cabinet meeting if Russia was still targeting the United States. The president said, “no,” contradicting recent warnings from his top intelligence chief.

Trump’s comment comes after National Intelligence Director Dan Coats said last Friday that warning lights about overall cyber threats to the US are “blinking red” — much like “blinking red” signals warned before the 9/11 attacks.

Trump did not elaborate on the threat posed by Russia, telling reporters that no American president has been as “tough” on Russia as he has been.

Russia has been the most aggressive foreign actor, but cyber threats also are coming from China, Iran and North Korea, as well as criminal networks and individual hackers, Coats said last week.

US intelligence agencies have said Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers, accusing them of hacking into the Clinton presidential campaign and the Democratic Party.

Russia has denied state involvement.

— AP

Hamas vows to continue arson attacks ‘until blockade lifted’

Despite recent reports that Hamas intends to end its cross-border arson attacks, the terrorist group ruling the Gaza Strip vows to continue launching the incendiary devices over the border into Israeli territory.

“We won’t stop with the kites or balloons until the blockade is lifted,” a masked fighter says in a video released earlier today.

Channel 10 reports that hundreds of devices were flown over the border throughout the day, sparking at least 20 fires in southern Israel.

The flaming kites and balloons have wreaked havoc in the Israeli communities surrounding the Gaza Strip since the phenomenon began in April, sparking fires that have scorched thousands of acres and caused millions of shekels in damage.

Netanyahu denies backtracking support for LGBT surrogacy

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hits back at media reports criticizing him for backtracking on his support for legislation that would grant surrogacy rights to LGBT couples.

Netanyahu is facing criticism for earlier this week declaring his support for a surrogacy bill that included a clause extending the right to gay couples. During the Knesset vote this afternoon, Netanyahu voted against the measure, reportedly due to pressure from ultra-Orthodox members of his coalition.

In a video posted to his Facebook page, Netanyahu says he is “absolutely consistent” in his stance on surrogacy rights. He says the clause submitted by an openly gay MK from his own Likud party would have struck down the bill entirely, “and mothers would not have access to surrogacy.”

Netanyahu says he will support a future amendment to the law that extends surrogacy in Israel to same-sex couples.

Police release video of masked settlers violently attacking troops

Police release a video of the mob of the masked settlers who violently attacked a Border Police patrol in an illegal outpost in the northern West Bank.

Two officers were injured when dozens of masked men from the hardline settlement of Yitzhar began hurling rocks at police officers.

Police in a statement say the settlers attacked security forces with “extreme violence,” that three of the assailants were arrested at the scene, and that more arrests would be made in the coming days.

A security official tells Channel 10 news the incident near Yitzhar today was “one of the most serious incidents of violence against security forces.”

“Recently, there have been a number of attacks against Palestinians in the area, and now violence is being directed at Border Police,” the unnamed official says. “We didn’t think we would ever get to this place, we were on a routine security patrol, not evicting a community… They are criminals.”

IDF arrests Palestinian suspected of running fake Israeli ID operation

Security forces have arrested a Hebron man who is suspected of running an operation making counterfeit Israeli ID cards for Palestinians.

According to Channel 10 news, the 30-year-old suspect from the West Bank town of Yatta sold the forged IDs to Palestinians who did not have a permit to enter Israel for NIS 2,500 ($700).

The report says during the arrest, soldiers confiscated forgery equipment including computers, specialized printers and professional paper cutters.

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