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

Bennett: Government must ‘heal wound’ caused to Druze by nation-state law

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, says he now sees that the nation-state law passed last week by the Knesset has “deeply hurt” the Israeli Druze community, and insists the government must “find a way to heal this wound.”

In a Hebrew-language Twitter post, Bennett says:

“After discussions with many of our Druze brothers, it appears that the way the nation-state law was legislated deeply hurt the very people who have linked their fate to the Jewish state. This, of course, was not the intent of the government of Israel. These are our blood brothers, who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us on the battlefield and have forged a life-covenant with us. It is our responsibility, as the government of Israel, to find a way to heal this wound.”

Druze IDF soldiers from the now-disbanded Battalion 299 in the field with the Druze flag. (Courtesy/IDF Flickr)

Firefighters battle blaze near kibbutz on Gaza border

Seven firefighter crews along with four firefighting planes are working to put out a massive blaze near Kibbutz Re’im east of the Gaza border. The emergency crews have yet to gain control of the fire. It is unclear at this stage whether it was caused by an incendiary device flown from the coastal enclave.

A brush fire near Kibbutz Re’im east of the Gaza border, July 25, 2018. (Courtesy Fire and Rescue Services Southern District)

— Jacob Magid

Baby in serious condition in Jerusalem after consuming large quantity of pot

A year-old baby girl from East Jerusalem is in serious condition at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus after doctors found a large amount of cannabis in her body.

She was brought to the hospital’s emergency room last night nearly unconscious. Her condition has since improved slightly, doctors say.

There is no immediate word as to the circumstances behind the child’s consumption of cannabis.

Defense Ministry demolishes Bedouin kindergarten, community center in West Bank

Personnel from the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration demolish two communal structures in the Bedouin village of Jaba al-Baba located between Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.

One of the structures had been functioning as a kindergarten for 28 children living in the village and the other had been a community center hosting activities for women in the community, the B’tselem rights group says.

The two structures were built with the financial support of the European Union.

This is the second kindergarten demolished this year by the Civil Administration, the Israeli agency that authorizes construction in the West Bank.

Jaba al-Baba is located in what is known as the E-1 zone. Palestinians claim that Israeli construction there is detrimental to prospects for peace as it cuts off East Jerusalem from its surroundings and effectively bifurcates the West Bank.

Palestinians face dozens of home demolitions each year in the E1 zone due to what they argue is Israel’s refusal to grant them building permits there.

— Jacob Magid

Ofer Winter appointed defense minister’s military secretary

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit announces that Brig. Gen. Ofer Winter has been appointed to be the next military secretary to Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. Winter will replace Brig. Gen. Yair Coles.

The appointment comes after Winter was apparently passed over for promotion by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot last month.

Winter came under criticism in the 2014 Gaza war for comments he made at the time that framed the operation as a religious fight, for allegedly passing information to politicians without proper approval, and for his actions during the highly controversial “Black Friday” battle in Rafah.

He is often identified with the national-religious community, having studied in the community’s flagship boarding school Or Etzion and then in the pre-army academy at Eli.

According to the IDF’s announcement, Liberman consulted Eisenkot in the decision.

— Jacob Magid

UN rights council chooses Gaza probe members

The president of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Vojislav Šuc, was chosen to head the probe into the deaths at the Gaza border this summer.

Šuc is also serving as Slovenia’s ambassador to the council.

The other two members of the inquiry are Sara Hossain, a Bangladeshi lawyer educated in the UK, and Kaari Betty Murungi, a lawyer and human rights activist from Kenya.

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem says it has no immediate comment on the members of the panel.

In May, the council voted in favor of creating an “independent, international commission of inquiry” that will be asked to produce a final report on the events at the Gaza border by March 2018.

Israel has slammed the move, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the time calling the vote and the council “irrelevant.”

“The organization that calls itself the Human Rights Council again proved it is a hypocritical and biased body whose purpose is to harm Israel and back terror, but mostly it proved it is irrelevant,” he said. “The State of Israel will continue to defend its citizens and soldiers.”

— Raphael Ahren

Finance minister says Negev region officially in drought

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon official declares the Negev desert to be experiencing a drought.

Kahlon signs the recommendations of the drought committee on Wednesday, which brought together officials from the Tax Authority and Agriculture Ministry.

The decision frees up relief funds for farmers of crops that are expected to be affected by any water shortages. According to a Finance Ministry statement, these include wheat, barley, oats and chickpeas.

The drought is expected to be relatively light, officials said, with damages not expected to exceed NIS 3-4 million ($820,000-$1,100,000). Drought years in the past have seen damages to southern farmers as high as NIS 30 million ($8.2 million).

Laborer killed when mound of dirt falls on him at construction site

A 40-year-old laborer is killed at a construction site in the Arab town of Ara in northern Israel, near Umm al-Fahm, after a mound of dirt falls on him, apparently while being moved by heavy machinery.

American pastor charged in Turkey put under house arrest

ISTANBUL — An American pastor who has been in custody for nearly two years on terror and espionage charges will be put under house arrest as his trial continues, Turkey’s official news agency says.

Anadolu news agency says that Pastor Andrew Craig Brunson, a 50-year-old evangelical pastor from Black Mountain, North Carolina, would be released from a jail in western Turkey and be remanded at his house. It’s not clear when he will be transferred.

Brunson has been in custody since he was arrested in December 2016.

If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison for “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member,” in reference to outlawed Kurdish militants and the network of a US-based Muslim cleric blamed by Turkish authorities for a failed coup attempt, as well as an additional 20 years for espionage.

Brunson strongly denies the charges.

— AP

Islamic State claims it’s behind latest attacks in Syria

The Islamic State group claims responsibility for a series of deadly attacks and suicide blasts in southern Syrian city of Sweida that killed dozens of people.

IS says in a statement posted on the group’s social media channels that its “soldiers” carried out surprise attacks on government and security centers in Sweida on Wednesday.

The bombings — including a suicide attack at a busy vegetable market and a city square — sparked clashes later in the day between Syrian troops and allied militias and IS fighters.

IS says more than 100 people were killed.

A Syrian local health official said the bombings and coordinated attacks, and subsequent fighting between local armed groups in Sweida, killed over 90 in all.

— AP

Amid heat wave, Israel sees highest-ever electricity usage

Electricity usage is soaring today amid a heatwave that is sending temperatures as high as 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of the country.

According to Israel Electric Corporation officials, usage reached an all-time peak of 12,921 megawatts at 2:50 p.m. today, 16 megawatts higher than the previous record set in September 2015.

Army says Molotov cocktails started fire in settlement, damaging three homes

Police and firefighters extinguish a fire in Karmei Tzur, north of Hebron, which the army says was caused by a number of Molotov cocktails that were thrown at the settlement’s security fence.

The fire spread toward the first line of homes in the hilltop community and caused significant damage to at least three of them.

Emergency crews managed to evacuate residents from the area and no one was injured.

In a statement responding to the arson attack, the residents of the settlement call on Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot to act against what they say is a recurring phenomenon.

Damage to a home in the West Bank settlement of Karmei Tzur that the IDF says was caused by a Molotov cocktail attack, July 25, 2018. (Asaf Wilf)

— Jacob Magid

Anti-gay graffiti found near site of teenager’s stabbing at 2015 pride parade

Anti-gay graffiti is spray painted on a wall in Jerusalem Wednesday near where a teenage girl, Shira Banki, was stabbed to death during the city’s gay pride parade in 2015.

The graffiti quotes a biblical verse from Leviticus against homosexuality: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: It is an abomination.”

Shira Banki, in a picture dated November 16, 2013, taken from her Facebook page.

The incident comes days after protests were held throughout Israel against a new law denying surrogacy rights to gay couples. It also came just a week before this year’s Jerusalem gay pride parade.

The graffiti had been cleaned off the wall on Jerusalem’s Keren Hayesod street by Wednesday afternoon and a police investigation has been opened into the incident, Hadashot TV news reports.

Missile sirens sound on Golan Heights

The Code Red rocket alert sirens are now being heard by residents of Golan Heights communities.

IDF investigating why rocket alert sirens went off on Golan

The IDF says it is investigating what set off the rocket alert system on the Golan Heights.

— Jacob Magid

No attack seen on southern Golan, despite sirens

Officials say no attack from Syria on the southern Golan Heights has been identified, despite the sounding of rocket alert sirens a short time ago.

Local authorities say residents can leave their protected areas and bomb shelters.

IDF: Golan sirens caused by errant fire from Syria fighting

The IDF says it identified a launch from an unspecified weapon system in Syria at Israeli territory. “It appears to have been errant fire from the internal fighting in Syria,” the army says in a statement, shortly after rocket sirens sounded on the Golan Heights.

— Jacob Magid

Firefighters battle 10 fires, one caused by Gaza balloon, amid heat wave

Firefighters have been working since the morning to extinguish 10 brush fires along the Gaza border. At least one of them was caused by an incendiary balloon. At this stage, a spokesman for the rescue service says, there is no indication that the remaining fires were caused by incendiary devices.

Israel is in the throes of a heat wave that has seen temperatures soaring to 40°C (104°F) and more on Wednesday.

— Jacob Magid

Police probing explosion heard by Sea of Galilee after Syrian fire at Israel

Police say they are investigating an explosion heard on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. No damage has been reported, but forces are currently scanning the area.

Authorities are looking into the possibility that errant fire from fighting in Syria may have landed in the northern part of the lake.

— Jacob Magid

Two shells fired from Syria seen falling into Sea of Galilee — report

The Emek Hayarden Regional Council, which straddles the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee, says two rockets, missiles or shells were identified falling into the lake near Gofra Beach on the eastern shore.

— Jacob Magid

Man charged in arson attempt on 250-year-old synagogue in England

A 51-year-old man is charged with arson after allegedly attempting to burn down the 18th-century Exeter Synagogue in England.

The synagogue in Exeter, an ancient city in southwest England, is the third oldest in the country. It was dedicated in 1764.

Tristan Morgan of Exeter reportedly was caught on surveillance cameras pouring a fire accelerant into the synagogue building and trying to light it. There was only slight damage to the building.

Morgan was charged with arson and the intent of endangering life on Monday in the Exeter Magistrates Court.

Meanwhile, the president of the Exeter Synagogue was among those who signed on to an interfaith statement issued Tuesday calling for mutual respect, unity and tolerance. Other signers included the Bishop of Exeter, the Exeter Mosque, the City Council, and the Devon and Cornwall Police.


Joe Lieberman’s daughter moves to Israel

Over 230 new immigrants from North America arrive on a charter flight in Israel, including the daughter of former US senator Joseph Lieberman and her family.

Hana Lowenstein, her husband and their four young children were on the flight that landed early Wednesday morning at Ben Gurion Airport. The group included 127 children.

A welcoming ceremony was held at the airport.

The flight carrying new immigrants, olim in Hebrew, from 20 US states and Quebec in Canada was chartered by Nefesh B’Nefesh in cooperation with the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel and JNF-USA.

The new immigrants ranged in age from 6 months to 80 years old, and included 34 families, 18 singles, three sets of twins and 15 medical professionals.

Some 600 new immigrants arrived in Israel on Monday and Tuesday from the United States, France, Russia, Argentina, Ukraine and Brazil.


‘No evidence’ to back IS claim for deadly Toronto attack – police

Canadian authorities say they have no evidence to substantiate a claim by the Islamic State group that the gunman who killed two people in a Toronto rampage on Sunday was an IS soldier.

The group’s Amaq news agency said the gunman, identified by police as 29-year-old Faisal Hussain, was an IS “soldier” responding to its calls for attacks on nationals from countries fighting the group in Iraq and Syria.

“At this stage, we have no evidence to support these claims,” Toronto police say in a statement.

“We will continue to explore every investigative avenue, including interviewing those who knew Mr. Hussain, reviewing his online activity, and looking into his experiences with mental health,” police spokeswoman Meaghan Gray says.

The attack occurred Sunday night in Toronto’s Greektown area, as the shooter first opened fire at people on a crowded street before turning his attention to nearby restaurants.

Rushing to the scene, police exchanged fire with the shooter, who was found dead in an alleyway.


IDF, Hamas exchange fire along southern Gaza border

IDF and Hamas forces are exchanging fire at this moment at the border between Israel and the southern Gaza Strip, according to initial reports.

The IDF is targeting Hamas positions in the area with tank fire.

Amid Druze outcry, Netanyahu calls meeting to reexamine nation-state law

In a surprise move, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will convene a discussion at the Prime Minister’s Office about the possibility of amending the Jewish nation-state law amid a fierce outcry against the law by the Druze minority.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara — the sole Druze minister in the current cabinet — and several Druze lawmakers will all take part in the meeting.

The move comes after Education Minister Naftali Bennett earlier today vowed to work to “heal the wound” the law has inflicted on the Druze community.

Sources close to Bennett have suggested the Jewish Home leader is open to amending the nation-state law.

Palestinians, UAE added to Asian Games soccer draw

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Palestinian and United Arab Emirates teams have been added to an expanded soccer competition at next month’s Asian Games after missing out on the original draw.

The Asian Football Confederation announces the new format Wednesday after dispensing with a re-draw following negotiations with Indonesian organizers of the games. The Aug. 14-Sept. 1 competition will feature 26 teams in two groups of five and four groups of four. The AFC says the top two teams in each group and the four best third-place teams will advance to the second round.

The UAE team was added to Group E with defending champion South Korea, which will be led by Son Heung-min, Malaysia, Bahrain and Kyrgyzstan.

The Palestinians were added to Group A along with Indonesia, Hong Kong, Laos and Taiwan.

Each country is allowed to add three overage players to its squad of under-23s.

The Indonesian cities of Jakarta and Palembang are co-hosting the games, which feature athletes from 45 countries and regions and officially open Aug. 18.

— AP

Police say no rocket from Syria yet found in Israel

Following hours of searches, police say they have yet to find any remnants of a rocket or missile that was believed to have been fired toward Israel earlier today from Syria.

Police plan on continuing their search tomorrow after sunrise.

— Jacob Magid

IDF says exchange of fire along Gaza border began with Hamas sniper attack

More details are emerging from the exchange of fire along the Gaza border.

According to the IDF, Hamas fighters opened fire at an IDF patrol along the border fence near the Kissufim checkpoint. They fired a 0.5-inch round from a sniper rifle, the army says.

The IDF then returned fire, shelling multiple Hamas positions in the area. Hamas fighters are themselves responding with assault rifle fire.

Israeli Air Force striking Hamas targets in southern, central Gaza

The Israeli Air Force is now striking Hamas positions in the southern and central Gaza Strip.

Palestinian report one casualty from IDF fire

The Hamas-linked Palestinian Information Center reports that the remains of a person who was killed by Israeli fire arrived a short time ago at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

— Adam Rasgon

Palestinians report more casualties in IAF strikes

Palestinian media reports that Israeli planes are currently targeting various targets throughout the eastern and southern parts of the Gaza Strip. A number of Gazan casualties are being reported.

There are no immediate reports on the nature of the targets or severity of the casualties.

— Jacob Magid

Gaza health ministry says two killed in Israeli strike

The spokesman for Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, Ashraf al-Qidra, says in a text message to reporters that two people were killed and one was seriously wounded in an Israeli strike east of Gaza City.

— Adam Rasgon

Gaza border communities receive no special directives despite exchange of fire

Despite the exchange of fire underway on the Gaza border between IDF troops and Hamas fighters, Israeli communities near the coastal enclave have not been given special directives to remain indoors.

— Jacob Magid

Sirens sound in Hof Ashkelon area near Gaza amid sniper fire

The army says it is investigating what triggered sirens in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council along the Gaza border.

The red alert follows a sniper fire attack targeting IDF troops that the army responded to with widespread tank fire at Hamas positions throughout the Gaza Strip.

— Jacob Magid

Defense minister meets with top army brass over Gaza escalation

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives at IDF Headquarters in Tel Aviv for a situational assessment with top IDF brass in light of the escalation on the Gaza border.

— Jacob Magid

Death toll in IAF strike rises to three, Gaza ministry says

The spokesman for Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, Ashraf al-Qidra, ups the death toll in an IAF strike east of Gaza City from two to three.

— Adam Rasgon

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