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Kushner, Greenblatt meet Netanyahu to discuss US peace plan

PM hails ‘important’ talks with White House advisers touring region to drum up support for part II of administration’s proposal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd from right) meets at his Jerusalem office with the ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer (right); White House adviser Jared Kushner (center); US Ambassador David Friedman (second left); and special envoy Jason Greenblatt, on July 31, 2019. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd from right) meets at his Jerusalem office with the ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer (right); White House adviser Jared Kushner (center); US Ambassador David Friedman (second left); and special envoy Jason Greenblatt, on July 31, 2019. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

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

Greenblatt: Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is Iran’s ‘worst nightmare’

Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt says that a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians would be Iran’s “worst nightmare,” in an op-ed published by Fox News overnight.

“The Iranian regime has exploited the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades – profiting from the chaos, violence, and ineffective stopgaps to advance its malign activities and influence in the region,” Greenblatt writes in the piece, which was co-authored by Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran.

“A successful comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is among the important tools we have to help bring regional stability and prevent Iranian terror. It would be Iran’s worst nightmare,” the US officials wrote.

Greenblatt’s op-ed comes amid heightened US-Iran tensions, and days before a visit by Trump’s son-in-law and chief Mideast envoy Jared Kushner, who is expected this week in the region, where he will promote the administration’s peace plan.

Iran says Europe ‘obliged’ to let it sell and ship oil

Iran says that European nations still party to the 2015 nuclear deal are “obliged” to allow it to sell and ship oil, amid a standoff with Britain over the seizure of tankers.

British authorities seized a tanker carrying Iranian oil off its territory Gibraltar on July 4, a move Spain’s foreign minister said was carried out at the request of the United States.

“They (the European parties) have set out their commitments and announced them, they (include) the sale of Iran’s oil, the transportation of Iran’s oil, and the return of Iran’s oil income,” says Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“It is clear that today’s tensions and problems are due to America’s economic terrorism and Europe’s inability to fulfill its commitments which means going along with America’s economic terrorism,” he says according to state media.

Zarif’s remarks come after a meeting in Vienna on Sunday of the remaining parties to the nuclear deal — the three European nations plus China and Russia.


UAE officials visit Iran for rare talks amid escalating Gulf tensions

Officials from the United Arab Emirates and Iran have met to discuss maritime security for the first time in six years amid a spike in tensions in the Persian Gulf.

An Emirati official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the talks, says the meetings focused on issues related to border security and navigation in shared waters, describing the talks as “nothing new” and unrelated to current tensions.

The state-run IRAN daily reports that a seven-member delegation from Abu Dhabi met with Iranian border and coastguard commanders in Tehran on Tuesday in the first such meeting since 2013.

The UAE is a close ally of Saudi Arabia. The two Arab Gulf countries view Iran as a regional menace and are at war with Iran-aligned rebels in Yemen.

The UAE has long lobbied for a more hawkish US policy toward Iran, but as tensions have risen in recent months, fears of a wider conflict have prompted the UAE to call for de-escalation.

— AP

PA: Palestinians don’t need Israel’s permission to build in West Bank

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, responds to the Israeli government’s approval of construction in the West Bank by saying that Palestinians have the right to build on their land “without needing a permit from anyone.”

“We will not give any legitimacy to the construction of any settlement,” he says in a statement carried by the PA’s official news outlet Wafa.

Last night, the security cabinet unanimously approved a plan introduced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that will grant 700 building permits to Palestinians in Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank, alongside 6,000 such licenses for homes in neighboring settlements.

Palestinians are rarely granted building permits in Area C, and recent years have seen the total number of approvals remain in the single digits, compared to the thousands of green-lighted homes for Israeli settlers.

The move appears to be timed to coincide with a visit by US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and chief Mideast envoy Jared Kushner, who is expected in the region this week.

— with AP

Mass hunger strike at Egypt prison — Amnesty

Amnesty International says 130 detainees in a notorious Egyptian prison have been on hunger strike for more than six weeks to protest what it calls “cruel and inhumane detention conditions.”

The international rights group is calling on authorities to investigate the prisoners’ allegations of torture and other abuses.

Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director, says “the combination of squalid and inhumane detention conditions and the denial of family visits and access to their lawyers… has created an unbearable situation for detainees.”

The detainees are being held at a Cairo prison known as the Scorpion, where a number of political figures have been jailed over the course of a sweeping crackdown on dissent in recent years.

Calls to the Interior Ministry spokesman requesting comment went unanswered.

— AP

Bahrain king turned down Netanyahu request to meet ahead of September elections — report

Bahrain’s king Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa refused to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next month, saying it was “not yet the time” for such a public display of rapprochement, according to a report in the Arabic-language news site Elaph.

The report says that Khalifa turned downed Netanyahu’s request for an August meeting to discuss regional “security issues” because he believed the Israeli leader wanted to use it in his re-election campaign.

Netanyahu, who is seeking a fourth consecutive term in office in the September 17 election, often touts his foreign policy bona fides and friendships with foreign leaders in his election campaigns.

Legal NGO seeking to bar Ilhan Omar from entering Israel

AN Israeli legal NGO has filed a motion at the Jerusalem District Court seeking to prevent US congresswoman Ilhan Omar from entering Israel, according to the Ynet news site.

Shurat HaDin is demanding that Interior Minister Aryeh Deri bar Omar from visiting the country due to her support for the Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel.

Under a controversial law that Israel enacted in 2017, the state can prohibit any foreigner from entering the country who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel.”

But last week, Israel’s US Ambassador Ron Dermer told The Times of Israel that Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib would be allowed to visit despite their BDS support “out of respect for the US Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America.”

Dutch suspend grant to UN agency for Palestinians over ethics probe

The Netherlands suspends its contribution to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees pending the outcome of a probe into alleged mismanagement and abuses of authority by the agency’ top management.

The Dutch decision comes a day after a similar move by Switzerland, which said it would suspend additional contributions.

UN investigators have opened an inquiry after an internal report alleged “serious ethical abuses” at the highest level at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Pierre Krahenbuhl, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees, is interviewed in Jerusalem on January 19, 2018. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

As one of the agency’s main European donors the Netherlands “expressed… its great concern and asked for clarification,” the Dutch foreign ministry says in a statement.

Sigrid Kaag, foreign trade and development cooperation minister, “would like to hear what steps the UN plans to take based on the outcome of the investigation,” it adds.

Therefore “Minister Kaag has decided to put this year’s contribution on hold until we have received a satisfactory response from the UN in New York,” it says.

According to a confidential report by the UNRWA ethics office claims its top management including Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl “have engaged in sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority.”

— Agencies

Germany ‘reluctant’ to join US-led naval mission off Iran

Germany is “reluctant” to join a proposed US-led maritime surveillance mission in the Strait of Hormuz but would consider taking part in a European mission, the government says.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is responding to a US demand made public a day earlier “to help secure” the world’s busiest oil shipping lane and “combat Iranian aggression.”

Government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer says that Germany continues to support diplomatic efforts to ease tensions that have risen sharply since US President Donald Trump last year withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal.

A UH-1Y Venom helicopter takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer in the Strait of Hormuz, July 18, 2019. (US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton Swanbeck/Released)

“The USA recently presented their concept for a Persian Gulf maritime surveillance mission to several allies including Germany and asked for contributions,” says Demmer. “The German government is reluctant about the concrete US proposal and has therefore not offered a contribution, as the overall approach of our policy toward Iran differs significantly from the current US approach.”

Berlin is seeking an emphasis on “diplomacy and de-escalation” and to save the nuclear deal, Demmer said, stressing that “participation in a US-led mission could complicate this issue, even as of course we share the goal of freedom of navigation.”


Berlin police open investigation after prominent rabbi spat on

German police have opened an investigation into a report from a prominent Berlin rabbi that he was insulted and spat at as he was heading home from synagogue with his son.

Police say they are treating the incident as a religiously motivated crime and are looking for suspects.

Berlin Mayor Michael Muller, right, speaking with Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal in Berlin, July 19, 2017. (Matthias Nareyek/Pool/Getty Images/via JTA)

Police say Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal was walking past an apartment building in the Wilmersdorf neighborhood Friday night when he said he was spat at and sworn at by two men inside the building.

Teichtal, who said the two men spoke in Arabic, called in a statement for “tolerance, dialogue and training.”

Despite increasing anti-Semitic incidents, he says he remains “convinced most people in Berlin do not want to accept this aggression against Jews as a sad part of everyday Jewish life”

— AP

Kushner meets Jordan king for talks on Mideast peace plan

US President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner meets with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman for talks on the US plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The two discussed “efforts to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the royal court says in a statement, adding that Kushner is “visiting Jordan on a tour that includes a number of countries in the region.”

He is expected in Israel later in the week.

–with AFP

NATO chief appeals to Russia ahead of missile pact deadline

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is appealing to Russia to comply with a key Cold War-era missile treaty just days before a US deadline to do so expires, but he says the end of the landmark European security pact appears imminent.

In February, the United States began withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty it agreed in 1987 with the then Soviet Union, blaming Moscow for developing missiles that do not comply with it. Russia has until Friday to destroy the new missiles.

Stoltenberg says that “we see the demise of the INF treaty,” but he added that “we still call on Russia to come back into compliance and to save the treaty.”

He tells reporters that NATO “will do what is necessary to have credible deterrence and defense.”

— AP

Russian doctors say no poison detected in jailed Kremlin critic

Doctors at a Russian state facility say they have found no traces of poison in jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was hospitalized at the weekend with suspicious symptoms.

Navalny’s personal physician said Monday his condition suggested “poisoning by some unknown chemical substance” after he was rushed to a hospital from jail, where he is being held over an unauthorized protest.

Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny at the Echo Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) radio station in Moscow, Russia, December 27, 2017. (Pavel Golovkin/AP)

However Alexei Tokarev, head of the state Sklifosovsky Institute for Emergency Care, which has a toxicology lab, says the lab ran Navalny’s samples and “poisoning substances were not found,” according to Russian news agencies.

Navalny was sent back to his jail cell Monday despite the protests of his doctor, who said he could be at risk of coming into contact with a poison again there.

The jailed politician — one of Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critics — said the official explanation of his symptoms as an “allergy” did not make sense as he had never suffered from any allergies.

Others in the Russian opposition voiced concern that it may have been an attempt on Navalny’s life, the latest such case of an opposition figure falling ill with unexplained symptoms.


Firefighters battling large fire outside kibbutz in southern Israel

Firefighters in southern Israel are working to put out a large fire raging outside Kibbutz Alumim that is nearing a facility belonging to the national electric company.

A statement from the fire department in southern Israel says the IDF and volunteers have joined in helping put out the blaze. The statement says officials are investigating the source of the fire.

Bahrain hosts military conference amid Iran tensions

Bahrain is hosting a conference on Gulf maritime security, after multiple attacks on shipping in the strategic Strait of Hormuz sent tensions soaring between Iran and the US.

The tiny Gulf monarchy, which hosts the US Fifth Fleet, says the meeting was held “to discuss the current regional situation and to strengthen cooperation.”

In a statement, it slammed “the repeated attacks and unacceptable practices of Iran and the terrorist groups linked to it.”

The US has joined Gulf allies in accusing Iran of being behind several mysterious attacks on tankers in recent months, which Iran denies.


Labor approves joint electoral run with Gesher

The Labor Party approves a joint run with the Orly Levy-Abecassis’s Gesher party for the September 17 elections.

Party officials vote to adopt the agreement reached by party leader Amir Peretz by a wide margin, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.

White House denies Trump to roll out peace plan at summit with Arab leaders

A senior US official is denying an Israeli media report the White House is planning a conference with Arab leaders at Camp David where US President Donald Trump will roll out his plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“No summit has currently been planned,” the official tells The Times of Israel, who says the White House officials currently visiting the region will discuss the “many potential next steps” for the region with Trump when they return to Washington.

Earlier today, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported that Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, would extend invitations to the summit as he visits Israel and the Middle East this week to drum up support for the plan.

— Eric Cortellessa

Judge sets tentative date for Epstein sex trafficking trial

A federal judge has set a tentative trial date next year for the wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein.

Image provided by the New York State Sex Offender Registry on March 28, 2017 shows financier Jeffrey Epstein. (New York State Sex Offender Registry via AP)

US District Judge Richard M. Berman says that June 2020 is the earliest Epstein will stand trial on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges.

Epstein’s defense attorneys asked the judge for additional time to review what they described as 1 million pages of discovery in the complex case. They asked for a trial date after Labor Day 2020.

Prosecutors say there is a public interest in resolving the case earlier than that.

Epstein has pleaded not guilty to charges he abused dozens of underage girls in New York and Florida.

He is being held without bail in a Manhattan jail.

— AP

Reform movement leader defects from Labor, joins Democratic Camp

The head of the Reform Movement in Israel, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, has left the Labor Party to run on the Democratic Camp’s list for the September 17 election.

The Democratic Camp alliance is an electoral union with former prime minister Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party and breakaway Labor MK Stav Shaffir.

Polls last week predicted the Democratic Camp getting up to 12 seats in the next Knesset.

Kariv will take the 11th spot on the list, giving him a realistic chance of making it into the Knesset.

Court remands brothers suspected of stabbing their gay brother

The Tel Aviv District Court remands two bothers from the northern town of Tamra into custody as police investigate suspensions they stabbed and seriously injured their younger brother for being gay.

The two, aged 23 and 27, are ordered to remain behind bars for another six days.

According to reports, prosecutors are seeking to file attempted murder charges against the two.

The victim, their 16-year-old brother, had run away from home due to tensions surrounding his sexuality, and was living at an LGBT youth hostel in Tel Aviv. Prosecutors says the brothers found out where he was staying, and attacked him with a knife when he left the building last Friday.

The judge imposed a gag order on the details of the case.

Kushner, Greenblatt meet Netanyahu for talks on US peace plan

A US delegation headed by President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner, along with Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt, arrive in Jerusalem for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the US peace plan for the region.

US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Israel Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer are also participating in the meeting.

Earlier, the US delegation met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman where he underscored the need for an Israeli-Palestinian peace must be based on a two-state solution.

US intel officials say Hamza bin Laden killed

US intelligence officials believe Hamza bin Laden, the son and successor of the late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, is dead, according to an NBC news report.

In this image from video released by the CIA on November 1, 2017, Hamza bin Laden is shown at his wedding. (CIA via AP, File)

The US officials would not confirm to NBC the details of the younger bin Laden’s death, or if the US was involved.

Earlier this year, US government offered a $1 million reward for information leading to the capture of bin Laden, who was becoming an increasingly prominent figure in the terror network.

First suspect in Netanyahu corruption probe wraps up pre-indictment hearing

Ze’ev Rubinstein’s pre-indictment hearing in the Bezeq corruption probe has finished after several hours of inquiry in Tel Aviv.

Rubinstein’s lawyers said they pled his case to prosecutors before a decision is made on whether to charge him as an accessory to bribery.

The Bezeq corruption probe is part of a sprawling case in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to face charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust later this year.

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