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US Embassy issues security alert for Jaffa after cars torched during unrest

American diplomatic mission in Israel warns protests over plans to build homeless shelter on Muslim burial site could include violence

Firefighters work to extinguish a vehicle set alight in Jaffa on June 13, 2020, as protests continue over city plans to build a homeless shelter on an ancient Muslim burial site. (Israel Fire and Rescue Services, Dan District)
Firefighters work to extinguish a vehicle set alight in Jaffa on June 13, 2020, as protests continue over city plans to build a homeless shelter on an ancient Muslim burial site. (Israel Fire and Rescue Services, Dan District)

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

Authorities probing whether fires in south sparked by Gaza balloons

A pair of fires break out near Kibbutz Be’eri in southern Israel, with Hebrew media reporting the blazes were apparently sparked by incendiary balloons launched from the Gaza Strip.

The Eskhol Regional Council says the small fires are under control and that their source is being probed.

Unidentified security sources are quoted saying by the Kan public broadcaster that the fires were caused by incendiary balloons from Gaza.

Palestinians in the Hamas-ruled Strip have frequently flown balloons carrying incendiary devices and explosives into Israel in the past couple of years, though there have been few reports of launches amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Rights activist jailed by Iran seeks medical treatment

TEHRAN, Iran — Jailed Iranian human rights activist and journalist Narges Mohammadi, who suffers from a lung condition, has requested temporary release from prison for medical treatment, her lawyer tells AFP.

Mahmoud Behzadi-Rad says he’s also preparing a new parole application for Mohammadi, a previous request having been denied in late 2019.

But the activist faced new legal proceedings and was “under investigation” as part of a dossier with unspecified contents, for which no “indictment has… yet been issued,” he says.

Since March, more than 100,000 detainees in Iran have been granted temporary release or sentence remissions to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus in the Islamic Republic’s prisons.

Mohammadi, 48, is a campaigner against the death penalty and was the spokeswoman for the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran — founded by lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi — when she was arrested in May 2015.

The mother-of-two is serving a 10-year prison sentence for “forming and managing an illegal group”, among other charges.

According to the international press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF), she was “forcibly” transferred in late December from Evin prison in Tehran, where she had been held since 2015, to Zanjan in northwest Iran.

— AFP

Lebanon protesters urge government to resign amid deepening economic crisis

BEIRUT — Lebanese protesters take to the streets in Beirut and other cities in mostly peaceful protests against the government, calling for its resignation as the small country sinks deeper into economic distress.

The protests come after two days of rallies spurred by a dramatic collapse of the local currency against the dollar. Those rallies degenerated into violence, including attacks on private banks and shops.

The local currency, pegged to the dollar for nearly 30 years, has been on a downward trajectory for weeks, losing over 60% of its value. But the dramatic collapse this week deepened public despair over the already-troubled economy. Lebanon is heavily dependent on imports, and the dollar and local currency have been used interchangeably for years.

The unrivaled economic and financial crises are proving a major challenge to the government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who took office earlier this year after his predecessor resigned amid nationwide protests. Diab was faced with handling the coronavirus pandemic soon after taking office. Lebanon’s financial problems predate the coronavirus pandemic, which put the country in lockdown for months, further compounding the crisis.

For the protesters, many of them members of organized political parties, Diab’s government has failed to handle the crisis.

Protesters in Beirut carry a banner that reads “There is an alternative.”

In the southern city of Sidon, some direct their wrath at the central bank governor. One protester raises a banner called him the “protector of all thieves in Lebanon.”

In the northern city of Tripoli, army troops forcefully disperse dozens of protesters who had blocked the road preventing trucks from moving forward, according to videos posted online. The protesters allege the trucks were smuggling goods to Syria — a common complaint in Lebanon as the neighboring country grapples with its own economic hardships.

— AP

Lebanese anti-government protesters hurl rocks at soldiers amid clashes in the Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood in the northern port city of Tripoli, June 13, 2020. (Fathi al-Masri/AFP)

Palestinian thanks soldier for helping him flee violent Jewish group in Hebron

A Palestinian man who was attacked last night by a group of young Jewish men in the West Bank city of Hebron thanks the soldier who helped him flee, after video of the incident was published.

“I thank the soldier who helped me and kept them away from me. The army needs to make sure they don’t attack someone else. These settlers need to be stopped,” Ibrahim Bader tells the Kan public broadcaster.

Bader, a 31-year-old security guard and father of three, says he was on his was to work when he was attacked.

A statement from the army earlier today said the incident occurred during violent confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians in the flashpoint city.

Police in Paris use tear gas to disperse crowds during anti-racism march

PARIS — Police fire tear gas and block demonstrators from marching through Paris to protest police brutality and racial injustice.

The tear gas begins just as a group of extreme-right counter demonstrators are dislodged from the roof of a building overlooking the protest.

Protesters set off firecrackers and shout at police but ware otherwise peaceful. Families and others trying to leave the protest struggle to get out because police have blocked off most exit routes. The remaining crowd takes a knee.

Police decided to bar the crowd from marching from the Place de la Republique in eastern Paris toward the city’s main opera house. A police official tells The Associated Press the decision was made because of a nationwide ban on gatherings of more than 10 people to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The counter-demonstrators had earlier unfurled a banner about “anti-white racism” and lit flares in the blue-white-red colors of the French flag.

Residents reached out their windows to tear down the banner. Activists later confronted the far-right activists on the roof, throwing their bags and ropes to the pavement below.

— AP

A demonstrator holds a flare during a march against police brutality and racism in Paris, France, on June 13, 2020 (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Iran’s Rouhani decries reduced adherence to virus rules

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reproaches citizens for their reduced adherence to health measures designed to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“The respect of measures by our dear people has been great, up to 80 percent or more” of citizens played by the rules between April 20 and May 20, Rouhani says, citing a report.

But it’s “disturbing” to see that this proportion “has greatly diminished… with only 18 to 20 percent of people respecting” the rules now, the president says in a live televised speech.

The health ministry today announced 71 deaths from the disease over the last 24 hours and 2,410 new infections.

Rouhani also expresses concerns about infection counter-measures at the holy shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad, the capital of Khorasan Razavi province and a main pilgrimage site in the country.

“Officials must make greater efforts — reports on mask wearing, social distancing and collective prayer are not satisfactory” at the shrine, Rouhani says, noting also concerns about the wider province.

Since announcing its first cases in the Shiite holy city of Qom in February, Iran has struggled to contain what quickly became the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak of the COVID-19 respiratory disease.

Official figures show the illness has killed 8,730 in the country, while 184,955 are confirmed to have been infected.

There has been skepticism at home and abroad about Iran’s official figures, with concerns the real toll could be much higher.

— AFP

Iranians wearing face masks at a metro station in the capital Tehran on June 10, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Stringer/AFP)

European nations ink deal to produce 400 million doses of future coronavirus vaccine

Pharma giant AstraZeneca has struck a deal with Europe’s Inclusive Vaccines Alliance to supply up to 400 million doses of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine.

The alliance forged by Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands to speed up production of a coronavirus vaccine is set to take delivery by the end of 2020 of a vaccine being tested by the University of Oxford. The agreement struck today aims to make the vaccine available to other European countries that wish to take part.

The cost is expected to be offset by funding from the governments.

AstraZeneca, an Anglo-Swedish company, recently completed similar agreements with Britain, the United States, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance for 700 million doses. A license also has been agreed to with the Serum Institute of India for another 1 billion doses.

Other companies, including Moderna and Sanofi, are racing to develop and produce a vaccine against the new coronavirus, a step experts say will be crucial to easing restrictions on public life and preventing additional waves of infections.

— AP

3 security guards at PM’s residence test positive for coronavirus

Three security guards at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence have tested positive for the coronavirus, Army Radio reports.

Netanyahu’s office says the premier took a virus test a few days ago, which came back negative.

“As part of the tests, three security guards tasked with guarding outside the Prime Minister’s Residence are positive for the coronavirus. The prime minister isn’t required to quarantine because the guards weren’t in his vicinity,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office says.

Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer players suspected of having sex with minors take leave

Soccer club Maccabi Tel Aviv announces two players suspected of having sexual relations with minors are taking a temporary leave of absence from the team.

In a statement, the team calls the suspicions “grave” while urging patience as the police investigation plays out. It says it doesn’t support “any illegal, racist or discriminatory behavior” of any kind.

“The club will continue as always to adhere to behavior in accordance with the law, as well as the values and behavioral stands that we see as serving the well-being of the club,” the team says.

Maccabi says after meeting with the two players, “it was mutually decided” for the player’s to take a “temporary vacation that will allow them to deal with various matters concerning the event and the club and to focus, among other things, on soccer.”

TV: Gulf states warn US that Israeli annexation will sink rapprochement efforts

Gulf states have warned the White House that backing unilateral Israeli annexation in the West Bank would sink efforts to build closer ties between these countries and Israel, Channel 12 news reports.

“A green light for Israeli annexation will greatly harm the administration’s efforts to bring the Gulf states behind President Trump’s peace plan and will cause them to take a step back,” the network quotes a message from the unidentified countries as saying.

The report says they also warned “such a step will put an end to efforts to bring Israel and the Gulf States publicly closer together, including the efforts that were discussed to sign non-aggression pacts”

Yesterday, in the first-ever op-ed published in an Israeli paper by a Gulf diplomat, a senior ambassador from the United Arab Emirates warned Israel’s extension of sovereignty over parts of the West Bank would destroy hopes for further rapprochement between the Jewish state and the Arab world.

Probe said to determine fires in south caused by arson, not Gaza balloons

A probe of fires that broke out earlier today in southern Israel has determined they were the result of arson and not caused by incendiary balloons launched from the Gaza Strip, the Walla news site reports.

Health Ministry reports 177 new infections over past day

The Health Ministry reports 177 new coronavirus cases over the past day, bringing the number of infections in Israel since the start of the pandemic to 18,972.

The number of active cases further rises to 3,315, up from 3,185 last night.

According to the ministry, 35 people are in serious condition, 26 of whom are on ventilators.

Another 45 are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms.

The death toll remains at 300.

The ministry says 12,578 tests were performed yesterday, down from recent days, likely due to the start of Shabbat yesterday evening.

Worker at President Rivlin’s official residence tests positive for coronavirus

A worker at the President Reuven Rivlin’s official residence in Jerusalem has tested positive for the coronavirus.

“Consultations are taking place now with the relevant officials in the Health Ministry concerning additional workers who will be be required to be in quarantine and the relevant implications for the president of the state,” a statement from Rivlin’s office says.

Earlier, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office said three security guards at the premier’s official residence tested positive for the virus. It said the premier himself tested negative several days ago and doesn’t need to enter quarantine, since he was not in contact with the guards who tested positive.

US issues security alert for Jaffa amid protests over building plans for Muslim burial site

The US Embassy issues a security alert for Jaffa due to ongoing protests there over plans to build a homeless shelter on land discovered to be an old Muslim burial ground.

“Protests continue this evening near the Clock Tower and throughout the city of Jaffa. Protests may turn violent to include vandalism, rock throwing, burning of tires, vehicles, and fire bombs. Embassy personnel have been advised to maintain situational awareness and avoid the area tonight,” a statement on the embassy’s website says.

It adds: “The Embassy strongly encourages US citizens to remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness, as security incidents often take place without warning.”

Overnight, a number of vehicles were torched and a firebomb was thrown at a Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality building.

Minneapolis cop charged in George Floyd’s death eligible for pension money

MINNEAPOLIS — Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is eligible to receive pension benefits during his retirement years even if he’s convicted of killing George Floyd, according to the Minnesota agency that represents retired public workers.

Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter in the May 25 death of Floyd. Video of the arrest shows Chauvin, who is white, using his knee to pin down the neck of George, who was black and handcuffed, for several minutes as Floyd pleaded for air and eventually stopped moving. Floyd’s death has sparked protests around the world.

The Minnesota Public Employees Retirement Association says in a statement that former employees who meet length-of-service requirements qualify for benefits regardless of whether they quit or are fired. Those payments are not affected by criminal charges or convictions, the agency says, citing state law.

A review of police payroll, salary and contract information obtained by CNN estimates that Chauvin’s annual payments would be around $50,000 or more if he elected to begin receiving distributions at age 55. Chauvin was a member of the Minneapolis police force for 19 years.

Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, doesn’t immediately return an email request seeking comment.

— AP

Gantz backs soldier who helped Palestinian flee violent Jewish group in Hebron

Defense Minister Benny Gantz expresses support for an Israeli soldier who helped a Palestinian man flee from a violent group of young Jewish men in the West Bank city of Hebron.

“The Golani soldier who defended the Palestinian resident of Hebron acted as expected of every IDF soldier and commander,” Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff, writes on Twitter.

He adds: “The IDF is committed to the security of citizens everywhere it operates and I trust the commanding ranks in the IDF will investigate the incident in an orderly manner.”

As US seethes over race, Trump calls out ‘evil of slavery’

WEST POINT. New York — As the nation struggles to confront its complicated racial legacy, US President Donald Trump preaches unity to West Point graduates and tells them never to forget the legacy of soldiers from generations ago who fought “a bloody war to extinguish the evil of slavery.’’

His appeal to reconciliation and remembrance comes at a time when his own relationship with the military is under strain, and the commander-in-chief and Pentagon leaders have faced unrelenting criticism over their response to the protests that overwhelmed the country after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.

Trump appears to allude to those tensions as he addressed more than 1,100 graduates at an unusual outdoor ceremony held during a global pandemic.

“What has historically made America unique is the durability of its institutions against the passions and prejudices of the moment,” Trump says. “When times are turbulent, when the road is rough, what matters most is that which is permanent, timeless, enduring and eternal.”

— AP

US President Donald Trump speaks to United States Military Academy graduating cadets during commencement ceremonies, on June 13, 2020, in West Point, New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, Pool)

Likud MK wants AG to probe journalists who reported on Netanyahu’s graft cases

A lawmaker from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party asks Attorney General Avichai Mandeblit to investigate a journalist, following a report on a corruption case in which the premier faces criminal charges.

Besides Channel 13’s Raviv Drucker, MK Shlomo Karai also urges Mandelblit to investigate the network’s legal analysts Aviad Glickman and Baruch Kra, according to a letter published by Channel 20.

All three of the journalists have reported extensively on the graft cases Netanyahu was indicted in.

“Freedom of the press is incredibly important in a democracy; however, it’s also forbidden for journalists to tamper with witnesses and distort a trial,” Karai writes on Twitter.

Karai’s entreaty to Mandelblit comes just days after Netanyahu retweeted a Likud statement saying Drucker belongs in jail.

Asked about this during a press conference, Netanyahu said jailing journalists is “absurd,” but went on to suggest that Drucker should indeed be questioned by police.

The Likud statement was later deleted from the party’s and Netanyahu’s Twitter pages.

Likud MK Shlomo Karai at a Knesset committee meeting on January 13, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Rivlin’s office says he doesn’t have to quarantine after worker tests positive for virus

President Reuven Rivlin’s office says per Health Ministry guidelines, he doesn’t currently have to enter quarantine after a worker at his official residence tested positive for COVID-19.

“At this time, contacts between the employee who has the virus and all those with whom they came into contact are being,” a statement from his office says. “In line with this, there will be no work at the President’s Residence tomorrow and the necessary cleaning and tests will be carried out.”

The statement adds that Rivlin’s office is working with the Health Ministry on the epidemiological investigation.

Rocket strikes Iraqi base housing US-led coalition forces

BAGHDAD — A rocket attack north of Baghdad hit an Iraqi base but missed US-led coalition troops stationed there, Iraq’s military and a coalition official says.

A statement from Iraq’s security forces says the rockets were launched north of Baghdad and did not cause any damage to the Taji base.

A coalition official confirms the projectiles fell outside the coalition’s segment of the base.

There is no immediate claim of responsibility.

It’s the third attack in a week to target US troops or diplomats.

Two rockets struck the grounds of the vast Baghdad airport complex on Monday and an unguided rocket hit close to the fortified US embassy two days later.

The attacks follow several weeks of relative respite from more than two dozen similar incidents in recent months.

Since October, at least 30 attacks have targeted American troops or diplomats, severely straining ties between Baghdad and Washington.

Tensions reached boiling point in January when the US killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a drone strike in Baghdad.

Washington has accused armed groups backed by Iran, Iraq’s powerful neighbor and the US’s top regional foe, for the repeated rocket attacks. But it also blamed the Iraqi government for not doing enough to protect US installations.

— AFP

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