Wounded US congressman ‘critical’ after surgery – hospital
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Wounded US congressman ‘critical’ after surgery – hospital

Bernie Sanders condemns ‘despicable’ Virginia shooter he says volunteered on his campaign; London apartment building fire death toll rises to 12

  • View of Qalqilya. (Wikipedia/Idobi/CC BY-SA)
    View of Qalqilya. (Wikipedia/Idobi/CC BY-SA)
  • James Hodgkinson protests outside the United States Post Office in Downtown Belleville, Illinois, April 17, 2012. (Derik Holtmann/Belleville News-Democrat, via AP)
    James Hodgkinson protests outside the United States Post Office in Downtown Belleville, Illinois, April 17, 2012. (Derik Holtmann/Belleville News-Democrat, via AP)
  • Investigators gather near the scene of a shooting June 14, 2017, in Alexandria, Virginia. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)
    Investigators gather near the scene of a shooting June 14, 2017, in Alexandria, Virginia. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)
  • Police tape cordons off the scene of an early morning shooting in Alexandria, Virginia, June 14, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski)
    Police tape cordons off the scene of an early morning shooting in Alexandria, Virginia, June 14, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski)
  • U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) joins House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (C) and other members of the newly-elected House Republican leadership team for a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, Nov. 13, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/ via JTA)
    U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) joins House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (C) and other members of the newly-elected House Republican leadership team for a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, Nov. 13, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/ via JTA)
  • Pedestrians look up towards Grenfell Tower, a residential block of flats in west London on June 14, 2017, as firefighters continue to control a fire that engulfed the building in the early hours of the morning. (AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS)
    Pedestrians look up towards Grenfell Tower, a residential block of flats in west London on June 14, 2017, as firefighters continue to control a fire that engulfed the building in the early hours of the morning. (AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS)
  • In this photo taken from video, smoke rises from a high-rise apartment building on fire in London, Wednesday, June 14, 2017. (Sky News via AP)
    In this photo taken from video, smoke rises from a high-rise apartment building on fire in London, Wednesday, June 14, 2017. (Sky News via AP)
  • Palestinians chant slogans during a protest against the ongoing electricity crisis in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, January 12, 2017. (AFP/MOHAMMED ABED)
    Palestinians chant slogans during a protest against the ongoing electricity crisis in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, January 12, 2017. (AFP/MOHAMMED ABED)

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

PA says Israel ultimately responsible for Gaza crisis

A spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority, Yusuf al-Mahmud, says in a statement posted Wednesday to the PA’s official news site Wafa that Israel was wrong to shirk responsibility for Gaza’s electricity crisis.

“The simplification of [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s] portrayal [of the crisis] as an internal dispute over the payment of the electric bill does not absolve the Netanyahu government from responsibility,” he says.

“The reason behind [the crisis]…is the existence of the Israeli occupation and the siege [of Gaza] that has afflicted the Gaza Strip for ten years. Furthermore, the disastrous occurrence of the disastrous [Hamas] coup would not have happened were it not for the existence of the occupation, the siege, and the dismemberment of Palestinian lands.”

Israel’s current blockade on Gaza, meant to prevent weapons from getting into Hamas’s hands, was put in place after Hamas violently took control of the Strip from the PA 10 years ago.

“The coup and the [Palestinian] divide are a pure [Israeli] benefit,” Mahmoud says.

“Netanyahu’s government insists on continuing the occupation, refuses to bring peace, and hastens to obstruct any opportunity to revive the [peace] process. It is the political situation that is driving the internal Palestinian situation to deteriorate further,” he adds.

— Dov Lieber

6 reported killed in massive London high-rise blaze

LONDON — A deadly nighttime fire raced through a 24-story apartment tower in London early Wednesday, killing at least six people and injuring dozens more, authorities say. Some desperate residents threw their children from high windows, hoping someone on the ground would catch them.

Police commander Stuart Cundy says there were six confirmed fatalities, adding that the figure was likely to rise “during what will be a complex recovery operation over a number of days.”

People in the apartments cornered by the quickly advancing flames and thick smoke banged on windows and screamed for help to those watching down below, witnesses and survivors say.

Flames from the inferno lit up the night and smoke spewed from the windows of the Grenfell Tower in North Kensington where more than 200 firefighters battled the blaze and went into the building with breathing apparatus. A plume of black smoke stretched for miles across the pale sky after dawn, revealing the blackened, flame-licked wreckage of the building.

There was no immediate word on the cause, but angry residents say they had repeatedly warned about a potential fire threat. One resident says the fire alarm did not go off.

In this photo taken from video, smoke rises from a high-rise apartment building on fire in London, Wednesday, June 14, 2017. (Sky News via AP)
In this photo taken from video, smoke rises from a high-rise apartment building on fire in London, Wednesday, June 14, 2017. (Sky News via AP)

— AP

Rights group criticizes use of white phosphorus against Islamic State

BEIRUT — The US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq is endangering civilians by using artillery-delivered white phosphorus, Human Rights Watch says Wednesday, after reports that such weapons were used in the Syrian city of Raqqa last Thursday.

HRW says it is not able to independently verify whether the use of the munitions resulted in any civilian casualties. The northern Iraqi city of Mosul and the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the extremist group’s de facto capital, have been under attack by different groups.

White phosphorus burns at extremely high temperatures and can be used to illuminate conflict zones or obscure them with smoke. International law prohibits its use in civilian areas because of its indiscriminate effects, from starting fires to causing excruciating burns for bystanders, according to Human Rights Watch.

The US military refused to comment on specific allegations after last week’s attack in Raqqa but says it uses white phosphorus rounds “in accordance with the law of armed conflict… in a way that fully considers the possible incidental effects on civilians and civilian structures.”

HRW says US-led forces in Mosul and Raqqa are using US-made M825-series 155mm artillery projectiles containing 116 felt wedges impregnated with white phosphorus, which ignites and continues to burn when exposed to the air.

“No matter how white phosphorus is used, it poses a high risk of horrific and long-lasting harm in crowded cities like Raqqa and Mosul and any other areas with concentrations of civilians,” says Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch.

— AP

Teenagers rescued after 3-day ordeal in Paris catacombs

PARIS, France — Two teenagers are rescued from the catacombs beneath Paris on Wednesday after getting lost in the pitch-black tunnels of the underground burial ground for three days.

The two, aged 16 and 17, were taken to hospital and were being treated for hyperthermia after being found by search teams and rescue dogs in the early hours of the morning.

“It was thanks to the dogs that we found them,” a spokesman for the Paris fire service tells AFP at the end of the four-hour operation.

A network of around 250 kilometers (150 miles) of underground tunnels forms a maze beneath Paris, with only a small section open to the public at an official visitors’ site in southern Paris. Entering the other galleries has been against the law since 1955, but daredevil school children, explorers and alternative partygoers are known to access them through secret entrance points.

The transfer of human remains from Parisian cemeteries to the tunnels began towards the end of the 18th century for public health reasons, with the bones of approximately six million people found there.

— AFP

Jordan soldier pleads ‘not guilty’ in deaths of 3 US troops

AMMAN, Jordan — A Jordanian soldier pleads not guilty to murder charges in the killing of three US military trainers.

The US Army Green Berets were killed when their convoy came under fire at the gate of an air base in southern Jordan in November. Jordan, a US military ally, initially suggested the Americans triggered the shooting by disobeying orders of Jordanian troops. Jordan later withdrew this claim.

The defendant, 1st Sgt. Marik al-Tuwayha, enters his plea before a military court Wednesday. Al-Tuwayha was seriously wounded in the incident, but has recovered and stood in a courtroom cage Wednesday, facing the judge.

The court also calls a first witness, a member of the military who says he took a statement from the defendant after his release from a hospital.

— AP

Top congressman, several aides wounded in Virginia shooting

Fox News confirms reports that US House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise and aides are shot at a baseball practice event in Virginia.

The suspect is in custody.

US Rep. Scalise said hit 5 times in Virginia shooting

The details of the shooting in Virginia are still unclear. Twitter, as is its wont, is trying to fill the gap, including the news that over 50 shots were fired and Rep. Scalise was hit as many as five times.

Massive police presence at Virginia baseball field where congressman, others shot

Congressman in stable condition after Virginia shooting

A congressional aide says Rep. Steve Scalise, the US House majority whip, is in stable condition at George Washington University Hospital after a shooting earlier Wednesday at a Virginia baseball field during a Congressional baseball game.

Rep. Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama, says several other people also were hit, including two law enforcement officers.

Brooks says that Scalise, 51, was down on the ground with what Brooks described as “a hip wound.”

Rep. Mike Bishop, a Michigan Republican, says Scalise was standing on second base when he was shot.

“I was looking right at him,” Bishop tells Detroit radio station WWJ. “He was a sitting duck.”

Scalise is the No. 3 House Republican leader. He was first elected to the House in 2008 after serving in the state legislature.

Rep. Jeff Duncan says in a statement that he was at the practice and “saw the shooter.”

“Please pray for my colleagues,” Duncan says.

— AP

Trump ‘deeply saddened’ by shooting at congressional baseball practice

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump voices sadness Wednesday after a shooting at a baseball practice in a Washington suburb left a top congressman and several other people wounded.

“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy,” Trump says in a statement, adding that he was closely monitoring the developments in Alexandria, Virginia just outside the US capital, where police have arrested the unidentified gunman.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the members of Congress, their staffs, Capitol Police, first responders, and all others affected.”

Senior Republican Congressman Steve Scalise was among several people shot and wounded during the baseball practice, ahead of an annual game between lawmakers.

— AFP

Virginia shooting targeting US lawmakers lasted 10 minutes — eyewitnesses

Several people who were at the Wednesday morning shooting at a Congressional baseball game in Alexandria, Virginia, that left a top congressman wounded say the shooter was firing at members of Congress and others present for as long as 10 minutes.

Fox News interviews members of Congress at the scene, including Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, who say they saw the shooter. He is described as a man in his 40s wearing blue jeans. He may have carried more than one firearm.

Virginia police chief confirms 5 wounded in shooting

The police chief of Alexandria, Virginia, confirms that five people were hurt in the shooting Wednesday morning that targeted US members of Congress at a baseball game.

Chief Michael Brown tells reporters that two officers first engaged the shooter.

Other reports say the officers may be among the wounded.

Second congressman, Rep. Williams from Texas, said hurt in Virginia shooting

Fox News reports that another congressman, Texas Republican Roger Williams, is also hurt in the shooting at a Virginia baseball field early Wednesday.

House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise is hospitalized in stable condition.

Trump says Scalise badly injured, will recover

US President Donald Trump says that Rep. Steve Scalise was “badly injured” in a shooting at a congressional baseball game but says he will “fully recover.”

The president tweets Wednesday, “Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a true friend and patriot, was badly injured but will fully recover.”

He adds, “Our thoughts and prayers are with him.”

Scalise, who is the majority whip, and a number of aides and Capitol Police officers were shot Wednesday morning. Alexandria police say the suspect is in custody.

— AP

Report of second wounded congressman was incorrect — eyewitness

Rep. Brad Wenstrup, Republican from Ohio, says a report that Texas Rep. Roger Williams was shot in the morning shooting attack at a baseball field in Virginia is incorrect.

Williams hurt his leg diving into the dugout to escape the gunfire, Wenstrup, a physician and Iraq War vet, tells Fox News. He was taken to hospital for a x-ray of his leg.

IDF soldier indicted for allegedly raping fellow soldier

An IDF soldier is indicted in a military court on charges of raping a fellow soldier on their base in southern Israel earlier this year, the army says.

Sgt. Eliav Hassid was arrested in late May after a female soldier in his unit filed a complaint with military police that he’d raped her.

Today, military prosecutors formally charge Hassid with the crime following an investigation.

When he was arrested, Hassid’s attorneys did not deny that their client had had a sexual relationship with his accuser, but said it was consensual.

The prosecution asks to keep Hassid in jail throughout the trial, but the court refuses the request. Hassid is remanded until June 21.

— Judah Ari Gross

PA denies US secretary of state’s claim it had ended payments to terrorists

Palestinian Authority Minister of Prisoner Affairs Issa Qaraqe tells The Times of Israel that “there is no end to the payments” for Palestinian prisoners and families of convicted terrorists.

“We reject ending the subsidies to the prisoners and families of martyrs. We will not apologize for it,” he says.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told senators on Tuesday that PA President Mahmoud Abbas had told him Ramallah intends to stop paying the families of terrorists jailed for attacking or killing Israelis.

“The American and Israeli pressure is an aggression against the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority,” Qaraqe says.

— Dov Lieber

Congressman who witnessed Virginia shooting: Shooter ‘was going after elected officials’

Rep. Mo Brooks, a Republican from Alabama, tells CNN the shooting “sure as heck wasn’t an accident.”

“People know this is the Republican baseball team practicing,” he says. “You can tell. You can recognize many of us. You can see our security detail.”

“It is pretty well known at the neighborhood who those folks are on the baseball field and where we practice.”

“He knew who we were. I’m a former prosecutor and, yeah, he was going after elected officials, congressmen.”

— AFP

IDF captain gets 9 years for stealing weapons, selling to organized crime

An IDF captain is sentenced to nine years in prison by a military court and is given a fine of NIS 30,000 for stealing and selling military equipment, the army says.

Shadi Bashir is also demoted to the rank of private.

In April 2016, Bashir, allegedly working with another soldier, stole shoulder-launched missiles and other weapons from an IDF armory and sold them to criminal organizations.

Bashir pleaded guilty to his crimes under a plea deal. The other soldier’s trial is ongoing.

— Judah Ari Gross

Dozens sent to jail for protest in Russia’s St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Two days after widespread anti-government rallies, protesters in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, face a severe crackdown with local courts sending dozens of them to jail.

Tens of thousands took to the streets across Russia’s 11 time zones on Monday to protest government corruption. Some of the protests, like in Moscow and St. Petersburg, were explicitly banned by authorities and nearly 2,000 people were detained.

The crackdown on protesters appears to be particularly severe in St. Petersburg, Russia’s former imperial capital, where at least 26 people are sentenced to five to 14 days in jail, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors political repression in Russia. The overwhelming majority of the hundreds of protesters detained in Moscow are eventually released, with the exception of a few opposition leaders.

Police form a human chain during an anti-corruption rally in St. Petersburg, Russia, Monday, June 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
Police form a human chain during an anti-corruption rally in St. Petersburg, Russia, Monday, June 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

— AP

Virginia shooting being investigated as criminal, not terrorism

A law enforcement official says the shooting in Virginia that injured Rep. Steve Scalise and several others is being investigated as a criminal act rather than an act of terrorism.

The official, who is not authorized to speak by name and spoke on condition of anonymity, also says the FBI is taking over the investigation, which is standard protocol in attacks involving federal officials such as a congressman. A news conference has been scheduled by law enforcement for later in the morning.

— AP

White House cancels Trump public event after shooting at lawmakers

The White House says that it’s canceling US President Donald Trump’s only public event on Wednesday due to the shooting involving members of Congress.

Trump was scheduled to visit the Department of Labor later in the afternoon to talk about apprenticeships and sign an executive order.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the chamber’s No. 3 Republican leader, was shot during a congressional baseball practice outside of Washington.

The White House also cancels a “listening session” on tax reform with top economic adviser Gary Cohn and auto industry leaders.

— AP

Kosovo indicts 9 jihadists for planning to attack Israel’s soccer team in Albania

Kosovo issues indictments for nine local men on charges of planning to carry out terror attacks against Israel’s national soccer team during a World Cup match in Albania in November 2016, Reuters reports.

The nine are part of a larger group of 19 arrested last year for alleged links with the Islamic State and purported plans to carry out terror attacks.

The November 12 game was moved “to a venue near the capital Tirana from a stadium in the northern town of Shkoder” due to the threat, Reuters reports.

The nine men were allegedly receiving instructions from Lavdrim Muhaxheri, an IS commander believed killed in Syria.

According to Reuters:

One of the defendants had kept in his basement 283 grams of self-made triacetone triperoxide (TATP) explosives. The same explosive was used in attacks in Paris and Brussels and was found in a series of foiled bombings in Europe since 2007.

Another defendant had produced half a kilo of explosives at his house from ammonium nitrate and fuel oil (ANFO), it said.

Egypt parliament agrees to island transfer to Saudi Arabia: State TV

CAIRO — Egypt’s parliament approves on Wednesday a controversial maritime agreement with Saudi Arabia that transfers two Red Sea islands to the kingdom, state television and a lawmaker say.

The deal, which is still under challenge in court, had sparked rare protests in the country with the opposition accusing the government of selling Egyptian territory to its Saudi benefactors.

The vote comes after days of heated debate in parliament with opponents even interrupting one committee session with chanting.

Courts had struck down the agreement, signed in April 2016, but a year later another court upheld it.

Lawyers are now challenging the deal before the constitutional court.

The government has said the islands were Saudi to begin with, but were leased to Egypt in the 1950s. Opponents of the agreement insist that Tiran and Sanafir are Egyptian.

— AFP

Virginia shooter identified as 66-year-old Illinois man

The shooter who wounded a top Republican congressman at a Virginia baseball field is identified by police as James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Illinois, CNN reports.

He is reportedly in critical condition after he was shot by US Capitol Police as he fired at lawmakers.

There is no immediate indication of his motive.

FBI agent tells NYT Virginia shooting ‘not an assassination attempt’

New York Times White House correspondent Glenn Thrush quotes an “FBI agent” rejecting the speculation that the shooting at US lawmakers in Virginia today was an assassination attempt.

“No, it’s not an assassination attempt,” Thrush, in a tweet, quotes the agent as saying.

Trump says Virginia gunman dead from injuries

Speaking to the nation after a shooting aiming at lawmakers at a Virginia baseball field, US President Donald Trump says “the assailant has now died from his injuries.”

He praises the two police officers who shot the gunman, noting they “took down the gunman despite being wounded” themselves.

One victim of Virginia shooting identified as Washington food lobbyist

Arkansas-based Tyson Foods Inc. says one of its employees is among those shot at a congressional baseball practice Wednesday.

Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson identifies the wounded employee as Matt Mika. He says Mika was taken to a hospital and that the company is awaiting word on his condition.

Mickelson says Mika is director of government relations for Tyson’s Washington, DC, office and that he’s worked for the company for more than six years.

He says the company is “deeply concerned” about Mika and his family.

— AP

Bernie Sanders condemns ‘despicable’ shooting, says shooter may have volunteered on his campaign

AP reports that Sen. Bernie Sanders is responding to the Virginia shooting.

Amid reports that the shooter, James T. Hodgkinson, 66, is a supporter of Sanders, the senator says he is “sickened by this despicable act.”

He says the shooter apparently volunteered on his Democratic primary campaign last year, AP says.

Police and FBI are refusing to offer a motive for the shooting, but the shooter’s social media profile suggests he may have harbored extreme antipathy to the Trump administration and Republicans.

UN says Gazans being held hostage to Palestinian feud

The United Nations says Wednesday that Gazans are being held hostage to Palestinian political infighting, warning that longer blackouts triggered by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas threatens a “total collapse” of basic services.

Gazans currently receive only three to four hours of electricity a day, delivered from the territory’s own power station and others in Israel and Egypt. Israel decided on Sunday to reduce the amount of electricity it supplies to Gaza by between 45 and 60 minutes a day after Abbas cut funding for it by his West Bank-based Palestinian Authority. The move is widely seen as an attempt by the Palestinian leader to step up pressure on his rivals in the Islamist movement Hamas which runs Gaza.

The UN humanitarian coordinator for the occupied territories, Robert Piper, warns the additional power cuts would have a disastrous effect.

“A further increase in the length of blackouts is likely to lead to a total collapse of basic services, including critical functions in the health, water and sanitation sectors,” Piper says in a statement.

“The people in Gaza should not be held hostage to this longstanding internal Palestinian dispute,” he says.

— AFP

London apartment building fire death toll rises to 12

At least 12 people are confirmed dead in a massive fire that ripped through a London tower block on Wednesday, police say.

“I do anticipate that the number of fatalities will sadly increase beyond those 12,” says the Metropolitan Police’s Stuart Cundy in a televised address.

Dozens of residents caught up in the blaze at Grenfell Tower, west London, are hospitalized. An estimated 20 are in critical condition.

— AFP and Times of Israel staff

Sen. Sanders’s full statement on Virginia shooter

Senator Bernie Sanders’s statement on discovering that the man who shot at Republican lawmakers today was a supporter:

“I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign. I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values.

“My hopes and prayers are that Representative Scalise, congressional staff and the Capitol Police Officers who were wounded make a quick and full recovery. I also want to thank the Capitol Police for their heroic actions to prevent further harm.”

Shooting at San Francisco warehouse, police say

SAN FRANCISCO, California — San Francisco police confirm a shooting at a sprawling UPS warehouse and customer service center, but no information on injuries has been released.

The shooting Wednesday leads to a massive police response and a shelter-in-place warning for the surrounding area.

The building is located in Portero Hill, which is about 2.5 miles from downtown San Francisco.

Police are advising people to avoid the area.

— AP

Israel announces plan to double the size of Qalqilya, angering settler leaders

A government plan to double the size of the Palestinian city of Qalqilya in the northern West Bank draws anger from settlement leaders.

The government announces the plan Wednesday, which would see 14,000 new apartments built on 2,500 dunams (617 acres) in the Israeli-controlled Area C that would be joined to the Palestinian city.

The plan would double the size of the city to 60,000 residents, Channel 2 reports.

Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan accuses the Netanyahu government of “taking the terror city of Qalqilya, which produced so many terror attacks, and giving it a gift.”

The 14,000 units, he notes, “are seven times what all four Jewish councils received in all Judea and Samaria.”

Channel 2 says one right-wing NGO, Regavim, which deals with land issues, is filing an appeal against the decision in the name of the nearby Israeli settlement of Tzofim.

The Defense Ministry says the plan is not new, and is part of a program of easing restriction for Palestinians currently being pursued by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.

UPS says employee shoots, injures 4 at San Francisco warehouse

SAN FRANCISCO — A UPS employee opens fire at a San Francisco package delivery facility on Wednesday, injuring four and prompting a massive police response in a neighborhood near downtown, officials say.

UPS spokesman Steve Gaut tells The Associated Press that an employee fired inside the facility before the drivers were sent out to do their normal daily deliveries. Gaut says four people are injured and that he believes the shooter “turned the gun on himself.”

Auto shop owner Robert Kim says he heard about five to eight rapid gunshots. The next thing he knew, he says, “a mob of UPS drivers” is running down the street screaming “shooter, shooter.”

Police confirm the shooting at the facility in the Potrero Hill neighborhood, about 2.5 miles from downtown San Francisco, but don’t release further information.

The shooting led to a massive police response and a shelter-in-place warning for the surrounding area. Police advised people to avoid the area.

— AP

Netanyahu denies new Qalqilya homes ‘seven times’ as many as settlement homes

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office responds to the Channel 2 report of plans to double the size of the Palestinian city of Qalqilya, including the approval of 14,000 new apartments and 2,500 dunams that will be added to the city from Israeli-controlled Area C.

Or, rather, Netanyahu’s office responds to the complaint by Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan that this constitutes “seven times” the amount of building approved for “Jewish councils” in the West Bank.

“This is a plan that was proposed by the defense minister [Avigdor Liberman] last year and was approved by the cabinet,” the statement says. “Since then, over 10,000 housing units were approved for planning and construction for the Jewish residents [of the West Bank], so this claim is incorrect and even absurd.”

EU parliament lifts Jean-Marie Le Pen’s immunity in French racism case

STRASBOURG, France — The European Parliament on Wednesday lifts the immunity of far-right National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen and of a fellow party member in response to a French racism investigation.

Le Pen, an MEP and honorary president of the party led by his daughter Marine, is being investigated for alleged “public defamation” with a racist nature over remarks made in August 2009.

He said immigrants or people of immigrant origin were behind 90 percent of crimes.

Mylene Troszczynski, another National Front member, is also being investigated for “public defamation” with a racist nature and incitement to hatred or violence for a Twitter post in September 2015.

The post was a photograph of fully veiled women gathered at a family allowance department, but the image was deemed to have been a fake.

In voting for lifting the immunity, the European members of parliament say there is no reason to suspect that the French legal action was motivated by a desire to block the work of the two National Front members in the Strasbourg assembly.

— AFP

Wounded US congressman Scalise ‘critical’ after surgery, hospital says

Republican lawmaker Steve Scalise, one of five people shot by a gunman during early morning baseball practice near Washington DC on Wednesday, remained in “critical condition” following surgery, the hospital said.

“Rep. Scalise was critically injured and remains in critical condition,” said MedStar Washington Hospital in a statement via Twitter. Earlier in the day his condition had been described as “stable,” and he had spoken by telephone with his wife.

— AFP

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