Liberman: ‘If the Palestinians pay, they’ll get electricity’
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Liberman: ‘If the Palestinians pay, they’ll get electricity’

PA bans news sites critical of Abbas; El Al rated Heathrow’s dirtiest, noisiest airline; prosecutors seek criminal probe into Olmert memoir leaks; IDF wraps up extensive military exercise in Cyprus

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

  • Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 11, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)
    Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 11, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)
  • Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a conference in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, October 1, 2016. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)
    Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a conference in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, October 1, 2016. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)
  • A Cypriot officer salutes an IDF officer during an exercise in Cyprus in June 2017. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
    A Cypriot officer salutes an IDF officer during an exercise in Cyprus in June 2017. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
  • Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (R) welcomes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) prior to a Greece-Israel-Cyprus summit for talks on offshore oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean and environmental issues in Thessaloniki on June 15, 2017.  (AFP PHOTO / SAKIS MITROLIDIS)
    Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (R) welcomes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) prior to a Greece-Israel-Cyprus summit for talks on offshore oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean and environmental issues in Thessaloniki on June 15, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / SAKIS MITROLIDIS)
  • A Boeing 747 El Al plane (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
    A Boeing 747 El Al plane (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
  • Former prime minister Ehud Olmert at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on February 10, 2016. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)
    Former prime minister Ehud Olmert at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on February 10, 2016. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)

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

Netanyahu promotes Mediterranean natural gas pipeline in Greece

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in northern Greece to discuss plans to become a key supplier of European energy through an ambitious Mediterranean undersea natural gas pipeline project.

Netanyahu meets in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, while Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades was also due to attend the talks.

More than 3,500 police officers are deployed for security around the city, which historically had a large Jewish community that was almost wiped out during the Nazi occupation in World War II.

Israel is hoping to export much of its newly discovered natural gas to Europe by a proposed undersea pipeline to Cyprus and Greece.

— AP

Death toll in London apartment building fire climbs to 17

Seventeen people are confirmed dead in the fire that engulfed a London high-rise building on Wednesday, emergency services say, adding that the toll was set to rise as there were no hopes of finding survivors.

“Sadly I can confirm that the number of people that have died is now 17,” Metropolitan Police commander Stuart Cundy says in a televised statement.

“We do believe that the number will sadly increase,” he adds.

There were believed to be around 600 people in Grenfell Tower in west London when the fire started before dawn on Wednesday and dozens are still missing.

— AFP

Putin denounces latest sanctions passed by US Senate

Russian President Vladimir Putin slams fresh sanctions approved by the US Senate as coming “out of nowhere” and motivated by domestic politics and historical efforts by the West to “contain” Russia.

“We know that currently there is a bill in the US Senate regarding toughening sanctions. Why? Nothing extraordinary is happening. Why did they start to talk about sanctions again out of nowhere?” Putin says at his annual phone-in with Russian citizens.

“Of course this is evidence of the continuing domestic political battle in the US, but it is completely out of nowhere. If it wasn’t for Crimea, if it wasn’t for other problems, they would think of other reasons to contain Russia,” he says.

The US Senate voted to approve further sanctions against Russia over alleged election meddling yesterday.

— AFP

Jerusalem couple indicted for murdering neighbor, dismembering body

A Jerusalem couple is indicted for murdering their neighbor, dismembering his body and burying the remains a communal garden.

According to the indictment, Andrei Wolchanski and Claire Kroveli of the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood had been in a long-running dispute with 59-year-old Shlomo Sami Marciano. The latter had even filed a lawsuit against the defendants over illegal construction in April.

During a May 10 argument between Wolchanski and Marciano in the lobby of their apartment building, Wolchanski grabbed an ax and hacked his neighbor to death, the charges say.

Wolchanski then dragged Marciano’s lifeless body into his apartment and began cutting it with the help of Kroveli. The couple later decided to bury the remains in a neighborhood garden.

While burying some of Marciano remains in the early hours of May 11, the couple was spotted by two youths who reported the suspicious activity to police.

Blast rocks kindergarten in China, casualties reported

An explosion rocks a kindergarten in eastern China, injuring an unknown number of people including children, local police say.

A photo posted by Chinese media online shows several women and children sitting or lying on the ground, some bleeding. One woman is clutching her child, who is in tears.

An official at the police station in Fengxian county in Jiangsu province tells AFP that the explosion is under investigation.

“There were some children injured,” the official says.

The blast occurred at the gate of the kindergarten as children were leaving the school in the afternoon, according to Xinhua, citing the emergency office of Xuzhou city.

— AFP

Trump blasts ‘phony’ obstruction of justice report

US President Donald Trump takes to Twitter to denounce reports that the Russia investigation is widening to examine whether he tried to obstruct justice.

In an early morning tweet, Trump says: “They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice.”

The Washington Post reported late yesterday that special counsel Robert Mueller is seeking interviews with three Trump administration officials who weren’t involved in Trump’s campaign. Those officials are: Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence; Michael Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency; and Richard Ledgett, the former NSA deputy director.

Accusations of obstruction arose last month when Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Comey told Congress last week that he believed he was fired “because of the Russia investigation.”

— AP

Prosecutors seek criminal investigation into Olmert memoir leaks

The State Prosecutor’s Office asks the police to investigate whether jailed former prime minister Ehud Olmert committed a criminal offense by divulging classified information in his memoirs, bypassing the military censor.

The state is also requesting that Olmert’s Sunday parole board hearing be postponed until after police determine if a criminal offense has been committed.

Earlier today, police raided the offices of the Yedioth Books publishing house in Rishon Lezion in a search for classified material that may have been provided by Olmert.

Israel’s El Al rated Heathrow’s dirtiest, noisiest airline

A new list published by London’s Heathrow Airport rates Israel’s national carrier as the dirtiest and noisiest of all the carriers servicing the the world’s third-largest airport.

According to the results, El Al comes in last out of 50 airlines after failing to receive satisfactory scores in five out of the seven categories, including noise pollution, nitrogen oxide emissions, efficient landing approaches and arrival times.

The Fly Quiet and Clean League ratings is an initiative launched in an effort to shame airlines into adopting cleaner, more efficient practices.

Rounding out the bottom 5 after El Al is Kuwait Airways, Middle East Airlines, Pakistan International Airlines, Omar Air and Jet Airways.

Netanyahu at dedication of site of future Holocaust memorial in Greece

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara together with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, attend the unveiling of a plaque to mark the construction of a Holocaust museum in the Greek city of Thessaloniki.

“We commemorate the loss of these human beings, our fellow Jews, but we also dedicate ourselves to make sure that this horror will never happen again,” Netanyahu says at the unveiling ceremony.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (C), Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2L), Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades (R) and Sara Netenyahu (L) pose as they attend the presentation of a memorial plaque at the Museum of the Holocaust in Thessaloniki on June 15, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / SAKIS MITROLIDIS)
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (C), Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2L), Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades (R) and Sara Netenyahu (L) pose as they attend the presentation of a memorial plaque at the Museum of the Holocaust in Thessaloniki on June 15, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / SAKIS MITROLIDIS)

Netanyahu is in Thessaloniki to attend a Greece-Israel-Cyprus summit for talks on offshore oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkish opposition party begins protest march from capital

Turkey’s main opposition party sets off on a 425-kilometer (265 mile) march from the capital to an Istanbul prison to protest the conviction of one of its lawmakers. Thousands begin walking from Ankara, with police at the scene.

The leader of the pro-secular Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, calls the “march for justice” after parliamentarian Enis Berberoglu was convicted and sentenced to 25 years for revealing state secrets.

Kilicdaroglu calls the verdict “palace-motivated,” a reference to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “Let the whole world hear, we are facing a dictatorial regime in Turkey, in our own land,” he says.

The case of Berberoglu, a former journalist and lawmaker, stems from a 2015 story by the Cumhuriyet newspaper suggesting Turkey’s intelligence service had smuggled weapons to Islamist rebels in Syria. His lawyer has appealed the verdict.

— AP

Health Ministry, Hadassah pediatric cancer doctors agree to mediation

Representatives from the Health Ministry and doctors from Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center’s pediatric cancer unit reportedly agree to begin mediation in an effort to solve the ongoing management crisis.

According to reports, the doctors and ministry officials will continue dialogue in the coming days while the sides agree on an external mediator.

The ward’s entire team of senior doctors quit en masse two months ago over what they claim is the hospital’s systemic failure to invest in its staff.

Parole board rejects request to delay Olmert hearing over memoir leaks

Parole board officials reportedly reject a request by the State Prosecutor’s Office to postpone Sunday’s hearing for jailed former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

Earlier, the state had requested that Olmert’s parole hearing be postponed until after police have determined whether the ex-prime minister committed a criminal offense by divulging classified information in his memoirs, bypassing the military censor.

Police this morning raided the offices of the Yedioth Books publishing house in Rishon Lezion in a search for classified material that may have been provided by Olmert.

500 IDF commando soldiers participate in Cyprus military drill

Hundreds of Israeli soldiers trained for combat deep in enemy territory on the island nation of Cyprus over the past week, staging a large-scale war exercise on foreign soil — a first for the IDF’s Commando Brigade, according to its operations officer.

The nearly 500 Israeli soldiers that took part came mostly from the Commando Brigade, also known as the Oz Brigade, which was created in late 2015 in order to bring many of the military’s elite units under one roof. The Israeli Air Force also dispatched airplanes and helicopters for the drill, and representatives from a handful of other IDF units also took part.

The week-long drill was a general simulation of war, testing the abilities of the commandos in a variety of situations, according to the chief operations officer of the Commando Brigade, who for security reasons can only be referred to as “H.”

This was the Commando Brigade’s sixth unit-wide exercise, but the Cyprus drill was the first to be conducted in another country, H. tells The Times of Israel over the phone, in a cab en route to the Cyprus airport.

Approximately 100 Cypriot commandos also participated in the joint exercise.

The Israeli and Cypriot troops practiced urban warfare, above-ground and below-ground combat, fighting in dense brush, in mountainous areas, as well as airborne exercises, heliborne exercises, in the daytime, in the night time.

While H. and other Israeli personnel spoke glowingly of the exercise, according to local Cypriot media, the drill rankled both Turkey, which occupies northern Cyprus, and the country’s opposition party, which said that the military cooperation with Israel is “dangerous for Cyprus and for peace in the region.”

— Judah Ari Gross

David Blatt to stay on with Turkish basketball team, won’t return to Israel

Israeli American basketball coach David Blatt will stay on as coach of the Istanbul Darüşşafaka Doğuş team, and won’t be returning to Israel to coach Maccabi Tel Aviv.

According to the Ynet news site, Blatt chose to stay in Turkey after failing to reach an agreement that would enable him to terminate his contract a year early.

David Blatt of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the first quarter against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on December 15, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images via JTA)
David Blatt of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the first quarter against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on December 15, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images via JTA)

The former NBA coach had been in talks to return to Maccabi, a team he coached from 2010-2014.

British PM May orders public inquiry into fire

British Prime Minister Theresa May orders a full public inquiry into the high-rise fire in West London.

The British leader makes the decision shortly after making a private visit to the site where at least 17 people were killed in the early hours of yesterday morning.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but experts say that it was highly unusual because of the speed with which the tower was engulfed in flame.

— AP

Syrian troops advance against Islamic State in Homs

Syrian government forces are marching toward the last town held by the Islamic State group in the central province of Homs in the latest push by President Bashar Assad’s troops against the jihadists, say state media and opposition activists.

The capture of Sukhna would pave the way for government forces to march toward the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, where IS has been besieging a government-held part of the city for nearly three years. Syrian troops have also advanced against IS in the north, evicting the extremists from Aleppo province.

The jihadists are meanwhile fighting to defend their de fact capital, Raqqa, from US-backed and Kurdish led forces, which have captured four neighborhoods since launching an offensive in the northern Syrian city last week.

“Continuous achievements to defeat terrorism,” state TV said, referring to government forces’ capture of about 20,000 square kilometers (7,700 square miles) from the extremists since the beginning of the year.

— AP

PA bans news sites critical of President Abbas

The Palestinian government in the West Bank blocks 11 news websites affiliated with Hamas and other political rivals critical of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

An official at the PA attorney general’s office says the sites were blocked because they are in “violation of the rules of publications,” which forbid alleged fake news and defamation. The official spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to brief the media.

The editor of Jordan-based Amad news website, Hassan Asfour, says in a statement that the censorship was due to its “bold reporting” on the Palestinian government’s “dirty deals.”

The internationally backed Palestinian Authority has tightened its grip in the West Bank since losing control of the Gaza Strip to the Islamist terror group Hamas a decade ago.

— AP

Russia accuses US of deploying missiles in Syria

The Russian defense ministry is accusing the US-led coalition in Syria of deploying missiles against the Syrian army at the Al-Tanaf garrison where rebels battling the Islamic State group are being trained.

In a statement, the ministry says that the “United States has moved two HIMARS multiple rocket launchers from Jordan to the Al-Tanaf US special forces base,” suggesting that the equipment would be used for strikes against Syrian government forces.

— AFP

Jabotinsky’s refugee card fetches $20,000 at US auction

The ID card of Zionist leader Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky was auctioned yesterday in New York for $20,000.

The French-issued ID from 1938 has Jabotinsky’s original photo and signature, lists his profession as a journalist and indicates he was a refugee from Russia.

The ID card was auctioned by the J. Greenstein and Company auction house, based in Cedarhurst, Long Island.

US Senate overwhelmingly approves new sanctions on Russia, Iran

The US Senate overwhelmingly passes tough sanctions on Iran and Russia, sending the House of Representatives a bill that would prevent President Donald Trump from unilaterally easing penalties against Moscow.

The measure, which passed with broad bipartisan support, seeks to make Tehran pay a price for its “continued support of terrorism.”

It also notably aims to punish Russia’s Vladimir Putin for meddling in last year’s US election, and to make it tougher for the White House to roll back sanctions.

“Any idea of the president’s that he can lift sanctions on his own for whatever reason are dashed by this legislation,” top Democrat Chuck Schumer tells fellow senators shortly before the vote.

— AFP

Trump: Wounded GOP lawmaker in worse condition than previously thought

President Donald Trump says that wounded GOP Congressman Steve Scalise is “in some trouble” but “he’s going to be OK, we hope,” offering the assessment as a shaken US House gaveled back into session a day after the shooting of Scalise and others at a baseball field.

“It’s been much more difficult than people even thought at the time,” Trump said of the treatment of Scalise, the No. 3 GOP leader, who is in critical condition at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Trump visited the Louisiana congressman at the hospital Wednesday night, and Vice President Mike Pence paid a visit this morning.

“Steve in his own way may have brought some unity to our long-divided country,” Trump adds. “We’ve had a very, very divided country for many years. And I have a feeling that Steve has made a great sacrifice, but there could be some unity being brought to our country. Let’s hope so.”

— AP

US issues warrants for 12 Erdogan aides over embassy brawl

US authorities said Thursday they have issued warrants for the arrest of 12 security aides to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused of assaulting protesters during a street brawl in Washington.

Washington Police Chief Peter Newsham said the 12 were identified in detailed video footage of the May 16 attack on Kurdish and Armenian protesters outside the residence of Turkey’s ambassador, following a meeting between Erdogan and President Donald Trump.

— AFP

Jihadist arrests in Europe nearly double in two years, Europol finds

The number of people arrested in Europe on suspicion of jihadist terror activities nearly doubled over the last two years, Europe’s policing agency says, adding that actual attacks have decreased.

Some 718 were arrested on offences relating to jihadist terror last year as opposed to 395 in 2014, while jihadist attacks dropped from 17 in 2014 to 13 last year — of which six were linked to the Islamic State group, Europol says in a new report.

— AFP

Liberman: ‘If the Palestinians pay, they’ll get electricity’

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman says Israel is willing to restart its supply of electricity to the Gaza Strip when the Palestinians are prepared to pay for it.

In an interview posted on the Arabic-language website of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Liberman says: “If the Palestinians pay, they will get electricity.”

“This is a difficult situation,” he adds before calling on the residents of Gaza to demand that Hamas work towards improving quality of life in the Strip rather than expanding its military infrastructure.

Explosion hits crowded Kabul Shiite mosque

An explosion strikes a crowded Shiite mosque in Kabul, officials say, in the latest militant attack in what has been a bloody month of Ramadan in the Afghan capital.

“Terrorist attack on Al Zahra mosque in west of Kabul. Special forces have been sent to the area,” interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish says on Twitter. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the assault.

— AFP

Netanyahu congratulates Grossman on Man Booker prize win

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulates David Grossman on becoming the first Israeli author to win the prestigious Man Booker International Prize.

“I congratulate David Grossman for winning an important international prize which reflects his ability as a writer as well as his literary works,” the prime minister says in a statement.

The congratulatory message comes nearly 24 hours after Grossman’s novel “A Horse Walks into a Bar” was announced the 2017 winner, however Netanyahu and his wife Sara have been visiting Greece on an official state visit.

Injured US Congressman has 3rd surgery after shooting

Republican Congressman Steve Scalise is undergoing a third surgery after he and others were shot at a baseball practice by a man hostile to the GOP.

The Louisiana lawmaker, who is the No. 3 Republican in the House, remains in critical condition at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. He was shot in the hip in yesterday morning’s incident and the bullet fractured bones and injured internal organs, causing severe bleeding.

It was unclear whether he had emerged from surgery as of mid-day. The hospital did not immediately provide an update, but lawmakers were informed at a meeting Thursday morning that Scalise was in surgery.

President Donald Trump spoke at the White House, saying Scalise’s condition is more difficult than initially thought.

— AP

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