The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.
Hamas’ chief says Israel is ignoring the terms of an unofficial ceasefire agreement for the Gaza Strip.
Ismail Haniyeh tells foreign reporters in Gaza today that the understandings, brokered by Egypt, Qatar and the UN, now are “in the danger zone.”
He says Israel has shown “no respect” for the terms and the 2 million residents of blockaded Gaza who “have not felt” any improvement to their living conditions.
His comments come a day after a Hamas spokesman said Israel was abiding by the terms of the deal.
Israel does not officially acknowledge a ceasefire agreement with Hamas and the other terror groups in the Strip that was brokered in early May following an intense two days of fighting.
Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade after the Islamic terror group group violently seized control of the coastal Palestinian enclave in 2007, saying it was necessary to prevent arms smuggling.
Since March 2018, Hamas has led mass protests along the Israel-Gaza border, with Israel accusing it of using the often violent demonstrations as cover to attack troops and the security fence.
The two have fought three wars over the past decade and the informal understandings are aimed at preventing another war.
— with agencies
BERLIN — At least three prominent German pro-migrant mayors have received death threats, it emerges today, days after police arrested a suspected far-right extremist over the assassination-style gun murder of a local politician.
Germany has been shocked by news that the top suspect in the June 2 shooting of Kassel city local politician Walter Luebcke is an alleged neo-Nazi, believed to have been angered by an influx of refugees and migrants.
Now several other local politicians, who have been attacked or targeted in the past for welcoming asylum seekers, report that they have again been threatened.
One of them, Cologne mayor Henriette Reker, was stabbed in the neck by a right-wing sympathizer in October 2015 and has been under police protection ever since.
“The mayor has received death threats,” a Cologne police spokesman tells AFP.
Another mayor, Andreas Hollstein, of the small town of Altena in North Rhine-Westphalia state, on Tuesday confirmed to German news agency DPA that he had again received death threats.
He was slashed with a knife in 2017 after accepting a national award from Chancellor Angela Merkel for Altena’s work with refugees.
His attacker had criticized Hollstein for taking in refugees, it emerged during the trial.
Holger Kelch, the mayor of Cottbus, says he had received 500 hate mails and three death threats since 2017 when he called for calm in the city after it emerged the killer of a German pensioner came from Syria.
News of the death threats comes in the wake of the Luebcke case, which prosecutors are treating as a political murder.
Russia’s national security says Iran’s interests in Syria must be taken into account, ahead of a meeting in Israel next week with his Israeli and American counterparts.
“Iran is in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate government and is actively involved in fighting terrorism. Therefore, of course, we will have to take into account the interests of Iran,” Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev is quoted saying on the Russian embassy in Israel’s Twitter account.
Israel in recent years has carried out hundreds of strike in Syria on targets linked to Iran, which it accuses of working to obtain a foothold on the northern border from which it can launch attacks. The US has also condemned Iran’s military presence in Syria, where it is fighting along with Russia on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
“We will face the fact that the interests of states have different directions. The Russian side will take into account the interests of Iran bring them to the attention of the Israeli and the American side,” Patrushev says.
Israel has billed next week’s meeting, which will also include National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and US National Security Adviser John Bolton, as “unprecedented.”
The rare tripartite talks are expected to deal mostly with Syria, specifically Iran’s efforts to entrench itself militarily near Israel’s borders, and the planned withdrawal of US troops from the war-torn country.
We will face the fact that the interests of states have different directions. The Russian side will take into account the interests of Iran bring them to the attention of the Israeli and the American sides, Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev added. -2/2-
— Russia???????? in Israel (@israel_mid_ru) June 20, 2019
Former Knesset lawmaker Orly Levy-Abekasis and Hapoel Beersheba soccer team owner Alona Barkat are in talks to launch a new party to run in the general elections on September 17, the Ynet news site reports.
According to the report, the party will have a female leadership and focus on pocketbook issues, similar to the Gesher party Levy-Abekasis headed in April’s elections.
Citing unnamed officials familiar with the matter, the news site says the talks are in too early a stage to make an announcement.
Levy-Abekasis, who was an independent MK in the last Knesset after quitting the Yisrael Beytenu party, failed to enter the Knesset following April’s vote as Gesher fell short of the minimum electoral threshold. Barkat was a candidate in the elections for the New Right party, which also failed to secure enough votes to enter the Knesset.
Iran’s foreign ministry has warned the United States over violating Iranian airspace after the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down a US drone earlier in the day.
A ministry spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, is quoted by the semiofficial Tasnim news agency as saying that Iran cannot condone the “illegal trespassing and invading of the country’s skies by any kind of foreign flying object.”
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard says it shot down the American drone over Iranian airspace, while US officials say it happened over international airspace in the Strait of Hormuz.
Mousavi expresses Iran’s “strong objection” and adds that the “invaders will bear full responsibility.”
The United States military command responsible for American forces in the Middle East confirms a US drone downed by Iran was hit with a surface-to-air missile in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz.
“Iranian reports that the aircraft was over Iran are false,” a CENTCOM spokesman says in a statement.
“This was an unproved attack on a US surveillance asset in international airspace,” the spokesman adds.
Justice Minister Amir Ohana meets with Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut for the first time since he was appointed to the post earlier this month.
They agree to hold regular meetings every two weeks, according to Hebrew media reports.
In an interview following his appointment, Ohana implied the government did not always need to obey High Court rulings, drawing a strong rebuke from Hayut, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and others.
Ohana, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, later clarified he believes government must respect court decisions.
Israeli forces arrested an alleged Iranian spy earlier this year who had been operating in the West Bank, the Shin Bet security service reveals, amid escalating tensions with the Islamic Republic over the collapsing nuclear deal.
According to the Shin Bet, a Jordanian national, Thaer Shafut, was sent into the West Bank last year “on behalf of Iranian intelligence to carry out missions that were meant to establish a network in Israel and the West Bank, which would be used for covert operations for the Iranians.”
He entered Israeli territory in July-August 2018, after receiving instruction from Iranian operatives in Lebanon and Syria, the Shin Bet says.
He was told to establish business ties in Israel and the West Bank in order to form a base for this Iranian intelligence infrastructure.
Shafut was arrested in April, though this was kept gagged under the military censor until Thursday.
Just before his arrest, Shafut began making contact with people inside the West Bank with the goal of establishing this spy network, the Shin Bet says.
He was indicted on June 10 on charges of contacting a foreign agent, contacting an enemy organization and attempting to bring enemy funds into the region.
The end of the gag order comes hours after an American drone was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile in what the US military says was international airspace.
— Judah Ari Gross
LONDON — The contest to become Britain’s next prime minister is down to its final three candidates, with Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt chasing front-runner Boris Johnson for a spot in a deciding runoff.
Johnson gains 157 of 313 votes cast by Conservative lawmakers today in their fourth round of voting. Gove receives 61, leapfrogging Hunt, who has been in second place until now but got 59.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid came fourth with 34 votes and drops out.
A second vote today will select the final two contenders, who will go to a by-mail ballot of all 160,000 Conservative Party members nationwide.
The winner is due to be announced in late July, and will replace Theresa May as party leader and prime minister.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh says his Palestinian terror group rejects next week’s US-sponsored Middle East economic conference in Bahrain as it would amount to Arab “normalization” of ties with Israel.
“We clearly express our rejection and non-acceptance of any Arab or Islamic country holding such a conference, which constitutes normalization with the occupation,” Haniyeh says, referring to Israel.
US President Donald Trump’s administration organized the conference, which is to be held on June 25 and 26 in Manama for the unveiling of the economic component of a US Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has been drafting the long-awaited plan, but it has been rejected in advance by the Palestinians, who expect the proposals to heavily favor Israel.
Haniyeh, whose Islamist organization rules Gaza, appeals during a rare briefing with international journalists to Bahrain’s King Hamad “not to hold this workshop,” vowing protests “in all the Palestinian lands and beyond.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin is warning the US against using force against Iran, saying it would have catastrophic consequences.
Tensions have been building up recently over last week’s attacks on tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, assaults that Washington has blamed on Iran. Iran has denied the accusations.
Speaking on Thursday during a televised call-in show, Putin says the US military action against Iran would be a “catastrophe for the region as a minimum.”
He adds that it would trigger an escalation of hostilities with unpredictable results.
Putin notes that Iran has abided by the terms of a nuclear deal despite the US withdrawal, adding that he considers US sanctions against Iran unfounded.
Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich says a bill allowing the Knesset to overrule High Court of Justice decisions will be “at the heart” of coalition talks following general elections in September.
Speaking during a conference at Ariel University, Smotrich says the purpose of the proposed legislation is “to repair democracy and bring a proper and healthy balance between the three [government] branches in the State of Israel,” according to the Ynet news site.
Smotrich, the No. 2 in the Union of Right-Wing Parties, is a leading backer of the bill, which critics say would sharply undermine Israel’s system of checks and balances. Proponents of the legislation say is necessary to curb what they say is an overly activist High Court.
ATHENS, Greece — One of the most important trials in recent Greek history entered its final stretch as suspected members of neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn accused of murdering an anti-fascist rapper were set to enter their pleas.
Over a dozen defendants are on trial, a court source says, including the man who confessed to fatally stabbing 34-year-old rapper Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013 while claiming self-defense.
Fyssas’s murder was a catalyst in shedding light on the neo-Nazi group that organized food donations at the height of Greece’s economic crisis, striking a chord with desperate voters.
But the group is also suspected of hunting down foreigners and political opponents. Prosecutors are seeking to prove that violent acts were encouraged, if not actively ordered, by senior Golden Dawn officials.
In a related case in May, two Greeks were sentenced to over 21 years in prison for the racially aggravated murder of 27-year-old Pakistani migrant worker Shehzad Luqman.
Luqman’s 2013 death, another fatal stabbing, is among crimes investigated in connection with the Golden Dawn trial.
A verdict in the trial, which began in 2015, is expected by early next year.
Until recently the third largest party in Greek parliament, Golden Dawn took major losses in European Parliament elections in May, losing about half its voter support.
The Israeli military completes a massive exercise simulating war against the Hezbollah terror group — its largest drill in two years — in a first test of army chief Aviv Kohavi’s new strategy for the Israel Defense Forces.
The five-day drill began on Sunday, with ground troops, the air force and navy taking part in the exercise, which included fighting on multiple fronts simultaneously.
“The exercise trained the troops for combat involving multiple branches of the military in an urban battlefield, against an enemy that disappears, who is dug into underground [infrastructure] and is equipped with advanced weaponry,” the army says in a statement.
Thousands of infantry soldiers participated in the exercise — dubbed “First Harvest” — along with armored units and other ground forces; drones, helicopters and fighter jets conducted both night and day flights during the drill; and a number of naval vessels and units simulated the type of fighting they’re likely to face in a war in Lebanon.
The IDF says a number of new capabilities and strategies that are part of Kohavi’s multi-year plan were tested in the exercise, including new offensive and defensive maneuvering techniques, better use of special forces, improved artillery fire and the widespread use of large and small drones.
The military said this was its largest drill since the 2017 “Light of the Grain” exercise, which was itself the IDF’s largest exercise in nearly 20 years.
In addition to offensive maneuvers, the military says it also simulated “large-scale rocket fire” that air defense units “would have to spot and intercept.” Hezbollah is believed to possess an arsenal of over 100,000 rockets and mortar shells, as well as a small number of advanced precision-guided missiles.
The Israeli military believes that thousands of these projectiles of various ranges and explosive capabilities would rain down on the country during a future war. Most of these inaccurate rockets would land in open fields, but the overwhelming number of them would cause significant amounts of damage, injuries and deaths throughout Israel, including potentially in key strategic sites.
— Judah Ari Gross
US President Donald Trump comments for the first time on Iran’s downing of an American military drone.
Iran made a very big mistake!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 20, 2019
Lt. Gen. Thomas Bergeson, the deputy head of US Central Command, visited Israel this week amid the face-off in the Persian Gulf between the United States and Iran.
The army says Bergeson was hosted by IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Eyal Zamir. It doesn’t specify when his visit was planned.
US Central Command, known as CENTCOM, is responsible for US forces in the Middle East. Its commander, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, requested the dispatch of a aircraft carrier strike group to the region in May as a response to what the US said were threats by Iran.
Earlier today, Iran announced it downed a US military drone over its airspace, but CENTCOM said the drone was shot down with a surface-to-air missile in international airspace.
Strong and getting stronger.
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) June 20, 2019
WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump’s strategy on Iran, including abandoning an international nuclear pact, is a “self-inflicted disaster” that could push the United States towards war with a major adversary, Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden warns Today.
Hours after Iran shot down a US spy drone, sending tensions soaring, the former US vice president says Trump was failing to prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining a nuclear weapon and to secure energy supplies through the Strait of Hormuz.
“President Trump’s Iran strategy is a self-inflicted disaster,” Biden, who leads in polling for his party’s 2020 nomination, says in a statement.
“By walking away from diplomacy, Trump has made military conflict more likely.”
Biden served nearly four years as chairman of the powerful Foreign Relations Committee during his 36 years in the Senate, and considers foreign policy a strong suit.
As vice president, he helped US president Barack Obama negotiate the 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers that imposed curbs on its nuclear program, blocking its path to an atomic weapon.
But Trump unilaterally withdrew from the agreement last year, and as a result, Biden says, “Iran is building back up its nuclear capability.”
While Trump promised that exiting the deal and slapping sanctions on Iran would brake its belligerence in the region, “they’ve only gotten more aggressive,” Biden says.
Biden stresses that Iran continues to be a “bad actor that abuses human rights” and supports terrorism. “But what we need is presidential leadership that will take strategic action to counter the Iranian threat” and improve cooperation with US allies.
NEW YORK — Oil prices jump today amid rising US-Iran tensions, with gains accelerating on a cryptic tweet by US President Donald Trump after Iranian forces shot down a US spy drone.
“Iran made a very big mistake!” Trump tweeted in his first public reaction to the strike.
US benchmark West Texas Intermediate climbs 6.3 percent to $57.13 a barrel, while Brent futures in London gain 4.7% to $64.69 a barrel.
WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the US cannot be “reckless” amid rising tensions with Iran.
Pelosi says today she doesn’t think US President Donald Trump wants to go to war. And she says the American people don’t want war either.
“There’s no appetite for going to war in our country,” she says.
The country needs to be “strong and strategic” about protecting its interests, Pelosi says, and “cannot be reckless.”
Pelosi calls a caucus-wide meeting of Democrats for later Thursday on Iran. House and Senate leadership will also be briefed by administration officials.
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have been rising over the collapsing nuclear deal with world powers. On Thursday Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shot down a US surveillance drone.
WASHINGTON — US National Security Adviser John Bolton will travel to Israel over the weekend for “regional security talks” with top Russian and Israeli officials, the White House says today amid spiking tensions with Iran.
Bolton will meet Sunday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, followed by talks with his Israeli and Russian counterparts, Meir Ben-Shabbat and Nikolai Patrushev, NSC spokesman Garrett Marquis says.
Bolton also will meet with the director general of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission Zeev Snir.
The NSC announcement came just hours after Iran shot down a US drone in what Washington called an unprovoked attack.
Tehran said the drone, a high-flying Global Hawk, was brought down with a surface-to-air missile after it entered its airspace. The US military said the drone was in international airspace.
“Iran made a very big mistake!” US President Donald Trump tweeted.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is appealing to “all peace-loving countries” to support American efforts to halt what he called escalating Iranian provocations.
Speaking Thursday at a reception for the New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Netanyahu says that “in the last 24 hours, Iran has intensified its aggression against the United States and against all of us,” adding that “Israel stands by the United States and its military.”
He speaks shortly after Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shot down a US surveillance drone in the Strait of Hormuz. Heightened tensions in recent weeks have raised fears of war between the two countries.
Israeli officials have welcomed Washington’s mounting pressure on Tehran, but steered clear of calling for a conflagration that might put Israel in the line of fire.
US President Donald Trump is asked if he’ll order a strike on Iran in response to the Islamic Republic’s downing of an American military drone.
“You’ll soon find out,” Trump says at the White House as he waits to greet Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
.@HallieJackson: "Mr. President, will you strike Iran?"
President Trump: The public "will soon find out." pic.twitter.com/Kh2BmFYYc0
— NBC News (@NBCNews) June 20, 2019
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accuses the United States of lying that a drone shot down by Iran was not in the country’s airspace and says Tehran will “take this new aggression” to the United Nations.
The US wages #EconomicTerrorism on Iran, has conducted covert action against us & now encroaches on our territory.
We don't seek war, but will zealously defend our skies, land & waters.
We'll take this new aggression to #UN & show that the US is lying about international waters
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) June 20, 2019
Ultra-Orthodox demonstrators are protesting near the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem against the conscription of seminary students to the military.
The police say six protesters were arrested for attempting to block the light rail tracks and disturbing the peace.
According to the Kan public broadcaster, the demonstration was over the arrest of a number of women who attempted to stop girls intending to enlist at the Jerusalem draft office from doing so.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) June 20, 2019
WASHINGTON — A senior US military official says Iran shot down an unmanned American aircraft over international waters in an attempt to disrupt US efforts to monitor the Persian Gulf area.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella says the shooting down of the drone follows recent threats to international shipping commerce in the region that the US has blamed on Iran.
The commander of US Central Command air forces in the region disputes Iranian claims that the drone was over Iranian air space.
Guastella tells reporters today that the aircraft was at high altitude and at least 34 kilometers from Iranian territory when it was shot over the Gulf of Oman.
"This was an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset that had not violated Iranian airspace at any time during its mission," said US Air Forces Central Command Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella.
Below is the map DoD has provided showing location of drone & Iranian missile launch. pic.twitter.com/SMn8bMUbB9
— Elizabeth McLaughlin (@Elizabeth_McLau) June 20, 2019
WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump is playing down Iran’s downing of an American drone, saying that it might have been a mistake executed by someone just being “loose and stupid.”
Trump tells reporters that the downing of the drone was a “new wrinkle” in escalating tensions between the US and Iran — a “fly in the ointment.”
He is coy about whether the US would respond, saying only that “you’ll find out.”
He says he has a feeling that it was a mistake — that a “general or somebody” made a mistake in shooting that drone down.
But he adds that Iran made a “big mistake” and that the US “will not stand for it.”
Trump’s words appear to signal that there may not be an immediate US response to the incident.
WASHINGTON — The White House is inviting House and Senate leaders for a briefing with President Donald Trump on Thursday afternoon to discuss tensions with Iran.
That’s according to two people familiar with the invitation who request anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss it.
In addition to House and Senate leaders of both parties, the White House extends the invitation to the top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate intelligence and Armed Services committees.
The briefing comes after Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shot down a US surveillance drone. Trump said it might have been a mistake executed by someone just being “loose and stupid” and was coy about whether the US would respond. He told reporters, “you’ll find out.”
Senior Israeli defense officials believe Iran could be emboldened if the United States does not respond militarily to a number of recent attacks it has blamed on Tehran, according to Channel 13 news.
The network says the estimation in the Israeli defense establishment is that Iran’s recent actions in the Persian Gulf were motivated by its belief that US President Donald Trump wants to avoid a military conflict.
Separately, the Kan public broadcaster reports there is concern in Israel that Iran could order its proxies in the Gaza Strip, Lebanon or Syria, to launch an attack against the Jewish state in order to signal to the US that any military action against it could lead to a major conflagration in the region.
LONDON — Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt will compete to become Britain’s next prime minister in a runoff vote by members of the governing Conservative Party.
Johnson, a former UK foreign secretary, and Hunt, who holds that office now, are the last candidates standing after a series of elimination votes by Conservative lawmakers. Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Environment Secretary Michael Gove were culled from the race on Thursday.
Johnson got 160 of the votes cast by 313 Tory lawmakers in the final round, and is strong favorite to win the ballot of some 160,000 party members.
Hunt, who got 77 votes, will seek to halt Johnson’s momentum by picking away at Johnson’s plans for Brexit as the two speak to meetings of party members across the country.
The winner is due to be announced in late July, and will replace Theresa May as party leader and prime minister.
The UN says Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is urging all parties to “exercise maximum restraint” and avoid any further escalation following Iran’s shooting down of an American drone.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric says that Guterres is “very concerned” and is calling on the parties to “avoid any action that could inflame the situation.”
Dujarric says the secretary-general stresses again “that the world cannot afford a major conflict in that area.”
Iran said the unmanned US Navy drone “violated” its territorial airspace, while the US called its downing an “unprovoked attack” in international airspace over the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf.
Asked whether there should be an investigation and who should carry it out, Dujarric says: “Obviously the facts need to be established. … Various parties are looking into the issue right now.”
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