Army chief travels to US for talks on Mideast ‘military cooperation’
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Army chief travels to US for talks on Mideast ‘military cooperation’

Gadi Eisenkot lands in Washington as guest of US counterpart to discuss impending Assad takeover of areas on Israel's border

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot attends the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset, on February 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot attends the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset, on February 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )

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

Prince William ends four-day visit to Israel, the first for a top British royal

Britain’s Prince William leaves Israel this hour after a four-day trip that was the first official visit by a senior British royal to the Jewish state.

In Israel, he celebrated the growing Israel-UK trade and diplomatic ties. In a visit to the Palestinian Authority, he called for peace and told the Palestinians they were “not forgotten.”

He also visited Yad Vashem and prayed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City.

UK committee says Britain knew of US prisoner mistreatment

A UK parliamentary committee concludes it is beyond doubt that British intelligence agencies knew the United States was mistreating people detained after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

A report by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee finds Britain knew of the mistreatment at an early stage and that “more could have been done” by authorities to attempt to influence American behavior.

The report shows that in 198 cases, British authorities received intelligence obtained from detainees whom they knew — or should have suspected — had been mistreated.

In 232 cases, UK personnel continued to supply questions or intelligence to allies after they knew or suspected mistreatment, the report says.

The committee acknowledges that British authorities didn’t want to risk losing access to vital intelligence during frenetic efforts at the time to prevent another attack. But the seriousness of Britain’s position was “slow to dawn,” it says.

The agencies appeared to be “deliberately turning a blind eye so as not to damage the relationship and risk the flow of intelligence; if the agencies started raising concerns, the US could have refused UK officers access to the detainees and stopped passing on any intelligence they obtained,” it says.

— AP

Airstrike on Syria shelter kills 17 in country’s southwest — report

A barrage of airstrikes hits rebel-held areas in southwestern Syria, killing at least 17 civilians hiding in an underground shelter as government forces press their offensive to reclaim a region that was until recently part of a US-backed and negotiated truce.

The strategic southwestern corner of Syria extends from the border with Jordan in the south to the western frontier with the Israeli Golan Heights. It also lies south of the capital, Damascus, and has been under a so-called de-escalation agreement reached between Russia, the main government ally, the United States and Jordan in July last year.

The truce unraveled in recent weeks, triggering a wave of displacement within the southwestern Daraa province and along the border with Jordan. Aid groups have urged Jordan to allow Syrians fleeing the violence into the country.

The Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights describes Thursday’s airstrike in the town of al-Musayfrah in eastern Daraa as the worst violence since the government offensive began in the area on June 19.

The Syrian government troops are seeking to dislodge rebels who have been in the area for years, and gain control of the commercial border crossing with Jordan.

— AP

US authorities seek leniency for Islamic State cooperator

US authorities are taking the unusual step of seeking leniency for a Bangladeshi immigrant who admitted going to Syria to support the Islamic State group, saying he deserves credit for having a change of heart and giving the FBI timely intelligence about terror threats.

The New York City man, identified only as “John Doe” out of fears of retribution, wept on Wednesday at a sentencing in federal court where he called himself “an idiot” for supporting the group he says quickly disillusioned him.

“I made the greatest mistake of my life,” the 29-year-old man tells US District Judge Jack Weinstein. “I was stupid and lost, and found myself in deep danger.”

The judge put off until Thursday a decision whether to throw him in prison or put him under supervised release.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have sought lengthy sentences in several cases involving radicalized, would-be Islamic State recruits who were thwarted before they could either fight for the group overseas or plot an attack on US soil. The man’s case differs because he succeeded in joining IS for several months in 2014 and gaining access to inside information as the group was trying to establish a self-styled “caliphate” that posed a threat to the US at home and abroad.

He began talking “within hours” of sneaking away from an IS camp in Syria, making him “uniquely situated to inform the government of (the group’s) strategies, tactics, techniques, procedures, personnel and logistical operations,” prosecutors said. Once back in the US, he secretly pleaded guilty to providing material support to a terrorist organization as part of a cooperation agreement.

— AP

Qatar ‘must stop support for terror,’ top UN court told

Abu Dhabi calls on Doha to stop “supporting terrorist groups and individuals” and strongly denies human rights abuses against Qatari citizens before the UN’s top court.

The bitter Gulf crisis pitting Doha against its neighbors, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, moved to the international courts Wednesday, with Qatar accusing the UAE of fostering an “environment of hate” against its citizens.

But Abu Dhabi’s representatives Thursday fire back, saying relations were cut with Qatar “because of its support for terrorism, its interference with the affairs of its neighbors and its dissemination of hate speech.”

“Our government has asked Qatar time and again to cease this conduct,” the UAE’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Saeed Alnowais, tells the International Court of Justice.

“Although Qatar repeatedly committed to do so, it has failed to live up to its commitments,” Alnowais says at the Hague-based ICJ.

At the start of the crisis last June, Qatar, a gas-rich peninsula nation, found its only land border closed, its state-owned airline barred from using its neighbors’ airspace, and Qatari residents expelled from the boycotting countries.

— AFP

Moscow says US-Russian diplomats to meet ahead of Putin-Trump summit

Moscow says the top Russian and US diplomats are likely to meet to set the stage for a summit between President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov says Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is likely to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo within two weeks. Ryabkov says in remarks carried by Russian news agencies Thursday that Moscow already has made a proposal regarding the specifics of the meeting and is waiting for Washington’s answer.

— AP

Trump, Putin to meet in Helsinki on July 16

The Kremlin and the White House say the summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump will take place in Helsinki on July 16.

The synchronized announcement comes a day after Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton held talks with Russian officials in Moscow to lay the groundwork for the summit.

Trump said yesterday that “getting along with Russia and with China and with everybody is a very good thing.” He said they would discuss Syria, Ukraine and “many other subjects.”

The Russian leader had two brief meetings with Trump on the sidelines of international summits last year, but plans for a full-fledged summit have been thrown back amid the US investigations into alleged collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

— AP

Two teenage girls missing after running away from Nazareth Illit home

Two teenage girls from Nazareth Illit have been missing for six days, police say.

The girls, aged 12 and 14, have a history of troubled behavior, including running away from home. But they were never gone for this long, according to family members, leading authorities to call on the public for help in locating them.

The two left their home after an argument with their mother, who was urging them not to hang out with boys.

They have not been seen since.

North Carolina GOP withdraws support for racist, anti-Semitic candidate

The North Carolina Republican Party withdraws its support for a candidate for the state’s General Assembly over his racist and anti-Semitic statements.

Russell Walker, 75, won the Republican primary for North Caroline’s District 48 General Assembly seat in May.

“The North Carolina Republican House Caucus and our members will not support Mr. Walker’s campaign given his comments and actions,” said Rep. John Szoka, North Carolina House Republican Caucus conference chairman, in a statement yesterday. “While Mr. Walker won the Republican primary, his rhetoric and actions have no place in the Republican Party, and he should strongly consider withdrawing his candidacy.”

A website that Walker has claimed to own includes essays that say God is a racist white supremacist and that Jews are descended from Satan. Walker has authored multiple essays and other articles on the site and has said it belongs to him, the Raleigh-based News & Observer reported.

— JTA

Five brush fires, all under control, caused by Gaza balloons today

At least five brush fires are reported in the Gaza border region that were caused by incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip.

Firefighting officials say all fires are under control.

Turkey said to be trying to take more prominent role in East Jerusalem

Turkey is trying to extend its sphere of influence to East Jerusalem, according to a report Thursday, causing alarm in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority.

Amman, Riyadh and Ramallah are concerned that the move is an attempt by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to claim he is the custodian of the Muslim sites in the city, weakening Jordanian and Saudi claims and positioning him to better challenge Israel, the Haaretz daily reports.

For over a year, Turkish Islamic associations have sponsored activities and trips for thousands of people in East Jerusalem, the paper reports, and has been able to influence protests over the Temple Mount in the capital.

Israeli security officials tell Haaretz that they are aware of Turkish involvement, and are following the situation closely.

Jordan reportedly began expressing its concern over a year ago and accused the Israeli government of “being asleep at the wheel.” The Jordanians claim that after Israel signed a reconciliation deal with Turkey in 2016 it was afraid of confrontation with Erdogan.

Putin: New Russian nukes decades ahead of foreign rivals

Russian President Vladimir Putin is boasting about his country’s prospective nuclear weapons, saying they are years and even decades ahead of foreign designs.

Speaking Thursday before the graduates of Russian military academies in the Kremlin, Putin says the new weapons represent a quantum leap in the nation’s military capability. He says Russia has achieved a “real breakthrough” in designing new weapons.

The Russian leader singles out the new Avangard hypersonic vehicle and the new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, which are set to enter service in the next few years. Putin also mentions the Kinzhal hypersonic missile that has already been put on duty with the units of Russia’s Southern Military District.

Those systems were among an array of new nuclear weapons Putin presented in March amid tensions with the West.

— AP

Volunteers rescue Jewish headstones used to pave street in western Ukraine

Volunteers rescue dozens of Jewish headstones used to pave a street in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

“The whole street is made from matzevot,” Sasha Nazar, director of the Lviv Volunteer Center of the Hesed Arieh All-Ukrainian Jewish Charitable Foundation, tells Jewish Heritage Europe, using the Hebrew word for gravestones. He says he was notified about the discovery last week, after city workers began roadwork on the street, vul. Barvinok in central Lviv. The Lviv Volunteer Center organized volunteers to work at the site this week to rescue the headstones.

Nazar estimates that there could be up to 100 headstones under the stretch of road, and maybe more. Photos show them lying flat and closely packed, some face down and some face up. They had been covered over by the road surface. Many of the stones appear to be intact. Volunteers say most seem to date from the first part of the 20th century.

“This is the biggest discovery of matzevot in Lviv [used as paving] I can remember,” Nazar says.

He says the stones will be transported to the Yanovskoye Jewish cemetery, where more than a dozen gravestones rescued from the street in 2010 and 2017 were taken.

Jewish cemeteries were demolished and used as quarries to pave roads and for other construction projects, both during World War II under the Nazis and during the post-war Soviet period, in Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, and elsewhere.

On Thursday, dozens of volunteers brave rainy conditions to join the fourth day of the rescue effort.

Volunteers rescue a Jewish headstone used to pave a street in the western Ukraine city Lviv, one of up to 100 headstones discovered during roadwork in the center of the city in June 2018. (Marla Raucher Osborn, Rohatyn Jewish Heritage/via JTA)

— JTA

Egypt says 10 jihadists killed in raids, 2 arrested

Ten suspected jihadists were killed and two arrested in police raids across Egypt as authorities hunted down the perpetrators of a deadly car bomb attack, the interior ministry says.

It says said those targeted were members of Hasam, a jihadist group which the authorities have linked to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

They were allegedly involved in a March 24 car bombing on the eve of elections targeting a security chief in Alexandria in northern Egypt that killed two policemen.

Six jihadists were killed and a weapons cache unearthed as security forces raided a hideout in Beheira province, northwest of Cairo, the ministry says. A suspect was arrested in a residential apartment in Alexandria where arms and explosives were also seized. A shootout in Assiut province, south of Cairo, left four other suspects dead, and a Hasam member who had allegedly acquired the car used in the Alexandria attack was also arrested.

The ministry’s statement does not specify when the raids and arrests took place.

— AFP

Disabled protesters block central Tel Aviv highway

The Ayalon highway through central Tel Aviv is stopped for kilometers at the height of rush hour after a handful of disabled activists rode their wheelchairs onto the four-lane expressway.

The activists are calling to increase disability grants for the severely disabled to equal the minimum wage.

They are a splinter group who broke ranks with the country’s largest disabled rights organization last year after the latter agreed to an increase to disability benefits negotiated with the Finance Ministry. The protesters say the increase was not enough.

Police are at the scene and urging the public to take alternate routes.

Ayalon highway reopens after disabled activists’ protest

The Ayalon highway in central Tel Aviv has reopened after police clear out the disabled protesters.

Similar protests were held today in Jerusalem and Haifa, but not in places that caused traffic jams.

Iran FM says US criticism of his regime could be made of US

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responds to American backing for economic protesters in Iran in recent days, arguing in a tweet that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s depiction of the Iranian regime as failing to serve the Iranian people might well apply to the US government as well.

https://twitter.com/JZarif/status/1012324727497609216/photo/1

Zarif’s tweet is new, but seems to be lagging far behind Pompeo’s, which was posted yesterday, in Twitter-based support.

Israeli dies in road accident in northern India

An Israeli is killed in an apparent road accident in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, a favorite destination for young Israeli backpackers.

The Israeli’s family has been informed.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry says Israeli diplomats in New Delhi are working to transport his body home.

Adelsons gave $70 million to Birthright this year

Sheldon and Miriam Adelson donated some $70 million this year alone to Birthright Israel, the organization providing free ten-day trips to Israel for tens of thousands of young Jews each year, the group says.

The organization thanked the couple, who have given some $410 million in total over the years, at a gala event Wednesday marking 18 years since Birthright’s founding.

Some 33,000 young Jews from around the world are slated to visit Israel on Birthright trips this summer.

Miriam and Sheldon Adelson at the Birthright Israel gala event in Jerusalem, June 27, 2018. (Courtesy Birthright Israel/Oren Ben Hakun)
Birthright participants at the organization’s gala event in Jerusalem, June 27, 2018. (Courtesy Birthright Israel/Oren Ben Hakun)

15 brush fires caused today by Gaza balloons, explosive device found

Some 15 brush fires in total burned today in Israel’s south, caused by incendiary balloons launched from the Gaza Strip, according to Israeli officials.

No damage or injuries are reported from the blazes.

In one case, discovered this morning, two balloons that landed in an Israeli village near the Gaza border had an explosive device attached. Police sappers destroyed the device.

Incoming Jewish Agency head walks back calling intermarriage a ‘plague’

The incoming chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel says his remarks comparing intermarriage to a “plague” had been misunderstood.

On Sunday, Isaac Herzog used the Hebrew word for “plague” to describe marriages in the Diaspora between Jews and those of other faiths and said there must be “a solution” to the issue.

But in an interview Wednesday with the Forward, Herzog said he was using it as a slang word and “didn’t mean it in any negative terms.”

Negative reactions to his original remarks had “distorted the meaning and intention of what I said. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew, no matter which stream he belongs to, if he wears a skullcap or not,” Herzog said.

On Sunday, the Israeli opposition leader was approved to succeed Natan Sharansky as the head of the quasi-governmental organization.

— JTA

Army chief travels to US for talks on Mideast ‘military cooperation’

IDF chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot lands in the United States for a work visit in the American capital, the army says.

During his stay, Eisenkot will meet with US military and defense officials to discuss “military cooperation in the face of significant defense challenges in the different regions of the Middle East,” the army says.

These talks will presumably focus on the renewed fighting in southwest Syria, where Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s forces, aided by Russia, have begun a massive offensive that threatens to drive tens of thousands to the Israeli and Jordanian borders for refuge.

During Eisenkot’s stay in Washington, he will be the guest of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford.

IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi will fill in for Eisenkot while he is away, the army says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Three malls evacuated in World Cup-hosting Russian city over bomb scare

Three malls in the southwestern Russian city of Samara, one of the cities hosting the FIFA World Cup, are evacuated after receiving bomb threats, Russian officials say.

Police and rescue services are at the scene.

Trump told G7 allies ‘NATO is as bad as NAFTA’

US President Donald Trump told fellow western leaders at the recent G7 summit that the NATO alliance is “as bad as NAFTA” — a North American trade deal that he has threatened to tear up.

The comment, which will increase concerns that the Atlantic allies are headed for a bust up at their summit next month, was reported Thursday by US news site Axios and confirmed by a European diplomat.

The G7 summit in Quebec earlier this month was already known to have been a frosty affair, with Trump facing off alone against the leaders of the world’s next six richest democracies over trade.

But his barbed aside underlines that the US leader’s hostility to multilateral agreement extends to the NATO alliance, the cornerstone of Western security for decades.

News of his remark came just as the White House and the Kremlin announced that Trump and NATO’s great foe, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, will meet in Finland straight after the alliance’s summit.

The NATO allies are due to meet on July 11-12 in Brussels for a summit that will be clouded by Trump’s angry claims that Europe is exploiting the United States by underspending on defense.

— AFP

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