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European leaders said to reach agreement on removing Iranian forces from Syrian

According to diplomatic official, France, Germany and UK also heed to Israel’s request that IAEA hold inspection of Iranian nuclear archives by Mossad

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

British Prime Minister Theresa May, center, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and French President Emmanuel Macron, left, meet on the sidelines of an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels on March 22, 2018. (Francois Lenoir, Pool Photo via AP)
British Prime Minister Theresa May, center, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and French President Emmanuel Macron, left, meet on the sidelines of an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels on March 22, 2018. (Francois Lenoir, Pool Photo via AP)

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

Netanyahu lands in London for meeting with May

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lands in London ahead of his bilateral meeting with British counterpart Theresa May.

The Israeli premier is expected to continue pushing a hard line on Iran as he has throughout his trip to Europe this week, calling on leaders to support Jerusalem’s stance against Iranian entrenchment in Syria and follow Washington’s lead in withdrawing from the nuclear deal.

Firefighters control 1 of 2 blazes in fields near Gaza border

Firefights gain control of a blaze that had started in a field outside Kibbutz Kissufim on the Gaza border, but are still working to put out a similar fire that is burning in a field outside neighboring Kibbutz Be’eri.

Authorities have not yet confirmed whether the blazes were started by incendiary kites flown from Gaza

Argentine media lambastes national team’s ‘hypocrisy’ on Israel match

Argentina’s leading newspaper prints two scathing rebukes of the national team’s decision to cancel its upcoming friendly game with Israel on Saturday.

In an opinion piece published in Clarin and featured at the top of the publication’s website, journalist Miguel Winazki suggests it was time to “abolish soccer and lift the world cup in hypocrisy.”

In order to be consistent in its decision to avoid controvery abroad, Winazki wrote, the national team should also “not play in Russia, because the Kremlin was behind the decision to launch military incursions in Syria in complicity with the tyrant Bashar Assad, causing the deaths of thousands of citizens of that country.”

— Raoul Wootliff

France, Germany, Britain formally request exemptions from US Iran sanctions

France, Britain, Germany and the EU send the United States a joint official request for their companies to be exempt from punitive measures resulting from fresh US sanctions on Iran.

“As allies, we expect that the United States will refrain from taking action to harm Europe’s security interests,” says the letter to US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire says the three countries and the EU were asking the US “to exempt European businesses doing legitimate trade in Iran from all extraterritorial American sanctions.”

The plea comes as European leaders scramble to save the deal signed between Iran and world powers in 2015 under which Tehran agreed to limits on its nuclear capacities in exchange for relief from crippling economic sanctions.


Palestinian soccer chief says Israel deserved cancellation of Argentinian game

The head of the Palestinian soccer organization says that Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev got what she deserved in the cancellation of a soccer game with Argentina which was to have been played in Jerusalem.

Palestinian Football Federation chief Jibril Rajoub called a press conference in which he welcomed the decision by the Argentinian team to not play the June 9 game.

“What happened…is a red card from everybody to the Israelis,” association boss Jibril Rajoub says at a press conference, sitting next to a sign reading “From Palestine thank you (Lionel) Messi.”

Rajoub had urged Messi not take part and called on fans to burn shirts bearing his name if he did.

Rajoub says he had written to Argentina’s government asking that Messi not play and accused Israel of trying to give the game “political significance by insisting it be held in Jerusalem.”

— with AFP

Hamas applauds Argentina for backing out of soccer match with Israel

Hamas welcomes Argentina’s decision to pull out of a highly anticipated soccer match against Israel, days before Lionel Messi and co. were scheduled to be take the pitch in Jerusalem.

“Argentina’s decision to cancel a friendly match with the Israeli Occupation’s team is highly commendable and is a very appreciated position,” says Husam Badran from the terror group’s poltiical bureau.

He adds that boycott is another means of resistance capable of achieving “victories” against Israel.


Culture Ministry still in talks with Argentina to save soccer match

The Culture and Sports Ministry releases a statement, saying it is still in talks with Argentina to salvage the soccer match in Jerusalem that the South American team had announced it was backing out of last night.

Minister Miri Regev will provide a statement at the end of the talks, her office says.

“We are doing our best to update you in real time, but we’re asking you to be patient,” the statement adds.

Giuliani says Mueller’s team is trying to frame Trump

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani says special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is trying to frame President Trump.

Giuliani, who has been serving as Trump’s lawyer amid the Russia scandal, says in Israel that Mueller’s team includes “13 highly partisan Democrats … (who) are trying very very hard to frame him to get him in trouble when he hasn’t done anything wrong.”

Speaking to the Globes capital market conference in Tel Aviv, Giuliani says Trump has the power to pardon himself but won’t because he is innocent.

It was the latest in Giuliani’s often contradictory comments surrounding the probe into Russia’s potential meddling in US elections.

Giuliani has become a lightning rod during his tenure on Trump’s team, drawing the president’s ire for a series of scattershot interviews.

— AP

Lebanese Parliament speaker says Iran, Hezbollah to remain in Syria till it’s ‘liberated’

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri says Iranian and Hezbollah forces will not withdraw from Syria until the country is “liberated” and its “territorial integrity is restored,” Russia’s RIA news agency reports.

Berri is seen to have close ties to the Lebanese terror group, which is fighting in Syria on behalf of dictator Bashar Assad.

Both the US and Israel have demanded that Iran and its Shiite proxy militias entirely withdraw from Syria.

Iran ‘preparing activities’ in case nuclear deal fails

Iran says it was in “preparatory works” to restart nuclear activities in the event of the failure of the 2015 accord between Iran and world powers.

In such a scenario, Iran could “restart its activities without any limits,” Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Reza Najafi tells reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of the IAEA’s board in Vienna.

The future of the deal — known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — has been thrown into doubt after US President Donald Trump announced last month that the EU would withdraw from the accord and re-impose sanctions.

The preparatory works Najafi mentions refer to steps to boost uranium enrichment capacity by producing new centrifuges, as outlined on Tuesday by Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi, who heads the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation.

However, Najafi emphasized that the measures do “not mean that right now Iran will start any activities contrary to the JCPOA.”


Parole board rejects soldier-slapper Tamimi’s petition for early release

A parole board rejects a petition by the attorney of 17-year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi, who was given an 8-month prison sentence after being filmed slapping and shoving soldiers outside her home in the West Bank village of Nebi Saleh.

The petition asked that her sentence be cut by a third.

Officials from the Shin Bet security service had advocated against the request, arguing that releasing Tamimi in the current political climate could spiral the situation in the West Bank out of control. Moreover, the Shin Bet had pointed out that Tamimi has yet to express remorse for her actions.

As she left the courtroom after the decision, she was quoted as telling the panel, “You have no right to decide my fate. I will leave prison with my head held high.”

Netanyahu to May: Israel is doing everything it can to minimize Gaza casualties

At the start of a bilateral meeting in London, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells his British counterpart Theresa May that the humanitarian situation in Gaza stems from Hamas’s desire to destroy Israel, but adds that Israel is doing everything it can to minimize casualties.

May had expressed concern regarding the dozens of Palestinians killed by Israelis troops during protests on the Gaza border over the past several months.

Netanyahu highlights the dozens of Israelis fields alongside the coastal enclave that have been torched by incendiary kites sent by Palestinians in addition to the diverting of humanitarian aid by Hamas for the construction of terror tunnels into Israel.

The UK prime minister clarifies that Britain supports Israel’s right to defend itself.

May: We will remain committed to the nuclear deal as long as Iran does as well

Speaking to reporters ahead of her bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, British Prime Minister Theresa May says the two “have differences of opinion regarding the (Iranian) nuclear agreement.”

She asserts that the UK will remain committed to the deal as long as Iran is. However, May acknowledged London’s concern over Tehran’s ballistic missile activities.

Argentine Football Association announces official cancellation of Israeli match

Argentina’s national football team wants to quickly forget a diplomatic controversy sparked by the cancellation of a planned friendly against Israel in Jerusalem and focus on its World Cup preparations, the country’s football federation says.

“Argentina is seven days from the World Cup. We want to focus on what is really important and which is before us,” a federation spokesman tells AFP in Barcelona, where the national team has been training ahead of the start of the tournament in Russia on June 14.

The AFA had stalled putting out an official announcement until now.

The Argentina squad trained on Wednesday morning at FC Barcelona#s training ground, just a few hours after the friendly match was called off. No player of the Argentina football federation official spoke to the media.

The sold-out game in Jerusalem that had been due to take place on Saturday was hotly opposed by Palestinians, who claim the eastern part of the city, annexed by Israel, as the capital of their future state.


Trump decries ‘fake’ reporting on Melania, says she’s well

US President Donald Trump is complaining about media reports questioning the first lady’s recent absence from public view. Trump says the press has been “so unfair, and vicious.”

Trump tweets that during Melania Trump’s recovery from a medical procedure: “they reported everything from near death, to facelift, to left the W.H. (and me) for N.Y. or Virginia, to abuse.”

He adds: “All Fake, she is doing really well!”

Melania Trump recently spent five days in the hospital following a kidney procedure and stayed out of sight for more than three weeks before re-emerging at a private White House reception Monday.

The First Lady will join the president for a briefing at Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters Wednesday. It would be her first appearance outside the White House since May 10.

— AP

Israel soccer chief: Palestinians crossed line

The head of Israel’s soccer association says the Palestinians have “crossed a red line” with the sudden cancellation of a game with Argentina’s national team this week.

Ofer Eini blamed Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Football Federation, on Wednesday for “doing all he can” to remove Israel from international football.

Eini said protests are legitimate but Rajoub’s calls for Arab and Muslim fans to burn photos and T-shirts of Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi went too far.

Argentina has called off a World Cup warmup match against Israel after protests by pro-Palestinian groups. Activists protested outside the sports complex in Barcelona where Argentina is preparing ahead of the World Cup. Some waved the jersey of Argentina’s national team stained with red paint resembling blood.

— AP

UN backs elections in Libya in December

The UN Security Council gives its backing to the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections in Libya in December, which could be a significant step in bringing stability to a country where lawlessness has fed Islamic militancy and instability.

The council adopts a French-drafted presidential statement that welcomes “the momentum generated” by an international conference on Libya hosted by President Emmanuel Macron on May 29.

At the Paris conference, rival Libyan leaders agreed on a political roadmap leading to elections on December 10.

The presidential statement welcomes their commitment “to work constructively with the UN to organize credible and peaceful parliamentary and presidential elections, and to respect the results.”

Libya plunged into chaos following a 2011 uprising that toppled and later killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

— AP

Trump to host first iftar dinner

Donald Trump will host his first iftar dinner as president Wednesday, marking the traditional Ramadan fast-breaking meal with Muslim invitees at the White House.

Trump, who has frequently engaged in inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric, will host the event in the State Dining Room.

He did not hold a similar event in his first year in office, in a break with past presidents.

Millions of devout Muslims observe the holy fasting month of Ramadan, which is slated to end on June 14 this year.

From sunrise onwards, they abstain from food and drink, breaking their fast at sunset.

“There will be roughly, I believe, about 30 to 40 different attendees,” says White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

Iftar dinners have been a regular feature on the White House calendar, along with prayer breakfasts, Passover Seders and similar events.

Several American Muslim groups have already said they will not participate in Wednesday’s iftar.


Driver apparently loses control of vehicle, strikes pedestrians in Tel Aviv

A car drove onto the sidewalk striking near a coffee shop in northern Tel Aviv striking pedestrians, among them a 6-year-old boy, police say.

The three victims, among them the driver, were taken to Ichilov Hospital in conditions from moderate to good.

An initial police investigation concludes the driver lost control of the vehicle and did not intend to hit the pedestrians.

Scene of crash in Tel Aviv on June 6, 2018, where a driver apparently lost control of his vehicle and rammed into pedestrians on the sidewalk. (Israel Police)

Culture minister: Argentina cancellation not BDS, it’s terrorism

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev lashes out in a press conference following Argentina’s decision to officially cancel a soccer match with Israel, insisting that the decision was a capitulation to “terror, not BDS.”

“The Argentinians did not object to having the game in Jerusalem,” says Regev. “Threats to Lionel Messi’s life overwhelmed the sport… It’s terror.”

Regev asserts that Messi had been the one to initiate the match out of interest in visiting the Western Wall ahead of the World Cup.

The minister also lambastes members of of the Joint (Arab) List as well as other left-wing lawmakers who she claimed had celebrated the cancellation.

Iraq parliament orders full election recount

Iraq’s parliament orders a manual recount of the May 12 legislative elections and sacked the commission which oversaw the polls that resulted in a surprise victory for a populist Shiite cleric.

After several failed attempts because of a lack of quorum, 173 members of the outgoing 328-seat house had met to order a recount at all polling stations, covering almost 11 million votes, in response to charges of electoral fraud.

The nine-member independent commission has been dismissed and is to be replaced by judges.

Confusion has gripped Iraq since the vote won by Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr’s electoral alliance with communists, even with negotiations to form a new government underway.

Since last month’s victory of anti-establishment electoral lists, long-time political figures pushed out by Iraqi voters hoping for change have been calling for a recount.

According to intelligence services, tests of electronic voting machines — used for the first time in Iraqi elections — produced varied results, appearing to give credence to the fraud claims.

Parliament already voted last week to annul the ballots of displaced Iraqis and those living abroad.


22 fires started along Gaza border as apparent incendiary kite attacks persist

Firefighters have worked to put out fires in 22 different locations along the Gaza border that were apparently started by incendiary kites flown from the Hamas-run coastal enclave.

Most of the fires have been extinguished, but firefighters are working at a number locations to gain control of the blazes.

Firefighters work to extinguish a blaze in the Be’eri Forest on June 6, 2018. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

French ministry raided in probe into Macron’s chief of staff

Police has raided France’s economy ministry as part of a conflict of interest probe into President Emmanuel Macron’s chief of staff, Alexis Kohler, a source close to the case says.

The search operations in several offices were carried out by officers from the BRDE economic crimes unit, the source says.

Kohler previously worked in the ministry as a senior civil servant, including as cabinet director to Macron during his time as economy minister between 2014 and 2016.

Anti-corruption prosecutors on Monday said they had opened an investigation into 45-year-old Kohler over his links to the Swiss-Italian shipping giant MSC.

The probe is focusing on whether Kohler had a conflict of interest during his time at the economy ministry due to his relationship with MSC, the biggest client of major French shipyard STX France.


PM: Argentina decision could lead to similar cancellations in future

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that Argentina’s decision to back out of the soccer match with Israel could lead to similar such cancellations in the future.

“There is a possibility that they will exert pressure to cancel other events in various areas, and we will do what we think is right,” he told reporters.

The prime minister called the decision “disappointing and unfortunate.”

Netanyahu also defends Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, amid criticism of her handling of the event, saying her insistence that the match be held in Jerusalem was “natural.”


Eurovision producers worried about holding next year’s contest in politically-charged Jerusalem

The producers of the Eurovision song contest have expressed concern about the Israeli government’s insistence in holding next year’s competition in Jerusalem, worrying that the politically-charged city could harm the spirit of the event, the Haaretz daily reports.

Officials from the European Broadcasting Union shared their concern with Finance Ministry officials during meetings in Israel this week to plan next year’s Eurovision.

The Finance Ministry officials tell Haaretz that they have not yet received an assessment regarding the costs of hosting the competition, which has stalled preparations thus far.

PM lauds relationship with UK’s May

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauds his relationship with his British counterpart, Theresa May, as well as the broader Israel-UK relationship.

“Prime Minister May, our relationship in this year, the 70th year of Israel’s birth, is excellent. We cooperate in great ways – in intelligence, in security, in technology, in trade, in many, many other areas. Our relationship is going from strength to strength,” he tweets.


Netanyahu’s foreign policy adviser steps down

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu loses another US-born senior aide: Dr. Jonathan Schachter, his chief foreign policy advisor, is quitting after five years in office.

“He decided to return to a normal life,” Netanyahu tells reporters in London.

Netanyahu says he already found a replacement, but declines to say who will take over.

Schachter, originally from Chicago, served in the National Security Council before he replaced Ron Dermer as Netanyahu’s top diplomatic aide when Dermer became Israeli ambassador to Washington.

Earlier this month, PMO’s director-general Eli Groner, who was born in upstate New York, announced that he was quitting

— Raphael Ahren

4 religious soldiers refuse to visit Rabin’s grave, abandon base

Four soldiers in a religious platoon of the Artillery Brigade refused to pay respects at former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s grave during a unit visit to Mount Herzl earlier this week, the Kan Public Broadcaster reports.

The soldiers were warned that they would be punished for the behavior, shortly after which they abandoned their military base without warning their commanding officers.

The troops are expected to be penalized when they return, both for their actions at Mount Herzl, as well as for going MIA.

European leaders said to reach agreement on removing Iranian forces from Syria

A senior diplomatic official tells Israeli reporters that the leaders of France, Britain and Germany have reached a “general agreement” regarding the removal of Iranian forces from all of Syria.

The official adds that the three leaders — Emmanuel Macron, Theresa May and Angela Merkel — also agreed to Israel’s request to have the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency conduct an inspection of the Iranian nuclear archives that the Mossad managed to uncover in a covert operation earlier this year.

“We knew that Iran was lying, but we accepted the lie. Now it’s clear that you can not accept the lie and that you have to investigate and look where it really is,” he said.

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