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Large explosions at air base in western Syria — state media

Area believed to hold headquarters for Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group, which support Syrian dictator Bashar Assad

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

Illustrative: Flames rising after an attack in an area known to have numerous Syrian army military bases, in Kisweh, south of Damascus, released by Syria's official news agency on May 9, 2018. (SANA, via AP)
Illustrative: Flames rising after an attack in an area known to have numerous Syrian army military bases, in Kisweh, south of Damascus, released by Syria's official news agency on May 9, 2018. (SANA, via AP)

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

North Korea demolishes nuke test site with series of blasts

North Korea carries out what it says is the demolition of its nuclear test site, setting off a series of explosions over several hours in the presence of foreign journalists.

The explosions at the nuclear test site deep in the mountains of the North’s sparsely populated northeast are centered on three tunnels into the underground site and a number of observation towers in the surrounding area.

The planned closing was previously announced by leader Kim Jong Un ahead of his planned summit with US President Donald Trump next month.

The North’s decision to close the Punggye-ri nuclear test site has generally been seen as a welcome gesture by Kim to set a positive tone ahead of the summit. Even so, it is not an irreversible move and would need to be followed by many more significant measures to meet Trump’s demands for real denuclearization.

By bringing in the foreign media, mainly television networks, the North is apparently hoping to have images of the closing — including explosions to collapse tunnel entrances — broadcast around the world. The group included an Associated Press Television News crew.

The North did not invite international inspectors to the ceremony, which limits its value as a serious concession.

— AP

This May 7, 2018, satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe shows the nuclear test site in Punggye-ri, North Korea. (Satellite Image ©2018 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company via A, File)

German passenger plane makes emergency landing in Israel after smoke fills cabin

A Germania Airlines plane carrying 89 passengers conducts an emergency landing in Ben Gurion Airport after smoke started filling the cabin.

The passengers are said to be unharmed, after emergency ambulances secure the landing.

Saudi driving activist released after crackdown

Saudi authorities have released a prominent women’s rights advocate following her detention in a sweeping crackdown against activists a month before the kingdom lifts its ban on women drivers, campaigners say.

Aisha al-Mana, 70, was among at least 11 activists arrested last week, mostly identified by rights groups as veteran women campaigners for the right to drive and to end the conservative Islamic country’s male guardianship system.

“We can confirm Aisha al-Mana’s release, but we don’t know the conditions behind it,” Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East director of campaigns, tell AFP.

“We call on Saudi authorities to release all other human rights defenders unconditionally and immediately.”

There was no immediate comment from Saudi officials and the fate of other detained activists remains unclear.


Two Israelis sentenced to prison for 2016 assault of a Palestinian

A Jerusalem District Court hands down prison sentences to two men in their twenties who were convicted of assaulting a Palestinian in Jerusalem.

Yonatan Holtzman, 26, of Beit Shemesh was sentenced to two years in jail and pay an NIS 10,000 fine and Yishai Ben Abu, 20, of Beitar Illit to five months behind bars.

According to the indictment against them, the pair had stopped the Palestinian victim who was on his way home to the village of al-Walaja and cursed him and hurled stones at him before brutally beating him.

Tomb of the Patriarchs to close to Jewish worshipers Friday for Ramadan

Administrators at Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs announce that the holy site will be closed to Jewish tomorrow to permit maximum Muslim entry for the second Friday of Ramadan.

The site will reopen Saturday to worshipers of both faiths.

PM welcomes upcoming approval of newest batch of settlement homes

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes the announcement from Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman that thousands of settlement homes will be advanced through various planning stages next week.

“We are continuing  with the sweeping development of settlement in Judea and Samaria with the approval of thousands of new housing units,” Netanyahu says in a statement.

“I especially congratulate Ma’aleh Adumim, which will build hundreds of units after a long period in which we worked to advance a construction plan (for the settlement).”

“This is another step in the development of settlements and in the near future we will approve additional units,” the prime minister says.

Palestinian assailant who critically injured IDF soldier still at large

The assailant who critically injured an IDF soldier by throwing a marble slab at him last night is still at large, IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis says.

The suspect hurled a piece of marble from a third-story rooftop at a group of troops who were conducting an arrest raid in the al-Am’ari refugee camp near Ramallah.

3 Palestinian children suffocate to death after trapping themselves in car

Doctors at the Abu Dis Medical Center declare the deaths of three Palestinian children aged 3, 2 and 2 after they were found suffocated in an abandoned vehicle in the village of al-Azariya just outside East Jerusalem.

An initial investigation by Palestinian police reveals that the three of them were playing in the car when at one point, the door closed and they were unable to open it.

Hours later, the children were spotted by a passerby, who called authorities and had them rushed to the hospital.

The three were identified as Yusef Zidan Abiyat, Ranim Mahmoud Abu Ghalia and Rahaf Mahmoud Abu Ghalia.

Louisiana order makes it illegal for state to contract with companies that boycott Israel

Louisiana becomes the 25th state to make it illegal to do business with companies that boycott Israel.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed on Tuesday an Executive Order that prohibits the state of Louisiana from contracting with any company that participates in a boycott of Israel. The order specifically names the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Under the order a vendor must certify in writing, when a bid is submitted or when a procurement contract is awarded, that: it is not engaging in a boycott of Israel; and it will, for the duration of its contractual obligations, refrain from a boycott of Israel. The order also calls on the state commissioner of administration to terminate existing state contracts with companies if they currently are boycotting Israel or supporting those who do.

“Israel is America’s closest ally in the Middle East and a beacon of democracy in the region,” Edwards said in a statement. “The United States, and by affiliation Louisiana, have benefited in innumerable ways from our deep friendship with Israel. Any effort to boycott Israel is an affront to this longstanding relationship. I am pleased that Louisiana will join what is now a critical mass of states in supporting our closest ally.”


Several hurt in Turkish explosives factory blast — report

A Turkish media report says an explosion has occurred at a government-owned explosives factory in the outskirts of Ankara.

The private Dogan news agency says several people were hurt in Thursday’s blast at the explosives plant located in the Elmadag district.

There was no immediate information on the cause of the explosion.

— AP

Liberman wishes injured soldier speedy recovery; says assailant will soon be captured

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman wishes a speedy recovery for the IDF soldier critically injured during an arrest operation near Ramallah last night after a Palestinian dropped a marble slab on top of him from a three-story building.

“We view the incident with great severity,” Liberman tweets, adding that “it would not be long” until the assailant is apprehended “alive or dead.”

Left-wing activist to be first Jew tried for aiding the PA

A left-wing activist who was exposed in a television report saying he helped PA officials track down and possibly execute Palestinians considering selling land to Jews will become the first Jew to be tried for a charge based on a clause in the interim Oslo peace accords signed by Israel and the Palestinians in 1995.

Ezra Nawi will be indicted for aiding the Palestinian Authority — something prohibited for Israelis under a clause from the 1995 agreement that subsequently entered Israeli penal law, with a sentence of up to five years in prison.

— Sue Surkes

Trump cancels Singapore summit with North Korea’s Kim

In an open letter to North Korea Chairman Kim Jong-un, US President Donald Trump announces the cancellation of a summit in Singapore that had been slated for next month.

“I was very much looking forward to being there with you,” Trump says in the letter. “Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting.”

UN chief: Experts should have witnessed North Korea test site closure

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomes the reported closure of North Korea’s nuclear test site but says international experts should have been there to witness the dismantling.

“It is regrettable that international experts were not invited to witness the site closing,” Guterres says in a statement.

Foreign journalists invited to the Pungyye-ri test facility in North Hamgyong province described a series of explosions throughout the day, three of them in entry tunnels to the underground facility, followed by blasts that demolished a nearby barracks and other structures.

Guterres expresses hope that “this confidence-building measure will contribute to ongoing efforts towards sustainable peace and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The Pungyye-ri site has been the staging ground for all six of the North’s nuclear tests, including its latest and by far most powerful one in September last year, which Pyongyang said was a hydrogen bomb.


Lapid: International community’s failure to remove Iran from Syria risks all-out war

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid warns that if the international community does not remove Iran’s military presence in Syria, an “all out war” could ensue.

“There are currently more than 100,000 Hezbollah rockets aimed at the State of Israel as well as Iranian entrenchment in Syria,” Lapid says during a tour of the Golan Heights.

“It is absurd to think that the State of Israel will ever withdraw from the Golan Heights and leave it in the hands of a murderer who killed half a million of his own people all while threatening the well-being of the State of Israel in cooperation with the Iranians and Hezbollah,” he says, referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad.


Erekat: Liberman’s settlement announcement shows he thinks ‘he’s above laws of man’

Senior Palestinian Authority official Saeb Erekat says Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s announcement that Israel will approve thousands of settlement homes next week shows that Israel thinks it is “above the laws of man.”

In a video statement, Erekat says the upcoming settlement approvals are Israel’s response to international calls that the Jewish state be probed for its handling of the deadly Gaza protests.

“This is a flagrant violation and an eye opener to the judicial council of the ICC that an official judicial investigation must be opened immediately,” the PA official says.

“This cannot go on. Israel cannot continue business as usual with this impunity and immunity that they think they have.”

Earlier Thursday, Liberman announced that Israel would be advancing 3,900 settlement homes through various planning stages with 2,500 of them slated to gain final approval for construction.

However, the numbers appeared to have been inflated as many of the project included in the latter group were already counted among those that Liberman said had gained “final approval” at the January meeting of the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee.

IAEA: Iran still implementing terms of 2015 nuclear deal

Iran is still implementing the 2015 accord over its nuclear program, according to a report by the UN’s nuclear watchdog.

The International Atomic Energy Agency report, seen by AFP, shows that Iran is abiding by the deal’s key restrictions on its nuclear facilities.

The latest assessment from the IAEA comes weeks after US President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the accord, throwing its future into jeopardy.


US Treasury issues fresh Iran sanctions, targeting several aviation firms

The US Treasury Department imposes a fresh batch of sanctions against Iranian firms, targeting four airlines in particular.

A number of Turkish companies are also among those targeted according to Reuters.

The Treasury Department said in a statement that Iran’s Mahan Air and Meraj Air had ferried weapons, fighters, and cash to proxies in Lebanon and Syria.


WWII bomb defused in Dresden after mass evacuation, fire

A German bomb disposal team gives the all-clear after defusing an unexploded World War II bomb that forced a mass evacuation in the city of Dresden.

The operation had been complicated by a fire sparked when specialists blasted off the bomb’s fuse, which had forced them to stay clear of the site for hours until the flames were extinguished.

By Thursday afternoon, an armored backhoe was able to clear the smoldering rubble and confirm that the 550-pound dud bomb had been safely deactivated.

Police then had allowed the almost 9,000 evacuees to return to their homes in a district near Dresden’s central railway station, including two elderly care homes and a hospital.

No one was injured during the defusal operation in the cordoned-off area.

More than 70 years after the end of the war, unexploded bombs are regularly found in Germany, a potentially deadly legacy of the intense Allied bombing campaign against Nazi Germany.


ADL chief blasts new NFL policy stifling anthem protests welcomed by Trump

Anti Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt criticizes US President Donald Trump for welcoming a new NFL policy banning kneeling during the singing of America’s National Anthem at the beginning of games.

“No, Mr. President, those who CHOOSE to peacefully protest in support of racial justice should not have to leave the country,” Greenblatt tweets.

“Constructive protest is an essential First Amendment value. Freedom of expression is patriotism. This rhetoric is not.”

The ADL CEO’s comments follow those made by Trump in favor of the new policy on Thursday in which he suggested those who don’t stand maybe “shouldn’t be in the country.”

8 women accuse Morgan Freeman of sexual harrassment

Eight women have come forward with claims that Hollywood star Morgan Freeman sexually harassed them, according to a CNN report.

Among them was a woman who worked on the production crew for the 2012 film “Now you see me” starring Freeman.

She tells CNN that “He did comment on our bodies… We knew that if he was coming by … not to wear any top that would show our breasts, not to wear anything that would show our bottoms, meaning not wearing clothes that [were] fitted.”

South Korea’s Moon convenes crisis talks after Trump cancels Kim summit

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has convened emergency talks with his top security aides after US President Donald Trump cancelled his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Seoul’s Yonhap news agency reports.

Moon has summoned his chief of staff, top security adviser, intelligence chief, unification minister, and others to the presidential Blue House at 11:30 pm (14:30 GMT), his press secretary Yoon Young-chan said in a message to reporters, according to Yonhap.

Officials in Seoul “are trying to figure out what President Trump’s intention is and the exact meaning of it,” Yonhap reported, quoting presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom, following Trump’s decision to pull out of the high-stakes meeting agreed for June 12 in Singapore.


US-backed group captures French IS member

A US-backed Syrian Kurdish group has detained a high-profile French Islamic State fighter in northern Syria who has been linked to terror attacks in Paris and Nice in 2015 and 2016, the group announces.

The Syrian Democratic Forces says they captured Adrien Lionel Kiyali on Saturday near Raqqa in Syria, the former self-proclaimed capital the jihadist group.

French media report his name as Adrien Guihal.

In recordings from the Islamic State group, Guihal claimed responsibility for the July 2016 truck attack in Nice as well as the double killings of two French police officials at their home in Magnanville.

— AP

UN chief calls for ‘total elimination’ of nuclear weapons

The UN chief says the “total elimination” of nuclear weapons remains a UN priority, warning against a burgeoning new arms race.

In a speech to students at Geneva University, Antonio Guterres presents a new disarmament agenda to face challenges emerging in a world where “Cold War tensions have returned.”

“Today, the total elimination of nuclear weapons remains our priority,” he says, cautioning that long-championed global “efforts to achieve this goal are in state of severe crisis.”


Trump: military ready to respond to North Korea

US President Donald Trump says the U.S. military is “ready if necessary” to respond to “foolish or reckless acts” by North Korea.

Trump also says he’s been in touch with South Korea and Japan and that both allies are willing to bear much of the financial burden “if such an unfortunate situation is forced upon us.”

Trump on Thursday announced he has called off a planned June 12 summit with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, citing recent hostile statements by Kim’s government.

North Korea overnight threatened nuclear confrontation with the U.S. and called Vice President Mike Pence a “political dummy.”

Trump says hopefully “positive things” will take place with respect to North Korea’s future. But he adds, “If they don’t we are more ready than we have ever been before.”

— AP

2 killed from car-bus collision in southern Israel

Medics pronounce the deaths of two people as a result of a collision between a car and bus in southern Israel.

At least three others suffer injuries of various degrees and are being treated at the scene.

The incident took place on Route 234 between the towns of Tze’elim and Urim.

Minister to be indicted on corruption charges, subject to hearing

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit informs Welfare Minister Haim Katz (Likud) that he plans to indict him on corruption charges pending a hearing on the manner.

In February, police recommended Katz be charged for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust while serving as the head of IAI’s workers’ union for the two decades leading up to his becoming a Likud minister in 2015.

Welfare Ministe Haim Katz arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on April 9, 2017. (Zwigenberg/Flash90)

Soldier injured by marble slab fighting for his life in Jerusalem hospital

Doctor’s at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital are fighting to save the life of the IDF soldier injured during an arrest operation in a refugee camp outside Ramallah.

The soldier is said to be in critical condition after rioters dropped a marble slab on top of him from a three-story building.

The assailant is still at large.

Molotov cocktail hurled at soldiers in northern West Bank; no injuries

A molotov cocktail has been hurled at IDF soldiers stationed near the northern West Bank settlement of Yitzhar.

The troops have returned fire, but the assailant manged to escape.

The soldiers escaped the incident unharmed.


Responding to reports on Hamas cease fire talks, Bennett says boys will have to return home first

Responding to reports that Israel is considering a long term cessation of hostilities with Hamas, Education Minister Naftali Bennett says such an agreement will only be reached if the terror group returns the bodies of the IDF soldiers as well as Israeli citizens currently being held captive in Gaza.

In addition, he says Israel will not allow Hamas to take advantage of a cease fire to re-arm.

“If they decide to abandon the path of terror, I wish them all the success,” he says.


High Court upholds state’s decision to demolish Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar

The High Court of Justice rules to allow the state to move forward with its plans to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar adjacent to the Israeli settlement of Kfar Adumim in the coming weeks.

The panel of three judges conclude that there is no legal justification to prevent the demolition of the small Palestinian hamlet given that it was built on state land without the necessary permits.

The residents would be relocated elsewhere, it added, in a move critics say amounts to forcible transfer.


High Court rejects petitions against IDF’s open fire orders on Gaza border

The High Court of Justice rules to unanimously reject petitions by rights groups against the IDF’s open fire orders.

The petitions had been submitted following the deaths of dozens of Palestinian protesters from live IDF fire on the Gaza border.

The IDF has said that the demonstrators targeted were not peaceful and that the soldiers acted as necessary to protect the border.

Large explosions at air base in western Syria — state media

Syrian state media report large explosions from an air base south of the city of Homs in western Syria.

Syrian air defenses are said to be activated.

The area is believed to hold headquarters for the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group, which support Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

— Judah Ari Gross

Legal opinion paves way for legalization of hundreds of settlement homes built on private Palestinian land

A legal opinion from the Defense Ministry paves the way for the legalization of hundreds of settlement homes built on private Palestinian land.

The new position of the Defense Ministry drafted by legal adviser Itai Ofir addresses the specific case of the settlement of Ofra where Israelis purchased homes in good faith from state authorities before it was discovered that the land belonged to private Palestinian land owners.

Ofir writes that it is possible to expropriate the land “in exchange for full compensation, if not more than that” to the original owners.

Ofir calls on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to adopt the legal opinion, which would apply to several hundred homes in Ofra.

The precedent set in the brief could be applied to hundreds of additional homes throughout the West Bank that were found after the fact to have been constructed on private Palestinian land.

However, the legal opinion differentiates between such homes that are located in decades-old settlements and those located in illegal outposts to which recommendations would not apply.

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