The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz holds a high-level meeting with top representatives of the country’s security forces to discuss a recent increase in violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank, calling for a harsher response someone is killed.
“This is a grave phenomenon in terms of morals and security, and it has diplomatic consequences,” Gantz says.
The meeting is attended by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar, Israel Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai, IDF Central Command chief Yehuda Fuchs, Military Advocate General Yifat Tomer Yerushalmi and Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians Ghassan Alian.
Recent months have seen dozens of attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians and on their property, notably their olive groves, with trees being burned or cut down during the annual olive harvest season.
“What starts as a tree can end with bodily harm or — heaven forbid — loss of life. Hate crimes are the root from which terror grows and we need to root them out,” Gantz says.
Following an assessment from the security services, Gantz calls for the various organizations to improve their cooperation, to focus their efforts on well-known areas of friction, and to form specialized teams to deal with the issue of settler violence. Gantz delegates responsibility for the issue to Deputy Defense Minister Alon Shuster.
“The defense minister added that forces should be gathered for these missions and that legal work should be advanced in order to strengthen the hands of troops in the field,” his office says.
Historically, Israel has been ineffectual at curbing violence by Israelis against Palestinians, as the IDF soldiers who are often first to arrive on the scene are loath to enter into direct confrontation with Israeli civilians, particularly those living in settlements that the military is charged with defending, while the police are typically slower to arrive, often reaching the scene after clashes have already dispersed.
WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden says he’s “considering” a US diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
That is “something we are considering,” Biden tells reporters while meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The Beijing Olympics take place next February.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s involvement in securing the release of an Israeli couple held for photographing his palace in Istanbul signals a strengthening of ties between Israel and Turkey, a senior official tells the Kan public broadcaster.
“We were a hairsbreadth away from a lengthy detention for the Oknins,” the unnamed official is quoted as saying.
Separately, Channel 13 news cites an official saying Erdogan’s handling of the matter raised the likelihood of improving bilateral ties, which have been at a low in recent years.
WASHINGTON — Two suspected Iranian computer hackers have been charged with election interference, accused of trying to intimidate American voters ahead of last year’s US presidential election by sending threatening messages and spreading disinformation.
The effort attracted publicity in the run-up to the November 2020 election, when law enforcement and intelligence officials held an unusual evening news conference to accuse Iran of orchestrating an email campaign aimed at intimidating Democratic voters in battleground states so they would vote for then-US president Donald Trump.
That included a message that purported to be from a far-right group, the Proud Boys, that threatened Democratic voters with physical harm if they didn’t change their party affiliation and vote for Trump.
US officials say the goal of the operation was not to change the results of the election but to sow confusion and discord and create the perception that the results could not be trusted.
The indictment, filed in the federal court in Manhattan and unsealed today, accuses Iranian nationals named Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi and Sajjad Kashian of helping orchestrate the scheme. The Treasury Department is also announcing sanctions against the men, their colleagues and the company they worked for.
The defendants are not in custody and are believed to still be in Iran, but officials hope the indictment and accompanying sanctions will restrict their ability to travel.
“This indictment details how two Iran-based actors waged a targeted, coordinated campaign to erode confidence in the integrity of the US electoral system and to sow discord among Americans,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, the head of the Justice Department’s national security division, says in a statement.
“The allegations illustrate how foreign disinformation campaigns operate and seek to influence the American public.”
In a series of television interviews after their return to Israel, Natali and Mordy Oknin describe their time in Turkish custody.
The two were arrested after photographing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s palace in Istanbul.
“I didn’t eat. I keep kosher,” Natali Oknin tells Channel 12 news, explaining that she asked for just bread and water instead of meals.
In a separate interview with Channel 13, she says Israel “saved” them.
“They got us home… we felt like we were captives,” she says.
Her husband says the two were held alone at different prisons.
“We didn’t know how it would end… but we always believed we would get home and that the State of Israel wouldn’t leave us there alone,” Mordy Oknin says.
Natali Oknin says she had panic attacks in prison.
“I didn’t have air to breathe… I felt that my world had fallen in me. I didn’t think I would get home alive,” she says.
She was also asked about her past social media posts, highly critical of the current government, and whether the affair changed her stance.
“Absolutely. Absolutely… I don’t have the words to thank them enough,” she says of PM Bennett and Foreign Minister Lapid, adding that she told them this when they spoke earlier today.
Asked if she will again visit Turkey, she responds, “I don’t intend to leave Israel in the near future!”
ABUJA, Nigeria — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken today condemns the killing a day earlier of Sudanese protesters in the bloodiest violence since last month’s coup, urging the military to allow peaceful demonstrations.
“The military must respect the rights of civilians to assemble peacefully and express their views,” Blinken tells a news conference in the Nigerian capital Abuja, saying he was “deeply concerned” by yesterday’s bloodshed in which 15 people died.
“We continue to support the demand of the Sudanese people for the restoration of the civilian-led transition,” Blinken says, including the reinstatement of prime minister Abdalla Hamdok.
Despite the violence, US officials have voiced guarded hope about finding a way out of the crisis.
Molly Phee, the top US diplomat for Africa, travelled earlier this week to Sudan where she met military ruler Abdel Fattah al-Burhan as well as Hamdok.
BERLIN — Germany will introduce tough new curbs that will exclude the unvaccinated from certain public events to contain a dramatic rise in coronavirus infections, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says today after crisis talks with regional leaders.
The so-called “2G” rule — allowing in only the vaccinated and the recovered — will be introduced in areas with a hospitalization rate of more than three COVID patients per 100,000 people, she says, and will apply to large events as well as culture and sports facilities.
“We need to quickly put a brake on the exponential rise” in cases and intensive care bed occupancy, she adds.
After a meeting in Norway of key donors to the Palestinians, envoys from the Middle East Quartet — made up of the US, EU, UN and Russia — issue a rare statement.
“The envoys welcome steps announced by Israel to reach out to the Palestinian Authority and to assist with the fiscal crisis,” the statement says.
The envoys add that they are “deeply concerned by developments in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, including ongoing acts of violence in the West Bank, the advancement of new settlement units, the untenable fiscal crisis within the Palestinian Authority and threats of violence from the Gaza Strip.”
“In this context, the Quartet highlights the urgent need for all parties to take additional steps to address these challenges directly through fiscal and other reforms, as well as to avoid unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undermine the prospects for peace,” the statement says.
LONDON — Azeem Rafiq, the former cricketer whose revelations about the racism he suffered at Yorkshire has sparked a crisis in the English game, apologizes today after admitting to sending antisemitic messages 10 years ago.
British newspaper The Times of London reports it has seen an exchange of messages that appear to have been sent between Rafiq and another former cricketer, Ateeq Javid, and which contain disparaging comments about an unnamed Jewish person.
Rafiq confirms in a post on Twitter that he did send the messages and has “absolutely no excuses.”
“I am ashamed of this exchange and have now deleted it so as not to cause further offense,” Rafiq writes. “I was 19 at the time and I hope and believe I am a different person today. I am incredibly angry at myself and I apologize to the Jewish community and everyone who is rightly offended by this.”
Rafiq, a former England under-19 captain, testified through tears at a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday about his experiences of racism and bullying while playing for Yorkshire.
The England and Wales Cricket Board has suspended Yorkshire from hosting international matches over its “wholly unacceptable” response to the racism faced by Rafiq, while some of the club’s sponsors are ending deals.
British sports minister Nigel Huddleston called today for cricket to “get its house in order” and raised the possibility of independent regulation if it did not.
BAGHDAD — Iraq’s influential Shiite cleric who emerged as a winner in last month’s general elections calls on the country’s myriad pro-Iran Shiite armed factions to disband if they want to join his upcoming government.
Muqtada al-Sadr also asks the factions to hand over their weapons to the government-sanctioned umbrella known as Popular Mobilization Forces. In turn, he also asks the PMF to “purify” its ranks from “undisciplined elements” and surrender “corrupt individuals” to the judiciary.
The militias are certain to reject the demands, which in turn could complicate al-Sadr’s efforts to form a government after the vote. It could also increase tensions between Shiites who support the pro-Iran factions and al-Sadr’s own followers.
The pro-Iran factions lost a significant number of parliament seats in the October 10 elections and have called the vote fraudulent, rejecting the results. Their supporters have held protests outside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to government offices and foreign embassies.
The protests turned deadly earlier this month, when demonstrators tried to enter the Green Zone, demanding a ballot recount. One protester affiliated with the militias was killed in an exchange of fire, for which the militias blamed Iraq’s incumbent Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
Tensions were further ratcheted up after a failed assassination attempt against al-Kadhimi at his residence the next day. The prime minister suffered a light cut and several of his guards were injured in the November 7 attack by armed drones on his Green Zone residence.
There was no responsibility claim for the attack, although suspicion immediately fell on the armed factions.
“Your losses can’t be a pretext for ruining the democratic process,” al-Sadr says at a rare press conference today, addressing the factions.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks by phone with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, following the release from custody of an Israeli couple arrested for photographing the Turkish leader’s palace in Istanbul.
A statement from Bennett’s office says the premier thanked Erdogan for his “personal involvement” in returning the Oknins to Israel and “expressed his appreciation” for Turkish officials who helped resolve the matter.
“The prime minister said that this was a solution to a humanitarian matter and favorably noted the communication lines between the countries, which worked efficiently and discreetly during the crisis,” the statement adds.
It is the first phone call between the leaders since Bennett became prime minister in June.
The Shin Bet security service says it has formed a committee to investigate how it performs background checks on people who work closely with senior officials, after Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s house cleaner was arrested for allegedly offering to spy on him for an Iran-linked hacking group.
“Obviously the process that was carried out failed in this specific case, which needed to be identified in advance in order to not allow a person like this to work in the close vicinity of the defense minister,” Shin Bet officials say in a statement.
The employee, Omri Goren, had been convicted of a number of serious crimes prior to his employment by Gantz, including two convictions for bank robbery, as well as theft and breaking-and-entering.
Goren was hired before Gantz became defense minister, and the Shin Bet appears to have never looked into his personal history.
“A reconsideration of the security assessment processes will be conducted regarding workers surrounding protected people. Lessons have already been learned. We are accordingly putting together new protocols and work methods that will give us a better response to the level of threat and potential for damage,” the Shin Bet officials say.
The Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court okays for publication the name of another suspect in an alleged massive fraud scheme involving cryptocurrencies.
Police allege that Adi Sheleg was a “central axis of the fraud.”
Besides Sheleg and Moshe Hogeg, the owner of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club, the names of the other suspects in the case are barred from publication.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Nearly 15,000 Yemeni Houthi fighters have been killed near the strategic city of Marib since June, two sources close to the Iran-backed rebels tell AFP today.
“The airstrikes launched by the Saudi-led military coalition and the battles have killed nearly 14,700 Houthis since mid-June near Marib,” says an official at the rebel-run defense ministry. Another official from the same office confirms the toll.
The Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group denounces Justin Bieber for announcing a concert next year in Tel Aviv.
In a statement, “the Artistic Production Department in Hamas” calls on the Canadian pop singer to scrap the concert and “boycott the Zionist occupation state in protest of its repeated crimes against our Palestinian.”
BERLIN — German lawmakers approve new measures to rein in record coronavirus infections after the head of Germany’s disease control agency warned the country could face a “really terrible Christmas.”
The measures pass in the Bundestag with votes from the center-left Social Democrats, the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats. The three parties are currently negotiating to form a new government.
The legislation includes requirements for employees to prove they are vaccinated, recently recovered from COVID-19 or have tested negative for the virus in order to access communal workplaces; a similar rule will apply to public transport. The measures need to be approved by Germany’s upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, which could happen tomorrow.
Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats had wanted to extend existing rules that expire this month and which have served as the basis for numerous national and state-wide restrictions since March 2020. In future, Germany’s 16 states will only be able to impose restrictions on cultural and sports events if their regional assemblies approve the measure.
Merkel’s party criticized the new rules, saying they would weaken the instruments at authorities’ disposal at a time when infections are soaring again.
Germany’s disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute, reports 65,371 new daily cases, shattering the previous 24-hour record and continuing an upward trend that experts have warned about for weeks.
Arnon Giladi, ex-deputy deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, has been named as the former senior municipal official suspected of paying a 15-year-old boy for sex.
Giladi, who is currently a member of the city council for the Likud party, has denied the accusations, which were revealed in a series of reports yesterday.
The US government will pay drugmaker Pfizer $5.29 billion for 10 million treatment courses of its potential COVID-19 treatment if regulators authorize it, the nation’s largest purchase agreement yet for a coronavirus therapy.
Pfizer asked the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday to authorize emergency use of the experimental pill, which has been shown to significantly cut the rate of hospitalizations and deaths among people with coronavirus infections.
The FDA is already reviewing a competing pill from Merck and will hold a public meeting on it later this month.
The price for Pfizer’s potential treatment amounts to about $529 per course. The US has already agreed to pay roughly $700 per course of Merck’s drug for about 3.1 million treatments.
Pfizer says today the price being paid by the US government reflects the high number of treatment courses purchased through 2022.
The drugmaker says it also has started rolling submissions for approval in several other countries and there are advanced purchase agreements with other governments as well.
Police say they have arrested eight suspects, including Beiter Jerusalem soccer team owner Moshe Hogeg, on suspicion of involvement in an alleged massive fraud related to cryptocurrencies.
Hogeg is suspected of fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars involving cryptocurrencies. He is also accused of sex crimes, but there is a gag order on publishing specifics.
He and the other suspects were brought today before the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court, which ordered his remand be extended until Wednesday.
Police say the suspects operated over a lengthy period of time, “in tandem and in a systematic manner, while deceiving investors in a number of projects in the field of cryptocurrencies.”
Before the suspects’ identities were cleared for publication, Hogeg canceled a planned online conference on cryptocurrencies scheduled for this evening.
“It’s all for the best,” he writes in a Facebook post.
Hadassah Hospital pronounces the death of an 8-year-old girl from Beit Shemesh who was fatally wounded after being struck by a car.
The lawyer for the Israeli man suspected of offering to spy on Defense Minister Benny Gantz for Iran says his client denies carrying out the security-related crimes attributed to him, but does admit to some of the offenses he is accused of.
The man, Omri Goren, who worked as a house cleaner for the defense minister, allegedly contacted Iranian-linked hacking group Black Shadow and offered to give them information about Gantz’s home. He also discussed installing malware on the minister’s home computer to give the hacking group access to the device, according to the charge sheet.
Goren’s attorney, Gal Wolf, tells The Times of Israel that his client “was not exposed to any security-related materials” while working in Gantz’s home — a claim supported by the Shin Bet security service, who said that Goren was arrested before he could cause damage to national security.
Asked if his client admitted to reaching out the Black Shadow hacking group, Wolf refrained from commenting.
“We will receive the evidence and see who he contacted,” Wolf says.
TEHRAN, Iran — Three members of the Iranian security forces, including a colonel, were killed in clashes with an armed group in the southeast of the country, state news agency IRNA reports.
The police chief of Kerman province, Abdolreza Nazeri, quoted by IRNA, says security forces clashed with “an armed group of bandits” while patrolling an area bordering with Sistan-Baluchistan province.
Three of the security forces were killed and six others wounded in “the confrontation that lasted for almost 24 hours,” he says.
At least two members of the armed group were also killed, IRNA says, adding it has a “long history of evil and instability in the southeastern region,” without naming the group.
IRNA points to illegal activity and smuggling in the area of the clashes.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps said in July that four of its members were killed in clashes with “bandits” in the area of Khash in Sistan-Baluchistan.
The province lies on the border with Pakistan and is a flashpoint of clashes between security forces and armed groups.
The clashes often involve smuggling gangs as well as separatists from the Baluchi minority or extremist militant groups.
Members of the security forces have also been kidnapped in the province.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked predicts that Israelis could be able to enter the US without a waiver starting in 2023, after discussing the matter with US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in Washington.
“The two of us are determined to advance the waiver exemption for Israelis. There are a few obstacles but we know how to overcome them. If we succeed, starting in 2023 we can bid adieu to the lines at the American embassy,” Shaked writes on Twitter.
פגישת עבודה טובה עם @SecMayorkas השר לבטחון המולדת. שנינו נחושים לקדם את הפטור מויזות לישראלים, יש כמה מכשולים אבל נדע להתגבר עליהם. אם נצליח, בתחילת 2023 נוכל להיפרד לשלום מהתורים בשגרירות האמרקאית . https://t.co/hiwAcO8xnU
— איילת שקד Ayelet Shaked (@Ayelet__Shaked) November 18, 2021
CAIRO — Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, arrive in Cairo today for the first time in 15 years, hoping to promote tolerance and cement bilateral ties. The visit is part of the royal couple’s first tour since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
It is also their first visit to Egypt since the country was rocked by a popular uprising in 2011 that was followed by years of political turmoil.
After arriving in Cairo, the royal couple received a formal welcome by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the presidential palace, before meeting with top Muslim and Christian leaders. Under Sissi, a former general, Egypt has achieved a degree of stability but the government has also overseen the largest crackdown on political opposition in decades.
The royal couple then met with the Sunni Muslim world’s top religious authority, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Mosque Ahmed al-Tayeb, as well as with Archbishop of the Anglican Province of Alexandria Samy Fawzy.
After that, Charles headed to an interfaith reception at Al-Azhar Mosque, the oldest Sunni institution in the Muslim world. He was also to meet with students.
Last week, the British Ambassador Gareth Bayley wrote on Twitter that the their highnesses will be discussing UK-Egypt cooperation on climate change, religious tolerance and bilateral relations. Egypt has been selected to host the UN climate change conference COP27 next year.
The royals are also expected to visit some of Egypt’s famous archaeological sites, including the Pyramids at Giza.
Earlier this week, Charles and Camilla concluded a three-day visit to Jordan, where they met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Queen Rania and visited a series of religious and historical sites.
A member of the coalition’s Blue and White party appears to criticize the government’s handling of the detention by Turkey of an Israeli couple for photographing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s palace, after the two were released and returned to Israel earlier today.
“Stop kowtowing to Erdogan! What happened in Turkey was terror for the purpose of making a political profit. It succeeded for him and this could be a dangerous precedent for Israelis traveling abroad,” MK Ruth Wasserman Lande tweets.
Later, on Channel 12, she adds of Erdogan: “He kidnapped innocent people in broad daylight… Thanking him is necessary, but why all this talk about warmed relations and a new era? No!”
PM Bennett and President Herzog “gave us a lesson in diplomacy” but many other senior officials “stroking” turkey with misplaced talk of warmed ties, she says.
KHARTOUM, Sudan — Street clashes again shake Sudan’s capital today, a day after security forces shot dead 15 protesters in the bloodiest day since the military’s October 25 takeover.
Police fired tear gas to disperse dozens of anti-coup protesters who had stayed on the streets of north Khartoum overnight, braving an intensifying crackdown that has drawn international condemnation, witnesses said.
Police tore down makeshift barricades the protesters had erected the previous day.
Later in the day, dozens of protesters returned to rebuild them and police again fired tear gas in a bid to clear the streets, witnesses say.
“Protesters responded by hurling stones at the police,” one witness says.
On October 25, top general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan — Sudan’s de facto leader since the April 2019 ouster of longtime president Omar al-Bashir — detained the civilian leadership and declared a state of emergency.
The move upended Sudan’s fragile transition to full civilian rule, drawing international condemnation and a flurry of punitive measures and aid cuts.
The lawyer of an Israeli man who worked as Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s house cleaner comments on the Shin Bet security service’s announcement that his client, Omri Goren, was recently arrested on suspicion of offering to spy for Iran.
Goren was charged earlier today with espionage.
“We were surprised by the charge,” Gal Wolf tells the Kan public broadcaster. “The Shin Bet announcement doesn’t pass the test of reality. This is a case of criminal offenses that shouldn’t be attributed to a security offense.”
According to Kan, has previously been convicted for bank robbery, home invasion and theft, and served four prison terms.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — Jurors in the Unite the Right civil trial are set to hear closing arguments today in a lawsuit that seeks to hold white nationalists accountable for the violence that erupted in Charlottesville in 2017.
Lawyers for nine people who were physically injured or emotionally scarred during the two days of chaos allege that the defendants conspired to commit racially motivated violence. Attorneys for the white nationalists say there was no conspiracy, and their use of racial epithets and blustery talk in chat rooms before the rally is protected by the First Amendment.
Hundreds of white nationalists descended on Charlottesville on August 11-12, 2017, ostensibly to protest the city’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
During a march on the University of Virginia campus, white nationalists surrounded counterprotesters and threw burning tiki torches at them. The following day, an avowed admirer of Adolf Hitler rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman and injuring dozens more.
The driver of the car, James Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio, is serving life in prison for murder and hate crimes and lost an appeal of his conviction this week. Fields is one of 24 individuals and organizations named as defendants in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and a judgment that the defendants violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights. It is being funded by Integrity First for America, a nonprofit civil rights organization.
Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton announces that she will block a professor from receiving the prestigious Israel Prize on the grounds that he allegedly backs boycotts against the country, despite a High Court of Justice ruling against interference in the prize committee’s choice.
Oded Goldreich, a professor of computer science at Israel’s Weizmann Institute, was supposed to receive the prize earlier this year for his work on computational complexity theory. However, previous education minister, Yoav Gallant, alleged that Goldreich backs the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Goldreich has denied backing BDS but said he objects to West Bank settlements. In March Goldreich signed a petition urging the European Union to stop funding for Ariel University, located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
“Anyone who calls for boycotting an academic institute in Israel is not suitable to receive the prize,” Shasha-Biton says in a statement.
“The prime purpose of the Israel Prize is to encourage Israeli art, excellence and research,” the minister says. “Calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutes undermines that goal, as it seeks to sever creativity, diversity, and freedom of opinion.”
The minister, a member of the right-wing New Hope party, adds that Goldreich’s signing of the petition in March justifies her decision to not give him the prize “despite his outstanding and impressive professional achievements in his field of research.”
Goldreich’s lawyer, Michael Sfard, denounces Shasha-Biton’s decision as “a death blow to the prestige of the Israel Prize.”
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