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2 said arrested in tense moments at Lebanon border — but incident not an attack

IDF troops fire flares after suspicious movement on border, reported to apprehend 2 infiltrators; incident comes amid high tensions in wake of Iranian nuclear scientist’s killing

Illustrative: The Israeli military fires flares into the sky over the Lebanese border on August 25, 2020. (Courtesy)
Illustrative: The Israeli military fires flares into the sky over the Lebanese border on August 25, 2020. (Courtesy)

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

Likud minister says assassination of nuclear scientist ‘really embarrassed’ Iran

A Likud party ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he has no idea who killed top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, whose assassination Iran has blamed on Israel.

But Settlements Minister Tzachi Hanegbi tells Channel 12 news that the killing “really embarrassed” Iran.

Hamas chief phones Iran’s FM to condemn killing of nuclear scientist

The head of the Hamas terror group Ismail Haniyeh has phoned Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to condemn the killing of top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, according to the Hamas-linked Al-Resalah website.

“The assassination reflects a criminal mentality that allows murder in broad daylight. The policy of assassinations, just as it didn’t succeed with the resistance in Palestine, will fail with Iran and the entire ummah and resistance axis,” Haniyeh is quoted as telling Zarif.

Iran has blamed Israel for the killing.

US Navy says return of aircraft carrier to Gulf not linked to any ‘specific threats’

WASHINGTON — A US aircraft carrier group has moved back into the Gulf region, but a navy spokeswoman says its return wasn’t triggered by any “threats” after the killing in Iran of a top nuclear scientist.

Tensions in the region are extraordinarily high after the assassination Friday of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an act still unclaimed but which Iran has blamed on close US ally Israel.

But naval commander Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the US 5th Fleet, tells AFP the return Wednesday of the carrier group led by the nuclear-powered USS Nimitz was unconnected to any “specific threats.”

“There were no specific threats that triggered the return of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group,” she says in a statement.

“The return of Nimitz is centered on maintaining CENTCOM’s ability to remain postured and prepared to help preserve regional stability and security,” Rebarich says, referring to the US Central Command.

The Pentagon said earlier that the carrier group would be providing combat support and air cover as the military withdraws thousands of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan by mid-January, under orders from US President Donald Trump.

— AFP

The USS Nimitz (US Navy/Wikipedia)

Iranian FM says nuclear scientist’s killing was ‘designed & planned by a terrorist regime’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif calls the killing of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh a “terror attack,” a day after saying Israel appeared to be behind it.

“Terror attack on our scientist was indubitably designed & planned by a terrorist regime & executed by criminal accomplices. Shameful that some refuse to stand against terrorism and hide behind calls for restraint,” he tweets.

Germany’s far-right AfD party holds congress despite virus curbs

BERLIN — Around 600 delegates from Germany’s far-right AfD gather for a congress that the authorities have warned could become a coronavirus hotspot, as the party increasingly aligns itself with militants protesting anti-COVID restrictions.

Alternative for Germany co-leader Tino Chrupalla opens the event by attacking the “state of emergency” policy introduced by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to tackle the health crisis.

“Lives have been broken, there’s a wave of bankruptcies… lots of people have lost their jobs,” he tells the congress being held in a vast hall in a former nuclear plant in the western city of Kalkar.

To win approval for the huge gathering at a time when Germans are asked to limit their contacts to just two households at a time, the AfD had to sign up to stringent rules including compulsory mask wearing and social distancing.

Outside the venue — now a hotel and leisure complex — about 500 people demonstrate against the staging of the conference following a call by the “Stand up to Racism” coalition.

Kalkar’s mayor Britta Schulz had said it was “irresponsible” to hold such a big event and warned it could “become a (virus) hotspot,” but acknowledged that the gathering could not be banned.

In contrast, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union has twice postponed its congress to elect a new leader because of the risks of coronavirus contagion.

The Green party last weekend held its meeting online.

Shrugging off possible risks, the AfD’s health policy spokesman Detlev Spangenberg claims: “The coronavirus is comparable to the influenza in terms of the course taken by the illness as well as in terms of its lethality. So the serious measures (taken to fight it) are not proportionate.”

Germany has recorded more than one million coronavirus infections and close to 16,000 people have died, according to official data.

— AFP

Joerg Meuthen, federal spokesperson of the AFD, is seen on video screens during his speech at the congress of far-right party at the Wunderland Kalkar, western Germany, on November 28, 2020. (Ina Fassbender/AFP)

Scientist’s killing ‘the pinnacle’ of Israeli plan to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program — TV

An unnamed Western intelligence official tells Channel 12 news that the killing of top Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was “the pinnacle” of a long-term Israeli plan to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.

“This is a diminution in knowledge that is irreplaceable,” the official is quoted saying.

Thousands rally outside PM’s residence in Jerusalem for weekly anti-Netanyahu protest

A few thousand anti-Netanyahu protesters rally outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem for the weekly demonstration against the premier over his indictment on graft charges and handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Protests are also held outside Netanyahu’s home in the coastal city of Caesarea and at highway overpasses and junctions throughout the country.

Israel said to be certain that Iran will respond to nuclear scientist’s killing

The former head of Iran’s atomic energy organization denies the assassination of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh is a sign of weakness.

“This terrorism doesn’t indicate weakness in our security apparatus, but rather points to its strength. This kind of thing (assassination) hasn’t happened for a long time,” Fereydoon Abbasi Davani says in a video aired by Channel 12 news.

Abbasi Davani, who was allegedly a top scientist on the nuclear weapons program run by Fakhrizadeh, survived an assassination attempt in 2010. He is now a member of Iran’s parliament.

Separately, Channel 12 says Israel “knows that Iran will respond” to the killing , without citing a source. Iran has blamed the assassination on Israel.

The network’s analyst Ehud Yaari posits that Iran has two options for retaliating. The first would involve ramping up its nuclear weapons program; enriching uranium to 20 percent; ditching parts of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT); and to again turn on its heavy water reactor.

Alternatively, or in addition, Yaari speculates that Iran could launch a major attack on an Israeli target, similar to its 2019 attack on Saudi oil facilities, and won’t content itself with a more “minor” attack on an embassy or target of similar importance.

Amos Yadlin, a former IDF Military Intelligence chief who now heads the INSS think tank, tells the station that “whoever made this decision knows that there are 55 more days in which the White House has someone who sees the Iranian threat the way they do… Biden is a different story.”

“Apparently, Pompeo didn’t come here to drink wine at the Psagot winery,” he adds, referring to the US secretary of state’s recent visit to Israel.

UN urges restraint in wake of Iranian nuclear scientist’s killing

The United Nations urges restraint after tensions rose in the Middle East with the assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist.

Iran has blamed Israel for Friday’s killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and vowed revenge.

“We urge restraint and the need to avoid any actions that could lead to an escalation of tensions in the region,” a UN spokesman says. “We condemn any assassination or extrajudicial killing.”

— AFP

Qatari FM phones Iranian counterpart to condemn nuclear scientist’s killing

Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani phones his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif to condemn the assassination of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, labeling it “a clear violation of human rights.”

“[Al-Thani] expressed the State of Qatar’s condolences to the government and people of the Islamic Republic of Iran, stressing that such steps will only contribute to pouring more fuel to the fire at a time when the region and the international community are looking for ways to reduce tensions and return to the table of dialogue and diplomacy,” a statement on the Qatari foreign ministry’s website says.

Al-Thani also urged “restraint and finding fundamental solutions for the outstanding issues.”

J Street denounces killing of top Iranian nuclear scientist

The dovish lobby group J Street denounces the killing of top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, saying it appears aimed at “the sabotage” of any effort by US President-elect Joe Biden to rejoin 2015 agreement curbing Iran’s nuclear program.

“It seems those who oppose the JCPOA will stop at nothing to kill the agreement once and for all,” J Street head Jeremy Ben-Ami says in a statement.

Ben-Ami hits out at critics of the deal and the “disastrous consequences” of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the accord.

“The facts speak for themselves. Iran now has twelve times as much enriched uranium as when Trump took office. Its forces have openly launched missiles at US troops. The Iranian people — suffering cruel sanctions in the midst of a pandemic — blame the United States rather than their own government’s hardliners for their predicament,” he says.

He also urges Congress “to make clear that it supports diplomacy as the primary means to address threats emanating from Iran” and calls on Tehran not to respond, with Biden set to take office.

Fakhrizadeh was alleged to be the head of Iran’s nuclear weapons program and was reportedly long a top target of the Mossad.

Israeli men’s team beats basketball powerhouse Spain in FIBA EuroBasket qualifier

The Israeli men’s national team beats Spain 95-87 in a qualifier game for the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 tournament.

Spain won the last tournament in 2015 and is ranked by FIBA as the second-best team in the world.

Hapoel Jerusalem point guard Tamir Blatt scores 21 points to lead the Israeli squad, which was without star Deni Avdija, who was selected ninth overall in the NBA draft by the Washington Wizards.

Spain was also without a number of its top players.

2 suspects arrested after shooting at cops in northern town

Police arrest two suspects who opened fire at officers after shooting at a bank in the northern town of Maghar.

The cops shot back at the suspects, wounding one of them seriously. The other suspect was in moderate condition, as was a woman in her 20s.

Israeli troops fire flares amid suspicious movement on Lebanon border

Israeli troops fire flares in the air after suspicious movement was spotted on the Lebanese border near Kibbutz Manara, the military says.

Local residents report the sound of explosions, according to Hebrew media, which says the incident appears linked to smuggling and isn’t a terror attack.

Two said arrested after crossing Lebanon border, incident not security-related

The incident at the northern border appears to have ended peacefully.

Media reports indicate two people were indeed arrested after crossing the border, but the incident was not security-related. Rather, the two appear to be either job-seekers or smugglers.

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