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Hamas leaders go into hiding fearing fresh Israeli strikes — reports

IDF general warns Gaza rulers next round of strikes will be ‘more forceful’; Iron Dome deployed to Beersheba area after rocket attack from Palestinian enclave

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

  • Smoke billows following an Israeli airstrike in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah on October 17, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)
    Smoke billows following an Israeli airstrike in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah on October 17, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)
  • From L to R: National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman and IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi hold a situational assessment near the Gaza border on October 17, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense)
    From L to R: National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman and IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi hold a situational assessment near the Gaza border on October 17, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense)
  • In this May 20, 2017, file photo, US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
    In this May 20, 2017, file photo, US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
  • An Israeli sapper checks a house in the southern city of Beersheba after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip on October 17, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)
    An Israeli sapper checks a house in the southern city of Beersheba after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip on October 17, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)
  • Special forces servicemen patrol a college in the city of Kerch in the Crimea on October 17, 2018. (KERCH.FM/AFP)
    Special forces servicemen patrol a college in the city of Kerch in the Crimea on October 17, 2018. (KERCH.FM/AFP)
  • US student Lara Alqasem attends a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on October 17, 2018. (Photo by Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
    US student Lara Alqasem attends a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on October 17, 2018. (Photo by Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

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

Egypt said to broker Gaza ceasefire after ‘intensive’ talks with Israel, Hamas

Calm will be restored in and around the Gaza Strip following “intensive” Egyptian communications with “all sides,” the Hamas-linked Palestinian Information Center reports.

Earlier this morning, a rocket fired from Gaza struck a residential home in southern Israel and another landed in the sea off central Israel and the IDF struck some 20 Hamas targets in response, in a blow to efforts to avert a new war.

UN envoy says Gaza rocket fire provoking war with Israel

UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Nikolay Mladenov tells President Reuven Rivlin the rocket fired from Gaza that hit a home in southern Israel early this morning was a “dangerous escalation” in tensions in the Palestinian enclave.

He says fresh rocket fire “fit a pattern of provocations that seek to bring Israel and Gaza into another deadly conflict and confrontation.”

Mladenov says “de-escalation on the ground” in the next 48 hours is crucial to the survival of ongoing Egyptian and UN efforts to reach a long term ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas.

“I am afraid that there is no more time for words. Now is the time for actions. And we must see very clear actions on all sides that bring the situation to a de-escalation. Otherwise, the consequences will be terrible for everyone,” he says.

A diplomatic source tells The Times of Israel that Mladenov is working with all concerned parties to restore calm to the Gaza Strip.

Iran calls US sanctions on paramilitary force ‘blind vindictiveness’

Iran calls new US sanctions against its paramilitary Basij group an act of “blind vindictiveness.”

“America’s new sanctions are a clear insult to international and legal mechanisms and a result of the American government’s blind vindictiveness against the Iranian nation,” foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi says.

He calls Washington’s “lack of adherence to international legal mechanisms” a threat not only “to the Iranian people’s interests but also the world’s stability and security.”

Yesterday, the US Treasury Department slapped sanctions on the Basij paramilitary group along with a network of more than 20 businesses that were providing it financing.


ICC prosecutor warns Israel: Razing Bedouin village a ‘war crime’

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor issues a warning that if Israel goes ahead and destroys a Bedouin village on the West Bank that could constitute a war crime.

The Supreme Court recently rejected a final appeal against plans to demolish the village, Khan al-Ahmar.

In a statement, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda says “evacuation by force now appears imminent.”

Bensouda adds that the “extensive destruction of property without military necessity and population transfers in an occupied territory constitute war crimes” under the Rome Statute treaty that established the ICC.

Israel says Khan al-Ahmar was built illegally and has offered to resettle its residents a few kilometers away. Palestinians and other critics say the demolition aims to displace Palestinians in favor of Israeli settlement expansion.

— AP

At least 10 killed in blast at Crimea college in possible terror attack

An explosive device killed 10 people and injured at least 50 others at a vocational college in Crimea this afternoon in what Russian officials are calling a possible terrorist attack.

The National Anti-Terrorism Committee says in a statement that the blast at the college, in the city of Kerch in eastern Crimea, was caused by an unidentified explosive device.

The committee’s spokesman Andrei Przhezdomsky says sappers are inspecting the building for other explosive devices.

The Tass news agency reports that most of the victims were students, quoting local ombudswoman Lyudmila Lubina.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, tells reporters that officials are looking into a possible terrorist attack.

— AP

Pompeo meets with Turkish president over missing Saudi journalist

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets Turkey’s president and foreign minister over the disappearance and alleged slaying of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi.

No details are immediately released about the talks between Pompeo and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

The three posed for photos before their meetings, but said nothing in front of journalists. Pompeo held separate meetings with Erdogan and Cavusoglu, each lasting around 40 minutes.

Pompeo had just come from Riyadh, where he spoke yesterday with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Khashoggi went missing on Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Turkish officials say they fear Saudi agents killed and dismembered him. Saudi Arabia has denied the allegations, but provided no evidence he left the consulate.

— AP

ICC prosecutor ‘keeping close eye’ on Gaza violence

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda says she is keeping a “close eye” on the escalating tension in the Gaza Strip and will not hesitate to act if necessary.

Bensouda says she is “alarmed by the continued violence, perpetrated by actors on both sides, at the Gaza border with Israel.”

“I therefore feel compelled to remind all parties that the situation remains under preliminary examination by my office,” she says in a statement. “I continue to keep a close eye on the developments on the ground and will not hesitate to take any appropriate action.”

The ICC launched a preliminary probe in 2015 into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Israel and the Gaza Strip in the wake of the 2014 war.

— with AFP

Netanyahu says Israel prepared to ‘act with force’ in Gaza

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterates that Israel is prepared to “act with force” against Hamas in the wake of the surge in tensions earlier today.

“Israel views the attacks along the Gaza border and on Beersheba with the utmost severity,” he says following a situational assessment on Gaza with his top dense officials.

“I said at the start of this week’s cabinet meeting that if the attacks don’t stop we will stop them, and I want to tell you again today that Israel will act with force,” he says.

The prime minister met with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman near the Gaza border to discuss the situation in the Palestinian enclave.

Barred US student appears before Supreme Court for final appeal

A US student barred from Israel over past support for a pro-Palestinian boycott campaign appears before the Supreme Court in a final appeal against the state’s decision

Lara Alqasem’s lawyer tells the court the state should apply common sense when applying the law against BDS supporters.

“Why would she want to enter Israel to call for a boycott?” Yotam Ben Hillel asks. “She committed to not do so, and is aware” she would be deported if she did campaign.

A lawyer for the Hebrew University, where Alqasem intended to study, tells the court that “we think that if people come and live here, they’ll see we’re not an apartheid state.”

The state’s representative argued that the Interior Ministry had the authority to prevent Alqasem’s entry, based on the law and her past actions, which indicated a “central role” in her organization.

The panel of three judges adjourn the hearing ahead of reaching and publishing a decision.

— with AFP

Palestinian arrested in Khan al-Ahmar clashes

Am 18-year-old Palestinian woman is arrested during clashes with Israeli security forces in the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, the B’Tselem rights group reports.

Footage from the brawl shows officers using taser guns against the Palestinian activists, two of whom were taken to nearby hospitals for further treatment.

The Supreme Court recently rejected a final appeal against plans to demolish the village.

Israel says it was built illegally and has offered to resettle its residents nearby, but critics say the demolition aims to displace Palestinians in favor of Israeli settlement expansion.

— Jacob Magid

Crimea official: Death toll in college bombing reaches 18

The top official in Crimea says 18 people have died and more than 40 have been wounded in an attack on a college in the Black Sea peninsula launched by one of its students.

Sergei Aksyonov, the regional leader in Crimea, says the student killed himself after the attack. He didn’t name the man, saying only he was a local resident and was acting alone.

Aksyonov’s statement follows Russian officials’ report that an explosive device ripped through the college in Kerch in eastern Crimea in a suspected terrorist attack.

Russian media reported that an unidentified gunman or gunmen attacked the college. Russian officials wouldn’t confirm those reports.

— AP

EU condemns Gaza rocket fire as ‘completely unacceptable’

The European Union condemns the rocket fired from the Gaza strip that hit a residential home in southern Israel early this morning as “completely unacceptable.”

In a statement, the EU says firing rockets towars Israel from the Palestinian enclave “must stop immediately,” saying that “indiscriminate attacks against civilians are completely unacceptable.

“The first priority now is for de-escalation. The cycle of violence and despair has to be broken,” the statement says.

Earlier, a rocket fired from Gaza struck a Beersheba home and the IDF began attacking Hamas targets in Gaza in response after days of rising tensions.

Officials: Crimea school attack victims killed by gunshots, not blast

The victims of an attack on a technical college in Moscow-annexed Crimea were killed by gunshots, Russian investigators say after initially reporting they died in a blast.

“Currently, there are 17 known deaths. The initial inspection of the bodies suggests that they died from gunshot wounds,” Russia’s Investigative Committee says in a statement.

It adds that a surveillance video shows a man entering the school “holding a gun” and identified him as 18 year-old student Vladislav Roslyakov, whose body was later found in the building.

Earlier reports said 18 had died in the attack but it is not clear if the figure included the attacker.


Iron Dome to be deployed in southern Israel after latest Gaza rockets

The Iron Dome air defense system will be deployed to the Beersheba area shortly, Israel’s deputy defense ministry says, after Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip launched a rocket that hit a home inside the city, causing damage but no injuries.

“An Iron Dome battery will be set up in the Beersheba area in the coming days, perhaps even tonight,” says deputy minister Eli Ben Dahan in the Knesset.

Ben Dahan was responding to a question about the IDF Home Front Command’s preparedness for war in the south.

— Judah Ari Gross

German FM puts trip to Saudi Arabia on hold pending Khashoggi probe

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is putting a planned trip to Saudi Arabia on hold pending the outcome of an investigation into the disappearance and alleged slaying of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi.

Maas tells reporters that “regarding my travel plans … we will wait for the time being.”

He calls the case “extremely worrying … and disturbing” and demanded a complete and quick clarification of what has happened to Khashoggi.

Khashoggi vanished October 2 during a visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, and Turkish officials have claimed Saudi agents killed and dismembered the Washington Post columnist.

Maas says once the Saudi government makes an expected statement, “we’ll use that as an opportunity to consider again if a trip to Saudi Arabia at this time makes sense or not.”

— AP

Prisons commissioner Ofra Klinger said to resign

Israel Prisons Service commissioner Ofra Klinger resigns from her post, Hadashot news reports.

According to the report, Klinger is stepping down after learning that Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan decided against extending her tenure at the end of the year.

Egypt intelligence chief said to cancel visit to Israel, Gaza and PA

Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel has canceled his visit to the region, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.

A senior Israeli official tells the Kan public broadcaster that Kamel will not make the scheduled visit to Gaza, the West Bank and Israel tomorrow for talks on Egypt’s efforts to broker intra-Palestinian reconciliation and a long-term ceasefire deal between Hamas and Israel.

Istanbul police search Saudi consul’s residence in Khashoggi probe

Turkish police on Wednesday began a search at the residence of the Saudi consul to Istanbul, in the investigation into the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in the city, according to an AFP correspondent.

A team of a dozen police and prosecutors, including forensics experts in white overalls, entered the residence of Mohammed al-Otaibi, a day after he flew out of Istanbul for Riyadh.


Melania Trump’s plane turns back after smoke incident

A plane carrying US First Lady Melania Trump was forced to turn back after smoke appeared in the cabin, journalists on the flight said.

She was on her way from Washington to Philadelphia when there was “a minor mechanical issue,” according to her spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham.

“Everything is fine and everyone is safe,” Grisham says in a statement.

The airplane returned to Joint Base Andrews, an air force facility used by the White House outside Washington, DC.

CNN and other US networks said that reporters aboard the plane noticed smoke in the cabin and were told to hold wet towels over their faces if it got worse. The smoke dissipated and the aircraft returned without further incident.

Trump was on her way to visit a Philadelphia hospital specializing in treatment of mothers with opioid use disorders and babies born with addictions to drugs they were exposed to while still in the womb.


Pompeo says US takes Khashoggi case ‘seriously’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says America takes the disappearance of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi “seriously.”

Pompeo makes ade the comments to journalists after leaving Turkey on Wednesday during a quick visit that included a talk with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Pompeo says Erdogan “made clear that the Saudis had cooperated with the investigation that the Turks are engaged in and they are going to share information.”

Asked if he heard or asked to hear audio of Khashoggi’s alleged slaying, he says: “I don’t have anything to say about that.”

Pompeo stresses that the US and Saudi Arabia have important links, including working on countering Iran.

However, he says: “If a country engages in activity that is unlawful, it’s unacceptable. No one is going to defend activity of that nature. They need to simply say what happened.”

— AP

UN Syria envoy to step down next month

The United Nations envoy for Syria announces he will step down at the end of November after more than four years in the key post, setting back UN efforts to end the seven-year war in Syria

“I will myself be moving on as of the last week of November,” Staffan de Mistura tells the UN Security Council during a meeting on the crisis in Syria.

The Italian-Swedish diplomat, who became the UN’s third Syria envoy in July 2014, said he was leaving for “purely personal reasons” and had discussed his plans to leave with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“I am not laying down the charge until the last hour of the last day of my mandate,” he says.

IDF chief returns to Israel early to attend Gaza cabinet meeting

IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot arrives back in Israel to attend an urgent security cabinet meeting called in the wake of the surge in tensions in the Gaza Strip.

Eisenkot traveled to the US earlier this week to attend a counter-terrorism conference, but cut short his trip so he could attend this evening’s cabinet meeting where Netanyahu and his ministers will discuss possible Israeli action in Gaza.

279 White Helmets leave Jordan to resettle in West

Jordan says a group of 279 Syrian rescue workers has left the kingdom for resettlement in Western countries three months after they were evacuated from Israel.

The Jordanian foreign ministry says the White Helmet rescuers will be resettled in Britain, Canada and Germany.

Founded in 2013, the Syria Civil Defense, or White Helmets, is a network of first responders who rescue wounded in the aftermath of air strikes, shelling or blasts in rebel-held territory.

The kingdom announced in July it had received 422 White Helmet rescuers and their relatives after they were evacuated from Syria’s south ahead of advancing government troops.

The group had been ferried to Israel from its war-torn neighbor and foe Syria and then taken on to Jordan.

— with AFP

Egyptian delegation leaves Gaza as Hamas expresses ‘regret’ over cancelled visit

Senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk posts on Twitter that the ruling group “regrets” Egypt’s decision to cancel intelligence chief Abbas Kamel’s visit to the region tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian delegation that arrived in Gaza ahead of Kamel’s visit left the Strip via the Erez crossing with Israel.

The Ynet news site reported that the visiting Cairo officials spent the day speaking with the various faction in the Strip, urging them not to launch more rockets at Israel tonight.

Trump says US needs Saudi Arabia in fight against terrorism

US President Donald Trump says he does not want to walk away from Saudi Arabia over the disappearance and alleged killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, arguing the US relies on the kingdom in the fight against terrorism.

Asked during an interview on Fox Business what action he had in mind for Riyadh if he learned it was responsible, Trump says: “Well, I hope we’re going to be on the better side of the equation.”

“You know we need Saudi Arabia in terms of our fight against all of the terrorism, everything that’s happening in Iran and other places.”

Asked if the US would not then walk away from Saudi Arabia, he says: “I do not want to do that and frankly they have a tremendous order, $110 billion.” The reference was to promised US arms sales to the kingdom.


Police investigating suspicious package found near British parliament

Police are investigating a suspicious package found in Embankment Gardens near the British parliament, cordoning off a large area around the riverside park.

“Police were called at approximately 15:40 hours to reports of a suspicious package at Embankment Gardens. Emergency services are in attendance,” a police spokesman tells AFP.


Netanyahu convenes security cabinet over latest Gaza flareup

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convenes his security cabinet to discuss the sharp uptick in tensions in the Gaza Strip.

IDF chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot cut short his visit to the US to attend the high-level meeting and help manage the crisis.

Trump denies covering for Saudis in Khashoggi disappearance

US President Donald Trump denies that his cautious approach to Saudi Arabia over allegations that Saudi agents killed and dismembered a journalist amounts to covering for the US ally.

“No not at all, I just want to find out what’s happening,” Trump tells journalists in the White House. “I’m not giving cover at all.”

The president adds that Washington is asking Turkey for audio and video relating to Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance “if it exists.”

— Agencies

US treasury employee charged with leaking secret papers linked to Mueller probe

A Treasury Department employee has been charged with leaking confidential banking reports of suspects charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Federal prosecutors say Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards is set to appear in court today in Virginia.

The 40-year-old Edwards is a senior official at the department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. She’s accused of leaking the material to a journalist — who’s not named in court papers.

Prosecutors say reports on Paul Manafort, Richard Gates and Maria Butina were among those leaked. Prosecutors allege Edwards photographed the confidential documents and sent them to the reporter using an encrypted messaging app.

Authorities say that when Edwards was arrested, she was found with a flash drive containing the confidential reports.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Edwards had an attorney who could comment.

— AP

London police blow up suspicious package near parliament

Police use a bomb disposal robot to carry out a controlled explosion of a package found in central London near the British parliament.

Although the package was later found not to be suspicious, emergency services were called to gardens next to the River Thames during the afternoon, a police spokesman says.

“We’ve just been told it’s all been stood down — non-suspicious,” he tells AFP.


Hamas leaders go into hiding ahead of possible Israeli strikes — reports

Hamas leadership in Gaza has gone into hiding in anticipation of fresh Israeli strikes on the group’s positions later tonight, according to reports in the Palestinian media.

According to the reports, Hamas leaders have also evacuated police stations and instructed their fighters to abandon their outposts in the Strip.

IDF general warns Hamas next round of Gaza strikes will be ‘more forceful’

The head of the IDF Southern Command warns the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group that Israel will “know how to respond more forcefully for situations in the future,” amid a flareup between the two sides after a rocket from the Strip exploded outside a home in the southern city of Beersheba.

In response to the rocket attack, the Israeli Air Force conducted strikes against some 20 targets in the Gaza Strip, including a border-crossing tunnel.

In a video, Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi says the army conducted “significant strikes against Hamas weapons manufacturing facilities, headquarters, posts and underground infrastructure. Everything that was attacked, was destroyed. It will be difficult for them to rebuild, to bring in the money (to pay for reconstruction).”

The general also accuses the terror group of deceiving the Strip’s population.

“Hamas pretends to rule Gaza, tells Gaza residents that it’s trying to improve their lives. But in reality, the riots on the fence, the improvised explosive device, the explosive balloons, the incendiary balloons and, as we’ve seen tonight, rockets make the lives of Gaza Strip worse,” he says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Activists call for ‘Hitler balcony’ destruction in Vienna

Activists are calling for a little-remembered balcony on the front of Vienna’s town hall to be destroyed because it is where Adolf Hitler gave a speech in 1938, Austrian media reports.

Hitler made the speech on April 9, 1938 from a specially constructed wooden balcony erected in the center of the building’s imposing neo-Gothic facade, but it was later replaced with a permanent stone one to commemorate the event.

The origins of the balcony had since largely faded from memory but an artists’ collective entitled “Memory Gaps” is now calling for it to be destroyed.

It argues the structure should be removed as part of the commemorations for the centenary of the first Austrian Republic, as well as the 80th anniversary of the “Anschluss,” or annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany.


Washington Post accuses Trump of ‘diplomatic cleanup’ over Khashoggi

The Washington Post, whose columnist Jamal Khashoggi was reported to have been killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, has accused the administration of US President Donald Trump of performing a “diplomatic cleanup operation” for Riyadh.

In an editorial headlined “Why is the Trump administration cleaning up Saudi Arabia’s mess?” the paper backs calls by UN officials for an independent international commission into the disappearance of the journalist earlier this month, which has tarnished the image of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was sent to Riyadh on Tuesday, according to the administration, to press the Saudi leadership to get to the bottom of the case.

But Pompeo, “who smiled broadly as he greeted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, appeared less intent on determining the truth than in helping the de facto Saudi ruler escape from the crisis he triggered,” says the Post.

“The best metaphor for Mr. Pompeo’s diplomacy seemed to be what reporters witnessed outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where Mr. Khashoggi was last seen Oct. 2: the arrival of a cleaning crew with buckets, mops and fluids.”

Trump, it added, had “signaled that he is more than ready to assist in that dodge.”

“The president tweeted that in a phone call, the young Saudi leader had ‘totally denied any knowledge of what took place’ — as if that should settle the matter.”


US Mideast envoy: Gaza rockets set back efforts to help Palestinians

US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt says the rockets fired from the Gaza Strip that struck a residential home in southern Israel early this morning “set back the world’s efforts to better the lives of Palestinians in Gaza.”

In a tweet, Greenblatt blames the Hamas “regime” in the Strip for the fresh rocket fire.

Gaza-area communities get emergency funding as border tensions rise

The Interior and Finance ministries transfer NIS 7 million ($2 million) to communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip in the wake of the sharp increase in tensions in the Palestinian enclave today.

The funds are earmarked for local communities to bolster their emergency preparedness and to ensure that municipal services continue uninterrupted.

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