The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they unfolded.
Ministers say lightning to blame for Gaza rocket fire on Beersheba
Israeli officials now believe that a rocket shot from Gaza that hit a house in Beersheba last week and nearly started a major round of hostilities was accidental, ministers say.
A report in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily says that the high-level security cabinet has accepted the explanation that two Grad rockets shot from the Strip early last Wednesday morning were caused by lightning.
טוב, כל מי שצחק אתמול, שיתנצל מיד בפני @shimritmeir המדהימה. ההערכה, גם בצד העזתי וגם אצלנו, היא שיש סבירות גבוהה לכך שפגיעת ברק הפעילה את הרקטות שהיו דרוכות ומוכנות לשיגור בשלישי בלילה. בקבינט הועברו על זה לא מעט בדיחות pic.twitter.com/p2cyPinDRp
— Ben Caspit בן כספית (@BenCaspit) October 18, 2018
“It would not have been right to go to war over the weather,” an unnamed minister tells the paper.
Asked about the report, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked tells Israel Radio that while she can’t confirm it was the weather, “based on what we know, Hamas did not mean to shoot the rockets.”
At least six killed in Iraq market blast
An Iraqi official says a bomb blast at a market in a town south of the city of Mosul has killed at least six people, including two soldiers.
The official says the bombing happened on a street in the market of Qarraya, a town in northern Nineveh province.
The officer says at least 40 people have been wounded. The officer spoke anonymously, under government regulations.
There is no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
Qarraya is about 70 kilometers (45 miles) south of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Both Mosul and Qarraya were ruled by Islamic State militants from 2014 until 2017, when Iraqi forces recaptured the area after heavy fighting.
Israel dismantling rejected temporary housing for Bedouin village evacuees
Defense Ministry workers have begun dismantling housing meant to absorb evacuees from the West Bank Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, which is slated to be demolished, Haaretz reports.
The temporary housing structures are in the Palestinian village of el-Ezzariya on the outskirts of Jerusalem. But Khan al-Ahmar residents say they refuse to move there.
The hamlet, built on state-owned land but established before Israel controlled the area, was due to be razed any day, but on Saturday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the demolition delayed to negotiate a solution with residents.
PA: Report alleging torture part of Trump plan to weaken Ramallah
The Palestinian Authority’s rights ombudsman says a Human Rights Watch report alleging abuse by both the PA and Hamas is part of a plot to weaken Ramallah as part of the US’s yet to be released peace plan.
Haitham Arar, head of human rights at the PA’s interior ministry, says the government “rejected everything in the Human Rights Watch report.”
“The report confuses politics and human rights and is consistent with the (US) Deal of the Century with the aim of weakening the PA,” Arar says, referring to Trump’s long-delayed peace plan that Palestinians fear will be biased toward Israel.
Gazan who sneaked into Israel wanted to get caught — IDF
A Palestinian man who crossed into Israel from the Gaza Strip on Monday was deliberately trying to be arrested in order to remain in Israel, the military says.
The man was spotted by troops as he breached the security fence in southern Gaza. He was arrested shortly after entering Israeli territory. A knife was found on the ground nearby, the army says.
The man was taken into custody and questioned in order to determine why he crossed into Israel.
“An investigation by security forces determined that the suspect who breached the security fence in the southern Gaza Strip yesterday intended to be caught and moved to Israel,” the army says in a statement.
The military says it intends to return the man to the Gaza Strip later today.
— Judah Ari Gross
Body parts of murdered Saudi writer said found
Sky news reports that body parts belonging to murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi have been located in the garden of the Saudi consul’s home in Istanbul.
According to the unconfirmed report, citing unnamed sources, the writer’s body had been cut up and his face is “disfigured.”
Previous reports have suggested Khashoggi’s killers in the Saudi consulate used a bone saw to cut up his corpse.
After IDF says Hezbollah is on border, UNIFIL head says Beirut keeping to pact
The head of the UNIFIL peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon says Beirut is committed to keeping an agreement to keep Hezbollah away from the border with Israel, after meeting with top Lebanese officials.
The statement comes a day after the IDF accused the Hezbollah terror group of posing as an environmental NGO to illegally maintain a post along the Israeli border and called on UNIFIL to investigate.
UNIFIL denied that there had been any violations of the agreement.
“Parties [are] committed to implementation of UNSCR 1701,” Stefano Del Col writes on twitter after meeting Lebanese President Michel Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah.
It was a great honour to meet today w/ President Michel Aoun @LBpresidency. I expressed gratitude for continued support & briefed on the importance of #UNIFIL strategic partnership w/ @LebarmyOfficial & on latest Tripartite mtg: parties committed to implementation of UNSCR 1701. pic.twitter.com/gBZgil65D6
— Stefano Del Col (@stefanodelcol) October 23, 2018
He also touts meetings with Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri and speaker Nabih Berri.
Constructive meeting w/ PM @saadhariri. We discussed the importance of ensuring continued implementation of our mandate, the patrolling of all parts of our area of operations in south #Lebanon ???????? & enhancing the partnership between the Gov of Lebanon, @LebarmyOfficial & #UNIFIL. pic.twitter.com/6WOcdI6Rlg
— Stefano Del Col (@stefanodelcol) October 23, 2018
Netanyahu tells Likud MK to drop immunity bill
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told a Likud lawmaker to shelve proposed legislation which would have shielded him from prosecution, the party says in a statement.
Miki Zohar had sought to fast-track a bill that would allow alter parliamentary immunity laws so that indictments can only be filed against lawmakers after the Knesset has given approval, reverting to a practice overhauled 12 years ago amid criticism that it protected corrupt and criminal MKs from prosecution.
“Netanyahu doesn’t want the bill and has asked Zohar not to advance it,” Likud says. “Prime Minister Netanyahu knows there won’t be an indictment because there is nothing” in it.
Netanyahu is being investigated in connection with three separate graft cases involving suspicions of illegal gift-taking and quid-pro-quo arrangements.
Riyadh says it will hold all behind Khashoggi murder accountable
Saudi Arabia’s cabinet says it will hold accountable all those behind the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi “no matter who they may be.”
“Measures have been taken by the kingdom to uncover the truth and hold accountable all those whose incompetence or immediate responsibility” was behind the killing “no matter who they may be,” reads a cabinet statement published by the state-run SPA news agency.
Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
Egypt arrests economist, publisher for book critical of Sissi
Egyptian security officials are reporting that an economist and his publisher have been arrested over a book that challenged President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s assertion that Egypt is a poor country.
The officials say prize-winning economist Abdel-Khaleq Farouq and his publisher Ibrahim el-Khateib were detained Sunday.
Officials say the two face charges of publishing “fake news.” They spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief the media.
The book criticizes Sissi for what it says is his lack of vision to remedy Egypt’s economic woes, which Farouq blames on the military’s monopoly of power since 1952.
The arrests are the latest in Egypt’s crackdown on dissent, which followed the 2013 ouster by the military, then led by Sissi, of a freely elected but divisive Islamist president.
China rejects US ‘blackmail’ over nixed nuclear treaty
China is warning that it will “never accept any form of blackmail” after US President Donald Trump said his decision to withdraw from a nuclear pact with Russia was also linked to Beijing’s arsenal.
China is not a signatory to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which the United States signed with the then-Soviet Union in the 1980s, but Trump said Monday that Beijing should be included in the accord.
“Now that the United States want to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty, they start to inappropriately speak about other countries,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying tells a regular press briefing.
“This approach of shifting the blame on others is utterly unjustifiable and unreasonable,” Hua says. “We will never accept any form of blackmail.”
Israel commemorates opening of first ever embassy in Warsaw
Israel marks the 70th anniversary of its first diplomatic outpost as a new nation with a re-enactment of that 1948 event in the same place — Warsaw, Poland.
Israeli Ambassador Anna Azari, flanked by other diplomats, hangs the Israeli flag from a balcony of the historic Bristol Hotel in central Warsaw during a ceremony.
Just as in 1948, a small crowd gathered below applauds and sings the Israeli national anthem.
The modern state of Israel was created in 1948, and many of its early leaders and settlers were Jews from Poland — the European heartland of Polish Jewry before World War II.
The event comes as Poland and Israel work to repair ties following tensions sparked by a controversial Holocaust speech law early this year.
CIA chief in Turkey to follow up on Khashoggi case
A US official says CIA Director Gina Haspel is in Turkey to review the case of slain Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi. The official was not authorized to discuss the trip and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Haspel’s visit comes a day after US President Donald Trump said he was not satisfied with Saudi Arabia’s explanation of Khashoggi’s death three weeks ago in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.
Saudi Arabia said he was killed in a fistfight, but Turkish officials said the 59-year-old Washington Post columnist was attacked and killed by a 15-man Saudi team.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he wants Saudi Arabia to allow 18 suspects that it detained for the journalist’s killing to be tried in Turkish courts.
Shas backs Yahav in tight Haifa mayoral race
The Shas ultra-Orthodox party says it will back Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav in upcoming municipal elections, as a battle for the helm of the country’s third largest city heats up, the Walla news site reports.
On Monday, the High Court reversed a decision to ban Einat Kalisch Rotem from running the race. Kalisch Rotem and fellow challenger David Etzioni have been polling neck and neck with Yahav in the race.
Shas sits in the current Haifa city council coalition headed by Yahav, who has been mayor of Haifa since 2003.
Most Israeli Jews still do not support relief for Gaza — poll
A survey by the Israeli Democracy Index finds that most Israeli Jews continue to not support providing humanitarian relief to the Gaza Strip.
According to the poll, 59 percent of Israeli Jews “think” or are “sure” Israel should not allow the entry of aid or alleviate a blockade on the enclave.
UN officials have warned that the Strip is on the verge of a major humanitarian disaster, with little electricity or clean water, and unemployment rampant. Israel has maintained a blockade on the Strip since the Hamas terror group took over, which it says is necessary to keep arms and material that could be used for building defense infrastructure from entering Gaza.
Israeli figures are also hoping pressure on Gaza will force Hamas to return the remains of two soldiers killed in 2014 and two civilians held in the Strip.
The number is the same as when IDI asked the same question in May. Arab Israelis unanimously support measures to alleviate the situation in the Strip.
Authorities say real bomb sent to Soros
A device found outside a suburban New York residential compound owned by liberal philanthropist George Soros “had the components” of an actual bomb, including explosive powder, a law enforcement official says.
“The components were there for an explosive device,” says the official on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to publicly discuss the continuing investigation. “It was not a hoax device.”
The official says the investigators were reviewing surveillance video to determine whether the package had been sent through the mail or otherwise delivered.
Saudi king, crown prince meet Khashoggi family
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have met with family members of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Riyadh, state media says.
The Saudi rulers met with Khashoggi’s son Salah and brother Sahel at the royal palace Tuesday, state-run news agency SPA reports.
The report says King Salman and Prince Mohammed offered their condolences to the family of the Saudi journalist.
Khashoggi — a Washington Post contributor and critic of the crown prince — was killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
MBS attends investment conference
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a Riyadh investment conference boycotted by a host of global business leaders and policymakers over the murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
An AFP journalist saw the crown prince at the Future Investment Initiative along with Jordan’s King Abdullah II. Sitting near the two royals was Saudi billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal.
Man believed to be Japanese journalist held hostage in Syria freed
Japan’s government says a man believed to be a Japanese freelance journalist who went missing three years ago while in Syria has been released and is now in Turkey.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga says Japan was informed by Qatar that the man, believed to be journalist Jumpei Yasuda, has been released.
Yasuda was last heard from in Syria in 2015.
Suga said Qatar’s government told Japanese officials that the man is being protected by the Turkish authorities and is being identified, and that he is most likely Yasuda.
Suga said he has notified Yasuda’s family of the news.
Yasuda started reporting on the Middle East in the early 2000s. He was taken hostage in Iraq in 2004 with three other Japanese, but was freed after Islamic clerics negotiated his release.
His most recent trip to Syria was in 2015 to report on his journalist friend Kenji Goto, who was taken hostage and killed by the Islamic State group.
Jerusalem sends city workers to clean Shuafat camp for first time ever
Jerusalem city hall says 15 municipal sanitation workers entered the Shuafat Palestinian refugee camp for the first time ever Tuesday to carry out trash removal and other cleaning services.
The move was ordered by outgoing Mayor Nir Barkat, who has outlawed the UN agency for Palestinian refugees from operating in the city and providing services to Palestinian residents.
According to the city, workers found hundreds of tons of untended garbage and construction waste. Workers will start entering the camp daily to take over what the city called UNRWA’s “inadequate services.”
It will also start to provide education, health, and other services to the area, to replace UNRWA.
While in the city limits, municipal workers, police, and others have refused in the past to enter the Shuafat camp and other neighborhoods beyond the West Bank security barrier, leading to charges of official neglect. Barkat, who has been mayor since 2008, blamed UNRWA, which has recently had its budget slashed by the US, for the shortfall in services.
The move comes a week before Jerusalem is set to choose a new mayor. Barkat, who visited Shuafat Tuesday, is not running for re-election and it is not clear if his successor will continue the services.
US announces sanctions on Iran over Taliban support
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says that the United States and six other Middle East countries are taking action to expose and disrupt terrorist activities being conducted by the Taliban and Iran to undermine the government of Afghanistan.
Mnuchin says the seven countries have designated nine individuals associated with the Taliban and their Iranian sponsors for sanctions. The seven nations make up the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center which has an operations center in Saudi Arabia.
Mnuchin met with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia on Monday after announcing last week that he would not attend an investment conference in Saudi Arabia following the death of a journalist in the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
The administration sees Saudi Arabia as a key ally in its sanctions campaign against Iran.
Pence says US to demand answers on journalist killing
US Vice President Mike Pence is vowing to press Saudi Arabia for answers over journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s “brutal murder” after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the killing inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate was meticulously planned.
“The world is watching. The American people want answers and we will demand that those answers are forthcoming,” Pence told an event at The Washington Post, where Khashoggi was a contributing opinion writer.
Erdogan, in his most extensive public remarks since Khashoggi’s disappearance upon entering the consulate on October 2, called on Saudi Arabia to extradite suspects to Turkey to face justice over the writer’s death.
“The word from President Erdogan this morning that this brutal murder was premeditated, pre-planned days in advance flies in the face of earlier assertions that had been made by the Saudi regime,” Pence said.
“It underscores the determination of our administration to find out what happened,” he said.
Erdogan promises Khashoggi family Turkey will get to bottom of killing
Erdogan has assured the family of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi that Ankara will do “everything” to solve the case of his murder, the Turkish presidency says.
Offering his condolences for his death in a telephone call, Erdogan tells Khashoggi’s son Abdullah Khashoggi and other family members that “Turkey… would do everything necessary to solve the murder,” a Turkish presidential source says.
PM to visit Albania, Bulgaria for Balkan meet, talks
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau’s office announced the prime minister will travel to Albania and Bulgaria to meet Balkan leaders early next month.
Netanyahu will take part in an unspecified regional summit in Albania on November 1, his office says.
He will spend the next two days in Bulgaria, where he will meet with the leaders of Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia.
The visit to Albania, a majority Muslim country with historically friendly ties with Israel, will seemingly be the highest-level trip by an Israeli to the country. In 1994, then-foreign minister Shimon Peres visited Tirana, and last year the city memorialized the trip with a plaque to the former statesman.
Netanyahu visited Bulgaria as prime minister in July 2011, about a year before a terrorist blew up a tourist bus full of Israelis there, killing five Israeli nationals and a local driver.
Knesset speaker urges reinstating nixed Western Wall agreement
Israel should make “greater efforts … to implement the Western Wall agreement,” Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein tells American Jewish leaders, referring to a deal to expand a pluralistic prayer area that has been canceled by the government.
The move “would make our holy site a true symbol of Jewish unity,” Edelstein tells the leaders from the Jewish Federations General Assembly, garnering a round of applause.
Netanyahu’s decision to cancel the deal under ultra-Orthodox pressure last year has led to a significant rift between his government and Diaspora Jewry.
But Edelstein says Diaspora Jews “need to do more” to help overcome the current crisis with Israel.
The Knesset speaker, at a dinner at the Israeli parliament, also says rumors of the death of Israeli democracy are greatly exaggerated, referring to criticism of certain laws recent passed in the Israeli parliament.
“Israeli democracy has been strong, is strong and will be even stronger. Nothing, no piece of legislation and no other move, will ever create second-class citizens in this country,” he says, presumably referring to the nation-state law.
“The Knesset is and will remains a beacon of democracy, and a commitment to this is shared by all factions on this parliament,” he says.
— Raphael Ahren
France preparing own peace plan if US won’t pull trigger — report
Israeli lawmakers have been told that France is likely putting together an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan and will release it if the US does not publish its own long-awaited draft after midterm elections, Israel’s Channel 10 news reports.
Foreign Ministry official Alon Ushpiz told lawmakers in a closed meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the diplomatic corps is “highly certain” of the French plans.
Macron has said he does not want to let the issue fall off the international agenda, according to the report.
Ushpiz also reportedly told lawmakers that things for Israel would likely change after midterm elections and they need to prepare.
On Monday, the same channel reported that US president Donald Trump had told Macron he could be tough on Netanyahu as he is against the Palestinians and he is beginning to question the Israeli leader’s commitment to reaching a peace deal.
Police work in Netanyahu probes done — report
Police work in criminal probes against Netanyahu have all been completed, Israel’s Hadashot news reports, quoting a senior legal source.
Investigators will now work on completing recommendations to the attorney general on whether to indict and under what charges in the three cases.
Police previously recommended charges in Case 1000, in which Netanyahu is suspected of taking expensive gifts, and Case 2000, in which he is suspected of attempting to reach a deal with a publisher to hobble a rival publication.
The police will amend those recommendations based on new evidence and also offer a recommendation in Case 4000, in which the prime minister is suspected of trading political favors for positive press coverage.
“This time we will surprise everyone,” the source reportedly said, referring to the speed in which the attorney general will complete his work on the cases and present his decision on whether to indict the prime minister.
The attorney general’s decision could come as early as Spring 2019, according to the channel.
The case is widely seen as influencing Netanyahu’s decision over whether to call new elections, which he is likely to seek before any indictment comes down. Elections are currently scheduled for November 2019.
Soros spokesperson blames toxic politics for bomb scare
Laura Silber, a spokeswoman for George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, says the country’s toxic political environment is to blame for a bomb sent to the liberal philanthropist’s home.
“The hateful rhetoric that dominates politics in the US and in so many countries around the world breeds extremism and violence,” she says in a statement. “In this climate of fear, falsehoods, and rising authoritarianism, just voicing your views can draw death threats.”
Silber says Soros is calling on “politicians across the political spectrum to tone down their rhetoric.”
“Words have consequences,” she says.
Six blazes started by suspected Gaza balloons — fire service
Since this morning, firefighters have worked to extinguish six blazes caused by incendiary balloons near Israeli towns along the Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Israeli Fire and Rescue Services says.
A picture shared on social media shows a boy riding a bike away from one blaze, near Kibbutz Miflasim in the border region.
אחרי אלפי תמונות, באה התמונה הזאת ועשתה לי משהו. הטירוף הזה חייב להיפסק. pic.twitter.com/RoXXLk75Y4
— המצליף???????? (@ShaiCohen13) October 23, 2018
— Jacob Magid
Yahoo to pay $50 million to millions of Israeli and US hacking victims
Yahoo has agreed to pay $50 million in damages and provide two years of free credit-monitoring services to about 200 million people in the US and Israel whose email addresses and other personal information were stolen as part of the biggest security breach in history.
The restitution hinges on federal court approval of a settlement filed late Monday in a 2-year-old lawsuit seeking to hold Yahoo accountable for digital burglaries that occurred in 2013 and 2014, but weren’t disclosed until 2016.
About 3 billion Yahoo accounts were hit by hackers that included some linked to Russia by the FBI. The settlement reached in a San Francisco court covers about 1 billion of those accounts held by an estimated 200 million people.
Yahoo is now owned by Verizon Communications.
Gazan teen killed during border clashes
Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry says a 17-year-old has died from wounds sustained during clashes with Israeli troops.
Muntaser al-Baz, 17, was shot by Israeli troops during a protest east of the Bureij refugee camp and died at the Shifa hospital in Gaza City, according to the ministry.
Five others were wounded during the unrest, according to the ministry.
There is no immediate comment from the Israeli military.
— Adam Rasgon
London court upholds terror conviction for imam
A US appeals court has upheld the conviction and life prison sentence given to a London imam for supporting terrorism.
The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals said Tuesday there was overwhelming evidence against Mustafa Kamel Mustafa.
The court also ruled that Mustafa’s 2012 extradition to the US from England didn’t come with conditions preventing his incarceration at the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.
Mustafa is missing both hands. His lawyers say he belongs at a prison better suited to people with disabilities.
Mustafa was convicted in 2014 of ensuring there were satellite communications for kidnappers during a 1998 attack that killed four tourists in Yemen, of supporting plans to open an al-Qaida training camp in Bly, Oregon, and sending someone to an Afghanistan training camp.