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Mahmoud Abbas decries Israel’s advancement of new settlement homes

Palestinian Authority chief says Israeli plans to build some 3,000 housing units in West Bank ‘convey disdain’ for US efforts

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah, on May 5, 2020. (Flash90)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah, on May 5, 2020. (Flash90)

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

PM, health minister agree to ditch cap on outdoor events as COVID cases plummet

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz have agreed to scrap coronavirus limits on outdoor gatherings, a statement from the premier’s office says.

The Prime Minister’s Office says the cap of 5,000 people at outdoor events will be lifted, with no further limits on capacity.

Gatherings will still have to operate under Green Pass rules requiring people to present proof of immunity or a negative COVID-19 test to enter.

The move comes as Israel exits its fourth major coronavirus wave, with morbidity figures plummeting over the past month.

Health chief meets head of Germany’s Social Democrats, tapped to form next gov’t

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz meets with German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, the candidate to be Germany’s next chancellor, as he visits Berlin.

“One of the important changes that are making in this government is the rehabilitation of ties with Europe, which were harmed in recent years,” Horowitz tweets after their meeting. “Anyone who supports a two-state solution with the Palestinians isn’t a hostile element. The exact opposite. Germany and Scholz are true friends.”

Scholz heads the Social Democrats (SPD), who picked up the most seats in parliament elections last month. The SPD is currently holding talks with the Greens and Free Democrats on forming a government that will see longtime German leader Angela Merkel replaced as chancellor.

In recordings, Shaked lashes out at coalition partners Lapid, Gantz

In recordings aired by Channel 12 news, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, a close political ally of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, lashes out at their coalition partners amid recent tensions.

The network says the comments by Shaked, the No. 2 in Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party, were recorded in recent days. It was not specified with whom she was speaking or in what context, or whether she was aware she was being recorded.

Shaked can be heard calling Foreign Minister Yair Lapid “shallow” and claiming Bennett is constantly having to sweep up after him.

“Every week Lapid does a ‘terror attack’ and Naftali comes to the rescue. Every week, and no one knows,” she says.

“He did this like three times — with the Jordanians, with the Americans and with… and Naftali came to the rescue, unequivocally,” Shaked adds.

It was not clear what she was referring to, and Shaked herself said the incidents were kept under wraps, according to the TV report.

(From left to right) Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on August 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

She also takes swipes at Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who she says is “even worse than Lapid.”

The network also quotes Shaked on the rotation agreement that will see Lapid take over as premier in 2023, but doesn’t air a recording of those remarks.

“I have no comment about that. I don’t know what will be. It depends if there’s a crisis or not. We’ll see,” she reportedly said.

Greece’s top court bars ritual slaughter, after recent EU ruling upholding bans

The highest court in Greece has ruled against allowing ritual slaughter, fulfilling fears that some Jewish leaders voiced last year after the European Union’s top court ruled in support of such bans.

Last December, the EU’s highest court upheld the bans imposed in regions of Belgium against slaughtering animals for meat without stunning them first. The ruling meant that slaughter in accordance with Jewish law, which requires animals be conscious when their necks are cut, would be prohibited in those regions, as it is in some other parts of Europe.

Greece’s top court doesn’t cite that ruling in its decision on a petition filed by the Panhellenic Animal Welfare and Environmental Federation, according to the Greek news site Protothema. But Jewish watchdogs who have been monitoring bans on ritual slaughter across the European continent say the connection is undeniable.

“We warned in December about the downstream consequences that the European Court of Justice ruling carried with it, and now we see the outcome,” says Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chairman of the European Jewish Association. “Jewish freedom of religion is under direct attack. It started in Belgium, moved to Poland and Cyprus and now it is Greece’s turn.”

The Greek court says there should be ways to meet the demands of animal rights advocates and the needs of Jews and Muslims who follow the laws about food in their traditions.

“The government should regulate the issue of slaughtering animals in the context of worship in such a way as to ensure both the protection of animals from any inconvenience during slaughter and the religious freedom of religious Muslims and Jews living in Greece,” the court says, according to Protothema.

Lebanese man severely wounded in Beirut port explosion dies

BEIRUT — A Lebanese man who was critically injured in the massive explosion at Beirut’s port last year died Wednesday nearly 15 months after the blast, his cousin says.

Abbas Mazloum was at work at a restaurant near the port when the blast occurred in August last year, throwing him into a wall. He suffered severe injuries to his spine and a head wound that required 45 stitches.

The 45-year-old father of five had been paralyzed and mostly bed-ridden since the blast. Last month, he underwent a back operation and more recently he got sick and developed a fever. That led to his death this morning in his hometown of Brital in eastern Lebanon, his cousin Noura Mazloum tells The Associated Press.

“His immunity had become so weak since the explosion,” Mazloum says, adding that her cousin was laid to rest in Brital’s cemetery Wednesday afternoon.

Mazloum’s death brings to at least 216 the number of people killed by the blast, according to official records. The explosion also injured some 6,000 people, many of them from broken glass, flying objects and debris.

On August 4, 2020, hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used in fertilizers, ignited after a massive fire at the port. It later emerged that the nitrate had been improperly stored in a port warehouse for years, and that senior political and security officials knew of its existence and did nothing about it.

More than a year later, no one has been held to account for the explosion. The lead judge investigating the blast had to suspend his work in the case at least three times so far, amid legal challenges from politicians and a growing campaign by Lebanon’s political class against him.

WHO says it’s keeping close eye on Delta subvariant

GENEVA — The WHO says it’s closely tracking a Delta subvariant to determine whether it is more transmissible than the original strain, as COVID-19 cases rise globally again.

It is also examining whether people are more resistant to the particular subvariant, called AY.4.2, which has been detected in at least 42 countries.

“An increase in AY.4.2 sequence submissions has been observed since July,” the World Health Organization says in its weekly epidemiological update.

“Epidemiological and laboratory studies are ongoing” to see if there was a change in transmissibility of the variant, or a decrease in the ability of human antibodies to block the virus, says the WHO.

The lineage has three additional mutations compared to the original Delta variant, including two in the spike protein — the part of the virus which latches on to human cells.

Some 93 percent of all detected cases of the subvariant were in Britain, according to data uploaded to the GISAID global science initiative.

The lineage accounted for an estimated 5.9 percent of all Delta cases reported in Britain in the week beginning October 3.

US judge rules key document in Prince Andrew suit can remain secret

NEW YORK — A 2008 settlement agreement that a lawyer for Prince Andrew says would protect him against claims that he sexually abused an American when she was 17 can remain secret, a New York judge rules today.

US District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan makes the ruling in a brief order released a day after Andrew’s lawyer asked that the document remain sealed when he files arguments explaining why he thinks the judge should throw out the lawsuit. Attorney Andrew Brettler said he wanted to include a copy of the agreement with the arguments.

In the August lawsuit, Virginia Giuffre claims that the prince abused her on multiple occasions in 2001. Andrew has said he never had sex with her.

Brettler, who has called the lawsuit “baseless,” said neither the prince nor Giuffre contend that the release agreement must remain sealed, but they requested that it stay secret because it is subject to a protective order from another judge presiding over a federal civil action in New York.

The settlement agreement was reached between Giuffre and Jeffrey Epstein, who was found dead at age 66 in his cell in 2019 while awaiting a sex trafficking trial at a New York federal jail. His death was ruled a suicide.

In today’s order, Kaplan notes that the Estate of Jeffrey Epstein also doesn’t contend that the settlement agreement must remain sealed.

Kaplan seemed to urge the parties to ask the judge in the other case — Loretta A. Preska — to agree that the document can be unsealed, saying Preska “might well view with favor an application … to permit the public disclosure of the Settlement Agreement.”

“But that is for her to say,” he writes, ruling that the agreement can be filed under seal and remain so unless Preska and Kaplan decide otherwise.

In yesterday’s filing, Brettler said the agreement “releases Prince Andrew and others from any purported liability arising from the claims Ms. Giuffre asserted against Prince Andrew here.”

A hearing in the Prince Andrew lawsuit is scheduled for next week.

The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they choose to come forward publicly, as Giuffre has done.

Dutch court convicts Iranian refugee on terror charges

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A court in the Netherlands convicts an Iranian refugee of preparing and financing terror attacks in his homeland targeting the Iranian government and its supporters. The 42-year-old man is sentenced to four years imprisonment.

The man, whose identity is not released in line with Dutch privacy rules, is linked to the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz, a separatist group in the oil-rich Ahwaz region of southern Iran.

The man is from Ahwaz, but he was tried in Rotterdam District Court because he has lived in the Netherlands since being granted residency as a refugee.

The court says in a statement that the defendant was in contact with separatists who planned and carried out attacks in Iran, including torching banks, but also targeting people linked to the Iranian government. He discussed possible targets, offered financial support and urged separatists to make video recordings of attacks, the written judgment says.

Through his actions, “the suspect played an important role in a criminal and terrorist organization whose goal was to support attacks in Iran,” the court says.

Prosecutors sought a six-year prison sentence, but judges say they gave a lower sentence because of the man’s personal history, which he said included being imprisoned and tortured in Iran.

Kosovo sanctions 7 businessmen, company for Hezbollah links

PRISTINA, Kosovo — Kosovo sanctions seven local businessmen and a company for links with Lebanon’s terror group Hezbollah.

The decision is in line with sanctions the US imposed on Hezbollah, a powerful Shiite faction that holds seats in Lebanon’s parliament.

A statement says that seven people and the AID Properties company had their assets frozen. The seven can neither leave the country nor receive money from other individuals or companies from Kosovo.

Neither Lebanon nor the Palestinians recognize Kosovo’s 2008 independence.

Kosovo established diplomatic ties with Israel earlier this year following a Kosovo-Serbia summit held at the White House in September 2020. A month later it opened its embassy in Jerusalem, the first European country and a Muslim-majority one to do that, following the US and Guatemala. Most international embassies are in Tel Aviv.

Mahmoud Abbas: Israeli settlement construction plans ‘convey disdain’ for US efforts

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemns the Israeli decision to advance some 3,000 new housing units in Israeli West Bank settlements.

“These unilateral measures would destroy what remains of the two-state solution, are in defiance of [United Nations] Security Council resolutions and convey disdain for the efforts of the US administration,” Abbas’s office says in a statement.

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator says talks will resume ‘before end of November’

BRUSSELS — Iran has agreed to resume talks next month with world powers over its nuclear deal, the country’s deputy foreign minister says Wednesday, after talks with EU mediators in Brussels.

“We agree to start negotiations before the end of November. Exact date would be announced in the course of the next week,” Ali Bagheri, who also serves as Tehran’s chief negotiator, writes on Twitter.

World Bank suspends aid to Sudan following military takeover

WASHINGTON — The World Bank says it has suspended aid to Sudan following the military takeover that deposed the prime minister.

“I am greatly concerned by recent events in Sudan, and I fear the dramatic impact this can have on the country’s social and economic recovery and development,” World Bank President David Malpass says in a statement.

It’s the latest blow to the impoverished African nation that had just won its way back into good standing with major Washington-based development lenders after years in the wilderness.

The military on Monday seized Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and briefly detained him in the coup that came just over two years into a precarious power-sharing arrangement between the military and civilians after the army ousted longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April 2019.

The World Bank “paused disbursements in all of its operations in Sudan on Monday and it has stopped processing any new operations as we closely monitor and assess the situation,” Malpass says.

The United States also suspended aid to the country.

“We hope that peace and the integrity of the transition process will be restored, so that Sudan can restart its path of economic development and can take its rightful place in the international financial community,” Malpass says.

Gantz’s Blue and White hits back at Labor after settlements approval criticism

Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party fires back at the Labor party after the fellow coalition faction criticized him over the approval of plans for new West Bank settlement homes.

“Someone who calls for refusal to enlist shouldn’t preach about diplomatic and security responsibility,” Blue and White writes on Twitter.

The tweet apparently refers to comments that Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, who heads Labor, made about the efforts to free captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit during an Army Radio broadcast in 2010, when she was still a journalist.

“I don’t think that women need to send their kids to the army. When the government in Israel doesn’t make efforts… they need to stop being ready to send their kids to the army without consideration,” she said at the time.

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev of the Labor party quickly responds to Blue and White.

“No one in Blue and White will preach to me, or us, about diplomatic and security responsibility,” he says.

Saudi-led coalition says 105 Iran-backed rebels killed around Yemen’s Marib

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — The Saudi-led military coalition backing the government in Yemen says that 105 Houthi rebels were killed in airstrikes around the strategic city of Marib.

That brings to more than 1,800 the number of Houthis the coalition says it has killed around Marib in strikes it has reported almost daily since October 11. The Iran-backed rebels rarely comment on losses, and AFP can’t independently verify the toll.

“Thirteen military vehicles were destroyed and 105” insurgents were killed in strikes in the past 24 hours in Al-Jawba, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Marib, and Al-Kassara, 30 kilometers northwest, the coalition says, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

Lebanese shepherd crosses border, arrested in ambush — IDF

IDF troops have detained a Lebanese shepherd who crossed the border into Israel, the military says.

The shepherd was detained in a “planned ambush” near the Hasbani River and taken for questioning, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Coalition’s Labor, Meretz bash Gantz over advancement of new settler houses

The coalition’s left-wing factions denounce the approval of plans for some 3,000 new homes in West Bank settlements.

“Someone who makes diplomatic declarations with international implications in an irresponsible manner, without coordination or preparation, and approves 3,000 new housing units in Judea and Samaria is, how should we say it, no Rabin,” the Labor party writes on its Twitter account, in a swipe at Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Meretz MK Mossi Raz also goes after Gantz. The planning committee that okayed the building plans is under the aegis of the Defense Ministry.

“I hope he will show responsibility and stop this destructive building and the series of populist decisions that harm the government and the State of Israel,” Raz says, referring to a number of recent moves relating to the Palestinians that have been denounced by Meretz.

Germany calls for ‘further information’ from Israel on blacklisting of Palestinian groups

BERLIN — The German government says it’s “very concerned” by Israel’s designation of six leading Palestinian civil society groups as outlawed terrorist organizations, in a move also criticized by the UN.

The Jewish state says its decision last week was due to their alleged financing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

It accuses the six of working covertly with the leftist terror group, which pioneered plane hijackings in the 1970s to highlight the Palestinian cause and is blacklisted by several Western governments.

“We are very concerned by the Israeli decision,” a German foreign ministry spokeswoman tells reporters, saying that the groups’ placement on a terror list will have “broad political, legal and financial implications” for them.

The German government routinely conducts “reviews of accusations and indications of connections of possible partners to terrorist organizations,” she adds.

“We are waiting for further information from the Israeli government” on its justification for the move, the spokeswoman says.

The UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet yesterday called the Israeli decision an attack on freedoms of association, opinion and expression and on the right to public participation.

Planning c’tee okays plans for some 3,000 new West Bank settlement homes

The Defense Ministry’s higher planning council, which authorizes West Bank construction, approves plans for some 3,000 new settler homes.

The approval of the new housing units comes amid protests against the construction plans by the Biden administration, EU and others.

The anti-settlement group Peace Now denounces the government over the approvals.

“A government that violates the commitment to the status quo and advances damaging construction in settlements is not a change government but a full-on right-wing government. The supporters of a two-state solution in the government have fallen asleep on duty,” Peace Now says.

Bennett cheers Knesset panel’s approval of kosher reform bill for final votes

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett cheers a Knesset committee’s approval of a kosher reform bill ahead of its final plenum votes.

The bill is backed by Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahane, a member of Bennett’s Yamina party, who the premier hails for having “withstood the pressures” against the proposal.

“The result: An important and necessary move for restaurateurs, importers, the economy and all Israeli citizens,” Bennett says in a statement.

Foreign Ministry workers’ union declares labor dispute against management

The Foreign Ministry workers’ union declares that it is beginning a labor dispute today against the ministry’s management in search of better compensation and benefits.

“We will lead this justified struggle with determination, until it succeeds,” the workers’ union says in a statement.

A union spokesperson tells The Times of Israel that they will disrupt the work of any committees that harm the interests of employees, such as the promotion committee. Workers are also told not to work any overtime hours at all if they are not paid for them.

The union began hanging signs outside of Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s office and disrupted the meeting of the promotions committee last week.

In call with Gantz, Blinken said to protest ‘unacceptable’ plans for new settler homes

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Minister Benny Gantz held a tense phone call yesterday on Israel’s advancement of plans to build a few thousand new settlement homes, according to Walla news site.

The report, which cited three unnamed Israeli officials familiar with the call, says Blinken phoned Gantz and told him the construction plans are “unacceptable,” citing both the number of housing units set to be approved and their locations in the West Bank.

The top US diplomat, who is the most senior Biden administration official to protest the Israeli plans, reportedly asked Gantz to consider the American opinion on settlements in the future.

Gantz responded that he tried to reduce the number of units as much as possible and said he understood the US sensitivities on the matter and would take them into account, according to the report.

The defense chief is said to have also highlighted plans to approve 1,300 new Palestinian homes and griped that he has taken flak for meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and approved family reunifications.

“The Americans gave us a yellow card,” a senior Israeli official is quoted as saying.

EgyptAir: Moscow-bound flight returned to Cairo after threatening message found

CAIRO — A Moscow-bound EgyptAir flight returned to the Egyptian capital shortly after takeoff today due to a threatening message found onboard, authorities say.

A statement by Egypt’s flagship airliner says flight MS728 has returned safely to Cairo International Airport some 22 minutes after takeoff. The flight was heading to the Russian capital, it says.

Citing an unnamed official, the statement says the written message was found on a seat of the Airbus A220-300. It doesn’t elaborate on the content of the message.

All flights between Moscow and Cairo were suspended for two and a half years after the local branch of the Islamic State group downed a plane over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in October 2015, shortly after the aircraft took off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The flights between the two capitals were resumed in April 2018 after Egypt beefed up security at Cairo’s international airport. But Russia only allowed resumption of flights between its territory and Sinai’s Red Sea resorts in August, after a nearly six-year hiatus.

Warsaw court bans far-right march; nationalists plan to appeal

WARSAW, Poland — A Polish court upholds the Warsaw mayor’s ban on an annual march organized by nationalists on Poland’s Independence Day, but organizers pledge to appeal the ruling and insist the march will go ahead as planned.

The November 11 march has attracted large numbers of participants in recent years, underlining the rising support for the far right in Poland and elsewhere. Nationalists from other countries also travel to Warsaw to take part, while organizers have received funding and other support from the right-wing Polish government.

Konstanty Radziwill, the governor of the region where Warsaw is located and a member of the ruling Law and Justice party, approved the march last week. But Warsaw’s District Court rules today in favor of an appeal by Rafal Trzaskowski, the liberal mayor of the capital, who sought to ban this year’s march following violence a year ago.

Independence March organization head Robert Bakiewicz calls the ruling “shameful” and says his organization will appeal and “the march will take place.”

The November 11 national holiday marks when Poland regained its sovereignty after World War I.

It’s only in recent years that nationalist groups have turned out in large numbers to overshadow commemorations with marches that have turned violent at times. Some participants have voiced white supremacist and antisemitic ideas in the past.

Sudanese security forces move to break up anti-coup protests

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Sudanese security forces launch sweeping arrests of anti-coup protesters today, in a bid to end three days of demonstrations against a military takeover that has sparked widespread international condemnation.

Armed forces deploy in large numbers after overnight protests saw clashes in the capital Khartoum, with officers firing tear gas and arresting several leading pro-democracy activists, including from Sudan’s largest political party, the Umma Party.

“Police forces have removed all the barricades since Wednesday morning and arrested all the people who stood near them,” says Hady Bashir, a protester, after AFP correspondents saw security forces clear rocks and tires blocking major streets in Khartoum.

Since top General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on Monday ordered the dissolution of the government and declared a state of emergency, thousands of citizens have maintained protests, chanting “No to military rule.”

Shops have remained closed following calls for a campaign of civil disobedience, as pro-democracy movements ratcheted up calls for “million-strong protests” on Saturday.

Lebanese Christian leader skips court summons over Beirut shootout

BEIRUT — Prominent Lebanese Christian leader Samir Geagea fails show up today for a military court summons over his role in a deadly flare-up earlier this month in Beirut.

Simultaneously, hundreds of flag-waving supporters of the Lebanese Forces (LF) leader gather in front of the ex-warlord’s home in his mountain bastion and march in a show of support.

Geagea had warned last week he would ignore the summons if his bitter rival, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, were not called in for questioning too.

Seven people were killed in street fighting two weeks ago, following a rally organized by Hezbollah and its allies against the judge investigating last year’s deadly blast at Beirut port.

Hezbollah accuses the FL of firing the first shots in the October 14 violence. Geagea denied any involvement and claimed that his summons had no legal grounding.

The army was tasked with investigating the unrest, which took place in central Beirut and over which 18 people were detained.

Geagea is the only warlord from the 1975-1990 civil war to have served jail time, and Nasrallah the only one whose terror group kept its arsenal after the conflict.

Israel cancels festival at French-linked site in East Jerusalem, alleging PA sponsorship

Israel has canceled a cultural festival at a French-protected site in East Jerusalem, claiming it was sponsored by the Palestinian Authority without Israeli permission, which organizers deny.

The scheduled three-day festival at Abraham’s House for religious pilgrims, with performances by Palestinian arts groups, was supported by the United Nations Development Program, Finland and Austria.

Abraham’s House manager Bernard Thibaud tells AFP that performances had already begun for children yesterday when police arrived and shut it down, adding that he was “shocked and ashamed” by the cancellation.

The French consul general in Jerusalem as well as the consulate’s religious affairs advisor had also already visited the festival, diplomatic sources tell AFP.

In the cancellation order, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev wrote the event was being held “with sponsorship and funding of the Palestinian Authority, and this is without written permission.”

Police who came to the venue wore plain clothes and traveled in unmarked cars, the diplomatic sources say.

Abraham’s House is managed by a religious charity, Secours Catholique-Caritas France. It is under the protection of the French Consulate in Jerusalem, similar to the Church of Sainte-Anne in the Old City, which French President Emmanuel Macron visited last year.

Israel prohibits official Palestinian activity in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians hope to establish the capital of their future state.

Haredi party denounces ‘wicked’ coalition after kosher reform bill okayed for final votes

The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party rails against the “wicked” coalition after a Knesset committee approved a bill to overhaul kosher certification, sending it on for the final votes it must pass to become law.

In a statement, UTJ denounces the bill as a “complete moral collapse” and accuses the coalition of acting against “tradition and those who observe kashrut in Israel.”

Planning c’tee meets to approve more new settlement homes

A committee convenes today to approve 2,800 new Israeli settler homes in the West Bank, a day after the Biden administration issued its strongest condemnation yet of Israeli settlement construction.

The Defense Ministry’s higher planning council, which authorizes West Bank construction, is meeting to authorize the housing units, with more than half of them getting final approval before building starts. The start of the meeting is confirmed by the Israeli defense body COGAT.

Approval of the new construction is bound to raise friction with the United States and Europe, anger the Palestinians and test Israel’s fragile governing coalition, made up of right-wing, centrist and dovish parties that oppose settlements.

Yesterday, the US State Department said that it was “deeply concerned” about Israel’s plans to advance new settlement homes, including many deep inside the West Bank.

The committee is also supposed to approve 1,600 housing units for Palestinians who live in areas of the West Bank that are under Israeli control, outside the enclaves administered by the Palestinian Authority. Palestinians and rights groups say those homes are a small fraction of demand.

Iran struggles to reopen gas stations after cyberattack

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran struggles to restart its gas distribution system after it was hit by an unprecedented cyber-attack which security officials say was launched from abroad.

The unclaimed attack crippled the country’s system of government-issued electronic cards which motorists use to purchase heavily subsidized fuel.

Long lines have formed outside gas stations, angering drivers in a country already suffering under tough economic sanctions over its nuclear dispute with major powers.

“Guys, can you tell me where we can get gasoline in the east, northeast or even north of Tehran?” one user asks on Twitter.

Of Iran’s 4,300 gas stations connected to the system, only 220 had been reconnected, Fatemeh Kahi, a spokeswoman for the National Oil Products Distribution Company, tells the official IRNA news agency today.

However, she adds, “nearly 3,000 stations can distribute fuel offline, but at the open price” — the rate consumers must pay once they have used up their monthly allowance of subsidized fuel.

The conservative Fars news agency linked the breakdown to opponents ahead of the second anniversary of deadly protests sparked by a hike in gas prices.

Fars reported yesterday that “a campaign carried out by counter-revolutionary media” ahead of the November 15, 2019, anniversary “reinforces the possibility of a cyber attack.”

On that date two years ago the announcement of a sudden increase in fuel prices triggered protests in dozens of locations across the country. It was Iran’s most vocal eruption of public dissent in a decade.

Knesset panel okays kosher reform bill, clearing it for final votes

The Knesset’s Jewish Religious Services Committee approves a bill to reform the kosher certification industry, clearing it for the final votes it must pass to become law.

The proposal, which calls for the establishment of a series of private kosher certification agencies that will be required to uphold religious standards established by the Chief Rabbinate, must now clear its second and third plenum readings.

“We broke the monopoly, opened up kosher [certification] to healthy competition and proved that no one has exclusivity over religion,” Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovsky, who chairs the committee, tweets after the bill is approved.

A group of kashrut supervisors protest in Tel Aviv against Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahane, who backs the proposed legislation.

“The reform of kashrut is the destruction of kashrut,” one sign at the protest reads.

The proposed law is opposed by the Chief Rabbinate, which has long resisted any reforms to its monopoly and has sought to quash private competing agencies.

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