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Issachar family slams ‘inhumane’ decision to extradite Russian hacker

Justice minister’s decision to hand Alexey Burkov to US means his release can’t be used to help free Naama Issachar from Moscow prison

Naama Issachar and her mom Yaffa in a post to Issachar's Instagram page in July 2018.
Naama Issachar and her mom Yaffa in a post to Issachar's Instagram page in July 2018.

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

As protests grow, Iranian leader urges Iraqis, Lebanese to work within law

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urges Iraqis and Lebanese to seek their demands within the framework of the law after waves of protests rocked the two countries.

“The people of Iraq and Lebanon have some demands that are rightful, but they should know these demands can only be realized within the legal frameworks,” he says in remarks aired on state television.

“The enemy wants to disrupt the legal framework. When in a country there is no legal framework and a vacuum is created, no positive action can be taken,” he adds.

Khamenei accuses the United States and its allies of being behind the unrest.

The Americans and Western intelligence services “backed by the money of some reactionary countries in the region are causing turmoil… to destroy security,” he says.

“I seize this opportunity to tell those who care about Iraq and Lebanon to remedy insecurity as their priority,” Khamenei says, without elaborating.

“The biggest damage that enemies can inflict on a country is to deprive that country of security.”

Tehran has close but complicated relations with Baghdad, holding significant clout among its dominant Shiite political groups.

In Lebanon, the Islamic Republic is the main patron of Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite terror group that has ministers in the outgoing government.

— AFP

Bolton said to warn about Giuliani Ukraine role

WASHINGTON — A State Department foreign service officer will tell Congress that former Trump national security adviser John Bolton expressed caution about the role of Rudy Giuliani, US President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, as a go-between with Ukraine.

Christopher Anderson and Catherine Croft, another foreign service officer, are set to testify Wednesday in the House impeachment inquiry.

Anderson will tell lawmakers about a June meeting with Bolton in which Bolton said he supported increased White House engagement with the Ukraine government. But Anderson will say that Bolton also warned that Giuliani was a “key voice with the president on Ukraine” and that that could be an obstacle.

House Democrats are investigating Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter as Trump withheld military aid to the Eastern European nation. Giuliani was leading the push for the investigations.

— AP

Ex-Serb fighter gets 20 years for burning civilians

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — A court in Bosnia sentences a former Serb fighter to 20 years in prison for a wartime massacre of 57 Bosniak civilians who were locked in a house and burned alive, including two children.

The Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina convicts Radomir Susnjar of taking part in the killings in June 1992 in the eastern town of Visegrad.

The Serb paramilitary fighters in the town robbed the Bosniak civilians, who are mostly Muslim, before locking them all in one room and throwing in bombs while shooting those who tried to escape.

Thousands of Bosniak civilians were killed after Bosnian Serbs took control over much of eastern Bosnia early in the 1992-95 war. More than 100,000 people died in the conflict that left millions homeless.

— AP

Israel asks West to condition Lebanon aid on action against Hezbollah missiles

Israel is asking the US, France and several other European governments to condition aid to cash-strapped, protest-wracked Lebanon on the country taking action against Hezbollah’s arsenals of precision-guided missiles, Hebrew media is reporting.

Israel has characterized the Iran-backed terror group’s precision-missile production efforts, which could hit any target in Israel, as a strategic threat. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week warned that Iran was working to establish similar missile programs among its allies in Yemen, Iraq and Syria.

The protests that have brought Lebanon to a halt were sparked by government plans for a tax on texting via the WhatsApp app. As the protests grew, protesters’ goals expanded as well, calling on the governing elite to answer for rampant corruption and economic mismanagement. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri announced his resignation.

Jordan’s envoy to Israel returns to Amman amid spat over detainees

Jordan’s ambassador to Israel arrives in Amman, a Jordanian diplomatic source tells The Times of Israel.

The diplomatic source makes the remark less than a day after Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi announced that the Hashemite Kingdom had recalled Ghassan Majali for consultations to protest Israel’s ongoing detention of two of its nationals.

Israel detained Heba al-Labadi, 32, and Abdul Rahman Miri, 29, at the Allenby crossing in the Jordan Valley on August 20 and September 2, respectively. The Palestinian Authority Prisoners Affairs Commission has said that both of them are being held under administrative detention.

Administrative detention orders allow Israel to hold suspects in terrorism and national-security cases for months at a time without formal charges.

Earlier in October, Israel’s Shin Bet security service said that Labadi, who is of Palestinian descent, is being held “because of suspicion of her involvement in serious security violations,” without elaborating.

The Haaretz daily on Monday quoted Raslan Mahajna, Labadi’s lawyer, as saying that she is suspected of “meeting with persons identified” with the Hezbollah terror group in Beirut in trips in 2018 and 2019. According to the newspaper, Mahajna said that Labadi met once with an employee of the Hezbollah owned al-Nour radio station, while visiting her sister in the Lebanese capital.

— Adam Rasgon and AP

Turkish police detain 100 over Islamic State ties, warn of terror plots

ISTANBUL — Turkey’s police chief says 100 people have been detained in raids against the Islamic State throughout the country, adding the group was planning an attack.

Police Chief Mehmet Aktas says the suspects were detained in 26 raids across 21 provinces. They were allegedly preparing for a possible attack to coincide with Tuesday’s celebrations marking the 96th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic.

Turkey has stepped up security following IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death in a US military raid in Syria earlier this week. Police on Monday detained 20 foreign nationals suspected of IS links in a security sweep in Ankara.

Turkey was hit by a wave of attacks in 2015 and 2016 blamed on IS and Kurdish groups that killed over 300 people.

— AP

Lebanon’s president asks Hariri to head caretaker cabinet

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Lebanon’s president acknowledges the government’s resignation following almost two weeks of unprecedented protests but asks it to stay on until a new cabinet is formed.

Michel Aoun “asked the government to continue to conduct affairs until a new cabinet is formed,” his office says in a statement.

He says the measure follows the constitutional provision for cases in which the government steps down.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his cabinet’s resignation on Tuesday, the 13th day of a wave of protests triggered by a proposed tax on calls via free phone applications like Whatsapp.

Though that proposal was then scrapped, the demonstrations swelled into a broad cross-sectarian call for an end to a political system viewed as corrupt and inefficient.

Many of the country’s ruling elite hail from political parties or families that have been in power since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

It is unclear what a new government would look like and whether it would include independent technocrats as demanded by the demonstrators.

— AFP

Hariri said willing to return as Lebanon PM, if given power to implement reforms

Resigned Lebanese PM Saad aHariri is reportedly willing to return to the post — with some conditions, according to a source speaking to the Reuters news service today.

Hariri was asked today by Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun to stay on in a caretaker capacity, but may be willing to remain a full-fledged PM if his new cabinet “includes technocrats and [will] be capable of quickly implementing reforms needed to stave off economic collapse,” Reuters reports.

The agency explains Lebanon’s dire political situation:

“Hariri resigned after nearly two weeks of massive protests against the political elite, accused by demonstrators of overseeing rampant state corruption, saying he had hit a ‘dead end’ in trying to resolve the crisis.

“The senior official, who declined to be identified, said any new cabinet led by Hariri should be devoid of a group of top-tier politicians who were in the outgoing coalition government, without naming them.

“The outgoing cabinet comprised top representatives of most of Lebanon’s sectarian parties, among them foreign minister Gebran Bassil of the Christian Free Patriotic Movement who has been a prominent target of protesters. Bassil is a political ally of the powerful Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah, which had opposed the government’s resignation and has yet to comment on the resignation of Hariri, a long-time opponent of the group.”

FM Katz to ask Greece to join Israel in aiding Kurds

Foreign Minister Israel Katz begins a state visit to Greece, where he is slated to meet with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias.

According to Katz’s office, he will ask Athens to join in an Israeli initiative to offer humanitarian aid to the Kurds in northern Syria, who are facing a Turkish incursion into the country amid a withdrawal of US forces.

Informant who fingered IS leader likely to reap huge reward

WASHINGTON — An informant who provided crucial details on the movements of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State leader killed in a US commando raid, is likely to scoop up some or all of a $25 million reward, the Washington Post reports.

The Post says the informant was a well-placed Islamic State operative who facilitated Baghdadi’s movements around Syria and helped oversee the construction of his Syrian hideout.

US special operations commandos struck the hideout overnight Saturday, swooping in on helicopters and chasing the IS founder into a tunnel where he detonated a suicide vest, according to the US account of the raid.

The Post says the informant was at the scene as the raid unfolded, and was exfiltrated two days later with his family. The man, who was not identified, was likely to receive some or all of the $25 million reward the US had put on Baghdadi’s head, it says. Besides Baghdadi’s movements, the informant knew the room-by-room layout of Baghdadi’s final Syrian hideout, according to the Post.

The newspaper says the source, described by one official as a Sunni Arab who turned against IS after a relative was killed by the group, was cultivated by Kurdish intelligence.

The Kurds eventually turned control over him to the Americans, who spent weeks establishing his credibility before seizing an opportunity that came up in the past month to launch the raid, according to the Post.

— AFP

Democrats unveil plans for open impeachment hearings

WASHINGTON — House Democrats unveil plans to open up the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump with public hearings, after criticism from Republicans that the process has been overly secretive.

Democrats deny that they have been secretive, arguing that five weeks of closed hearings — in which Republican lawmakers participated — were necessary for evidence-gathering, ahead of the public portion of the inquiry into the accusation that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate a political rival.

On Tuesday, Democrats proposed legislation for the next stages of the process, giving Republicans the right to call their own witnesses and subpoena records.

The House Intelligence Committee will then govern the process of firming up evidence from testimony and documents, with both sides equally able to question witnesses in a public setting.

The third stage will see the evidence against Trump forwarded to the Judiciary Committee to draw up articles of impeachment, which would be voted on by the entire House. The Senate would then vote on whether to convict and remove Trump from office.

The rules give Trump and his lawyers their first opportunity to take a direct role and argue their case before the Judiciary Committee, calling for more testimony or evidence and cross-examining witnesses, the House Rules Committee says.

— AFP

Prosecutors ask court for Netanyahu aides’ phone data in witness harassment case

Prosecutors ask to retain a copy of the data on the phones of two top aides to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — his spokesman and campaign manager Ofer Golan and Likud spokesman Jonathan Urich — in a witness-harassment investigation against the two.

Golan and Urich are believed to be behind a van that was parked outside the home of former Communications Ministry director general Shlomo Filber that blasted accusations on a loudspeaker saying that his testimony as a state’s witness in the Case 4000 corruption probe into Netanyahu was false.

The prosecutors ask a court today to hand over as evidence in the case all correspondence contained in the phones from August 28 to 30 that might have bearing on the case.

Under pressure from US, Israel forms panel to examine foreign investments

Facing mounting pressure from the United States over growing Chinese investments in Israeli companies, especially in the technology sector, Israel’s security cabinet announces today the formation of a new advisory panel on foreign investments in the country.

The panel will be led by the Finance Ministry, but include members from the National Security Council and Defense Ministry, as well as observers from the foreign and economy ministries and the National Economic Council.

Its function, according to a Prime Minister’s Office statement, is to “help regulators to incorporate national security considerations in the process for approving foreign investments in the finance, communications, infrastructure, transportation and energy sectors.”

The US and China have been locked in an ongoing trade war and a contest for global influence, with US and other Western governments accusing the Chinese government of using its commercial ties for espionage and intellectual property theft on a mass scale. A 2018 national security strategy produced by US defense agencies pointed to China as America’s main developing strategic challenger on the world stage.

Israel has long been interested in improving ties with China, especially commercial ties, and has faced criticism from US officials for what Washington sees as insufficient safeguards to ensure burgeoning economic ties don’t leave Israel vulnerable to Chinese influence and cyber threats.

Government regulators examining new investments in Israeli companies will be able to “voluntarily” turn to the new committee as a streamlined way to consult with all relevant defense, economic and diplomatic bodies on an investment that raises concern.

US official predicts Islamic State will replace slain leader

WASHINGTON — A senior US counterterrorism official says he expects a new leader of the Islamic State will emerge following the killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a weekend raid.

Acting Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Russell Travers says the killing of the Islamic State leader by US forces in Syria on Saturday was a “significant” development.

But Travers warns that the group has a “deep bench” of leaders who could replace al-Baghdadi.

He issues the warning at a House hearing on global national security threats.

He tells members of Congress he doesn’t believe al-Baghdadi’s death will affect any attacks that were in the process of being planned by the group, which once controlled a large swath of territory across Syria and Iraq.

— AP

Jordanian diplomat visits detained national Heba al-Labadi

Jordan’s deputy ambassador to Israel, Mohammed Hamid, visits detained Jordanian national Heba al-Labadi, 32, at Israel’s Kishon Jail, amid escalating tensions between the two countries over her incarceration.

Israel detained al-Labadi and Abdul Rahman Miri, 29, at the Allenby crossing in the Jordan Valley on August 20 and September 2, respectively. Both of them are being held under administrative detention orders, which allow Israel to hold suspects in terrorism and national security cases for months at a time without formal charges.

On Tuesday evening, Jordan announced it was recalling its ambassador from Tel Aviv to protest the pair’s ongoing detention.

The Haaretz daily on Monday quoted Raslan Mahajna, Labadi’s lawyer, as saying that she is suspected of “meeting with persons identified” with the Hezbollah terror group in Beirut in trips in 2018 and 2019. According to the newspaper, Mahajna said that Labadi met once with an employee of the Hezbollah-owned al-Nour radio station, while visiting her sister in the Lebanese capital.

Labadi has been on a hunger strike for 37 days. Her health has recently deteriorated and she has been to a hospital in Haifa multiple times in the past week. Miri has suffered from cancer since 2010 and needs regular medical checkups, according to the PA Prisoners Affairs Commission.

An Israeli military court on Tuesday refused an appeal to release Miri.

US, Gulf allies sanction Hezbollah-Iran network

WASHINGTON — The United States and six Gulf allies announce sanctions on 25 entities associated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, in a move to tighten controls on both groups’ finances.

The sanctions are set by Riyadh-based Terrorist Financing Targeting Center, a two-year-old group that includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in addition to the United States.

They target companies supporting the Basij Resistance Force, a subordinate group of the Revolutionary Guard, that the US Treasury says are used “to oppress domestic opposition with brutal displays of violence” and supply fighters to regional conflicts.

Among the 25 is Iranian Bank Mellat and mining, manufacturing and investment firms that allegedly support the Basij.

Four of those listed are individuals running Hezbollah’s operations in Iraq, the Treasury says.

All 25 have previously been named in US Treasury sanctions announced in 2018.

“The TFTC’s coordinated disruption of the financial networks used by the Iranian regime to fund terrorism is a powerful demonstration of Gulf unity,” says US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement. “This action demonstrates the unified position of the Gulf nations and the United States that Iran will not be allowed to escalate its malign activity in the region,” says Mnuchin, addressing a business forum in Riyadh today.

— AFP

NATO demands Russia ‘withdraw all troops’ from Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine — NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg welcomes a pullback by the Ukrainian army and Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, but reiterates calls for Russia to “withdraw all their troops.”

Tuesday saw a long-awaited pullback between the two sides in a key area of the war-torn east.

The move was a precondition for the first face-to-face talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.

“We welcome all efforts to reduce tensions,” Stoltenberg says during a visit to the Ukrainian port city of Odessa. “But we know there is a long way to go because there are still ceasefire violations,” he says.

“NATO states very clearly that Russia has a special responsibility to… withdraw all their troops, all their officers” from eastern Ukraine, Stoltenberg adds.

Since coming to power in May, comedian-turned-president Zelensky has sought to revive a peace process to end a five-year-old separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine that has claimed some 13,000 lives. But those efforts have stalled as Kiev’s forces and the separatists have repeatedly failed to pull back troops from the frontline because of exchanges of gunfire.

— AFP

Pathologist says Epstein’s injuries point to murder, not suicide

NEW YORK — A forensic pathologist hired by Jeffrey Epstein’s brother says evidence suggests the disgraced financier had not died by suicide in his jail cell but had been murdered.

Michael Baden contradicted the official verdict of suicide by hanging given by officials in August, saying Epstein’s injuries were “more indicative of homicidal strangulation.”

“I think that the evidence points toward homicide rather than suicide,” Baden, a former New York City medical examiner who was present at the autopsy, tells Fox News.

He says multiple fractures found in Epstein’s neck — specifically the hyoid bone and thyroid cartilage — were “very unusual for suicide.”

Epstein was found dead in New York’s high-security Metropolitan Correctional Center on August 10 as he awaited trial on allegations that he trafficked girls as young as 14 for sex.

New York’s chief medical examiner Barbara Sampson ruled that he had killed himself, a verdict that has been disputed by Epstein’s lawyers and his brother Mark.

Sampson said Wednesday she and her office stand by their ruling. “The original medical investigation was thorough and complete. There is no reason for a second medical investigation by our office,” she says in an email to AFP in response to Baden’s assertion.

— AFP

Chief justice warns of ‘unprecedented’ attacks on justice system

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut slams attacks on the state prosecution and judiciary, saying “these are days unprecedented in our political history.”

“The politicization of the justice system could utterly undermine its foundations as an independent system,” she says.

This period “requires us all to stand strong and do our work without fear, with responsibility and good judgment.”

Hayut’s comments come a day after Justice Minister Amir Ohana, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, launched a scathing attack on state prosecutors in his ministry, accusing them of engaging in a blind persecution of public officials, including the prime minister, who they believed threatened their standing, all while being supported by a “cult” of fawning reporters.

Ohana was slammed on Tuesday by top officials, including Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and State Attorney Shai Nitzan, who said in a joint statement they “regret” his comments and “reject the attempt to cast aspersions on the work of police and prosecution officials without any factual basis.”

Damascus calls on Kurdish forces to join regime army, police

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria’s army and police call on Kurdish fighters and security forces in northeast Syria to join their ranks following a Turkish cross-border incursion, state media says.

The appeal comes after regime troops deployed along parts of Syria’s northeastern border in a deal with Kurdish authorities to help stave off the Turkish offensive, launched October 9.

It is the largest Syrian army deployment in the area since 2012.

A separate ceasefire agreement reached between Ankara and Damascus-backer Moscow last week provided for members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to withdraw from the border and solidified the presence of pro-government forces there.

“The general command of the armed forces is ready to welcome members of SDF units who are willing to join its ranks,” says a Syrian defense ministry statement carried by state news agency SANA. It says all Syrians, including the Kurdish minority, are confronting “one enemy.”

Syria’s interior ministry says it is willing to provide police services to residents of the northeast, calling on members of the Kurdish internal security services, known as Asayish, to join its ranks, SANA reports.

The Turkish military and its Syrian proxies attacked Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria in early October with the aim of creating a roughly 30-kilometer (20-mile) deep buffer zone along the frontier. Left in the lurch by a US troop withdrawal from the border area, Kurdish forces turned to the Syrian government for protection.

— AFP

Justice minister approves extradition of Russian hacker to US

Justice Minister Amir Ohana formally signs off on the extradition of computer hacker Alexey Burkov, a Russian national believed by Israeli officials to be linked to Russian intelligence, to the US.

Burkov is wanted in the US on embezzlement charges.

The decision follows “months” of consultations, the Justice Ministry says.

The decision dashes the hopes of the family of an Israeli woman imprisoned in Russia for a pardon in exchange for Israel’s release of Burkov.

Naama Issachar, 26, was arrested in April in Moscow after some 10 grams of marijuana were found in her bag during a stopover. She was flying from India to Israel, and at no point intended to exit the airport in Russia.

Earlier this month, she was sentenced by a Russian court to 7.5 years in prison for drug smuggling, a ruling that sparked an outcry in Israel.

Israeli officials reportedly believed Moscow was using Issachar, who also holds American citizenship, as leverage to ensure Burkov’s return to Russia.

Foreign minister praises new US and Gulf sanctions on Iran

Foreign Minister Israel Katz welcomes the US and Gulf states’ announcement of new sanctions against companies and individuals linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and the Hezbollah terror group.

“I welcome the decision of the US and the Persian Gulf states to impose additional sanctions on Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard,” Katz says on Twitter.

“This is the right way to fight Iran’s aggression,” he adds.

The US and six Gulf allies announced the new sanctions on 25 entities associated with the Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah in a move to tighten controls on both groups’ finances.

The sanctions are set by Riyadh-based Terrorist Financing Targeting Center, a two-year-old group that includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in addition to the United States.

They target companies supporting the Basij Resistance Force, a subordinate group of the Revolutionary Guard, that the US Treasury says are used “to oppress domestic opposition with brutal displays of violence” and supply fighters to regional conflicts.

— AFP contributed to this report.

Paralyzed by protests, Lebanon’s fiscal crisis worsens

BEIRUT — Lebanese banks have been closed for the last two weeks as the government grapples with mass demonstrations that have paralyzed the country, but an even greater crisis may set in when they reopen Friday.

There are concerns the government might not have enough foreign reserves to defend its flagging currency, service its massive debt, and maintain the import of vital goods, particularly if there’s a run on the banks.

Lebanon already was dealing with a severe fiscal crisis rooted in years of heavy borrowing and expensive patronage networks run by political parties.

A proposed tax on the WhatsApp messenger service, following an unpopular austerity package, sent hundreds of thousands into the streets starting October 17. They brought the country to a halt in hopes of pressuring the government to resign.

— AP

NY medical examiner dismisses doubts about Epstein autopsy

NEW YORK — The medical examiner who ruled Jeffrey Epstein’s death a suicide immediately pushes back against the suggestion by a longtime forensic pathologist hired by Epstein’s family that some of the evidence indicates homicide.

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Barbara Sampson says she stands “firmly” behind her findings in the August autopsy report, which ruled Epstein hanged himself and temporarily quelled much of the speculation surrounding the financier’s death.

Conspiracy theories about Epstein’s death were reignited after Dr. Michael Baden, who was in the room for Epstein’s autopsy and has been called as an expert witness in high-profile cases, spoke about it in an interview Wednesday on the TV program “Fox & Friends.” Baden’s comments suggest Epstein’s family might contest the autopsy results in future legal proceedings.

Epstein was found dead August 10 in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center with a bedsheet around his neck. He’d been held there since his July arrest on federal sex trafficking charges.

— AP

Issachar family slams ‘inhumane’ decision to extradite Russian hacker

The family of 26-year-old Israeli woman Naama Issachar, who was arrested in April in Moscow after some 10 grams of marijuana were found in her bag during a stopover, slams Justice Minister Amir Ohana for ordering the extradition to the US of a Russian hacker seen as a potential bargaining chip for Issachar’s freedom.

Issachar was arrested at a Moscow airport. She was flying from India to Israel, and at no point intended to exit the airport in Russia. Earlier this month, she was sentenced by a Russian court to 7.5 years in prison for drug smuggling, a ruling that sparked an outcry in Israel.

Ohana formally signed off on the extradition of computer hacker Alexey Burkov, a Russian national believed by Israeli officials to be linked to Russian intelligence, to the US. Burkov is wanted there on embezzlement charges.

Calling Ohana’s move “immoral and inhumane,” a family spokesperson says, “only yesterday, the minister said it was Israel’s duty to bring about Naama’s release, and unfortunately he has acted in a way that contradicts his statement.”

The family adds: “Every day the Russians make Naama’s prison conditions more difficult, and it is Israel’s responsibility to extricate her from that nightmare.”

French far-rightist, 84, charged in mosque shooting

BAYONNE, France — An octogenarian accused of wounding two men in a shooting at a mosque in southern France has been charged and ordered held in detention, the prosecutor’s office says.

Claude Sinke, who stood as a candidate for the far-right National Rally in 2015 regional elections, tried to set fire to a mosque in Bayonne in the southwest on Monday, and shot two men, aged 74 and 78, who came out to investigate.

On Tuesday, investigators said the 84-year-old had wanted to avenge the burning of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris in April, which he blamed on Muslims.

They said there were questions about his mental health.

The prosecutor’s office says in a statement that Sinke, who risks life imprisonment, is now being held on attempted murder, arson, and gun violence charges. Being charged does not necessarily mean a suspect will go to trial.

Monday’s attack further unsettled France, already engulfed in a sometimes bitter debate about the observance of Islam in the secular country.

The shooting came just hours after President Emmanuel Macron had urged Muslims to step up the fight against what he called Islamic “separatism.”

Investigators have said the Notre Dame fire was an accident. There has never been any suggestion of arson.

Sinke was put through two days of psychological tests to determine whether he understood what he had done and can be put on trial for acting with intent.

He has admitted the crimes, investigators say.

His victims, one of whom was hit in the neck and the other in the chest, were in a stable condition in hospital, local authorities said Tuesday.

— AFP

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