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

Meeting Merkel, Rivlin says Germany shouldn’t try to avoid US sanctions on Iran

President Reuven Rivlin welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel by hailing her staunch support of Israel and her fight against anti-Semitism. At a speech ahead of a lunch at his official Jerusalem residence, he also calls on Berlin to join US sanctions against Iran and to stop looking for ways to circumvent them.

“From our point of view, now is the time to join the effective sanctions on Iran and not to circumvent them,” Rivlin says. “The Iranian beast must be starved and not fed. This is the only way to guarantee the stability of the world.”

Rivlin also attacks the far-right Alternative for Germany party, saying that it is impossible to both love Israel and hate the Jews.

“We won’t be confused,” he says.

“The lesson of history is this: we must show zero tolerance for anti-Semitism and racism. Zero tolerance. Wherever there is fruitful ground for such a thing, we need to uproot these terrible threats, as you all know,” he tells Merkel and her delegation, as well as some two dozen Israeli guests invited for lunch, including writers A.B. Yehoshua, Meir Shalev and four Israeli Nobel laureates.

Rivlin also subtly criticizes the recently passed nation-state law, telling Merkel that Israel’s Declaration of Independence calls for full civil and political rights for all its citizens.

— Raphael Ahren

Palestinian throws knife at Israeli soldier on West Bank highway

A Palestinian teen throws a knife at an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint along a West Bank highway on Thursday, causing no injury, the army says.

The suspect flees the scene, prompting a manhunt by Israeli forces in the area.

“A Palestinian minor took out a knife and threw it at an IDF soldier at a checkpoint near the Route 443 highway. There were no injuries,” the army says.

Route 443 is one of two main highways that connect Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and runs through portions of the West Bank.

— Judah Ari Gross

Merkel calls for Palestinian state alongside a ‘Jewish state of Israel’

Speaking right after Rivlin, the German chancellor reiterates the “everlasting commitment” Germany has to Israel after the Holocaust.

Regarding Iran, she says that Berlin and Jerusalem pursue the same goal, which is preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The two countries may disagree on the best way to achieve that goal, Merkel says, but will continue discussing it in a friendly and constructive manner.

Merkel also reiterates her support for a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state next to a “Jewish state of Israel.”

She also hails Israel as the “only democracy in the region” and stresses that Germany will continue to speak up on Israel’s behalf within the European Union and other international forums.

— Raphael Ahren

Khamenei vows to ‘slap’ US, dismisses impact of sanctions

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s supreme leader says the Islamic Republic will “slap” the United States by defeating new American sanctions targeting the nation.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei makes the comments in a speech in Tehran before thousands of members of the Basij, an all-volunteer force under the paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Khamenei says he heard US President Donald Trump tell European leaders that the Islamic Republic would collapse in the coming months over American sanctions, something he dismisses. The sanctions have hurt Iran’s already ailing economy and have fueled the depreciation of its rial currency.

Khamenei also warns that media controlled by foreign enemies could be as dangerous as “chemical weapons.”

Qassem Soleimani, the leader of the IRGC’s expeditionary Quds Force, attends the speech with the head of the IRGC, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari.

— AP

In this picture released by official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves to thousands of members of the Basij, an all-volunteer force under the paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, in their gathering at the Azadi (Freedom) stadium in Tehran, Iran, on October 4, 2018. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Russian deputy FM: Israel must use good judgment over supply of S-300 to Syria

Russia’s deputy foreign minister calls on Israel to exercise proper judgment over the supply of advanced Russian air defenses to Syria amid declarations from Israel that this won’t influence its aerial campaign against Iranian military targets in the country.

Speaking with state-owned Sputnik News, Sergei Vershinin also says the downing of a Russian reconnaissance plane by Syrian anti-aircraft fire during an Israeli strike in Syria last month won’t impact the so-called deconfliction mechanism between the countries.

Russia has blamed the Israeli military for the downing of the plane, charges vigorously denied by Israel, and on Tuesday said it had completed delivering the S-300 air defense system to Syria. Both Israel and the United States have condemned the supply of the S-300 to Syria, warning it could fuel further violence in the region.

Vershinin says the S-300 will change the situation “on the ground” in Syria and stresses they are a defensive measure.

“Indeed, the S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems have been installed, this is a qualitatively new level of air defense, I will emphasize defense,” he says.


Merkel denies threatening to nix trip if West Bank village demolished

German Chancellor Angela Merkel dismisses claims she threatened to nix her visit to Israel if it demolishes a Bedouin village in the West Bank went ahead.

“It’s absolutely not true. It’s an Israeli decision and it has nothing to do with our meeting,” Merkel says during a ceremony where she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Haifa.

“Reports of this were fake news, it is an internal Israeli matter and we do not interfere in it, even if I might have criticism,” she adds.

Israel has received criticism from European countries over its plans to bulldoze Khan Al-Ahmar and residents of the village have called on Merkel to pressure Israel not to go through with the demolition.

The German chancellor also applauds Russia for working to distance Iranian forces from the border between Israel and Syria, where she says the conflict between the two “has become even more acute.”

She says she’ll discuss the Iran nuclear deal with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who unlike Merkel is strongly opposed to the accord.

Army to deploy more Iron Dome batteries in south as part of Gaza reinforcements

The Israeli army sets up additional Iron Dome air defense batteries in southern Israel as part of its announced plan to send reinforcements to the area in light of frequent rioting and low-level attacks along the Gaza border.

— Judah Ari Gross

Israeli soldiers stand guard next to an Iron Dome defense system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, deployed along the border with the Gaza Strip on May 29, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

Netherlands accuses Russia of attempted hack on chemical weapons watchdog

BRUSSELS — The Dutch defense minister accuses Russia’s military intelligence unit of attempted cybercrimes targeting the international chemical weapons watchdog and the investigation into the 2014 Malaysian Airlines crash over Ukraine.

The Dutch allegations come as British officials blamed Russia’s GRU for allegedly “brazen” activities worldwide the globe and for trying to cover up its alleged participation in the nerve agent poisoning of an ex-spy and the downing of a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine. MH17. Russia has consistently denied involvement in the events.

Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld says that the GRU’s alleged hacking attempts on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons took place in April and were disrupted by authorities. Four Russian intelligence officers were immediately expelled from the Netherlands, she says.

Speaking about Russia’s hacking attempts into the MH17 crash investigation, she says: “We have been aware of the interest of Russian intelligence services in this investigation and have taken appropriate measures.”

“We remain very alert about this,” she says.

Britain’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Peter Wilson, says the GRU would no longer be allowed to act with impunity. Britain blames the secretive military intelligence unit for the nerve agent attack in March on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in the English city of Salisbury.

— AP

Turkey summons Saudi envoy over missing journalist

ANKARA, Turkey — A Turkish official says the Saudi ambassador to Turkey has been summoned to the ministry for discussions over a Saudi journalist who disappeared after a visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

The Foreign Ministry official says the ambassador was “invited” to the ministry on Thursday but doesn’t provide further detail. The official speaks on condition of anonymity in line with government rules.

Jamal Khashoggi, who has written Washington Post columns critical of the kingdom’s assertive crown prince, went missing on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul insists Thursday that Khashoggi left the building before disappearing, directly contradicting Turkish officials who say they believe the writer is still inside.

— AP

In this photo from February 1, 2015, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks at a press conference in Manama, Bahrain. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)

Netanyahu thanks Merkel for standing up for Israel’s security

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel after their meeting in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu thanks Merkel for being true to her words when it comes to standing up for Israel’s security and praises her for her strong stance against anti-Semitism.

He also says relations have “flourished” between Israel and Germany under Merkel’s leadership.

— with Raphael Ahren

Netanyahu says nuclear deal has fueled Iran’s ‘war machine’

Turning to the Iran nuclear deal, Netanyahu says the accord handed “billions of dollars to the leading sponsor of terrorism in the world.”

Netanyahu asserts the funds didn’t go to Iranian citizens but instead to “Iran’s war machine, which is bent on conquering the entire Middle East.”

Netanyahu says Israel has provided European countries with intel on Iranian terror plots on the continent, referring to foiling of a plot involving an Iranian diplomat and targeting a meeting of an opposition group in Paris.

He also says Iran must also cease using Syria and Lebanon as “forward bases” to attack Israel.

Despite “the danger that Iran poses,” Netanyahu says it has had the benefit of bringing Israel and the Arab states “close as never before,” calling these growing ties a “great hope for the future.”

Netanyahu blames Abbas for ‘choking’ cash flow to Gaza

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blames Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for “choking” the flow of funds from Gaza, which he says has led to a deterioration in conditions in Strip and in turn has led Hamas to promote violence on the border.

He says Hamas would be making a “big mistake” if it attacked Israel and warns of a strong Israeli response.

Merkel calls for Iranian forces to leave Syria

During a press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, German Chancellor Angela Merkel calls for Iranian troops to leave Syria, calling their presence on the Golan Heights a clear threat to Israel.

Merkel also says Germany continues to back a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and acknowledges increasing anti-Semitism in her country.

— Raphael Ahren

Netanyahu says focus of anti-Semitism has moved from Jewish people to Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says “new anti-Semitism” is coming from two different sources: “the traditional far-right anti-Semitism” and also a mixture of the far-left and radical Islamists.

“Anti-Semitism throughout the ages has always been preceded by slander… what has happened now is that the slanders that were directed against the Jewish people are now directed against the Jewish state,” he says.

He calls for combating anti-Semitism by addressing not only attacks on individual Jews but also on Israel.

2 bodies found in burning building in Jordan Valley

The bodies of a man and a woman were found in a burning building in the Palestinian village of Jiftlik in the Jordan Valley, police say.

Firefighters are at the scene battling the blaze, according to police.

No details are given on the identities of the two people whose bodies were found.

Incendiary airborne devices from Gaza spark 2 blazes in south

Since this morning, firefighters have worked to extinguish two blazes in southern Israel caused by an incendiary balloon and kite launched from the Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Fire and Rescue Services says.

— Jacob Magid

US charges 7 Russian intel officers over hacking attacks

The US Justice Department has charged seven Russian military intelligence officers with hacking anti-doping agencies and other organizations.

An indictment announced in Washington on Thursday says Russia’s military intelligence agency, known as the GRU, targeted the hacking victims because they had publicly supported a ban on Russian athletes in international sports competitions and because they had condemned Russia’s state-sponsored athlete doping program.

Prosecutors say the Russians also targeted a Pennsylvania-based nuclear energy company and an international organization that was investigating chemical weapons in Syria and the poisoning of a former GRU officer.

The indictment says the hacking was often conducted remotely. If that wasn’t successful, the hackers would conduct “on-site” or “close access” hacking operations with trained GRU members traveling with sophisticated equipment to target their victims through Wi-Fi networks.

— AP

Canada also accuses Russian military intelligence of cyber attacks

OTTAWA, Ontario — Canada says Thursday it too was targeted by Russian cyber attacks, citing breaches at its center for ethics in sports and at the Montreal-based World Anti-doping Agency, after allies blamed Moscow for some of the biggest hacking plots of recent years.

“The government of Canada assesses with high confidence that the Russian military’s intelligence arm, the GRU, was responsible” for these cyber attacks, the foreign ministry says in a statement.


Liberman instructs IDF to maintain ‘maximum preparedness’ on Gaza border

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman met with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and other top military officials this afternoon for an update on the security situation in the Gaza Strip, his office says.

Liberman instructed the Israel Defense Forces to maintain “maximum preparedness for any scenario,” according to his office.

The meeting comes after the army said earlier today it would deploy additional troops and Iron Dome anti-missile batteries to the Gaza area amid a recent uptick in violence along the border.

Poll: Secular mayoral hopeful top Jerusalem candidate, but nearly 1/3 of voters undecided

A new poll puts secular mayoral hopeful Ofer Berkovitch as the leading candidate in Jerusalem’s municipal elections, though nearly one-third of the capital’s residents have not yet decided who they’ll vote for.

Following Berkovitch, who the survey conducted for the Walla news site says has the backing of 22 percent of Jerusalem voters, is Likud Minister Ze’ev Elkin at 19% of the vote. In a distant third is Jerusalem council member Moshe Lion with 13% of the vote, followed by ultra-Orthodox candidate Yossi Deitch with 12% support.

Thirty-one percent of poll respondents, however, say they haven’t yet decided on who they’ll vote for, which could lead to a far different outcome in the elections than the survey suggests.

A candidate must receive at least 40% of the vote to avoid a runoff in the first-round vote scheduled for October 30.

Top Republican says ‘no hint of misconduct’ in FBI report on Kavanaugh

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Senate Judiciary says the FBI found “no hint of misconduct” in its background investigation of sexual misconduct claims against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Senator Chuck Grassley says he’s received a briefing from staff on the confidential report. And the Iowa Republican says in a statement that “there’s nothing in it that we didn’t already know.”

He says the FBI couldn’t find any people who could “attest to any of the allegations” against Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh denies the allegations.

The FBI report was given to the Senate overnight. Senators are reading it Thursday in a secure room in the Capitol complex, but aren’t expected to discuss specific details of what they learn.

Grassley says it’s time to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination. The senator calls the federal judge one of “most qualified nominees to ever come before the Senate.”

— AP

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (Republican-Iowa) arrives to review the FBI report on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, at the Capitol in Washington, on October 4, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

State comptroller weighing opening probe of military’s war footing

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira has instructed the IDF to transfer him the findings of an internal report on its readiness for a military conflict, the Haaretz daily reports, as he considers opening his own probe into the army’s war footing.

The State Comptroller’s office told the newspaper it will make a decision on whether to open a probe after reviewing the relevant materials.

The development comes amid a public spat between the Israel Defense Forces and the military ombudsman over a report released by the latter charging that the army is unprepared for war. Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot has appointed a panel led by the military comptroller to assess the claims by Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick, the IDF ombudsman.

Brick argued earlier today in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman that the IDF could not accurately assess itself and reiterated his stance that the military is not prepared for war.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira attends the presentation of the State Comptroller’s report at the Knesset, March 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police say not enough evidence to charge ex- judge over suspected bribery offer

Police announce the end of a probe into a retired judge over suspicions she was offered the post of attorney general in exchange for quashing an investigation into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara, saying there isn’t sufficient evidence to justify an indictment.

The investigation was opened earlier this year after a report detailed the offer to Hila Gerstel through an intermediary for Nir Hefetz, a former media adviser to the Netanyahu family who has turned state’s witness in a series of corruption investigations involving the premier.

“In the course of the investigation, additional findings were presented that portrayed things in a different manner that did the initial information and evidence,” police say in a statement.

The findings of the investigation will now be turned over to prosecutors, who will decide whether to pursue charges against Gerstel.

Rretired Judge Hila Gerstel, attends a Constitution, Law, and Justice, Committee meeting in the Knesset, on January 27, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Top general says US not ‘on the road to war’ with Iran

WASHINGTON — The United States is not seeking conflict with Iran, the general overseeing America’s military involvement in the Middle East says Thursday, even as some Trump administration officials have stepped up rhetoric against Tehran.

“I don’t think we’re seeking to go to war with Iran, and I don’t think that’s what we’re focused on,” General Joseph Votel, who heads the US Central Command, tells Pentagon reporters.

Votel has not been given any “direct military tasks” in terms of the pressure campaign being waged by the Trump administration, but he says the Pentagon remains “prepared to respond rapidly massively if the situation requires.”

Trump has been clear the Iranian regime needs to “cease its destabilizing behavior and policy that spreads violence and human misery throughout the Middle East,” Votel says.

“The principle way that we are approaching that right now is through diplomatic and economic pressure. And I support that, I don’t see that necessarily as being on the road to war with Iran.”


US Army General Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, testifies during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, February 27, 2018. (AFP /Saul Loeb)

Likud MK files complaint against Arab lawmaker she says called terror victim a ‘murderer’

A Likud backbencher files a complaint with the Knesset Ethics Committee against an Arab lawmaker who she says called an American-Israeli terror victim a “murderer.”

“She labeled [Ari] Fuld a murderer, who executed an attacker,” MK Sharren Haskel wrote in her complaint against Joint (Arab) List MK Aida Touma-Sliman, according to Hadashot TV news.

Fuld was killed last month after being stabbed by a Palestinian teenager at a key West Bank junction. After being stabbed, Fuld chased after his attacker and fired his pistol at him, preventing the teen from injuring anyone else.

During a Knesset Committee for the Advancement of Women hearing Wednesday on recent reforms to ease gun restrictions for Israeli citizens, Haskel praised Fuld’s actions, to which Touma-Sliman responded, “Do you know how many settlers’ lives would be saved if they left” the West Bank.

Haskel compared Touma-Sliman’s remarks to telling a woman, “Don’t walk in a bikini because otherwise you’ll be raped.”

Erdogan says Turkish troops to remain in Syria until elections held

BEIRUT — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey won’t withdraw from zones it controls in Syria until its people hold an election.

Erdogan makes the comment in Istanbul on Thursday at the closing of an international forum.

Turkey sent troops into Syria in August 2016 to clear a border area from Islamic State militants. It launched another operation earlier this year it the northern Syrian enclave of Afrin to oust Kurdish militia that it considers to be terrorists from the area.

Erdogan says: “Whenever the people of Syria hold their election — after the election is when we would leave Syria to its owners and withdraw.”

— AP

This picture taken on October 2, 2018 shows Turkish military vehicles driving in a convoy along the main Damascus-Aleppo highway near the town of Kammari in Syria’s Aleppo province. (AFP Photo/Omar Haj Kadour)

Russia claims US running secret biological weapons lab in Georgia

MOSCOW — Russia’s Defense Ministry says Thursday that the United States appeared to be running a clandestine biological weapons lab in the country of Georgia, allegedly flouting international conventions and posing a direct security threat to Russia — allegations the Pentagon angrily rejected.

The exceptional accusations from Moscow come the same day US, British, and Dutch officials accused Russian military intelligence of being behind multiple cyberattacks.

Maj. Gen. Igor Kirillov, the head of the Russian military’s radiation, chemical, and biological protection troops, alleges at a briefing that the lab in Georgia is part of a network of US labs near the borders of Russia and China.

The allegations are based largely on materials about the US-funded Richard G. Lugar Center for Public Health Research in Tbilisi, Georgia. Kirillov claims the documents released by former Georgian State Security Minister Igor Giorgadze show the facility is funded entirely by the US and the Georgian ownership it has on paper is a cover.

Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon strongly rejects Kirillov’s claims, calling them “an invention of the imaginative and false Russian disinformation campaign against the West” and “obvious attempts to divert attention from Russia’s bad behavior on many fronts.”

“The US is not developing biological weapons in the Lugar Center,” Pahon says.

“The mission of the Lugar Center is to contribute to protection of citizens from biological threats, promote public and animal health through infectious disease detection, epidemiological surveillance, and research for the benefit of Georgia, the Caucasus region and the global community,” Pahon says.

The center opened in 2013 and was named for former US senator Richard Lugar. Before he left Congress, the Indiana Republican was part of a bipartisan US effort to help secure the Soviet arsenal of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

— AP

The building of a US laboratory in Georgia is shown in a picture released by the Russian Defense Ministry during a briefing in the Russian Defense Ministry’s headquarters in Moscow, Russia, on October 4, 2018. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, via AP)

Border cop imprisoned for killing Palestinian teen requests pardon

A Border Police officer convicted of causing the death of a Palestinian teenager in 2014 submits a request to President Reuven Rivlin for a pardon.

Ben Deri was convicted in April and handed a nine-month sentence for using live ammunition instead of rubber bullets when breaking up a demonstration in the West Bank village of Beitunia, during which he fatally shot a 17-year-old Palestinian in the chest.

A court in August doubled the length of Deri’s prison term, arguing the original sentence didn’t reflect the severity of his actions.

“The soldier acted out of a feeling of a sense of mission for the state and its inhabitants. It is not fitting or just that the same state for which he was willing to risk his life would deprive him of his freedom,” Army Radio quotes the letter submitted by Deri’s lawyer as saying.

Ben Deri, center, a Border Police officer accused of shooting to death a Palestinian man during clashes in Betunia in the West Bank, seen during a hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on December 30, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
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