The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they unfolded.
Gaza flotilla approaching coast — organizers
The Zaytouna-Oliva boat to Gaza is some 60 nautical miles off the coast of the Palestinian enclave, a Twitter account tracking the female flotilla’s progress says.
— Women's Boat To Gaza (@GazaFFlotilla) October 5, 2016
Organizers earlier said they hoped to reach Gaza sometime Wednesday, but feared the army would try to stop them when they were about 100 nautical kilometers from the Strip.
“The Zaytouna-Oliva has passed the fatal line of 100 miles and everything is going well,” Claude Leostic, spokeswoman for the activists, told AFP by telephone earlier in the day.
A Palestinian activist on Twitter reports that an Israeli navy gunboat fired warning shots in the air as the ship approached, but the army refuses to confirm this.
#Breaking Israeli pirates surrounding Olivia boat and firing some shots in the air.
— Hani Siliman Salamah (@HaniSiliman) October 5, 2016
Israeli media, quoting unnamed officials, has reported in recent days that the navy will intercept the boat, carrying 15 female activists, and escort it to the Israeli port of Ashdod to prevent it from reaching Gaza.
Gazans wait for flotilla with balloons, music
In Gaza, locals are readying to welcome the flotilla boat in the afternoon with music at the enclave’s port if it manages to get through.
Pictures show several people with balloons, and at least one Norwegian flag, at the port in Gaza City.
The Zaytouna-Oliva set sail from Barcelona in September.
Dubbed “Women’s Boat to Gaza,” it is part of the wider Freedom Flotilla Coalition that consists of pro-Palestinian boats that regularly seek to go to Gaza, ruled by the Hamas terror group, to try to break the blockade.
Israel maintains a blockade to keep material it believes could be used for military purposes from entering the impoverished enclave of 1.9 million people.
— with AFP
ICC delegation to visit Israel, but not for probe
A delegation from the prosecutor’s office at the International Criminal Court is visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories this week to “promote better understanding” about its work, chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda says.
The trip from Wednesday until October 10 will be the first to the region by officials from the world’s only permanent war crimes court since the 2014 Gaza war.
The team will travel to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah, Bensouda says in a statement, for “meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials at the working levels.”
But she makes no mention of whether the delegation will travel to Gaza and stresses the visit is not aimed at investigating any allegations.
At the request of the Palestinians, Bensouda’s office has opened an initial probe into alleged war crimes by both sides during the July-August 2014 conflict.
She says the visit is “not linked” to her preliminary investigation which she said “is ongoing and is following its normal course.”
“The purpose of this visit will be to undertake outreach and education activities with a view to raising awareness about the ICC and in particular, about the work of the office,” Bensouda says.
The delegation from her office “will not engage in evidence collection in relation to any alleged crimes,” she adds.
Three scientists win chemistry Nobel for ‘molecular machines’
Three scientists have won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for developing the world’s smallest machines, work that could revolutionize computer technology and lead to a new type of battery.
Frenchman Jean-Pierre Sauvage, British-born Fraser Stoddart and Dutch scientist Bernard “Ben” Feringa share the 8 million kronor ($930,000) prize for the “design and synthesis of molecular machines,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences says.
Machines at the molecular level are 1,000th the width of a human hair and have taken chemistry to a new dimension, the academy said. Molecular machines “will most likely be used in the development of things such as new materials, sensors and energy storage systems.”
The academy said the laureates’ work has also inspired other researchers to build increasingly advanced molecular machinery, including “a robot that can grasp and connect amino acids” in 2013. Researchers are also hoping to develop a new kind of battery using this technology.
Sauvage, 71, is professor emeritus at the University of Strasbourg and director of research emeritus at France’s National Center for Scientific Research.
Speaking to French TV channel itele, Sauvage calls it a memorable moment and a big surprise.
Stoddart, 74, is a chemistry professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. His daughter Alison says he was “absolutely ecstatic” at the honor.
Feringa, 65, is a professor of organic chemistry at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands.
“I don’t know what to say, I’m a bit shocked,” Feringa tells reporters in Stockholm by telephone. “I’m so honored and I’m also emotional about it.”
Livni blasts Shaked over Judaism vs. democracy column
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is taking heat from her predecessor Tzipi Livni over a column in which she seems to say that Israel’s Jewish character is more important than its democratic character.
Speaking to Army Radio, Livni, an MK for Zionist Union, points to measures proposed by Shaked that critics say would undermine the country’s democratic identity in favor of its Jewish one, joining others who have lambasted Shaked over the column, in which she also seems to support taking power away from the courts.
“The government, including Ayelet Shaked, view democracy as a technical matter of majority rule. For the Knesset, sure, but it shouldn’t be the basis for legislation,” she says.
“Those who want to erode democracy want to get us used to the idea that where there is a point of conflict between Judaism and democracy, Judaism will be chosen at the expense of human rights.”
At least 18 civilians reported killed in suspected Turkish airstrike in Syria
A Syria monitoring group and a Kurdish news agency say at least 18 civilians were killed in overnight airstrikes, suspected to be Turkish, on a village in northern Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that at least 19 were killed, including three children, in the attack on the majority Kurdish village of Thulthana, in northern Aleppo province.
The village is in an area controlled by the Islamic State fighters.
The Hawar news agency in the semi-autonomous Kurdish areas in Syria says 18 were killed. It says the attack happened around midnight Tuesday.
There is no immediate comment from Ankara.
Israeli jets reported to hit Gaza in fresh reprisal
There are unconfirmed reports from Israeli and Palestinian sources of fresh Israeli strikes in southern Gaza and possibly other parts of the Strip.
There is no immediate confirmation from the Israeli military.
— Pal.Info.Center (@PalinfoAr) October 5, 2016
According to Israel Radio, the bombings were carried out by Israeli jets.
Many explosion in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Warplanes targeted many areas in southern and northern Gaza.#GazaUnderAttack
— Jamal Naim (@jnaim1) October 5, 2016
The reports come hours after tanks hit targets in the northern Gaza Strip — reportedly a Hamas training site — in response to a rocket being fired at the Israeli city of Sderot.
There have been no reports of Palestinian injuries.
The rocket, which was fired from the Gaza Strip, struck a street in the city of Sderot — a few miles from Beit Hanoun — just before 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, police said, causing damage and sending three people to the hospital suffering from anxiety attacks.
Israeli strikes said to hit Hamas sites in Khan Younis, East Gaza City
The Palestinian Ma’an news agency reports a Hamas training site in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, was struck by Israeli planes.
BREAKING: Israeli air force reportedly targets Hamas training sites in Khan Younis, Gaza, unconfirmed by Israeli army
— Ma'an News Agency (@MaanNewsAgency) October 5, 2016
Meanwhile, Pal Info Center tweets pictures of smoke rising east of Gaza City, the result of other reported Israeli strikes.
— Pal.Info.Center (@PalinfoAr) October 5, 2016
The pattern of artillery strikes followed by a large sortie of airstrikes is consistent with an Israeli reprisal attack in August following a rocket attack, in which Israel said it hit 50 targets in Gaza.
New satellite images show battering of Aleppo
The UN has released stark satellite images showing the most recent destruction of Syria’s embattled northern city of Aleppo, pounded by Syrian and Russian airstrikes since the collapse of a US-Russia brokered ceasefire two weeks ago.
The release coincides with a stepped-up offensive by Syrian pro-government forces that are attacking the city from the south in a bid to penetrate its opposition-controlled areas, where the UN estimates 275,000 people are trapped in a government siege.
In Geneva, an official with the UN’s satellite imagery program says the new pictures from the rebel-held areas in the eastern half of the city show much destruction, presumably caused by airstrikes.
“Since the cease-fire has broken down, you certainly see an awful lot of new damage or plenty of new damage,” says Lars Bromley, a research adviser at UNOSAT.
The images, from Digital Globe and obtained by the UN agency through a licensing arrangement with the US State Department, show mostly “formerly blasted and blown-up areas” during Syria’s 5-1/2-year war “experiencing a great deal of additional damage,” says Bromley.
Russia sending 2 more warships to Syria
Russia says two of its warships are heading back to join its forces in the Mediterranean amid an upsurge in tensions with Washington over Syria.
The announcement comes a day after Moscow said it had dispatched its S-300 air defense missile system to its naval facility at Tartus in Syria.
The two Buyan-class corvettes — the Zelyony Dol and Serpukhov — are returning to the Mediterranean after an earlier deployment off the coast of Syria that saw them carry out missile strikes on targets in the war-ravaged country on August 19.
A spokesman for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet tells Russian news agencies that the ships left their home port in Crimea on Tuesday as part of a “planned rotation” of Moscow’s naval forces in the region.
Ships steer clear of Bahamas as Matthew menaces sea
Several cruise ships are being rerouted from their regularly scheduled Caribbean and Bahamas ports to Key West as Hurricane Matthew bears down on the region.
Key West is about 40 miles south of the portion of the Florida not currently under a tropical storm warning.
As Hurricane Matthew approaches the Bahamas, officials say nine Royal Bahamas Defense Force vessels have moored at Truman Harbor in Key West.
Naval Air Station Key West spokeswoman Trice Denny says a University of Miami Rosentiel School research vessel called the Whalton Smith is expected to arrive in port in Key West on Wednesday.
Officials are also expecting the USNS Spearhead on Saturday, a 337-foot-long joint (Navy/Army) high-speed catamaran vessel, to be positioned in Key West for possible aid missions.
East Aleppo added to UN list of besieged areas
The rebel-held east of Syria’s Aleppo has officially been declared a “besieged area,” following a months-long government offensive and a lack of access for aid workers, the UN says.
United Nations humanitarian agency spokesman Jens Laerke says eastern Aleppo now meets all three criteria used to define an area as besieged.
They are military encirclement, lack of humanitarian access and the lack of free movement for civilians.
The UN estimates that there are 275,000 people in eastern Aleppo under siege, Laerke said. The west of the city is controlled by the government and has continued to receive relief supplies.
The UN and Red Cross have been pushing to get aid into east Aleppo for weeks, but those efforts have been stalled by insecurity and bureaucratic problems, including obstacles imposed by both the Damascus government and rebel commanders.
There are now 18 besieged areas in Syria, according to the UN.
Trio charged with scamming Defense Ministry for millions
Three alleged fraudsters have been charged with bilking the Defense Ministry of almost NIS 10 million, supposedly to care for a quadriplegic IDF veteran.
The three Jerusalem residents, a couple and another woman, are accused of creating fictitious caretakers for the veteran and charging the ministry for the care provided but pocketing the money instead, Army Radio reports.
The scam ran for about a decade, according to the Ynet news website.
New strikes in Gaza reported
Unconfirmed reports on Twitter are filtering in of more Israeli airstrike in Gaza, this time in the middle of the Strip.
— Said Shoaib (@saidshouib) October 5, 2016
Israeli planes earlier struck sites in northern and southern Gaza, and tanks also shelled near Beit Hanoun, according to reports.
The army has not confirmed any attacks on the Strip, following a rocket strike from Gaza on the city of Sderot this morning.
Contact reported lost with female flotilla to Gaza
Organizers of the Gaza flotilla write on Twitter that contact has been lost with the Zaytoun-Oliva ship, on its way to the Strip carrying 15 women.
At 1450 on 5/10 we lost contact with the Zaytouna-Oliva and fear that the the Israeli Occupation Navy has attacked it #LetFFlotillaSail
— Dror Feiler (@DrorFeiler) October 5, 2016
— Women's Boat To Gaza (@GazaFFlotilla) October 5, 2016
The Israeli army is widely expected to block the ship from reaching Gaza, but the IDF refuses to confirm if it has taken any action against the ship.
A dispatch from the ship earlier in the day showed it reaching within 50 miles of the coast, though organizers said it was 50 kilometers away.
2 Brussels cops stabbed in possible terror attack
Two Brussels police officers have been stabbed in a suspected terrorist attack, officials in Belgium say.
The attack occurred in the northern suburb of Schaarbeek, according to the Flandernews.be site.
One officer suffered injuries to his neck and the other to his stomach. One officer is “in a bad way,” according to the report.
The attacker was shot in the leg and detained.
Police stabbed in Brussels not in life-threatening condition
Neither officer stabbed in Brussels suffered life-threatening injuries, police there say.
Both were wearing plainclothes.
“We have elements to believe that the incident was a terrorist attack,” Eric Van Der Sypt, a spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office, tells AFP.
Earlier in the day, the city’s Gare du Nord train station was evacuated over a bomb scare. The incident was later ruled a false alarm.
— with AFP
Russian, French diplomats to meet as Syria tensions spiral
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault will meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Thursday amid a spike in tensions between Moscow and the West over Syria.
“Lavrov and Ayrault will hold talks in Moscow on October 6,” Russia’s foreign ministry tells AFP.
Hamas warns Israel against continued Gaza airstrikes
Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri has issued a statement warning Israel to cease attacking Gaza as reports continue of dozens of airstrikes targeting the Strip following a rocket strike on a southern Israeli town.
“We condemn this Israeli escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip and warns against continued. We emphasize that we will not sit on our hands if this escalation continues,” he says, according to a translation of his statement carried by Israel’s Channel 10 news.
The Palestinian Safa news website reports that Israeli planes have struck several sites in the Strip, but no injuries have been reported.
Report: Flotilla to Gaza intercepted by navy
There are fresh reports that the Israeli military has taken over the all-female flotilla to Gaza.
Al Jazeera, which has a correspondent aboard the Zaytouna-Oliva, reports that Israeli gunboats intercepted the ship and have redirected it to Ashdod.
Earlier, organizers said they lost contact with the ship, supposedly because of Israeli army jamming before taking over the ship.
There is no confirmation from the IDF.
IDF confirms Gaza bombing campaign
The IDF has confirmed — at long last — striking Gaza in a series of reprisal attacks, though a statement from the army is short on details.
The military spokesperson says planes hit “a number of terror infrastructure belonging to the terror group Hamas in the northern and southern Gaza Strip.”
It also confirms tank fire directed at a Hamas facility earlier in the day.
It says the heavy bombing campaign came in response to a rocket shot from Gaza that hit the town of Sderot earlier in the day, adding that it hold Hamas, which rules the Strip, responsible for all fire emanating from the Palestinian enclave.
“Today’s attack, the second since the beginning of August in the city of Sderot, is the direct result of Hamas’s terror agenda in the Gaza Strip that encourages deliberate attacks against Israeli civilians. The IDF remains committed to the stability of the region and the defense of the residents of southern Israel in the face of terror,” spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner says.
UN chooses Guterres as new secretary general
The UN Security Council says Portugal’s Antonio Guterres is the unanimous choice to be next UN secretary-general.
Guterres, a former refugees czar as head of UNHCR, was a favorite to take over for Ban Ki-moon, who will step down at the end of the year.
The former Portuguese prime minister had topped all five informal polls in the Security Council to gauge support.
Women’s boat to Gaza taken over by female troops
Israeli media, some quoting unnamed military officials, confirm the women’s boat to Gaza has been intercepted some 56 kilometers (35 miles) off the coast.
The boat, which had 13 women aboard, was taken over by an all-female squad of soldiers, a first for the IDF.
No violence was reported in the operation.
IDF says it took over boat because it had no other choice
The Israeli army confirms its soldiers took over the women’s boat to Gaza in a statement, after several reports to that effect.
“In accordance with government directives and after exhausting all diplomatic channels, the Israeli Navy redirected the vessel in order to prevent breach of the lawful maritime blockade. The visit and search of the vessel was uneventful,” the statement says.
The ship, which was carrying 13 women, refused to change course toward Ashdod, where it is now being towed, the IDF says, adding that its actions were carried out under international law.
“In accordance with international law, the Israeli Navy advised the vessel numerous times to change course prior to the action. Following their refusal the Navy visited and searched the vessel in international waters in order to prevent their intended breach of the lawful maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip,” the statement reads.
It’s not immediately clear if the women aboard the boat will be detained upon their arrival to Ashdod or immediately deported.
Washington ‘deeply troubled’ by settlement building plans
The Obama administration has “strongly” condemned Israel for plans to construct housing on land in the West Bank, saying it calls Israel’s commitment to a negotiated agreement into question.
The State Department says a proposal to build a new settlement with up to 300 units runs counter to the concept of a two-state solution to the long-running conflict.
The condemnation apparently refers to recently approved plans for 98 units to resettle evacuees from the soon-to-be-razed illegal outpost of Amona, east of Ramallah, as well as reported plans for an industrial zone.
“It is deeply troubling … that Israel would take a decision so contrary to its long-term security interest in a peaceful resolution to its conflict with the Palestinians,” spokesman Mark Toner says, citing the fact that it occurred so soon after the US agreed last month to a new 10-year, $38 billion military aid package for Israel.
The statement also cites the settlement’s location deep in the West bank as making plans for a contiguous Palestinian state more remote.
On Tuesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the plans for the projects west of Ramallah.
“The Secretary‑General urges Israel to halt and reverse such counterproductive decisions in the interest of peace and a just final status agreement,” a UN statement read.
— with AP
Syria says it will ‘reduce’ Aleppo to rubble
Syria’s military has announced a reduction of air strikes and artillery fire on rebels in Aleppo, saying the army is making advances nearly two weeks into its large-scale offensive for the city.
The statement, carried by state news agency SANA, says the decision was taken “after the success of our armed forces in Aleppo and cutting off all terrorist supply routes into the eastern districts.”
“The military command has decided to reduce the number of air strikes and artillery on terrorist positions to allow civilians that want to leave to reach safe areas,” it says.
NSA contractor held for lifting Iran, Russia hacking codes — report
A contractor for the US’s National Security Agency was recently arrested by the FBI over suspicions he stole and gave away secret computer codes used to hack into Iran, Russia and other foreign governments, The New York Times reports.
The contractor worked for consulting firm Booz Allen, much like Edward Snowden, behind the last high-profile hack of the NSA, but the info he stole is not thought to be related to data disclosed by Snowden, according to the report, which cites several senior US officials.
The codes stolen by the contractor were used to break into computer systems in Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, according to the Times, and were considered highly classified.
Israel welcomes Guterres as hope for more pro-Israel UN
Israel’s envoy to the UN welcomes the pick of Antonio Guterres as the next UN chief, while expressing hope that he will change course from the world body’s history of anti-Israel stances.
“The State of Israel hopes, and expects, that the UN under his leadership will act in the spirit of its founding principles as a fair body able to differentiate between good and evil and will end its obsession with Israel,” says Danny Danon in a statement. “I hope that this change in leadership will bring an end to the organization’s hostility towards the Jewish state.”
Israel often accuses the UN of being singularly focused on criticism of Israel while ignoring other ills around the world.
PLO condemns flotilla interception
The Palestine Liberation Organization has condemned Israel for stopping a boat headed to Gaza, calling on the home countries of the 13 participants to intervene.
“Palestine commends the international solidarity movement with its just cause, including the latest flotilla, composed by an all-female crew of parliamentarians, writers and human rights activists, among others,” a statement quoting PLO head Saeb Erekat reads.
“We call upon the occupying power to immediately release them, as well as on their countries, including Spain, Sweden, Norway, Australia, Canada and the United States, to do everything possible in order to prevent Israel from violating the rights of their citizens,” he adds.
Putin and Erdogan hold chit-chat on Syria
Turkish officials say President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in which the two leaders discussed ways to “intensify” efforts to end clashes in Syria and deliver humanitarian aid.
Officials in Erdogan’s office say the two leaders on Wednesday also discussed joint energy projects, including the construction of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.
The officials speak on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations.
Putin is scheduled to arrive in Turkey next week to attend an energy meeting.
Air Force pilot killed after ejecting from fighter jet
An Israeli Air Force pilot was killed earlier in the day after ejecting from an F-16 fighter jet during a landing at the Mitzpeh Ramon base in southern Israel, military officials say.
The navigator also ejected, but survived, an official says. It was not immediately clear what caused the pilots to eject.
The incident came as Israel carried out heavy airstrikes over the Gaza Strip, but it was not clear if the plane was involved.
The name of the pilot was not released.
The incident was kept under wraps by the military censor until the family of the pilot could be notified.
A picture shown online purported to show the jet nearly completely destroyed.
— Gavin Rabinowitz and Judah Ari Gross
Investigative committee formed to probe crash
Air Force chief Amir Eshel has appointed a committee to probe the deadly crash of an F-16 earlier in the day, the army says.
The plane apparently caught fire while attempting to land, according to a Channel 10 report.
The navigator, who also ejected from the jet, suffered light injuries, an IDF statement says.
After 3-year break, new group of Ethiopians to immigrate to Israel
The first group Ethiopian immigrants to move to Israel in the past three years will arrive at Ben-Gurion airport on Sunday evening, almost a year after the government first approved the immigration of 9,000 Jews still left in Ethiopia, officials say.
On Sunday, 78 Ethiopian Jews will arrive in Israel to a festive welcome.
“The tickets are bought, the absorption centers are ready, and we’re going to welcome them with open arms on Sunday,” says Likud MK David Amsalem’s spokesman, Nimrod Sabbah.
The move comes as Ethiopia is dealing with widespread violent anti-government protests, the most significant civil unrest in decades, centered in the Oromo and Amhara regions.
Gondar, which is home to approximately 6,000 of the 9,000 Jews still left in Ethiopia, is located in the Amhara region.
Times of Israel blogger Micha Oddenheimer witnessed some of the protests first-hand while in Ethiopia in August.
Last November, the government approved absorption of 9,000 Ethiopian immigrants, but the plan faltered because there was no budget allocated for it.
— Melanie Lidman
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