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Pandora Papers: Arnon Milchan hiding half a billion dollars offshore

Milchan, who allegedly gave Netanyahu gifts in exchange for pushing tax exemption legislation, is among the 565 Israelis reportedly named in the Pandora Papers

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Arnon Milchan, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu attend a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem on March 28, 2005. (Flash90/File)
Arnon Milchan, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu attend a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem on March 28, 2005. (Flash90/File)

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

Ron Arad’s wife: I asked not to risk soldiers’ lives for information about him

Tami Arad, the wife of missing Israeli airman Ron Arad, denies that any Mossad operatives were physically harmed while seeking information on the pilot during a recent operation.

“No soldiers lives’ were risked in the last operation in question,” Arad writes on Facebook. “I checked with the most senior officials in the Mossad before and after the mission and I was convinced they are telling they truth.”

“During the years in which they searched for Ron… no soldiers or Mossad agents were killed,” she adds.

Arad also says that her family has regularly asked that no soldiers’ lives be risked on missions to find out information about the fate of her husband.

“We also asked that if it is discovered that Ron is not alive that they don’t pay a price to bring it back,” Arad writes.

Pandora Papers: Arnon Milchan hiding half a billion dollars offshore

Arnon Milchan, an Israeli Hollywood mogul who is a key witness in former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, has more than half a billion dollars in offshore companies, according to a new investigative report.

Milchan is among the 565 Israelis reportedly named in the Pandora Papers, a massive trove of leaked documents about financial secrecy in global tax havens that was published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists this week.

Shomrim, an Israeli investigative journalism nonprofit organization that took part in the investigation, said that Milchan’s name appears numerous times in the documents, which reveal that he is listed as the ultimate beneficiary of seven companies in the Virgin Islands.

One of the charges in the indictment of Netanyahu is that he allegedly received extensive gifts from Milchan in exchange for a series of favors — that included working to extend a little-known tax exemption law that would benefit the Hollywood producer.

Merkel heir indicates he will leave party after German election failure

The head of the Christian Democrats, North Rhine-Westphalia state governor Armin Laschet, says that he will propose calling a party conference in the coming weeks to determine its future leadership.

Laschet, who was the Union bloc’s candidate for chancellor, doesn’t say whether he will run to keep his party leadership post but speaks of the need to have “new personalities to make a fresh start.”

His campaign to succeed former CDU head Angela Merkel as chancellor failed to win over voters, and the bloc took 24.1 percent of the vote on September 26, its worst-ever result, coming in second behind the Social Democrats.

The 60-year-old Laschet has already said that he will not continue as governor of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Russia to host Taliban, other Afghan parties for talks in Moscow

Russia is set to host the Taliban and other Afghan factions for talks later this month, a senior Russian diplomat says, in a move that reflects Moscow’s efforts to expand its clout.

Zamir Kabulov, the Kremlin envoy on Afghanistan, says that there will be a meeting of the so-called “Moscow format” talks involving the Taliban and various other Afghan parties in Moscow on October 20. He doesn’t say who will represent the Taliban.

In remarks carried by Russian news agencies, Kabulov also says that diplomats from Russia, the United States, China and Pakistan will hold talks on Afghanistan this month. Russia has worked for years to establish contacts with the Taliban, even though it still officially considers it a terrorist organization.

Unlike many other countries, Russia hasn’t evacuated its embassy in Kabul and its ambassador quickly met with the Taliban after they took over the capital.

Austrian chancellor reportedly cancels visit to Israel next week

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has canceled his upcoming visit to Israel slated for next week, reports the Kan public broadcaster.

According to the report, Kurz, who was slated to arrive on Tuesday, has nixed the visit, as he is being investigated on charges of corruption.

Austrian prosecutors announced yesterday that Kurz is under investigation over claims that government money was used in a corrupt deal to ensure positive coverage in a tabloid newspaper, prosecutors announced on Wednesday.

Prosecutors say that Kurz and nine other individuals, as well as three organizations, are under investigation over the affair.

AFP contributed to this report.

Confirmation of next Shin Bet head said to be delayed over anonymous letter

The confirmation of the next head of the Shin Bet, known only as R., is expected to be delayed as authorities investigate claims made in an anonymous letter, according to Hebrew media reports.

R., who has reportedly denied the allegations and has called them an attempt to derail his nomination at the last minute, is expected to undergo a polygraph test.

Details of the allegations in the letter have not been made public. The letter has reportedly been sent more than once in the past but its claims were not taken seriously.

The letter has been presented to a committee for vetting senior appointments, known as the Goldberg Committee, which will meet tomorrow to consider the nomination of the next head of the security agency.

Police arrest woman on suspicion of setting forest fire

Jerusalem Police say that they have arrested a woman on suspicion of setting fire to the Begin Park near Beit Shemesh.

Police say that the woman, who is in her 30s and hails from the West Bank settlement of Hashmonaim, had gone missing earlier in the day and was considered at-risk. The woman was found inside a car, say police, and was detained and brought in for questioning.

Fire and Rescue Services are continuing to battle the flames set in the forest outside Jerusalem, alongside multiple firefighting planes and a police helicopter. The blaze is not currently threatening any residential areas.

US envoy Hady Amr wraps up visit to Israel, West Bank

Hady Amr, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian Affairs, is departing Israel today after a four-day trip and meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials, says the US Embassy in Jerusalem.

According to the embassy, Amr visited Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Bethlehem and Ramallah. The US official “advanced our goals for achieving equal measures of security, freedom, opportunity,  and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians,” says the embassy.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is slated to meet with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington next week.

Israel officially cuts ribbon on its Dubai Expo 2020 pavilion

Israel ceremonially opens its gleaming pavilion at the world’s fair in Dubai, more than a year after normalizing ties with the United Arab Emirates.

The pavilion’s arch — chock-full of flashy videos promoting Israel’s windmills, high-tech advances and historic sights — comes to life as night falls. Zany Hebrew music plays and patriotic balloons float — all within eyesight of the Palestinian pavilion nearby.

“I am delighted to invite all of you to come and visit my country,” Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov tells the crowd of revelers after cutting the ribbon.

Israeli officials, in Dubai to cement ties after the two countries inked a long-awaited visa waiver agreement this week, traipse through the mirrored pavilion, their reflections unfolding around them. Emiratis in traditional floor-length white dress gaze at panoramic views of Jerusalem’s Old City gliding across vertical screens as a pop rendition of Shalom Aleichem played.

“It’s not only [about] pavilions and the physical site,” Noam Katz, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, says of the Israeli presence at Dubai’s Expo. “It’s power gathering.”

Arson suspected in forest fire near Beit Shemesh

Fire and Rescue Services are battling flames at the Begin Park in the Judean Hills near Beit Shemesh.

Authorities say that firefighters are working to counter the blaze at at least seven different locations in the forest, leading to suspicion that the fire was set intentionally.

Ten firefighting teams and four firefighting planes are battling the flames, say fire officials.

New video shows blockades at Meron passageway half an hour before disaster

New video of the tragic crush at Mount Meron earlier this year shows blockades limiting traffic being placed at the site about half an hour before the incident that killed 45 people unfolded.

The video, which was revealed today during testimony at the state commission of inquiry into the event, the worst civilian disaster in Israel’s history, shows people passing through the partly blocked passageway that was later the site of the tragedy.

The blockades can not be seen in the video that is available of the tragedy itself, and it is unclear if and when they were removed and if they contributed to the disaster. It is also not immediately clear who authorized the blockades to be placed there.

Authorities working at the site on April 30, Lag Ba’omer, have claimed in testimony that there were no such blockades in place.

Inmates charged with setting fire to prison cells last month

Two Islamic Jihad prisoners are charged with setting fire to cells in southern Israel’s Ramon Prison last month, following the escape of six Palestinian security prisoners from a different facility, the Justice Ministry announces.

Omar ar-Roub, who is serving a life sentence, and Hammouda Zaika, placed mattresses in a cell’s shower room and set them on fire using a lighter, causing damage to the walls of the toilet cubicle and the cell, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors say that if the prison guards had not managed to extinguish the fire quickly, “the fire could have spread throughout the prison and the incident could have ended in terrible disaster and loss of life.”

In IDF meeting, UNIFIL head says August escalation with Lebanese should stay ‘isolated event’

The head of the UNIFIL mission meets today with both senior officers in the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces at a UN position in Ras Al Naqoura, says UNIFIL in a statement.

UNIFIL Force Commander Major General Stefano Del Col says the “unprecedented level of escalation” that occurred between Israel and Lebanon in August must remain “an isolated event.”

Hezbollah fired more than a dozen rockets at Israel in early August as the IDF struck sites in Lebanon.

Del Col says that the UN Security Council supports “facilitating coordination, de-escalating tensions, stabilizing the situation along the Blue Line, and building confidence.”

According to the IDF, Effie Defrin, the military’s international cooperation commander, attends the meeting to discuss UN Security Council Resolution 1701.

Defrin presents the gathering with “Lebanon’s violations” of the resolution and “emphasized Israel’s right to take any action necessary to protect Israeli civilians,” according to the military.

Resolution 1701 passed by the Security Council at the end of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, calls on Israel and Lebanon to refrain from attacking each other, as well as focusing on the presence of other armed forces in southern Lebanon, implying the Hezbollah terror group.

6-month-old baby hospitalized with post-COVID symptoms

A 6-month-old baby is hospitalized in serious condition after testing positive for the coronavirus, according to Hebrew media reports.

The baby is hospitalized at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer and attached to an ECMO machine, which provides cardiac and respiratory support. The baby reportedly is exhibiting symptoms similar to others who have recovered from the coronavirus, known as PIMS, or pediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome, with a persistent fever and serious inflammation.

Powerful earthquake hits Tokyo area, but officials say no tsunami danger

A powerful earthquake hits the Tokyo area, but officials say there is no immediate danger of a tsunami.

The earthquake registers a 6.1 on the Richter Scale, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.

In 2011, a powerful earthquake and tsunami in Japan led three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant to melt down, in the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

State TV says Iranian speedboats intercepted US Navy vessel

Iran’s state TV reports that speedboats belonging to the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard have intercepted a US vessel in the Persian Gulf. A US Navy spokesman says he is not aware of any such encounter at sea over the past days.

The Iranian TV report today aired footage that it said was filmed from one of the Guard speedboats. It shows a vessel with the US flag and several personnel on board as the speedboat appears to be chasing it.

A voice is heard in Farsi, saying: “Keep chasing them.” The report does not say when the encounter took place.

Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins, a spokesman for the US Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, says he wasn’t aware of any sort of unsafe interaction with Iran in the last two days. The report is the first such report in recent months.

Bank of Israel leaves interest rate unchanged at 0.1%

The Bank of Israel leaves its benchmark interest rate at its all-time low of 0.1%, retaining the figure for the 12th consecutive meeting.

The bank’s monetary policy committee cut the rate from 0.25% to 0.1% at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and has left it in place ever since.

Economists expect that the Bank of Israel will increase the interest rate in 2022 or 2023.

Train routes halted over fire blazing near Modiin

Trains to Jerusalem and Modiin have been halted as a fire blazes in an area near Modiin.

The Tel Aviv-Jerusalem train will stop at the airport and not continue toward the capital, says Israel Rail. And trains to Modiin from Nahariya and Tel Aviv will also stop at the airport and not reach Modiin.

Four firefighting teams are battling the flames at the scene, where there is not currently believed to be any danger to residential areas.

Diaspora minister to visit Romania, Sweden next week

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai is slated to visit Romania and Sweden next week, says his office.

Shai is slated to begin his trip in Romania on Sunday and attend the country’s national Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony alongside the president and prime minister of Romania. He is also scheduled to meet with members of the Jewish community in Bucharest.

On Wednesday, he will address the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism, hosted by the king of Sweden and attended by the country’s prime minister and many other officials.

Relations between Israel and Sweden have been tense in recent years, after Stockholm recognized a Palestinian state in 2014. Shai will become the first government minister to visit the country in seven years.

Pfizer asks US government to allow COVID vaccine for children ages 5-11

Pfizer submits a request to the US government to allow the emergency authorization of the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11.

Last month, Pfizer submitted research to the US Food and Drug Administration on the effectiveness of its COVID-19 vaccine in children. Pfizer says it will also submit the data to the European Medicines Agency and other regulators.

In Israel, 55% of those ages 12-15 have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, and 43% have received two doses. If the FDA approves the vaccine for children ages 5-11, the Israeli Health Ministry is expected to follow suit.

Over 2,500 medical interns quit en masse amid labor dispute

Despite a compromise proposal put forth yesterday, 2,590 medical interns submit their letters of resignation to the Health Ministry.

The interns have been protesting over conditions that see them working 26-hour shifts. Ministers had suggested a deal that would see their shifts reduced to 18 hours by 2026, but it was immediately rejected by representatives of the doctors-in-training, who said it did not go nearly far enough.

The resignation of the interns is expected to take effect in two weeks.

In a letter to Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz announcing their resignation, the interns write that their desire to provide basic medical care to patients “should not be our personal interest only, but largely the interest of the government of Israel, to ensure that those who arrive at hospitals in Israel… will receive treatment from doctors who are not exhausted, tired and unfocused.”

Algeria urges Morocco to quit Western Sahara buffer zone

Algeria, the main backer of Western Sahara’s Polisario Front independence movement, calls on Morocco to withdraw from a key buffer zone, after the United Nations named a new envoy.

The UN on Wednesday named veteran diplomat Staffan de Mistura as its point man on the decades-old conflict, a job that had remained vacant for nearly two and a half years as the Polisario and Morocco rejected a dozen other candidates.

The Algerian foreign ministry notes “with interest” the appointment of veteran diplomat Staffan de Mistura, and calls for the removal of Moroccan troops deployed late last year in the Guerguerat area in the far south of the territory.

The ministry says Algeria supports UN peace efforts and voices hope that de Mistura can “relaunch direct, serious negotiations between the Polisario Front and the Kingdom of Morocco in order to reach a solution guaranteeing the Sahrawi people can freely and authentically exercise their inalienable right to self-determination.”

Morocco’s tense relations with Algeria have deteriorated since Rabat last year won Washington’s recognition of its sovereignty over Western Sahara in exchange for normalizing ties with Israel. Algeria cut diplomatic relations with Morocco in August, accusing it of “hostile actions” including using Israeli technology to spy on its officials, charges Morocco dismisses.

Tanzanian Abdulrazak Gurnah awarded Nobel literature prize

UK-based Tanzanian writer Abdulrazak Gurnah is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for works that explore the legacies of imperialism on uprooted individuals.

The Swedish Academy says the award is in recognition of his “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.”

Born on Zanzibar in 1948, Gurnah moved to Britain as a teenage refugee after an uprising on the Indian Ocean island in 1968. Recently retired as a professor of post-colonial literature at the University of Kent, he is the author of 10 novels, including “Paradise,” which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994, “BY the Sea” and “Desertion.”

Anders Olsson, chairman of the Nobel Committee for literature, calls him “one of the world’s most prominent post-colonial writers.”

Bennett discusses regional issues in call with Vladimir Putin

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, says the Prime Minister’s Office.

Bennett wishes Putin, who turns 69 today, a happy birthday. The two leaders spoke about a number of issues, including diplomatic and regional security issues, according to the PMO.

Bennett is expected to meet with Putin in Moscow later this month.

Police investigating man who killed his wife and staged it as a suicide

The Israel Police reveals that it is investigating a man who murdered his wife, staged it to look like a suicide and fled the scene, attempting suicide himself shortly before he was arrested.

The man, a 49-year-old resident of Ma’ale Adumim, was arrested last month, police say, two days after reporting the suicide of his wife. After his wife underwent an autopsy, authorities suspected that she did not kill herself but was in fact murdered.

The man ended up being chased by police and exited his car with a gun pointed at himself, police say, revealing details of the incident for the first time following the lifting of a gag order. He shot himself and was transferred to a hospital in serious condition. His remand in police custody is extended through next Wednesday.

Ex-Nazi concentration camp guard won’t testify at trial, says lawyer

A 100-year-old former guard at a Nazi concentration camp will not speak about his time at the site, his lawyer tells a German courtroom at the opening of the landmark trial.

“The accused will not speak, but will only provide information about his personal situation,” lawyer Stefan Waterkamp, who is representing Josef Schuetz, tells the court.

The suspect stands accused of “knowingly and willingly” assisting in the murder of 3,518 prisoners at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, between 1942 and 1945.

Allegations against him include aiding and abetting the “execution by firing squad of Soviet prisoners of war in 1942” and the murder of prisoners “using the poisonous gas Zyklon B.”

Daycare workers end five-day strike after deal struck

Daycare workers at state-run institutions have agreed to end a five-day strike over their working conditions after a deal was struck, report Hebrew news outlets.

The strike began on Sunday at government-supervised daycares, where workers say they suffer from severe staffing shortages and low salaries. The labor action affected some 50,000 young children enrolled in these institutions.

The Histadrut labor union says a deal was reached with the finance minister, the economy minister and the heads of the daycares that will see the negotiation of a one-time grant to workers and talks over raising salaries next year.

Former Labor MK says Shimon Peres sexually assaulted her in the 80s

Colette Avital, a former Labor member of Knesset and a former Israeli consul-general to New York, says that the late president Shimon Peres sexually assaulted her in the 1980s.

In an interview with Haaretz, Avital says she was summoned to Peres’s office, while he was serving as prime minister in 1984. The pair discussed potential jobs she could hold in his administration, after her return as a diplomat stationed in Paris.

As she got up to leave, Avital tells Haaretz, “he pressed me against the door suddenly and tried to kiss me.” Avital says she pushed him away and left the room, “and my legs were shaking when I left.”

The former MK, who worked closely with Peres for many years afterward, says however that for two years following the incident she avoided seeing him.

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