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As war looms, UN warns of ‘catastrophic’ crisis in Syria’s Idlib

International observers say some 3 million face ‘humanitarian crisis’ as Damascus prepares for final push in northern province

In this Tuesday, September 11, 2018 photo, Muhammed Halife, 5, who was injured during a bombing, stands at his school in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughur, Syria, west of the city of Idlib. (Ugur Can/DHA via AP)
In this Tuesday, September 11, 2018 photo, Muhammed Halife, 5, who was injured during a bombing, stands at his school in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughur, Syria, west of the city of Idlib. (Ugur Can/DHA via AP)

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

Poll: Palestinian mistrust of Trump runs deep

An opinion poll shows that over 60 percent of Palestinians oppose resuming dialogue with the Trump administration after the US cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.

The poll is another sign of trouble for the White House’s Mideast peace plan.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has already rejected the plan before it is released, saying the US is not an honest broker. He cites its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and cuts in aid to the Palestinians and the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

Wednesday’s poll found 90% of respondents believe the US is biased in favor of Israel. Sixty percent oppose resuming dialogue.

The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research poll questioned 1,270 people and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

— AP

Israeli minister: Iran could face military answer to nukes

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz says if Iran chooses to continue pursuing a nuclear program it will face a “military” answer.

Katz was responding to Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi’s warning that the Islamic Republic’s program stands ready to build advanced centrifuges and further enrich uranium.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Salehi says Iran won’t be deterred by US President Donald Trump’s sanctions and withdrawal from the global nuclear deal.

Katz says if Iran presses forth it will face a “direct threat from the United States and its allies.”

The US withdrawal from the deal has already badly shaken Iran’s economy, crashing its currency, the rial. Katz says Iran can either succumb to Trump or watch its economy collapse.

— AP

Afghan official: Death toll in suicide bombing rises to 68

KABUL, Afghanistan — The death toll in a suicide bombing among a group of people protesting a local police commander in eastern Afghanistan rises to 68, up from 32, provincial officials say.

Attahullah Khogyani, spokesman for the provincial governor, says 165 others were wounded in the attack a day earlier.

The bombing happened when a group from the district of Achin came to Momandara district to block the main highway between the capital Jalalabad and the Torkham border with Pakistan.

The Taliban denies any involvement. No other group immediately claims responsibility, but both Taliban insurgents and the Islamic State group are active in eastern Afghanistan, especially in Nangarhar province.

A local affiliate of the Islamic State group has emerged in recent years and carried out brazen and increasingly deadly attacks, most often targeting civilians and the country’s minority Shiite Muslims, who it views as apostates. The Taliban and the Islamic State affiliate are enemies and have attacked each other’s forces. Both the Taliban and IS carry out near-daily attacks in Afghanistan targeting security forces and government officials.

Tuesday’s attack was marked by one of the highest death tolls in attacks in Afghanistan this year. In January, a Taliban-claimed suicide bombing in the capital Kabul killed at least 103.

— AP

Police arrest Beit Shemesh man, 30, suspected of beating mother

Police arrest a 30-year-old man in Beit Shemesh on suspicion of violently assaulting his mother.

The mother, who is in her 50s, fled her home to a neighbor earlier today and complained about the son’s violence. Police say she is bruised and bleeding, but her wounds are relatively light.

After the mother fled, the son locked himself in her house and refused police demands that he exit the home. He was arrested only after officers battered down the door and rushed into the house.

US general urges Gulf Arab unity to counter Iran

US Central Command chief General Joseph Votel urges feuding Gulf Arab states to put aside their differences and unite against Iranian efforts to “destabilize” the region.

“Two of our enduring security threats are present in this region — the destabilizing actions of Iran and violent extremist organizations,” says Votel, who heads US forces in the Middle East, ahead of a military conference in Kuwait on Wednesday which is to be attended by Saudi Arabia and its allies, and their bitter rival Qatar.

Votel says it is “imperative” to “enhance and integrate our capabilities for our mutual national security interests” and “rise above all the other aspects.”

In June 2017, Saudi Arabia and its allies cut all ties with Qatar, demanding that their erstwhile ally cut longstanding ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and take a stronger line with Saudi arch-rival Iran.

The rift has proved a strategic headache for Washington as Qatar provides the main headquarters in the region for CENTCOM while rival Bahrain is home to the US Fifth Fleet.


EU parliament approves action against Hungary

EU lawmakers vote to launch a rare procedure that could lead to sanctions against Viktor Orban’s populist Hungarian government for posing a threat to the bloc’s democratic values.

It is the first time the Strasbourg parliament has initiated steps under Article Seven of the European Union’s treaty, passing the motion by 448 votes for to 197 against with 48 abstentions.


Australian lawmaker with Jewish wife attacked with pig entrails at office door

The district office of an Australian member of Parliament whose wife is Jewish is targeted by racists who threw pig’s entrails at the front door.

The early morning attack follows a previous attack by the far-right group Antipodean Resistance on September 1 on another office belonging to Labor lawmaker Mike Kelly, in which the group plastered swastika stickers on the door.

The attack involving the pig’s entrails took place in the New South Wales city of Queanbeyan, located just 10 miles from Australia’s capital Canberra. The swastika attack took place in the coastal town of Bega, 135 miles from Queanbeyan.

A former military attorney, Col. Mike Kelly joined the Australian military serving in Somalia, East Timor and Bosnia, and was among senior Australian military personnel who served in the Iraq War. In 1993, he was awarded the Chief of the General Staff Commendation.

“The series of attacks directed at my electorate offices are evidence of the need for constant vigilance and the confrontation of extremist groups in our country,” Kelly tells JTA.

“If the perpetrators think that they will intimidate me into refraining from defending Israel or supporting our Jewish community they are deluded,” Kelly says. “Actions like this only spur me to greater efforts and commitment. I have faced much worse threats in my Army career and I will continue to fight racism and ignorance wherever I find it.”


Rescuers head to Israeli backpacker stranded on remote Kyrgyz mountain

An Israeli backpacker is reported stranded in a remote mountainous area of Kyrgyzstan. A rescue team is being dispatched on foot to find and rescue the backpacker, whose last known location placed him on a mountain path some 2,700 meters (8,860 feet) above sea level.

US insists Saudis, UAE acting to reduce risks to Yemen civilians

US Secretary of States Mike Pompeo says he has “certified” that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are acting to reduce risks to civilians from their military operations in Yemen.

Pompeo says he delivered the certification on Tuesday to Congress, as required by US law to continue American refueling of Saudi and UAE warplanes in the conflict.

In a statement, Pompeo says both countries “are undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure resulting from military operations of these governments.”


UK accuses Russia of ‘lies’ over Skripal poisoning

Britain accuses Russia of “obfuscation and lies” after President Vladimir Putin denied that the two men Britain suspects of poisoning former spy Sergei Skripal with a nerve agent were military intelligence officers.

“We have repeatedly asked Russia to account for what happened in Salisbury in March, and they have replied with obfuscation and lies,” Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman tells reporters.

Britain last week issued European arrest warrants for Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov on suspicion of trying to kill Skripal and his daughter Yulia with the Novichok nerve agent in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.

The British government has said it believes the attack was sanctioned by the Kremlin — a charge that has been strongly denied by the Russian government.

“These men are officers of the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU, who used a devastatingly toxic illegal chemical weapon on the streets of our country,” May’s spokesman says.


Swedish court nixes deportation of Palestinian who tried to torch synagogue

A Swedish court of appeals overturns a deportation order against a Palestinian man who firebombed a synagogue, saying he’d be in danger from Israel because of his crime if sent to the Palestinian Authority.

The Wednesday ruling by the Court of Appeals for Western Sweden is on a motion filed by one of three men who in June were convicted of the attempted arson of a synagogue in Gothenburg in December, hours after locals marched in the southern city against the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The appellant, who was not named in the Swedish media, was sentenced in June to two years in prison and ordered to be deported after serving that term. But whereas the appeals court kept in place the conviction, it overturned the deportation order citing Israel, the SVT broadcaster reports.

Since the man committed a crime that “could be perceived as a threat to other Jews,” and Israel “might be interested in the matter,” the appeals court ruled that one “cannot safeguard the man’s fundamental human rights if he is deported to Palestine,” the broadcaster quotes the judge as writing in his opinion.

The three Arabs who were convicted of trying to torch the synagogue were part of a group of more than a dozen men who hurled firebombs at the building. Teens from the local Jewish community were attending a party inside the synagogue complex at the time.


Iran says US blame over Iraq attacks ‘astonishing’

Iran describes as “astonishing” the accusations by the White House earlier today that Tehran’s allies in Iraq were responsible for attacks on US diplomatic missions during deadly unrest last week.

Both the US consulate in Iraq’s third city Basra and its embassy in Baghdad were in areas that came under attack.

But the main target of the unrest in Basra were the offices of political parties and militias backed by Iran, which saw its consulate in the city burnt to the ground.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi blames the unrest on US support for “groups which have spread and promoted violence and extremism.”

“The US government must be held accountable for its years of support for these groups,” Ghasemi says, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.

He is responding to a statement by the White House on Tuesday, which criticized Iran for failing to prevent the violence, particularly the attacks on the US diplomatic missions.

“Iran did not act to stop these attacks by its proxies in Iraq, which it has supported with funding, training, and weapons,” the statement said.


EU parliament vote is ‘petty revenge,’ Hungary says

Budapest denounces as “petty revenge” a vote by the European Parliament to take action against Hungary’s populist government for what EU lawmakers called its undermining of the bloc’s founding values.

“The EP’s decision today is nothing less than the petty revenge of pro-immigration politicians against Hungary,” Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto says, shortly after the Strasbourg-based parliament approved the motion that could see Budapest hit with unprecedented sanctions.


Former Iranian president Ahmadinejad’s ally gets prison time

An Iranian court sentences a close ally of former hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to six-and-a-half years in prison, semi-official ISNA news agency reports.

The report quotes Tehran Justice Department chief Gholamhossein Esmaili as saying Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei was sentenced to five years for plotting and conspiring to commit crimes against national security, one year for propaganda against the Islamic Republic system and six months for insulting officials.

The sentencing can be appealed within 20 days.

Esmaili also says there are other cases against Mashaei in court and they will be announced after the prosecution process.

In March, Mashaei was detained after he burnt a copy of a court verdict sentencing Hamid Baghaei, another Ahmadinejad ally, to 15 years for misuse of public funds when he was Ahmadinejad’s vice president.

During Baghaei’s trial, Ahmadinejad repeatedly appeared outside the court criticizing many officials, including the head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani.

Several of Ahmadinejad’s allies are in jail over similar charges.

— AP

Merkel: Germany must respond to chemical weapon use

German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggests that Germany must be prepared to respond if chemical weapons are used in war zones, remarks that come amid a debate over possible military involvement in the Syrian conflict.

Merkel tells lawmakers: “To simply say we can look away if somewhere chemical weapons are being used and international conventions are not kept, that can’t be the answer.”

Germans are widely against the country’s participation in combat missions and Merkel does not elaborate. Her junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats, have strongly rejected getting involved in the war in Syria and the party’s leader made clear Wednesday that it wouldn’t agree to any intervention without UN authorization.

“Only the Security Council or the UN General Assembly can empower the international community to take military action,” Andrea Nahles tells lawmakers. “As long as this does not happen, we Social Democrats cannot vote for any intervention by force in Syria.”

German military deployments abroad require parliamentary approval.

— AP

Foreign Ministry issues warning to Israelis in Florence’s path

The Israeli Foreign Ministry issues a statement urging Israeli nationals living in the projected path of Hurricane Florence, which is expected to hit the southeastern United States early Friday with life-threatening wind speeds, to closely follow statements and instructions by US authorities.

In its statement, the ministry urges Israeli citizens “residing in the area or who plan to travel there to follow the instructions of the National Hurricane Center of the United States regarding the hurricane’s path, and to obey the instructions of local authorities.”

The National Hurricane Center of the American government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has warned that Florence is “expected to bring [a] life-threatening storm surge and rainfall to portions of the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic states.”

Polish leader slammed for saying EU has little relevance

Poland’s president comes under heavy criticism from political opponents after he calls the European Union an “imaginary community” of little relevance to Poles.

Andrzej Duda is aligned with the ruling Law and Justice party, which has been in conflict with the EU over an overhaul of the Polish judicial system which Brussels sees as violating the rule of law.

“When our affairs are resolved, we will deal with European affairs,” Duda said in a speech on Tuesday. “For now let them leave us alone and let us fix Poland, because this is the most important thing.”

Duda and government officials insist that the changes, which give the ruling party vast new powers over the courts, are democratic, making judges more accountable. The EU and a number of human rights groups say the changes erode the independence of the judicial branch.

Duda’s speech came as the EU is struggling with challenges on several fronts, including a similar conflict with Hungary, Britain’s departure next year and a new euroskeptic government in Italy. EU lawmakers on Wednesday voted to launch action against the Hungarian government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban for allegedly undermining the bloc’s democratic values and rule of law.

— AP

Turkey nabs 2013 bombing suspect in Syrian regime heartland

The Turkish secret service staged an operation deep in the heartland of the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad to capture and bring back to Turkey the prime suspect in a 2013 bombing, officials say.

Turkish citizen Yusuf Nazik, who is accused of planning a bombing in a Turkish border town in May 2013, was apprehended in an operation carried out by the National Intelligence Organization (MIT).

He was captured in the Syrian city of Latakia — a stronghold of support for Assad that has never slipped from his control — and then brought to Turkey, the Anadolu news agency says.

More than 50 people were killed in the bombing — one of the deadliest in Turkey’s modern history — in Reyhanli, on the border with Syria in the southern Turkish province of Hatay.

Ankara at the time blamed the attack on the regime of Assad and allied groups. The Syrian government rejected the charges.

Anadolu published a video of Nazik, dressed in a tracksuit top and jeans and standing by a Turkish flag, giving what it described as a “confession”, saying he was behind the attack and it had been ordered by the Syrian regime.


Livni, Netanyahu to meet for first time since she became opposition head

MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) is set to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this evening for her first briefing since she became head of the opposition last month.

The leader of the opposition is traditionally briefed once a month by the sitting prime minister on sensitive national security issues.

Livni became opposition leader after Labor’s Isaac Herzog left the Knesset in August to take up the post of Jewish Agency chairman.

As war looms, UN warns of ‘catastrophic’ crisis in Syria’s Idlib

UN investigators warn that a war against some 10,000 extremists in northwestern Syria should not take 3 million people hostage. They add that the expected attack by Syrian troops on Idlib province would make other battles in the country look minor.

The UN Commission of Inquiry says government forces carried out three chemical weapons attacks in Syria and that violence displaced the largest number of people the year, the largest since the conflict began in 2011.

It warns that an attack on Idlib “with little regard for civilian life would generate a catastrophic human rights and humanitarian crisis.” It calls on parties to the conflict to protect civilians, as required by international humanitarian law.

Government forces have been massing troops on the edge of Idlib in preparation for an offensive on the last major rebel stronghold in Syria. Government bombardment of Idlib has dropped as of Tuesday after days of stepped up bombing campaign against the Syrian opposition’s last bastion in the country.

A summit between Russia, Turkey, and Iran on Friday failed to bring about a settlement.

— AP

Bernie Sanders’ son falls short in New Hampshire congressional primary

Levi Sanders, the son of US Sen. Bernie Sanders, wins less than 2 percent of the vote in a Democratic New Hampshire congressional primary, finishing seventh among the 11 candidates.

Chris Pappas, a former state legislator and current member of the Executive Council that advises New Hampshire’s governor, won Tuesday’s race and would be the state’s first openly gay congressman.

Bernie Sanders declined to endorse his son, saying in a statement released in February when Levi Sanders announced his candidacy that the Sanders family does not “believe in dynastic politics.”

The elder Sanders also said: “I am very proud of Levi’s commitment to public service and his years of work on behalf of low-income and working people. Levi will be running his own campaign, in his own way, with his own ideas. The decision as to who to vote for will be determined by the people of New Hampshire’s first district and no one else.”

Levi Sanders’ platform included Medicare for all, free college tuition, a higher minimum wage, addressing the opioid crisis and “sensible” gun legislation. Many of the planks mirrored his father’s 2016 presidential campaign.


In first, defense minister visits Georgia, signs cooperation agreement

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman travels to Georgia, making him the first Israeli defense minister to do so, signing agreements with the eastern European nation on counterterrorism and cybersecurity.

“On the issue of defense cooperation, we have set out four main objectives: cybersecurity, help in establishing a military reserves system, fighting terror and defending the homeland,” Liberman says, following an honor guard in the nation’s capital.

The defense minister also praises Israeli-Georgian economic ties and the former Soviet country’s “thriving Jewish community,” his office says.

Liberman and Georgian Defense Minister Levan Izoria also discuss Iran and the current situation in the Middle East. The two politicians sign an official cooperation agreement between their two ministries, Liberman’s office says.

Israel has had diplomatic relations with Georgia since 1992.

— Judah Ari Gross

Blaze reignites at Einot Zukim park near Dead Sea

Police announce the closure of parts of Route 90, the north-south road running down the Jordan Valley, after yesterday’s blaze at the Einot Zukim park was reignited a short time ago.

The fire was caused by three suspected Palestinian arsonists, and caused serious damage to the local flora and fauna in the area along the southwestern shore of the Dead Sea.

Police and fire fighters are on their way to the park, a police statement says.

Shaare Zedek security manager says Palestinian ambulance patient ‘can die’

Channel 10 reports that Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances at times find themselves delayed by security guards when they try to enter Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center with patients in urgent need of care.

In one recent incident aired by the network this evening, a Red Crescent ambulance reaches the hospital entrance. A member of the ambulance staff tells a guard that 13-year-old East Jerusalem resident Nur a-Din Sanduka has a critical head wound.

In a recording of the exchange, the security shift manager is heard chastising the guard, demanding, “What are you letting in Red Crescent?”

The guard replies that a medic “said [Sanduka] is going to die.”

The manager replies, “He can die. Security.”

The report notes that Red Crescent ambulance crews have complained about Shaare Zedek’s security in the past, and even faced criticism from the Health Ministry over the delays.

In a statement to Channel 10, the hospital acknowledges the incident, condemns it and says the security manager has been removed from her post.

“The ambulance [carrying Sanduka] wasn’t delayed and was let in immediately,” the hospital notes. “Shaare Zedek condemns the security [manager’s] comment. She was a contract worker and not a hospital employee, and has been removed from her post.”

Einot Zukim fire brought under control

Firefighters succeed for a second time in as many days to bring a blaze at the Einot Zukium park under control.

Yesterday’s fire was caused by three suspected Palestinian arsonists, and caused serious damage to the local flora and fauna in the area along the southwestern shore of the Dead Sea.

Jewish collector’s descendant gets Nazi-looted Renoir back

The granddaughter of a Jewish art collector whose paintings were stolen by the Nazis is reunited with one of the works, an Impressionist piece by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Sylvie Sulitzer sees “Two Women in a Garden” for the first time on Wednesday at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage. The ceremony includes the law enforcement officials who helped get the painting back to her.

Sulitzer’s grandfather, Alfred Weinberger, was an art collector in Paris who put some of his paintings in a bank vault before fleeing the Nazis.

Nazi records show they raided the vault and took Weinberger’s paintings, including the Renoir.

The painting was scheduled to go up for auction in 2013. Sulitzer’s lawyers reached out to the auction house, which notified the FBI.

— AP

Trump OKs sanctions for foreigners who meddle in elections

US President Donald Trump signs an executive order Wednesday authorizing sanctions against foreigners who meddle in US elections, a move that counters critics who claim he is not taking election security seriously enough.

The executive order covers not just interference with campaign infrastructure, but also the distribution of disinformation and propaganda, national security adviser John Bolton tells reporters. The order requires the Office of the National Intelligence Director to conduct regular assessments about potential foreign interference in the elections, and asks for reports by the homeland security and justice departments in the case of meddling in campaign-related infrastructure, he says. It also describes a process for the treasury and state departments to recommend appropriate, automatic sanctions.

“We felt it was important to demonstrate the president has taken command of this issue, that it’s something he cares deeply about — that the integrity of our elections and our constitutional process are a high priority to him,” Bolton says.

With the midterm elections now two months away, National Intelligence Director Dan Coats says the US is not currently seeing the intensity of Russian intervention that was experienced in 2016, but doesn’t rule it out. He says the US is also worried about the cyber activities of China, North Korea and Iran.

— AP

Crisscrossed lines called world’s oldest drawing

It looks a bit like a hashtag, but it’s 73,000 years old. And scientists say this tiny sketch found in a South African cave is the oldest known drawing.

It’s not the earliest deliberate design; some abstract engravings are far older. But the drawing shows early humans in southern Africa could produce designs on various surfaces with different techniques.

The collection of crisscrossed lines was found in the Blombos Cave about 190 miles (300 kilometers) east of Cape Town. It is at least 30,000 years older than any other known drawing, researchers say in a report released Wednesday by the journal Nature.

It was created with a sharpened flake of ochre, a pigment widely used in the ancient world, said Christopher Henshilwood of the University of Bergen in Norway.

The drawing is basically six red lines crossed by three other slightly curved lines. It appears on a tiny flake of mineral crust measuring only about 1.5 inches (39 millimeters) long and about half an inch (15 millimeters) tall. It’s evidently part of a larger drawing because lines reaching the edge are cut off abruptly there, researchers said.

Similar patterns are engraved in other artifacts from the cave, and the hashtag design was produced widely over the past 100,000 years in rock art and paintings, he said. So the newly found sketch is probably not just a collection of random scratchings.

The finding gives evidence that early humans could store information outside the brain and supports the argument that early members of our species “behaved essentially like us” before they left Africa for Europe and Asia, he said.

This undated photo provided by Craig Foster in September 2018 shows a drawing made with ochre pigment on silcrete stone, found in the Blombos Cave east of Cape Town, South Africa. In a report released on Wednesday, September 12, 2018, scientists say this tiny 73,000-year-old sketch found in a South African cave is the oldest known drawing. (Craig Foster via AP)

— AP

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