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

Reports of second Israeli strike in Syria within hours

Lebanese media is reporting Israeli Air Force activity over northern Lebanon, with a second alleged Israeli strike in Syria within several hours.

The Beirut-based al-Mayadeen reports that IAF fighter jets launched missiles from over northern Lebanon toward the Syrian city of Homs.

Footage posted to social media purports to show IAF activity over the area.

There is no immediate comment from Syrian authorities on the alleged strike.

Earlier, Syria said Israel carried out strikes against air defense sites near the coastal city of Tartus, killing two soldiers and wounding six others.

Five more killed as renewed clashes engulf Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon

Intensified clashes in Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp have left at least five people dead and more than a dozen wounded, Lebanese state media and security officials say. Scores of civilians have been forced to flee to safer areas.

The latest deaths bring to 11 the number of people killed since the fighting erupted again in Ein el-Hilweh camp, near the southern port city of Sidon on September 7, despite multiple cease-fire agreements.

Stray bullets hit residential areas outside the camp, including several that struck a fire engine as firefighters were battling a blaze near an army post, the state-run National News Agency says. The blaze was not related to the camp fighting.

The fighting broke out last week after nearly a month of calm in Ein el-Hilweh between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah group and members of militant Islamic factions.

Fatah and other allied factions had intended to crack down on suspects accused of killing a senior Fatah military official in the camp in late July.

NNA reports that among the five killed on Wednesday were three Fatah members. It says 15 people were also wounded in the clashes.

A top official with the Palestinian militant group Hamas, Moussa Abu Marzouk, arrived in Beirut on Tuesday to push for an end to clashes with no success.

Saudis want steps toward two-state solution for normalization, Blinken says

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Saudi Arabia has conveyed to the United States that advancing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a critical component of a potential normalization deal that Washington is brokering between Riyadh and Jerusalem.

In an interview on the Pod Save the World podcast, Blinken reiterates the Biden administration’s position that efforts to expand the Abraham Accords are not a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“In our judgment… that needs to involve a two-state solution,” he says.

“It’s also clear from what we hear from the Saudis that if this [Israel normalization] process is to move forward, the Palestinian piece is going to be very important too,” Blinken says. “That’s clearly something that’s important to the Saudis in doing any kind of deal. It would be important to us too.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, right, escorts US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, center, as they arrive for a meeting with GCC Ministers at the GCC Secretariat in Riyadh on June 7, 2023. (Ahmed Yosri/ Pool/AFP)

Blinken is also pressed on why the Biden administration is expending so much political capital in order to boost leaders in Israel and Saudi Arabia who Washington is at odds with, over their records safeguarding democratic principles and human rights.

The secretary of state responds, “This — and most things that we do — are not about individual leaders or individual governments; they’re about the substance of the issue and whether we can… advance a world that’s a little bit more peaceful, a little bit more prosperous, a little bit more full of opportunity.”

“There’s no question in my mind that if we could help achieve normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, it would move the world in that direction,” he adds. “We’ve had extraordinary turmoil in that part of the world going back to at least 1979… Moving away from that, having more moderating and integrating dynamics carry things forward, I think would be a profound change for the good — a change that would not be tied to any specific government but to the fundamental interests of the countries involved.”

“If you have the leading Muslim country in the world… making peace with Israel, that’s going to have benefits that travel well beyond the region,” Blinken says.

IDF says footage shows deadly blast on Gaza border

The Israeli military publishes footage showing Palestinians detonating an explosive device on the Gaza border, which resulted in the deaths of four rioters.

“Over the last few hours, hundreds of rioters participated in a violent riot adjacent to the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip,” the Israel Defense Forces says in a statement.

The IDF says during the rioting, suspects hurled explosive devices and grenades at the barrier, leading troops to respond with riot dispersal measures.

According to the IDF, Palestinians attempted to detonate a makeshift bomb against troops along the border fence, but the device exploded prematurely in the Gaza Strip, leading to casualties.

The Hamas-run health ministry says four people were killed and several others were wounded.

Shas head Deri says he has no interest in return to government

Shas leader Aryeh Deri claims he is no longer pursuing a return to the cabinet, a day after the governing coalition went to the mat with the High Court to defend a controversial law that was thought to be intended to pave his way back.

In an interview with Haredi news site, Kikar Hashabbat, the politician notes that he has not moved to rejoin the government, even though the coalition already passed a law meant to shackle the court’s ability to declare his appointment unreasonable.

“I could use it, we voided [the reasonableness test], but no, categorically no,” he says, adding that he also would not be pursuing a third version of the so-called Deri law, which had been meant to keep the court off his back.

Deri’s appointment as interior and health minister was shot down earlier this year, after judges accepted a petition against allowing him to serve. Last year, Deri misled a court into believing he would leave public life following a fresh tax fraud conviction in order to secure a plea deal.

Rather than join the government, Deri says he would rather work on internal party campaigning, saying the party has five fine ministers.

“I have no interest in returning to the cabinet or government,” he says.

Deri, who has shown little appetite for clashing with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent years, also offers relatively strong support for a compromise on the judicial overhaul now backed by Netanyahu, but claims there is nobody in the opposition to negotiate with.

“Should we use our majority of 64 seats and advance this reform and say, ‘We were elected by the public,’ and not take the minority into account? I think not,” he says.

Deri credits the protest movement with slowing the overhaul legislation and giving lawmakers “another view,” acknowledging serious issues with the way the process has gone so far, though he indicates better PR could have changed that.

“The shape of the reform and the makeup of the government and all these things that so many people leading the reforms are saying, it made a lot of people afraid, it created this huge trauma there is now a thought to create a new type of regime here,” he says.

He also refuses to commit to honoring High Court rulings.

Death toll in Gaza border blast rises to 4 killed — Hamas-run ministry

The Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip raises the death toll of an explosion on the Israeli border to four.

The Israeli military has yet to comment on the riots along the security barrier.

Herzog pleads for courage from leaders to seal overhaul deal, ‘end crisis’

President Isaac Herzog delivers a televised speech from the Latrun military site, saying that Israel is facing a threat from within, and calling on the country’s leaders to show backbone and compromise on reforms to the judiciary.

Herzog calls on the nation’s political leadership to show “courage and responsibility to get us out of this crisis.”

“This is a moment of truth for the political system,” he says.

Herzog tells those gathered that a proposed compromise has wide purchase in both the coalition and opposition.

“Now we need decisiveness, now we need a decision of leadership,” he says. “Our tradition of leadership is not to just look at your base, but to consider the nation over narrow political considerations.”

“The leaders owe us the truth,” Herzog says. “An agreement is possible, we can bring the nation back to prosperity.”

The president voices support for changes to the judiciary, but not done unilaterally.

Palestinian killed in blast during border riots — Gazan health ministry

The Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip reports one person killed and seven others hurt in an explosion on the Gaza border during riots.

Palestinian media reports suggest the blast was a result of an explosive device that Palestinians had attempted to detonate next to the Israeli security barrier.

There is no immediate comment from the Israel Defense Forces on the latest riots on the Gaza border.

Earlier, the Hamas-run ministry reported six Palestinians wounded by Israeli fire and riot dispersal means in the area.

Health experts trash airport decision to bring smoking areas back

The Health Ministry and health organizations are harshly criticizing the Israel Airports Authority for reinstating smoking areas at Ben Gurion Airport. One designated smoking area is already available, and more are expected to open soon, some three years after the airport eliminated all smoking areas in its terminals.

The decision to bring back the smoking areas was reached after airport staff complained that travelers were ignoring the terminal’s smoking ban and lighting up in bathroom stalls, Channel 12 news reports.

Dr. Sharon Elroy-Preis, head of public health at the Health Ministry, says the move goes against the national goal of reducing Israel’s smoking rate, which recently increased to 20 percent after decades of decline. Around 8,000 Israelis die from smoking-related diseases every year, including 800 from secondhand smoke.

This “destructive decision will take Israel back to the 1950s, when smoking was permitted at the back of buses and there were smoking areas in planes,” the Israel Cancer Association says. “We are smarter today and aim to raise a generation of children clean of active and passive smoking. Have we not learned anything in the last decades? While other nations are moving forward and passing legislation prohibiting smoking and airports around the world are closing smoking areas and rooms, Israel is taking a step backward.”

A Ukrainian woman stands inside a smoking booth at Iasi International Airport in Romania before she and her child board a special flight to Israel, March 8, 2022. (AP/Maya Alleruzzo)

The Israeli Medical Association and the Association of Public Health Physicians both point to the influence of tobacco and nicotine companies and raise the possibility that commercial considerations played into the decision to allow smoking at the airport again.

Of major concern is the effect of smoking in and around the terminals on bystanders. Secondhand cigarette smoke can lead to immediate discomfort such as nausea, eye irritation, and labored breathing for those with asthma. Longer-term exposure can lead to heart disease, strokes, and malignancies, among other illnesses.

Smoking cabins or smoking booths, meant to give smokers a place to light up indoors without bothering others, are not hermetically sealed, and smoke can seep out of them.

In addition, the assumption that stepping outside the terminal for a cigarette is safe has been nullified by studies, including one by Tel Aviv University researchers published earlier this year showing that 85% of tobacco smoke is invisible and wafts back into buildings even when a smoker stands outside. In the open air, a nonsmoker must be a full 10 meters away from a person smoking a cigarette to remain safe, the study found.

Lapid says Levin ‘defrauding’ court by citing compromise talks in response

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid is accusing Justice Minister Yariv Levin of lying to the court by citing compromise talks on the judicial overhaul in a response to petitions seeking to force him to convene the Judicial Selection Committee, which appoints judges.

“He knows well there are no talks at the President’s Residence, but in his response, he relies on non-existent talks and on contacts he himself torpedoed,” says the Yesh Atid head, who petitioned the court to force Levin to convene the panel.

Lapid and most of the opposition have rejected negotiations with the government over the contours of its judicial overhaul, though the National Unity party has cautiously supported talks, which are also now backed by Likud.

Lapid calls Levin’s response “a total lie” and “an attempt to defraud the court.”

Two soldiers killed in Tartus strike, Syria says, blaming Israel

Syria has officially blamed Israel for a deadly airstrike in the Tartus area this evening, saying two soldiers were killed in the sortie.

The official news agency, SANA, citing a military source, says Israel launched missiles from the direction of the Mediterranean Sea, targeting several air defense sites.

Aside from the two soldiers killed, six others are wounded and there are “material losses,” the source says.

Hebrew media, relying on an unverified claim by Britain-based watchdog Syria Observatory for Human Rights, report that three Hezbollah members were killed.

Six Gazans reported hurt in border clash with Israeli troops

The Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip reports six Palestinians wounded by Israeli fire and riot dispersal means during protests along the border with Israel.

The Israel Defense Forces does not immediately comment on the latest riots on the Gaza security barrier.

Last night, three Palestinian suspects were detained by Israeli troops while rioting on the Gaza border, the IDF said this morning.

Palestinians burn tires during a demonstration on the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, September 12, 2023. (Yousef Mohammed/Flash90)

Jerusalem police start clearing out Haredi protesters blocking road

In Jerusalem, police have begun removing Haredi protesters blocking the road and light rail in earnest, after seemingly letting them dance through a large intersection near the city’s congested central transit hubs and block traffic for over an hour.

Footage shows Border Police officers attempting to push protesters off the road, sparking sporadic scuffles. Mounted police are also at the scene.

Some videos shared online appear to show cops manhandling nonviolent protesters and using excessive force, a common complaint around police responses to demonstrations that block roads.

Blasts rock Syria’s Tartus in attack blamed on Israel

Syrian media outlets report a blast in the Tartus area in the northwestern part of the country.

Footage posted to social media show smoke rising from the area.

There is no immediate comment from Syrian authorities on the cause of the explosion.

Unverified reports in the country suggested the blast was caused by an alleged Israeli airstrike.

Levin tells court it has no authority to force judicial selection panel to meet

Justice Minister Yariv Levin tells the High Court of Justice that it has no authority to force him to convene a key panel that nominates judges, since he alone holds the authority to decide the Judicial Selection Committee should meet, a step he has refused to take for months as the government seeks changes to the critical body.

Levin’s position is presented in response to petitions asking the court to order him to summon the committee on the basis that he “lacks the authority” to decide not to convene the panel, which appoints all new judges in Israel. The petitions argue that the justice minister’s behavior amounts to an illegitimate abuse of authority.

In his response, written by an independent legal team since the attorney general opposes his position, Levin argues that his discretion on whether to convene the committee “is part of a constitutional arrangement balancing power between the branches of government,” and that court intervention on the issue would “severely harm the principle of the separation of powers.”

He also indicates there is no purpose in convening the committee, as it would be unable to agree on any appointments due to ongoing severe political divisions in the country. Doing so would “harm the purpose of the law” to appoint judges, he writes, and only worsen the conflict.

Levin has said in media interviews that he wants the government to have a majority on the committee, essentially giving it absolute say over the makeup of Israel’s highest benches. He has said he will not convene it until it has “an appropriate” composition, referring to his desire to pass legislation reducing down non-government representation on the panel.

Cabinet to look at last government’s PA-related moves after arms transfer report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his government will review all decisions made by the previous government regarding the Palestinian Authority, in a move seemingly aimed at deflecting blame for Israel reportedly authorizing a shipment of US weapons and armored vehicles to the PA.

Netanyahu’s office makes the announcement after a meeting with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who requested the urgent sit-down to protest the transfer, which is meant to bolster anti-terror operations in the northern West Bank

“Netanyahu ordered the National Security Council to present the cabinet with all decisions made by the last cabinet regarding the PA,” the statement reads. “This is aimed at tightening oversight and making sure the current government’s policies are implemented.”

US monitor Lipstadt accuses Abbas of spreading antisemitism

Deborah Lipstadt, the US special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, blasts Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, saying his comments distorting the Holocaust are “overtly antisemitic.”

“There’s no question about it: These kinds of statements must stop, because they do nothing to advance peace, and worse than that, they spread antisemitism,” Lipstadt told The Associated Press outside an event on antisemitism in Geneva attended by dozens of diplomats on the sidelines of a session of the Human Rights Council.

Footage surfaced last week showing Abbas asserting European Jews were persecuted by Hitler because of what he described as their “social functions” and predatory lending practices, rather than their religion or ethnicity.

Lipstadt praises an open letter by Palestinian academics blasting Abbas as “stronger almost than what I had to say.”


Ultra-Orthodox protesters block roads in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv

Ultra-Orthodox men protest in Jerusalem on September 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox men protest in Jerusalem on September 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox protesters are clashing with police near the western entrance to Jerusalem after an extremist group blocked streets and the light rail to demonstrate against the arrest of a draft dodger.

Protesters are also blocking the Route 4 highway near Bnei Brak, snarling traffic near Tel Aviv just as rush hour peaks.

Jerusalem police declare the protest a public disturbance and are attempting to drag demonstrators off the road.

The protest was called by the Jerusalem Faction, an extremist Haredi group that regularly holds protests, usually around the issue of the mandatory military draft.

In Jerusalem, some protesters crawl under a mobile water cannon to stop it from moving, footage shows. Others hold signs reading “we’d rather die than be drafted,” or “war on the draft,” Channel 12 news reports.

Outside of Tel Aviv, protesters block the highway as well as trains between the Em Hamoshevot and Geha junctions.

Court okays food voucher scheme derided as Haredi pork, orders fresh look at criteria

Israelis, some wearing face masks, shop at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on October 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israelis, some wearing face masks, shop at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on October 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice decides to allow the rollout of a controversial government food stamp program ahead of the upcoming Rosh Hashanah holiday, but orders the government to review the eligibility criteria for future allocations scheduled for 2024.

Last Thursday the court issued a temporary injunction against the program and halted its rollout, in response to petitions that argued that it prioritized ultra-Orthodox families while other citizens also facing food insecurity were not eligible for the food vouchers.

The ruling clears the way for the distribution of NIS 400 million in food vouchers two days before the Jewish New Year, with a specific emphasis on families with large numbers of children. However, another NIS 600 million set to be handed out next year is frozen until a further ruling is made by the High Court.

The money was allocated for distribution last week by the Knesset Finance Committee under a budget item designed to advance food security for citizens lacking a regular source of healthy nutrition. The program is largely the brainchild of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party and the Interior Ministry run by Shas minister Moshe Arbel.

Yifat Sollel, deputy director of the Hiddush organization, one of the petitioners in the case, charges that the program is designed to subsidize lavish holiday feasts for religious celebrants, noting that food insecurity is already addressed by a state food stamp program.

“Food insecurity and poverty are being confused here in order to justify criteria that favor the ultra-Orthodox public,” she says. “The ultra-Orthodox public suffers from poverty, and does not suffer from food insecurity. The state food security project… distributes monthly cards, and along with them it creates a process of building and enabling the families to eat healthily and to manage their finances properly and educates on healthy nutrition and also distributes baskets of fruits and vegetables… Instead of adding funds to a project that does promote food security, Deri and his friends cynically want to hand out gifts for the holidays.”

Arbel welcomes the decision, however, saying the program would help “hundreds of thousands of people in the State of Israel from all sectors without exception.”

Beaches from Rishon Lezion to Netanya shut as rains flush Tel Aviv sewage into sea

The Health Ministry is advising bathers against swimming in beaches spanning a large chunk of the country’s Mediterranean coast, after heavy rains swept runoff from Tel Aviv’s sewers into the sea.

Authorities say beaches from central Rishon Lezion to Netanya will be closed to swimming due to the polluted waters. The approximately 40-kilometer (25 mile) zone covers the heavily populated Gush Dan region, including beaches in Tel Aviv, Bat Yam, Herzliya, and Poleg, as well as a number of nature reserves.

“The Health Ministry warns against swimming in these beaches until the rains stop and water tests come back clean,” the ministry says.

The remnants of storm Daniel dumped some 36 millimeters of water on areas north of Tel Aviv in a few hours today, amounting to some 7% of the yearly average for the area, according to the Israel Meteorological Service.

Author of Musk biography retreats from claim mogul thwarted Ukraine attack in Crimea

The author of a biography about Elon Musk says he was “mistaken” when he wrote that the tech mogul deactivated his Starlink satellite fleet to foil a Ukrainian attack on a Crimean port.

Walter Isaacson now says that while Ukrainians thought Musk had deactivated the system, in actuality it had never been activated in that area, part of a decision made to avoid the system being used for military offensive action.

Musk tweets his appreciation at Isaacson for correcting the record on the bombshell revelation.

“Elon Musk,” from the author of other acclaimed biographies, including of Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs and Leonardo Da Vinci, was published on Tuesday, quickly capturing the top spot on Amazon’s bestseller list.

Record 5,000 migrants swamp Italy’s Lampedusa in single day, straining conditions

The Italian Red Cross says more than 5,000 people in more than 100 migrant boats arrived on the island of Lampedusa in one day, with smugglers in north Africa taking advantage of calm seas to set off.

At least one baby died near shore as a boat capsized, state radio said.

Dozens of new arrivals crouched on the rocky jetties of Lampedusa’s port, while others sheltered in the shade of a nearby camping ground as the island’s lone migrant welcome center, which has a capacity of around 400, overflowed with more than 6,000 people.

“Days ago there were more than 4,000 people and we were talking about a record, today we are talking about a record of landings,” the Red Cross’ national director Rosario Valastro says in a social media post.

A Lampedusa non c'è da fare una gara sul record di sbarchi. Giorni fa c'erano oltre 4mila persone e si parlava di…

Posted by Rosario M.G. Valastro on Tuesday, September 12, 2023

The Red Cross is urging the Italian government to quickly transfer the migrants to the mainland, saying their personnel had managed to keep the situation under control but that the disembarkation from more than 100 boats was pushing the limit.

Medical personnel were focusing attention on the most fragile, but the group is warning that maintaining adequate humanitarian conditions was dependent on keeping the numbers below a critical threshold.

So far this year, more than 115,000 people have arrived by boat, nearly double the 63,000 in the same period last year or the 41,000 in 2021, according to interior ministry statistics.

PA coyly denies receiving equipment through Israel after reported transfer through Jordan

Talal Dweikat, spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority security services, denies that the PA received any devices or equipment through Israeli authorities, according to the Palestinian government agency Wafa on Wednesday.

While Dweikat denies that equipment was received through Israel, he does not address the claim that a US shipment of weapons and armored vehicles was delivered through Jordan, with Israel’s okay.

Citing informed Palestinian sources, the Jerusalem-based Palestinian daily Al Quds said Monday that Israel approved a US shipment of weapons and armored vehicles through Jordan, to be used by several branches of the PA security forces in regaining control over West Bank areas that have become hotbeds of terror activity.

Dweikat claims the news was spread in the context of a campaign of incitement against the PA and its security services, as well as a campaign against PA President Mahmoud Abbas ahead of his speech at the UN General Assembly next week.

The spokesman says the PA has the right to obtain all the equipment it needs to preserve Palestinian citizens’ security and protect their rights and civil order, denying any need to work with Israel, which he says would “compromise its political positions.”

Croatian soccer back in hot seat over fans’ fascist flag

People walk backdropped by a banner showing victims executed by hanging in 1945 by the pro-Nazi Croatian WWII Ustasha regime in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on May 16, 2020. (AP/Kemal Softic)
People walk backdropped by a banner showing victims executed by hanging in 1945 by the pro-Nazi Croatian WWII Ustasha regime in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on May 16, 2020. (AP/Kemal Softic)

European soccer’s governing body has opened a disciplinary case against Croatia, its national soccer federation says, after fans displayed a World War II-era fascist flag at a European Championship qualifying game.

The Croatian federation said fans raised a flag of the Ustasha regime at the team’s 5-0 win over Latvia on Friday in Rijeka.

The pro-Nazi Ustasha regime killed hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascist Croatians in concentration camps during World War II.

Croatia already is under probation by UEFA for “discriminatory behavior” by fans at the Nations League finals in June in the Netherlands. The federation could not sell tickets to fans when the team played Monday in Armenia, where it won 1-0.

The latest UEFA investigation could see Croatia ordered to play in an empty stadium when it hosts Turkey in a Euro 2024 qualifier on Oct. 12 in Osijek.

The federation says it immediately cooperated with authorities in Rijeka and would consider legal action against the fans.

Libya flooding death toll passes 5,200, rescuer says, almost all in submerged Derna

The death toll from devastating floods in Libya has surpassed 5,200 and is likely to continue rising, with at least 10,000 still missing.

Ossama Ali, a spokesman for the Ambulance and Emergency Center in eastern Libya, says at least 5,100 deaths were recorded in Derna, along with around 100 others elsewhere in eastern Libya. More than 7,000 people were injured in the city, most receiving treatment in field hospitals that authorities and aid agencies set up, he tells The Associated Press by phone.

Mohammed Abu-Lamousha, a spokesman for the eastern Libyan interior ministry, on Tuesday put the death tally in Derna at more than 5,300, according to the state-run news agency. Dozens of others were reported dead in other towns in eastern Libya, he said.

Mediterranean storm Daniel caused deadly flooding in many towns of eastern Libya, but the worst-hit was Derna. As the storm pounded the coast Sunday, residents said they heard loud explosions when the dams outside the city collapsed. Floodwaters washed down Wadi Derna, a river running from the mountains through the city and into the sea.

“Bodies are everywhere, inside houses, in the streets, at sea. Wherever you go, you find dead men, women, and children,” Emad al-Falah, an aid worker from Benghazi, says over the phone from Derna. “Entire families were lost.”

“The city of Derna was submerged by waves 7 meters (23 feet) high that destroyed everything in their path,” Yann Fridez, head of the delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Libya, tells broadcaster France24. “The human toll is enormous.”

Ahmed Abdalla, a survivor who joined the search and rescue effort, says bodies are being put in the yard of a local hospital before taking them for burial in mass graves at the city’s sole intact cemetery.

“The situation is indescribable. Entire families dead in this disaster. Some were washed away to the sea,” Abdalla says.

Libya’s neighbors, Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia, as well as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, have sent rescue teams and humanitarian aid. President Joe Biden also said the United States is sending emergency funds to relief organizations and coordinating with the Libyan authorities and the UN to provide additional support.


COVID outbreak at Jerusalem high school puts seniors back on Zoom

Classes for 12th-grade students at the Hebrew University High School in Jerusalem (known as Leyada) were moved to Zoom this week after 38 students and four staff members tested positive for COVID and were told to isolate at home

It is believed that the students and teachers were infected while participating in a recent off-campus activity.

The latest COVID statistics from the Health Ministry indicated that 20 percent of Israelis tested were positive for the virus. There were 988 new COVID cases last week, a 1.8% increase over the previous week. There are currently 1,093 active cases, among them 282 being treated in hospitals. Forty-seven patients are in critical condition, with 11 on ventilators.

The numbers are believed to not fully reflect the rate and spread of the virus, as only patients actively treated in hospitals or community health centers are included in Health Ministry information.

A gun in every synagogue: Jerusalem cops gear up for holiday tensions

Police are stepping up efforts to keep Israelis and tourists safe over the upcoming Jewish holidays, including making sure there is someone armed in every synagogue in Jerusalem, a top police official says.

Jerusalem police chief Doron Turgeman indicates forces are focusing on the tinderbox Temple Mount, which normally sees a large uptick in Jewish visitors over holidays, ratcheting up tensions.

“There will be dynamic public access to allow Muslims and Jews to ascend the Temple Mount without harming each other,” he tells a press briefing.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, center, visits the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, May 21, 2023. (Courtesy: Minhelet Har Habayit)

The issue is of particular significance this year with a governing coalition in power that includes politicians openly campaigning for increased Jewish access to the holy site, a stance liable to enflame Muslim anger.

Eight people were removed from the site yesterday alone and 110 individuals are “being dealt with” as part of preventative measures to reduce friction ahead of the holiday period, Turgeman adds.

“There’s been an increase in warnings and actionable threats — of all types — during the Selihot [pre- and inter-holiday] period, during weekdays and holidays,” he says, according to Ynet.

In a statement copied and pasted from a year earlier, police say their efforts will focus in particular on mass events in Jerusalem’s Old City and the Western Wall, including the priestly blessings throughout the week of Sukkot and the large crowds expected for Simhat Torah.

Palestinians lambast academics for ‘dangerous’ letter decrying Abbas antisemitism

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a conference to support Jerusalem at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, February 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a conference to support Jerusalem at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, February 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

Palestinians are coming out against dozens of Palestinian academics who had criticized President Mahmoud Abbas’s recent remarks on the Holocaust that have drawn widespread accusations of antisemitism.

Politicians lambast the open letter signed earlier this week by over a hundred Palestinian academics, activists and artists based around the world as “the statement of shame.”

“Their statement is consistent with the Zionist narrative and its signatories give credence to the enemies of the Palestinian people,” said the secular nationalist Fatah party that runs the Palestinian Authority. Fatah officials call the signatories “mouthpieces for the occupation” and “extremely dangerous.”

The well-respected writers and thinkers released the letter after footage surfaced that showed Abbas asserting European Jews had been persecuted by Hitler because of what he described as their “social functions” and predatory lending practices, rather than their religion.

In the open letter, the legions of Palestinian academics, mostly living in the United States and Europe, condemned Abbas’s comments as “morally and politically reprehensible.” A few of the signatories are based in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

“We adamantly reject any attempt to diminish, misrepresent, or justify antisemitism, Nazi crimes against humanity or historical revisionism vis-à-vis the Holocaust,” the letter added.

Many Palestinians are loath to a focus on the atrocities of the Holocaust for fear of undercutting their own national cause.

“It doesn’t serve our political interest to keep bringing up the Holocaust,” says Mkhaimer Abusaada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City. “We are suffering from occupation and settlement expansion and fascist Israeli policies. That is what we should be stressing.”

Celiac sufferers in Maccabi HMO up 600% in less than 20 years, study shows

The number of members of the Maccabi health maintenance organization with celiac disease has risen six-fold since 2005, with kids hit especially hard, according to data released by Maccabi Healthcare Services’ KSM Research and Innovation Center to mark International Celiac Awareness Day.

The study shows that 0.84 percent of Maccabi members (approximately 22,000 individuals) have been diagnosed with celiac disease, up from 0.14% in 2005. Among children and adolescents up to age 18, this number increased from 0.12% to 1.56%, more than a 10-fold increase in the period examined. Maccabi researchers predict that in 2030, one out of every 50 Israeli children and teenagers will have been diagnosed with the disease.

Celiac disease is a serious, largely genetic autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food. Removing gluten, a major component of wheat, rye, and barley, from a celiac disease patient’s diet often cures — or at least alleviates — their symptoms and the damage to the lining of the small intestine.

Bread for sale, some of which is subsidized by the government, at a Rami Levy supermarket in Jerusalem on July 17, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

If left untreated, celiac disease can lead to other disorders including infertility, reduced bone density, neurological disorders, some cancers, and other autoimmune diseases. Celiac disease has been on the rise globally in recent decades, with studies indicating that around 1.4% of the world’s population has celiac disease, with it being more common among women and children and more prevalent in some parts of the world than others.

According to Dr. Tal Patalon, head of KSM Research and Innovation Center, some hypothesize that the increase in celiac disease prevalence can be attributed to increased exposure to processed food, especially at young ages.

“However, this is still a hypothesis. It is of great importance to conduct studies on environmental exposures and their impact on chronic diseases, with the understanding that health and well-being must be studied in a multidimensional way, including examination of the effects of nutrition, lifestyle, and the environment,” Patalon said.

Netanyahu: Overhaul agreement is possible, if we can just agree to agree

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech at the Prime Minister's Office on September 13, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech at the Prime Minister's Office on September 13, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is continuing to push publicly for compromise over reforms to the judiciary his government is seeking, saying during a pre-Rosh Hashanah toast at the Prime Minister’s Office that a deal is possible.

“In a democracy, there are always disagreements, that’s the nature of democracy. But if we agree to agree, we can come to an agreement,” Netanyahu says, according to a readout from his bureau.

“That’s our mission. I think it’s possible,” he adds.

The premier also tells those gathered he is hoping for more unity next year.

“And that starts with remembering that all of us, or at least most of us, are one people, one state, one army, with a shared past and future,” he says.

People attend a protest outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem against the government’s judicial overhaul plan, September 11, 2023. (RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP)

The remarks are the latest from Netanyahu to back a compromise deal since an apparent change of heart in recent days, despite hardline coalition allies vowing not to surrender to opposition demands.

The shift has come ahead of a planned meeting with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next week. Netanyahu touts slow-brewing normalization efforts with Saudi Arabia as a development that will “turn Israel into a bridgehead to the world,” referencing a recent US-backed deal to build a transit corridor from India to Europe via the Middle East.

He says Israel has killed “nearly 170 terrorists” since the start of the year, and vows to “settle the score with the killers and those dispatching them.”

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