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Israel, US said to discuss ‘plan B’ if Iran nuclear talks don’t resume

News site quotes Israeli official saying main message from American side was that Biden administration will impose more sanctions if negotiations aren’t held again soon

US President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on August 27, 2021. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP)
US President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on August 27, 2021. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP)

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

Russia records 820 COVID deaths in past day, matching daily high

MOSCOW — Russia matches its record daily coronavirus death toll, as the Delta variant and a slowing vaccine drive push up infections.

A government tally reports 820 fatalities over the past 24 hours and 21,438 new cases. It previously reported the same death toll in late August.

Russia, the fifth worst-hit country globally in terms of the overall number of COVID cases, has seen infections climb since August as vaccinations stall.

The capital Moscow — the epicenter of Russia’s pandemic — has seen a spike over the past week with officials warning of rising hospital admissions.

Daily cases in the capital rose to 3,445, compared to 1,991 a day earlier.

Deputy mayor Anastasia Rakova says today that the increase is due in part to a seasonal spike in respiratory illnesses and contact between people after the summer vacation.

She says that the Delta variant now accounts for all COVID cases in Moscow.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Russia has registered more than seven million cases and 201,445 deaths, the highest death toll in Europe.

Authorities have been accused of downplaying the effects of the pandemic and, after a tight first lockdown in 2020, have refrained from introducing new restrictions.

Israeli woman moderately hurt in suspected West Bank ramming attack

Police have arrested a Palestinian suspect after an apparent hit and run near the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Michmash, in which an Israeli woman was moderately wounded.

According to the victim, the car passed her on the road between Ma’ale Michmash and Neve Erez, turned back, and then accelerated toward her, before fleeing from the scene.

She was taken to hospital and only reported the incident to the police some two hours later.

Police located the vehicle at the Palestinian town of al-Eizariya near Jerusalem and took the Palestinian man for questioning.

An organization representing local security officers claimed the ramming was an intentional terror attack, but police officials did not confirm it as such.

Tensions have been running high across the West Bank over the past month, following the dramatic escape of six Palestinian prisoners from the high-security Gilboa Prison on September 6.

Cabinet to soon discuss Shin Bet involvement in fighting Arab society violence — TV

The cabinet will soon deliberate approving the Shin Bet security service’s involvement in fighting violent crime in Arab Israeli communities, Channel 13 news reports.

According to the unsourced report, the Public Security Ministry is currently working with the Justice Ministry and Shin Bet to describe how best to use the agency, which is usually involved in counterterror and counterintelligence operations.

The network also asserted “Resh,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s pick for new Shin Bet chief, is considered to back a broader mission for the security service than its outgoing leader Nadav Argaman and is on board with getting involved in combatting violence and crime in Arab locales.

Israel, US said to discuss ‘plan B’ if Iran nuclear talks don’t resume

Israeli and US officials held secret talks last week to discuss a “plan B” in case of nuclear talks with Iran aren’t renewed, the Walla news site reports.

Citing two unnamed Israeli officials, the report says the secure video meeting was the first time the bilateral strategic group aimed at collaborating on preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon since Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and the new Israeli government took office in June.

Leading the talks were US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, his Israeli counterpart Eyal Hulata and diplomatic officials from both countries.

The Israelis reportedly stressed the side to move forward with plans due to the stalled nuclear talks, feeling Iran is seeking to draw the talks out while advancing with its nuclear program.

An Israeli official quoted in the report says the main message from the US was that if the nuclear talks don’t resume soon, the Biden administration will impose further sanctions on Iran.

The report comes as Iranian and European officials say the negotiations are expected to resume soon in Vienna.

3,642 COVID infections confirmed since midnight; serious cases tick up to 726

The Health Ministry reports another 3,642 coronavirus cases since midnight, with the number of patients hospitalized in serious condition with COVID-19 complications ticking up to 726.

According to ministry figures, there are 68,875 active cases, including 191 people hooked up to ventilators.

The death toll stands at 7,591.

The ministry also reports that 6,076,062 Israelis have received at least a single vaccine shot and 5,598,549 have gotten two doses. Another 3,123,303 have received a booster shot.

After call with Biden, Macron orders French ambassador back to US next week

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron has ordered the French ambassador to return to Washington next week after a phone call with US counterpart Joe Biden aimed at calming tensions in a row over a ditched submarine contract for Australia, a joint statement says.

The pair also vowed to launch a process of “in-depth consultations” to restore confidence and to meet in Europe at the end of October, the statement says, adding Biden also agreed on the need for stronger European defense to complement NATO.

It adds: “The two leaders agreed that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners.”

Nides: Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, reopening of consulate won’t impact this recognition

Tom Nides, US President Joe Biden’s nominee to be ambassador to Israel, tells the Senate in response to questioning that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and says the US Embassy will remain there permanently.

Nides adds that if confirmed, he will live in Jerusalem, after the former ambassador’s residence in Herzliya was sold to late Jewish-American billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

He also said the Biden administration’s efforts to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem, which historically served as a de facto mission to the Palestinians, “will have no impact upon the capital of Israel being Jerusalem.”

Asked if he recognizes the Golan Heights as part of Israel following former president Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the plateau, Nides echoes the Biden administration’s position that Israel should retain control of the territory due to the threat posed by the Assad regime in Syria, and calling it a strategic position for Israeli.

Turning to the Palestinians, he says re-scheduling elections that were indefinitely canceled earlier this year by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “would be good for the Palestinians.”

Abbas claimed the decision had to do with Israel’s refusal to allow balloting in East Jerusalem. Israel has yet avoided commenting publicly on the matter.

“I will work with the Israeli government to ensure that issue is not an obstacle to achieving elections,” Nides says.

Tom Nides assures US Senate he backs funding for Israel’s Iron Dome

US President Biden’s nominee for ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, assures the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he supports the replenishment of Israel’s Iron Dome a day after Democratic House leadership agreed to remove $1 billion in funding for the missile defense system from a bill to keep the United States government funded, following pressure from a group of progressive lawmakers.

Asked whether he supports Iron Dome replenishment, Nides responds curtly, “Yes sir.”

Pressed by Ranking Republican Member James Risch on his views regarding the Palestinian Authority’s welfare program, which includes payments to security prisoners, Nides says, “I share your concern about this abhorrent behavior.”

“If confirmed, I have every intention of working with the Palestinians to try and get progress on this,” he says.

Asked about the Biden administration’s efforts to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Nides reiterates what Biden said yesterday at the United Nations — while a two-state solution might not be achievable in the immediate future, it is critical to keep the pathway to that resolution open.

The US will work to do so, Nides says, by continuing to stress the importance of a two-state solution, restarting financial assistance to the Palestinians to the tune of roughly $400 million and also by “encourag[ing] Palestinians and Israelis not to take unilateral actions that will make path to two-state solution impossible.”

Nides adds that he will work to implement the Lowey Fund, $250 million in congressional funding for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue programs and Palestinian business development.

Biden’s nominee for US envoy to Israel testifies at Senate confirmation hearing

In the opening remarks at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, US President Biden’s nominee as ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, says his top priorities if confirmed will include strengthening Israel’s security, expanding the US-Israel economic relationship, cooperating with Israel on foreign investment to counter China and strengthening the Abraham Accords.

“Israel is one of our closest security partners in countering the broad spectrum of threats, chief among them is the critical threat that Iran poses. President Biden has made it clear his commitment to ensure that Iran will never develop a nuclear weapon. Upholding Israel’s security serves America’s national security interest and ensures that we will always have a strong reliable and secure partner,” Nides says.

Commenting on US-Israel economic ties, Nides says that “Israel’s start-up nation is welcoming to US business” and that US companies have established more than two-thirds of the over 300 foreign investment and development centers in Israel.

He also notes Biden’s stated commitment to work with Israel to have the Jewish state added to the US visa waiver program.

The Biden nominee says the US will work with other Democracies to combat “international institutional biases against Israel,” adding that the US administration will continue to oppose the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. “If confirmed, while respecting the rights of all Americans to free speech, I will continue the tireless work of this administration to firmly reject the BDS movement and boycott laws,” he continues.

“The Abraham Accords — yes, the Abraham Accords — are critical to the region’s stability and prosperity,” Nides says, in his own attempt to put to bed any remaining speculation that the Biden administration might have an apprehension to using the Trump team-coined term for the normalization agreements between Israel and countries in the Arab and Muslim world.

“I will personally support every effort to expand cooperation between Israel and countries in the Arab and Muslim world, and I hope to strengthen the Abraham Accords and identify opportunities to expand Israel’s relationships [with] additional countries in the Arab and Muslim world,” he says.

Nides then goes on to parrot a frequently used Biden administration talking point that “while we support the normalization between Israel and other countries, it is not a substitute for Israel-Palestinian peace, and we seek to harness existing and future agreements to make tangible improvements for the Palestinian people, with a view of preserving the vision of a negotiated two-state solution.”

Nides says he is “committed to doing my part to rebuild the partnership between the American and Palestinian people.”

The nominee concludes by stating that “frank and fruitful dialogues only strengthen our partnership and deepen the bonds between Americans and Israelis.”

Jordan’s king calls for 2-state solution: ‘Current situation is simply unsustainable’

In a pre-recorded speech to the UN General Assembly, Jordan’s King Abdullah II says the fighting between Israel and Gaza-based Palestinian terror groups in May underscored that “the current situation is simply unsustainable.”

“General security for either side, indeed for the whole world, can only be achieved through a two-state solution,” he says, calling for a Palestinian state established on the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital.

IDF drone falls in Syria; military cites technical failure

An Israel Defense Forces drone falls in Syrian territory due to a technical malfunction, the IDF says.

The drone crashed during “routine operational activity,” according to the IDF.

The military adds that it is investigating the incident.

It is not immediately clear what type of drone crashed.

Police said to rule out terror motive in incident on Tel Aviv promenade

Police don’t believe an armed man from Jaffa who was threatening people on the Tel Aviv promenade was attempting to carry out a terror attack, according to Hebrew media reports.

Armed Jaffa man arrested for threatening people at Tel Aviv promenade

Police arrest a 22-year-old from Jaffa for allegedly threatening passersby with a firearm at Tel Aviv’s promenade.

Forces were sent to the scene after a number of residents and beachgoers reported the suspicious man.

The gun was confiscated and no injures are reported in the incident.

Moroccan PM-designate announces three-party coalition

RABAT, Morocco — Morocco’s prime minister-designate announces that a three-party coalition will form the country’s next government.

King Mohammed VI appointed billionaire Aziz Akhanouch as prime minister earlier this month after his party placed first in a legislative election, netting 102 out of the 395 seats in the lower house of parliament.

The coalition includes Akhanouch’s liberal National Rally of Independents Party, or RNI, the Authenticity and Modernity party (PAM) and the conservative Istiqlal (IP).

Formed in 2008 by Fouad Ali El Hima, a personal friend of the king and one of his close advisers, PAM has never before been part of a Moroccan government.

The Istiqlal Party is Morocco’s oldest party and has participated in several governments since the kingdom gained independence from France in 1956.

The three parties together won 270 seats in the House of Representatives, giving the coalition government a comfortable majority to pass laws.

“We will work together to form an effective and coherent majority before presenting the government lineup to King Mohammed VI,” Akhanouch says during a press conference. “We share many historical backgrounds and we intersect in a number of priorities.”

A former agriculture minister, Akhanouch is one of Morocco’s richest men.

He replaces Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani, whose Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) suffered a stinging a defeat in the September 8 election. The party, which has been in power since 2011, secured only 13 parliament seats, down from 125 in the 2016 election.

The PJD’s leadership resigned en masse after this month’s elections and said the party would join the opposition ranks.

In a statement, the moderate Islamist party alleged “many violations and imbalances witnessed” during the elections,” adding that “the results do not reflect the reality of the political map and the free will of the voters.”

UN commemorates controversial Durban conference; 34 countries boycott event

World leaders at the UN General Assembly commemorate the 20th anniversary of the controversial UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which was accused of veering into open antisemitism.

The US and Israel walked out during the meeting over a draft resolution that singled out Israel for criticism and likened Zionism to racism — a provision that was eventually dropped.

A total of 34 countries are boycotting this year’s event, according to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

“The original Durban Conference, a UN-hosted event, became the worst international manifestation of antisemitism since WWII,” The Foreign Ministry says in a statement. “The ‘World Conference on Racism’ actually ended up encouraging it, including through the parallel NGO forum, which displayed caricatures of Jews with hooked noses and fangs dripping with blood, clutching money.”

The ministry adds: “20 years later, some of the same organizations have waged a BDS campaign against the only democracy in the Middle East, but they have FAILED.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

Lebanese ex-minister allied with Hezbollah requests port blast judge be replaced

BEIRUT — A former Lebanese government minister has asked the country’s top court to remove the lead judge investigating last year’s massive explosion in Beirut’s port because of allegedly “legitimate suspicion” over his handling of the case, state media reports.

The development is the latest in a year-long saga surrounding the investigation into the explosion, which plunged Lebanon into another political crisis and accelerated an already unprecedented economic meltdown.

The country’s government resigned after the August 4, 2020 explosion, and bickering political parties only this month agreed on a new government.

Also, months into the probe, the lead judge running the investigation was removed by the Court of Cassation after similar charges were filed against him by senior government officials.

The petition today by the former public works minister, Youssef Fenianos, comes a week after Judge Tarek Bitar issued an arrest warrant for him after he failed to appear in court for questioning.

It’s not clear whether the Court of Cassation will take up Fenianos’ lawsuit, and if it does, it will have to examine the case and then decide whether to dismiss or accept the request.

The judge has accused Fenianos and three other former senior government officials with intentional killing and negligence that led to the deaths of more than 200 people in the explosion. Over 6,000 were injured in the massive blast that also devastated a large section of Beirut.

Fenianos is a senior official with the Christian Marada Movement, a close ally of Lebanon’s powerful terrorist group Hezbollah. He says in a statement, carried by the state-run Lebanese News Agency, that his petition was motivated by “concern for justice,” and accuses an unnamed party of wanting “to blame me as a former minister of public works” for the blast.

However, the petition is harshly criticized by human rights activists and angers the families of the victims, who claim that it is another ploy to “prevent the truth.”

“It is outrageous that Lebanese politicians think they can just replace a judge every time he tries to hold them accountable until one is appointed that is to their liking,” says Aya Majzoub, a Lebanon researcher from Human Rights Watch.

EU’s top diplomat: Iran ready to resume nuclear talks at ‘early date’

BRUSSELS — The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says that Iran’s top diplomat has assured him at their first meeting that Tehran was ready to restart talks on the nuclear deal soon.

EU-mediated negotiations began in Vienna in April, aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers — an accord left hanging by a thread after former US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 and ramped up sanctions.

The discussions, which involve the remaining parties seeking to persuade Washington to rejoin the deal and Iran to return to its nuclear commitments, have been stalled since June, when ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi was elected as Iran’s president.

An EU statement says that Borrell “underlined once again the great importance of a quick resumption of the Vienna talks” at a meeting yesterday with Iran’s new top diplomat Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

“The Iranian Foreign Minister assured of the willingness to resume negotiations at an early date,” the statement says.

Bennett meets education officials on return to school after Sukkot

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is meeting with Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton and other officials to discuss the reopening of schools when the Sukkot holiday ends next week.

Speaking at the start of the meeting, Bennett stresses he wants “continuous study, other we’ll grow a generation of zombies here.”

According to Channel 12 news, Bennett wants to reduce the number of students in quarantine, instead preferring to have kids that were exposed to virus carriers remain in school while undergoing testing for a week to ensure that they did not contract COVID-19, and quarantining in the case of a positive test.

“Parents need to work and kids need to study. We need to replace mass quarantine with intensive antigen testing,” he is quoted as telling associates.

Knesset committee votes to extend Green Pass rules until October 4

The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approves an extension of Green Pass rules until October 4, keeping in place various coronavirus restrictions.

WHO reports worldwide decline in new COVID cases

The number of new COVID-19 cases continued to fall last week, with 3.6 million new cases reported globally, down from 4 million new infections the previous week, the World Health Organization says.

Last week’s drop marks the first substantial decline for more than two months, with falling COVID-19 cases in almost every world region.

In its latest update on the pandemic, the WHO says that there are major decreases in cases in two regions: a 22 percent fall in the Middle East and a 16% drop in Southeast Asia.

The UN health agency says that there are just under 60,000 deaths in the past week, a 7% decline.

It says that while Southeast Asia reported a 30% decrease in COVID-19 deaths, the Western Pacific region reported a 7% increase.

The most coronavirus cases were seen in the US, India, Britain, Turkey and the Philippines. The WHO says that the faster-spreading Delta variant has now been seen in 185 countries and is present in every part of the world.

The organization also revises its list of “variants of interest,” or those that it believes have the potential to cause big outbreaks. The WHO says that it is tracking the lambda and mu variants, which both arose in Latin America but have yet to cause widespread epidemics.

The WHO has previously said that in all countries where the Delta variant is circulating, it has become the predominant virus.

Gunmen target aide to Ukrainian president in alleged assassination attempt

KYIV, Ukraine — Gunmen opened fire today with automatic weapons on a car carrying a senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in what officials say was an attempted assassination in response to his crackdown on oligarchs.

Serhiy Shefir, a 57-year-old former scriptwriter and longtime associate of comedian-turned-politician Zelensky, is reported to have escaped without serious injury.

An adviser to the interior minister, Anton Herashchenko, said on Facebook that the attack took place around 10 a.m. local time near the village of Lisnyky south of the capital Kiev.

He says that Shefir’s driver was “seriously injured” and that police had launched a special operation in the area.

“Unidentified individuals fired about 10 shots from a 7.62 caliber automatic weapon,” Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova says on Facebook.

She says that the authorities had opened an attempted murder investigation.

Photos published by officials show a black Audi with bullet holes along its hood and on the driver-side door.

Official reports don’t say whether Shefir was injured, but a lawmaker representing Zelensky’s “Servant of the People” party says that he is fine.

“I briefly spoke to him, everything is fine, he is alive and well,” Davyd Arakhamia is quoted by Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency as saying.

He says that police had taken Shefir to a “safe” location.

Diaspora minister urges ‘long-term fix’ for Israel’s ties with Democrats

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai calls for a “long-term fix” in Israel’s ties with the Democratic Party, after $1 billion in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system was pulled from a US government funding bill due to opposition from progressive House members.

“Long-term developments in the US are changing the Democratic Party and strengthening the progressive and anti-Israel axis,” Shai says in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster.

He hits out at former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, noting his opposition to the 2015 nuclear deal signed by Democratic president Barack Obama, charging that the ex-premier “clearly went in the Republican direction.”

Shai adds: “We need to invest in a long-term fix of Israel’s ties with the Democratic Party. A giant gap was created between the Jewish community in the US and Israel… The Biden administration is friendly toward Israel. I’m worried about the distant future.”

The minister, a member of the Labor party, says in a separate interview with Army Radio that Israel cannot “close its eyes” to changes taking place in the US.

“Most of the Democratic party support Israel but an extremist group is getting stronger,” Shai says.

Netanyahu, Lapid spar over Israel’s ties with Democratic Party

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party pushes back on criticism by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid over the former premier’s handling of ties with the Democratic Party, after $1 billion for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system was removed from a bill to keep the US government funded in response to pressure from progressive House Democrats.

“Lapid’s claim concerning former prime minister Netanyahu and the Democrats again exposes his astonishing ignorance. It was Netanyahu who agreed with Obama’s Democratic administration on the largest ever American defense assistance package given to the State Of Israel of $38 billion,” Likud says in statement.

The comment came after Lapid swiped at Netanyahu following his conversation with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, who later vowed the Iron Dome funding bill would be brought to a separate vote this week.

“After years in which the previous government neglected Congress and the Democratic Party and caused significant damage to Israel-US ties, today we are rebuilding trust with Congress,” Lapid had tweeted.

German court bans ‘hang the Greens’ election posters put up by neo-Nazis

FRANKFURT, Germany — A court in Germany orders neo-Nazi election posters bearing the slogan “hang the Greens” to be taken down, after they were initially allowed to stay in place.

The upper administrative court in Bautzen, Saxony, overturns a provisional ruling, which permitted the posters from the radical far-right group “The Third Way” (Der III. Weg) to be displayed away from Green party election materials.

The Third Way has incited controversy with divisive public campaigns in the run up to national elections in Germany on September 26.

On Saturday, the group displayed blood-smeared dummies representing the three candidates to be chancellor from the mainstream parties, the conservatives’ Armin Laschet, Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats and Annalena Baerbock of the Greens, in the Bavarian city of Wuerzburg.

Local officials in the city of Zwickau had ordered the removal of the radicals’ election posters before their decision was overturned by a district court.

But an upper court has now rejected the lower court’s decision.

The posters were an incitement to hatred, the ruling says, and “disturbed public peace with an attack on the human dignity of Green party members.”

Initial arguments that the removal constituted an undue limitation on freedom of expression are dismissed by the court, which says that this concern falls under “the defense of public safety” in this case.

A 2020 report from the German domestic intelligence service described The Third Way as a “meeting place for individuals in the neo-Nazi scene.”

The Greens have been regular targets for far-right activists, who accuse the party of wanting to implement widespread bans, including on combustion engines, under the banner of the fight against climate change.

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