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AfD entry into German parliament poses ‘big challenge,’ Merkel says

Chancellor vows to win back voters from far-right party after coalition narrows in election victory

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves the election booth as she casts her vote in Berlin, Germany, September 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves the election booth as she casts her vote in Berlin, Germany, September 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
  • An Iranian military truck carries parts of the S-300 air defense missile system during a parade on the occasion of the country's Army Day, on April 18, 2017, in Tehran. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)
    An Iranian military truck carries parts of the S-300 air defense missile system during a parade on the occasion of the country's Army Day, on April 18, 2017, in Tehran. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)
  • Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps are seen at an annual military parade in front of the mausoleum of the late Ayatollah Khomeini just outside Tehran on September 22, 2014. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi/File)
    Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps are seen at an annual military parade in front of the mausoleum of the late Ayatollah Khomeini just outside Tehran on September 22, 2014. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi/File)
  • New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft holds the Vince Lombardi Trophy during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images/AFP)
    New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft holds the Vince Lombardi Trophy during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images/AFP)
  • UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi visits a school that has been turned to a temporary camp for newly arrived Rohingya Muslims at Kutupalong, Bangladesh, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Ziaul Haque Oisharjh)
    UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi visits a school that has been turned to a temporary camp for newly arrived Rohingya Muslims at Kutupalong, Bangladesh, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Ziaul Haque Oisharjh)
  • An aerial view of the Haifa Port, northern Israel, June 14, 2014. (Shay Levi/Flash90)
    An aerial view of the Haifa Port, northern Israel, June 14, 2014. (Shay Levi/Flash90)

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

Iraq’s Kurds to vote on independence amid fears of unrest

KALAK, Iraq — “For the sake of the sacrifices and blood of the martyrs, let’s all say yes for Kurdistan independence,” reads a large billboard in the center of Kalak, a small town in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region. “Independence is not given, it’s taken!” reads another banner hanging below a cluster of red, green, yellow and white Kurdish flags.

Iraq’s Kurds are set to vote Monday in a referendum on support for independence that has stirred fears of instability across the region as the war against the Islamic State group winds down. The Kurds are likely to approve the referendum, but the non-binding vote is not expected to result in any formal declaration of independence.

The United States and the United Nations have condemned the referendum. Turkey, which is battling its own Kurdish insurgency, has threatened to use military force to prevent the emergence of an independent Kurdish state, and Baghdad has warned it will respond militarily to any violence resulting from the vote.

Initial results from the poll are expected on Tuesday, with the official results announced later in the week.

Denied independence when colonial powers drew the map of the Middle East after World War I, the Kurds form a sizable minority in Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq. They have long been at odds with the Baghdad government over the sharing of oil revenues and the fate of disputed territories like the city of Kirkuk, which is expected to take part in the vote.

— AP

Iranian Guard drills near Iraq, ahead of Kurdish referendum

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard begins a military exercise in the northwestern Kurdish region near the Iraqi border ahead of a Kurdish independence referendum in the neighboring country.

The Guard’s website does not say how long the drill will last, only that airborne and missile units are participating in the exercise.

Iraq’s Kurds are set to vote Monday in a referendum on support for independence. The Kurds are likely to approve the referendum, but the non-binding vote is not expected to result in any formal declaration of independence.

Iran and Iraq have been close allies since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. Both are opposed to Kurdish independence, and Baghdad has said the referendum is unconstitutional.

— AP

Netanyahu to brief security cabinet on Trump, Sissi meetings at UN

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to convene the security cabinet Sunday to brief ministers on his New York meetings with US President Donald Trump and separately with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

During the gathering, scheduled for 4 p.m., the prime minister is also expected to raise the subject of Iran’s military presence in Syria, the Hebrew media Ynet website reported, an issue that reportedly made up a large part of Netanyahu’s talks with Trump.

Lavrov says US will not strike North Korea

MOSCOW, Russia — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says the United States will not carry out a strike on North Korea because it knows Pyongyang has nuclear bombs.

“The Americans won’t carry out a strike on (North) Korea because it’s not that they suspect, they know for sure that it has nuclear bombs,” Lavrov says in an interview with Russia’s NTV television aired Sunday.

“I’m not defending North Korea, I’m just saying that almost everyone agrees with such an analysis,” the Russian diplomat says.

Lavrov says the crisis can only be resolved with a softer approach, “Only with caresses, suggestion and persuasion.”

He warns that if the US does not take the same approach, “we could drop into a very unpredictable nosedive and tens if not hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens of South Korea, but also North Korea, of course, and Japan will suffer — and Russia and China are nearby.”


Border guard bit by dog during West Bank outpost evacuation

A resident of a West Bank outpost sics a dog on a Border Police officer during the demolition of an illegally built structure in his community in the northern West Bank on Sunday, police say.

The dog bit the officer’s leg during the altercation at the Ein Amsha outpost. The officer was taken to Petah Tikva’s Beilinson Hospital for treatment.

The dog’s owner is arrested together with a second suspect who also allegedly attacked border guards, police say.

Two more police officers are lightly wounded by protesting settlers, but they are treated are the scene and do not require hospitalization.

— Judah Ari Gross

Zim shipping company fined NIS 300,000 for Haifa Bay fuel leak

The Zim shipping company is being fined NIS 300,000 (some $86,000) for polluting Haifa’s bay by allowing oil to leak into its waters.

The fine follows an indictment against the company for an August 2015 incident during which some 8-10 tons of fuel leaked from improperly sealed pipes aboard one of the company’s ships, the Zim Vancouver, as it was fueling at Haifa Port.

Panel falls from aircraft, smashes into car in Japan

TOKYO, Japan — A panel weighing 4.3 kilograms (about 9.5 lbs) falls from a plane shortly after take-off from a Japanese airport and smashes the window of a car being driven below, news reports and the airline say Sunday.

No one is injured, but aviation authorities will send safety inspectors to the western city of Osaka to investigate, says national broadcaster NHK.

The piece fell on the vehicle shortly after the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Boeing 777 with 321 passengers on board took off from Kansai International Airport, bound for Amsterdam on Saturday.

The panel damaged the car’s roof and broke its rear window, NHK says.

The panel, 0.6 meters (2 feet) long and one meter (over 3 feet) wide, is made of composite materials, and fell from the base of the right wing at an altitude of 2,400 meters (7,900 feet) or higher.

KLM says the aircraft landed safely at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport Saturday afternoon.


New indictment announced in sprawling Yisrael Beytenu corruption case

A former director of the Maccabi Rishon Lezion basketball team is being indicted for bribery and other fraud charges linked to the corruption case against a number of Yisrael Beytenu party officials, the state prosecution announces.

Moshe Kaliski, who has also served as a member of Israel Basketball Association and the Israel Handball Association, will face charges for receiving bribes, falsifying documents and money laundering.

Last month, former deputy interior minister Faina Kirshenbaum and nine other officials linked to Yisrael Beytenu were indicted for a litany of corruption charges, including bribery, fraud and money laundering.

Kaliski is being accused of using connections to Kirshenbaum to secure half a million shekels for the Israel Handball Association, despite it not being eligible for such funding. As part of the deal, Kaliski allegedly received NIS 180,000 for himself, which he falsely billed to a printing company he owned at the time. In return, Kaliski purportedly helped Kirshenbaum receive bribes from the Jordan Valley local sport council, where he has connections.

The indictments come after a two-year investigation, known as Case 242, centered around the party in one of the most far-reaching public corruption cases in Israel’s history.

— Raoul Wootliff

UN official: World must step up Rohingya aid

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh — The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says the exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to Bangladesh is “the most urgent refugee emergency in the world” right now.

Filippo Grandi tells reporters in the Bangladeshi town of Cox’s Bazar that the needs of the more than 430,000 people who have fled terrible violence in Myanmar over the last month are enormous and that the international community must step up financial and material aid to Bangladesh if the South Asian nation is to be able to help the refugees.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, center, interacts with Rohingya Muslim children at Kutupalong, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, September 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Ziaul Haque Oisharjh)

The latest round of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state erupted when a Rohingya insurgent group launched deadly attacks against security posts on August 25, prompting Myanmar’s military to launch “clearance operations” to root out the rebels. Those fleeing have described indiscriminate attacks by security forces and Buddhist mobs. The government has blamed the Rohingya, saying they set fire to their own homes, but has provided no proof.

The UN and others have described the violence as ethnic cleansing. Rohingya have faced persecution and discrimination in majority-Buddhist Myanmar for decades and are denied citizenship, even though many families have lived there for generations.

— AP

Iran blocks all Iraqi Kurdistan flights ahead of referendum

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran says it has blocked all flights to and from Iraq’s Kurdistan at the request of Baghdad, a day before the autonomous region holds an independence referendum that Tehran opposes.

“At the request of the central government of Iraq, all flights from Iran to Sulaymaniyah and Arbil, as well as all flights through our airspace originating from the Kurdistan region, have been stopped,” official news agency IRNA quotes the spokesman for the Supreme National Security Council, Keivan Khosravi, as saying.


Patriots owner Robert Kraft slams Trump comments against football players

Robert Kraft, chairman and CEO of the New England Patriots, slams US President Donald Trump over his row with basketball and football players.

At a rally in Huntsville, Alabama, on Friday, Trump hurled epithets at football players who refuse to stand during the national anthem in protest over police treatment of blacks.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,'” Trump said to loud applause.

On Sunday morning, he tweeted, “If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!”

Kraft, who owns the Patriots, responds: “I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday. I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger. There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics. I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal. Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect [sic] social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful.”

UK’s Labour eyes path to power at launch of annual conference

LONDON, United Kingdom — Britain’s revitalized Labour opposition kicks off its annual conference with leader Jeremy Corbyn ready to lay out his party’s agenda, free from the leadership challenges of previous years.

The left-of-center party confounded expectations in June’s snap election by gaining an extra three million votes, a ringing endorsement for the anti-austerity program of its veteran leftist leader.

His party is now polling higher than Prime Minister Theresa May’s governing Conservatives, unthinkable only a year ago when Corbyn had just won a leadership battle that was sparked by MPs angry at his lukewarm campaigning to stay in the European Union.

Labour has yet to set out a clear position on Brexit, particularly on what terms Britain will retain access to the EU’s single market.


Russian strikes said to kill 45 Syrian rebels

BEIRUT, Lebanon – Russian air strikes kill 45 members of a rebel group in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor says Sunday.

It is unclear why the strikes, which took place Saturday, targeted members of the Faylaq al-Sham rebel group, which has taken part in peace talks supervised by Moscow in the Kazakh capital Astana.

The strikes hit the group in the province of Idlib, which is part of a so-called “de-confliction” zone agreed in a deal between Syrian regime allies Russia and Iran, and rebel backer Turkey.

The Observatory initially reported a lower toll, but says the figure had risen as bodies were recovered after the strike on one of the rebel group’s headquarters on the outskirts of the village of Tal Mardikh.

Faylaq al-Sham is an Islamist rebel group considered close to the Muslim Brotherhood movement, and has fought against the former Al-Qaeda affiliate that now effectively controls nearly all of Idlib.

A spokesman for Faylaq al-Sham confirmed the group’s headquarters had been targeted, despite their participation in the last round of talks in Astana.


Merkel casts ballot in German election

BERLIN, Germany – German Chancellor Angela Merkel casts her ballot in Berlin in a general election widely predicted to land her a fourth term, but a possible strong showing by hard-right nationalists could cloud her victory.

Wearing black trousers and a red blazer, Merkel smiles for photographers as she drops her voting paper into a ballot box at a polling station near her flat in central Berlin.

Her husband Joachim Sauer accompanies the chancellor of 12 years into the station, holding up an umbrella to shield them from light rain.

Merkel’s conservative CDU party, along with its Bavarian sister party the CSU, holds a double-digit lead in the polls over their nearest rivals, the Social Democrats led by Martin Schulz.

Surveys suggest the anti-Islam, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party could win its first seats in the national parliament and emerge as the third-strongest party, in what would cause a political earthquake in Germany.


Over 20 US football players kneel for national anthem in London

LONDON — About two dozen players, including Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs and Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette, take a knee during the playing of the national anthem before the start of the teams’ game at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Other players on one knee during the performance included Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley, wide receiver Mike Wallace and safety Lardarius Webb as well as Jaguars linebacker Dante Fowler, defensive tackle Calais Campbell, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

Players on both teams and Jaguars owner Shad Khan, who was not kneeling, remain locked arm-in-arm throughout the playing of the national anthem and “God Save The Queen,” the national anthem of Britain.

US President Donald Trump had a suggestion on Saturday for National Football League owners whose players decide to take a knee during the national anthem: fire them.

— AP

PA seeks to join Interpol at group’s general assembly this week

Israel and the Palestinian Authority are engaged in a diplomatic battle over the PA’s efforts to join the international police agency Interpol at the group’s 86th General Assembly in Beijing that opens Tuesday.

The last Palestinian request for membership was rejected in a vote at the last general assembly last November, but the PA has been lobbying for a different result this time around.

The i24NEWS television network has reported that Palestinian police head Hazem Atallah met Interpol’s Secretary General Jurgen Stock in Lyon, France, last month to promote Palestinian membership.

Voter turnout in Germany down slightly

BERLIN — Germany’s federal election authority says national voter turnout is slightly down so far compared to the last election in 2013.

Polls have been open since 8 a.m. and the Federal Returning Officer said that as of 2 p.m. Sunday, 41.1 percent of eligible voters had cast their ballots.

That was down slightly from 2013, where 41.4% of eligible voters had cast their ballots by 2 p.m. That election ended up with 71.5% overall participation.

The office urged Germans to get out and cast their ballots, noting that polls were open until 6 p.m. Absentee ballots aren’t considered as part of the turnout and there are expected to be a record number this year.

— AP

Iran displays S-300 air defense missile system to public

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard displays the country’s sophisticated Russian-made S-300 air defense system in central Tehran.

This is the first time that the S-300 air defense system has been displayed in public.

The public show in Tehran’s Baharestan square near the Parliament building exhibits different missile systems, including ballistic missiles, solid-fuel surface-to-surface Sejjil missiles and the liquid-fuel Ghadr.

The IRGC prepared the show for the annual Defense Week, marking the 37th anniversary of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war.

US President Donald Trump signed in August a bill imposing mandatory penalties on those involved in Iran’s controversial ballistic missile program and anyone who does business with them.

— AP

Kurdish president says partnership with Iraq is over

IRBIL, Iraq — The president of Iraq’s Kurdish region says the controversial vote on independence will go ahead as planned on Monday, despite mounting pressures from within the region and beyond.

Speaking at a press conference in Irbil Sunday, Masoud Barzani says that while the vote will be the first step in a long process to negotiate independence, the region’s “partnership” with the Iraqi central government in Baghdad is over.

Baghdad, the United States and the United Nations have all voiced strong opposition to the vote set for Monday, warning it could further destabilize the region as Iraqi and Kurdish forces continue to battle the Islamic State group.

Earlier Sunday, Iran closed its airspace to flights taking off from Iraq’s Kurdish region following a request from Baghdad.

— AP

US said to strike IS camp in Libya, killing 17

US forces carry out six “precision airstrikes” against an Islamic State camp in Libya, killing 17 people and destroying three vehicles, the US Africa Command says.

The command says the airstrikes were conducted on Friday, in coordination with Libya’s Government of National Accord, hitting a desert camp 150 miles (240 kilometers) southeast of the city of Sirte.

“The camp was used by ISIS to move fighters in and out of the country; stockpile weapons and equipment; and to plot and conduct attacks,” it says in a statement using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State group.

The airstrikes were believed to be the first in Libya by US forces since US President Donald Trump took office in January.

The last known US airstrikes were carried out in early January under then-president Barack Obama, targeting two IS camps where operatives were suspected of actively planning operations in Europe.


Exit polls: Merkel wins, far-right surges in German vote

Exit polls suggest German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc has finished first in Germany’s election, putting her in a position to lead the country for a fourth term.

Exit polls conducted for public television channels ARD and ZDF suggest support for Merkel’s conservatives was between 32.5 percent and 33.5% in Sunday’s vote.

They indicate challenger Martin Schulz’s Social Democrats trailed in second place with between 20% and 21% support.

The polls also suggest that the anti-migrant, nationalist Alternative for Germany party will enter the national parliament for the first time with 13% to 13.5% support.

— AP

‘No comment’ from Israeli Foreign Ministry over AfD surge in Germany

Israel’s Foreign Ministry says it has “no comment” on the startling gains predicted for the far-right nationalist Alternative for Germany party in Sunday’s election.

Exit polls say AfD is likely to garner over 13 percent of the vote, bringing them into the parliament for the first time.

Iran FM: US ‘unreliable’ following Iran nuclear deal threats

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif brands Washington “unreliable,” in response to threats over the future of a nuclear deal with Iran.

“What the United States is doing, in addition to being unpredictable — which might sometimes work — is proving that it is unreliable,” Zarif tells CNN.

The deal, agreed in 2015 between Iran and six world powers — the United States, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany — lifts economic sanctions put in place in 2005 in exchange for curbs to Tehran’s nuclear program.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is responsible for verifying that Iran meets the terms of the agreement.

But since arriving in the White House, Donald Trump has attacked the deal on numerous occasions, vowing to tear it up.

“Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it,” he told the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

The president cast further doubt over the deal after the Islamic republic tested a new medium-range Khoramshahr missile Saturday that is capable of reaching Israel.


Far-right entry into parliament poses ‘big challenge’ – Merkel

BERLIN, Germany – German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany poses a “big new challenge” with its entry into parliament, as she admits hoping for a better score in the election.

Her center-right CDU won some 32-33 percent of the vote on Sunday, according to exit polls.

“There’s a big new challenge for us, and that is the entry of the AfD in the Bundestag,” says Merkel, adding: “We want to win back AfD voters.”


Merkel claims mandate to form government after Sunday vote

Chancellor Angela Merkel claims a mandate to form a new German government with her conservative bloc. She’s also vowing to win back voters from the nationalist Alternative for Germany party after it got enough support to enter parliament.

Projections show Merkel’s conservative Union bloc finishing first in Sunday’s election, but well short of its election results in 2013. Supporters at party headquarters greeted her with cheers, applause and chants of “Angie!”

Merkel concedes, “Of course we would have preferred a better result, that’s completely clear.” But she notes that her party has been in power for 12 years and said the last four years have been “extremely challenging.”

Alternative for Germany, or AfD, has been harshly critical of Merkel and her decision to let in large numbers of migrants in the last two years. Merkel tells her supporters that “we want to win back AfD voters” by solving the country’s problems and addressing their concerns.

— AP

German Jewish leader: Far-right surge ‘a nightmare come true’

Charlotte Knobloch, chairwoman of the Munich Jewish community and a former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, responds to the election surge for the far-right Alternative for Germany party.

“I am greatly concerned about democracy in our country,” she says on Sunday. “This result is a nightmare come true, a historical change. For the first time an extreme-right party will be strongly represented in parliament.”

— Raphael Ahren

Mexico quake death toll rises to 319

MEXICO CITY — Mexican authorities say the death toll from Tuesday’s magnitude 7.1 earthquake is continuing to grow. It now stands at 319, with more than half of those in the capital.

Civil Defense Chief Luis Felipe Puente reports Sunday on Twitter that 181 people died in Mexico City. There were also 73 deaths in Morelos state, 45 in Puebla, 13 in the State of Mexico, six in Guerrero, and one in Oaxaca.

— AP

Gal Gadot to host ‘Saturday Night Live’

Israeli actress Gal Gadot, known the world over as “Wonder Woman,” will host Saturday Night Live.

Gadot is scheduled to host the October 7 episode of the show. She will be joined by musical guest Sam Smith.

Gadot informed her fans via a tweet. “No longer a secret, so excited to be hosting #SNL,” she wrote Saturday, retweeting an SNL graphic announcing the first three shows of the season.

It is the first time that Gadot will host the comedy sketch show, now in its 43rd season.


At least 8 wounded in Tennessee church shooting

NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Authorities in Tennessee say eight people are injured in a shooting at a church in the Nashville area.

Nashville fire department spokesman Joseph Pleasant tells the Tennessean newspaper that the wounded were being transported to Vanderbilt Medical Center. The nature of the injuries is not immediately known.

A dispatcher quoted by the newspaper says that the scene is still “active” at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ as of 11:40 a.m. Sunday. Multiple ambulances are seen at the church.

On Twitter, Nashville fire officials describe it as a “mass casualty situation.” They say eight people, nearly all of them adults over age 60, are being treated for gunshot wounds and the area around the church remain shut down.

— AP

Top German Jewish leader slams nationalist AfD after election surge

BERLIN — Major Jewish groups are expressing alarm and dismay that the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany has won seats in Germany’s parliament.

Central Council of Jews in Germany President Josef Schuster says the party, known by its German initials AfD, “tolerates far-right thoughts and agitates against minorities.”

He says he expects Germany’s other parties will “reveal the true face of the AfD and unmask their empty, populist promises.”

— AP

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