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

Likud and Blue and White representatives kick off talks amid bickering

Teams representing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and his chief rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White have kicked off meetings as part of negotiations for a possible unity government in a long-shot effort to solve the political paralysis that has emerged from last week’s deadlocked national elections.

Heading Likud’s team is Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, and Blue and White has former Ehud Olmert aide Yoram Turbowicz in its corner.

The meeting comes as the sides have continued to bicker, with Blue and White claiming that Netanyahu plans to sell his right-wing religious allies short, drawing accusations that Gantz is trying to break up Netanyahu’s bloc.

Rivlin invites would-be PMs to dinner, (hand)shakes

Channel 12 news reports that President Reuven Rivlin has invited Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu to reconvene at his home for dinner Wednesday evening.

The three held a first meeting on Monday night and agreed to begin unity talks.

Political pundits are looking for any clues as to whom Rivlin will task with forming a government and whether the sides will be able to come together.

Body language expert Anat Hecht Fisher tells Army Radio that Rivlin’s handshake Monday with Netanyahu was businesslike, while he grasped Gantz with two hands. “He’s broadcasting empathy, warmth and closeness to the Blue and White head,” she says.

French police raid home of modeling agent in Epstein probe

French investigators have searched the home and offices of French modeling agent Jean-Luc Brunel in their probe into late financier Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged sexual exploitation of women and girls.

The Paris prosecutor’s office says investigators carried out searches over the past week at Karin Models, an agency in the high-end 8th arrondissement of Paris, and at Brunel’s Paris home. The prosecutor’s office would not provide further details of where things stand in the French investigation.

Brunel was a frequent companion of Epstein who flew on his plane and visited him in jail in Florida, according to US legal records.

French police appealed earlier this month for victims and witnesses to come forward to aid their investigation into alleged rape of minors and other possible charges linked to the Epstein case.

— AP

Meeting over unity ends after 1.5 hours

The meeting between Likud and Blue and White negotiators has ended after about an hour and a half, according to Hebrew-language media reports.

No statement is released.

Ex-MK on the lam Bishara said behind Balad about-face

The Globes business daily reports that the man behind the Balad party’s decision to pull support for Benny Gantz as prime minister is faction founder Azmi Bishara, currently on the run from Israel.

Balad initially joined the rest of the Joint List in endorsing Gantz to President Reuven Rivlin, but hours later announced it had changed its mind.

In this photo taken on April 22, 2007 Arab then-Knesset member Azmi Bishara talks on his mobile phone in front of the Arab league headquarters after a meeting with the Secretary General Amr Mussa in Cairo. (AFP PHOTO/Khaled DESOUKI)

Bishara fled Israel for Qatar after being accused of passing information to the Hezbollah terror group. According to Globes, citing unnamed “Arab political sources,” he continues to exert influence over the hard-line Palestinian nationalist party and forced it into the reversal.

The party’s MK Mtanes Shihada tells Globes he rejects the account and says Bishara does not have any link with Balad anymore.

Egypt says 6 Muslim Brotherhood ‘terrorists’ killed in shootout

Six Muslim Brotherhood members were killed in a shootout with Egyptian police on the outskirts of Cairo, the country’s interior ministry says.

In a brief statement, the ministry says police exchanged fire with the “terrorist” group in 6 October City, on the southwestern edge of the capital, accusing it of “planning a series of terror operations.”

Since the 2013 military overthrow of elected Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi there has been a widespread crackdown on dissent among Islamists.


After meeting Gantz, Liberman claims he’s not on anyone’s side

Seeking to counter claims that he is in Blue and White’s center-left camp, Avigdor Liberman writes on Facebook for the umpteenth time that he is not beholden to any one side.

“Yisrael Beytenu is not with anyone, not Blue and White, not Likud and not the Pirates,” he writes on Facebook. He says his promise to force a unity government is “ironclad.”

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz (right) meets with Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman on September 23, 2019. (Elad Malka)

On Monday, Liberman and Blue and White head honcho Benny Gantz met in Jaffa and the two released identical statements.

While Liberman has not sat down with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, he notes that the head of his negotiating team Oded Forer met with Likud minister Zeev Elkin and will meet with Blue and White’s Avi Nissenkorn.

“I am confident Yisrael Beytenu should be in the government, but we will not sit under any condition with ultra-Orthodox, messianists, the Joint List or the Democratic Camp,” he writes.

US-led forces in Iraq says it won’t tolerate attacks

US-led coalition forces in Baghdad say that attacks on coalition personnel and facilities “will not be tolerated,” adding that coalition forces retain the right to self-defense.

A statement Tuesday says that no coalition or US-occupied facility was struck in last night’s attack in which two rockets were fired into the heavily fortified Green Zone, landing around one kilometer from the US Embassy compound.

The coalition statement says it takes “this incident seriously as do our Iraqi security forces partners.” No side has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Similar attacks in the past have sometimes been blamed by Iraqi forces on Iranian-backed militias in Baghdad.

— AP

Blue and White: We are in talks with Likud, not right-wing

Sources in Blue and White are insisting that they are holding unity talks with only Likud and not the entire right-wing ultra-Orthodox bloc.

Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted in public statements that Likud’s negotiations are being carried out on behalf of the other signatories of a right-religious pact: Shas, UTJ and Yamina.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hosted by Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party (left), at a meal to celebrate the birth of Litzman’s grandson, June 18, 2017. (Shlomi Cohen/FLASH90)

“We are not in talks with the right wing and Haredi parties. Netanyahu knows that we won’t be in government with Yaakov Litzman and Bezalel Smotrich. The talks are with Likud and not the bloc,” a party source is quoted telling the Ynet news website.

“The talks between the two largest parties are being held gladly,” a source from the party is quoted telling Walla news. “but it’s not possible to hold talks when you are talking about a bloc of 55 [seats].”

Bibi or the bloc? Party negotiators joust over who Likud represents

An hour after talks ended, Blue and White and Likud release a joint statement shining a light on a main bone of contention, who Likud’s Yariv Levin is speaking for.

“Yoram Turbowicz wanted to emphasize that for him, Minister Levin represented the prime minister and Likud, while Minister Levin emphasized that he represented all 55 members of the right-wing bloc,” the statement reads.

Likud previously signed an agreement with Shas, UTJ and Yamina to negotiate as a bloc.

According to the statement, the showdown was “matter-of-fact and held in good spirits.”

“The two agreed they would update the prime minister and the chairman of Blue and White regarding the meeting’s content, and then decide on next steps,” the statement reads.

High-level UN summit to kick off with focus on Trump, Iran

The UN General Assembly is set to kick off in the coming moments, with world leaders and top diplomats gathered at Turtle Bay in Manhattan for the annual cattle call.

Most eyes at the session will be on US President Donald Trump, who is slated to speak second after Brazil’s Michel Temer. Trump is expected to devote much of his speech at the world body to deterring Iran.

US President Donald Trump addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, 2018, in New York. (John Moore/Getty Images/AFP)

Later in the morning, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani will speak at the session.

Also speaking Tuesday morning will be French President Emmanuel Macron, who has tried to broker a meeting between them, and Jordan’s King Abdullah, who has not.

Israel stubs out flavored tobacco, mulling total ban of e-cigarettes

The Health Ministry says it is exploring ways to impose a total ban on sales of e-cigarettes, following other countries that have sought to crack down on what has been described as a vaping epidemic.

The ministry says it is imposing an immediate ban on sales of flavored cartridges of oil used in the smoking devices.

The ministry says it is considering imposing a ban via a temporary injunction without waiting for the Knesset to pass new regulations.

A woman takes a puff from a cannabis vape pen in Los Angeles, December 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

“I call on the public to not wait for new rules and regulations and simply stop using things that hurt their health,” ministry chief Moshe Bar Siman Tov says.

India banned sales of e-cigarettes this month and regulators in the United States and other countries are imposing controls following a surge in deaths and illnesses blamed on vaping.

On Tuesday morning, China said it would also place new restrictions on e-cigarettes.

Makers of e-cigarettes including Juul Labs Inc. have promoted them as being safer than standard cigarettes, but the US Food and Drug Administration says no vaping product has been reviewed and found to be less harmful than traditional tobacco products.

Airstrikes fail to halt activity at alleged Iranian base in Syria, images show

Satellite images show that construction is proceeding at a military base allegedly controlled by Iran in Syria near the Iraqi border, despite repeated airstrikes on the site that have been attributed to Israel.

The photographs, released by the private Israeli intelligence company ImageSat International, show the progress being made in the construction of the site in the Boukamal region of eastern Syria over the past month.

The compound — known as the Imam Ali Base — is seen as a critical element in Tehran’s efforts to create a land corridor under its control from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, into Lebanon and out to the Mediterranean Sea.

From September 9 to 21, new access roads were created, buildings were completed and additional construction equipment was brought in to the base.

Work has also continued on two border crossings on either side of the Syria-Iraq border. An official Iraqi-controlled crossing is not yet active, but could be made operational shortly.

The second crossing, which is believed to be controlled by Iran through Shiite militias, is under “intense construction,” according to ImageSat.

This can be seen in the large amount of construction equipment visible at the site.

— Judah Ari Gross

SodaStream chief Birnbaum suspected of insider trading

Daniel Birnbaum, the popular head of Israeli fizzy water company SodaStream. is being investigated for insider trading connected to PepsiCo’s acquisition of the firm.

The soda giant paid $3.2 billion, or $144 a share, for the company last year, in one of the largest buyouts in Israel’s history.

SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum (l) and PepsiCo’s CEO Ramon Laguarta at the SodaStream factory in the Negev Desert next to the city of Rahat on August 20, 2018. (Eliran Avital)

Birnbaum was questioned, arrested and released on NIS 1.2 million bail, according to media reports.


SodaStream says it is cooperating with investigators

Sodastream says in a statement, “The company will cooperate as needed to assist the Israel Securities Authority to exhaust the investigation.”

The Israeli Securities Authority announced Tuesday it was investigating SodaStream chief Daniel Birnbaum on suspicion of insider trading on Tuesday.

PepsiCo has not commented on the case.

According to the ISA, a second employee, a close associate of Birnbaum, was also arrested and accused of using private information to buy shares before Pepsi’s purchase, making a profit of NIS 156,000.

The employee is also suspected of profiting off share purchases ahead of financial reports.


Trump at UN pitches America First policies

Speaking to the United Nations from prepared remarks, US President Donald Trump makes the case for his America First policies that run contrary to the world body’s multilateral bent.

“Wise leaders always put the good of their own people and their own country first. The future does not belong to globalists, the future belongs to patriots.”

“Those who want peace love their nation,” he says.

He says there is a divide “between those whose thirst for control deludes them into thinking they are destined to rule over others, and those nations and people who want only to rule themselves.”

Hinting at the US’s nuclear arsenal, he says “hopefully it will never have to use this power.”


Trump at UN pushes for ‘balanced trade,’ bashes China

Trump says the UN’s other member states need to pay their fair share.

He defends his protectionist trade policies, saying others got rich off the US with bad faith efforts.

“We want balanced trade that is both fair and reciprocal.”

He says the US is ready to “complete a magnificent new trade deal” with the UK after Brexit.

He accuses China of embracing an economic model that includes “the theft of intellectual property and trade secrets on a grand scale.”

Trump accuses Iran of ‘fanatical quest’ for nukes

Trump touts his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

He accuses Tehran of a “fanatical quest for nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. we must never allow this to happen.”

He says that unless it changes its ways, “sanctions will not be lifted, they will be tightened.”

“The regimes record of death and destruction is well known to us all.”

He accuses the country of “monstrous anti-Semitism.”

“The United States does not seek conflict with any other nation. But I will never fail to defend America’s interests.” he says.





Trump urges ‘full normalized relations with Israel’ in the Mideast

Trump says there is a growing recognition in the Middle East about shared values.

That is why it is so important to have full normalized relations between Israel and its neighbors.

He accuses Iran of blaming its problems on Israel.

“It is time for Iran’s leaders to finally put the Iranian people first.”

He says the US is ready to embrace friendship with anyone who embraces peace.

Trump talks North Korea, Venezuela, immigration, socialism

Trump touts talks with North Korea if it denuclearizes.

He also talks up the US’s controversial immigration policies. He says human rights groups are guilty of human trafficking.

He says the US is “watching the Venezuela situation very closely.”

He calls socialism “the wrecker of nations and destroyer of societies.”


Sleepy-sounding Trump takes aim at social media, Twitterati hit back

Trump turns his fire against social media companies, accusing them of “weakening democratic rule.”

He says the “faceless bureaucracies” are silencing people and hurting free speech.

On social media, he is taking flak for the slow, monotone delivery of his free speech.


Israel Katz watches speech, which does not include mention of peace plan

Foreign Minister Israel Katz is staring off into space, according to a picture sent out by his own flak.

Israel Katz at the UN General Assembly on September 24, 2019. (Arye Shalicar/Foreign Ministry)

Trump wraps up his speech to some applause. He notably does not mention the rollout of his Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

Iran open to bantam changes to nuke deal if sanctions removed

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, also at the UN, says he is open to discussing small changes to the Iran nuclear deal if sanctions are lifted, Reuters reports.

Likud officials tells bloc they are arguing on their behalf

Likud negotiators Yariv Levin and Zeev Elkin have updated their counterparts from other right-wing and religious parties about talks with Blue and White, a Likud spokesperson says in a statement.

The statement says Levin told them that “he made clear at the beginning of talks earlier today that he is representing the whole bloc.”

A handout photo released by Likud shows officials from the faction and other right-wing and religious parties meeting on September 24, 2019. (Likud)

Blue and White and Likud have sparred over whether the latter is just representing itself or the right-religious parties it signed a pact with as well.

The statement says the participants discussed the outlines of their negotiating positions.

Israel slams Turkish leader over UN speech

Israeli leaders are striking back after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slams the country, questions its borders and accuses it of wanting to keep expanding.

“The Palestinian territory under Israeli occupation has become one of the most striking places of injustice,” he says.

He says a Palestinian woman shot and killed during an alleged stabbing attempt at a checkpoint was “murdered heinously.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accuses Erdogan of lying constantly.

“Someone who does not stop lying, who slaughters Kurds, who denies the massacre of the Armenians, should not preach to Israel. Stop lying Erdogan.”

Foreign Minister Israel Katz accuses Erdogan of anti-Semitism in a similar statement. “You should be ashamed, Erdogan,” he says.

Netanyahu says Iran behind attack on Saudi oil plant

In a second video released within minutes of him reacting to world affairs, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — stuck in Jerusalem amid coalition wrangling — joins Western powers in accusing Iran of being behind an attack on a Saudi oil facility.

“Iran is responsible from A to Z,” he says.

“Israel knows how to protect itself from this kind of assault. We call on the international community to join the efforts of President Trump in raising pressure on Iran. It’s the only way to stop Iran’s aggressive behavior,” he adds.

Israelis mad about Erdogan Holocaust comparison

According to the Foreign Ministry, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel Katz are actually responding to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comparison of Gazans to Jews in the Holocaust, apparently made on the sidelines of the UN.

“There is no other way to interpret Erdogan’s crude and vile words – it is anti-Semitism, clear cut. This is proof that the responsibility of #HolocaustRemembrance is more relevant now than ever,” Katz says in a follow-up statement.

According to the Foreign Ministry, citing Turkey’s Anadolu Agency, Erdogan told US Muslim leaders that “when we look at the Nazi murder of the Jews, we see the massacre in the Gaza Strip from the same perspective.”

The report cannot be independently confirmed.

Gantz praises Trump for anti-Iran speech

Blue and White chief Benny Gantz praises US President Donald Trump for his speech at the UN vowing to counter Iran.

“I applaud President Trump on his call for an international front against the Iranian nuclear threat. Iran is first and foremost a threat to international peace and is a hostile force against regional stability,” he says in a statement.

He calls on the international community to step up sanctions on Iran.

He also praises Trump for calling on neighbors to normalize relations with Israel.

Gantz says “to normalize relations with Israel is of critical importance as part of a future vision and need to initiate agreements between Israel and countries in the region.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not commented on Trump’s speech.

WeWork founder out as CEO as company looks to win back investors

WeWork founder Adam Neumann is stepping down as CEO of the embattled company, the New York Times reports, after a damning report on his unorthodox management style and questions over the company’s valuation ahead of an expected IPO.

Neumann, who is Israeli, will become the nonexecutive chairman of the We Company, WeWork’s parent, according to the report.

The shared office space company is heading toward an IPO, but has hit serious road bumps in recent weeks. It was originally valued at $47 billion, but that figure has plummeted to some $15 billion as investors have opened the company’s books and raised questions about how it is run.

A Wall Street Journal report over the weekend portrayed Neumann and his wife as eccentric executives who made rash decisions. According to the profile, Neumann has plans to become prime minister of Israel and the world’s first trillionaire.

Army to demolish homes of suspects in deadly West Bank stabbing

The Israel Defense Forces says it is going ahead with the demolition of the homes of two Palestinians accused in the fatal stabbing of yeshiva student and off-duty soldier Dvir Sorek, after an appeal against the move was thrown out.

Sorek’s body was found on August 7 outside the West Bank settlement of Migdal Oz south of Jerusalem; Nasir and Qasseem Asafra were nabbed by Israeli forces days later and accused of attacking Sorek after he got off a bus late at night.

One of the suspects (R) in the murder of Dvir Sorek after being arrested by the Border Police and IDF in the West Bank on August 10, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

The military notified the families of the terrorists of its intentions to demolish the homes in the Hebron-area village of Beit Khalil earlier this month and gave them an opportunity to appeal the decision.

“The demolition orders were signed after the appeals by the families against the demolitions were rejected,” the army says.

It is not immediately clear when the military will carry out the orders.

— Judah Ari Gross

Pelosi may announce impeachment proceedings against Trump

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she will make an announcement Tuesday afternoon after she meets with House chairmen and members of the Democratic caucus.

Her comments come as more than a dozen Democrats, many of them moderates, have endorsed impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

US President Donald Trump turns to House speaker Nancy Pelosi as he delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence watched, February 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

According to an NBC News analyst, Pelosi will announce the creation of an inquiry to kick off impeachment proceedings, and express support for the move against the president.

The Washington Post reports that Pelosi and other top Democrats have been exploring the creation of a select committee to conduct impeachment proceedings.

“The California Democrat has spoken to key allies in recent days about establishing a special panel rather than leaving the task with the House Judiciary Committee, said several Democratic officials. Nothing has been decided, the individuals cautioned, but some members are expected to publicly endorse the move soon,” The Post reports.

The calls come as Democrats have questioned whether Trump improperly used his office to pressure the Ukrainian president to investigate political rival Joe Biden’s family. The administration is withholding a whistle-blower complaint at least partly related to that matter from Congress.

— with AP

Deri: I think Netanyahu agreed to rotate premiership

Shas leader Aryeh Deri says he understands that Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to a rotation premiership with Blue and White head Benny Gantz as part of a unity deal, Channel 12 news reports.

Deri, who makes the comments during a pre-holiday toast, adds, however, that he is not an expert on the details of the talks.

Several Hebrew media outlets report that President Reuven Rivlin will delay tasking either Netanyahu or Gantz with forming a government until next week, a likely sign that he wants more time to push unity talks.

More rotation offers than you can shake a hand at

There are several reports pushing various options being bandied about for a rotational premiership as part of unity talks between Likud and Blue and White.

Channel 13 reports that Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu has suggested he go first in a rotation, but Blue and White head Benny Gantz will get more time at the helm in return — up to three years.

Ynet reports that the sides have agreed that whoever is prime minister first will give up on control of two of three senior portfolios: Foreign Affairs, Treasury or Defense.

President Reuven Rivlin meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on September 23, 2019. (Haim Zach/GPO )

Walla reports that Likud has suggested that the right-wing bloc be forced to split among itself an equal number of portfolios as Blue and White gets.

The Kan public broadcaster, meanwhile, reports that Likud sources believe Gantz is open to serving under Netanyahu in a rotation deal, despite all his promises to the contrary.

2020 hopefuls give cautious backing to impeachment moves

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is reiterating that Congress should start “impeachment inquiries” into President Donald Trump, but is stopping short of calling for a start to efforts to remove the president. Still, he calls it “likely.”

Speaking at a campaign event in Davenport, Iowa, the Vermont senator says, “Enough is enough.”

His comments come as House Democrats in Washington appear to be moving closer to launching impeachment proceedings after Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

“Today, I hope very much that the Judiciary Committee will go forward with an impeachment inquiry,” Sanders says.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at the “We the People” summit featuring 2020 presidential candidates in Washington, D.C., April 1, 2019. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images via JTA)

Biden’s presidential campaign says the candidate plans Tuesday to call for Congress to impeach Trump if the administration does not cooperate fully with all ongoing House investigations and subpoenas.

Biden plans to frame the situation as just the latest in a line of Trump’s abuses of presidential power.

Sanders had previously expressed support for inquiries into the president, but expressed reservations that the drawn-out impeachment process would be a political boon to Trump.

— AP

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