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

Netanyahu calls for his pre-indictment hearing to be broadcast live

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to allow his pre-indictment hearing next week in a series of graft cases to be broadcast live on TV.

“After three years of a flood of biased, partial leaks, the time has come for the public to hear everything. Also my side, in a complete and full manner — without mediators, without censorship or without distortions,” Netanyahu says in a video statement.

Netanyahu points to the live broadcasts of Central Elections Committee meetings and President Reuven Rivlin’s consultations with political parties on who should form Israel’s next government, saying “this is what is needed” for the hearings as well.

“You know transparency allows the truth,” he says, before decrying leaks from the corruption investigations into him and calling for them to be probed.

“Not only do I have nothing to hide — I want everything to be heard,” Netanyahu adds.

Netanyahu doesn’t specify whether he will attend the hearing with Mandelblit, which is set to take place October 2-3. Lawmakers in the 22nd Knesset, who were elected last week in a vote that deepened Israel’s months-long political gridlock, will be sworn in on October 3.

The premier faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in three criminal cases, as well as bribery in one of them. Mandelblit is expected to announce whether he’ll indict Netanyahu not long after the hearing.

Beijing demands US drop sanctions on Chinese firms for oil transports

BEIJING — China has demanded that Washington drop sanctions imposed on Chinese companies and executives for transporting Iranian oil.

The foreign ministry criticizes the use of US laws against Chinese companies and calls on the Trump administration to “immediately correct the wrong approach.”

A ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, says China’s dealings with Iran are in line with international law “and must be respected.”

The penalties announced yesterday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo apply to six Chinese companies and their chief executives. They include units of major Chinese state-owned companies.

Geng says Washington “disregards the legitimate rights and interests of all parties and wields the stick of sanctions at will. It tramples on the basic norms governing international relations.”

— AP

Elderly man who burned nurse to death sentenced to life

An 80-year-old man is sentenced to life in prison for burning a nurse to death.

Asher Faraj, was found guilty earlier this year of killing nurse 55-year-old nurse Tova Kararo.

According to the court indictment against him, Faraj, became angry after the flu shot he received from Kararo a week before the 2017 incident made him feel weak and unwell.

Faraj booked a blood test and arrived at the clinic with a bottle of flammable liquid and two lighters, according to the indictment. He waited his turn, and after he entered the examination room, deliberately covered Kararo with the liquid before setting her alight.

Faraj fled the scene in his car, but was caught by police after a chase. A psychiatric examination determined he was fit to stand trial.

Prosecutor in Netanyahu graft cases appointed deputy state attorney

Liat Ben-Ari, the lead prosecutor in a series of corruption cases involving Prime Minister Netanyahu, is appointed a deputy state attorney.

Ben-Ari, who holds the taxation and economic crimes portfolio in the state prosecution’s Tel Aviv district, has led numerous high-level corruption investigations against political figures, including Netanyahu and former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

Liat Ben-Ari (YouTube screenshot)

In June, her appointment was delayed after the head of the Civil Service Commissioner received an anonymous letter claiming to have been written by “concerned prosecutors” from within the legal system and maintaining that her appointment was part of a politically motivated effort to force Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to indict Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, who has denied any wrongdoing, has claimed a “weak” Mandelblit is being pressured by “left-wing” prosecutors and media outlets into charging him. He has a pre-indictment hearing with Mandelblit next week.

Saudi prince says Khashoggi murder ‘happened under my watch’ — PBS

WASHINGTON — Saudi Arabia’s crown prince appeared to accept responsibility for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, telling US television a few months later that it “happened under my watch,” but denying any prior knowledge.

“It happened under my watch,” Prince Mohammed bin Salman told a reporter in December 2018, according to quotes released ahead of a new PBS documentary to be aired next week.

“I get all the responsibility, because it happened under my watch,” the heir to the Gulf kingdom’s throne is quoted as saying, following the October 2 murder in Istanbul.

Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, came under huge international pressure after the US-based writer was killed and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Khashoggi’s body was never found.

Asked during a conversation at a car race track outside Riyadh in December 2018 why he did not know about the murder, the prince replied: “We have 20 million people. We have three million government employees.”

And pressed on how a team could take one of the royal planes to Istanbul to carry out the killing, he said: “I have officials, ministers to follow things, and they’re responsible, they have the authority to do that.”

Riyadh has repeatedly denied that Prince Mohammed was behind the murder of Khashoggi — a royal family insider turned critic — who was killed in what Saudi authorities have described as a rogue operation.


Gantz call on Netanyahu to hold unity talks ‘without spin or blocs’

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz calls on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party to hold negotiations on forming a unity government — a day after the premier was tasked by President Reuven Rivlin with forming a government after efforts to foster talks on a unity government broke down.

At a Blue and White faction meeting, Gantz says the focus of coalition negotiations should not be on doling out ministerial portfolios but policy.

“The position is not important. Why is it important who holds what portfolio? This is talked about only after substance,” he says.

Gantz stresses Blue and White is not motivated by personal animus toward Netanyahu but opposes him over his pending indictment in a series of graft cases.

“We’re not just ‘Not Bibi,'” says Gantz, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “We’re looking to act against corruption and can’t sit with a prime minister against whom there are active indictments.”

He also blames Netanyahu for initiating the past two elections and says Israel may be headed to a third.

“Maybe he has an interest to lead us to further elections. Elections that are likely to lead to a rift between the citizens and the state.”

Despite having ruled out sitting in a government with Netanyahu, Gantz calls on the Likud leader to hold talks on establishing a unity government, albeit without his bloc of right-wing religious allies.

“I call on Netanyahu and Likud to come negotiations with discussion about content and with no preconditions. Without spin or blocs. For the sake of the nation of Israel, let’s truly build here a unity government,” he says.

IDF chief holds snap drill testing naval readiness for maritime threats

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi conducted a surprise assessment of the Israeli Navy yesterday, testing its ability to react quickly to a maritime threat along the country’s northern coast, the military says.

This was the first in a series of tests Kohavi plans to conduct in the coming months, looking specifically at the military’s ability to shift from peacetime activities to wartime operations, the Israel Defense Forces says.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks to Israeli Navy soldiers on the stern of a ship in the Haifa Port during a surprise exercise on September 25, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Yesterday’s surprise drills took place in and around the navy’s Haifa Base, which is home to a wide variety of naval vessels.

“The navy’s Haifa Base led and operated the force’s capabilities, above and below the water, in the air and on the ground. Large amounts of naval forces took part in the exercise, working together with ground forces from the Northern Command and in cooperation with air force troops and civilian emergency personnel,” the IDF says in a statement.

The military says the exercise included attack and defense missions, various operational plans and the use of advanced weaponry in complicated fighting scenarios.

“During his visit to the drill, initial findings were presented to the chief of staff showing that the navy’s fitness level was high,” the military says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Khamenei says Europeans can’t be trusted, are as hostile to Iran as US

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s supreme leader says Europeans should not be trusted, based on their inability to save the 2015 nuclear deal that the US unilaterally withdrew from last year.

Since then, US sanctions have kept Iran from selling its oil abroad and have crippled its economy.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks a day after Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani attended the UN General Assembly in New York.

Khamenei says: “Europeans did not fulfill any of their commitments, and this is the strongest reason that they shouldn’t be trusted.”

There had been hope European mediation could help salvage the Iran’s nuclear agreement with world powers.

But Khamenei says Europeans are as hostile toward Iran as the US, and that European mediation had provided little so far beyond “long speeches.”

— AP

A Shahab-3 surface-to-surface missile is on display next to a portrait of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at an exhibition by Iran’s army and paramilitary Revolutionary Guard celebrating “Sacred Defense Week” marking the 39th anniversary of the start of 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, at Baharestan Sq. in downtown Tehran, Iran, September 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

On eve of Rosh Hashanah, Israel’s population tops 9 million

There are now over 9 million people living in Israel, the Central Bureau of Statistics says ahead of the Jewish new year.

Israel’s population now stands at 9.092 million and will top 10 million by 2024, according to the CBS.

The population grew by 2.1 percent from the eve of Rosh Hashanah last year, when it stood at 8.42 million.

The CBS says 74.2% of the population is Jewish, 21% Arab and 4.8% other.

It adds that 196,000 babies were born in Israel last year, 50,000 people died and 38,000 were added to the population rolls through immigration, 35,000 of them new immigrants.

Whistleblower: White House tried to ‘lock down’ details of Trump phone call

WASHINGTON — White House officials sought to “lock down” records of a phone call in which US President Donald Trump urged his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, according to a secret whistleblower complaint made public today.

The document is released ahead of scheduled testimony from Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence.

House Democrats who are now mulling Trump’s impeachment are hoping Maguire will explain why he withheld the intelligence community whistleblower’s complaint from Congress for weeks. Maguire will then go behind closed doors to speak to the Senate intelligence panel.

Lawmakers have been given a redacted, declassified version of the complaint that can be made public.

The complaint is at least in part related to the July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump prodded Zelensky to investigate former US vice president Biden. The White House released a rough transcript of that call Wednesday morning.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday endorsed an impeachment investigation in light of the Ukraine revelations.

— AP

Female cop lightly hurt in apparent stabbing attack outside Jerusalem’s Old City

A female police officer is lightly injured in an apparent stabbing attack outside the Old City of Jerusalem, medics say.

Other officers wrestled the assailant to the ground and arrested him, according to police.

The officer is being treated by medics on the scene.

— Judah Ari Gross

Schiff: Whistleblower complaint reads like criminal shakedown

WASHINGTON — House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says US President Donald Trump’s actions detailed in a newly released whistleblower complaint read like “a classic organized crime shakedown.”

Schiff opens a hearing with acting director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. Maguire released the complaint to Congress and the public this week after weeks of delay.

The complaint details a call between Trump and Ukraine’s president in which Trump pressures the leader to investigate political rival Joe Biden.

Democrats have criticized Maguire for withholding the complaint.

Schiff says the whistleblower shows “more of a dedication of country, more of an understanding of the president’s oath of office, than the president himself.”

Trump has denied doing anything wrong.

— AP

House Intelligence Committee chairman, Democratic Representative Adam Schiff of California, speaks before Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, September 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Police say attempted Old City stabbing was a terror attack

Police say an attempted stabbing in Jerusalem’s Old City was a terror attack.

According to police, the assailant pulled out a knife and tried to stab officers stationed at the Chain Gate to the Temple Mount.

During a scuffle to detain the suspect, a female officer suffered a light injury to her hand, police say.

Jerusalem police chief Doron Yadid is holding a security assessment after the incident, which comes just days before the start of the Jewish High Holidays.

IDF wraps up training program preparing officers for war with Hezbollah

The Israel Defense Forces completes a week-long training program for its senior combat officers aimed at preparing them for a war against the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, providing them with the latest intelligence, fighting methods and operational plans.

This training session included simulating conquering a Lebanese village, operating inside a Lebanese town, thwarting Hezbollah ambushes and destroying the terror group’s rockets and launchers, the army says.

The Hezbollah terror group is seen by the IDF as one of its most formidable enemies, with an arsenal of rockets and missiles larger than that of most countries.

All IDF officers from combat units above the rank of lieutenant colonel participated in the event, the army says.

“The purpose of this session was to act as a base of knowledge for brigade and battalion commanders to train their soldiers in the most accurate and deadly way possible for possible fighting in Lebanon,” the military says.

The week-long training session was held at the IDF’s Elyakim base in northern Israel. It was run by the Northern Command’s 36th Division and the Golani Infantry Brigade.

For this program, the base’s shooting ranges were turned into stand-ins for a Lebanese village, complete with actors in costumes simulating residents.

In addition to conducting practical exercises, the participating officers also prepared to fight in Lebanon with advanced technology, including virtual reality headsets and large touch screens showing troop movements and battles.

Israel and Lebanon had a small taste of what a conflict between the two sides would look like last month, when there was a limited skirmish between the two sides along the Lebanese border in which the terror group fired anti-tank guided missiles at Israeli positions, causing no injuries, in response to an Israeli airstrike on an Iranian-controlled base in Syria several days before that killed two Hezbollah members.

— Judah Ari Gross

Netanyahu lawyers ask AG for pre-indictment hearing to be public

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s lawyers send a letter to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit requesting his pre-indictment hearing next week be held publicly, according to Hebrew media reports.

Netanyahu put out a video earlier today calling for Mandelblit to broadcast the October 2-3 hearing live.

He didn’t say whether he will personally attend the hearing or just dispatch his lawyers.

Netanyahu faces charges in three separate corruption cases. He denies any wrongdoing.

Number of Jews worldwide hits 14.8 million — Jewish Agency

There are now 14.8 million Jews worldwide, a 100,000 increase from the year before, according to the Jewish Agency.

In statistics published ahead of Rosh Hashanah, which begins Sunday evening, the Jewish Agency says 8.1 million Jews live outside Israel, with the largest population in the United States, which has 5.7 million Jews.

Following Israel and the US, the countries with the largest number of Jews are France (450,000), Canada (392,000), Britain (292,000), Argentina (180,000), Russia (165,000), Germany (118,000) and Australia (118,000).

The Jewish Agency says there 26,000 Jews living in Arab and Muslim states, with 15,000 in Turkey, 8,500 in Iran, 2,000 in Morocco and 1,000 in Tunisia.

The statistics are based on self-identification as Jewish and not as any other religion. The Jewish Agency says when looking at those eligible to get citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return, which requires at least one Jewish grandparent, there are 23.6 million Jews worldwide.

Shaked: Unity government doesn’t have to include Likud

Yamina party leader Ayelet Shaked says there is a possibility to form a ruling coalition that doesn’t include Likud, after talks between Prime Minister Netanyahu’s party and the rival Blue on White on a potential unity government broke down.

Netanyahu was tasked yesterday by President Reuven Rivlin with assembling a government, but has no clear path to doing so after failing to secure the support of a majority of lawmakers. If Netanyahu fails to do so by the legal deadline, Rivlin can task another MK with forming a government, most likely Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz.

Shaked, whose national-religious party is part of a post-election alliance with Likud and ultra-Orthodox factions that are committed to entering a government together with Netanyahu as prime minister, was asked by the Kipa Hebrew news site if she would agree to a request from Gantz to hold coalition negotiations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked, left, during a vote on the 2017-2018 state budget in the Knesset plenum, December 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“No, because we’re committed to the bloc of 55 MKs. We took this obligation upon ourselves, since we’re committed to it. I assume everyone will honor this agreement,” she says.

However, Shaked added: “There is another possibility for a unity government that includes Blue and White, [Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor] Liberman, the ultra-Orthodox parties and us. A unity government doesn’t have to be with Likud.”

The chances for such a government seem highly unlikely, as during the election campaign both Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu ruled out sitting with the ultra-Orthodox parties and specific members of Yamina.

Shaked denies saying unity government possible without Likud

Yamina party leader Ayelet Shaked denies telling the Kipa news site there is a possibility to form a government that would not include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

“I would like to clarify, the publication on the Kipa website isn’t true, the things weren’t said by me, the article was removed,” she tweets.

“We’re committed to the 55 [seat] bloc on the hope that a right-wing or unity government will be established,” she adds.

Shortly after her tweet, the quote about a possible unity government without Likud was removed from the interview with Kipa. The news site doesn’t issue any clarification or correction explaining why the quote was removed.

UN watchdog says Iran using advanced centrifuges in new breach of nuclear deal

VIENNA — Iran has started using advanced models of centrifuges to enrich uranium, the UN’s nuclear watchdog says, in a new breach of the faltering 2015 deal with world powers.

Advanced centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz facility “were accumulating, or had been prepared to accumulate, enriched uranium,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says in a report seen by AFP.

Under the 2015 deal with world powers that puts curbs on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, Tehran is only meant to enrich uranium using less efficient IR-1 centrifuges.

The landmark deal has been in jeopardy since May last year when President Donald Trump withdrew the US from it and reimposed sanctions.

The remaining parties to the deal with Iran — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — have tried to salvage the accord, but Tehran has repeatedly accused Europe of not doing enough.


At UN, Abbas slams Netanyahu’s Jordan Valley annexation vow

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York.

Abbas slams Prime Minister Netanyahu for “arrogantly” promising that he would apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the “colonial settlements” if he won last week’s elections.

“We reject entirely and completely this plan,” he says, threatening to rip up diplomatic agreements if Israel goes through with the move.

Abbas calls on the international community to bring an end to “Israeli aggression and arrogance” and enforce relevant UN resolutions.

Abbas: Israel waging ‘reckless racist war’ in Jerusalem

PA President Mahmoud Abbas accuses Israel of carrying out “a reckless racist war against anything that is Palestinian” in Jerusalem.

He warns of a possible “religious war,” which he accuses Israel of fanning.

Abbas then turns to criticizing the US, accusing it of “supporting the Israeli aggression against us.”

He says US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and transfer of the American embassy there from Tel Aviv was “unlawful.”

“Jerusalem will remain the eternal capital of Palestine regardless of any schemes or actions,” he says.

Abbas also lashes out at the US for closing down the PLO’s representative offices in Washington and ending aid to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

He reiterates his opposition to Trump’s peace plan, which has yet to be released.

“What they have proclaimed is rejected, is rejected, is rejected,” he says.

Abbas rules out US role as broker in peace talks

PA President Mahmoud Abbas says he only supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ruling out a potential single bi-national state.

He accuses Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of rejecting negotiations proposed by the Russian Federation. Israel has maintained that the US should maintain its traditional role as the broker of peace talks.

Abbas calls for an international peace conference to be held.

“We reject any negotiations shepherded by one country. You all know this one country,” he says in reference to the US.

Abbas says he’ll call general elections when he returns from UN

PA President Mahmoud Abbas promises to call general elections in areas that the Palestinians envision as part of a future state when he returns to Ramallah from the UN General Assembly.

“From the outset, we have believed in democracy as a foundation for the building of our State and society. We have enshrined this in our constitution and exercised this on the ground. We conducted general elections in 1996, 2005 and 2006, in addition to regular local elections,” he says.

Abbas blames the Hamas terror group’s takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007 for the failure of elections to be held since then.

“I call on the UN and the relevant international organizations to monitor these elections, and I will attribute full responsibility to those who may attempt to prevent it from happening on the date determined,” he says.

He doesn’t address how the West Bank based-PA will administer the elections in Gaza and East Jerusalem, which are respectively under Hamas and Israeli control.

Abbas, who is in the 14th year of a five-year president term, also doesn’t say whether the elections will be for president, the PA legislature, or both.

Mandelblit rejects Netanyahu request for pre-indictment hearing to be broadcast live

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit rejects out of hand a request from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his pre-indictment hearing next week to be broadcast live.

“The request is unprecedented and without legal basis,” Mandelblit is quoted by Channel 13 news as writing to Netanyahu’s lawyer.

Mandelblit says the purpose of the hearing is not “to convince the public” and that Netanyahu’s lawyers would be better served preparing for the October 2-3 hearing.

“It would have been better if instead of raising futile requests that you well know will not be accepted, you fulfilled the mandatory instructions for the hearing process, in particular, sending in reasoned and detailed main arguments” in the case, the attorney general says.

He is referring to the submission by Netanyahu’s lawyers of a one-page document to Mandelblit instead of the expected comprehensive papers laying out the Likud party leader’s defense.

Earlier today, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition for the pre-indictment hearing to be scrapped on the grounds that the short document made a mockery of the legal process.

Pompeo says US has confirmed Syria’s Assad used chemical weapons in May

NEW YORK — The United States has confirmed that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces used chemical weapons in May, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says today, vowing a response.

“The United States has concluded that the Assad regime used chlorine as a chemical weapon,” Pompeo tells reporters, saying the attack will “not go unchallenged.”

The United States had earlier said that it suspected the May attack during the offensive in Idlib but that it was seeking more information.


Rouhani says Iran will ‘of course’ talk to US if sanctions are lifted

NEW YORK — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says Iran would “of course” hold talks with the United States if President Donald Trump lifted sanctions and ended his policy of maximum pressure on Tehran.

“If we reach a time when these preconditions are taken off the table, of course the possibility exists to talk with America,” Rouhani tells reporters in New York, a day after addressing the UN General Assembly.


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in New York on September 26, 2019. (Kena Betancur/AFP)

Netanyahu calls for unity with Gantz — but won’t ditch right-wing allies

Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu calls on his rival Benny Gantz to join a “broad unity government,” while dismissing the centrist Blue and White’s “delusions” of breaking up his political alliance with the religious right.

Netanyahu is speaking at a Rosh Hashanah toast with Likud members in Tel Aviv, a day after being tasked by President Reuven Rivlin with forming the next government.

“The voting public decided this year will be one of unity,” Netanyahu says of the results from last week’s elections, which left neither Likud nor Blue and White with a clear path to cobbling together a majority in the Knesset.

“The only possibility is a broad unity government…. but on the other side there are all sorts of fantasies, I would say all types of delusions. In the beginning they thought they’d break up the partnership in the national camp with our partners. This didn’t happen,” he says.

Netanyahu accuses of Blue and White of now wanting to dismantle Likud and push him aside.

“Will you let them breakup the Likud. Will you let them push out the chairman of Likud,” he says to resounding applause.

“Benny Gantz, listen well to these voices. I want you to understand something,” Netanyahu continues, to chants of “Bibi, King of Israel.”

Declaring that Likud would stick together through thick and thin, Netanyahu rattles off a series of challenges facing Israel, which he says require a “broad” unity government rather than a third round of elections.

Netanyahu says he gave up “quite a lot” to make such a government and that the responsibility is now on Gantz to make it happen.

“Benny, the ball is now in your hands.”

Blue and White: Netanyahu’s call for unity a ‘bluff,’ he’s angling for 3rd elections

The Blue and White party dismisses Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for it to join a government that includes his Likud party and its right-wing religious allies, saying the premier’s true aim is to force a third straight round of elections.

“Netanyahu doesn’t want unity — he is again dragging the country to superfluous elections and on the way is threatening wars,” Blue and White says in a statement, referring to Netanyahu’s assertions that his proposed unity government is needed to address growing security challenges.

“The citizens of Israel aren’t buying the bluff.”

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