The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they unfolded.
Iraq PM demands annulment of Kurdish independence vote
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi demands that this week’s vote on independence for the autonomous Kurdish region be annuled.
“The referendum must be annuled and dialogue initiated in the framework of the constitution. We will never hold talks on the results of the referendum,” he tells Iraqi lawmakers.
“We will impose Iraqi law in the entire region of Kurdistan under the constitution,” he says.
The results of Monday’s referendum have not yet been announced but an overwhelming “yes” vote was widely expected.
Pressure has been mounting on the Kurds since the vote, not just from Baghdad but also from Ankara, with Turkey threatening a range of measures including cutting off oil exports from the region.
UK police arrest 11 in banned neo-Nazi group probe
British police say they have arrested 11 men, including five on suspicion of preparing terrorist acts, as part of an investigation into the banned far-right group National Action.
The 11 men, aged between 22 and 35, were arrested in different parts of England and Wales and are all suspected of being members of the organisation.
“Individuals involved in proscribed organisations who support extremist ideologies bring damaging consequences to local communities,” Russ Jackson, who is responsible for counter-terrorism policing in northwest England, says in a statement.
Two serving British soldiers, including one serving at a British base in Cyprus, were charged earlier this month with being members of National Action.
Trump-backed Republican defeated in US Senate runoff
Donald Trump’s pick in the Alabama Republican Senate runoff crashed to defeat against a populist former judge, likely sending shockwaves through establishment Washington and denting the president’s influence over his restless political base.
Perhaps sensing that, Trump quickly swung behind the winner, former Alabama state chief justice Roy Moore, calling him to offer congratulations.
“Sounds like a really great guy who ran a fantastic race. He will help to #MAGA!” Trump tweeted early this morning, referring to his “Make America Great Again” catchphrase.
The result, though, is an embarrassing setback for Trump that highlights the deep divisions within his party and raises questions about its future direction as the GOP heads toward mid-term elections in 2018.
With all 67 counties reporting, Moore led incumbent Luther Strange by 54.9 percent to 45.1 percent.
Netanyahu says he convinced White House that ‘settlement blocs’ don’t exist
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he convinced Donald Trump’s to drop distinction between isolated outposts and settlement blocs in the West Bank.
Speaking to leaders of the pro-settlement Yesha council, Netanyahu says that “we assume the Americans plan to lay down a political plan soon. I managed to convince the government there was no such term ‘settlement blocs,'” he says according to the Walla news site.
Netanyahu makes the remarks during a closed-door meeting with Yesha leaders who called on the prime minister to lift an Obama-era “freeze” on new construction in the West Bank.
Trump, too, had asked Netanyahu to “hold back” on settlement building.
Hebron shooter thanks IDF chief for reducing sentence
Elor Azaria, the IDF soldier who was convicted earlier this year of killing an incapacitated Palestinian assailant, thanks IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot for shaving 4 months off his 18-month sentence.
“I thank the chief of staff for shortening the sentence,” he says. “I repeat that I acted out of a sense of danger at the scene of the terror attack in Hebron.”
He also expresses regret that military prosecutors recommended against shortening his sentence.
Histadrut threatens strike if disabled protesters ignored
The Histadrut labor union is threatening a general strike if the government fails to address the demands made by disabled Israelis in recent months.
“If there is no solution then we have no choice but to declare a general strike,” says Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn.
Disabled protesters have been staging ongoing protests, blocking highways, demanding an increase to their monthly stipend from NIS 2,342 ($660) to minimum wage, or NIS 5,000 ($1,400).
Nazi memorabilia embarrasses Austrian far-right ahead of elections
Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) says it has expelled a local party official for hoarding Nazi memorabilia, in embarrassing revelations less than three weeks before national elections.
A local activist revealed that Martin Hochstoeger had hung a plaque commemorating Hitler’s 1938 annexation of Austria in a back room of his pharmacy in the town of Landeck, in Tyrol state.
Hochstoeger, ex-president of the local pharmacists’ association, also kept in a display case pieces of cloth with insignia including the SS Death’s Head and the Nazi eagle, photos on the activist’s blog showed.
Markus Abzwerger, head of the anti-immigration FPOe in Tyrol, announced on Facebook today that Hochstoeger has been expelled from the party, saying that a “red line had clearly been crossed.”
Ministers slam Supreme Court for staying away from pro-settlement event
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin lash out at the Supreme Court for its announced shunning of a state ceremony celebrating 50 years of settlement in the West Bank and Golan Heights.
Earlier today, Supreme Court Justice Miriam Naor said the court would not participate in “controversial” political events.
Shaked in response accused Naor of “undoing the stateliness of an official ceremony” and said the court’s refusal to participate in the festivities “gave the false impression that the event is of a political nature.”
Levin accused the court of being part of the left-wing Meretz party.
“It turns out that the judges are actually working for the Meretz party,” he says. “You could also say that the kibbutz movement and Independence Day are political.”
Officials say 92% voted for independence in Iraqi Kurd referendum
More than 92 percent of Iraqi Kurds voted for independence in a referendum, according to the first official results announced this afternoon, two days after the disputed plebiscite.
Electoral commission officials tells a news conference in the regional capital Irbil that 92.73 percent of the 3,305,925 people who cast ballots voted “yes” in Monday’s referendum, which had a turnout of 72.61 percent.
Israeli intelligence believes Iran developing new precision missiles — report
The Israeli security establishment reportedly assesses that Iran is producing new precision missiles called Raed.
According to Channel 2, intelligence officials say Iran is also transferring 10 planes to the Hezbollah terrorist group in Syria per month.
The report also says that Israeli anti-terror officials have thwarted dozens of terror attacks all over the world in recent months.
IDF solider killed in training accident laid to rest in Jerusalem
Hundreds of mourners are gathered at Mt. Herzl military cemetery for the funeral of Sgt. Avinoam Cohen, who was killed late last night in a military training accident.
Cohen and Lieutenant Avshalom Armoni were killed when a self-propelled Howitzer in which they were traveling flipped over during a training exercise in the Golan Heights. Four others were injured in the accident.
Maria, a hurricane again, lashes North Carolina
The National Hurricane Center says Maria has regained strength and become a hurricane once again as it lingers off the coast of North Carolina.
Reports from an Air Force Reserve reconnaissance aircraft indicate that Maria’s top sustained winds are near 75 mph (120 kmh), with higher gusts.
The center of Hurricane Maria is about 165 miles (265 kilometers) off Cape Hatteras, and hurricane-force winds remain offshore, extending outward up to 105 miles (165 kilometers). But tropical storm-force winds extend for as much as 230 miles (370 kilometers) from the center, covering the water on both sides of the narrow barrier islands of Hatteras and Ocracoke.
Maria’s forward speed is just 6 mph (9 kph), so the storm is taking its time to swing north and away from the US Atlantic coast.
US president calls Facebook ‘anti-Trump’ after it aids Russia probe
US President Donald Trump is calling Facebook “anti-Trump.” His tweet Wednesday comes days after the social media company agreed to provide material to congressional investigators probing Russia interference in the 2016 election.
Trump tweeted: “Facebook was always anti-Trump.The Networks were always anti-Trump hence,Fake News, @nytimes(apologized) & @wapo were anti-Trump. Collusion?’
Trump’s comments came days after Facebook said it will provide the contents of 3,000 ads bought by a Russian agency to congressional investigators and make political advertising on its platform more transparent. Several committees are investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Trump also says on Twitter that “the people were Pro-Trump!” He adds: “Virtually no President has accomplished what we have accomplished in the first 9 months-and economy roaring.”
Netanyahu tells US officials Palestinians undermining peace efforts
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and visiting US special envoy Jason Greenblatt the Palestinian Authority’s actions in recent days undermine regional peace efforts.
Netanyahu specifically notes PA’s failure to condemn yesterday’s terror attack in which three Israelis were killed, the PA’s efforts to bring Israel to the International Criminal Court and its successful bid to join Interpol.
According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu says the PA’s membership at Interpol violates past agreements the Palestinians have signed with Israel.
Netanyahu also asks Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer to look into whether the PA’s most recent effort to have Israel prosecuted for committing war crimes against Palestinians at The Hague violates US law, which would lead to the closure of PA offices in Washington DC.
“The actions of the Palestinians in recent days are seriously undermining efforts to achieve peace,” the statement from Netanyahu’s office says. “The Palestinian diplomatic struggle will not go unanswered.”
Court won’t force chief justice to attend pro-settlement event
The High Court of Justice rejects a petition to force court president Miriam Naor to attend a state ceremony celebrating 50 years of settlement in the West Bank and Golan Heights.
In the decision, Justice Uri Shoham says that Naor’s decision to avoid the event is essential in “upholding the independence of the court.”
Naor earlier said she would not attend, or send a representative to the “controversial” event “devoted to one side,” drawing ire from right-wing ministers.
Regev says Naor’s refusal to attend pro-settlement event helps BDS
At the state ceremony in Kfar Etzion celebrating 50 years of Israeli settlement in the West Bank and Golan Heights, Culture Minister Miri Regev criticizes Supreme Court Justice Miriam Naor for refusing to attend or send a representative to the “one sided” event.
“I respect her, but she crossed a dangerous red line here in Israeli democracy,” Regev tells reporters.
“The government of Israel is the only one that determines what ceremony is an official one,” she says, adding that Naor does not have the authority to boycott the official celebrations.
“This is the first time that the judiciary has not attended a state event,” Regev adds. “This bolsters those who boycott Israel, the BDS movement and UNESCO.”
— Jacob Magid
Dozens protest outside controversial pro-settlement event
Dozens of left-wing activists are protesting outside the controversial state ceremony celebrating 50 years of settlement in the West Bank and Golan Heights in Kfar Etzion.
At a traffic circle just outside where the event is being held, protesters hold signs and chant slogans against the government’s West Bank policy in a demonstration organized by the Peace Now settlement watchdog.
“We are here because there is no reason for celebration,” Peace Now CEO Avi Buskila tells the protesters.
“We are all witnesses to a political event under the fake cover of ‘statesmanship.’ We are here to raise a voice in the name of the vast majority of the citizens of Israel who desire life and strongly oppose the settlement enterprise,” he says.
Netanyahu vows not to uproot Jews, Arabs from West Bank
At the state ceremony celebrating 50 years of settlement in the West Bank and Golan Heights, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vows not to uproot any more settlements beyond the Green Line.
“There will be no more uprooting of settlements in Israel,” he says to an applause. “It’s not a question of context. We will not uproot Jews nor Arabs.”
“The Gush will always be part of Israel,” he says using the Hebrew name for the settlement bloc in the southern West Bank.
“Any territory that falls into the hands of radical Islam becomes the basis for violence, murder and death,” Netanyahu says. “Instead we will strengthen our home with this momentum.”
— Jacob Magid
Bennett calls for Israeli sovereignty in West Bank
At the state ceremony celebrating 50 years of settlement in the West Bank and Golan Heights in Kfar Etzion, Chairman of the Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett calls to apply Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank.
“I don’t take such a step lightly, in order to implement sovereignty, it takes timing and courage,” Bennett says. “There is no better time than now, as it is clear that we are here by right and not by grace.”
“There is no better time that this, even if world resists, we shall overcome it,” he adds. He [the world] also understands what the Israeli public understands, the Land of Israel will never again be divided!”
Labor chief calls settlement jubilee event ‘cheap populism’
Labor leader Avi Gabbay calls the state ceremony celebrating 50 years of settlement in the West Bank and Golan Heights “cheap populism.”
At an event with Beersheba residents, Gabbay says “the ceremony costs NIS 10 million. We won’t collect your money and then spill it on the floor.”
Gabbay last week denied he would boycott the controversial event, but accused Netanyahu’s government of being preoccupied with divisive politics.
UN threatens to blacklist 150 companies for West Bank ties — report
The United Nations reportedly has sent letters to some 150 companies, threatening to add them to its blacklist of companies operating in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
Senior anonymous Israeli officials, told the Haaretz daily that UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein sent the letters two weeks ago.
A number of the companies were said to have told Hussein in response they do not plan to renew existing contracts or to sign new ones.
Iran FM scolds Trump for tweet, rules out nuke renegotiation
Iran’s top diplomat scolds US President Donald Trump for a weekend tweet about a nonexistent Iranian missile launch and essentially ruled out renegotiating or launching follow-up talks to a landmark nuclear accord that Trump is threatening to dismantle.
“We need to check our facts before we make statements,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says in an interview with The Associated Press. “It worries me that people play with facts and produce alternative facts.”
He also criticized a recent referendum on independence by Iraq’s Kurdish minority as “dangerous” to stability in a Middle East already beset by efforts to defeat the Islamic State extremist group and civil wars in Syria and Yemen.
And Zarif seemed to float the possibility of a prisoner exchange for several detained Americans in Iran, responding to a question about their fate by raising the situation of several Iranians held or being pursued by the United States for sanctions violations.
Palestinian arrested after crossing Gaza border into Israel
Security forces detain a Palestinian man after he crossed the border fence from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory, the army says.
The man was apprehended shortly after crossing near the northern end of the Palestinian coastal enclave.
He was taken away for questioning by security forces, but does not appear to be armed.
Neo-Nazi group founder pleads guilty to explosives charges
The leader of a small Florida-based neo-Nazi group pleads guilty to charges associated with having explosives in his apartment’s garage.
Court documents show that Brandon Russell entered his pleas in a federal courtroom in Tampa. He faces up to 11 years in federal prison on charges of possessing illegal firearms and a destructive device, and storing explosives.
The bomb-making materials — including the highly explosive substance HMTD, several pounds of ammonium nitrate and homemade fuses — were discovered during a murder investigation involving Russell’s roommate, Devon Arthurs.
Israel scrambles military helicopters to Jordan border
The Air Force scrambles two fighter helicopters near the border with Jordan this evening when an unidentified Jordanian plane approached close to the border, the army says.
The military determined the aircraft was a civilian one and did not pose any danger.
Supreme Court approves $12.7 billion class action suit against gas industry
The Supreme Court gives the green light for an NIS 45 billion ($12.7 billion) class action suit against the private consortium that operates Israel’s only functioning natural gas production complex.
In a ruling against the consortium’s appeal to reject the class action bid, the court also orders the consortium to pay legal costs of NIS 40,000 ($11,300), the Globes financial daily reports.
The petitioner, one Moshe Nazri, suing as a consumer of electricity, claims that that the companies are exploiting their monopoly over the Tamar gas field to charge the Israel Electric Corporation unfairly high prices.
Among the companies targeted by the suit — the biggest in Israel’s history — are Isramco, Dor Energy, Delek Drilling, Avner Oil & Gas Exploration, the Delek Group and US-based Noble Energy.
— Sue Surkes