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New Jersey senator Booker throws weight behind Iran deal

Former governor says deal is flawed but alternative is worse in statement, becoming 35th senator to back accord

  • A migrant lies on the track with a baby as she is detained in Bicske, Hungary, Thursday, September 3, 2015. (AP/Petr David Josek)
    A migrant lies on the track with a baby as she is detained in Bicske, Hungary, Thursday, September 3, 2015. (AP/Petr David Josek)
  • Abdullah Kurdi, father of three-year old Aylan Kurdi, waits at the morgue in Mugla, southern Turkey, on September 3, 2015, after a boat carrying refugees sank trying to reach the Greek island of Kos. (AFP/OZAN KOSE)
    Abdullah Kurdi, father of three-year old Aylan Kurdi, waits at the morgue in Mugla, southern Turkey, on September 3, 2015, after a boat carrying refugees sank trying to reach the Greek island of Kos. (AFP/OZAN KOSE)
  • A migrant family is arrested by local police after their local train coming from Budapest and heading to the Austrian border has been stopped in Bicske, west of the Hungarian capital on September 3, 2015. (AFP/ISTVAN BIELIK)
    A migrant family is arrested by local police after their local train coming from Budapest and heading to the Austrian border has been stopped in Bicske, west of the Hungarian capital on September 3, 2015. (AFP/ISTVAN BIELIK)
  • US Vice President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with Jewish community leaders at the David Posnack Jewish Community Center to discuss the nuclear deal reached with Iran on September 3, 2015 in Davie, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP)
    US Vice President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with Jewish community leaders at the David Posnack Jewish Community Center to discuss the nuclear deal reached with Iran on September 3, 2015 in Davie, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP)
  • Migrants get back on a train in Bicske, Hungary, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. (AP/Petr David Josek)
    Migrants get back on a train in Bicske, Hungary, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. (AP/Petr David Josek)
  • President Reuven Rivlin meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican, September 3, 2015. (Haim Zach/GPO)
    President Reuven Rivlin meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican, September 3, 2015. (Haim Zach/GPO)
  • Pope Francis talks with President Reuven Rivlin during a private audience in the Pontiff's private library at the Vatican Thursday, September 3, 2015. (Tony Gentile/Reuters via AP Pool)
    Pope Francis talks with President Reuven Rivlin during a private audience in the Pontiff's private library at the Vatican Thursday, September 3, 2015. (Tony Gentile/Reuters via AP Pool)
  • Iranians burn American, British and Israeli flags during the inauguration of an anti-American plaque displayed outside the former American embassy in Tehran on September 2, 2015. (Atta Kenare /AFP)
    Iranians burn American, British and Israeli flags during the inauguration of an anti-American plaque displayed outside the former American embassy in Tehran on September 2, 2015. (Atta Kenare /AFP)

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

Rivlin meets pope, discusses Mideast peace

President Reuven Rivlin is in the Vatican meeting with Pope Francis for the first time as president.

The two discussed restarting peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the Vatican news service reports, describing the talks as “cordial.”

They also discussed other conflicts in the Middle East and protecting Christians in the region.

Rivlin gave Francis a copy of the Tel Dan stele, a ninth century BCE engraving which mentions the “House of David” and is considered important to both Jews and Christians.

Rivlin tells the pope that the stele should be a symbol of inter-religious coexistence.

Over 230,000 refugees sail to Greece in 2015 — official

An illustrative image of migrants swimming from an overcrowded dinghy on July 27, 2015. (AP/Santi Palacios)

An illustrative image of migrants swimming from an overcrowded dinghy on July 27, 2015. (AP/Santi Palacios)

A Greek official says more than 230,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Greece by sea this year.

Deputy shipping minister Nikos Zois said Thursday a huge rise from 17,500 in the same period in 2014.

More than 80 percent of the arrivals, recorded by the coastguard, are refugees eligible for political asylum, Zois tells a press conference.

— AFP

No deal if sanctions not fully lifted, Khamenei says

Iran’s supreme leader says world powers must lift international sanctions and not merely suspend them as part of a landmark nuclear agreement.

Speaking to a group of clerics, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says “there will be no deal” if the sanctions are not lifted. His remarks were read by a state TV anchorman.

Khamenei says some US officials have spoken of the “suspension” of the sanctions, which he says is unacceptable. He says Iran will only partially comply with its commitments if the sanctions are merely suspended.

— AP

Erdogan: Europe turning Mediterranean into cemetery

Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan is accusing European Union states of turning the Mediterranean Sea into a “migrant cemetery.”

The statement comes as outrage spreads over the drowning of refugees trying to reach Greece from Turkey, including anger following a picture of a 3-year-old boy whose body washed ashore in Turkey.

In Italy, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi says that Europe cannot limit itself to reacting to evocative pictures of asylum seekers dying, but has to act.

“Europe cannot just get emotional,” Renzi says in a press conference with his Maltese counterpart Joseph Muscat.

A Turkish police officer carries a migrant child's dead body off the shores in Bodrum, southern Turkey, on September 2, 2015 after a boat carrying refugees sank. (AFP/DOGAN NEWS AGENCY)

A Turkish police officer carries a migrant child’s dead body off the shores in Bodrum, southern Turkey, on September 2, 2015 after a boat carrying refugees sank. (AFP/DOGAN NEWS AGENCY)

Netanyahu: Americans oppose Iran deal

Despite apparently losing the ability to block the nuclear deal in Congress, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to rally against the agreement, telling a gathering of diplomats that most Americans oppose the pact with Iran.

“The overwhelming majority of the American public sees eye to eye with us on the danger from Iran, and it is important to reach out to American public opinion with the fact that Iran is the enemy of the US, it declares this openly, and Israel is the ally of the US,” he tells Foreign Ministry workers at a pre-holiday gathering. “This understanding has important ramifications for our future security.”

Netanyahu also thanks the diplomats for their efforts to fight anti-Israel efforts in capitals around the world.

“We must constantly refute the terrible denigrations of the state of the Jews, something which is in our power to do, in contrast to the thousands of years of our history in which we could not and when we did not have the ability to refute the terrible denigrations of the Jews,” he says. “What was true for the Jews themselves is true for the state of the Jews, with one difference: Today we have a state, an army and a foreign ministry.”

Scuffles between police and migrants amid chaos in Hungary

Chaos is continuing at a Hungary train station, as migrants are attempting to board trains west but are being sent instead to refugee camps.

Migrants get back on a train in Bicske, Hungary, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. (AP/Petr David Josek)

Migrants get back on a train in Bicske, Hungary, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. (AP/Petr David Josek)

In a swirl of confusion, the migrants piled into trains at the Keleti station in the Hungarian capital despite announcements that there was no service to Western Europe. Hungary’s railway company said it had suspended all direct trains from the Hungarian capital to western destinations “in the interests of railway transport security.”

Police later peacefully cleared roughly 900 migrants from one train, many of whom sat down on the platforms to wait. Another train then left with migrants, stopping in the town of Bicske, 35 kilometers west of Budapest, where one of Hungary’s refugee camps is located. Scuffles between police and migrants then broke out at the Bicske station, as migrants refused to go to the camp.

– AP

Two-ton, 1,800-year-old sarcophagus uncovered

Israel has unveiled an 1,800-year-old sarcophagus that workers found at a building site and initially tried to conceal.

The Antiquities Authority calls the sarcophagus, which was shown to media Thursday, “one of the most important and beautiful” ever found in Israel.

Israel Antiquities Authority southern district director Saar Ganor cleans the lid of a unique Roman-era sarcophagus adorned with the carving of a young man at a warehouse in Bet Shemesh on September 3, 2015. (AFP/MENAHEM KAHANA)

Israel Antiquities Authority southern district director Saar Ganor cleans the lid of a unique Roman-era sarcophagus adorned with the carving of a young man at a warehouse in Bet Shemesh on September 3, 2015. (AFP/MENAHEM KAHANA)

The two-ton limestone coffin features a life-size carving of a human figure wearing a toga on the lid and designs around the sides, including a Medusa head.

Archaeologist Gaby Mazor says the piece dates back to the 3rd century and was likely commissioned by a wealthy Roman family.

Antiquities Authority Spokeswoman Yoli Shwartz says it was damaged when workers unearthed it at a construction site. Contractors then hid the piece, fearing it would force them to halt work. She says legal action will be taken.

— AP

Aussie PM draws fire for saying IS worse than Nazis

Australia’s prime minister has angered some Jewish leaders on Thursday by suggesting that the Islamic State movement was worse than the Nazis during World War II.

It is the third time this year that gaffe-prone Prime Minister Tony Abbott has riled Jewish Australians with Nazi analogies.

Abbott used an interview with Sydney Radio 2GB on Thursday to credit Nazis with a sense of shame for atrocities they committed.

“The Nazis did terrible evil, but they had a sufficient sense of shame to try to hide it,” Abbott said. “These people boast about their evil, this is the extraordinary thing,” Abbot said of Islamic State fighters.

“They act in the way that medieval barbarians acted, only they broadcast it to the world with an effrontery which is hard to credit,” he added.

However, Executive Council of Australian Jewry President Robert Goot says there is a “fundamental difference between organized acts of terrorism and a genocide systematically implemented by a state as essential policy.”

He says while there is no question that Islamic State is “profoundly evil,” Aboott’s comments suggesting that it is in some respects worse than the Nazis were “injudicious and unfortunate,” Goot tells reporters.

Those responsible for state-sponsored genocide were high government officials who operated in secret “not out of any sense of shame, but to avoid being held criminally responsible,” Goot adds.

Abbott says he stands by his comments, though he isn’t in the business of ranking evil.

— AP

Court workers call strike for Sunday

Workers in the court system have called a general strike starting Sunday, the day they return from a summer recess.

It is not immediately clear what the workers are striking over.

The strike will not include judges or clerks, but disruptions are still expected, according to Hebrew-language media reports.

Journalists sound alarm over law prohibiting opinions

Journalists in Israel are expressing alarm over a clause in a law passed by the Knesset early Thursday morning that prohibits employees of the state broadcaster from expressing opinions on air.

“IBA broadcasts should refrain from being one-sided, pre-judging, expressing personal opinions, labeling others and grading them, ignoring facts or burying them in a selective way and not according to news values.”

On Twitter, Israel Radio reporter Chico Menashe calls the clause “shameful” and calls for the prime minister to change it.

The clause is part of an amendment to the state broadcaster law that passed the Knesset during a special session late Wednesday through early Thursday.

Opposition MK Dov Khenin on Facebook calls the clause “frightening” and says it will set a precedent of prohibiting journalists from having opinions.

 

Czech police stop numbering refugees’ arms

Czech police say they have stopped marking the hands of detained refugees with numbers after sparking an uproar among human rights groups, lawyers and media organizations who chafed at the similarity to Nazi practices.

Officers will from now on use “special wrist bands containing identification data,” Czech police say in a statement on their website.

“The police are sensitive to criticism that has appeared in the media.”

A Czech police officer writes on the hands of migrants at Breclav station on September 1, 2015 (AP)

A Czech police officer writes on the hands of migrants at Breclav station on September 1, 2015 (AP)

Police used markers on Tuesday to write numbers on the hands of 214 refugees, mostly Syrians, detained in the southeast of the country on trains arriving from Austria and Hungary.

Interior ministry spokeswoman Lucie Novakova tells AFP the move was introduced “to prevent the children from getting lost” and keep families together.

But the measure raised eyebrows as it recalls Nazi Germany’s practice of marking the arms of death camp prisoners with numbers.

Other similarities between the refugee crisis and Nazi-era practices have also raised hackles including putting people on trains without telling them their destination.

— AFP

 

Canadian whose ministry rejected drowned boy ‘deeply saddened’

Canadian Immigration Minister Chris Alexander says the tragic photo of young Aylan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian boy who drowned off the coast of Turkey along with his mother and brother “broke hearts around the world.”

The boy’s aunt in Vancouver had applied to sponsor the family, but the application was rejected by Canadian authorities.

Alexander says, “Like all Canadians, I was deeply saddened by that image and of the many other images of the plight of the Syrian and Iraqi migrants fleeing persecution at the hands of ISIS.”

He says Canada has one of the most generous per capita immigration and refugee resettlement programs in the world, and was planning to accept 23,000 Iraqi refugees and 11,300 Syrians.

— AP

Biden to Jewish leaders: Nuke deal good for Israel

US Vice President Joe Biden is speaking to Jewish leaders about the Iran deal, telling them that “it’s a good deal for the United States, for the world, and for Israel.”

In this May 26, 2015 file photo, Vice President Joe Biden listens to remarks to the media during a meeting between President Barack Obama and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

In this May 26, 2015 file photo, Vice President Joe Biden listens to remarks to the media during a meeting between President Barack Obama and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

He says the argument that the deal will give money to Iran to funnel to terror groups and destabilizing actors “is totally legitimate,” but then goes on to explain why the nuclear deal will make the world safer.

He says that under international norms, Iran should be entitled to a civilian nuclear program, and admits the agreement is “confusing.”

He adds that under the so-called additional protocols — the side deals signed by Iran with the IAEA — means “they can never, never, never obtain a nuclear weapon, legally. Doesn’t mean they won’t try, but 40 years from now, inspectors can go in.”

Sanctions will only be suspended, Biden says

Pounding his fist, Biden promises that there will be 24/7 inspections on Iranian nuclear sites, calling the regime the most comprehensive ever and “overwhelming.”

He also says sanctions are only being “suspended,” and are not even suspended yet.

The comment comes hours after Iran supreme leader Ali Khamenei said Iran would not comply with the deal if sanctions were only suspended and not fully lifted.

When asked about apparent Iranian self-inspections at the Parchin nuclear site under the IAEA agreement, he says he will only discuss it when the press leaves the room.

Ombudsman raps PBS anchor for anti-Netanyahu tweet

The ombudsman for American public broadcaster PBS has brought the hammer down on anchor Gwen Ifill for a tweet appearing to gleefully put down Netanyahu.

The tweet, sent Wednesday night after a 34th senator signed onto the Iran deal, clinching a veto-sustaining minority for Obama, reads “Take that Bibi.”

The tweet is accompanied by a promotional poster put out by the White House several months ago touting the deal by using Netanyahu’s bomb drawing to show why the agreement will stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

In a column, Michael Getler says Ifill’s tweet is “inexcusable for an experienced journalist who is the co-anchor of a nightly news program watched by millions of people over the course of any week.”

The tweet, however, has not been taken down as of this writing.

Netanyahu, Kahlon to hold presser on tax cuts

Netanyahu’s office announces he will hold a press conference with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon in an hour on the issue of tax reductions.

On Tuesday, Kahlon proposed lowering the sales tax from 18 percent to 17 percent as a way of stimulating growth.

Iran isn’t retarded, Khamenei insists

Iranian leader Ali Khamenei is apparently not feeling very special about the way the world is treating his country.

A tweet under the ayatollah’s name says that “#IRAN is not like some retarded countries about which they can talk in any ways they like,” accompanied by a larger screed complaining about how the US treats Tehran like a colony.

https://twitter.com/khamenei_ir/status/639439670124937216

It’s not immediately clear which countries Khamenei considers “retarded” and about which anything can be said, but considering his rhetoric in the past, Israel may be high on his list.

Father says drowned Syrian boy ‘slipped through my hands’

The father of a 3-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach yesterday whose image shocked the world said his children “slipped through my hands” as their boat was taking in water en route to Greece.

“I was holding my wife’s hand. But my children slipped through my hands. We tried to cling to the boat, but it was deflating. It was dark and everyone was screaming,” Abdullah Kurdi told Turkey’s Dogan news agency of the sinking that also killed his wife and 5-year old child.

Meanwhile, Turkish authorities have arrested four suspected traffickers over the deaths of 12 Syrian migrants in two boat sinkings, including the Kurdis, Dogan says.

The four, all Syrian nationals aged between 30 and 41, are accused of “causing the death of more than one person” and “trafficking migrants,” the news agency reports.

They are to appear in court later today and television pictures show the men being led away by police as they covered their faces.

— AFP

Shoah denier Irving leading ‘adventure tour’ of WWII sites

Convicted British Holocaust denier David Irving is leading a week-long tour of World War II sites in Poland and Latvia.

The tour, which began yesterday in Warsaw and ends September 10, cost about $3,000 per person and includes Hitler’s “Wolf’s Lair” bunker headquarters and the Treblinka and Belzec death camps.

Irving, who has been barred from several countries and was jailed in 2006 in Austria, launched what he calls “Real History” tours in 2010.

“Don’t miss this lifetime adventure!” a notice for the trip on his website states. “Make up your own mind about the truth.”

A brochure posted on his website says guests will avoid the “phony allures, mass tourism and ‘reconstructions’ of present-day Auschwitz — the erstwhile slave-labor camp turned into a tourist attraction, complete with hot-dog vendors and souvenir stands!”

— JTA

Top EU official calls refugee crisis ‘unprecedented’

Europe is facing an “unprecedented humanitarian and political crisis” as it struggles with the huge influx of refugees and migrants, the European Commission’s vice-president Frans Timmermans says.

First Vice-President of European Commission Frans Timmermans delivers a speech after receiving an honorary degree during the 39th Foundation Day of the University of Maastricht in Maastricht on January 16, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/ANP/MARCEL VAN HOORN)

First Vice-President of European Commission Frans Timmermans delivers a speech after receiving an honorary degree during the 39th Foundation Day of the University of Maastricht in Maastricht on January 16, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/ANP/MARCEL VAN HOORN)

“We must find European responses to a problem that cannot be resolved by countries individually,” Timmermans said ahead of talks with Greek Prime Minister Vassiliki Thanou on a crisis that has seen more than 230,000 people land on Greek shores this year.

UK’s Cameron says he won’t let more refugees in

British Prime Minister David Cameron is promising Britain will fulfill its “moral responsibilities” but is resisting growing pressure at home and abroad to accept a bigger share of Syrian refugees.

Cameron says he was “deeply moved” by images of a 3-year-old Syrian toddler found dead on a Turkish beach after a migrant boat sank but he stopped short of making any new commitments.

“We do care,” Cameron tells reporters during a factory visit in northeast England, adding: “I think Britain is a moral nation that always fulfills its moral responsibilities.”

He says Britain would keep the number of refugees it accepts “under review” although he adds: “There isn’t a solution that’s simply about taking people, it’s got to be a comprehensive solution.”

A migrant family is arrested by local police after their local train coming from Budapest and heading to the Austrian border has been stopped in Bicske, west of the Hungarian capital on September 3, 2015. (AFP/ISTVAN BIELIK)

A migrant family is arrested by local police after their local train coming from Budapest and heading to the Austrian border has been stopped in Bicske, west of the Hungarian capital on September 3, 2015. (AFP/ISTVAN BIELIK)

Britain has accepted 216 Syrian refugees under a special government scheme over the past year and around 5,000 Syrians have been granted asylum since the conflict there broke out in 2011 — far fewer than countries like France, Germany and Sweden.

— AFP

Hungarian leader: Muslim migrants can’t be let in

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is warning that the wave of mostly Muslim refugees coming to Europe threatens to undermine the continent’s Christian roots — an idea rejected by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“If you’re being overrun, you can’t accept” migrants, Orban wrote in German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, adding that most were Muslims, not Christians and criticizing the EU’s “failed immigration policy.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gives a speech in front of renovated Jewish graves at the Kozma street Jewish cemetery in Budapest, on January 26, 2015 during a ceremony for the grave refurbishment on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp held by the Nazis during WWII. (Photo credit: AFP/ ATTILA KISBENEDEK)

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gives a speech in front of renovated Jewish graves at the Kozma street Jewish cemetery in Budapest, on January 26, 2015 during a ceremony for the grave refurbishment on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp held by the Nazis during WWII. (Photo credit: AFP/ ATTILA KISBENEDEK)

“We must not forget that those who are coming in have been brought up under a different religion and represent a profoundly different culture,” wrote the conservative Hungarian leader, who was visiting Brussels Thursday.

“The majority are not Christians but Muslims. That is an important question because Europe and European culture have Christian roots.

— AFP

Trains to Budapest halted as refugees protest being sent to camp

All international trains from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland are no longer traveling to Budapest due to the large number of migrants at the Hungarian capital’s main Keleti train station.

Trains will instead end at the Hungarian border town of Szob, according to statements Thursday by the Czech and Polish railways. Polish railways says travelers inconvenienced by the change can return their tickets.

An estimated 3,000 migrants have camped out for days around Keleti in downtown Budapest. Conditions have grown increasingly squalid despite the efforts of volunteers distributing water, food, medicine and disinfectants. A migrant uproar ensued earlier in the day at Keleti when Hungarian authorities halted trains going to the west.

At the Hungarian town of Bicske, migrants were shocked to find out that their train was not heading to Austria but to a Hungarian migrant camp. Scores of police in riot gear were there to greet them.

The migrants started chanting “No camp!” in Arabic. Some tried to flee on foot. One family sat down beside the tracks and appealed to journalists for help.

When police told the media to move away, the husband in apparent desperation threw his wife and infant onto the tracks. Laying beside them, he started shouting, “We won’t move from here!”

A migrant is detained after the train they were traveling in from Budapest arrived in Bicske, Hungary, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. (AP/Petr David Josek)

A migrant is detained after the train they were traveling in from Budapest arrived in Bicske, Hungary, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. (AP/Petr David Josek)

Police in helmets and body armor surrounded the prone family and detained the man. The woman and infant were escorted off the tracks.

Other migrants scuffled with police and forced their way back onto the train, where an hours-long standoff in the sweltering sun began.

“We don’t need food and water. Just let us go to Germany,” one migrant said from an open train window.

— AP

Sales tax to shrink by 1%, PM announces

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces that the country will lower the sales tax from 18 percent to 17% and the corporate tax from 26.5% to 25%.

In a joint press conference with treasurer Moshe Kahlon, Netanyahu says the move is designed to act as a “growth engine.”

“We believe in you, we believe in the free market, we believe in freedom,” Netanyahu says.

The move, which will cost the state between NIS 4.5 billion and NIS 6 billion according to different estimates, will go into effect October 1.

Bank of Israel governor Karnit Flug immediately lodges her disapproval of the plan, Channel 2 news reports.

French say wing part from missing Malaysian jet found

French prosecutors are confirming that a wing part found on a remote Indian Ocean island was from ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, a month after tests on the flaperon began.

Police officers looking over a piece of debris from a plane, Wednesday, July 29, 2015, in Saint-Andre, Reunion. (Reunion 1ere via AP)

Police officers looking over a piece of debris from a plane, Wednesday, July 29, 2015, in Saint-Andre, Reunion. (Reunion 1ere via AP)

“It is possible today to say with certainty that the flaperon discovered on Reunion island on July 29 came from flight MH370,” Paris prosecutors say in a statement, confirming statements made by Malaysia’s prime minister early last month.

— AFP

Iran ‘optimistic’ after submitting Syria peace plan

Iran submitted last month a peace plan to Syrian President Bashar Assad to try and end his country’s four-year war, a senior Iranian official says.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian however tells a news conference in Damascus that any initiative to end the conflict would have to recognize “the pivotal role of Assad.”

The peace plan was submitted to Assad by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during a visit to Damascus on August 12, he says.

Hussein Amir-Abdollahian (L), Iran's deputy Foreign Minister for Arab-African Affairs and Syrian deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Moqdad (R) sit under a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a joint press conference in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on September 3, 2015. (AFP/LOUAI BESHARA)

Hussein Amir-Abdollahian (L), Iran’s deputy Foreign Minister for Arab-African Affairs and Syrian deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Moqdad (R) sit under a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a joint press conference in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on September 3, 2015. (AFP/LOUAI BESHARA)

Assad “welcomed it as a constructive political initiative from Iran, and the two sides agree to follow up on these preliminary ideas via the two foreign ministers,” Amir-Abdollahian says.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Moqdad, he says Iran was optimistic about the “success” of the peace plan.

Amir-Abdollahian, whose country is a key ally of Assad’s embattled regime, gave no further details.

— AFP

American Pharoah to race again, owner says

Triple Crown winner American Pharoah will get another chance to race before being retired, with the goal the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic next month.

Owner Ahmed Zayat, an Orthodox Jew, says that racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner and first in 37 years remains in top form after his loss to Keen Ice in the Travers following eight straight victories.

“The champ deserves another chance!” Zayat writes in a tweet.

After the Travers, an emotional Zayat was leaning against running again. He said his “gut feeling” was retirement.

But after a four-hour meeting with trainer Bob Baffert, assistant Jimmy Barnes, jockey Victor Espinoza and his son and racing manager Justin Zayat, the owner decided to move forward.

“I have discussed all aspects of American Pharoah’s race last Saturday in the Travers — and his condition since the race — with our whole team,” Zayat says in a statement. He is now pointing to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

— AP

Lebanese activists swear off food over trash protest

Half a dozen Lebanese activists have begun an open-ended hunger strike, demanding the resignation of the environment minister at the center of the country’s trash crisis.

The activists began their hunger strike on Thursday, setting up tents outside the Environment Ministry in downtown Beirut.

The hunger strike comes two days after protesters walked into the ministry and staged a sit-in. That standoff with security forces lasted for hours.

Many Lebanese are angry over the government’s failure to find a solution for garbage that has piled up in the capital after the main landfill was closed in July. Protests have grown beyond the garbage issue and now target the government and entire political class.

The minister, Mohammed Machnouk, says he will not resign.

Hungary, Bulgaria look to Israel for anti-migrant fences

Hungary and Bulgaria are both looking into buying Israeli-designed fences to erect along their borders as they attempt to stem the flow of refugees and migrants from Syria and elsewhere, Reuters reports.

The fences would be similar to one recently constructed along Israel’s border with Egypt to keep African migrants out of the country.

The newly erected border fence between Israel and Egypt is credited with dramatically reducing the number of African migrants who enter the country illegally from the Sinai Peninsula. January 02, 2012. (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)

The newly erected border fence between Israel and Egypt, January 2012 (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)

“I cannot give you any details right now, but I think that we have taken from the Israeli experiences as much as we can,” Bulgaria’s deputy ambassador in Israel Rayko Pepelanov tells the news agency.

Hungary’s foreign affairs and trade ministry says it “does not dispose of information about ongoing Israeli-Hungarian negotiations on buying Israeli-designed border fences,” according to Reuters.

American tourists attacked after making wrong turn in Hebron

Five American tourists have been attacked after accidentally entering a Palestinian neighborhood of the West Bank city of Hebron.

A car the group of yeshiva students was riding in was hit by a Molotov cocktail, injuring one person inside.

The group was whisked away by a local, who let them hide in his house until Israel security forces arrived to extract them.

Hebron, home to the Tomb of the Patriarch’s pilgrimage site, is divided between a small population of Israeli settlers and a larger population of Palestinians who control most of the city.

Egyptians given jail terms for ‘suggestive’ dancing

An Egyptian court has sentenced two female dancers to six months in jail each for “inciting debauchery,” in the second verdict of its kind since June, a judicial source says.

Arrested in July, the dancers known as Bardis and Shakira, were also convicted of “broadcasting obscenities” for appearing in two video clips wearing flimsy clothes and making “suggestive” moves, the source said.

In June a court sentenced another female dancer, Reda El-Fouly to one year in jail for inciting debauchery but she appealed and the verdict was later halved.

Bardis and Shakira, who are seen in the video clip wearing short dresses with plunging necklines, can also appeal.

— AFP

Two injured in Hebron ‘near lynching’

Israel’s Channel 2 news describes the attack in Hebron as a “near lynching” and reports that two people in the group of tourists were injured in the incident.

According to Ynet, the two were lightly injured as Palestinians rioted, and received treatment from paramedics on the spot.

The news site quotes a source in the city’s Jewish community saying that the IDF had recently removed a post at the entrance to the neighborhood where the attack took place.

There is no immediate statement from the IDF.

 

Envoy says Palestinian flag set to fly at UN

A draft resolution on raising the Palestinian flag at the United Nations will be adopted next week in time for PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ visit to New York, the Palestinian envoy says.

The UN General Assembly will vote on September 10 on the measure that is almost certain to garner a majority of votes in the 193-nation forum.

“We have the votes and we are working to get as many votes as we can,” says Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian representative to the United Nations.

Once adopted, the UN will have 20 days to carry out the decision, which would be in time for Abbas’ visit on September 30.

Mansour declines to say whether a formal flag-raising ceremony would be held during Abbas’ visit, an event that would highlight the Palestinians’ aspirations for statehood.

— AFP

Squalid conditions seen at Budapest train station

Conditions have grown increasingly squalid around Budapest’s Keleti train station, where an estimated 3,000 migrants have camped for days as Hungarian authorities flip-flop over whether to let them get on trains heading to Austria and Germany.

Volunteers have been distributing water, food, medicine and disinfectants. But an AP reporter saw one infant boy beside his sleeping parents crawl onto the pavement Thursday to eat breadcrumbs from the floor.

Nearby, an unattended toddler walked to a pile of garbage, picking at discarded wrappers in search of candy.

But not to worry, Italy and Malta’s soccer teams will observe a moment of silence for the refugee crisis before their European Championship qualifier match.

Italian soccer federation president Carlo Tavecchio says he asked and received permission from UEFA President Michel Platini for the observation at the match Thursday night in Florence.

The two Mediterranean countries have been hard hit by the crisis.

— With AP

 

Kentucky clerk jailed over refusal to issue gay marriage licenses

A federal judge has ordered a defiant county clerk to jail for contempt after she insisted that it would violate her conscience to follow court orders to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

Kim Davis and her deputy clerks were summoned to appear before US District Judge David Bunning after she repeatedly denied marriage licenses, cited her religious beliefs and “God’s authority.”

“You can’t be separated from something that’s in your heart and in your soul,” Davis tells the judge as she explained how the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide conflicts with the vows she made when she became a born-again Christian.

“I promised to love Him with all my heart, mind and soul because I wanted to make heaven my home,” Davis says.

The judge says she left him with no alternative but to jail her, since fines alone would not serve to change her mind. She is escorted out of his courtroom by a deputy, although not in handcuffs, to be turned over to the custody of federal marshals.

Joint List head released from hospital after heart scare

Joint List faction leader Ayman Odeh has been released from a Jerusalem hospital, after being rushed there a day earlier from the Knesset.

Odeh, who heads the Knesset’s only Arab faction, had complained of chest pains Wednesday night during a special session to vote on the 2015-2016 budget.

Paramedics had initially feared Odeh could be suffering a heart attack, but doctors said tests came back negative, the Walla news site reports.

New Jersey’s Booker backs Iran deal

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey has become the latest Democrat to announce his support for the Iran nuclear deal.

He’s siding with President Barack Obama despite home-state pressures to say “no.”

Booker says in a statement that the deal is flawed, but the alternative is worse.

On Wednesday, Senate Democrats clinched the needed votes to uphold Obama’s veto, if necessary, of a resolution of disapproval that Republicans are trying to pass this month.

Booker becomes the 35th Democratic or independent senator to back the deal.

The agreement negotiated by the US and other world powers aims to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.

Booker had been closely watched because of pressures from New Jersey’s Jewish community to oppose the deal. Also, New Jersey’s other Democratic senator, Bob Menendez, opposes the deal, one of only two Democratic senators to do so.

A rally to call on Booker to oppose the deal had been planned by activist Rabbi Shmuely Boteach, a close friend of Booker’s, for September 8.

— with AP

With Rivlin in Vatican, pope slips away to run errands

After meeting with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin, Pope Francis apparently slipped out the Vatican for a quick jaunt over to a glasses shop Thursday.

Now he can holy see.

Francis arrived at dusk at the Ottica Spiezia on swank Via del Babuino in his Ford Focus, accompanied by his bodyguard and some plainclothes police, witness Daniel Soehe said.

Shop owner Alessandro Spiezia told The Associated Press he put new lenses in the pope’s existing frames. He said he had made the pope new glasses last year, and that the pope had liked them so much that he asked him to fill a new prescription.

Pope Francis leaves an eyeglass store on Via del Babuino, in central Rome, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. (AP/Alessandra Tarantino)

Pope Francis leaves an eyeglass store on Via del Babuino, in central Rome, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. (AP/Alessandra Tarantino)

“I was supposed to go to the Vatican yesterday to bring them, but the pope told his secretary, ‘No, I don’t want Spiezia to come here, I’ll go to Via del Babuino,'” a clearly emotional Spiezia said moments after the pope left with his new prescription filled.

The pope, who spent less than an hour in the tiny shop, was mobbed by an enormous crowd that had gathered outside, grabbing onto his arm as he got into the car for the quick trip back to the Vatican.

Soehe, a German tourist visiting Rome with his father, said he was stunned to see the pope in the shop, especially after he waited for four hours earlier in the day, in vain, to climb to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica.

“There were too many people, and also the president of Israel was visiting and there were so many police officers, so it was too much for us and we went back to the hotel,” Soehe told AP.

“I told my father, ‘Hey, that was better than going to St. Peter’s dome: Seeing the pope in a shop trying on new glasses.'”

— with AP

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