The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.
Liberman orders Gaza crossing to remain closed over border riot
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman orders that the Erez Pedestrian Crossing into the Gaza Strip remained closed for one week as punishment for the residents of the Palestinian enclave after a group of people rioted and vandalized the site earlier this week.
“After the vandalism incident we witnessed this past Tuesday, I have decided that the Erez Crossing will remain closed until next Thursday (September 13th). This is also how I will act if similar incidents happen in the future,” Liberman says in an Arabic-language Facebook post.
However, Erez likely would have been mostly closed for this period anyway, as the crossings into the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are typically shuttered during major Jewish holidays, like Rosh Hashanah, which begins on Sunday night and ends on Tuesday night.
Liberman posts his message on the “el-Munasek” Facebook page belonging to Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon, known formally as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.
“Residents of Gaza, I want to bring to your attention that we will not tolerate violence. Anyone who participates in terror needs to know that they are harming the livelihoods of the residents of Gaza. On the other hand, there will be economic returns if there is quiet on the security front,” he writes.
— Judah Ari Gross
US envoy sees Golan ‘forever’ remaining under Israeli control
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman expects the Golan Heights to remain under Israeli control “forever,” according to an excerpt released Thursday of an interview he gave to an Israeli newspaper.
Israel seized most of the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1Six Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.
“I cannot honestly imagine a situation in which the Golan Heights is not part of Israel forever,” Friedman tells Israel Hayom, which is set to publish the full interview on Friday.
“I cannot imagine a situation in which the Golan Heights is returned to Syria,” he adds.
“Giving up the high area of the Golan Heights may put Israel at great security disadvantage, and it is unnecessary to say that I cannot think of anyone more unworthy of receiving such a prize than Assad,” he says, referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Friedman even mentions the possibility of the US officially recognizing the Golan as Israeli territory.
During a visit to Israel in August, US National Security Adviser John Bolton said there were no discussions on such recognition.
Memorial ceremony held in Jerusalem for victims of 9/11 attacks
The Jewish National Fund and its American branch, as well as the US Embassy in Israel, host a memorial ceremony in Jerusalem for the victims of the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
The ceremony, held at the 9/11 Living Memorial Monument in the neighborhood of Ramot, is attended by a number of JNF officials, as well as US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
“In this beautiful plaza, at this inspiring location, we remind the families of those lost and we confirm to people everywhere, that we stand together – Americans and Israelis – and that together we continue to heal and to build, in a spirit of solidarity and commitment to the future,” says Friedman.
September 11 this year coincides with the Jewish new year, explaining why this year’s ceremony was held early.
UK security minister says Putin responsible for nerve agent attack
LONDON — Britain’s security minister says Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin bears ultimate responsibility for the nerve agent attack targeting a former spy in England, also warning that the UK would counter Russian “malign activity” with both overt and covert measures.
Ben Wallace says Putin and his government “controls, funds and directs” the military intelligence unit known as the GRU, which Britain believes used Novichok to try to kill ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal.
Skripal and his daughter Yulia were hospitalized for weeks in critical condition after they were exposed to the Soviet-developed nerve agent in the city of Salisbury on March 4. They are now recovering in a secret location for their own protection.
In the nearby town of Amesbury, local woman Dawn Sturgess died and her boyfriend Charlie Rowley was sickened after they came across remnants of the poison in June.
Wallace tells the BBC that Britain would “push back the Russian malign activity” with “whatever means we have within the law and our capabilities.”
He says Britain would “challenge the Russians in both the overt and the covert space, within the rule of law and in a sophisticated way.”
French military chief says Islamic State to lose all Syrian turf by 2019
PARIS — The Islamic State extremist group will have been driven from all the territory it once controlled as a self-declared “caliphate” before the end of the year, French military chief Francois Lecointre says Thursday.
The jihadists, who conquered vast stretches of Iraq and Syria in 2014, have lost all but a pocket of land in Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor province between the Euphrates river and Iraqi border, though they remain present in the Syrian desert.
Using an Arabic acronym for IS, Lecointre predicts “the end of the physical caliphate of Daesh before the end of the year, probably late autumn.”
France is part of the US-led coalition that has been fighting IS since 2014 and is now supporting Kurdish and Arab fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces as they battle to oust the jihadists from their last holdout.
“Once the physical caliphate has fallen… we will pose the question of how to reconfigure Operation Inherent Resolve,” Lecointre says of the coalition.
Speaking to reporters, the general pledges to downscale the French troop contingent — currently more than 1,000-strong — “as soon as I can.”
Khamenei accuses US, Israel of leading ‘propaganda war’ against Iran
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei lashes out at the United States and Israel for leading a “propaganda war” meant to undermine the internal stability of the Islamic Republic.
In remarks posted to his Twitter account, Khamenei says alongside the “all-inclusive economic war” against Iran, there is also a “crucial propaganda war” that gets overlooked.
“Intelligence services of the United States & the Zionist regime with the financial support of the Qaruns of the countries around us have launched a brigade of waging propaganda wars and are persistently busy plotting and striving to contaminate the public opinion and the society,” he says.
Khamenei claims this is meant to fuel “anxiety, anguish, hopelessness, and a feeling of having reached a dead end as well as making the people pessimistic about one another, about the governing sectors and exaggerating the economic problems in the minds of the society.”
Despite this, he says Iran is on its way to fulfilling the “concepts, ideals & truths” of the 1979 revolution that brought the country’s Islamist regime to power.
Today the Islamic Republic is facing an all-inclusive economic war which is directed by a war chamber, carefully and persistently. However, alongside this war, there is a crucial propaganda war going on which is often neglected. pic.twitter.com/TP0soyzv8c
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) September 6, 2018
Cyber firm uncovers Iran-run ‘fake news’ sites geared toward Israel
An Israeli cybersecurity firm announces today it has uncovered three Iran-run “fake news” accounts geared toward an Israeli audience, as well as a score of social media accounts.
ClearSky says one of the sites is the Hebrew-language Tel Aviv Times, which engages in “distorting news,” and the other two are Arabic language news outlets that promote the Islamic Republic.
It also says there are 14 fake Facebook profiles and 11 fake Twitter accounts that are part of this Iranian “infrastructure,” which have thousands of followers and between them and are still active.
According to ClearSky, the sites and accounts are part of an Iranian “worldwide disinformation infrastructure that was set up over the years by the Iranians and includes over 100 active news and media sites in 24 countries and 29 languages.”
A researcher for the firm says Iran in recent years has expanded its efforts to promote its agenda online from countries in the Middle East to any state in which it has an interest.
“In our assessment that the purpose of setting up this infrastructure is to influence public opinion in target states and likely in order to send targeted messages to activists and supporters of Iran,” the researcher says in a Hebrew-language statement.
The announcement comes after Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube shuttered hundreds of accounts last month that were allegedly tied to Iranian disinformation efforts.
After High Court ruling, EU urges Israel not to raze West Bank Bedouin village
The European Union calls on Israel not to go through with the demolition of the West Bank Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar after the High Court of Justice rejected a petition on Wednesday to prevent it being razed.
“The EU and its Member States have repeatedly stated their long-standing position on Israel’s settlement policy, illegal under international law, and actions taken in that context, including the demolitions of Palestinian communities and (possible) forced transfers of population,” a spokesperson for the bloc says in a statement.
“The consequences of a demolition of this community and the displacement of its residents, including children, against their will, would be very serious and would severely threaten the viability of the two-state solution and undermine prospects for peace,” the statement adds.
Israel maintains that homes and other structures in Khan al-Ahmar were built illegally and says its close proximity to a major roadway is a danger to the community’s residents.
Bennett to UK Jews: ‘Come home’ to Israel
An Israeli minister urges British Jews to “come home” to Israel amid the fallout from the anti-Semitism allegations swirling over the opposition Labour Party.
In a Facebook post, Naftali Bennett refers to posters declaring that “Israel is a racist endeavor,” which were slapped up around London early today to protest Labour’s adoption of an anti-Semisism definition under which that statement runs afoul.
“Dear British Jews, the writing is on the wall… No, literally, it’s all over your walls,” writes Bennett, who heads the national-religious Jewish Home party.
“Come home. You have a home and it’s waiting for you!”
Israel will always stand for the right of all Jews to live where they choose in safety and freedom. But we are waiting…
Pence, Pompeo deny writing seething NYT op-ed on Trump
WASHINGTON — Pushing back against explosive reports his own administration is conspiring against him, US President Donald Trump lashes out against the anonymous senior official who wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times claiming to be part of a “resistance” working “from within” to thwart the commander-in-chief’s most dangerous impulses.
Washington is consumed by a wild guessing game as to the identity of the author and swift denials of involvement in the op-ed come Thursday from top administration officials, including the office of Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Hotly debated on Twitter was the author’s use of the word “lodestar,” which pops up frequently in speeches by Pence. Could the anonymous figure be someone in Pence’s orbit? Others argued that the word “lodestar” could have been included to throw people off.
In a rare step, Pence’s communications director Jarrod Agen tweets early Thursday that “The Vice President puts his name on his Op-Eds. The @nytimes should be ashamed and so should the person who wrote the false, illogical, and gutless op-ed. Our office is above such amateur acts.”
Pompeo, who is in India, denies writing the anonymous opinion piece, saying, “It’s not mine.” He accuses the media of trying to undermine the Trump administration and says he found that “incredibly disturbing.”
Arab League cheers Paraguay’s Jerusalem embassy reversal
CAIRO — The Arab League has welcomed Paraguay’s decision to relocate its embassy from the contested city of Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv.
Saeed Abu Ali, assistant to the league’s secretary-general for Palestinian affairs. tells reporters Thursday the move serves as a model for other countries in the face of Israeli plans and US pressure. He also says it will also positively reflect on Arab-Paraguayan relations.
Abu Ali hails Paraguay’s move as being on the “right track” and in accordance with international legitimacy resolutions.
Paraguay had moved its embassy to Jerusalem in May after Guatemala and the US, infuriating Palestinians who seek East Jerusalem as a future capital.
Paraguay reversed its decision yesterday, prompting Israel to shutter its embassy in Paraguay and warn that ties between the countries would be “strained.”
UN envoy says Iran to be under ‘spotlight’ at upcoming General Assembly
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations says Iran will be under the “spotlight” at the General Assembly later this month, when US President Donald Trump will chair a UN Security Council meeting on Iranian activities.
In a briefing to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Danny Danon slams Iran for continuing to “encourage terrorism, test ballistic missiles, and threaten the Middle East.”
“Other countries in the world are expected to increase their pressure against Iran, which systematically violates Security Council resolutions,” adds Danon, according to a statement from Israel’s Mission to the UN.
“At the General Assembly that will be opened in the coming weeks, the spotlight will be directed at Iran’s aggressive policy and this will have significant implications.”
Ben Gurion Airport packed as Israelis take off for High Holidays
Over 107,000 people have traveled through Ben Gurion Airport on Thursday, Hadashot TV news reports, in the busiest day for travel ahead of the High Holidays.
According to the network, some 2.2 million people are passing through Ben Gurion during September, which includes the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot.
It says of those flying from the airport, 18 percent are headed to Bangkok, 16% to New York, and 12% to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.
Many Jews travel to Ukraine for Rosh Hashanah to make a pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Uman.
Report: Israel armed rebels in south Syria to block Iranian forces, IS jihadists
Israel covertly provided arms and funds to at least 12 Syrian rebel groups, Foreign Policy magazine reports, in order to prevent Iran-backed forces and Islamic State jihadists from setting up shop in the border area.
Israeli support included paying rebel fighters a salary of some $75 a month and providing them with weapons and other materials, the report says.
According to Foreign Policy, Israel began arming groups tied to the rebel Free Syrian Army in 2013 and ramped up its support last year amid growing concerns over Iran’s military presence in Syria.
The magazine reports that this led to an expectation among rebel groups that Israel would intervene in a regime offensive in southern Syria, leading to deep disappointment when Israel stood on the sidelines as Syrian forces captured areas bordering the Israeli Golan Heights this summer.
“This is a lesson we will not forget about Israel. It does not care about … the people. It does not care about humanity. All it cares about it its own interests,” the report quotes a fighter from the Forsan al-Jolan group as saying.
Civilians flee as Syria, Russia strike rebel stronghold of Idlib
IDLIB, Syria — Hundreds of Syrian civilians flee Idlib province on Thursday as the presidents of Russia, Iran, and Turkey readied for last-ditch talks on the fate of the last rebel bastion.
Government forces and their allies have been massing around Idlib, where aid groups fear what could be the last major battle of Syria’s seven-year civil war may also prove its deadliest.
Western powers have warned against a bloodbath but Damascus and Moscow are adamant that an offensive is needed to root out the jihadists who dominate the province.
Sporadic bombardment has targeted armed groups on Idlib’s fringes in recent days, and on Thursday families begin streaming out of their battered hometowns to seek safety elsewhere.
Trucks piled high with mattresses, metal pipes, plastic tanks, and wicker mats are seen heading towards camps near Syria’s northern border with Turkey.
“We left because of the shelling, the crazy indiscriminate shelling,” says Abu Naser, who fled on the back of one such truck.
“We don’t know where to head now. So many people fled — what are we supposed to do, sit under the shelling and airplanes?
Another group of hundreds of families flees the province’s southeast for other rebel-held areas, says the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman says “around 180 families, or some 1,000 people” had escaped those areas since Wednesday night, heading to rebel territory further east.
Israel issues travel warnings for Sinai, Turkey ahead of High Holidays
The National Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau releases its list of travel advisory warnings ahead of the start of the High Holidays, telling Israelis to avoid popular destinations Turkey and the Sinai Peninsula.
The holiday season, which begins Sunday evening on the Jewish new year and wraps up September 30 with the conclusion of Sukkot, is one of the most popular times of year for Israeli travelers.
Just as last year, the bureau says “the threat in Sinai remains high” in light of the presence of an Islamic State affiliate and efforts by Al-Qaeda to establish itself.
In Turkey, it warns of “high threat potential for Israelis in light of the infrastructure and intention of terror groups to operate” in the country.
The bureau also says there is a high risk for Israeli travelers in the rest of Egypt and Jordan.
Netanyahu: Not a day when Shin Bet doesn’t thwart terror plot
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hails the Shin Bet security agency for its work preventing terror attacks against Israelis, crediting this with helping Israel to avoid much of the violence that has engulfed other countries in the Middle East.
“The Shin Bet deters, thwarts, and defeats on a daily and hourly basis those who seek our lives,” Netanyahu says at a toast with security chiefs for the upcoming Jewish new year. “Not a day goes by in which there is no preventive action.”
He adds: “If the State of Israel stands apart from the shocks roiling our region and from what is occurring in the countries around us, and it stands very much apart, it is not because there are no attacks or attempted attacks. It is because there is defense, counter-action, and deterrence.”
Trump to Jewish leaders: No money for Palestinians if no peace deal
In the annual Rosh Hashanah phone call with Jewish leaders, US President Donald Trump says the United States will not reverse aid cuts to the Palestinian Authority unless its leaders agree to a peace deal with Israel.
“What I will tell you is I stopped massive amounts of money that we were paying to the Palestinians and the Palestinian leaders. The United States was paying them tremendous amounts of money and I say, ‘You’ll get money but we’re not paying until you make a deal,'” Trump says, according to a recording of the call from Channel 10.
“If we don’t make a deal we’re not paying.”
Trump also repeats that he removed the thorny issue of Jerusalem from peace talks by recognizing it as Israel’s capital and says Israel will have to give up something in return, but doesn’t say what this will be.
On Iran, Trump says he believes the Iranians will soon ask for negotiations on a new nuclear deal in light of the growing economic pressure following his withdrawal from the accord meant to limit its nuclear program and reimpose sanctions.
Israel to close West Bank, Gaza crossings during High Holidays
The Israeli military announces that it will be closing the crossings and checkpoints into the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the upcoming holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, as it does nearly every year.
Closures for Jewish and Israeli holidays are a routine procedure, intended both to prevent terror attack attempts in Israel during the holiday period and to allow the Israeli security officials who operate the crossings to celebrate the festival.
The Rosh Hashanah closure will begin on Saturday at midnight and last until 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, September 12. The Jewish new year holiday begins on Sunday evening and lasts through Tuesday night.
In addition, the Erez Crossing into the Gaza Strip, which has been closed since Wednesday due to a riot on the Palestinian side of the facility the day before, will remain shuttered as a punitive measure until next Thursday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced on Tuesday.
Exceptions will be made on a case-by-case basis out of humanitarian and medical considerations by Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians.
The Yom Kippur closure is scheduled to begin at midnight on Monday, September 17, and end at midnight on September 18.
The closure for the week-long Sukkot festival will begin on September 22 at midnight. It will continue for the full week in the Gaza Strip, ending on October 1 at midnight.
In the West Bank, however, the crossings and checkpoints will re-open for the intermediary days — known as chol hamoed — from September 25 to 28.
The West Bank’s industrial areas will not be affected by the closure and will remain open throughout the holiday season, the army says.
— Judah Ari Gross
German police identify 6 far-right protesters who made Nazi salute
BERLIN — Police in the German state of Saxony say Thursday they have identified six far-right protesters who gave the stiff-armed Hitler salute or committed other violations at an anti-migrant protest last week.
Police say they were able to match images of the suspects to individuals already identified from previous protests.
The suspects, whose names aren’t released, are being investigated under German laws prohibiting displays of the salute, the swastika, and other Nazi symbols.
The protest was sparked by the stabbing death of a German man early August 26. An Iraqi and a Syrian have been arrested on manslaughter charges, and a second Iraqi man is being sought.
The slaying has become a rallying point for far-right groups. Government officials condemned the killing and the violence that followed, but some in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party have voiced understanding for the protesters who took part in the anti-migrant march.
Netanyahu heckled during Rosh Hashanah speech by south Tel Aviv residents
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is heckled during a speech marking the Jewish new year by residents of south Tel Aviv, who have called for deporting African migrants living in the neighborhood.
“Bibi, what about south Tel Aviv,” a pair of protesters shout, using Netanyahu’s nickname.
Netanyahu was speaking at an event for activists from his Likud party to celebrate Rosh Hashanah.
In his remarks, Netanyahu lists Israel’s accomplishments during his tenure as premier and says, “Together we’ll continue to lead the State of Israel for may more years for the benefit of our children.”