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Trump condemns KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists as ‘repugnant’; Austria’s ruling party fires Israeli consultant arrested in fraud sting; After Virginia rally, Yad Vashem urges vigilance

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

  • The collapsed bridge on Highway 4, near Bnei Brak, August 14, 2017. (United Hatzalah)
    The collapsed bridge on Highway 4, near Bnei Brak, August 14, 2017. (United Hatzalah)
  • US President Donald Trump, on August 12, 2017, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON)
    US President Donald Trump, on August 12, 2017, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON)
  • Tal Silberstein, an adviser to Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, arrives at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on August 14, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)
    Tal Silberstein, an adviser to Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, arrives at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on August 14, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)
  • Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett speaks during a party faction meeting at the Knesset, on July 24, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
    Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett speaks during a party faction meeting at the Knesset, on July 24, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
  • Outgoing chief Israel Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel speaks at the ceremony for his successor Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin at Tel Nof base in central Israel on August 14, 2017. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
    Outgoing chief Israel Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel speaks at the ceremony for his successor Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin at Tel Nof base in central Israel on August 14, 2017. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
  • Egyptian security forces stand guard at the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip on August 14, 2017. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)
    Egyptian security forces stand guard at the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip on August 14, 2017. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

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

Acting Bezeq chairman arrested in bribery, fraud sting

The acting chairman of Bezeq Communications is reportedly one of the suspects who was arrested by police on a battery of charges, including money laundering, obstruction of justice and bribery.

According to the Ynet news site, David Granot was arrested and questioned along with four other suspects, following a joint investigation with Swiss and American authorities into forged documents and fictitious real estate deals abroad.

Granot was appointed acting chairman of Bezeq last month, replacing Shaul Elovitch who is being investigated by the Israel Securities Authority.

Police declined to comment on the specifics of the current investigation, but confirmed that diamond mogul Beny Steinmetz was among those arrested.

Steinmetz, a Geneva-based diamond-mining magnate with an estimated worth of just over $1 billion according to Forbes, was arrested by Israeli authorities in December over allegations of bribing officials in the African country of Guinea to promote business interests there.

He spent two weeks under house arrest at that time.

— with AP

Iran conservatives tighten grip on top oversight body

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announces a new hardline head of one of the country’s top oversight bodies on Monday, while former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad kept his seat despite a string of controversies.

The appointment of former judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi as head of the Expediency Council means Iran’s conservatives are tightening their grip on a key institution despite recent election successes for reformists.

The Expediency Council plays a critical role in shaping policy and resolving disputes between different power centers.

— AFP

Germany calls Virginia white supremacist rally ‘repulsive scene’

The German government is condemning the white nationalist rally in Virginia that turned violent Saturday, expressing solidarity with peaceful counter-protesters.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert tells reporters it was an “absolutely repulsive scene at this extreme-right march.”

He says “there was outrageous racism, anti-Semitism and hate in its most despicable form to be seen, and whenever it comes to such speech or such images it is repugnant.”

He adds that it’s “completely contrary to what the chancellor and the German government works for politically, and we are in solidarity with those who stand peacefully against such aggressive extreme-right opinions.”

Seibert says Merkel also regrets the death of a counter-protester and sent her sympathies to those injured.

— AP

Israeli aide to Austrian chancellor also detained in money laundering probe

Austrian media reports that Tal Silberstein, an adviser to Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, was among the suspects taken into custody in Israel on a battery of charges, including money laundering, obstruction of justice and bribery.

According to Austrian paper Oesterreich, reported that Zilberstein was also detained, and Kern’s Social Democrats issued a statement saying they will no longer work with him “after the legal accusations that have emerged out of Israel today.”

Silberstein has also worked as an adviser to former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

Police would not comment on the specifics of the current investigation, but confirmed that billionaire businessman Beny Steinmetz was among those arrested. They said they were “investigating a number of suspects since the morning on suspicion that they worked systematically with the main suspect in order to produce and present fictitious contracts and transactions, including in the field of real estate in a foreign country, for the purpose of money transfers and money laundering.”

The investigation was being conducted with “international cooperation,” they said.

Steinmetz controls mining firm BSG Resources and has a net worth estimated by Forbes of $1.02 billion, making him the 17th-richest person in Israel.

In December, he was ordered to remain under house arrest until January 2.

At the time, BSG Resources issued a statement calling the allegations against Steinmetz “baseless.”

— with agencies

In future war, Israel won’t distinguish Lebanon from Hezbollah, Bennett warns

Following threats against Israel from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Education Minister Naftali Bennett says that Lebanon will be responsible for the next conflict with the terrorist organization, as Israel sees them as a single entity.

“Israel’s interest is to prevent another confrontation in Lebanon, and so our new strategy is simple: Lebanon equals Hezbollah, Hezbollah equals Lebanon,” he says in a statement.

“Unlike the Second Lebanon War, this time we won’t differentiate between the organization and the State of Lebanon. This means any attack by Hezbollah will cause destruction throughout Lebanon and its institutions.

“Nasrallah, who wishes to be the ‘defender of Lebanon,’ will become the ‘destroyer of Lebanon,'” Bennett says.

“We do not seek war and will do everything to avoid it, but the other side must know there will be consequences for unilateral steps risking Israel’s security,” he adds.

Yesterday, Nasrallah hinted that Israel should relocate its Dimona nuclear reactor because it’s a target for his group.

Top US officer warns North Korea that military ready

The top US military officer says the United States wants to peacefully resolve a deepening standoff with North Korea but is also ready to use the “full range” of its military capabilities in case of provocation.

The comments by Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford in meetings Monday with senior South Korean military and political officials appeared to be an attempt to ease anxiety over tit-for-tat threats between US President Donald Trump and North Korea while also showing a willingness to back up Trump’s warnings if necessary.

Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the US is “seeking a peaceful resolution to the crisis.”

Dunford is visiting South Korea, Japan and China after a week in which Trump said he was ready to unleash “fire and fury” if North Korea continued to threaten the United States.

— AP

Palestinian Authority to free arrested journalists, lawyer says

The Palestinian Authority decided to release five journalists on Monday after arresting them last week, their lawyer says, a day after political rivals Hamas released a PA-linked reporter.

The five, including from Hamas-linked media, had been arrested in the occupied West Bank on accusations of “leaking sensitive information to enemy groups.”

Three of the five were freed earlier Monday, with the others expected to be released later in the day, the lawyer says.

“The relevant courts decided to free five journalists and all journalists are supposed to be released,” Alaa Freijat, lawyer for the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, tells AFP.

They were held under the PA’s new electronic crimes law, which has been criticized by rights groups who say it restricts criticism of officials on social and traditional media, with the potential for jail sentences.

— AFP

Jewish Agency chairman ‘horrified’ by deadly violence in Virginia

Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky calls the death of a protester at the white supremacist rally in Virginia over the weekend “horrifying.”

“I am deeply concerned by the expressions of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and hatred exhibited at the neo-Nazi rally this past weekend in Charlottesville,” he says in a statement. “I am horrified by the death of a protester at the hands of one of the marchers.”

“These is no place for such hate speech or violence in any democratic society, and I am confident that American authorities will do everything in their power to bring the perpetrators to justice,” Sharansky says.

Egypt opens Gaza crossing for hajj pilgrims

Egypt reopens its border with the Gaza Strip for the first time in months to allow Muslims from the blockaded Palestinian enclave to travel to Mecca for the hajj pilgrimage, authorities say.

“The crossing was reopened this morning for four days in one direction for 2,500 pilgrims,” Hisham Adwan, says the director of information at the crossings authority of the Hamas-run interior ministry.

“About 800 pilgrims will leave the Strip today,” he adds, saying they had all already received Saudi visas.

The Rafah crossing with Egypt has been largely closed in recent years apart from occasional openings.

— AFP

Sessions defends Trump statement on violence

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions says “too much has been read into” President Donald Trump’s statement Saturday amid violence at a protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, related to the removal of a Confederate monument.

Sessions tells NBC’s “Today” that Trump had “explicitly condemned” violence and that “he totally opposes” the values espoused by white supremacy organizations. Trump referenced violence “on many sides.” An excerpt of the interview was aired Monday.

Sessions says he expects Trump to say more, saying “I think you’ll hear that again today.” He noted the White House had expressly condemned white supremacy-driven violence in a statement Sunday.

Sessions told the network, “I think he will do what is correct. … Facts have come out in the interim.”

Sessions also said that he and FBI officials have a meeting scheduled with Trump on Monday, saying “we’re on this case.”

— AP

After Virginia rally, Yad Vashem urges anti-racism education

Israel’s official Holocaust memorial says it is “very concerned by the images, hateful rhetoric, and subsequent violence” seen at the white supremacist rally in in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.

“In our post-Holocaust global society, there is no room for racism or antisemitism,” the museum says in a statement. “The anti-Jewish ideology of the Nazis was a precursor to the eventual murderous policy and extermination of six million Jews.”

Yad Vashem says the deadly rally is “yet another reminder that we must remain vigilant about educating the public regarding hatred and xenophobia.”

180 dead in mudslide, heavy flooding in Sierra Leone capital

At least 180 people were killed and more than 2,000 left homeless when a mudslide and heavy flooding hit Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, leaving hospitals struggling to cope.

An AFP journalist at the scene saw bodies being carried away and houses submerged in two areas of the city, where roads were turned into churning rivers of mud and corpses washed up on the streets.

Mohamed Sinneh, a morgue technician at Freetown’s Connaught Hospital, says “at least” 180 bodies had been received so far, many of them children, leaving no space to lay the dead because of the “overwhelming” number of corpses at the facility.

More bodies were taken to private morgues, Sinneh says.

Disaster management official Candy Rogers tells AFP that “over 2,000 people are homeless,” hinting at the huge humanitarian effort that will be required to deal with the fallout of the flooding in one of Africa’s poorest nations.

— AFP

Acting Bezeq chair, political adviser remanded in money laundering probe

The Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court extends the remand of acting Bezeq chairman David Granot and political adviser Tal Silberstein for three days.

Granot and Silberstein were arrested earlier today along with three others on a battery of charges, including money laundering, obstruction of justice and bribery.

According to a police statement, Granot and Silberstein will remain in custody until Thursday.

After the arrests, police declined to comment on the specifics of the current investigation, but confirmed that diamond mogul Beny Steinmetz was among those arrested.

Top pharma exec quits Trump advisory panel over Charlottesville response

The CEO of the US’s third largest pharmaceutical company is resigning from the president’s American Manufacturing Council citing “a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”

US President Donald Trump lashed out almost immediately Monday at Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier on Twitter, saying Frazier “will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”

Frazier’s resignation comes shortly after a violent confrontation between white supremacists and protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one person dead and 19 injured.

He says in a tweet that the country’s leaders must “honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy.”

Trump responded to Saturday’s violence in Charlottesville by blaming bigotry on “many sides.” He has not explicitly condemned the white supremacists.

— AP

Times of Israel Persian blogger Neda Amin to begin Hebrew classes

Neda Amin, the Iranian-born blogger for The Times of Israel’s Persian website who fled to Israel last week after being threatened with deportation from Turkey, is set begin Hebrew classes in Jerusalem tomorrow.

Amin will be studying Hebrew as part of The Jewish Agency for Israel’s flagship Ulpan Etzion program.

“Israel was created to serve as a homeland for a persecuted people,” says Natan Sharansky in a statement.

“The Jewish Agency, which has welcomed millions of Jews home to Israel, is proud to play a part in easing Neda’s integration into her country of refuge. I spoke to Neda earlier on, welcoming her to Israel and wishing her much success in her studies, and I expressed the hope that she will one day be able to return to a free Iran and contribute to the restoration of the historically close ties between our two nations.”

Amin blogs regularly for The Times of Israel’s Persian site, and has done some freelance work. Living in Turkey until last week, Amin was being threatened with imminent deportation and feared she would be sent back to Iran.

After The Times of Israel alerted the Israeli authorities to her plight, government officials immediately responded and paved the way for her safe arrival in Israel.

Austria’s ruling party fires Israeli political consultant after fraud sting

Austria’s Social Democratic Party announces that it is severing business relations with their Israeli political consultant Tal Silberstein after he was arrested on suspicion of money laundering, obstruction of justice, bribery and related crimes.

Silberstein was one of five suspects arrested earlier today in Israel following a joint investigation with Swiss and American authorities.

Social Democratic Party official Georg Niedermuhlbicher says his party’s move is a result of “the legal accusations that have been made known from Israel.” The party is the senior partner in the coalition now ruling Austria.

The development comes ahead of October national elections and could hurt the Social Democrats, who are trailing behind center-right and right-wing rivals in polls. The other parties are criticizing the Social Democrats for choosing Silberstein as a consultant.

— AP

312 dead as mudslides, flooding sweep through Sierra Leone capital

At least 312 people were killed and more than 2,000 left homeless when heavy flooding hit Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown, leaving morgues overflowing and residents desperately searching for loved ones.

An AFP journalist at the scene saw bodies being carried away and houses submerged in two areas of the city, where roads turned into churning rivers of mud and corpses were washed up on the streets.

Red Cross spokesman Patrick Massaquoi tells AFP the death toll was 312 but could rise further as his team continued to survey disaster areas in Freetown and tally the number of dead.

Mohamed Sinneh, a morgue technician at Freetown’s Connaught Hospital, says 180 bodies had been received so far at his facility alone, many of them children, leaving no space to lay what he described as the “overwhelming number of dead”.

Many more bodies were taken to private morgues, Sinneh says.

— AFP

UN fears for thousands trapped on Syria-Jordan border

United Nations agencies have expressed “deep concern” for the safety and security of nearly 50,000 Syrians stranded in the desert near their war-wracked country’s southern border with Jordan.

A statement issued yesterday in Amman said an estimated 4,000 people at Hadalat and 45,000 mostly women and children at Rukban were stuck on the frontier.

A suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group in June last year killed seven Jordanian soldiers in no-man’s land near the Rukban border crossing.

Soon afterwards, the army declared Jordan’s desert regions that stretch northeast to Syria and east to Iraq “closed military zones.”

Jordan is part of the US-led coalition fighting IS.

— AFP

Bond denied for suspect in Charlottesville car-ramming

A judge has denied bond for an Ohio man accused of plowing his car into a crowd at a white nationalist rally.

Judge Robert Downer said during a bond hearing Monday he would appoint a lawyer for James Alex Fields Jr.

Fields is charged with second-degree murder and other counts after authorities say he drove into the crowd, fatally injuring one woman and hurting 19 others.

The rally was held by white nationalists and others who oppose a plan to remove from a Charlottesville park of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Fields has been in custody since Saturday.

A high school teacher said Fields was fascinated with Nazism, idolized Adolf Hitler and had been singled out by school officials in the 9th grade for his “deeply held, radical” convictions on race.

— AP

Sessions: Virginia car-ramming ‘fits definition’ of domestic terrorism

A suspected white supremacist’s attack on a crowd of protesters using his car as a battering ram fits the definition of domestic terrorism, says US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

A woman was killed and 19 people were injured when the car plowed into a crowd of people Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia, after a violent rally by neo-Nazis and white supremacists protesting the removal of a Confederate statue.

The vehicle attack “does meet the definition of domestic terrorism in our statute,” Sessions says in an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America program. “We are pursuing it in the Department of Justice in every way that we can make a case.”

“You can be sure we will charge and advance the investigation towards the most serious charges that can be brought because this is unequivocally an unacceptable, evil attack,” he tells ABC.

— AFP

Trump declines to condemn neo-Nazis, white supremacists

US President Donald Trump is back at the White House and ignoring shouted questions about the race-fueled clashes in in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Trump briefly waved as he walked alone into the building, which is under renovation. He did not respond to loud queries from reporters about whether he condemns white supremacists and whether he condemns the actions of neo-Nazis.

One woman was killed Saturday when a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters who’d gathered to oppose a rally by white nationalists and others who oppose a plan to remove from a Charlottesville park of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Trump has said “many sides” are to blame for violence.

The president is in Washington for one day during a working vacation mostly in Bedminster, New Jersey.

— AP

New commander of Israeli Air Force sworn in

The official ceremony marking the appointment of Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin as head of the Israeli Air Force begins.

Norkin, who received his commission last week, will take over for outgoing IAF chief Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, who is retiring.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, government ministers, the head of the Shin Bet, the Israel Police commissioner, the attorney general, and other high profile guests are in attendance at the ceremony in the air force’s Tel Nof base in central Israel.

— Judah Ari Gross

IDF chief welcomes new IAF commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin

IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot praises incoming IAF chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, saying Israel’s air force “operated well” under his command during Operation Pillar of Defense and Operation Protective Edge.

Eisenkot says he believes Norkin will succeed in his position because of his abilities, and warns that “terrorist groups are rearming and getting stronger, but the IDF is prepared.”

Th IDF chief goes on to say he “expects to see Eshel in senior positions in Israel, no matter what he chooses to do.”

— Judah Ari Gross

Likud MK holds ‘protest’ office at Temple Mount gate

A lawmaker from the Likud party is holding his office hours outside an entrance to the Temple Mount in protest of an ongoing ban against MKs visiting the holy site in the Old City of Jerusalem, imposed by Netanyahu.

Yehuda Glick, who was shot in 2014 over his campaign for Jewish prayer rights at the Temple Mount says its a one-day action.

“I’m here to protest the fact that the prime minister won’t enable police to allow us to enter the Temple Mount,” Glick told journalists the site.

“I suffer every day I can’t enter the Temple Mount,” he says, as he hold court at one of the gates to the compound alongside a number of bodyguards.

In 2014, a Palestinian terrorist attempted to assassinate Glick, telling Glick, right before pulling the trigger, that he was “an enemy of al-Aqsa,” the Temple Mount mosque.

— with AFP

Trump condemns KKK, neo-Nazis as ‘criminals and thugs’

US President Donald Trump says that “racism is evil,” as he condemns the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists as “criminals and thugs.”

He is speaking in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House after meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray about the race-fueled violence Saturday, in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Trump has come under fire for his comments Saturday that “many sides” are to blame for the violence. In those remarks, he did not single out white supremacists or any other hate group, even as Republican lawmakers and others in his White House did condemn them by name.

— AP

2 injured as truck collapses pedestrian bridge in Bnei Brak

A truck hit and collapsed a pedestrian bridge on Highway 4 in Bnei Brak.

Channel 2 says at least 2 people are injured. One of them, the driver, is believed to be trapped inside the truck.

Magen David Adom paramedics say the driver is in serious condition.

The highway has been closed and police have asked drivers to stay away from the area.

Emergency crews working to rescue 2 people trapped under collapsed bridge

Emergency personnel are working to extract two people trapped inside a truck on Highway 4 after a pedestrian bridge fell on the vehicle.

Magen David Adom paramedics say one person trapped inside the truck is in serious condition.

Rescue workers are waiting for a crane to arrive at the scene to begin moving parts of the concrete bridge that collapsed on the driver’s cabin.

Highway 4 has been closed in both directions.

Pentagon cites artillery ‘mishap’ in 2 US deaths in Iraq

A Pentagon spokesman says the two US soldiers killed Sunday in Iraq were casualties of a US artillery “mishap.”

The spokesman, Army Col. Rob Manning, says an Army artillery unit was firing on an Islamic State mortar position “when a mishap occurred.” He said there is no indication that IS played a role in the deaths. In addition to the two soldiers killed, five others suffered injuries that Manning says are not life-threatening.

The spokesman says he could provide no other details because the incident is under investigation. The names of those killed have not been publicly released.

When the deaths were announced yesterday, the US military said the incident did not involve enemy fire, but provided no other details.

— AP

Israel to send aid to Sierra Leone after mudslides kill hundreds

Netanyahu instructs the foreign ministry to send aid to Sierra Leone after over 300 people were killed in a landslide outside the capital Freetown.

The aid will be provided through the Israeli embassy in neighboring Senegal and will include medicine, clean water, blankets and other needed items.

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Live updates (closed) Latest: 2 injured as truck collapses pedestrian bridge in Bnei Brak

2 injured as truck collapses pedestrian bridge in Bnei Brak

A truck hit and collapsed a pedestrian bridge on Highway 4 in Bnei Brak.

Channel 2 says at least 2 people are injured. One of them, the driver, is believed to be trapped inside the truck.

Magen David Adom paramedics say the driver is in serious condition.

The highway has been closed and police have asked drivers to stay away from the area.