The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s developments as they unfolded.
Iranian presence in Syria on tap for key US, Russia meeting
Russian state media report that the top national security advisers for US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are meeting in Geneva to discuss subjects including the presence of Iranian troops in Syria.
Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, and Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev are meeting Thursday as a follow-up to a summit between the Russian and US leaders in Helsinki last month.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov tells Russian news agencies that Bolton and Patrushev will be discussing Iran’s presence in Syria, among other things.
Iran and Russia are two leading backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Bolton is a fervent critic of Iran’s leadership, saying it supports terrorism, and has defended the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal involving Russia, China, Germany, France and Britain.
Islamic State group claims knife attack near Paris
The Islamic State jihadist group claims a knife attack that killed two people 30 kilometrs (20 miles) outside the French capital on Thursday.
“The person who carried out the attack in Trappes, southwest of Paris, was an Islamic State fighter,” its propaganda channel Amaq says.
“He carried out the attack in response to calls to target subjects of the countries of the coalition” fighting IS, it says.
Israel publishes tenders for another 420 settlement homes
Israel publishes tenders for 420 settlement homes in the West Bank a day after the Defense Ministry advanced plans for over 1,000 other homes.
The publishing of tenders is an additional stage required of projects located in larger settlements where they are marketed by the Housing Ministry to private contractors.
Among the plans published are projects for 211 homes in Ma’ale Efraim in the Jordan Valley, 54 homes in Givat Ze’ev, 52 in Beit Aryeh and 42 in Ariel.
— Jacob Magid
JUUL e-cigarette company petitions High Court over ban
The JUUL e-cigarette company petitions the High Court of Justice over a Health Ministry ban of their product over its high nicotine content, which was signed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week.
The company accuses the Israeli government of upholding a double standard with regard to their vaping product — which they claim is designed solely to wean long-time smokers off cigarettes — in that the Jewish state continues to allow tobacco companies to freely peddle their far more deadly cigarettes. Health officials argue the vaping devices’ high nicotine levels make Israelis susceptible to addiction, with teenagers seen as particularly vulnerable to becoming hooked on the slickly designed e-cigarette.
JUUL also claims it didn’t receive a fair hearing at the Health Ministry and slams the government for ignoring FDA approvals of the product.
“It is not possible to accept the conduct of a regulator working in the dark, with a hidden agenda and strengthening the status of the tobacco companies at the expense of an alternative designed to save millions of smokers the cancerous influence of consuming tobacco,” it says in a statement.
Trump says US market would ‘crash’ if he were impeached
US President Donald Trump says in an interview aired Thursday that the US economy would collapse if he were impeached.
“I will tell you what, if I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash. I think everybody would be very poor,” Trump tells Fox and Friends.
Trump was responding to a question on his mounting legal woes after his former attorney Michael Cohen said under oath that Trump instructed him to commit a felony by breaking US campaign finance laws.
French prosecutors say stabber was mentally ill, terrorism not suspected
French prosecutors are not treating a deadly stabbing attack outside Paris as a terrorism case, says Interior Minister Gerard Collomb.
He notes the attacker suffered from serious mental health issues although he had also been flagged for glorifying terrorism.
The man killed his mother and sister and seriously injured another woman before being shot dead by police. The Islamic State terror group, which has a history of opportunistic claims, swiftly claimed responsibility.
— with AP
Trump suggests ‘flipping’ should be ‘illegal’
US President Donald Trump is suggesting that it should be illegal for people facing prosecution to cooperate with the government in exchange for a reduced sentence.
Trump is reacting to the guilty plea entered by his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to a range of charges.
Trump — in an interview with “Fox & Friends” — is accusing Cohen of implicating him to get a better deal with prosecutors. Trump says Cohen “makes a better deal when he uses me.”
Trump claims people who decide to cooperate with the government “make up stories” and “just make up lies.”
Here’s what the president says: “It’s called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal.” He says “it’s not a fair thing.”
South Africa seethes at Trump over land ‘seizures’ tweet
South Africa accuses US President Donald Trump of fueling racial tensions on Thursday after he said farmers were being forced off their land and many of them killed.
Trump’s tweet touches on the overwhelmingly white ownership of farmland in South Africa — one of the most sensitive issues in the country’s post-apartheid history.
Responding within hours, the government angrily says: “South Africa totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past.”
“South Africa will speed up the pace of land reform in a careful and inclusive manner that does not divide our nation,” it says on its official Twitter account.”
Trump wrote overnight: “I have asked Secretary of State (Mike)… Pompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers.”
His tweet apparently followed a segment on conservative Fox News about Pretoria’s plan to change the constitution to speed up expropriation of land without compensation to redress racial imbalances in land ownership.
“‘South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers,'” says the post, which tagged the show’s host, Tucker Carlson, as well as the channel.
Trump: I don’t know how you can impeach somebody who’s done a great job
After suggesting his impeachment would cause an economic dive, driving Americans into poverty, Trump is also expressing doubt that that would ever happen.
He says, “I don’t know how you can impeach somebody who’s done a great job.”
— With AP
Netanyahu lands in Lithuania for four-day visit
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lands in Lithuania for a Baltic summit through which he said he hoped to deepen ties with eastern European nations to counter the EU’s “not always friendly” relations with his country.
Netanyahu, who has Lithuanian roots, is greeted by the Baltic country’s foreign minister at Vilnius airport.
“I want to achieve a balance in the European Union’s not always friendly relations with Israel in order to maintain fairer relations,” Netanyahu says before boarding the plane for the first-ever visit by an Israeli premier to Lithuania.
“I am doing it through contacts with blocs of European Union countries, eastern European countries, and now with Baltic countries and other countries, of course.”
Netanyahu will meet the leaders of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia together in Vilnius during his visit which is set to last until Sunday. He will also pay tribute to Lithuania’s once vibrant Jewish culture and its tragic end during the Holocaust.
Lithuania has traditionally been one of Israel’s better friends in the European Union.
Police probing claim 2 Palestinians beaten by Israelis
Israeli police are investigating a claim by two Palestinians who say they were attacked in the West Bank overnight by Israeli settlers.
The pair required medical treatment and their car also sustained damage in the assault, according to Hebrew reports.
The incident took place in the Palestinian village of Kalil, south of the Har Bracha settlement in the northern West Bank.
שני פלסטינים תושבי הכפר קליל בשומרון הותקפו הלילה באלימות קשה ונזקקו לטיפול רפואי. לדבריהם – התוקפים היו ישראלים, ונגרם נזק גם לרכבם pic.twitter.com/IJg93HUCnV
— Carmel Dangor (@carmeldangor) August 23, 2018
Trying to keep nuclear deal alive, EU unveils Iran aid
The European Union is announcing its first financial support package to help bolster Iran’s flagging economy, part of the bloc’s commitment to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive.
The European Commission unveils Thursday a first tranche of 18 million euros ($21 million) — 8 million for the private sector, 8 million to cope with environmental problems and 2 million for drug abuse.
It’s part of a wider 50-million-euro effort to help Iran cope with economic and social challenges.
The EU considers the nuclear deal vital for global security. It’s tried to keep the agreement alive since President Donald Trump removed the US in May. The move triggered sanctions that hit some European companies doing business in Iran. Tehran announced Monday that French oil company Total SA had left.
British-Iranian woman held in Tehran released for 3 days
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman who has been in prison in Tehran for more than two years on sedition charges, has been released for three days, her husband says Thursday.
“Nazanin was released from Evin prison on furlough this morning. Initially the release is for three days — her lawyer is hopeful this can be extended,” Richard Ratcliffe says in a statement.
British Airways to end direct flights to Iran in September
British Airways says it will end its direct flights to Iran’s capital in September as “the operation is currently not commercially viable.”
The decision announced Thursday comes after President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and began restoring US sanctions.
British Airways says its last flight to Tehran will be September 22, with the return on September 23.
British Airways resumed direct flights to Tehran in September 2016. Service had been suspended in October 2012 as relations deteriorated between Britain and Iran.
Britain was among the world powers that struck the 2015 atomic accord. It, along with other European nations, have said they want to protect companies that continue doing business in Iran, but many have pulled out since Trump’s May decision.
Bolton: US goal of removing Iranian troops from Syria ‘far from easy to achieve’
US National Security Adviser John Bolton says the issue of Iranian military entrenchment in Syria was “a major subject of conversation” in his talks with his Russian counterpart.
Bolton hosts a press conference after meeting with Russia’s Nikolai Patrushev for five hours. The two failed to release a joint statement due to disagreements on the subject of election meddling, which was raised several times during the meeting, says Bolton.
Bolton records, on the whole, “considerable progress,” on issues raised last month in Helsinki in talks between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Well, this question of what to do with the Iranian forces… was something we discussed,” he says.
“Our objective is that all Iranian forces return to Iran,” he adds, saying this is a goal “I think President Putin would share.”
“It’s far from easy to achieve,” adds Bolton. Expanding on Trump and Putin’s discussion of the issue, the two national security advisers talked about a “series of steps” to advance this objective, he says, without elaborating.
Patrushev again raised the suggestion to place geographic limits on Iranian forces in exchange for the suspension of US oil sanctions, says Bolton, rejecting the proposal outright.
Iranian entrenchment in Syria was “a major subject of conversation,” he says, much as in Helsinki.
Bolton and Patrushev also discussed economic sanctions on Iran, with the former saying he explained Trump was seeking to “put maximum pressure on the regime.”
“Our objective is to have as few waivers as possible and that’s something we’re going to pursue,” Bolton says of the sanctions.
Russia did not request any waivers, he adds.
Health Ministry says 2 died of West Nile fever, 14 cases serious
The Health Ministry confirms two people have died of West Nile fever and 14 others are in serious condition.
One of the fatalities was an 85-year-old man with a preexisting condition, the ministry says.
Some 68 people have been infected.
US lawmakers urge Iran expulsion from SWIFT banking network
Republican lawmakers are calling for Iran to be expelled from the main financial system that oversees international bank transfers, as the Trump administration steadily re-imposes sanctions on the country following the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.
A group of 16 GOP senators, led by Ted Cruz of Texas, urge Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin on Thursday to take “all necessary steps” to disconnect Iran from the SWIFT network. They say the renewed US sanctions won’t be effective unless that step is taken.
US President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord in May and re-imposed some sanctions on Iran earlier this month, over the objections of Iran and the other parties to the deal, including Britain, France, and Germany. A second batch of sanctions will be re-imposed in November.
Family of Ethiopian Bible quiz contestant granted Israeli residency
The family of a young Ethiopian Jew who competed in this year’s International Bible Contest but was told he could not stay in Israel was allowed to immigrate this week after a private organization raised the money.
Sintayehu Shaparou took part in the Jerusalem-based competition in April when he was 18. Although his father and some of his siblings had immigrated in the early 2000s, the remaining members of his family were never granted permission to move to Israel.
He was granted residency by the Interior Ministry in April after it became public that Sintayehu was forced to deposit money with immigration and border control officials as a guarantee that he would leave the country following the Bible contest.
Shaparou is a member of the Falash Mura community, descendants of Jews who converted to Christianity in the 19th century, many under duress. The Interior Ministry does not classify the Falash Mura as Jews and they are required to receive special legal dispensations to make aliyah, as they are not eligible under the Law of Return.
According to Heart of Israel, an activist group that raised the money for Shaparou’s family’s resettlement, the Shaparous have never learned the reason for the rejection of their immigration application. In a statement released to the media on Wednesday, the group announces that the remaining members of Shaparou’s family had been granted residency status after months of lobbying and are expected to arrive later this month.
Air France to end flights to Tehran next month
Air France will end flights to Tehran on September 18, the airline says Thursday, citing poor commercial prospects linked to US sanctions against Iran.
The announcement from Air France — which had run connections to Tehran via its low-cost operator Joon — came shortly after British Airways said it was suspending flights to the Iranian capital.
US to cut funding for UN human rights office
US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, says the United States will cut funding for the office of the U.N. human rights chief, the administration’s latest blow against the United Nations.
Bolton announces the move against the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which would lose one of its largest donors. The United States is the UN’s largest single donor, providing about 22 percent of its budget.
In an interview Thursday, Bolton says officials would calculate how much of the US annual budget goes to the rights office and the Human Rights Council, a 47-nation UN-backed assembly of nations, and reduce its outlay by that amount.
Ex-Chilean President Michelle Bachelet is set to replace Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein as the High Commissioner for Human Rights next month.
Pompeo to return to North Korea next week
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday names Stephen Biegun his special envoy for North Korea and says they would both travel to the nuclear armed country next week.
“Steve will direct the US policy towards North Korea and lead our efforts to achieve President Trump’s goal of the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea, as agreed to by chairman Kim Jong Un,” Pompeo says.
US-led coalition says IS leadership ‘irrelevant’
The US-led coalition says Thursday the leadership of the Islamic State group was now “irrelevant” after IS issued an audio message it said was recorded by its chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Coalition spokesman Colonel Sean Ryan’s statement comes after Baghdadi called on Muslims to wage “jihad” in the purported recording released late Wednesday.
“He’s been rendered useless and ineffective, so we’re not too concerned by any comments coming from ISIS leadership,” Ryan says, using another acronym for the jihadist group.
Baghdadi has been pronounced dead on several occasions, but an Iraqi intelligence official said in May that he remains alive in Syrian territory by the Iraqi border. His last purported message was released in September 2017, shortly after forces backed by the US-led coalition expelled IS from its de facto capital of Raqa.
“We believe his leadership is irrelevant,” Ryan tells journalists in a conference call.
“We’re focused on defeating the last remnants of ISIS, so whether he is around or not doesn’t really matter.”
ADL blasts Trump for tweeting a white nationalist talking point
US President Donald Trump has come under fire, including from the Anti-Defamation League, for apparently tweeting support for a white nationalist conspiracy theory that whites in South Africa are in danger of genocide.
In a statement, the ADL says it was “extremely disturbing that the President of the United States echoed a longstanding and false white supremacist claim that South Africa’s white farmers are targets of large-scale, racially-motivated killings by South Africa’s black majority.”
The ADL also says that white supremacists in the United States have made such claims for years.
EU: Settlement building ‘jeopardizes’ prospect of Palestinian state
The European Union blasts Israel’s approval of some 2,000 settlement units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“If implemented, these plans would further jeopardize the prospect of a contiguous and viable future Palestinian state,” a statement from a spokesperson for the 28-nation bloc says.
“As reflected in successive Foreign Affairs Council conclusions, the EU is strongly opposed to Israel’s settlement policy which is illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace,” it says.
“The European Union will continue to engage with both parties and with its international and regional partners to support a resumption of a meaningful process towards a negotiated two-state solution, the only realistic and viable way to fulfil the legitimate aspirations of both parties.”
Indiana woman charged with aiding Islamic State
An Indiana woman who says her husband died fighting for the Islamic State movement in Syria is accused of providing support to the terror group.
Federal prosecutors say 32-year-old Samantha Elhassani, of Elkhart, was charged Wednesday with conspiring to provide material support to IS and aiding and abetting individuals in providing material support.
She is accused of providing tactical gear and funds to two Islamic State fighters.
Elhassani’s attorney, Thomas Durkin, calls the charges “wrong-headed and cruel” and says she’s “a victim of her jihadist husband [who] should be receiving treatment rather than incarceration.”
Elhassani told PBS’ “Frontline” and the BBC in April that her Moroccan husband tricked her in 2015 into traveling with their four children to Syria, where he died fighting for the Islamic State.
Jeremy Corbyn said in 2013 that Zionists don’t understand British culture
Video footage from 2013 has surfaced of British Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is battling allegations of anti-Semitism, implying that Zionists were unable to understand British ways of thinking despite growing up in the country.
In a clip of Corbyn’s speech published by The Daily Mail, Corbyn told attendees at a London conference that “Zionists … clearly have two problems. One is they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either. They needed two lessons, which we could perhaps help them with.”
The conference, which was promoted on the Hamas terror organization’s English language website, featured several controversial speakers, including one who had advocated boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day and another who blamed Israel for the 9/11 attacks.
Garda Kharmi, who also addressed the conference, was quoted by the Daily Mail as having said in a 2017 lecture that “the Jews were not wanted in Europe” and that they were “an unpopular, unloved people who were off-loaded into the [Middle East].”
Stephen Pollard, the editor of London’s Jewish Chronicle newspaper and a staunch Corbyn critic, tweeted that Corbyn “doubtless thinks he’s using the antisemite’s ‘get out of jail free card’ by saying Zionist rather than Jew. But it’s almost impossible to read this as anything other than a reference to Jews.
He also said: “Read this with Jew, rather than Zionist.”
Ministries, local authorities trade blame over recent outbreaks
Israeli ministries and local authorities are trading accusations of blame over the recent outbreaks of the leptospirosis bacteria and the West Nile fever, Hadashot television news reports.
Dozens of Israelis have been hospitalized in recent weeks on account of both diseases, which have stoked public health fears.
The Health Ministry claims the West Nile fever, which has resulted in two fatalities, spread because local authorities are “dealing with municipal elections and don’t have time to fumigate” and contain the mosquito-transmitted disease. It is referring to the upcoming elections in late October.
It also attacks the Agriculture Ministry for failing to fence off northern Israel waterways to prevent wild boar from approaching the pools and thus curb leptospirosis, which is transmitted through animal urine. Half a dozen waterways in northern Israel have been closed to the public due to the presence of the bacteria, which can be fatal, in its waters.
In response, the Agriculture Ministry says oversight of the wild boar population falls under the purview of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
Local authorities say, in a statement, that they are operating in accordance with government ministry guidelines.
Netanyahu cheers European airlines for ending service to Iran
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu applauds European airlines British Airways, KLM, and Air France for discontinuing service to Tehran.
The British and French carriers announced earlier on Thursday they would end service to Iran next month, citing low profitability as the US reimposes sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Dutch airline KLM — part of the same group as Air France — said last month that it was also suspending Tehran flights due to “negative results and financial outlook.”
“Today we learned that three major carriers, BA, KLM, and Air France have discontinued their activity in Iran,” says Netanyahu at a press conference in Lithuania. “That’s good.”
“More should follow, more will follow, because Iran should not be rewarded for its aggression in the region, its attempts to spread terrorism far and wide, in the Middle East, into Europe… and to many other places in the world,” says Netanyahu.
— With AFP
Sessions seems to push back against Trump barb
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions says his Justice Department won’t be “improperly influenced by political considerations.”
His comments — in a statement Thursday — seem to push back against the latest round of criticism by his boss, President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly railed against the department and the FBI.
Trump told “Fox & Friends” in an interview that aired earlier Thursday that Sessions “never took control of the Justice Department and it’s a sort of an incredible thing.”
The president was angered when Sessions stepped aside from overseeing the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Trump has called the special counsel’s probe a “witch hunt.”
Sessions says there’s no other nation with more talented and dedicated law enforcement investigators and prosecutors. Sessions says he’s “proud of the work we have done in successfully advancing the rule of law.”
IDF official claims Gazan gunman was a nurse for Doctors Without Borders
The IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) claims a Palestinian gunman who opened fire on Israeli troops earlier this week on the Gaza border, before being shot dead, worked as a nurse for the international NGO Doctors Without Borders.
Major General Kamil Abu Rokon identifies the gunman as Hani al-Majdalawi. In a Facebook post citing his brother, he accuses Majdalawi of purchasing the weapon with his own money.
“We are wondering: how could a man certified to save lives use his salary to acquire a gun with which to take lives? He who takes part in saving lives should assist in humanitarian activities in the Gaza Strip, and should not take part in terrorism,” writes Rokon.