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Trump says US has not reached out to Iran for talks

UN voices concern over fiery rhetoric from Tehran and Washington, says it’s mediating with officials on both sides to calm situation

US President Donald Trump gestures as he delivers remarks on immigration at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC on May 16, 2019. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)
US President Donald Trump gestures as he delivers remarks on immigration at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC on May 16, 2019. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

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

Hitting back at Trump, Zarif says US won’t ‘end Iran’ with ‘genocidal taunts’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responds to US President Donald Trump after the American leader on Sunday night threatened to bring about the “official end of Iran.”

“Economic terrorism & genocidal taunts won’t ‘end Iran,'” tweets Zarif, referring to US sanctions.

“Try respect—it works!” he adds, alongside the hashtag “Never threaten an Iranian.”

Hosting rollout of peace plan, Bahrain says it backs Palestinians

Bahrain, which is hosting the rollout of the first part of the US administration’s Middle East peace plan, on Monday reiterates its principled support for the Palestinian cause.

In a statement, the tiny Gulf state’s Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa “underscored the position of the Kingdom of Bahrain in support of the Palestinian cause and the aspirations of the Palestinian people.”

Khalifa, who in the past raised eyebrows in the Arab world with his pro-Israel statements, stresses that his country “stands by all efforts that would lead to investment in infrastructure and the development of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and enable the Palestinian people to prosper.”

On Monday, Bahrain and the US jointly announced that they will host an economic “workshop” for international government, civil society and business leaders to “share ideas, discuss strategies, and galvanize support for potential economic investments and initiatives that could be made possible by a peace agreement.”

During the summit, set to take place in the Bahraini capital Manama on June 25-June 26, the US is expected to present the first part of its long-anticipated peace proposal. Its second part, which will deal with the political issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, will be revealed at a later stage, according to the White House.

Raphael Ahren

Iraqi Shiite figures warn US-Iran war could ‘mark the end of Iraq’

Leading Iraqi Shiite figures warn Monday against attempts to pull their country into a war between the US and Iran, saying it would turn Iraq into a battlefield yet again, just as it is on the path to recovery.

The warning came hours after a rocket slammed into Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, landing less than a mile from the sprawling US Embassy. No injuries were reported and no group immediately claimed the Sunday night attack. Shortly after, US President Donald Trump tweeted a warning to Iran not to threaten the United States or it will face its “official end.”

Last week, the US ordered the evacuation of nonessential diplomatic staff from Iraq amid unspecified threats from Iran and rising tensions across the region. The White House has also sent warships and bombers to the Persian Gulf to counter the alleged Iranian threats.

On Monday, two influential Shiite clerics and a leading politician — all with close ties to Iran — warn that Iraq could once again get caught in the middle. The country hosts more than 5,000 US troops, and is home to powerful Iranian-backed militias, some of whom want those US forces to leave.

Populist Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr says any political party that would drag Iraq in a US-Iran war “would be the enemy of the Iraqi people.”

“This war would mark the end of Iraq,” the black-turbaned al-Sadr warns. “We need peace and reconstruction.”

Qais al-Khazali, the leader the Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous group, tweets that he is opposed to operations that “give pretexts for war” and added that they would only “harm Iraq’s political, economic and security conditions.”


Hours before deadline, prospective coalition announces state comptroller candidates

Hours before a midnight deadline to submit candidates for the position of state comptroller, the prospective coalition parties name their two picks for the job: Matanya Engelman, who heads the Council for Higher Education, and Michal Rosenboim, an attorney backed by the ultra-Orthodox political parties.

Gantz derides bid to expand cabinet as ‘political bribery’

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz accuses Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of resorting to “political bribery” in his bid to expand the number of cabinet posts that he may offer to his coalition partners to woo them into the government.

“Can you believe we are going to talk today about increasing the number of ministers? This is simply another tool in the toolbox of political bribery. Its only aim is political gain. Anyone who accepts this is accepting a political bribe,” says Gantz at his party’s weekly faction meeting.

“In a few weeks we will be debating the immunity bill that will turn the Israeli parliament into nothing less than a refuge city for criminals,” he adds.

“To Bibi I say — be a man. Stop this now. You have gone too far. We will fight this in parliament, on the street, in the squares, in schools, in the media in order to protect democracy for everyone. We will not let it happen,” says Gantz.

He urges Israelis to take to the streets to protest.

Gantz’s comments are echoed by Blue and White MK Yair Lapid.

“What we see now is not coalition negotiations, it’s a bribery deal. Each party, each minister comes in and says they want something, budgets, ministries etc and he says he will give them if they promise to protect him from prosecution. That is bribery, that is selling the state for yourself,” says Lapid.

with Raoul Wootliff


After bus attack, Egypt says 12 terrorists killed in Cairo

Egypt says security forces killed 12 members of a terror group with suspected links to the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood in shootouts in Cairo, just hours after a roadside bomb struck a tourist bus near the Giza Pyramids, wounding at least 17.

The Interior Ministry says seven of the jihadists were killed in a firefight when police raided their hideout in the Sixth of October suburb. The remaining five were shot and killed after opening fire on police storming their residences in Cairo’s Shorouk suburb.

The ministry says explosive devices, weapons and ammunition were found in their possession. It says they belonged to “Hasm,” an armed faction of the Brotherhood.

Sunday’s roadside bomb wounded at least 17 people including South African tourists.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack.


Britain warns Iran not to ‘underestimate the resolve of the US’

Britain’s foreign secretary is warning Iran not to “underestimate the resolve of the US,” amid heightened tensions across the Persian Gulf.

Jeremy Hunt tells journalists in Geneva that US leaders “are not seeking a conflict, they don’t want a war with Iran, but if American interests are attacked, they will retaliate. And that is something that the Iranians need to think about very, very carefully.”

Hunt adds that Britain has had a lot of discussions with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over Iran. He said he hopes Iran starts to “pull back from the destabilizing activities” it conducts in the region.

The foreign secretary acknowledges the danger the tensions posed for the wider Mideast.

Hunt says: “We want the situation to de-escalate because this is a part of the world where things can get triggered accidentally.”


PA minister says attending Bahrain confab tantamount to ‘collaboration’

A Palestinian Authority minister says attending the Bahrain workshop next month on Israeli-Palestinian peace would be tantamount to “collaboration.”

“There will be no Palestinian participation in the Manama workshop,” PLO member and Social Development Minister Ahmed Majdalani tells Reuters.

“Any Palestinian who would take part would be nothing but a collaborator for the Americans and Israel.”

Swedish prosecutor issues formal request to hold Assange on rape suspicion

Swedish prosecutors on Monday issue a formal request to hold WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, currently imprisoned in Britain, on suspicion of rape — a first step towards seeking his extradition to Sweden.

Swedish deputy director of public prosecutions Eva-Marie Persson says in a statement she has filed a request with the Uppsala district court to have Assange detained in his absence over an alleged rape.

Detaining someone in their absence is a standard part of Swedish legal procedure if a suspect is outside the country or cannot be located.

The request follows last week’s reopening of a 2010 rape investigation, and Persson added that once the court had granted the request, she would then ask British authorities to transfer Assange to Sweden.

“If the court decides to detain him, I will issue a European Arrest Warrant concerning surrender to Sweden,” Persson says.


Oman, a regional mediator, sends FM to Iran

Iran’s foreign minister meets with his visiting counterpart from Oman, a Gulf nation that in the past has served as an intermediary between the United States and the Islamic Republic.

The official IRNA news agency reports the meeting between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Oman’s foreign minister, Yusuf bin Alawi. It says they discussed regional and international issues, without providing further details.

Oman has mediated between Washington and Tehran in the past, including during the early stages of the talks that led to the 2015 nuclear agreement.

The talks some amid heightened tensions in the region, with the US sending warships and bombers to counter alleged, unspecified threats from Iran.


Palestinian investor won’t attend Bahrain summit

In another setback for US peace efforts, Bashar Masri, a major Palestinian industrialist with vast business holdings throughout the West Bank, said he had turned down an invitation to the conference in Bahrain late next month, where Washington is expected to reveal the economic side of its peace plan.

“I will not participate in this conference, and none of the representatives of our companies will participate,” he writes on Facebook. “We reaffirm our clear position: We will not deal with any event outside the Palestinian national consensus.”

The Palestinians, who have been boycotting the US administration for over a year, have repeatedly expressed fears that the White House will try to buy them off with large sums of investment in exchange for freezing their demands for an independent state. They believe the US is trying to rally support from other Arab countries to bully them into accepting a plan they see as unacceptable.

with AP

Palestinian entrepreneur Bashar-Masri in front of his residential project of Rawabi, on February 23, 2014 (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

Lebanese budget protesters blasted with water cannons

Lebanese security forces open heavy water cannons on anti-austerity protests in the capital city, as the government faces a looming fiscal crisis.

Over one hundred protesters gather Monday outside the Government House in downtown Beirut shouting “Thieves, thieves!” as the Cabinet meets for its 16th session to reach agreement on controversial budget cuts.

Protesters push back against police lines and set fire to tires outside the building,

The government’s planned budget cuts have unleashed a wave of public discontent, amid leaks that austerity could target public wages, services and social benefits.

Among those demonstrating are public and private school teachers. Lebanon’s economy is struggling with soaring debt, rising unemployment and slow growth. The government’s budget and key reforms aim to unlock billions of dollars in pledged foreign assistance.


Baby is born on birthday of sister who died after stone-throwing terror attack

Adva Bitton — whose daughter Adele sustained a severe head injury in a terror attack in 2013 and died two years later from complications of pneumonia — gives birth to a baby girl, on the birthday of her late daughter.

“Just as we live with our loss 24/7, we are choosing life and continue to bring life into the world,” Adva Bitton tells Channel 12.

The baby is the seventh child born to the Bitton family.

Adva Bitton, at the funeral of her 4-year-old daughter Adele on February 18, 2015. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Adele Bitton suffered a traumatic brain injury in March 2013 when Palestinians threw rocks at a car driven by her mother, causing her to lose control and crash into a truck on Route 5 near the West Bank settlement of Ariel. She died in 2015 of a lung infection stemming from a neurological condition related to the injuries she suffered in the attack, which left her largely unresponsive for the previous two years, hospital officials said.

Adele Bitton (Courtesy)

US Supreme Court won’t take Nazi art dispute case

The US Supreme Court is leaving in place a ruling for a California museum in a dispute over ownership of two German Renaissance masterpieces seized by the Nazis in World War II.

The high court on Monday declines to get involved in the case, leaving in place lower court rulings.

A federal appeals court ruled in 2018 for Pasadena’s Norton Simon Museum of Art, blocking a lawsuit over ownership of “Adam” and “Eve.” The paintings are by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Marei von Saher sued over the works. They were taken by Nazis in a forced sale from her father-in-law, a Jewish art dealer in the Netherlands. After the war, the Dutch government sold the paintings. The museum acquired them in 1971.

A Dutch court previously ruled against von Saher.


Ukrainian PM resigns after new leader Zelensky sworn in

Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman on Monday says he is resigning after comedian Volodymyr Zelensky is sworn in as president.

“I’ve decided to tender my resignation on Wednesday after a government meeting,” he tells a news conference.


Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman gestures as he speaks at a meeting of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s supporters in Kiev, Ukraine, January 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

PM’s defense team begins talks with Mandelblit to set hearing date

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attorneys have begun talks with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s office to schedule a pre-indictment hearing on the prime minister’s three criminal cases.

According to the Globes newspaper, Netanyahu’s attorneys will seek to delay the hearing by as much as six months, while Mandelblit is likely to agree only to a far shorter postponement.

However the current deadline of July 10 is almost certain to be pushed back.

Iran nuclear official says production of low-enriched uranium quadrupled

Iranian semi-official news agencies, quoting a nuclear official, say Iran has quadrupled production of low-enriched uranium.


Jewish group blasts Polish PM for calling WWII restitution a win for Hitler

The World Jewish Congress on Monday condemns the Polish prime minister for saying that holding Poland liable for the restitution of Jewish property seized by the Nazis during WWII would hand a “posthumous victory” to Hitler.

Poland, a victim of the Nazis, would be turned into a perpetrator, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, becoming the latest ruling party member to comment on a US law on the restitution of Jewish properties seized during the Holocaust.

“This unwillingness to acknowledge that the victims of the Holocaust and their heirs are entitled to a modicum of material justice is unfortunate enough,” says World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder.

“But Prime Minister Morawiecki’s contention — assuming that it was uttered as reported — that providing restitution to Jews for their stolen property would be ‘Hitler’s posthumous victory’ is alarming in the extreme,” he adds in a statement.

According to Polish state television, Morawiecki made the remarks at a convention of the ruling governing Law and Justice (PiS) party in the central city of Lodz last week.

“Whenever anyone says today that Poland must offer someone restitution, we say: we don’t consent, and we won’t,” Morawiecki said, quoted by the television station.

“If it were ever to get to that point, where the executioner and the victim are swapped, then it would go against all principles of international law,” he added.

“It would also be Hitler’s posthumous victory.”


Iran says it informed IAEA of stepped-up enrichment

The semi-official Fars and Tasnim news agencies both report the news Monday that Iran has quadrupled production of low-enriched uranium.

They both say that the production is of uranium enriched only to the 3.67% limit set by the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

However, a quadrupling of production would mean that Iran likely will go beyond the stockpile limitations set by the deal.

Iran says it has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, of its decision. The IAEA does not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 with AP

Turkey seeks 249 suspects over alleged cheating on ministry exam

Authorities in Turkey have issued detention warrants for 249 people as part of an investigation into alleged cheating during exams to recruit staff to the country’s foreign ministry, between 2010 and 2013.

The Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s office says 91 of the suspects were detained on Monday.

The suspects are believed to have links to the network led by US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of orchestrating a failed coup attempt in 2016. Gulen denies the accusation.

Authorities believe Gulen’s network, which has been outlawed, has helped followers infiltrate key civil service jobs through cheating and other means.

Some 77,000 people have been arrested for links to Gulen since the coup, and around 130,000 others have been dismissed from state jobs.


US House, Senate to be briefed on Iran tensions on Tuesday

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford, among others, will brief the full US House and Senate on the Iran tensions on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

On Thursday, Congressional leaders received a classified briefing on Iran from the White House following criticism that lawmakers have been kept out of the loop about recent military moves in the Middle East. Members of the so-called Gang of Eight were tight-lipped as they left the briefing.

The ranking member of the Senate intelligence committee, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, refused to comment on the classified information discussed, but said more lawmakers should be informed of the Iran threat.

Frustration has been mounting in Congress about the lack of consultation from the White House after the Trump administration sent military assets to the Middle East to protect US interests and on Wednesday partially evacuated the US Embassy in Baghdad.

With AP

Israel, Hamas reach six-month ceasefire — TV report

Israel and the Hamas terrorist group have reached a ceasefire for six months, according to Channel 12.

The Gaza rulers have agreed to curb violent clashes on the border with Israel, and keep a 300-meter security buffer zone along the fence, among other conditions, the TV report says.

Israel, in return, will extend the fishing zone, allow shipments of medicine into the coastal enclave, and ease other restrictions.

Israel’s invite to the Bahrain confab in the mail, official tells TV

Israel is waiting to receive the hard copy of an official White House invitation to attend Bahrain peace summit in late June, which is being dispatched through diplomatic channels, a senior Israeli official tells Channel 13.

Israel is expected to attend the summit, where US officials are expected to unveil the first phase of its Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal. The Palestinians have said they will not be participating.

Australian comedian who joked about gas chambers loses ‘lucrative’ Netflix deal

Netflix has dropped an Australian comedian who made jokes about the Holocaust and insulted a Jewish audience member who later complained in an email.

Last month, Isaac Butterfield asked his audience at the Melbourne Comedy Festival to “imagine the joy of people when they heard the Jews were sent to the gas chambers,” the city’s Herald Sun newspaper reported. The email sent to Butterfield from a Jewish woman said the joke was “not remotely funny.”

He responded: “If you can’t stand the heat get out of the oven.”

Butterfield had what the London-based Daily Mail described as “a lucrative comedy special deal” with Netflix to air his comedy stand-up special “The Butterfield Effect.” But the video-streaming company canceled the deal following the offensive riposte.

Butterfield has nearly 1 million subscribers on YouTube.


Netanyahu’s lawyers sought to delay pre-indictment hearing for a year — report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers attempted to persuade the attorney general to delay the Israeli leader’s pre-indictment hearing for a year, but were rebuffed, according to Channel 13.

The prime minister’s defense lawyers are seeking a postponement for the hearing, currently scheduled to take place before July 10. Talks on the issue are ongoing.

UN concerned by Iran-US tensions, says talks ongoing to calm situation

The United Nations voices concern on Monday about the rising rhetoric between the United States and Iran, and calls on the two sides to dial down their remarks.

The appeal comes after President Donald Trump on Sunday warned that any attack from Iran would be met with a devastating US response that would mean “the official end of Iran.”

“We are concerned about the rising rhetoric,” says UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, who cites the firing of a rocket on Sunday, which struck a Baghdad area that houses foreign embassies including that of the US, as being “also a concern.”

“We would ask all parties to lower the rhetoric and lower the threshold of action as well,” says the spokesman.

UN officials are holding contacts with the US and Iran at various levels to try to calm the situation, says Dujarric, but he does not provide details of those talks.


Trump says US has not reached out to Iran for talks

US President Donald Trump on Monday says Washington has not reached out for talks with Iran and that if Tehran wants to negotiate, it will have to take the first step.

“The Fake News put out a typically false statement, without any knowledge that the United States was trying to set up a negotiation with Iran. This is a false report,” Trump writes in a tweet that does not specify what report he is referring to.

“Iran will call us if and when they are ever ready. In the meantime, their economy continues to collapse — very sad for the Iranian people!” Trump tweets.


Senator warns of ‘overwhelming’ Iran strike if US threatened

A US senator close to President Donald Trump says Monday that Iran is behind recent security incidents in the Middle East and urges an “overwhelming military response” for any actions against US interests.

Senator Lindsey Graham says he was briefed on tensions with Tehran by National Security Advisor John Bolton, a longtime hawk who called for an attack on Iran before taking his White House job.

“It is clear that, over the last several weeks, Iran has attacked pipelines and ships of other nations and created threat streams against American interests in Iraq,” Graham tweets.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carlona) gives opening remarks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington, May 1, 2019, on the Mueller Report. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“If the Iranian threats against American personnel and interests are activated we must deliver an overwhelming military response,” writes the Republican from South Carolina.

A Democratic lawmaker, Representative Ruben Gallego of Arizona, quickly challenges Graham and says he had seen the same intelligence.

“That is not what is being said. This is total information bias to draw the conclusion he wants for himself and the media,” Gallego tweets.


Pittsburgh won’t enforce gun controls until lawsuits resolved

Pittsburgh has agreed not to enforce recently passed gun restrictions until lawsuits filed by gun owners are resolved.

An Allegheny County judge issues the order Monday, after all parties agreed.

The gun restrictions were approved in April after a mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue that killed 11 worshippers.

The legislation restricts military-style assault weapons like the AR-15 rifle authorities say was used in the synagogue attack.

It also bans most uses of armor-piercing ammunition and high-capacity magazines, and allows the temporary seizure of guns from people determined to be a danger to themselves or others.

Gun rights advocates say state law forbids municipalities from regulating the ownership or possession of firearms and ammunition.

Courts have thrown out previous municipal attempts at regulation.


Greenblatt: ‘History will judge PA harshly’ for boycotting peace workshop

US President Donald Trump’s Mideast envoy, Jason Greenblatt, says it is “difficult to understand why the Palestinian Authority would reject a workshop designed to discuss a vision with the potential to radically transform lives and put people on a path toward a brighter future.”

“History will judge the Palestinian Authority harshly for passing up any opportunity that could give the Palestinians something so very different, and something so very positive, compared to what they have today,” Greenblatt says.

The White House announced Sunday that it will unveil the first phase of its long-awaited Mideast peace plan at the conference in Bahrain in late June, saying it will focus on economic benefits that could be reaped if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved. The plan envisions large-scale investment and infrastructure work, much of it funded by wealthy Arab countries, in the Palestinian territories.

But officials say the June 25-26 conference will not include the core political issues of the conflict: final borders, the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees or Israeli security demands.

The Palestinians have said they will not send representatives to the conference.

with AP

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After bus attack, Egypt says 12 terrorists killed in Cairo

Egypt says security forces killed 12 members of a terror group with suspected links to the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood in shootouts in Cairo, just hours after a roadside bomb struck a tourist bus near the Giza Pyramids, wounding at least 17.

The Interior Ministry says seven of the jihadists were killed in a firefight when police raided their hideout in the Sixth of October suburb. The remaining five were shot and killed after opening fire on police storming their residences in Cairo’s Shorouk suburb.

The ministry says explosive devices, weapons and ammunition were found in their possession. It says they belonged to “Hasm,” an armed faction of the Brotherhood.

Sunday’s roadside bomb wounded at least 17 people including South African tourists.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack.