Ankara vows ‘necessary response’ after diplomat killed in Iraq
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Barak pans ‘despicable’ Epstein article, blames Netanyahu for ‘spreading lies’

At launch of his Israel Democratic Party, longtime Netanyahu critic says PM has been mudslinging political opponents for decades

Former PM Ehud Barak speaks during a press conference announcing the establishment of a new political party in Tel Aviv, June 26, 2019. (Flash90)
Former PM Ehud Barak speaks during a press conference announcing the establishment of a new political party in Tel Aviv, June 26, 2019. (Flash90)

The Times of Israel livebogged Wednesday’s events as they unfolded.

Hundreds evacuated as brush fires rage across Israel

Several brush fires are raging across the country this afternoon amid a searing heatwave, burning down homes in central Israel forcing hundreds of families to vacate their homes.

That fire, near the city of Or Yehuda, east of Tel Aviv, reached the neighborhood of Ramat Pinkas, where the first row of homes were evacuated as a precaution and access to the area was barred, before the flames engulfed at least five buildings, according to Hebrew-language media.

In the West Bank settlement of Shavei Shomron, residents have been told to evacuate their homes due to a fire nearby.

Homes are also being evacuated in Aderet, as a large blaze encroaches on the small community near Beit Shemesh.

British-Iranian woman held in Iran moved to psychiatric ward

A British-Iranian woman imprisoned in Iran has been transferred to a hospital mental health facility, her husband says.

Richard Ratcliffe says in Britain that his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, has been moved to the mental health ward of Iman Khomeini hospital under the control of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

“Hopefully her transfer to hospital means that she is getting treatment and care, despite my distrust of just what pressures can happen behind closed doors. It is unnerving when we don’t know what is going on,” he says.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 40, was arrested in Iran while traveling with the couple’s young daughter in April 2016 and has been sentenced to five years in prison after being accused of spying, which she and her family vehemently deny.

Richard Ratcliffe displays a family photograph of himself and wife Nazanin with their daughter Gabriella in London, April 2, 2018, on the second anniversary his wife’s detention. (John Stillwell/PA via AP)

She and her husband recently ended a hunger strike designed to call attention to her plight. British officials have failed to secure her release despite repeated efforts.

Her father said he visited the hospital in Tehran Tuesday but was not allowed to see his daughter, who has been out of contact with her family.

The Free Nazanin Campaign says in a statement that it does not know what treatment she is receiving or how long she is expected to remain in the hospital.

British officials urged Iranian officials to let her have contact with her family.

— AP

Pakistan arrests US-wanted terror suspect in Mumbai attacks

Pakistan arrests a radical cleric, a US-wanted terror suspect implicated in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, officials said, just days ahead of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s trip to Washington.

Hafiz Saeed was taken into custody in Punjab province while traveling from the eastern city of Lahore to the city of Gujranwala, according to counterterrorism official Mohammad Shafiq.

Saeed founded the Lashkar-e-Taiba group, which was blamed for the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people. His charity organizations, Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Falah-e-Insaniat, are alleged fronts for Lashkar-e-Taiba.

In this Sunday, July 8, 2018 photo, Hafiz Saeed, center, head of the Pakistani religious group Jamaat-ud-Dawa inaugurates an election office of the newly formed political party Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek, in Lahore, Pakistan (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

The United States has offered a $10 million reward for Saeed’s arrest and Washington recently stepped up pressure on Islamabad to crack down on terror groups.

In response, Pakistan registered over a dozen cases against Saeed and several of his associates, accusing them of funding militant groups through charities and leading to his arrest earlier today.

— AP

2 communities south of Beit Shemesh evacuated as fire encroaches

Police order the evacuation of all homes in Aderet and Neve Michael, small communities south of Beit Shemesh, due to a large forest fire.

Ten firefighting teams and planes are working to control the blaze that has started to encroach on the homes in the area. A statement from the fire service says police are at both communities to ensure that all residents are leaving.

Germany introducing mandatory measles vaccination for kids

The German government is proposing a measure to make measles vaccinations mandatory for children and employees of kindergartens and schools.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet approves the plan, noting the number of measles infections has risen significantly in recent years. Lawmakers in parliament, where Merkel’s governing coalition holds a majority, are expected to approve the law.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a ceremony at the German parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, June 27, 2019. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

In the phased-in program beginning in March, parents of school-aged children, starting at kindergarten, will have to provide proof of vaccination.

Noncompliance means children will be refused admittance to kindergarten and their parents possibly fined. Parents of older students will be fined up to 2,500 euros ($2,803).

The German news agency dpa reports that while 543 cases of measles were registered in Germany last year, there have been more than 400 cases this year already.

— AP

In full-page newspaper ad, UK Labour Party lords condemn ‘toxic’ anti-Semtism under Corbyn

More than 60 Labour Party members of Britain’s House of Lords take out a newspaper advertisement accusing leader Jeremy Corbyn of overseeing a “toxic culture” by allowing anti-Semitism to fester in the party.

The full-page ad in today’s Guardian newspaper accuses Corbyn of “allowing anti-Semitism to grow in our party and presiding over the most shaming period in Labour’s history.” It says he has “failed the test of leadership.”

Signatories include Peter Hain, John Reid and Peter Mandelson — all ministers in previous Labour governments — along with public figures including broadcaster Joan Bakewell and scientist Robert Winston.

Labour has been riven by allegations that it is hostile toward Jews since left-winger Corbyn, a longtime supporter of the Palestinians, became leader in 2015.

He denies the party is anti-Semitic.

— AP

Portugal says suspension of visas to Iranians not ‘political

Portugal denies it’s refusing visas to Iranians for “political” reasons, insisting the measure was “temporary.”

The move came against a background of mounting tension between Iran and the West after Tehran breached a limit for uranium enrichment set in a 2015 nuclear deal.

“This decision is not political,” a foreign ministry spokesman tells AFP.

“It is not related to security conditions in Iran or any other aspect of an institutional or political nature,” the ministry adds in a statement.

Yesterday, Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva announced a decision to suspend the issuing of visas to Iranians for “security reasons,” telling parliament that “Portugal does not joke around with entries into its national territory.”

The minister said he would not elaborate on the reasoning in public, though he later told local media the suspension had “nothing to do with the quality of bilateral relations between Portugal and Tehran.”

Iran and the United States have been engaged in a war of words since Tehran in recent weeks enriched uranium past the limit set by a landmark 2015 nuclear in response to Washington pulling out last year.

— AFP

Israel breaks up alleged Hamas money laundering network

Israel busted a money smuggling operation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank that brought large sums of money into the terrorist group’s coffers, the IDF says in a statement.

The army says three Hamas operatives were arrested in the joint IDF-Shin Bet raid last night.

To sidestep Israel’s financial sanctions, Hamas employed money changers to transfer funds in and out of Gaza using a “Hawala” network, an informal and cash-less way to transfer funds common in the Middle East.

The IDF says the network was run by senior Hamas officials, but operated on the ground by a civilian.

The statement did not disclose the amount of money transferred through the network, but said that “large amounts” were being used to fund terrorist activities and pay salaries of Hamas operatives.

Turkish diplomat shot dead in northern Iraq

Turkey’s state-run news agency says a Turkish diplomat working at Ankara’s consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil was killed during a shooting attack inside a restaurant there.

Anadolu Agency says the shooting took place on Wednesday but did not provide further details. Local Iraqi Kurdish news outlet Rudaw said the restaurant is located on the airport road in Irbil.

It was not immediately known if there were other casualties. Earlier, Turkish media reports said two people were killed while a third was wounded in the attack. There was no immediate confirmation from the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

Rudaw says security and emergency officials were responding to the incident and that the scene was on lockdown.

— AP

Cyprus arrests 12 Israelis suspected of gang raping 19-year-old

Twelve Israeli men were arrested in Cyprus earlier today on suspicion of gang-raping a 19-year-old tourist at a resort in Aya Napa, according to reports in Cypriot media.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has confirmed the arrests, and says the Israeli consul in Nicosia was following the developments closely and is in contact with the suspects. Their families have informed.

According to the reports, the Israelis were arrested after the 19-year-old British woman reported the assault to local police. Cypriot authorities are still investigating the alleged assault, and the woman is undergoing a forensic investigation later today.

The suspects are expected to appear in court tomorrow where prosecutors will seek to extend their remand.

Brush fire in southern Jerusalem under control

Firefighters have brought a large brush fire that was raging in southern Jerusalem under control.

No injuries have been reported by the fire near Malcha’s Technology Park, but 10 cars parked nearby were destroyed.

Route 90 in Jordan Valley closed in both directions due to brush fire

Route 90 in the central Jordan Valley is closed in both directions due to a large brush fire spreading in the area.

Firefighters are battling the blaze raging near Moshav Tomer and the Palestinian village of Fasayil. Police are asking drivers in the area to use alternate routes.

Ankara vows ‘necessary response’ after diplomat killed in Iraq

Turkey is vowing to retaliate after an employee of Ankara’s consulate in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region was killed in a shooting earlier today.

The Turkish foreign ministry confirms in a statement that an “employee was martyred” in an “atrocious attack” outside the consulate in Erbil.

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin vows on Twitter that “the necessary response will be given to those who committed this treacherous attack.”

Kalin adds that efforts to find the gunmen responsible “had begun” but did not speculate over who might be responsible for the attack.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

— AFP

Police begin evacuating Technion as fire threatens Haifa campus

The Technion is evacuating parts of its Haifa campus due to a large fire in the nearby town of Nesher.

Police order the evauation of the eastern building on campus, including the dorms, the academic center and the engineering department.

Video shows Trump partying with Epstein at Mar-a-Lago

A new video surfaces showing US President Donald Trump partying with Jeffrey Epstein and a bevy of cheerleaders at the Mar-a-Lago club, despite Trump’s claims he barely knew the financier accused of assaulting underage women.

NBC News says it found the 1992 video from Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida, club in its archives, showing the real estate tycoon welcoming Epstein to the party and appearing to discuss women dancing to music in front of them.

Trump is seen dancing with the women, cheerleaders for the Buffalo Bills professional football team, and, at one point, pointing to one and apparently saying to Epstein, “she’s hot.”

The video was filmed for an NBC talk show at the time, “A Closer Look,” for an episode about the lifestyle of Trump, who at the time was newly divorced from his first wife Ivana Trump and a year from marrying his second, Marla Maples.

Trump’s predilection for parties with attractive women at the time is well-known, and none of the women in the Mar-a-Lago video appear to be underage.

— AFP

Ilhan Omar submits legislation to protect Israel boycott movement

Democratic Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar submits two pieces of legislation to Congress, one of which aims to protect Americans’ right to participate in the Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel.

“We are introducing a resolution… to really speak about the American values that support and believe in our ability to exercise our first amendment rights in regard to boycotting,” Omar tells the Al-Monitor news site in an interview. “And it is an opportunity for us to explain why it is we support a nonviolent movement, which is the BDS movement.”

Omar’s bill does not specifically mention Israel, but it states that “all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

Omar is one of the four Democratic congresswoman targeted by US President Donald Trump in his recent racist tirades. He singled out Omar, in particular, accusing her of being anti-Semitic and having “hatred” for Israel.

Illustrative: Rep Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., speaks in support of LGBTQ high school students, March 21, 2019 in St. Paul, Minnesota. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

The second bill submitted by Omar this morning would force the Trump administration to disclose details about how it shares the FBI’s watchlist of more than 1 million known or suspected terrorists with foreign countries.

The legislation from Omar comes in a proposed amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act. It would require a report within 180 days detailing which foreign countries get access to the database and how such decisions are made.

The watchlist has been subject to multiple lawsuits challenging its constitutionality. Critics say the list is mismanaged and innocent Muslims end up on it with no recourse for clearing their names.

Omar has expressed concerns that countries with poor human-rights records such as Saudi Arabia and China receive the list and submit names for inclusion.

— with AP

Mexican druglord ‘El Chapo’ sentenced to life in jail

The notorious Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has been sentenced to life behind bars in a US prison.

A federal judge in Brooklyn hands down the sentence this afternoon.

Guzman was convicted in February in an epic drug-trafficking case.

In this Jan. 19, 2017 photo provided US law enforcement, authorities escort Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, center, from a plane to a waiting caravan of SUVs at Long Island MacArthur Airport, in Ronkonkoma, NY. (US law enforcement via AP, File)

The 62-year-old drug lord was brought to the US to stand trial after he twice broke out of Mexican prisons.

The guilty verdict triggered a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

Guzman told US District Judge Brian Cogan before he was sentenced that he was denied a fair trial. He said Cogan failed to thoroughly investigate claims of juror misconduct in the case.

Under Guzman’s leadership, the Sinaloa cartel was responsible for multiple murders and smuggling mountains of cocaine and other drugs into the United States.

Guzman’s lawyers say he was framed.

— AP

Barak’s lawyers threaten to sue Daily Mail over Epstein article

Former prime minister Ehud Barak’s lawyers are demanding the Daily Mail remove an article linking him to disgraced US financier Jeffrey Epstein, or face a lawsuit.

“Your article is embarrassing,” the lawyers wrote in a letter to the Daily Mail according to Hebrew-language news reports. “There are a number of serious accusations and defamatory insinuations that were made against our client that are completely untrue.”

“You attempted to link our client to the Epstein case, claiming that he was somehow involved in his pedophilia network. This is a lie as you know.”

Screenshot of Daily Mail website showing article relating to Ehud Barak, July 16, 2019

Barak’s attorneys are threatening to sue the British tabloid for libel unless it retracts the story, publishes a clarification and apology.

Yesterday, the Daily Mail published pictures of Barak entering Epstein’s New York residence in 2016, with his face partially hidden by a neck gaiter.

Epstein has previously invested in a start-up headed by Barak.

Barak told the Daily Beast he visited Epstein at his home in 2016 “for lunch or chat” and “never met Epstein in the company of women or young girls.”

Suspected jihadists behead 4 in northern Sinai

Egyptian security officials say militants have beheaded four people in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula.

The officials say the militants attacked a group of people in the small town of Bir al-Abd earlier today, beheading four and kidnapping a fifth after accusing them of cooperating with security forces.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

Egypt is battling an Islamic State-led insurgency in the Sinai that intensified after the military overthrew an elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013. The militants have carried out scores of attacks, mainly targeting the security forces and minority Christians.

— AP

Palestinian firefighters help battle blazes in northern Israel

Two Palestinian firefighting teams are assisting Israeli teams in trying to put out brush fires raging in northern Israel, adjacent to the West Bank.

The teams are helping battle blazes in May Ami, Katzir and Ar’ara — communities that are less than a kilometer from the Green Line.

Iran’s Zarif says US sanctions ‘economic terrorism’

Iran’s foreign minister is telling a United Nations gathering that US sanctions against his country amount to what he calls “economic terrorism.”

Mohammad Javad Zarif is speaking at a sustainable development forum. He decries the US sanctions and says “economic terrorism” is “deliberately targeting innocent civilians to achieve illegitimate political objectives.”

The US reimposed tough sanctions on Tehran’s oil exports after withdrawing last year from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and several world powers. US President Donald Trump called the deal one-sided.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a press conference in Tehran, Iran, June 10, 2019. (Ebrahim Noroozi/ AP)

The sanctions exacerbated an economic crisis that has sent Iran’s currency plummeting.

Iran recently began surpassing uranium enrichment limits set in the deal.

Tehran has said the moves can be reversed if the pact’s other participants come up with economic incentives that effectively offset the American sanctions.

— AP

Argentina moves to designate Hezbollah a terror group — reports

Argentina’s government is moving closer to declaring armed Lebanese group Hezbollah a terrorist organization by announcing the creation of an official terror blacklist, a day before the 25th anniversary of a bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires.

Hezbollah has been linked to the 1992 attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29, and the 1994 attack on the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85. Argentina believes the Iran-backed group is responsible for both attacks.

Media reports said the registry will allow the Justice Ministry to officially blacklist organizations and people linked to attacks in Argentina.

Last week, Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri said he was “moving forward” with efforts to blacklist Hezbollah, calling it a “rejection of terrorism” and violence.

The aftermath of the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires. (Newspaper La Nación (Argentina/Wikipedia Commons)

The announcement by Macri’s government comes a day before the public memorial for the AMIA bombing and a visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has stepped up pressure on Hezbollah during his tenure.

Yesterday, a US official said that Pompeo would bring the same message that he delivered in March in Beirut — that the United States “will bring unprecedented pressure to bear on Iran until it ceases all malign behavior including that which is carried out by Hezbollah.”

The official said Latin American nations were expected to start their own system of blacklisting and imposing sanctions on “terrorists,” following the US model.

At Barak party launch, Rabin’s granddaughter says hope is possible

Noa Rothman, the granddaughter of slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, speaks at the official launch event of Ehud Barak’s new Israel Democratic Party, saying she “joined this journey to save the country we love and we are proud of from disappearing and being destroyed.”

“For too long they have told us that things cannot be changed. That everyone is corrupt,” says the IDP candidate to the sweltering crowd packed into Tel Aviv’s Kuli Alma bar.

“They are wrong. There is hope. It’s possible to fix it. It’s possible to set borders. It’s possible to provide our children with a hope for the future. It’s possible,” she says.

— Raoul Wootliff

Barak calls Daily Mail report highlighting links to Epstein ‘blood libel’

Ehud Barak, speaking at the launch event for his Israel Democratic Party, calls a Daily Mail article highlighting his ties to disgraced US financier Jeffrey Epstein a “fake and despicable blood libel.”

Barak, who recently returned to politics ahead of the September 17 elections as a fierce Netanyahu critic, has been the subject of reports highlighting his business ties with Epstein, who has been charged with sex trafficking of minors in the United States.

Earlier today, Barak threatened to sue the British tabloid after it published pictures of him entering Epstein’s New York residence in January 2016, on the same day several young women tied to the financier also came by.

Screenshot of Daily Mail website showing article relating to Ehud Barak, July 16, 2019

“For over 20 years, anyone who has stood against Netanyahu has been dragged through the mud and turned into a traitor,” Barak says, pointing the finger at the prime minister for “spreading lies.”

“Former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was incited against, with Netanyahu’s blessing, until his life was taken by three shots,” Barak says. “Those shots are a consequence of the incitement and mudslinging that is spread against anyone today who stands against Netanyahu.”

— Raoul Wootliff

UN urges Israel to halt demolitions of East Jerusalem homes under PA control

UN officials are calling on Israel to halt plans to demolish Palestinian homes in an East Jerusalem neighborhood, a day ahead of the court-imposed deadline.

The statement from Humanitarian Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick, West Bank UNRWA chief Gwyn Lewis and OHCHR head in the Palestinian Territories James Heenan said the UN was “closely monitoring” the situation in Sur Baher.

According to the UN, 17 Palestinians are at imminent risk of displacement, and 350 others are facing significant loss of property if Israel goes ahead with plans to raze the 70 apartments tomorrow.

“We join others in the international community in calling on Israel to halt plans to demolish these and other structures and to implement fair planning policies that allow Palestinian residents of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the ability to meet their housing and development needs, in line with its obligations as an occupying power,” the statement says.

A picture from the Palestinian village of Beit Sahur in the West Bank shows Palestinian buildings which have been issued demolition notices, in the Sur Baher neighborhood of East Jerusalem, July 11, 2019. (Hazem Bader/AFP)

On June 18, residents received a 30-day notice from Israeli authorities informing them of their intent to demolish the homes on the grounds the buildings are too close to the security barrier in East Jerusalem. Israel considers the area near the fence a security zone.

Demolition of unauthorized Palestinian-owned structures in East Jerusalem is not unusual. However, the homes slated for demolition in Sur Baher — a neighborhood that straddles the Green Line — are located in the Palestinian Authority-controlled Area A of the West Bank.

Louvre museum removes Sackler name amid opioid controversy

The Louvre museum in Paris removes the name of the Sackler family from one of its wings, amid a controversy that has seen the billionaire donors accused of pushing a highly addictive opioid blamed for tens of thousands of deaths.

An AFP reporter earlier saw that masking tape had been put in place to hide the Sackler name on plaques in the rooms of what had been the Sackler Wing of Oriental Antiquities, which houses artefacts from the ancient Near East.

A museum spokesperson could not say when the tape had been put in place. The wing had been given the name due to a $3.6 million donation made by the Sackler family in 1996.

— AFP

Large fire outside Beit Shemesh under control; residents returning home

The fire department says the large fire that was raging south of Beit Shemesh for most of Wednesday is under control. Residents of Aderet and Roglit that were evacuated earlier today are allowed to return home.

A separate brush fire that broke out near the West Bank settlement of Shavei Shomron is also under control, though evacuated residents are not allowed to return to their homes tonight due to the heavy damage sustained in the fire.

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Ankara vows ‘necessary response’ after diplomat killed in Iraq

Turkey is vowing to retaliate after an employee of Ankara’s consulate in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region was killed in a shooting earlier today.

The Turkish foreign ministry confirms in a statement that an “employee was martyred” in an “atrocious attack” outside the consulate in Erbil.

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin vows on Twitter that “the necessary response will be given to those who committed this treacherous attack.”

Kalin adds that efforts to find the gunmen responsible “had begun” but did not speculate over who might be responsible for the attack.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

— AFP