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  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, holds a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Jerusalem on May 31, 2015 (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL/FLASH90)
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, holds a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Jerusalem on May 31, 2015 (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL/FLASH90)
  • An Orthodox Jewish man hides under a bench as his friend sits and watches in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem as sirens are sounded throughout Israel as part of a IDF Home Front Command drill simulating a bomb attack on May 27, 2013. Sarah Schuman/ Flash90)
    An Orthodox Jewish man hides under a bench as his friend sits and watches in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem as sirens are sounded throughout Israel as part of a IDF Home Front Command drill simulating a bomb attack on May 27, 2013. Sarah Schuman/ Flash90)
  • Benny Begin (photo credit: Flash90)
    Benny Begin (photo credit: Flash90)
  • A masked Palestinian throws a rock during clashes with Israeli security forces in East Jerusalem, October 30, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)
    A masked Palestinian throws a rock during clashes with Israeli security forces in East Jerusalem, October 30, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

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

No security for Israel till Gaza rebuilt – German FM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier after a one-on-one meeting, calling for new direct talks with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu bashes Ramallah’s recent near-attempt to have Israel booted from soccer federation FIFA, and says while it is involved in “delegitimization” of Israel, Jerusalem is showing willingness to build trust and show flexibility with the Palestinians, according to a report in Israeli news site Ynet.

Steinmeier calls for Gaza to be rehabilitated more quickly, saying Israel will not be secure so long as the Palestinian enclave remains in ruins.

The two also discuss the emerging nuclear deal with Iran. Netanyahu, true to form, says the world needs to negotiate a better deal with Tehran, and also fingers the Islamic Republic for a recently foiled Hezbollah terror plot in Cyprus.

We know Gaza must be rebuilt, Rivlin says

President Reuven Rivlin and Steinmeier have also met, following the German diplomat’s meeting with Netanyahu.

Rivlin says Steinmeier should not pressure Israel on the subject of the Palestinians, as the country well understands the importance of rehabilitating the Gaza Strip, according to an Israel Radio report.

Steinmeier once again calls for work on reconstructing the Strip to be sped up, warning that failure to do so could bring another military conflict with the Palestinians.

Benny Begin quits cabinet – report

Likud MK Benny Begin has agreed to step down from his post as minister without portfolio, a number of Hebrew-language media outlets report, after a week-long standoff with the prime minister over his place in the cabinet.

Begin was forced out to make room for Likud No. 2 Gilad Erdan, who rejoined the cabinet last week after coming to terms with Netanyahu and taking over the Public Security Ministry, among others.

Benny Begin speaking to the media about the decision to shelve the Prawer Plan (screen capture: Walla)

Benny Begin (screen capture: Walla)

Under an agreement with other coalition partners, Likud is only allowed a certain number of ministers.

Netanyahu had been thought to be lobbying the other parties to amend the agreement and let Begin stay on, after he initially refused to quit his post.

Begin is the son of Likud founder Menachem Begin and considered an important asset for the party.

Yesh Atid looks to topple gov’t over diplomatic posts

The opposition Yesh Atid party announces that it will put forward a no-confidence motion to topple the government on Monday, its second try since the formation of the government less than three weeks ago.

In a statement, the party says the motion is in response to the parceling out of various diplomatic tasks to a number of ministries and ministers, instead of appointing a foreign minister, a post Netanyahu has kept for himself.

“The decision does critical damage to Israel’s foreign relations, undermines our public diplomacy efforts and harms the strategic relations between Israel and the United States,” reads the motion, put forward by MK Yaakov Peri.

Under the current coalition makeup, Interior Minister Silvan Shalom is in charge of talks with the Palestinians, Water and Infrastructure Minister Yuval Steinitz deals with the Iranian nuclear issue, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is in charge of public diplomacy and Absorption Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin runs the Nativ agency, which deals with former Soviet states.

Netanyahu is thought to be keeping the Foreign Ministry post in his back pocket as a sweetener to bring Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog into the coalition, an offer Herzog has repeatedly refused.

In his last government, despite having a foreign minister in the person of Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, Netanyahu still had Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in charge of talks with the Palestinians and Steinitz, then strategic affairs minister, concentrating on thwarting the Iranian nuclear threat.

Leg broken, Kerry calls off Europe trip

US Secretary of State John Kerry has called off his diplomatic swing through Europe after breaking his leg in a bike crash, AP reports.

Kerry had been in Geneva for talks with his Iranian counterpart over an emerging nuclear deal when he got into the accident and had to be airlifted to a local hospital.

US Secretary of State John Kerry rides his bike during a break in Lausanne, March 16, 2015. (AFP / FABRICE COFFRINI)

Kerry rides his bike in Lausanne, March 16, 2015. (AFP / FABRICE COFFRINI)

He will now fly back to Boston instead of continuing his diplomatic mission.

Kerry had planned to travel later Sunday to Madrid for meetings with Spain’s king and prime minister, before spending two days in Paris for an international conference on combating the Islamic State group.

Kerry’s cycling rides have become a theme of his diplomatic journeys. He often takes his bike with him on the plane.

— with AP

Hamas inmate gets solitary for radio interview

Abdallah Barghouti, an imprisoned commander of Hamas’s armed wing who is serving 67 life terms, has been placed in solitary confinement for speaking to a radio station, Israel’s prisons authority says.

Barghouti gave an interview to Hamas radio using a mobile telephone “smuggled into the prison where he is being held, and has been placed in an isolation cell,” spokeswoman Sivan Weizman says.

The duration of his stay in solitary confinement has yet to be determined, she added.

Barghouti was arrested in 2003 and sentenced to 67 life terms over attacks that killed 66 and wounded hundreds more in Israel.

— AFP

India’s PM Modi to visit Israel in first

An editor for the Times of India writes on Twitter that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Israel, the first-ever trip by a sitting Indian head of state to the country.

The visit comes as Israel has sought to foster closer ties with Delhi after the election last year of Modi, who is seen as a supporter of the Jewish state.

Modi visited Israel over a decade ago as chief minister of Gujarat state.

During that trip, he suggested that “as the possible next prime minister, he could make history by journeying to the Jewish state,” according to a concurrent report.

Netanyahu met with Modi in New York at the UN General Assembly in September and invited him to visit.

Benjamin Netanyahu, left, meets with Narendra Modi in New York City on September 28, 2014. (Photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/FLASH90)

Benjamin Netanyahu, left, meets with Narendra Modi in New York City on September 28, 2014. (Photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/FLASH90)

New Delhi only established relations with Israel in 1992, a delay often attributed by analysts to potential concerns within India’s Muslim minority and the developing nation’s need to preserve relations with wealthy Arab states.

But India quickly developed relations with Israel during the last government of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which emphasizes Hindu identity. In 2003, Ariel Sharon paid the first visit by an Israeli prime minister to New Delhi.

In February, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon visited India to boost security ties.

And in November, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited Israel, the highest-level official trip ever for Delhi.

Netanyahu sends condolences to Bidens

Netanyahu sends his condolences to the family of US Vice President Joe Biden over the death of his oldest son Joseph R. “Beau” Biden III, who died Saturday of brain cancer.

Netanyahu tells the media he spoke with Biden about Beau many times over the years and praises him for his many accomplishments during his 46 years on earth.

Beau Biden, a lawyer, served as attorney general of Delaware and was thought to be considering a run for governor of the state when he died.

Beau’s wife, Hollie Biden, is Jewish, a fact Joe Biden played up to court Jewish votes in the 2008 election.

Egypt razes former Mubarak HQ

Egypt has began tearing down the headquarters of the once-dominant party of ex-president Hosni Mubarak, which was torched during the 2011 uprising that toppled him.

Demolition workers, using cranes and bulldozers, began razing the four-story headquarters of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) located on the Nile in central Cairo.

An adjacent 14-story tower that once housed offices of state-run organizations is also being dismantled.

In early 2011, angry protesters demanding the ouster of Mubarak had ransacked and set fire to the NDP buildings — seen as symbols of his autocratic rule.

— AFP

 

Kerry ‘in good spirits’ after bike wreck

State Department spokesperson John Kirby says Kerry is “in good spirits” and plans to participate remotely in an anti-Islamic State summit he was slated to attend in France.

“The Secretary very much regrets not being able to visit Spain to meet with one of our close allies for discussions on a range of issues, as well as being unable to attend the counter-ISIL coalition ministerial meeting on Tuesday in Paris in person,” Kirby says in a statement.

The accident left Kerry with a broken right femur with the injury in a spot near a previous hip surgery, which is why he opted to fly back to Boston for treatment, Kirby says.

 

Israel reportedly calms jittery Iran, Hezbollah over defense drill

Israel has a sent diplomatic messages to Iran and Hezbollah to assure them that a massive home front defense drill in Israel being held this week is not a pretext to attack missile installations in southern Lebanon, Ynet reports.

The drill kicked off Sunday and simulates a massive rocket attack on Israel from Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, but Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah have apparently telegraphed concern that the buildup for the exercise is actually preparation for a surprise attack on the terror group’s massive rocket arsenal in southern Lebanon, according to the report.

Israeli officials recently estimated that Hezbollah is hiding some 100,00 missiles among civilian infrastructure in southern Lebanon, threatening to do whatever necessary to expunge the threat.

Iran also reportedly fears Israel could launch a long-awaited military strike against the country’s nuclear installations in a bid to torpedo an emerging deal with world powers over the program.

The drill is part of a yearly exercise, and Israel sent a message via Lebanon to both Iran and Hezbollah explaining that it is for defensive preparedness only and not for an offensive operation, according to Ynet.

Cabinet okays more jail time for rock throwers

Ministers have given the green light to a proposed bill that would make it easier to put stone throwers behind bars.

Under the new bill, originally proposed by former justice minister Tzipi Livni and taken up by her successor Ayelet Shaked, prosecutors will no longer have to prove intent to harm in order to jail those who throw rocks at vehicles.

The ministers okayed the measure unanimously, to send it to the Knesset for a full vote.

Under the current law, prosecutors have to prove intent to harm, making it nearly impossible to convict and forcing them to use a looser law that carries lighter sentences.

Couple killed in Houston flood to be buried

A Jewish Houston couple killed in last week’s flooding is set to be buried Sunday.

Shirley Alter, 85, and Jack Alter, 87, died after the rescue boat they boarded on the morning of May 26 suffered engine failure and then capsized in the rushing floodwaters, the Houston-based Jewish Herald-Voice reported.

Both had been wearing lifejackets but were not strong enough to withstand the strong current.

Houston Rabbi Joseph Radinsky is paddled to safety, May 27, 2015 (Facebook)

Houston Rabbi Joseph Radinsky is paddled to safety, May 27, 2015 (Facebook)

The couple’s 55-year-old daughter was able to float to safety, the Jewish Herald-Voice reported.

At least nine people were killed in last week’s flooding.

Three Houston synagogues were flooded and damaged during the storm: United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston; Congregation Beth Israel’s Reform Temple; and the Meyerland Minyan, an Orthodox synagogue.

— JTA

With ax to grind, PM aims at ‘over-regulation’

The cabinet approves Netanyahu to head up a ministerial committee to deal with what the prime minister calls over-regulation of industries in the country that he says hamper growth.

At the start of the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu laid into the issue, pointing out that a recent study showed Israel as having the 106th least onerous regulation in the world, a drop from 23rd place in 2006, and vowing to fight the phenomenon “with axes.”

“We are harming citizens, we are primarily harming the weaker strata, when we harm growth, and we are harming all Israelis by hasty regulation. Then if someone thought that this was OK, this is not OK. We are in a bad place and we will improve and be in a better place,” he said.

Netanyahu is well known for pushing for fewer regulations as finance minister in last decade, including in the banking industry, and more recently as prime minister.

It is not clear who else will sit on the committee.

German FM to make rare Gaza visit

Germany’s foreign minister says he will visit the Gaza Strip — a rare trip to the Hamas-ruled territory by a Western leader.

In meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials Sunday, Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was concerned about the situation in Gaza, which is struggling to recover from a devastating war with Israel last year.

Steinmeier told Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin that “concrete steps” are needed to improve daily life in Gaza. The country well understands the importance of rehabilitating the Gaza Strip, Rivlin told him, according to Israel Radio.

In the West Bank, Steinmeier called for quick reconstruction of Gaza while also saying that rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel must be stopped.

Steinmeier said he would head to Gaza on Monday. No talks with Hamas are planned.

— AP

Hamas commander put in solitary refuses food

A Hamas commander put in solitary confinement in Israeli jail earlier today because of a radio interview he gave with a smuggled phone has begun a hunger strike to protest his punishment, a Palestinian official says, according to Ynet.

Abdullah Barghouti, who is serving 67 life sentences, was moved from the general prison population earlier in the day after he gave an interview to a Gaza radio station.

Palestinian prisoners minister Issa Kraka says Barghouti’s hunger strike is open ended.

The duration of his stay in solitary confinement has yet to be determined, a spokesman for the Israeli prison service told AFP earlier in the day.

 

Settlers arrested for rock throwing

Five Israeli settlers were arrested — and then released — after being suspected of throwing rocks at Palestinians and left-wing activists in the southern West Bank last year, police say.

The five, none of whom were named, were involved in a physical confrontation near the settlement of Asfar, between Hebron and Bethlehem, in November, after they threw rocks at people doing agricultural work in the area.

They claimed they threw the stones in self defense.

They were given conditional release while police prepare an indictment.

Earlier in the day, the cabinet okayed a proposal upping punishments for those found guilty of rock throwing. It’s not clear if the legislation, which still must pass the Knesset, will extend into the West Bank.

Americans being held in Yemen, US admits

Several Americans have been detained in Yemen, a State Department official says, after reports that at least four US citizens are being held hostage by Shiite rebels there.

The department has seen the “reports that several US citizens have recently been detained in Yemen,” the official tells AFP, adding “we are doing everything we can to get these individuals released.”

But he cannot confirm any details about how many are being held or who is holding them.

— AFP

Iraqi army lost 2,300 Humvees to IS

Iraqi security forces lost 2,300 Humvee armored vehicles when the Islamic State jihadist group overran the northern city of Mosul, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi says.

“In the collapse of Mosul, we lost a lot of weapons,” Abadi tells Iraqiya state TV. “We lost 2,300 Humvees in Mosul alone.”

While the exact price of the vehicles varies depending on how they are armored and equipped, it is clearly a hugely expensive loss and one that can boost the jihadists’ capabilities.

Last year, the US State Department approved a possible sale to Iraq of 1,000 Humvees with increased armor, machine guns, grenade launchers, other gear and support that was estimated to cost $579 million.

— AFP

Netanyahu wishes Kerry speedy recovery

Netanyahu sends out well-wishes to John Kerry, who broke his leg earlier in the day while riding his bike in France.

Netanyahu, who has railed against the nuclear deal Kerry was in the middle of negotiating when he was forced to cut his Europe leg short, says he hopes to see the US secretary of state “back in the saddle ASAP.”

Kerry, whose relationship with Netanyahu has at times been testy, broke his right femur after crashing his bike Sunday morning and flew home to Boston, canceling a meeting in Spain and a trip to an anti-Islamic State confab in Paris.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a cast after tearing his tendon in a friendly soccer match Monday (photo credit: GPO/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a cast after tearing his tendon in a friendly soccer match in 2012. (GPO/Flash90)

Netanyahu knows a bit about what Kerry is going through. He wound up in a cast in 2012 after spraining his ankle while playing soccer.

At least 2,600 killed in Egypt since crackdown — watchdog

At least 2,600 people, nearly half of them supporters of the nation’s ousted president Mohammed Morsi, were killed in violence over an 18-month period starting June 30, 2013, the head of Egypt’s state human rights agency says.

Mohammed Fayeq, head of the National Council for Human Rights, tells reporters that 700 policemen and 550 civilians were among those killed in the period between June 30, 2013, and December 31, 2014.

On July 3, 2013, the military ousted Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president. Authorities launched an ongoing crackdown on members of Morsi’s now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

At least 600 Morsi supporters were killed on a single day when security forces broke up two Cairo-based sit-in protests on August 14, 2013. Almost the entire leadership of the Brotherhood and thousands of the group’s members have been detained, along with hundreds of secular and leftist pro-democracy campaigners who were behind the 2011 uprising that toppled Morsi’s predecessor, autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Fayeq criticizes authorities for the practice of detaining suspects for an extended period pending the filing of formal charges and trial, saying it amounted to “punishment for crimes not committed.”

Holding cells at police stations, he says, were filled 400 percent above their capacity and 160 percent in prisons.

— AP

CIA head: Israel-US security cooperation is strong

CIA head John Brennan says the rocky relationship between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no effect on security cooperation and the sharing of information between the two countries.

Speaking during an interview with CBS, Brennan says that — despite the differences in policy between the two heads of state — intelligence and army experts know that they have an obligation to maintain the security demands of both the US and Israel, Ynet reports.

Haniyeh says Turkey to finance Gaza construction

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh says that Turkey will finance the construction of 340 housing units in 20 apartment buildings in the Gaza Strip for residents whose homes were destroyed during last summer’s 50-day war.

Haniyeh says that the funds will be transferred to Gaza via the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA), Ynet reports.

Bus catches fire in north, no one injured

A bus carrying 20 passengers catches fire at the Golani Junction in northern Israel. All passengers manage to escape the vehicle unharmed, Ynet reports.

The circumstances of the fire are being investigated.

Turks view Israel as ‘greatest threat’ to nation

Over 40 percent of the Turkish public view Israel as the greatest threat to the country’s security, according to a survey conducted among 1,000 people in April and published last week by Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

The US is also viewed negatively, with 35.3 percent of respondents saying it was the country most threatening to Turkey.

Turkish protesters torch an effigy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they shout slogans during a demonstration against the Israeli military operation in Gaza, Saturday, July 19, 2014 in front of the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul. (photo credit: Ozan Kose/AFP)

Turkish protesters torch an effigy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a demonstration in front of the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul against the Israeli military operation in Gaza, July 19, 2014. (AFP/Ozan Kose)

A significant portion of the population — 38.9 percent — assert that “Turkey has no friends” in the international community.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt share ‘vision’ on Yemen war

Saudi Arabia and Egypt say they share a “common vision” on the war in Yemen, where a Riyadh-led coalition is waging a bombing campaign against Iran-backed rebels.

The coalition, which includes Egypt, began air raids in March, targeting Houthi Shiite rebels and allied forces loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen.

“We have a common vision on how to deal with the situation in Yemen,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri says at a joint press conference with his visiting Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir.

“Our positions are identical, the work is done through close coordination at all levels,” he adds.

While Egyptian media supported Cairo’s February air strikes inside Libya, targeting the Islamic State group, it has been more critical of Egypt’s role in the Yemeni air war.

An armed man looks at graffiti artists spraying on a wall to commemorate the victims who were killed in Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen, Monday, May 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

An armed man looks at graffiti artists spraying on a wall to commemorate the victims who were killed in Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen, Monday, May 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

Iran has repeatedly denied providing support to the Houthis and their allies who overran much of Yemen earlier this year.

It has called for an end to the bombing campaign and the opening of a political dialogue.

“We reject the actions of Iran… and Iran’s support for terrorism,” says Jubeir, who is on his first visit to Egypt since becoming foreign minister.

Iran “is the only state that interferes in the affairs of the region, whether in Lebanon or Syria or Iraq or Yemen,” he adds.

Armed Yemeni tribal gunmen from a group loyal to Yemen's fugitive President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, monitor a street in the southern city of Taez during ongoing clashes with Shiite Houthi rebels on May 24, 2015.  (AFP  / ABDUL RAHMAN ALBALLAH)

Armed Yemeni tribal gunmen from a group loyal to Yemen’s fugitive President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, monitor a street in the southern city of Taez during ongoing clashes with Shiite Houthi rebels on May 24, 2015. (AFP / ABDUL RAHMAN ALBALLAH)

Jubeir says Riyadh and Cairo want to build relations with Tehran, but it “depends on Iran’s behavior.”

Jubeir’s visit to Cairo came after the UN envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, began on Saturday a mission to discuss stalled peace talks.

A peace conference due to take place on May 28 in Geneva was postponed, in a fresh blow to UN efforts to end a conflict estimated to have killed almost 2,000 people.

— AFP

German FM to visit Gaza tomorrow

Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will visit the Gaza Strip tomorrow.

The German minister says he is worried about the situation in Gaza and urges that practical steps must be taken to improve the quality of life for Palestinians in the Strip, Israel Radio reports.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (R) meets with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the President's residence in Jerusalem, Israel on May 31, 2015. (Photo by Mark Neyman/GPO)

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (right) meets with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the president’s residence in Jerusalem on May 31, 2015. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

Steinmeier adds that rocket fire from Gaza into Israel must stop.

No bail for Palestinian lawmaker held by Israel

A lawyer for a female Palestinian lawmaker detained by Israel says a military court has rejected an order to release her on bail.

Earlier this month, a military judge ruled that Khalida Jarrar should be released. Her lawyer, Mahmoud Hassan, says that prosecutors appealed the order, and a court said she must remain behind bars until her trial on June 22.

She was arrested at her West Bank home in April and later charged with inciting violence.

In this Thursday, May 21, 2015 file photo, Palestinian Parliament member Khalida Jarrar of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine attends a court session charged with inciting violence, at the Israeli Ofer military base near the West Bank city of Ramallah (AP/Majdi Mohammed, File)

Palestinian Parliament member Khalida Jarrar, of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, attends a court session at the Israeli Ofer military base near the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 21, 2015. (AP/Majdi Mohammed, File)

Hassan says Jarrar, 52, a political leader of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was arrested for “her political stance, not for any security threat.”

The court denied bail, saying she had breached court orders in the past, incited to violence and urged the abduction of soldiers.

— AP

Kurds push back IS in north Syria border provinces

Kurdish militia in Syria wrest control of a dozen villages from the extremist Islamic State group on either side of the jihadist’s bastion province of Raqqa, a monitor says.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, backed by air strikes from a US-led anti-IS coalition, seize eight villages from jihadists on the western edges of Raqqa province.

“Kurdish units and their allies advanced and took control of at least eight villages southeast of Kobani, amid air strikes by the international coalition,” the Britain-based monitor says.

Kurdish militia and Syrian rebels pushed IS back from Kobani, which lies in northern Aleppo province on the Turkish-Syrian border, in January.

Since then, YPG units have edged east towards Raqqa, which IS declared the capital of its self-styled caliphate last year.

Syrian Kurdish fighters also seized control of four villages from IS near a border town in Hasakeh, east of Raqqa, the Observatory says.

“There are still clashes between the YPG and IS southwest of Ras al-Ain,” the monitor says, adding that at least eight IS fighters and three Kurdish militia were killed in the fighting.

On Saturday, IS launched an assault on Hasakeh’s provincial capital, advancing to within four kilometers (less than three miles) of the key city.

AFP

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Live updates (closed) Latest: Kurds push back IS in north Syria border provinces

Bus catches fire in north, no one injured

A bus carrying 20 passengers catches fire at the Golani Junction in northern Israel. All passengers manage to escape the vehicle unharmed, Ynet reports.

The circumstances of the fire are being investigated.