Cannabis ‘decriminalization’ bill passes committee
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UN agency for Palestinians warns of cuts ahead

UNRWA will decide in August whether it will open its schools after summer vacation, agency head says

Palestinian schoolgirls pose for a group picture outside their classrooms at a school belonging to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza City on January 22, 2018, during a visit by the UNRWA Commissioner General (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)
Palestinian schoolgirls pose for a group picture outside their classrooms at a school belonging to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza City on January 22, 2018, during a visit by the UNRWA Commissioner General (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s news as it unfolded.

Sara Netanyahu’s trial put off until October

The trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, which was set to begin on July 19, has been postponed until October.

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court accepts a request from Netanyahu’s lawyer, Yossi Cohen, asking to postpone the opening hearing due to a clash with another case.

The court rules that the trial will now begin on October 7, after the Israeli court system’s summer break.

Sara Netanyahu was indicted last month along with Ezra Saidoff, a former deputy director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, on charges of fraud and breach of trust.

The two are accused of fraudulently charging some NIS 359,000 ($100,000) for gourmet meals to the state between 2010 and 2013.

Raoul Wootliff

Cannabis ‘decriminalization’ bill passes committee

The Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee approves for its second and third reading a bill that would partially decriminalize cannabis use.

According to the legislation, first-time offenders will be fined NIS 1,000 ($276) and second-time offenders will be fined NIS 2,000.

Multiple offenders would have the option of either paying increasingly larger fines or doing community service, and would be given a police record.

A third offense would also entail the involvement of social services and possibly court-mandated rehab.

The bill is being planned as a three-year pilot plan.

Man drowns at Herzliya beach

A 60-year-old man drowns at Herzliya’s Sidna Ali beach.

Paramedics at the scene attempt to resuscitate the man but are forced to declare him dead.

Lapid: Netanyahu unresponsive to Gaza attacks while waiting for Trump peace plan

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid takes Benjamin Netanyahu to task for his policy on the Gaza Strip, claiming the prime minister isn’t doing enough to counter airborne arson attacks from there.

“The prime minister has a new reason why he is doing nothing in Gaza — because he is waiting for the Americans,” Lapid says at his party’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset.

“For four years he has done nothing regarding Gaza,” he continues. “He knew, we all knew that there would be a new round of violence, but he did nothing. And now the round of violence has come. Our fields are being burned.

“The army needs to be given a bigger toolbox to deal with this,” Lapid says.

He says that Netanyahu is waiting for the Trump administration to present its peace plan and has therefore not acted to stem the arson attacks from Gaza.

“One who care about security does not wait for the Americans,” Lapid charges. “He acts on his own. We cannot allow them to decide for us. We need to present our own plan.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Syrian troops surround rebel-held southwestern city of Daraa

Syrian activists say government forces have surrounded rebel-held parts of the city of Daraa as part of their offensive in the southwestern province.

The city was where the uprising against President Bashar Assad began seven years ago.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and rebel spokesman Ibrahmi Jabawi says that the siege of the rebel-held parts of the city started the night before.

The Observatory and the government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media say troops now also control most areas along the Jordanian border, after taking a main border crossing there.

The Observatory says after that in Daraa province, after taking the villages of Heet and Zeizoun, government forces have reached the area controlled by the Khaled bin Al-Waleed Army, which is linked with the Islamic State group.

— AP

Two more boys said rescued in Thailand, bringing number to 7

Reports in Thailand say a sixth and seventh boy have been rescued from the flooded cave in which they had been trapped with the rest of their soccer team.

Five boys and the soccer coach remain in the cave.

Netanyahu announces Gaza crossing to be closed due to Gaza violence

In response to ongoing violence on the Gaza border, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that Israel will close the Kerem Shalom border crossing.

“We will double our efforts against Hamas,” Netanyahu tells his Likud faction meeting in the Knesset, saying that the Kerem Shalom closure will be coupled with “other measures that I won’t go into.”

The crossing, near the Egyptian border, serves as the main entry point for commercial goods and humanitarian aid into the coastal enclave, which has been subject to a strict blockade by both Israel and Egypt for the past 11 years, meant to prevent terrorist groups from bringing weapons into the Strip.

The crossing has been closed a number of times in the past three months after sustaining damage from fires set by Palestinian protesters.

Yesterday it was reported that Hamas has begun returning its security forces to the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, the first time the terror organization has done so since the start of deadly clashes in late March.

Since March 30, weekly clashes have taken place on the Gaza border, with Israel accusing Hamas of using the demonstrations as cover to carry out attacks and attempt to breach the security fence. The “March of Return” protests have also seen Palestinians fly airborne incendiary devices toward Israeli territory, sparking hundreds of fires in southern Israel and causing millions of shekels in estimated damages.

— Raoul Wootliff

Egypt denies report that fire likely caused 2016 plane crash

Egypt is denying a report by French aviation investigators saying that a cockpit fire likely caused the crash of an EgyptAir flight from Paris to Cairo in 2016.

Egypt’s top prosecutor says in a statement that the Egyptian investigation into the crash of EgyptAir Flight 804 is still underway. It says the French report is “baseless,” adding that “traces of explosives were found on the remains of passengers and parts of the plane.”

The French investigation agency BEA said Friday that the “most likely hypothesis” is that a fire broke out in the cockpit and “spread rapidly, resulting in loss of control.”

All 66 people aboard were killed when the plane crashed into the Mediterranean in May 2016.

— AP

IDF confirms commercial goods won’t be allowed through Kerem Shalom

The Israeli military says it is closing the Kerem Shalom Crossing to all commercial goods into and out of the Gaza Strip in response to nonstop arson attacks from the coastal enclave that have burned thousands of acres of land in southern Israel.

The army says humanitarian aid, notably food and medicine, would still be allowed into Gaza, but will require special permission from the military liaison to the Palestinians, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon.

The announcement confirms comments made by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman during faction meetings in the Knesset earlier in the day.

The military says the situation will persist so long as Palestinians continue to launch incendiary kites and balloons into Israel.

“If this phenomenon continues, these steps will continue and even get worse,” the army says.

In addition, the army says it is prematurely ending the temporary extension to the permitted Gaza fishing zone, which had allowed fisherman to sail up to nine miles from the coast in order to take advantage of the summer fishing season.

“The fishing zone will return to a range of six miles,” the army says.

The Israeli military accuses the Hamas terror group of encouraging Palestinians to launch incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza into Israel.

“The Hamas terrorist group is response for everything done in the Gaza Strip and for all the consequences of it. Hamas is dragging the residents of the Strip into the abyss,” the army says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Bennett threatens to block Jewish state bill

Prime Minister Netanyahu wants to push the controversial “Jewish state” bill forward to become law in the next two weeks, but one of his coalition partners, the Jewish Home party, announces it will vote against the bill unless a controversial clause is reinstated.

The clause, which asserts the primacy of Jewish jurisprudence, was removed from the draft legislation at the request of Yisrael Beytenu and other parties in the coalition, and was not included in the version of the bill that passed its first reading.

The bill, long in the works, would enshrine the state’s Jewish character in the country’s constitutional Basic Laws. It passed its first reading in the Knesset in May.

Ombudsman: Settlement council using state funds to establish illegal outposts

In a new report, the state comptroller blasts a West Bank regional council for using state funds to establish illegal outposts in cooperation with various government ministries as well as the Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF).

“The activities of the Binyamin Regional Council should be viewed with great severity,” writes Yosef Shapira, lambasting the West Bank’s largest municipal body, which serves over 40 settlements.

“A public body that is charged with upholding the law is acting to allow the construction of illegal outposts,” he adds. “The council… permits illegal construction in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) and even promotes it.”

The report offers several examples of outposts where the Binyamin Regional Council promoted construction, including with the assistance of government ministries.

— Jacob Magid

Tel Aviv deputy mayor Asaf Zamir announces mayoral run

Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Asaf Zamir announces that he will run in October’s mayoral elections.

Zamir has served as deputy in the last decade to Mayor Ron Huldai, who has yet to say whether he will run.

He announces his candidacy in a Facebook post.

UN fails to condemn and combat anti-Semitism, watchdog charges

In addition to its notorious anti-Israel bias, the United Nations largely fails to condemn and combat anti-Semitism, a Geneva-based watchdog charges.

Presenting a new 40-page report in the Knesset today, UN Watch calls on the UN secretary-general “to acknowledge the demonstrable failure” and establish an “action plan that will mobilize key UN stakeholders, and in particular those within its human rights machinery, to exercise their responsibilities to condemn and confront bigotry, hatred or violence targeting Jews worldwide.”

The report charges, for instance, that top UN officials are quick to condemn racism and ethnic discrimination all over the world, but are hesitant to denounce attacks on Jews.

Furthermore, the report, entitled “The United Nations and Antisemitism,” accuses the UN’s top human rights official of “softcore Holocaust denial” and efforts to “dejudaize” the Holocaust.

— Raphael Ahren

Weinstein arrives at court to face new charges

Harvey Weinstein is at a Manhattan courthouse for arraignment on charges he committed a sex crime against a third woman.

Courthouse guards tell people arriving for jury duty to wait or use a different entrance as Weinstein arrives.

An updated indictment alleges the movie mogul-turned-#MeToo villain performed a forcible sex act on a woman in 2006.

The new charges include two counts of predatory sexual assault, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison upon conviction.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. says the 66-year-old Weinstein is charged with “some of the most serious sexual offenses” that exist under state law.

Lawyer Ben Brafman says Weinstein maintains all the allegations are false and he will be vindicated.

A grand jury previously indicted Weinstein on charges involving two women.


UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson resigns amid Brexit furor

The British government says Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has resigned, amid a widening split in the Cabinet over Brexit.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s office says May accepted the resignation today and will announce a replacement soon.

A leader of the campaign to take Britain out of the European Union, Johnson was under pressure to act after the resignation of David Davis as Brexit secretary.

Davis quit late Sunday saying he could not support May’s plans for close trade and regulatory ties with the bloc after the UK leaves the European Union next year.


Weinstein pleads not guilty, is released on bail

A judge has ordered Harvey Weinstein released on continued bail while fighting sex charges.

Weinstein pleads not guilty at his arraignment today in Manhattan.

He is brought into the Manhattan courtroom handcuffed from behind, then is uncuffed for the proceeding.

Lawyer Ben Brafman argues there is no evidence the 66-year-old Weinstein will flee.


Death toll in Turkey train crash rises to 24, with hundreds hurt

Twenty-four people were killed and hundreds injured when a train packed with weekend passengers derailed in northwest Turkey due to ground erosion after heavy rains, officials say.

The train, which was carrying 362 passengers, was traveling from the Edirne region on the Greek and Bulgarian borders to Istanbul’s Halkali station on Sunday when six carriages derailed in the Tekirdag region.

Deputy Prime Minister Recep Akdag says 24 people died, in a sharp rise from the previous toll of 10.

The state-run Anadolu news agency quotes Akdag as saying search operations through the derailed train carriages were completed this morning.

Health Minister Ahmet Demircan says 318 people required treatment after the accident, with 124 still hospitalized.

Regional prosecutors have opened an investigation, with the two train drivers and three other railway workers summoned to give statements, Anadolu says.

The transport ministry says that the train derailed because recent heavy downpours caused the ground beneath the track to erode away.


Liberman vows ‘harsh response’ to any Syrian violation of buffer zone

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warns that any violation of the decades-old ceasefire agreement between Israel and Syria will be met with a “harsh response.”

With pro-government Syrian forces advancing toward the border, Israel in recent weeks has called for the 1974 separation of forces agreement between Israel and Syria to be upheld and the buffer zone on the border respected.

“We’ll respect the disengagement agreement from ’74 and insist on every tiny detail,” says Liberman at the start of his Yisrael Beytenu party’s weekly faction meeting. “Any violations will be met with a harsh response from the State of Israel.”

Liberman also reiterates that Israel will not allow Iran to use Syria as a beachhead to launch attacks on Israeli territory.

“Nothing has changed and nothing is new,” he says.

Police arrest Palestinian carrying a knife

Border Police officers at the Abu Dis checkpoint east of Jerusalem arrest a Palestinian man bearing a knife.

Police say in a statement that while examining passengers in a van headed from the northern to the southern West Bank, officers found that one of the passengers wasn’t carrying identification papers.

When they asked him for his identity, he provided the identifying information of another person, police say. They then found the knife on his person.

In a statement, police say he is being questioned in order to ascertain his identity and motive.

Thai official says rescued boys ‘safe and conscious’

The official heading the Thai cave rescue operation says the four boys brought out of the flooded cave by divers today are “safe and conscious” and now in a hospital.

Chiang Rai acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn also tells a news conference that high-stakes rescue efforts today took less time than on Sunday because of the experience accumulated and more people involved.

Eight of the 13 trapped people — a total of 12 boys and their 25-year-old soccer coach — have now been rescued.

Narongsak says he’s not sure if the remaining five people will be extracted in one or more operations.

He says Thailand’s prime minister, who visited the cave site today, has gone to visit all eight boys in the hospital.


Liberman declares Palestinian TV network a terror organization

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has officially designated the al-Quds television network a terror organization, his office says, accusing the Lebanon-based outlet of being an arm of Hamas.

“According to up-to-date, reliable, cross-checked and diverse intelligence, the al-Quds station is a propaganda wing of Hamas, representing a central platform for distributing the terror organization’s messages,” the defense minister’s office says in a statement.

The idea to declare the outlet a terror organization was proposed by the Shin Bet security service and the Defense Ministry’s department for fighting terrorism with economic tools, Liberman’s office says.

Judah Ari Gross

Hamas says closing Gaza crossing ‘a crime against humanity’ by Israel

The Hamas terror group blasts Israel’s decision to close the Kerem Shalom crossing over continued violence in the Gaza Strip.

“Netanyahu’s approval of additional measures to intensify the siege and prevent the entry of materials and goods to Gaza is a new crime against humanity,” spokesman Fawzi Barhoum says.

Barhoum also accuses the international community of being silent on “the crime of the suffocating siege on the Gaza Strip” and calls on it to take “immediate action” to end it.

The terror group says Israel will “bear responsibility for the consequences” of the decision.

— with Adam Rasgon

Islamic Jihad: Closing Gaza crossing a ‘declaration of war’

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group says Israel’s decision to close the Kerem Shalom crossing in response to ongoing attacks from Gaza is a “declaration of war.”

“Tightening the siege will only exacerbate the ongoing conflict with Israel,” the group says. “This is proof of the occupation’s failure to deal with the March of Return.”

Egyptian court orders release of news editor

An Egyptian court has ordered the release of the editor of an independent news website accused of an array of charges, including membership in the banned Muslim Brotherhood group.

The Giza criminal court says Adel Sabri will be released on bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds, or about $560. He is expected to leave jail later today.

The Masr al-Arabia website was shuttered upon Sabri’s arrest in April, a day after authorities announced that President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi had won a second, four-year term in office, with 97 percent of the vote.

Sabri is accused of publishing false news and managing an unlicensed website.

Egypt has regularly detained and prosecuted journalists since the military overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013, part of a wider crackdown on dissent.

— AP

Erdogan sworn in as Turkey president with expanded powers

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been sworn in as Turkey’s first president, under a new governing system that gives him sweeping executive powers.

Erdogan takes the oath of office in parliament, following last month’s election where he garnered 52.9 percent of votes. The snap election ushered in the new system that ends parliamentary governance and boosts the powers of the formerly ceremonial presidency.

Abolishing the post of prime minister, the president will now form the government, appoint ministers, vice presidents and high-level bureaucrats, issue decrees, prepare the budget, and decide on security policies. Erdogan is expected to announce his Cabinet on Monday evening.

Under the new system, Erdogan will not only run the executive branch, but also lead his party in parliament. Critics say this leads to one-man rule.


Ministry says record 2.1 million tourists visit Israel in first half of 2018

A record number of tourists visited Israel in the first half of 2018, according to statistics published today by the Tourism Ministry.

Some 2.1 million tourist entries were recorded between January and June, the most for any half-year period and the first time the 2 million threshold was passed, the ministry said in a statement.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin hails the achievement, saying in the statement that “the marketing efforts and activities that we are spearheading in the ministry are leading us to new records.”

The figure represents an increase of 19 percent over the same period last year, when 1.74 million tourists came to Israel, and a 26% increase over the first half of 2016.

The ministry says tourism injected NIS 12 billion ($3.3 billion) into the Israeli economy in the first half of 2018.

— Michael Bachner

Another minor earthquake hits Sea of Galilee area

A 3.2-magnitude temblor hits the Tiberias area on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, another in a long line of small earthquakes that has hit the region in the past week, sparking fears of a major shake.

There are no immediate reports of damage.

Saudi women allowed to become notaries for first time

Women in Saudi Arabia have for the first time been allowed to become notaries, with 12 granted permission to start working in the profession, the justice ministry says.

The move comes amid a reform drive in the ultra-conservative kingdom that saw the authorities lift a ban on women drivers in June.

As notaries, the women can now issue and cancel powers of attorney, and certify documents to help establish companies or transfer property rights, the ministry says.

The modernization push is being spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as he seeks to improve Saudi Arabia’s image and wean the economy off its dependence on oil.

Despite the changes, women still lack fundamental rights in Saudi Arabia.

Under a strict guardianship system, they still require permission from their closest male relative on basic decisions like enrolling in classes, renewing their passports, or undergoing some medical procedures.


UN agency for Palestinians warns of cuts ahead

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees has warned that cuts to key programs in the Gaza Strip and West Bank are planned over the coming weeks, if a US funding freeze cannot be overcome.

Figures were not yet available on the cuts being planned if the major gap in financing is not resolved, but a letter sent to agency staff over the weekend and seen by AFP today highlights areas targeted.

A source familiar with the plans describes the areas expected to be affected in further detail, saying they include employment programs, housing assistance, and mental health support, among others.

Most of the cuts are expected in the West Bank. Some programs were due to run out of funds by the end of July, according to the source.

The letter says the agency, known as UNRWA, will work to maintain vital food assistance programs, particularly for the impoverished Gaza Strip.

But the source says those too could face reductions in the coming months if additional financing was not found.

UNRWA head Pierre Krahenbuhl says in the letter to staff that he has called on donors who had already helped out with pledges to assist further so the agency could “overcome the rest of the shortfall,” currently at $217 million.

“I said to them and I say to you now with great honesty: a shortfall of $217 million is still far higher than any UNRWA has ever faced in its history,” the letter said.

“As the agency’s commissioner-general, I cannot hide the dramatic risks that we face to our services if we do not receive additional funding very rapidly.”

The agency will decide in the first half of August whether it will open the schools it operates on time, following the summer break, Krahenbuhl says in the letter.


Trump to go ahead with UK visit as planned, White House says

US President Donald Trump is maintaining his planned four-day visit to Britain later this week, the White House says, as Theresa May’s government was plunged into turmoil by two shock cabinet resignations.

“The president continues to look forward to his working visit with the prime minister on July 13, and further strengthening the US-UK special relationship,” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tells reporters.

May’s government imploded today as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson followed Brexit minister David Davis, in resigning over the prime minister’s master plan for Britain’s future outside the European Union.


After quitting, Boris Johnson says Brexit ‘dream is dying’

Boris Johnson warns as he quits as foreign secretary that the Brexit “dream is dying” and Britain is “headed for the status of colony” with its plan to stay close to the EU.

In a two-page letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, the leading Brexit supporter says that while he initially accepted the government’s proposal, it now “sticks in the throat”.

“Brexit should be about opportunity and hope. It should be a chance to do things differently, to be more nimble and dynamic, and to maximise the particular advantages of the UK as an open, outward-looking global economy,” he writes.

“That dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt.”

He says Britain is heading for “a semi-Brexit, with large parts of the economy still locked in the EU system, but with no UK control over that system.”

It is in the “ludicrous position” of offering to accept huge amounts of EU laws that for decades British governments have argued against, yet with no say in how they are made.

“In that respect we are truly headed for the status of colony — and many will struggle to see the economic or political advantages of that particular arrangement,” he says.

He adds that plans to create a common rulebook for goods and agrifoods “will make it much more difficult to do free trade deals” — a key goal of the Brexit supporters.

Plans to use technology to ease customs arrangements are “impractical and undeliverable.”

Johnson says that at a meeting of the cabinet to decide the plan on Friday, he accepted that “my side of the argument were too few to prevail.”

“The government now has a song to sing. The trouble is that I have practiced the words over the weekend and find they stick in the throat,” he writes.

He adds: “Since I cannot in all conscience champion these proposals, I have sadly concluded that I must go.”


Syrians said to flee, fearing regime attack on IS in south

Several thousand Syrians have fled parts of the country’s south held by an affiliate of the Islamic State group due to fears of a government attack, a monitor says.

The IS-held pocket in Daraa province’s western countryside is not included in a ceasefire deal agreed last week between rebels and the regime’s ally, Moscow.

That agreement put an end to more than two weeks of heavy bombing of rebel-controlled areas, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that those living under an IS affiliate fear they are the next target.

“Around 4,000 people including hundreds of women and children fled areas controlled by Jaish Khaled bin Walid in western parts of Daraa, toward the border with the occupied Golan,” the Britain-based monitor says.

The affiliate holds just under seven percent of Daraa province, according to Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

The regime’s military advance and the handover of towns through the ceasefire deal has brought government forces to areas adjacent to the IS-controlled zone, Abdel Rahman tells AFP, but no operation had begun.


Netanyahu to be grilled in Bezeq case tomorrow

Prime Minister Netanyahu will be interrogated tomorrow in his office over so-called Case 4000, or the Bezeq investigation, which involves suspicions that he promoted regulation benefiting a media tycoon, in exchange for favorable news coverage.

According to reports, police will ask Netanyahu about information, including audio recordings, handed over by state witness Nir Hefetz, a former senior aide to the prime minister.

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Cannabis ‘decriminalization’ bill passes committee

The Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee approves for its second and third reading a bill that would partially decriminalize cannabis use.

According to the legislation, first-time offenders will be fined NIS 1,000 ($276) and second-time offenders will be fined NIS 2,000.

Multiple offenders would have the option of either paying increasingly larger fines or doing community service, and would be given a police record.

A third offense would also entail the involvement of social services and possibly court-mandated rehab.

The bill is being planned as a three-year pilot plan.