Court says accused child abuser Malka Leifer must undergo key psych evaluation
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Gantz warns dreaded third elections might be ‘inevitable’

In jab at Netanyahu, Blue and White chief says efforts to form broad unity government being stymied by ‘reluctance’ of some party leaders

Head of the Blue and White party Benny Gantz speaks to supporters at a party rally in Tel Aviv on October 31, 2019.  (Avshalom Shoshoni/Flash90)
Head of the Blue and White party Benny Gantz speaks to supporters at a party rally in Tel Aviv on October 31, 2019. (Avshalom Shoshoni/Flash90)

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

Gantz, Lapid join second round of unity talks with Likud

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and party no. 2 Yair Lapid join negotiators for another round of coalition talks with Likud party representatives today.

Representatives from both parties met yesterday to discuss forming a broad unity government, but they have failed to yield progress as the two largest parties remain divided on a number of matters.

Likud negotiator MK Yariv Levin says Gantz unexpectedly joined the talks held near Tel Aviv earlier today as a publicity stunt.

Senior Arab lawmakers set to meet Gantz for coalition talks

Senior Joint List MKs will meet Blue and White chief Benny Gantz at 4:15 p.m. on Thursday in Kfar Maccabiah, a spokesman for a spokesman for Ayman Odeh, the head of the alliance of the four largest Arab-majority parties, says.

Odeh and fellow Joint List lawmaker Ahmad Tibi will attend the meeting with Gantz, according to the spokesman.

— Adam Rasgon

Car bomb in Turkish-held part of Syria kills at least 8

A car bomb kills at least eight people in a vegetable market in a northern region of Syria held by Turkish-led forces.

Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency says another 14 people were wounded in the attack. It said the explosives were packed into a refrigerator truck.

Turkish-led forces captured Afrin from Syrian Kurdish fighters early last year. The area is controlled by Syrian fighters allied with Turkey, who have been accused by rights groups of seizing land and property . The area sees sporadic attacks and other violence.

Syria’s state-run SANA news agency also reported the attack, saying nine people were killed and 20 wounded. It said the blast ignited a nearby patrol station and caused damage to surrounding homes and shops.

No one has claimed the attack.

Turkey launched another cross-border operation earlier this month, invading northeastern Syria to push out Syrian Kurdish fighters who had partnered with US forces against the Islamic State group. The invasion came after President Donald Trump ordered American forces to step aside.

Ankara views the Syrian Kurdish fighters as an extension of the decades-long Kurdish insurgency in southeastern Turkey.

— AP

US conducts first Syria border patrol since pullback

US forces are patrolling part of Syria’s border with Turkey in the first such move since Washington withdrew troops from the area earlier this month, an AFP correspondent reports.

Five armored vehicles bearing US flags patrolled a strip of the frontier north of the town of Qahtaniyah, an area where regime forces were expected to deploy as part of a deal with Turkey, the correspondent said.

The patrol was accompanied by Kurdish fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the main US ally in the years-long battle against the Islamic State group.

US forces used to patrol the section of border north of Qahtaniyah before Washington announced its pullback on October 6.

— AFP

Lebanese media says Israeli drone downed in south

Lebanese media reports that an Israeli drone was shot down over southern Lebanon.

This is not immediately confirmed by the Israeli military.

Footage from the Lebanese village of Nabatieh that was shared on social media appears to show an anti-aircraft missile being fired into the air. An explosion was also seen in the area.

— Judah Ari Gross

IDF confirms Hezbollah targeted drone in Lebanon, but says it missed

The Israeli military denies a Lebanese claim that one of its drones was shot down over southern Lebanon by the Hezbollah terror group.

An anti-aircraft missile was indeed fired at the unmanned aerial vehicle from Lebanon, but the drone was not harmed, the army says.

“A short while ago, anti-aircraft fire was detected from Lebanese territory at an IDF unmanned aerial vehicle. The aircraft was not damaged,” the army says in a statement.

— Judah Ari Gross

North Korea fires short-range projectiles amid stalled talks

North Korea on fired two projectiles into its eastern sea, an apparent resumption of weapons tests aimed at ramping up pressure on Washington over a stalemate in nuclear negotiations, according to officials in South Korea and Japan.

Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff say the weapons were fired from an area near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang and flew about 370 kilometers (230 miles) across the country at a height of up to 90 kilometers (56 miles) before landing off its eastern coast. The Joint Chiefs of Staff urged the North to “immediately stop actions that do not help efforts to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.”

The military didn’t immediately confirm whether the weapons were ballistic missiles or rocket artillery. The office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in described them as short-range projectiles.

People watch a TV showing a file image of a North Korea’s missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, September 10, 2019. (Ahn Young-joon)

The launches follow statements of displeasure by top North Korean officials over the slow pace of nuclear negotiations with the United States and demands that the Trump administration ease crippling sanctions and pressure on their country.

Analysts say the North could dial up its weapons demonstrations in the coming weeks as it approaches an end-of-year deadline set by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for Washington to offer mutually acceptable terms for a deal to salvage the nuclear diplomacy.

— AP

Court says accused child abuser Malka Leifer must undergo key psych evaluation

The Jerusalem District Court orders alleged serial child rapist Malka Leifer to appear before a psychiatric panel that will determine whether she has been feigning mental illness to avoid extradition to Australia.

Judge Chana Lomp’s decision comes two days after Leifer’s attorneys informed the court that their client would not cooperate with the panel, which. they claim, will be biased against her.

The decision will require prison guards to compel Leifer to go to the panel in order for her to be evaluated.

Former principal Malka Leifer, wanted in Australia for child sex abuse crimes, seen at the Jerusalem District Court, February 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

The State Prosecutor’s Office also files a request to have all information from the trial passed along to the panel to give them a full picture of Leifer’s mental state. Without it, Leifer would likely have to be hospitalized for three weeks in order to be re-evaluated from scratch. This would likely delay the decision which the court ordered the panel to make by December 10, a source with knowledge of the proceedings tells The Times of Israel.

Lomp has now given the opportunity for Leifer’s attorneys to respond to the state’s request before passing the file on to the panel. A decision on the matter could come as quickly as later today, the source says.

Proceedings against Leifer have lasted over five years, during which Australia has continuously demanded that she be extradited back to Melbourne where she faces 74 charges of child sex abuse.

— Jacob Magid

Death toll from Yemen’s war hits 100,000 since 2015 — watchdog

A database project that tracks violence says Yemen’s civil war has killed more than 100,000 people since 2015.

The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, or ACLED, says in a report released earlier today that the war’s death toll includes more than 12,000 civilians killed in attacks directly targeting civilians.

People inspect the rubble of a destroyed building that was used as a detention centre by Yemen’s Huthi rebels which was hit by an air strike of the Saudi-led coalition, in Dhamar south of the Huthi-held capital Sanaa on September 1, 2019 (Photo by AFP)

The conflict in the Arab world’s poorest nation began with the 2014 takeover of northern and central Yemen by Iran-aligned rebels, driving out the internationally recognized government from the capital, Sanaa. Months later, in March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition launched its air campaign to prevent the rebels, known as Houthis, from overrunning the country’s south.

Saudi-led airstrikes have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties and killed thousands of Yemeni civilians. The Houthi rebels have used drones and missiles to attack Saudi Arabia and have targeted vessels in the Red Sea.

— AP

Florida high school principal who doubted Holocaust is fired

A high school principal in Florida who told a student’s mother “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened” has been fired.

The Palm Beach County school board voted 5-2 to fire William Latson on ground of “ethical misconduct” and “failure to carry out job responsibilities.” Latson was principal of Spanish River High School in Boca Raton.

The Palm Beach Post reports the official justification for Latson’s termination was failure to return messages from school district officials in the days after his comments made international news.

Spanish River High with former principal William Latson (Screencapture/Twitter)

Latson’s attorney has vowed to appeal the decision in state administrative court.

Several Spanish River teachers spoke on behalf of Latson yesterday, describing him as a kind and tolerant administrator whose words were twisted in a national media frenzy.

— AP

Hezbollah claims responsibility for firing at Israeli drone

Hezbollah is taking responsibility for firing an anti-aircraft missile at an Israeli drone earlier today, saying it forced the UAV to retreat from Lebanese airspace.

“Fighters of the Islamic resistance confronted a hostile drone in southern Lebanon’s skies with the appropriate weapons and forced it to leave [the area],” Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television network reports.

Initial reports in Lebanese media said that an Israeli spy drone was shot down over the town of Nabatieh in southern Lebanon, a Hezbollah stronghold.

But in a statement, the IDF said an anti-aircraft missile was “launched over Lebanese territory” toward the drone, but the aircraft was not hit.

Israel approved more than 2,300 settlement homes — watchdog

Israel approves the construction of 2,342 settler homes in the West Bank, according to settlement watchdog Peace Now.

It says the decision was made on October 10 and that 59 percent of the new homes will be erected in “settlements that Israel likely may evacuate under a peace agreement” with the Palestinians.

— AFP

Iraq president vows early polls when new electoral law passed

Iraq’s president calls for a new election law and says he will approve early elections once it is enacted, in response to anti-government protests.

President Barham Salih expresses support for the protesters in a prime-time address this afternoon, but says the sweeping changes they are calling for would need to be enacted through constitutional means. He says Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has expressed a willingness to resign once political leaders agree on a replacement.

Iraqi demonstrators chant slogans and wave their country’s national flags during ongoing anti-government demonstrations at Tahrir Square in the capital Baghdad, on October 30, 2019. (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)

Iraq has seen two waves of mass protests this month, with at least 250 protesters killed in clashes with security forces. The protesters have demanded the resignation of the government and the overhaul of the political system put in place after the 2003 US-led invasion.

— AP

Turkey says discussing return of 18 Syrian troops with Russia

Turkey’s defense minister says 18 Syrian government soldiers have been captured during its military operations in northeast Syria, including two who are wounded.

Hulusi Akar, defense minister, says during a visit to Turkish border units, that Ankara is in talks with Russia to hand over the captured soldiers. His comments were carried on the official ministry website Thursday. It was not clear when the soldiers were captured but the minister said they were taken southwest of the town of Ras al-Ayn, which has been at the center of a Turkish military invasion of northeastern Syria.

Turkey halted its military operation into Syria through two separate cease-fires brokered by the U.S. and Russia. Under the deal, Kurdish fighters would withdraw to 30 kilometers (19 miles) away from the Turkish border and Syrian government forces would take positions along the borders.

— AP

Netanyahu says appeasement increasing Iran’s regional aggression

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Iran is becoming increasingly brazen, because no one has addressed its aggression in the region.

Speaking at a graduation ceremony for IDF officers, the prime minister says Israel will not hesitate to mount a “tough” response to any attack by the Islamic Republic.

“The area around us is turbulent and stormy. The threats are popping up in every corner — in Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and also in Iraq, Yemen and directly in Iran,” Netanyahu says. “Iranian and pro-Iranian forces are working nonstop to arm themselves.”

“Iran’s brazenness is increasing because there is no response, but Israel will not turn the other cheek… we won’t hesitate to deliver a tough blow to anyone who tries to harm us.”

Islamic State confirms Baghdadi death, names new leader

Islamic State jihadist group confirms the death of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, days after US special forces razed his compound in Syria’s Idlib province.

“We mourn you… commander of the faithful,” the jihadist group’s spokesman says in an audio statement, before naming Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi as his successor.

Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, appearing for the first time in five years, in a propaganda video released April 29, 2019. (YouTube screenshot)

US House formalizes Trump impeachment process in landmark vote

A sharply divided House has approves the rules for its impeachment inquiry of US President Donald Trump.

The near party-line 232-196 roll call is the chamber’s first formal vote on a process that’s likely to take months, possibly stretching into the early weeks of the 2020 election year.

Underscoring the gravity of the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi presided over the chamber as it voted on the rules package.

Speaker of the US House Nancy Pelosi speaks during her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 31, 2019. ( SAUL LOEB / AFP)

The vote was a victory for majority Democrats, who will control the investigation in the House. It gives them the ability to curb the ability of Republicans to subpoena witnesses and of White House lawyers to present witnesses.

Republicans said the process was skewed against them and the White House.

The vote showed how neither side has budged in their fight over whether Trump’s effort to squeeze Ukraine for dirt on his Democratic political foes merits forcing him from office.

— AP

Trump calls impeachment ‘Greatest Witch Hunt’ in US history after House vote

US President Donald Trump reacts almost instantly to a landmark House of Representatives vote green-lighting his impeachment investigation, calling the probe the “Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!”

Trump’s tweet comes seconds after the lower house of Congress voted overwhelmingly, but almost entirely along party lines, to set out the rules for the process expected to lead to passing articles of impeachment.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham issues a longer statement, accusing opposition Democrats of having an “unhinged obsession with this illegitimate impeachment.”

“Democrats are choosing every day to waste time on a sham impeachment — a blatantly partisan attempt to destroy the President,” she says.

— AFP

IDF chief blasts efforts to gender-segregate military service

Army chief Aviv Kohavi rails against efforts by external groups to change the way men and women serve together in the Israel Defense Forces.

“For years, and also recently, I have encountered attempts by figures outside the military to dictate the rules of behavior of soldiers, like, for example, disseminating directives regarding the joint service of women and men in the IDF,” Kohavi says.

“I want to be loud and clear on this matter — the people who set the orders, the protocols and the norms for the IDF are only the commanders, with me at the top,” he says.

The army chief makes his remarks at a graduation ceremony for new IDF officers. He lauds female soldiers’ contributions to the military throughout its history.

“Regarding the service of women in the IDF, this ceremony, with 70 female officers, speaks for itself. The women who serve in the IDF are a source of power and strength, and your contribution to every unit in the military is enormous. Women and men will continue to serve together, as a single unit, toward one goal, for the betterment of the State of Israel,” he says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Arab MKs call for ‘real political process’ in coalition talks with Gantz

The meeting between Blue and White chief Benny Gantz and senior Joint List MKs Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi lasted approximately an hour, a spokesman for Odeh says in a statement.

“Pressing issues for the Arab community were raised during the meeting including the issues of crime and violence, building and planning and general economic and political matters,” the spokesman says.

“Tibi and Odeh affirmed the Joint List’s support for a real political process that leads to the end of the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian statement in the framework of a two-state solution,” the spokesman adds.

— Adam Rasgon

White House slams Democrats’ ‘unhinged’ obsession after impeachment vote

The White House says the House vote approving rules for its impeachment inquiry has enshrined “unacceptable violations of due process into House rules.”

Press secretary Stephanie Grisham says in a statement moments after the House vote that the process “is unfair, unconstitutional, and fundamentally un-American.”

Thursday’s near party-line 232-196 vote was a victory for Democrats, who will control the investigation in the House. It gives them the ability to curb the ability of Republicans to subpoena witnesses and of White House lawyers to present witnesses.

Grisham says President Donald Trump “has done nothing wrong” and that Democrats have an “unhinged obsession” with impeachment. Her statement was echoed by Trump’s reelection campaign which accused Democrats of trying to legitimize their process after the fact.

Campaign manager Brad Parscale says: “Voters will punish Democrats who support this farce and President Trump will be easily re-elected.”

— AP

Israeli-made WhatsApp spyware targeted US allies — report

Senior officials from over 20 countries that are allied with the United States were the targets of an Israeli hacking campaign through the use of the popular WhatsApp messaging service, according to a Reuters report.

US government officials say the officials were being monitored for the last year using a software called Pegasus, which was developed by Israeli private intelligence company called NSO group.

The report says a “significant” portion of the known victims are high-profile government and military officials from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Mexico, Pakistan and India.

Earlier this week, Facebook sued NSO Group in US federal court for allegedly targeting some 1,400 WhatsApp users with highly sophisticated spyware.

The lawsuit filed in San Francisco is the first legal action of its kind, according to Facebook, involving a nearly totally unregulated realm.

House GOP leader slams Trump impeachment vote

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy says Democrats are abusing their power and discrediting democracy by “trying to impeach the president because they are scared they can’t defeat him at the ballot box.”

The California Republican is speaking out against a package of impeachment rules approved Thursday.

This image from video made available by House TV on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019 shows the floor of the US House of Representatives in Washington and the vote count to approve the rules for its impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. (House TV via AP)

McCarthy says that ever since Donald Trump’s election, Democrats have waged a “permanent campaign to undermine his legitimacy. They have predetermined the president’s guilt. They have never accepted the voters’ choice to make him president. So, for 37 days and counting, they have run an unprecedented, undemocratic and unfair investigation. This resolution only makes it worse.”

McCarthy says Democrats are “using secret interviews and selective leaks” to portray Trump’s legitimate actions as an impeachable offense. He is referring to the closed-door hearings in the House as Democrats gather evidence in the impeachment inquiry.

State of Virginia sues Teva Pharmaceuticals over opioids

Virginia’s attorney general files a new lawsuit over the opioid crisis, even as the top government lawyers in some states are pushing to settle claims over powerful prescription painkillers.

Mark Herring’s suit alleges that Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, which is part of an Israel-based company, and Cephalon, a drug company bought by Teva in 2011, misrepresented the benefits and risks of products that include fentanyl.

A Teva spokeswoman did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The Horsham, Pennsylvania, offices of Teva Pharmaceuticals (AP Photo/George Widman)

Some 2,700 lawsuits have been filed nationwide against the drug industry over the toll of opioids, including at least one from nearly every state. Herring’s is the first one filed by a state since a group of attorneys general detailed a plan on Oct. 21 to settle suits nationally with five companies, including Teva.

— AP

US armored vehicles in Syria to guard oil fields

The US military says its first batch of mechanized armored vehicles have arrived in southeast Syria, where they are to take part in securing oil fields and fighting remnants of the Islamic State group.

US-led Coalition spokesman Col. Myles Caggins said the first batch of Bradley armored infantry carriers are arriving in Deir el-Zour Province. The province is home to some of Syria’s largest oil fields. It is also where Islamic State jihadists continue to wage an insurgency and where they lost their last territory in March.

A US armoured vehicle drives past a billboard for the Syrian Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), during a patrol of the Syrian northeastern town of Qahtaniyah at the border with Turkey, on October 31, 2019. (Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)

Caggins says the mechanized forces — being deployed for the first time in Syria— provides infantry with maneuverability and firepower. He said the deployment is “de-conflicted” with other forces operating in the region.

US troops have begun withdrawing from northern Syria to reposition in the Deir el-Zour region, he says.

US President Donald Trump ordered the troop withdrawal from the north ahead of a Turkish military offensive there earlier this month. Turkey is pushing to have Kurdish fighters moved away from its borders.

— AP

Rocket sirens sound in Gaza border communities

Incoming rocket sirens sound in southern Israeli communities of Be’eri and Alumim.

There are no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

The alarms are triggered in the Israel’s Eshkol region, just east of the Gaza Strip.

Projectile fired from Gaza reportedly lands in open field

At least one projectile fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel lands in an open field, according to initial reports.

Residents of Be’eri and Alumim reported hearing a loud explosion shortly after the rocket sirens began to blare in the communities adjacent to Gaza.

There were no reports of injury or damage.

The IDF says it’s investigating the incident.

Gantz warns dreaded third elections could be inevitable

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz tells supporters that Israel could be headed to another dreaded election, and accuses Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of stymieing coalition talks out of political considerations.

“We were only dragged into these elections so Netanyahu could pass his immunity law. That didn’t happen and it never will,” he tells supporters at a party gathering in Tel Aviv.

“I’m determined to form a broad, liberal unity government, but I’m not here to do anyone else’s dirty work,” Gantz says.

“But due to some party leaders’ reluctance, another election might be inevitable,” he says.

“What’s been happening in recent days needs to stop. It cannot be that while we are fighting for our country, Netanyahu is sending his people out to attack the police, media or the state prosecutor’s office.”

IDF: Iron Dome activated after projectile fired at southern Israel

The army says the Iron Dome defense system was activated after a projectile was launched at Israel from the Gaza Strip.

The statement does not say if the aerial defense system intercepted the projectile, but reports in Hebrew-language media said it landed in an open field adjacent to the Gaza border.

There are no reports of injury or damage.

Judge waits to set trial date in Pittsburgh synagogue attack

A judge in Pittsburgh says she’s not ready to set a trial date for the man charged with killing 11 people inside a synagogue.

US District Judge Donetta Ambrose says she won’t schedule Robert Bowers’ trial until pretrial motions over the death penalty and other issues are resolved.

The judge is giving defense lawyers until mid-December to file motions challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty sought by prosecutors.

Federal prosecutors had asked for a fall 2020 trial to spare survivors and the families of those killed long delays.

A memorial for the victims of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. (Hane Grace Yagel via JTA)

But the defense is concerned the date would overlap with the Jewish holidays or a divisive presidential election.

The October 27, 2018, shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue is considered the deadliest attack on Jews in US history.

— AP

Israel said to strike Hamas outpost after projectile launched from Gaza

Israeli security forces fire at a jeep belonging to Hamas operatives in the border area near Beit Lahia, according to a report in the Gaza-based Shehab News.

Reports in Hebrew-language media say IDF tanks fired artillery shells at a Hamas outpost near the border after a projectile was launched from the Palestinian enclave.

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Court says accused child abuser Malka Leifer must undergo key psych evaluation

The Jerusalem District Court orders alleged serial child rapist Malka Leifer to appear before a psychiatric panel that will determine whether she has been feigning mental illness to avoid extradition to Australia.

Judge Chana Lomp’s decision comes two days after Leifer’s attorneys informed the court that their client would not cooperate with the panel, which. they claim, will be biased against her.

The decision will require prison guards to compel Leifer to go to the panel in order for her to be evaluated.

Former principal Malka Leifer, wanted in Australia for child sex abuse crimes, seen at the Jerusalem District Court, February 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

The State Prosecutor’s Office also files a request to have all information from the trial passed along to the panel to give them a full picture of Leifer’s mental state. Without it, Leifer would likely have to be hospitalized for three weeks in order to be re-evaluated from scratch. This would likely delay the decision which the court ordered the panel to make by December 10, a source with knowledge of the proceedings tells The Times of Israel.

Lomp has now given the opportunity for Leifer’s attorneys to respond to the state’s request before passing the file on to the panel. A decision on the matter could come as quickly as later today, the source says.

Proceedings against Leifer have lasted over five years, during which Australia has continuously demanded that she be extradited back to Melbourne where she faces 74 charges of child sex abuse.

— Jacob Magid