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Ultra-Orthodox faction says it won’t topple coalition over enlistment bill

Agudath Yisrael expected to push for changes to legislation on ultra-Orthodox draft but signals it has no interest in early elections

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman arrives for a meeting in Jerusalem of the Agudath Yisrael faction's Council of Torah Sages on October 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman arrives for a meeting in Jerusalem of the Agudath Yisrael faction's Council of Torah Sages on October 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Government approves new Jewish neighborhood in Hebron

The government approves the establishment of a new neighborhood for Jewish settlers in Hebron in a project that will for the first time in 16 years see homes built for Israelis in the flashpoint West Bank city.

The decision will see 16 government ministries allocate a total of NIS 21.6 million ($5.96 million) for the construction of 31 homes, two kindergartens, a daycare center and a public park in the Hezekiah Quarter of Hebron.

The site has since the 1980s housed an IDF base, which will be downsized with the neighborhood’s establishment.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman lauds the approval in a statement, calling it “yet another important milestone in the extensive activity we are leading to strengthen settlement in Judea and Samaria (West Bank).”

— Jacob Magid

Meretz party head tears into government over new Hebron homes

The leader of the left-wing Meretz party excoriates the government for approving plans to build new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron.

“The Hebron settlement needs to be evacuated, not enlarged. It is as if the pyromaniac government is buying a barrel of fuel for [NIS] 21 million only to fuel a messianic hallucination that costs us in security, and starting today also in education, agriculture and equality,” MK Tamar Zandberg writes on Facebook.

Meretz chair Tamar Zandberg at a plenary session at the Knesset on September 17, 2018. (Flash90)

Iran’s Rouhani seeks to downplay impact of US oil sanctions

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s president tries to downplay US sanctions targeting the country’s vital oil and gas sector that are set to be restored next month.

Speaking in Tehran University to mark the start of the academic year, Hassan Rouhani says the Novenber 4 sanctions “will have no effect,” because “the US has already done whatever it wanted to do.”

US President Donald Trump’s administration has been steadily restoring sanctions on Iran since he withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord in May. Iran has been grappling with an economic crisis in recent months, with its currency plunging to historic lows and sporadic protests breaking out.

The US has said it will press other countries to halt imports of Iranian oil, which would cut off a key source of revenue for Tehran.

Rouhani says the current US administration is the “most hostile” ever toward Iran, but that his country will overcome the sanctions through “unity and integrity.” He says his administration has allocated some $15 billion to purchase basic goods in the current Iranian year, which ends next March.

Rouhani says the US sanctions are aimed at “regime change.” The Trump administration insists its aim is not to overthrow the Iranian government, but to pressure it to radically alter its policies, including its development of ballistic missiles and support for regional militant groups.

— AP

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in New York on September 26, 2018, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)

Meeting of coalition heads canceled as ultra-Orthodox party debates draft law

Today’s meeting of coalition parties has been canceled, Hebrew media reports say, as lawmakers await the outcome of a meeting of United Torah Judaism’s Council of Torah Sages on whether the party will support a bill formalizing exemptions to mandatory military service for ultra-Orthodox students.

Saudi Arabia vows to hit back if sanctioned over missing journalist

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia dismisses threats of sanctions over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and vows it will retaliate against such action.

“The kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats or attempts to undermine it whether through threats to impose economic sanctions or the use of political pressure,” an official source is quoted saying by state news agency SPA.

“The kingdom also affirms that it will respond to any action with a bigger one,” the source says.

— AFP

Netanyahu: Ultra-Orthodox enlistment law must pass for ‘good of the country’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu throws his full backing behind a bill formalizing exemptions to military service for ultra-Orthodox students whose prospects will likely determine the coalition’s future.

Speaking at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu says the bill balances the needs of the army and Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community and implores ministers to support it.

“This law needs to pass. The time has come to put it behind us. This is my position. This also needs to be the position of the government, for the good of the country, of the ultra-Orthodox public, and for relations between the ultra-Orthodox and the secular,” he says.

His remarks come ahead of a meeting later today of the Council of Torah Sages, the United Torah Judaism party’s key decision-making body, on whether it will support the bill.

Netanyahu calls on the council to “make the right decision.” “This law is good for Israel,” he says.

Amid growing speculation on the possibility of early elections, the ultra-Orthodox enlistment bill is seen as one of the main obstacles to the coalition serving out its full term.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on October 14, 2018. (Ohad Zwigenberg/Yedioth Ahronoth/Pool/Flash90)

UN peace envoy condemns Palestinian woman’s death by suspected stone-throwing

The United Nations envoy for Middle East peace condemns the death of a Palestinian woman in a West Bank car accident blamed on stone-throwing by Jewish settlers.

“I condemn this Friday’s attack in the occupied West Bank in which a Palestinian woman, Aisha Al-Rabi, a mother of eight, was killed and her husband injured by stones allegedly thrown by Israeli assailants,” Nickolay Mladenov says in a statement.

Mladenov notes that Israeli authorities have opened an investigation into the incident and calls on them “to ensure that those responsible are swiftly brought to justice.”

He also says “such attacks only seek to drag everyone into a new cycle of violence that would further undermine the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov speaks at a press conference during a visit to the Gaza Strip on July 15, 2018. (Wissam Nassar/Flash90)

In message to Gazans, Liberman says Hamas to blame for halted fuel deliveries

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman says the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers are to blame for his decision to stop shipments of fuel and gas into the Palestinian enclave.

“The State of Israel was prepared to improve the civilian situation in the Gaza Strip, but the decision of the Hamas leadership to use serious violence – especially on the same day in which tankers of diesel fuel were brought into the Gaza Strip – is what brought about the decision to cut off the supply of fuels,” Liberman writes in a message to Gaza residents on the Facebook page of the military liaison to the Palestinians.

“All of the responsibility for the deterioration in the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip belongs to Hamas and Hamas alone.”

Liberman also calls on Palestinians in Gaza to take action against Hamas, which he says takes its marching orders from Iran.

“I call on you, residents of Gaza: Act against the extremist leadership that has taken you hostage in the service of the Iranian ayatollahs,” he says, without specifying what sort of action they should take.

US student appeals to Supreme Court over deportation order

Lawyers for an American student file a petition with the Supreme Court over an appeals court decision to uphold authorities’ denial of her entry to Israel over her alleged support for boycotting the Jewish state, the Haaretz daily reports.

Lara Alqasem has been held at Ben Gurion Airport since arriving nearly two weeks to study in a master’s program at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Authorities accuse her of supporting boycotts of Israel, something she denies.

Hebrew University is expected to join the appeal if the Supreme Court takes it up, according to Haaretz.

On Friday, an appeals court upheld the entry ban on Alqasem, saying the government was acting in accordance with a 2017 law t-hat prevents supporters of the boycott, sanctions and divestment movement from entering the country.

US student Lara Alqasem sits for a hearing at the Tel Aviv District Court on October 11, 2018 (Jack Guez/AFP)

EU calls for ‘utmost restraint’ amid growing violence in Gaza, West Bank

The European Union calls on Israel and the Palestinians to exercise the “utmost restraint” following deadly clashes in the Gaza Strip over the weekend and a string of recent attacks in the West Bank.

“We expect Israel respects the principle of necessity and proportionality in its use of force. And we expect that Hamas and other extremist groups in Gaza do not exploit the demonstrations for other ends and ensure they remain strictly non-violent,” a spokesperson for the EU’s foreign policy arm says in a statement.

The spokesperson also notes the death of three Israelis in West Bank terror attacks over the past month, as well as that of Palestinian woman over the weekend who was killed in a car crash allegedly caused by Jewish settlers throwing rocks.

“All such incidents need to be investigated and perpetrators brought to justice,” the statement says.

“The cycle of violence leads only to more violence and deprives entire generations from the legitimate aspiration to live in peace and free to build their own future. Only a political solution can put an end to the violence,” it adds.

Egypt says commercial truck traffic resumes with Israel via Sinai

El-ARISH, Egypt — The Egyptian military says commercial truck traffic with Israel has resumed via a border crossing in the Sinai Peninsula that had been shut down amid the insurgency there.

Brig. Gen. Tareq Younis says the first few trucks from Israel crossed over into Egypt on Sunday, and that Egyptian vehicles began bringing goods into Israel earlier this month.

The trade, mostly foodstuffs and raw materials, passes through the el-Auga route, south of Gaza and closer to central Sinai.

Egypt has been battling jihadists in the area for years, and launched a nationwide operation focused on Sinai in February.

The long-running insurgency intensified in 2013, when the Egyptian military overthrew an elected but divisive Islamist president, and is now led by an Islamic State affiliate.

— AP

Supreme Court delays US student’s deportation until it rules on appeal

The Supreme Court delays the deportation of an American student until it decides whether it will hear her appeal to be allowed into Israel.

The court says it will hold a hearing this week on whether to accept Lara Alqasem’s appeal.

Alqasem has been denied entry into Israel since arriving at the airport nearly two weeks over allegations she supports boycotting the Jewish state.

Trump says Mattis ‘could be’ leaving as US defense secretary

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump says in an interview airing Sunday that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “could be” leaving, referring to him as “sort of a Democrat.”

Mattis, seen as one of the steadiest but also more independent members of Trump’s cabinet, has served as a low-profile counterweight to the president in his often abrasive treatment of US allies.

In an interview to be aired Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Trump is asked whether he wants Mattis to leave.

“It could be that he is. I think he’s sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth,” Trump says, according to an excerpt released by CBS. “But General Mattis is a good guy. We get along very well. He may leave. I mean, at some point, everybody leaves.”

Trump says he had lunch with Mattis two days earlier and Mattis, a retired Marine four-star general, had not told him that he was leaving.

— AFP

Palestinian said wounded in Israeli strike on Gaza

A Palestinian has been injured in an Israeli airstrike in the northern Gaza Strip, Palestinian media reports say.

Military confirms strike on flaming balloon launchers in Gaza

The military confirms Israeli aircraft targeted a group of Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip launching incendiary balloons toward Israel.

Burning Gaza balloons start 4 fires in south

Since this morning, firefighters have worked to extinguish four blazes near towns in southern Israel caused by incendiary balloons launched from the Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Fire and Rescue Services says.

— Jacob Magid

Iran reportedly sentences dual-national to prison for spying

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s judiciary spokesman is saying a court has sentenced a dual national man to eight and a half years in prison after finding him guilty of infiltration of important governmental bodies.

Sunday’s report by the semi-official ISNA news agency quotes Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehi as saying the suspect was tried based on a report by the intelligence department after he infiltrated “some sensitive centers.” The report identifies the convict’s surname as Tavakkoli and says he was also fined $48,000. It doesn’t include his other nationality, but adds: “Usually these sorts of individuals are working for the US and Israel.”

Iran occasionally detains dual-nationals over similar security charges.

In 2015, Iran detained a Lebanese engineer residing in the US and later sentenced him to 10 years in prison on spying charges.

— AP

4 injured in West Bank settlement after exposure to suspicious envelopes

Four people are lightly injured in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit after being exposed to envelopes containing a suspicious substance.

Police say the four, all residents of the same apartment building, reported burning eyes and breathing difficulties.

The building has been evacuated and the street closed, according to police.

Officers on the scene are working to identify the substance and the circumstances of the incident are being investigated.

Jordan, Syria say key border crossing to reopen Monday

AMMAN, Jordan — The main border crossing between Jordan and war-torn Syria is to reopen on Monday for the first time in three years, Jordanian authorities say.

The Jaber crossing, known as Nassib on the Syrian side, was a key route for Middle East trade before Amman closed it in 2015 after the post was overrun by rebels.

The reopening, which Damascus confirms on Sunday, comes after Syrian government troops retook their side of the crossing in July under a deal with rebel fighters.

— AFP

Members of the Russian military police patrol the Nassib border crossing with Jordan in the southern Syrian province of Daraa a on August 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Andrey Borodulin)

Liberman: Israel still active in Syria after downing of Russian plane

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman says the fallout over the downing of a Russian military plane by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli airstrike last month has not led Israel to cease attacking Iranian targets in Syria.

“The fact you don’t hear about strikes in Syria doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” he tells Israel Radio.

“The policy has not changed and we won’t allow Iran to turn Syria into a military base,” he adds.

Netanyahu says he’ll appoint Israeli envoy to Christian world

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the Christian Media Summit in Jerusalem, where he vows to appoint an emissary of the Israeli government to the Christian world.

He also addresses the ongoing legal saga surrounding a US student denied entry to Israel over her alleged support for boycotting the Jewish state.

“I trust that Minister [Gilad] Erdan has examined it and looked into it,” Netanyahu says of Lara Alqasem’s case.

Netanyahu notes the Supreme Court earlier today said it will consider Alqasem’s request for an appeal. “They will decide,” He says. “We will see how it develops.”

Netanyahu says that if the Supreme Court doesn’t take up Alqasem’s appeal, “she will be deported.”

— Raphael Ahren

Netanyahu says he’ll work to establish ties with Indonesia

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he’ll work to establish diplomatic ties with Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation.

“Indonesia is very, very important to us. It’s one of the last countries on earth that doesn’t have open and robust relations with Israel,” he tells the Christian Media Summit in Jerusalem.

“We would like have to good relations with Indonesia. I will work on that,” he adds.

— Raphael Ahren

After B’Tselem head gets UN invite, Netanyahu calls group a ‘disgrace’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is asked about the B’Tselem rights group, after its leader was invited to speak at a session of the UN Security Council.

“How do I define B’Tselem. A disgrace! That’s how I define B’Tselem,” he says at the Christian Media Summit in Jerusalem.

— Raphael Ahren

US envoy says every day at Jerusalem embassy ‘a singular experience’

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman says that even five months later, “every single day that I get up and go to work at the US Embassy in Jerusalem is a singular experience.”

The US Embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14.

“It never gets old. It’s never routine, it isn’t ever taken for granted,” the ambassador says at the Christian Media Summit. “Not a day goes by in which I don’t thank God for the privilege for the privilege of serving as US ambassador in his Holy City.”

He also says that Nikki Haley, who announced last week she would step down as the US Ambassador to the UN, is the best envoy to the world body in the nation’s history.

— Raphael Ahren

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at the US Embassy in Jerusalem on May 30, 2018, ahead of an interview with The Times of Israel. (Matty Stern, US Embassy Jerusalem)

Air Force’s F-35 fleet returns to service after grounding over US crash

The Israeli Air Force returns its fleet of F-35 fighter jets to service after inspecting the planes to ensure they did not have the same issue that appears to have caused an American plane to crash last month, the army says.

On September 28, an American F-35B — a model not used in the IAF — crashed in South Carolina, apparently as a result of a defective fuel line in the motor. In light of the crash — the state-of-the-art aircraft’s first — the American, British and Israeli air forces grounded their fleets.

“The ‘Adir’ aircraft of the Israeli Air Force are going back into routine and operational activities today,” the army says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Exit polls indicate heavy losses for Merkel allies in Bavaria elections

BERLIN — Exit polls indicate German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative allies are losing their absolute majority in Bavaria’s state parliament by a wide margin.

The ARD and ZDF public television exit polls have the Christian Social Union winning 35.5 percent of the vote in Sunday’s regional election, down from 47.7% five years ago.

That would be the party’s worst performance in Bavaria, which it has traditionally dominated, since 1950.

The polls say the Greens are making major gains to secure second place with up to 19% of the vote. They show the far-right Alternative for Germany entering the state legislature in Munich with 11%.

The center-left Social Democrats, Merkel’s junior coalition partners in Berlin, are on course to win some 10%, half their score in 2013.

— AP

Ultra-Orthodox faction says it won’t topple coalition over enlistment bill

Hebrew media reports quote members of the Agudath Yisrael faction of the United Torah Judaism party as saying they will not bring down the government over a bill formalizing exemptions to military service for ultra-Orthodox students, but will also seek changes to the legislation.

Despite the measured tone taken by Agudath Yisrael after a meeting of its Council of Torah Sages, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has said he will not accept any change to the legislation, potentially clouding the coalition’s prospects of reaching a compromise on the matter.

According to the reports, lawmakers from Agudath Yisrael will vote against the bill if changes they are seeking are not made, but will not quit the coalition.

3 sentenced to death in Egypt for killing policemen

CAIRO — A court in Egypt on Sunday sentences three people to death for their involvement in the killing of 10 policemen and for belonging to an extremist group, a judicial source said.

The defendants are found guilty by a Cairo criminal court of being involved in the killing of 10 policemen, including an officer, between August 2013 and May 2014.

They are also convicted for belonging to the jihadist group, Ansar al-Sharia.

Both the defense and prosecution have the right to appeal.

Four others are sentenced to life imprisonment — a 25-year term in Egypt — and seven defendants to 15 years in prison. Nine people are acquitted in the case.

Egyptian courts have issued or confirmed a large number of death sentences in recent weeks.

— AFP

Report: Israeli aircraft destroy spying device in southern Lebanon

A Lebanese newspaper reports that Israeli aircraft destroyed a spying device in southern Lebanon.

Elnashra also reports that a large number of Israeli aircraft were seen in Lebanese skies.

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Egypt says commercial truck traffic resumes with Israel via Sinai

El-ARISH, Egypt — The Egyptian military says commercial truck traffic with Israel has resumed via a border crossing in the Sinai Peninsula that had been shut down amid the insurgency there.

Brig. Gen. Tareq Younis says the first few trucks from Israel crossed over into Egypt on Sunday, and that Egyptian vehicles began bringing goods into Israel earlier this month.

The trade, mostly foodstuffs and raw materials, passes through the el-Auga route, south of Gaza and closer to central Sinai.

Egypt has been battling jihadists in the area for years, and launched a nationwide operation focused on Sinai in February.

The long-running insurgency intensified in 2013, when the Egyptian military overthrew an elected but divisive Islamist president, and is now led by an Islamic State affiliate.

— AP