The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they unfolded.
Police forces rush to a cemetery in Be’er Tuvia, east of Ashdod, after a blast was reported there.
The blast appears to have been caused by a previously unexploded Gaza rocket that detonated.
It appears that no one was hurt.
House Democrats angling to spotlight damning allegations from special counsel Robert Mueller’s report are focusing Wednesday on contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The House Intelligence Committee has invited two former leaders of the FBI’s national security branch to testify about the counterintelligence implications of Mueller’s investigation. Mueller did not find a criminal conspiracy between the campaign and Russia but did detail a series of interactions and outreach that have alarmed Democrats and accelerated calls from some in the party for impeachment proceedings and renewed investigations.
Both ex-FBI officials, Robert Anderson and Stephanie Douglas, retired from the bureau before it launched its investigation into the Trump campaign in summer 2016. By inviting them instead of agents involved in the investigation, Democrats are giving center stage to longtime career officials likely to be seen as more neutral and devoid of the political baggage that accompanies some of US President Donald Trump’s more outspoken critics, including former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe and former agent Peter Strzok. Both were fired last year.
Nearly 100 people were detained in Moscow during a peaceful but unsanctioned march through central Moscow against the alleged impunity and corruption of law enforcement agencies, the OVD Info monitor says.
“Ninety-four people have already been detained in Moscow,” the monitor says.
Incendiary balloons launched from the Gaza Strip have sparked three fires in the Eshkol Regional Council.
Firefighters are working to douse the flames.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has arrived in Tehran on a mission to ease tensions between Iran and the US, becoming the first Japanese prime minister to visit since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Abe’s flight touched down at Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport a short time ago.
His visit is seen as an effort to mediate amid rising tensions in the Persian Gulf region.
The heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington take root in US President Donald Trump’s decision a year ago to withdraw from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Iranian opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have been allowed limited satellite television after more than eight years of house arrest for leading mass protests, reports say.
Mousavi, 77, and Karroubi, 81, were reformist candidates in the controversial election of 2009, which was won by hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
They claimed the vote was rigged, triggering months of mass protests, particularly in Tehran. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in the biggest challenge to the system since the Islamic revolution of 1979.
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has been ordered to stand trial over three Twitter posts from 2015 showing Islamic State atrocities, a judicial source tells AFP.
A judge in Nanterre, just west of Paris, issued the ruling after Le Pen was charged last year with circulating “violent messages that incite terrorism or pornography or seriously harm human dignity” and that can be viewed by a minor.
The IDF’s Central Command has informed several West Bank settlements of plans to cut down on guards at eight security posts throughout the region, the Ynet news site reports.
The cuts are said to be a result of budgetary constraints.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel is continuing to act “to prevent our enemies from establishing attack bases in our vicinity.”
Early today Syrian state media reported that Israel fired several missiles toward a border town and claimed air defenses intercepted several of the projectiles. According to Syrian and Lebanese reports, the target of the strikes was infrastructure set up by the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group and its allies.
Israel has not commented on the alleged strike.
Netanyahu was speaking at a state memorial service for former president Ephraim Katzir, who died 10 years ago.
Iran unveils 10 new “ultra-advanced” defensive systems to protect key sites from attack by air and sea, the country’s Fars news agency reports.
Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami praises the nation’s “outstanding” technological progress and and hopes for “new achievements… in the field of strategic electronic products.”
No further details were provided on the purported new defenses.
The Union of Right Wing Parties has offered former justice minister Ayelet Shaked the no. 2 spot on its slate if she joins without her political partner Naftali Bennett, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language current affairs website Zman Yisrael reports (Hebrew link).
The site has learned that the URWP’s leaders Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich are seeking to separate the two — with Shaked seen as an electoral asset while Bennett is viewed with distaste for quitting the leadership of URWP’s Jewish Home to form New Right alongside Shaked.
However, Shaked is seen as likelier to accept Bennett’s offer to once again run with him in New Right — but this time as the slate’s no. 1 candidate.
Iran’s semiofficial news agency is reporting that dozens of hardline students have gathered outside of Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport, where the Japanese premier’s plane earlier landed, to protest over possible efforts by Shinzo Abe to calm tensions between Iran and the United States.
Fars news agency reports that protesters said “the efforts by Japan’s prime minister for mediating between Iran and the US [are] useless, and if this is the goal of the trip, it will have no achievement.”
Students held placards, written in Farsi and Japanese, mocking Abe as “Japan’s representative or America’s ambassador.”
A hardline newspaper also criticized Abe’s visit by printing an image showing the mushroom cloud of a nuclear blast on its front page: “How Can You Trust A War Criminal, Mr. Abe?” This appeared to refer to America dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.
Turkey says the US threat to cut the country off from the F-35 program is not in keeping with the spirit of the NATO alliance, according to Reuters.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar says Ankara is preparing a response to Washington’s warning to be be issued within the next few days.
“In the contacts we will make, whether via mail or a meeting in person, all topics are on the table and we are continuing to openly and clearly express … our known views,” Akar says. “We will continue to maintain the same attitude and stance.”
Under contention is Turkey’s plan to acquire advanced Russian air defense systems.
Commenting on the planned US economic workshop in Bahrain as part of Washington’s Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative, Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad al-Sahaf tells Turkey’s state-run Anadolu: “We are not interested in this conference and we will not participate in it.”
The Palestinians have firmly rejected participating in the conference. Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, has called on Arab states that have decided to participate in the US-led meetup not to advance their own interests at the expense of the Palestinian cause.
Four Arab states — the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and host Bahrain — have all stated that they will be participating in the conference. The US said Tuesday that Jordan, Egypt and Morocco had also confirmed their attendance.
— Adam Rasgon
Amnesty International accuses Russian authorities of “contempt for solidarity and rights” after police detained more than 400 people, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny, at a Moscow march.
“Mass arrests show authorities’ contempt for solidarity and rights,” the human rights watchdog says in a statement, calling for the immediate release of those detained.
Protesters had urged reform of Russia’s tainted law enforcement and justice systems. Some chanted slogans against President Vladimir Putin.
For the first time in over a month, a balloon-borne explosive device launched from the Gaza Strip detonates over a community in southern Israel, causing neither injury nor damage.
“An explosive balloon detonated near a community in the Eshkol region. Residents reported a loud blast heard in the community,” an Eshkol spokesperson says.
This is the first such explosive attack from Gaza since Israel and terror groups in the coastal enclave reached an unofficial ceasefire agreement following two days of intense fighting in early May.
— Judah Ari Gross
A drill simulating an aviation emergency will be held at Ben Gurion Airport this evening, between 7 p.m. and midnight.
The exercise will involve, police, firefighters and other rescue forces. It will not affect flight schedules, officials say.
A Lebanese man and permanent US resident who was released after spending years in an Iranian prison calls on US President Donald Trump and Western countries to “please get back your hostages from Iran.”
In an interview with The Associated Press, Nizar Zakka says he was subjected to “all kinds of torture,” both physical and mental, during his detention in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, including standing on one leg for hours, extended periods of interrogation and lack of food.
“Nobody on earth deserves such suffering,” he says.
Zakka, an information technology expert, was arrested in Iran in September 2015 while trying to fly out of Tehran. He had just attended a conference there at the invitation of one of the country’s vice presidents. The following year, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison after authorities accused him of being an American spy — allegations he and his associates vigorously reject. He was released Tuesday and flew back to his native Lebanon.
Labor MK Itzik Shmuli says he will run for leadership of the party ahead of the September 17 elections.
He says he will lead Labor “to a new hope-filled chapter. I represent the greatest opportunity for alliances and for many to once again believe in Labor.”
“It’s time for us to bring back the trust of many we lost along the way, to create new partnerships and break through the barriers of the [center-left] camp.”
The US Treasury has placed Iraq-based South Wealth Resources on its sanctions blacklist, saying the company is an important weapons trafficking and financial front for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The Treasury says the company, Manabea Tharwat al-Janoob General Trading Company, was used by the IRGC to smuggle “hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth” of weapons to IRGC allies in Iraq.
South Wealth Resources has also helped move millions of dollars to Iraq “for illicit financial activity benefiting” the IRGC and Iraq militias it supports.
German authorities have arrested a Kosovo national accused of supporting the Islamic State group by transferring thousands of euros to a fighter and a would-be recruit.
The federal prosecutor’s office said the 31-year-old man, identified only as Hassan Rejan B. in line with German privacy rules, was arrested today in the Pinneberg area, near Hamburg.
He is suspected of 15 counts of supporting IS and 11 of violating German export laws.
A senior Palestinian decision-making body condemns the decision by Arab countries to attend a US-sponsored Mideast peace conference, calling for the “Arab masses” to act against the gathering.
The Fatah Revolutionary Council issues its statement a day after Jordan, Egypt and Morocco said they would attend the Bahrain conference later this month. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab countries are also attending the workshop, which is set to focus on the Palestinian economy.
The Palestinians have rejected the conference, accusing the US of being biased and ignoring Palestinian political aspirations.
“The participation of some of the Arab brothers in this workshop is condemned and unjustified,” the statement says. It called on Palestinian “masses” to demonstrate. “We also call on our Arab masses to act against it,” it said.
The state prosecution is rejecting a call by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyer to delay the hearing in his criminal cases from October 2.
Officials rebuff Amit Hadad’s claim that documents are missing from the case files provided to the defense, and say the documents he had cited had been provided.
Hadad had claimed on Monday that he could not properly prepare within the allotted time frame and complained of “dozens of missing documents.”
State prosecutors say Hadad’s claim of “a supposed ‘mad dash’ to a hearing is baseless.”
Iran’s president says the Islamic Republic does not seek war with the US, but will give “a crushing response” if it is attacked.
Speaking alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Rouhani also says Japan wants to continue to buy Iranian oil, though Tokyo has stopped over American sanctions.
Rouhani adds: “Whenever the economic war stops, we will see a very positive development in the region and the world.”
The Japanese leader is in Tehran on a mission to calm tensions between the US and Iran.
Meretz MK Issawi Frej and former MK Mossi Raz have announced their plan to run for joint chairmanship of the party ahead of the September election.
The pair say they wish to provide the party with a joint Arab-Jewish leadership. Such double leadership will necessitate a change to the party rules.
Meretz is currently led by MK Tamar Zandberg.
Labor chief Avi Gabbay announces he will not run in the next election, and will leave politics.
“The party is in a great crisis, and I do not absolve myself of responsibility,” he says in a Facebook post.
He claims the fact that four people below him on Labor’s list were former party leaders had caused many internal problems and “I don’t want to be a part of that same phenomenon.”
He complains that though much of the public agrees with the party’s positions, it does not vote for Labor, “among other things due to the disputes and incessant naval-gazing, a lack of mutual loyalty and the fact we are seen in the public as being only about politics.”
The United Nations announces it will send its deputy Middle East coordinator to a US-led peace summit in Bahrain on June 25 and 26.
At the conference Washington will unveil the economic component of its new peace plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This year’s official international ambassador to Tel Aviv’s Gay Pride Parade says he has no interest in being a gay activist.
Neil Patrick Harris arrived in Israel today along with his husband, the chef and actor David Burtka, to headline Tel Aviv’s annual celebration of its famous gay-friendly scene.
But Harris, who has two children via surrogacy and is involved in various gay-affiliated advocacy groups, says he hardly considers himself an icon of the community.
He describes himself as “just a guy who is married to another guy” and says he has no interested in being “an ambassador for anything except my kids.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to support Likud MK Sharren Haskel’s bill that would effectively legalize cannabis for personal use, Channel 13 news reports.
The bill would allow any citizen to grow a single pot of cannabis in his or her home, for personal use.
Dealing in cannabis will remain illegal.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appoints attorney Ariel Bolstein as his adviser on expats of the former Soviet Union.
“Immigration from these countries has contributed much to Israel’s success in recent decades, but there are many issues that demand special attention. Together we will promote solutions on pensions, public housing and many other important issues,” Netanyahu says.
The prime minister is launching an outreach to the voting public that has traditionally backed Yisrael Beytenu and its chief Avigdor Liberman, as he seeks to punish the latter for refusing to join his coalition last month, leading to new elections.
Japan’s visiting Prime Minster Shinzo Abe calls on Iran to play a “constructive role” for peace in the Middle East after meeting in Tehran with President Hassan Rouhani.
“It is essential that Iran plays a constructive role in building solid peace and stability in the Middle East,” Abe tells a joint news conference in Tehran with the Iranian leader.
This is “so that the region will not destabilize any further and that no accidental clash will occur in the midst of recent rising tensions.”