Fifth earthquake in two days strikes northern Israel
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Iron Dome successfully passes new tests as its capabilities grow

Missile defense system faced 'various types of [aerial] threats' that 'simulate the developing threats in the region,' Defense Ministry says

An operator walks by an Iron Dome missile defense battery near the city of Sderot in southern Israel on May 29, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
An operator walks by an Iron Dome missile defense battery near the city of Sderot in southern Israel on May 29, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Fifth earthquake in two days strikes northern Israel

A fifth earthquake in two days strikes northern Israel, centered in the Galilee just north of Tiberias, according to Israeli seismologists.

The temblor is very weak, measuring between 3.1 and 3.2 on the Richter scale, weaker than the previous quakes.

There are no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

The first quake, which took place early yesterday morning, measured 4.3 on the Richter scale.

Acre man, 37, in critical condition after electrocution

A 37-year-old man is in critical condition after being electrocuted at the Acre Port, rescuers say.

After attempting resuscitation, Magen David Adom medics rush the man to the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya.

Bennett assails Israel-Poland declaration as ‘betrayal of Holocaust victims’

Education Minister Naftali Bennett assails a joint Israeli-Polish declaration signed by the two nations’ prime ministers that Poland believes exonerates Poles from responsibility for the Holocaust.

“The joint declaration of Israel and the government of Poland is a disgrace, saturated with lies, that betrays the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust. As minister of education, entrusted with passing on the memory of the Holocaust, I reject it completely. It has no factual basis and won’t be learned in the education system,” Bennett says in a Thursday morning statement on Twitter.

“I demand that the prime minister cancel the declaration or bring it to the government for approval.”

And he adds: “The declaration describes supposed systematic actions by the Polish government in exile and the Polish underground to help the Jewish people. This description does not fit the reality. These actions were few and not central [to the Polish resistance’s work], and certainly weren’t systematic.”

The joint declaration was signed last week, and has been translated and published in full-page ads in newspapers around the world by a foundation affiliated with the Polish government.

The appearance of the ads triggered criticism in Israel, with some people arguing that they were proof the Israeli government, by agreeing to issue the statement, had handed Poland a PR victory in its battle to portray Poles primarily as victims of Nazism rather than accomplices in committing atrocities. Critics say the joint Polish-Israeli agreement downplays the role of many Poles who willingly cooperated with the Nazis.

Yad Vashem: Poland Holocaust declaration ‘contradicts historical knowledge’

In a statement, Yad Vashem comes out swinging against a joint Israel-Poland declaration from last week that critics say exonerates the Polish people from complicity by many Poles in the Nazi Holocaust.

The Yad Vashem statement reads:

“The [Israeli-Polish] statement contains highly problematic wording that contradicts existing and accepted historical knowledge in this field. The joint statement’s wording effectively supports a narrative that research has long since disproved, namely, that the Polish Government-in-Exile and its underground arms strove indefatigably—in occupied Poland and elsewhere—to thwart the extermination of Polish Jewry. As such, they created a “mechanism of systematic help and support to Jewish people” and even took vigorous action against Poles who betrayed Jews. Although the joint statement acknowledges that there were cases in which Poles committed cruelties against Jews, it is also says that “numerous Poles” risked their lives to rescue Jews.”

“The existing documentation and decades of historical research yield a totally different picture: the Polish Government-in-Exile, based in London, as well as the Delegatura (the representative organ of this Government in occupied Poland) did not act resolutely on behalf of Poland’s Jewish citizens at any point during the war. Much of the Polish resistance in its various movements not only failed to help Jews, but was also not infrequently actively involved in persecuting them.”

Israeli negotiators defend Poland Holocaust declaration as protecting research

The Israeli negotiators of the Israel-Poland Holocaust declaration issue a statement defending the text amid growing criticism from Israeli politicians and Holocaust scholars, as well as the Yad Vashem museum.

The statement, issued in the name of the negotiating team led by Yaakov Nagel and Yosef Ciechanover, reads:

“The chief historian of Yad Vashem, Prof. Dina Porat, accompanied this process from the start, and historical statements that appear in the declaration were approved by her. The joint declaration signed by the Polish government includes explicit reference to the fact that the right to conduct independent research has been preserved, and that no law prevents or will prevent this in the future.”

— Raphael Ahren

Livni lambastes Poland Holocaust declaration as ‘shocking historical distortion’

Former foreign minister and current Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni joins growing criticism of a joint Israeli-Polish declaration signed by the two nations’ prime ministers that Poland believes exonerates Poles from responsibility for the Holocaust, calling the agreement a “disgrace” and demanding it be canceled.

“Netanyahu’s disgracing of the memory of the Holocaust at the expense of the State of Israel and the entire Jewish people will be remembered forever,” Livni says in a statement. “The person who constantly uses the Holocaust as a political tool gave moral validity in the name of the Jewish people to a shocking historical distortion.”

Livni charges that the Polish government has used Netanyahu “as a tool to whitewash its past” and says the agreement “must be canceled immediately.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Lapid calls Poland declaration a ‘disgrace’ and ‘scandalous embarrassment’

Yesh Atid chair MK Yair Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor, slams the Israeli-Polish declaration on the Holocaust and calls for the agreement to be canceled.

“The statement that Netanyahu has signed together with the prime minister of Poland is a disgrace and an scandalous embarrassment to the memory of Holocaust victims,” Lapid says in a statement.

The joint declaration, signed on June 27 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki, ended a diplomatic standoff over a Polish law that criminalized accusing Poles of complicity in the extermination of Jews during World War II.

The controversial text declared that the term “Polish death camps” is “blatantly erroneous” and that the wartime Polish government-in-exile “attempted to stop this Nazi activity by trying to raise awareness among the Western allies to the systematic murder of the Polish Jews.”

“Netanyahu must cancel this agreement immediately,” Lapid says.

— Raoul Wootliff

Russia should explain itself over Novichok use — UK minister

Britain’s interior minister says Russia should explain itself after a couple fell ill from exposure to a Soviet-made nerve agent near a town where a former Russian spy was poisoned with the same substance.

“It is now time that the Russian state comes forward and explains exactly what has gone on,” Sajid Javid tells parliament, repeating the government’s accusations of Russian involvement in the poisoning earlier this year that Moscow has firmly denied.

— AFP

Military court indicts Palestinian suspected of killing soldier with stone slab

A military court files an indictment  against a Palestinian suspected of killing an IDF soldier during a May raid in the al-Am’ari refugee camp in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Islam Yousef Abu Hamid, 32, is charged with murdering Staff Sgt. Ronen Lubarsky and the Military Advocate General requested that he be remanded until the end of proceedings against him.

On May 24, Lubarsky’s unit entered al-Am’ari in search of a group of terrorists suspected of carrying out shooting attacks on nearby highways, the army said.

During the raid, Hamid allegedly dropped a large stone slab on the special forces soldier’s head from the roof of a three-story building, fatally wounding him.

Netanyahu to head to Moscow for Syria talks

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will travel to Moscow on Wednesday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Netanyahu will leave Israel on July 12 and return the following day, the Prime Minister’s Office says in a statement.

The visit comes as the US, Russia, Jordan and Israel try to come to an agreement on the future of southern Syria, where regime forces recently began an offensive to quash rebel strongholds in Daraa province. The area lies close to the borders with Israel and Syria.

Meretz chief slams Poland declaration as ‘selling our people’s history’

In a reference to the Biblical Esau who sold his birthright to the patriarch Jacob, Meretz head MK Tamar Zandberg says the Israeli-Polish declaration on the Holocaust “sold our people’s history for​ a bowl of lentil soup.”

“Netanyahu has signed an agreement that the world’s prominent anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers would agree with,” she says in a statement. “He gives them legitimacy.”

Zandberg charges that the agreement is part of “the phenomenon of Netanyahu and Likud joining with anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi leaders and parties around the world.”

The Foreign Ministry confirmed this week that Netanyahu will host Hungary’s President Victor Orban later this month. Numerous Israeli lawmakers have urged Netanyahu not to do so, citing among other things the right-wing Hungarian leader’s campaign against the Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros that many considered obliquely anti-Semitic.

— Raoul Wootliff

2nd Novichok poisoning likely not deliberate, police say

British officials investigating a second case of poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok in southwestern England say they suspect the victims were not directly targeted but sickened as a consequence of the previous attack.

Police announced late Wednesday that specialists have determined that a couple in their 40s were poisoned by the same lethal toxin — developed by the Soviet Union — that almost killed Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March. The new victims are both critically ill in the same hospital that treated the Skripals.

“The working assumption would be that these are victims of either the consequence of the previous attack, or something else, but not that they were directly targeted,” security minister Ben Wallace tells the BBC.

“I think what we said at the time was that this was a brazen and reckless attack in the heart of a very peaceful part of the United Kingdom, and that is part of the anger I feel about the Russian state … that they chose to use clearly a very, very toxic, highly dangerous weapon.”

The unexplained poisoning of two British citizens with no immediately apparent link to Russia has raised public health concerns in the Salisbury area, where a massive decontamination effort took place after the Skripals were found to have been poisoned with Novichok.

— AP

Iran tells Trump to stop tweeting about oil prices

Iran’s representative to OPEC says US President Donald Trump should stop tweeting about wanting lower oil prices, saying that doing so has the opposite effect.

Hossein Kazempour Ardebili is quoted by the oil ministry’s website Thursday as telling Trump to “please stop,” adding that “with your frequent and indecent tweets oil prices have gone up 10 dollars.”

Trump has repeatedly called on the oil cartel to reduce prices. On Wednesday he tweeted that OPEC is “doing little to help,” adding that, “if anything, they are driving prices higher.”

Tehran blames rising prices on US sanctions imposed on Iran and Venezuela, founding members of the cartel. Last month, members of OPEC agreed to pump an additional 1 million barrels of crude daily, a move that should help contain prices.

— AP

Iran summons 3 European envoys over its detained diplomat

Iran’s state TV is reporting that the country’s foreign ministry has summoned envoys from France, Germany and Belgium over the case of an Iranian diplomat detained in Germany.

Thursday’s report says Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi held separate meetings with the three diplomats in Tehran to express Iran’s “strong protest” over the detention of Tehran’s Vienna-based envoy, Assadollah Assadi.

Assadi was detained on Sunday near the German city of Aschaffenburg on a European arrest warrant for suspected involvement in a plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Europe.

His arrest came after a couple with Iranian roots was stopped in Belgium and authorities reported finding powerful explosives in their car.

Araghchi calls allegations against Assadi a “plot aimed at damaging EU-Iran relations” ahead of a nuclear meeting on Friday.

— AP

White House: Improved ties with Israel show US more ‘beloved’ around the world

Improved ties with Israel prove that the United States is more “beloved” around the world than under the previous administration, a White House spokesman says.

He also said that Israel was “virtually” thought of as an enemy of the United States under the Obama administration.

Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley told reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday that President Donald Trump is not concerned about seeing protesters during his scheduled trip to Europe next week.

“The President has done an incredible job actually, I believe, regaining some credibility across the globe. The President has made this country more respected, more feared, and quite frankly more beloved in a lot of areas than we were before,” Gidley said.

When asked by a reporter what evidence the White House has that the US is more beloved around the world, Gidley replied: “Israel.”

When pressed for others, he responded: “You’ve seen the relationship with Israel that is greatly enhanced because of this president. It’s the only democracy in the region, and it was virtually thought of to be an enemy of the American people in the last administration.”

Gidley said that Trump “came in and changed the relationship.”

— JTA

Two forest fires burn near Gaza, caused by incendiary balloons

Two fires are burning in the forests near Beeri and Kissufim, two Israeli villages near the Gaza border. The blazes were caused by incendiary balloons from Gaza.

Egypt sentences former Morsi adviser to life

An Egyptian court on Thursday sentences a former adviser to toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi along with 13 other people to life in prison for belonging to an illegal group.

Abdullah Shehata was an economic adviser to the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president, who was democratically elected in 2012 following the overthrow of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak.

The next year, Morsi was toppled by the army amid mass protests against his rule.

Shehata and the 13 others sentenced to life terms were accused of weapons possession, belonging to an illegal group and “violating citizens’ freedoms.”

— AFP

At least 7 missing as rough seas overturn boats in Thailand

Rough seas overturn two boats carrying more than 130 tourists in the Andaman Sea off southern Thailand, and at least seven people are missing, police say.

Ninety people were rescued from one boat carrying mostly Chinese tourists but seven are still unaccounted for, says Maj. Gen. Teerapol Tipcharoen, commander of provincial police on the tourist island of Phuket.

Thai Channel 7, however, reports 48 people were saved and 49 are missing. The reason for the discrepancy is not immediately clear.

The 39 Chinese and European tourists forced to abandon a second boat were rescued and have returned to land, Teerapol says.

— AP

Polish environment minister: Too many species are protected

Poland’s environment minister angers environmentalists after saying he favors reducing the number of protected species including elk and bison because some of the animals damage crops — but he adds it isn’t easy in an age of “excessive sensitivity to animal protection.”

Henryk Kowalczyk tells residents in the northern town of Mlawa that his ministry had suggested to regional environmental authorities that they might grant more permits to hunt elk, bison and beavers. These are all protected species under European law and the hunting of them is strictly controlled.

“We live in times of excessive sensitivity to animal protection, to put it mildly,” Kowalczyk said, adding that his predecessor, Jan Szyszko, had given permission for the hunting of elk but had to cancel that almost immediately under pressure. His remarks were only widely reported in Polish media Thursday.

“These are shocking words since these species are protected by Polish and EU laws and can be killed only under very well-defined and limited conditions,” says Agata Szafraniuk, a lawyer for the ClientEarth environmental group. “It is unthinkable that the environment minister publicly says that he gave instructions to bypass the law that he is supposed to be the guardian of.”

— AP

Mossad obtains wristwatch of legendary spy Eli Cohen

The Mossad, Israel’s renowned foreign intelligence service, brings back to the Jewish state the wristwatch of one of its most famous spies.

The watch belonged to Eli Cohen, who infiltrated the top levels of Syria’s political leadership in the years before the 1967 Six Day War. Information he obtained is credited with playing a key role in Israel’s stunning success in that war.

“The watch was brought back in a special operation by the Mossad that took place recently,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office says.

This July 5, 2018, photo shows the wristwatch that once belonged to Israeli spy Eli Cohen. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

The watch was given to the Cohen family by Mossad chief Yossi Cohen in a ceremony several weeks ago, and it is now on display at Mossad headquarters “in memory of the legendary warrior,” the statement says.

Cohen was executed by Syria on May 18, 1965, and his watch has been held “in an enemy state” ever since.

“We remember Eli Cohen. We do not forget. His legacy, a legacy of devotion, determination, courage, and love of country, is our legacy,” Mossad chief Yossi Cohen is quoted as saying in the statement.

Police sappers destroy suspected bomb attached to Gaza balloon

Police say a suspicious object attached to a balloon launched from Gaza has been located in the city of Sderot.

Sappers destroyed the object, police say in a statement.

The statement asks the public to call authorities if they find any object that appears to have been sent over the border from Gaza.

Huge forest fire threatens village of Beit Meir west of Jerusalem

An enormous blaze threatens homes in Beit Meir, west of Jerusalem.

Some 20 fire trucks, six firefighting planes, and large police forces are battling the forest fire in wooded hills several kilometers from the capital.

Police say some residents were evacuated, but the fire has been successfully turned away from residents’ homes for the time being.

Neo-Nazis assault 2 pro-Israel activists in Sweden

Neo-Nazis in Sweden assault two pro-Israel activists on Thursday outside a pavilion set up by the Israel-Sweden Friendship Association.

Dozens of members of the Nordic Resistance Movement gathered around the pavilion on the island of Gotland, south of Stockholm, for what they said was a “protest demonstration,” the Aftonbladet newspaper reports.

One of the victims, Christina Toledano Asbrink, told the paper that the neo-Nazis tried to cover the pavilion’s Israeli flag with their banner. When she intervened, several men grabbed her and shook her violently before pushing her to the ground as other members of the Israel-Sweden Friendship Association began calling for police.

Stefan Dozzi, the pro-Israel group’s secretary, was lightly injured in a scuffle that erupted outside the pavilion after Toledano Asbrink was thrown to the ground. She was hit in the head and treated for minor injuries.

The association set up its pavilion in Almedalen this week as part of Almedalen Week, an annual forum that gathers Sweden’s political, business, and media elite together on a small corner of Gotland. This year is the event’s 50th anniversary.

— JTA

Israel said to block EU envoys’ visit to school in threatened Bedouin village

European diplomats try to pay a solidarity visit to a West Bank village under threat of demolition by Israel but police bar them from reaching a school there, the diplomats say.

Diplomats from Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and the European Union sought to visit the school in the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, which is funded by several European countries, but they were turned back at the village entrance.

Police at the scene say the area had been declared a closed military zone ahead of the planned demolition of the village.

“We were briefed by local leaders but refused access by security forces to the school,” the Irish representative office to the West Bank writes on its official Twitter feed.

“We wanted to show our solidarity with this village which is threatened with destruction, for humanitarian reasons and because it is a major issue of international law,” the Consul General of France in Jerusalem, Pierre Cochard, tells journalists at the scene.

— AFP

US to keep Persian Gulf waterway open despite Iran threats

The US military is reiterating a promise to keep Persian Gulf waterways open to oil tankers as Iran renewed threats to close off the region.

Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for the US military’s Central Command, tells The Associated Press that American sailors and its regional allies “stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday suggested Iran could halt regional exports if it is stopped from exporting oil after America pulled out of the nuclear deal with world powers.

Meanwhile, Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani reportedly sent a letter to Rouhani applauding his stance.

Soleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force, said his forces were “ready for any policy.”

— AP

EU extends sanctions against Russia for 6 months

The European Union extends sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine for another six months.

The EU stresses in a statement Thursday that the 28 member states took the decision “unanimously.” The decision comes less than two weeks ahead of a planned summit between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

The sanctions center on the financial, energy, and defense sectors. The EU has been largely unsuccessful with its efforts to push Putin into a more conciliatory stance regarding the conflict in Ukraine. The sanctions were imposed after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and backed pro-Russia separatists fighting the government in eastern Ukraine.

Thursday’s extension had been widely expected.

— AP

UK accuses Russia of dumping poison in Britain

Britain’s interior minister accuses Russia of turning the UK into a “dumping grounds for poison,” and demands an explanation on how two people were inadvertently poisoned with the same military-grade nerve agent used to attack a former Russian spy and his daughter in the same area four months ago.

A man and woman in their 40s are in critical condition Thursday at a hospital in southwest England after they fell ill Saturday near Salisbury, a city not far from Britain’s iconic Stonehenge monument.

Experts at Britain’s Porton Down chemical weapons laboratory have determined that the two were exposed to the same type of Novichok nerve agent that was used to attack ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, on March 4 in Salisbury.

Britain has accused Russia of being behind the Skripal attack but the Kremlin denies any involvement. British Home Secretary Sajid Javid tells Parliament on Thursday that it is now time for Russia to explain “exactly what has gone on.”

“It is completely unacceptable for our people to be either deliberate or accidental targets, or for our streets, our parks, our towns to be dumping grounds for poison,” Javid says.

— AP

Max Fuchs, who led historic Jewish service in Germany during WWII, dies at 96

Max Fuchs, an American soldier who helped lead a historic Jewish religious service in Germany during World War II, has died.

Fuchs, an Army rifleman who led the 1944 Shabbat service in Aachen for some 50 Jewish-American soldiers, alongside Army chaplain Rabbi Sidney Lefkowitz, died Tuesday, according to The New York Times. It was the first Jewish service broadcast from Germany since the rise of Hitler more than a decade earlier, and was shown throughout the United States and in Germany.

“The emotion was tremendous,” Fuchs said of the service in an interview for the American Jewish Committee in 2009. “The soldiers had heard of all the atrocities. Most of them had families that perished in the Holocaust. We had so many of my family.”

The Army division had no cantor, so Fuchs agreed to fill the role.

“Since I was the only one who could do it, I tried my best,” Fuchs told The Times.

Fuchs, a native of Poland, moved to New York at age 12 with his family. After the war he studied cantorial music and served as the cantor of the Bayside Jewish Center in Queens, and also worked as a diamond cutter in Manhattan, The Times reported.

Max Fuchs, left, helped lead a historic service for Jewish-American soldiers in Aachen, Germany, in 1944. (Screenshot from YouTube/via JTA)

— JTA

PM set to approve construction of Western Wall egalitarian prayer space – report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to convene on Sunday a special committee in order to approve the construction of an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, the Walla news site reports.

On Tuesday Netanyahu was appointed by the Knesset to head the committee after Culture Minister Miri Regev said she was unable to approve the work, citing her conscience and “Jewish tradition,” and stepped down as committee chair. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, another member, stepped down a few days later.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz was appointed to replace Shaked on the committee.

Earlier this week Netanyahu tried to find a volunteer to head the committee in Regev`s stead but was met with silence, a participant in the meeting told The Times of Israel.

In response, a rankled Netanyahu said: “I will deal with the Western Wall agreement myself.”

Israel calls ‘Shoah’ director Lanzmann’s death ‘enormous loss for humanity’

The death on Thursday of Claude Lanzmann, director of the landmark Holocaust documentary “Shoah,” represents an “enormous loss for humanity,” Israel’s foreign ministry says.

“Claude Lanzmann’s death constitutes an enormous loss for humanity and especially for the Jewish people,” ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon tells AFP.

Lanzmann had given a voice to “millions of Jews exterminated by the Nazis and allowed the world to understand the immensity of the tragedy,” he says.

The French filmmaker and writer was best known for “Shoah,” a more than nine-hour documentary considered by many the most haunting film ever made about the murder of six million Jews during World War II.

Lanzmann died at the age of 92 at his home in Paris.

— AFP

Iron Dome successfully passes new tests as its capabilities grow

The Defense Ministry says Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has successfully completed a series of tests designed to “counter emerging threats in the region.”

In a statement, the ministry says the tests were carried out by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, in conjunction with the IDF, and in collaboration with defense firms Israel Aerospace Industries and mPrest Systems.

“Within the framework of the tests, various types of [aerial] threats were launched, which simulate the developing threats in the region,” the Defense Ministry said.

Following a barrage of mortar fire from Gaza last month, the IDF revealed that the Iron Dome system’s capabilities had expanded from being able to hit short-range rockets to the ability to bring down projectiles as small as medium-sized mortar shells.

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Fifth earthquake in two days strikes northern Israel

A fifth earthquake in two days strikes northern Israel, centered in the Galilee just north of Tiberias, according to Israeli seismologists.

The temblor is very weak, measuring between 3.1 and 3.2 on the Richter scale, weaker than the previous quakes.

There are no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

The first quake, which took place early yesterday morning, measured 4.3 on the Richter scale.