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Hamas holds major snap military drill in Gaza

Spokesman for Strip’s interior ministry says exercise meant to simulate how to deal with a ‘sudden security threat,’ check preparedness of terror group’s forces

Supporters of Hamas attend a rally marking the terror group's founding in Gaza City on December 14, 2015. (Emad Nassar/Flash90)
Supporters of Hamas attend a rally marking the terror group's founding in Gaza City on December 14, 2015. (Emad Nassar/Flash90)

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

EU urges Iran not to further violate nuclear deal

The European Union is calling on Iran to reverse its decision to enrich uranium to a level above that permitted by an international accord meant to curb its nuclear program and to not take any additional steps that violate the pact.

“We continue to urge Iran not take further measures that undermine the nuclear deal to stop and to reverse all activities that are inconsistent with the JCPOA, including the production of low-enriched uranium,” Reuters quote an EU spokeswoman telling reporters.

Iran announced Monday it had passed a 4.5 percent level of uranium enrichment, above the 3.67% level allowed under the 2015 deal. It has warned it could enrich uranium to higher levels if it does not receive relief from Europe as it its economy is battered by American sanctions that were reimposed after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the accord last year.

Macron’s top adviser in Tehran in bid to save nuclear deal

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron’s top diplomatic adviser is spending two days in Tehran as part of an urgent bid to deescalate rising tensions with Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.

An Elysee Palace official says that adviser Emmanuel Bonne left for Tehran on Tuesday, seeking ways to restart dialogue. The official isn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and asks for anonymity.

Macron and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani agreed in a weekend conversation to set a July 15 deadline to solve the current impasse, and ultimately save the 2015 nuclear accord that the US pulled out of last year.

Macron spoke with US President Donald Trump on Monday — the day Iran began enriching uranium beyond the accord’s 3.67% limit, and after breaking the limit on stockpiles.

— AP

Egypt seeks Interpol’s help to recover King Tut statue

CAIRO — Egypt says it has asked Interpol to help track down a 3,000-year-old sculpture of the famed boy pharaoh Tutankhamun after Christie’s auctioned it off last week despite Cairo’s objections.

The Britain-based auction house sold the brown quartzite head depicting King Tut for more than 4.7 million pounds ($5.9 million).

Egypt’s National Committee for Antiquities Repatriation said in a statement late Monday that it hired a British law firm to file a lawsuit against Christie’s, saying the auction house did not provide documents proving ownership.

Christie’s has denied any wrongdoing, saying it carried out “extensive due diligence” to verify the provenance of the statue and had “gone beyond what is required to assure legal title.”

The committee also criticized British authorities for not supporting its claim to the sculpture.

— AP

Man shot to death in Taibe; police investigating

A man is shot to death in the Arab Israeli city of Taibe.

Police have opened an investigation into the incident.

Trump calls UK ambassador ‘a very stupid guy’

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump calls the British ambassador to the United States “a very stupid guy,” one day after declaring he would cut contact with the diplomat following a leak of cables describing Trump as “inept.”

“The wacky Ambassador that the U.K. foisted upon the United States is not someone we are thrilled with, a very stupid guy,” Trump wrote in a series of tweets.

The US leader also doubled down in attacking British Prime Minister Theresa May regarding Brexit, saying she “went her own foolish way-was unable to get it done. A disaster!”


Most Israelis think small chance Trump peace efforts will lead to deal — survey

A majority of Israelis believe there is only a small chance that US President Donald Trump’s peace efforts will lead to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, according to a survey released today.

Despite pessimism that last month’s US-led Bahrain conference will produce a peace deal, a majority of Jewish respondents to the Israel Democracy Institute’s monthly Israeli Voice Index believe “economic peace” is key to regional stability, more so than an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank or the signing of a formal diplomatic agreement.

While 55 percent of Israeli Jews think there is a small chance Trump’s peace initiative will end in a deal, that number jumped to 74% among Arab Israelis. Overall, 70% of Israelis think there is a small chance the US efforts will produce an accord.

Netanyahu warns Iran that Israel’s F-35s can reach ‘anywhere in the Middle East’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns Iran that Israel’s F-35 fighter jets can reach “anywhere in the Middle East,” in response to threats by Iranian officials in recent weeks.

“Iran has recently been threatening Israel’s destruction. They should remember that these planes can reach anywhere in the Middle East, including Iran and definitely Syria,” he says, while visiting the Israeli Air Force’s F-35 squadron on the Nevatim air base.

The prime minister appears to be referring to comments made by air force chief Amikam Norkin last year that Israel used the fifth generation fighter jet in operations in the Middle East. At the time, Norkin did not specify in which countries the aircraft had been used.

The F-35 stealth fighter jet is not believed to have an effective range that covers the country of Iran unassisted, though it could conduct operations there with in-air refueling.

— Judah Ari Gross

Reversing course, Tom Steyer joins Democratic presidential nominee race

WASHINGTON — Tom Steyer, the billionaire investor and activist, said Tuesday he’s joining the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, reversing course after deciding earlier this year that he would forgo a run.

Despite becoming a national voice on the impeachment issue, Steyer makes no mention of it in his campaign announcement. Instead, he says his campaign will focus on reducing the influence of corporations in politics. He also plans to target climate change, which is the focus of the Steyer-backed advocacy group NextGen America. Washington Governor Jay Inslee, another Democratic presidential contender, also has made climate change the central issue of his campaign.

“The other Democratic candidates for President have many great ideas that will absolutely move our country forward, but we won’t be able to get any of those done until we end the hostile corporate takeover of our democracy,” Steyer says in a statement.

Citing issues including climate change and the opioid crisis, Steyer says that in nearly every “major intractable problem, at the back of it, you see a big money interest for whom stopping progress, stopping justice is really important to their bottom line.”

Steyer joins the race three weeks before the next presidential debates, and he could struggle to get a spot on the stage. He likely won’t meet polling requirements to participate but could clear a fundraising threshold.

This is not the first time Steyer has considered running for office. He eyed bids for governor of California in 2018 and the Senate in 2016. His net worth, according to Forbes, is estimated at $1.6 billion.

— AP

In this photo from January 9, 2019, billionaire investor and Democratic activist Tom Steyer speaks during a news conference where he announced his decision not to seek the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

National-religious parties renew electoral alliance, call for others to join

The leaders of the national-religious Jewish Home and National Union parties renew their agreement to run together as the Union of Right-Wing Parties in the upcoming general elections.

Education Minister Rafi Peretz, who heads Jewish Home, and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the National Union leader, call on Itamar Ben Gvir of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party to meet with them ASAP to agree on a joint Knesset run.

Otzma Yehudit was included in the URWP for April’s elections as part of an agreement engineered by Prime Minister Netanyahu, but Peretz is reportedly wary of teaming up with some of the party’s members.

In a joint statement, Smotrich and Peretz say unity among national-religious parties is needed to “in order to maximize our electoral potential and prevent the wasting of votes.”

The two also call on Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked to enter talks on forming a joint list.

Bennett and Shaked bolted Jewish Home before the last elections to form the New Right party, which failed to clear the minimum vote threshold needed to enter the Knesset. Bennett will again run with the New Right in September’s elections, while speculation has swirled over which party Shaked will end up running with.

Jewish Home party leader Rafi Peretz (L) and National Union head Bezalel Smotrich sign an agreement to renew the Union of Right-Wing Parties electoral alliance on July 9, 2019. (Courtesy)

Otzma Yehudit dismisses URWP call for talks on joint run as ‘more media spin’

The extremist Otzma Yehudit party reacts coolly to the Union of Right-Wing Parties call to immediately hold talks on another joint Knesset run, accusing URWP of “more media spin.”

Otzma Yehudit, which ran as part of URWP in April’s elections, accuses the alliance’s Jewish Home faction of violating the terms of their merger agreement and slandering it.

“We have one message: Whoever wants a tie-up doesn’t use and chuck aside,” Otzma Yehudit says in a statement.

The party says it is open to allying with other factions on the right if the mergers are “fair and appropriate.”

From left to right: Otzma Yehudit members Baruch Marzel, Michael Ben Ari, Rabbi Dov Lior and Itamar Ben Gvir at the extremist party’s campaign launch in Jerusalem on July 4, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Top adviser says Trump hasn’t seen Epstein in years

WASHINGTON — A top adviser to US President Donald Trump says Trump hasn’t spoken to or had any contact with billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein in “years and years and years.”

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway says Trump told her on Tuesday that he hasn’t spoken with or seen Epstein in 10 or 15 years. Conway adds that, like everyone else, the Republican president sees the sex trafficking charges against Epstein as “completely unconscionable and obviously criminal. Disgusting.”

Trump told New York magazine in 2002 that he’d known Epstein for 15 years and that Epstein was a “terrific guy” and “a lot of fun to be with.”

Federal prosecutors say Epstein paid underage girls for massages and then molested them at his homes in Florida and New York.

Epstein has pleaded not guilty to the sex trafficking charges.

— AP

3 UK Peers quit Labour amid party’s anti-Semitism woes

Three lawmakers resigned from Britain’s Labour party over its spiraling anti-Semitism problem.

David Triesman and Leslie Arnold Turnberg, who are Jewish, and Ara Darzi, who is not, announce on Tuesday their resignation from Labour. They will stay on as independents in the House of Lords, the upper house.

The party is no longer “a safe environment” for Jewish people, Triesman writes in his resignation letter, which came amid growing conflict inside Labour over external scrutiny of the proliferation of anti-Semitic hate in the party’s ranks. “My sad conclusion is that the Labour party is very plainly institutionally anti-Semitic,” he adds.

As “an Armenian survivor of the Armenian genocide,” writes Darzi, in his resignation letter, he has no tolerance for any “discrimination against religion or race.”

Labour under Jeremy Corbyn, a far-left politician who was elected its leader in 2015, is under investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the British government’s watchdog on racism, for its handling of thousands of complaints and incidents involving hate speech and, in some cases, hate crimes.

Hundreds of Labour members, including some 20 lawmakers, have left Labour over what they called tolerance of anti-Semitism.


In first, US puts Hezbollah lawmakers on terror blacklist

WASHINGTON — The US Treasury Department places two Hezbollah members of Lebanon’s parliament on its sanctions blacklist today — the first time Washington has taken aim at the Iran-allied terror group’s elected politicians.

The Treasury names MPs Amin Sherri and Muhammad Hasan Ra’d to a terror-related blacklist, saying that Hezbollah uses its parliamentary power to advance its alleged violent activities.

Also placed on the blacklist is Wafiq Safa, a top Hezbollah security official.

“Hezbollah uses its operatives in Lebanon’s parliament to manipulate institutions in support of the terrorist group’s financial and security interests, and to bolster Iran’s malign activities,” says Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker.


Madonna can sing at Eurovision 2020 despite Palestinian flag stunt, Rotterdam says

AMSTERDAM — If Rotterdam ends up hosting the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest, Madonna can perform.

The Dutch city’s council votes down a motion to ban the pop star from the contest over her use of a Palestinian flag on stage in Israel at the competition in May. The motion was proposed by a member of the staunchly pro-Israel and anti-Muslim Party for Freedom.

Last week’s draft motion described the Palestinian flag as “a symbol for the rejection of Israel,” and cited growing anti-Semitism in Rotterdam. It did not mention the fact that the singer’s performance in Tel Aviv also featured an Israeli flag.

Hidde van Koningsveld, the head of the pro-Israel CiJo group, notes the omission on Twitter and calls the draft motion “nonsensical.”

Of the City Council’s 45 members, 37 vote against the proposal by Maurice Meeuwissen, chairman of the Party for Freedom.

During Madonna’s performance in Tel Aviv, despite Eurovision’s policy banning political statements, dancers at one point wore Israeli and Palestinian flags. It was construed by many as a plea for peace.

The Netherlands won the 2019 contest and therefore will host the 2020 edition, though organizers have not yet determined in which municipality.


Minister said to liken intermarriage among US Jews to a ‘second Holocaust’

Education Minister Rafi Peretz compared intermarriage among US Jews to a “second Holocaust,” Axios reports.

Peretz made the comments last week during a cabinet meeting, as ministers were briefed by former US diplomat Dennis Ross on Jewish communities in the United States and worldwide, according to the news site.

The report says Peretz said Jewish assimilation around the world, and in the US in particular, was “like a second Holocaust” and that Jews “lost 6 million people” over the last 70 years because of intermarriage.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz reportedly rejected Peretz’s comments.

“First we need to stop disregarding and looking down on Jews in America that see themselves as Jews not only religiously, but even more culturally and historically,” Axios quotes Steinitz saying.

Peretz, who heads the national religious Union of Right-Wing Parties, was appointed interim education minister last month.

Education Minister Rafi Peretz arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 30, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

French FM says US ‘gestures of appeasement’ could ease Iran tensions

PARIS — French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says the US can help encourage dialogue with Iran to ease growing tensions, even though it withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran.

Speaking to the French Senate, Le Drian says that Iran’s decision to surpass two accord threshholds, for stockpiling weakly enriched uranium and enriching uranium beyond the 3.67 percent limit, amounts to “a bad reaction to a bad decision,” a reference to the US withdrawal.

France wants to create a “space for dialogue” to de-escalate a potentially dangerous situation, he says, and President Emmanuel Macron spoke both to the Iranian leader and President Donald Trump for that reason.

He says: “The Americans, even if they’re no longer signatories… can make needed gestures of appeasement to open a space of discussion to avoid an uncontrolled escalation, or even an accident.”

— AP

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian, shake hands for journalists at the start of their meeting in Tehran, Iran, on March 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Army releases footage from Gaza cross-border attack tunnel find

The army releases footage from its discovery of a cross-border attack tunnel dug from the Gaza Strip, clarifying that the subterranean passage was an old one and not recently dug.

The Israel Defense Forces also publishes photo from inside the tunnel, which it says is the 18th it has discovered since the 2014 Gaza war.

It says Israeli troops have investigated the tunnel’s route over the past day and will continue to do so.

Trump repeats warning Iran ‘better be very careful’

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump again warns Iran over its breach of a uranium enrichment cap.

“Iran is doing a lot of bad things … and they’d better be very careful,” the president tells reporters at the White House.

Trump’s warning — repeating similar remarks he made over the weekend in New Jersey — comes a day after UN inspectors confirmed Tehran had exceeded a uranium enrichment cap set by its landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.


Israel helped foil 50 terror attacks worldwide in past 3 years — report

Israeli intelligence helped foil over 50 terror attacks planned by Iran and the Islamic Jihadist group around the world over the past three years, Channel 12 reports.

According to the network, the Mossad and the IDF’s Military Intelligence assisted in thwarting terror attacks in 20 countries, including 12 in Turkey.

Hamas holds major snap military drill in Gaza

The Hamas terror group holds a major snap military exercise in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, a day after the five year anniversary of the 2014 war in the coastal enclave.

The drill reportedly included the closure of all land border crossings to Gaza and the prevention of fishermen from going out to sea.

Hebrew media quotes a spokesman for the Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza saying the drill was meant to simulate a major security threat to Gaza and check the preparedness of Hamas forces.

The exercise comes a day after Israel announced the discovery of a cross-border attack tunnel from Gaza and two days after the IDF released the findings of an investigation into an operation in Gaza in November that went awry and left a special forces officer dead.

Poll: Likud, Blue and White would each get 30 seats, Liberman still kingmaker

The Kan public broadcaster releases a poll indicating that Israeli’s political gridlock could likely continue after general elections in September.

If elections were held today, the survey said, both the center-left and right-wing blocs would come up short of the 61 Knesset seats needed to form a coalition, with Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party holding the balance of power.

Liberman has called for a unity government that includes Yisrael Beytenu, Likud, and Blue and White to be formed after the elections. His refusal to join a prospective coalition led by Prime Miniter Netanyahu after April’s elections unless he received a guarantee a bill on ultra-Orthodox enlistment would be passed without changes helped trigger the fresh vote.

Twitter bans ‘dehumanizing’ posts toward religious groups

SAN FRANCISCO — Twitter now prohibits hate speech that targets religious groups by using dehumanizing language, a ban it says may be extended to other categories like race and gender.

The social network already bars hateful language directed at individual religious adherents. It also bans hate speech on the basis of someone’s race, gender and other categories. Tuesday’s change broadens the hate speech rule to forbid likening entire religious groups to subhumans or vermin, without targeting a specific individual.

Twitter, along with YouTube and Facebook, has been under fire for the prevalence of harassment and hate on its service. Twitter’s latest update came after users wrote in thousands of responses when the company asked for suggestions on how to expand its hate speech policies.

The company says it may also ban similar language aimed at other groups such as those defined by gender, race and sexual orientation, but it has not done so yet, sparking criticism from civil rights groups.

— AP

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Hamas holds major snap military drill in Gaza

The Hamas terror group holds a major snap military exercise in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, a day after the five year anniversary of the 2014 war in the coastal enclave.

The drill reportedly included the closure of all land border crossings to Gaza and the prevention of fishermen from going out to sea.

Hebrew media quotes a spokesman for the Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza saying the drill was meant to simulate a major security threat to Gaza and check the preparedness of Hamas forces.

The exercise comes a day after Israel announced the discovery of a cross-border attack tunnel from Gaza and two days after the IDF released the findings of an investigation into an operation in Gaza in November that went awry and left a special forces officer dead.