The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s developments as they unfolded.
The Kremlin expresses concern that tensions over Iran keep escalating despite assurances from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a visit to Russia that Washington was not seeking war.
“So far we notice the continued escalation of tensions around this subject,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says, a day after Pompeo met with President Vladimir Putin.
“We are saddened to see the decisions taken by the Iranian side,” Peskov says, while arguing that Washington has been provoking Iran.
Speaking in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi on Tuesday, Pompeo assured Russia that his country did not want war with Iran, despite a spike in tensions that has seen the Pentagon dispatch nuclear-capable bombers to the region.
But Peskov seeks to play down those statements.
“There were no assurances from Pompeo,” Putin’s spokesman tells reporters.
“And one can hardly talk about some sort of assurances. There is an obvious situation which unfortunately tends to escalate further.”
A senior US official who has been mediating the maritime border dispute between Israel and Lebanon has met with Lebanese officials for a second day, signaling a new push to resolve the matter.
Israel and Lebanon both claim some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to unleash offshore oil and gas production as it grapples with an economic crisis. Washington is mediating between the two countries, which have been officially at war since Israel’s creation in 1948.
Acting Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield meets with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. He also meets with Prime Minister Saad Hariri for a second time on the visit. Satterfield makes no comments to the press.
Palestinians are marking “Nakba Day” with demonstrations across the West Bank and Gaza.
Nakba Day, or Catastrophe Day, commemorates the displacement of Palestinians from their homes following the creation of the State of Israel on May 15, 1948.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, hundreds of people march from the grave of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to a rally downtown, demanding the right to return to lost properties in what is now Israel.
Sirens also wail across the West Bank at noon in an expression of sadness.
Israeli troops along the Gaza border and throughout the West Bank were put on high alert ahead of the demonstrations planned for this afternoon, though a shaky ceasefire agreement struck between Jerusalem and the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups in the Strip earlier this month — following a vicious round of fighting last week — will likely prevent a repeat of last year’s violence.
In what remains the deadliest day of fighting in Gaza since the 2014 war, 62 Palestinians were killed in the clashes on May 14, 2018, 53 of whom were later claimed as members of terror groups, including eight who died in a gun battle with IDF troops.
— with AP
Facebook announces it will tighten access to its livestreaming feature as New Zealand’s premier Jacinda Ardern and French leader Emmanuel Macron prepare to launch the global “Christchurch Call” initiative to tackle the spread of extremism online.
Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has been under intense pressure since March when a white supremacist gunman used Facebook Live to stream his rampage at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, which left 51 people dead.
The California-based platform says it will ban Facebook Live users who shared extremist content and seek to reinforce its own internal controls to stop the spread of offensive videos.
“Following the horrific recent terrorist attacks in New Zealand, we’ve been reviewing what more we can do to limit our services from being used to cause harm or spread hate,” Facebook vice president of integrity Guy Rosen says in a statement.
Iran’s Defense Minister Amir Hatami says the Islamic Republic will defeat the US-Israel alliance, amid spiraling tensions between Tehran and Washington.
“We will defeat the American-Zionist front,” says Hatami, according to Reuters.
The State Prosecutor’s Office announces that it has filed an appeal against the Lod District Court’s decision to release a teenager charged with killing a Palestinian woman to house arrest.
During the hearing yesterday, in which the court ordered the far-right Israeli suspect’s conditional release, the defense presented a legal opinion in which the chief pathologist of the National Center of Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir Hen Kugel cast doubt on the state’s version of the events that led to Aisha Rabi’s death in October.
He argued that the stone the suspect is charged with having hurled at Rabi’s car may not have been what killed her, as forensics indicated that her injuries were too severe to have been the result of a single blow to the head from a rock. However, only two of the other seven pathologists who examined the forensics at Abu Kabir reached the same conclusion as Kugel.
In announcing the appeal, the prosecution refers to the defense’s legal opinion as “marginal” and argues that the court’s decision to release the suspect to house arrest was a “mistake” given the “extreme danger” that he poses.
— Jacob Magid
Thousands of Palestinians are demonstrating at the Gaza border on Nakba Day.
Photos from the scene show rioters throwing rocks at IDF soldiers along the border fence, and injured protesters being taken away for medical treatment.
AFP photographs also show Hamas policemen keeping protesters from approaching the border fence in the southern Gaza Strip.
On the Israeli side, a fire breaks out near the community of Nahal Oz. Police are investigating whether it was sparked by an airborne incendiary device from Gaza.
The editor-in-chief of a Saudi newspaper is urging Palestinians to keep an open mind toward a Mideast plan being devised by US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.
Faisal Abbas writes in the Arab News on Wednesday that while the cards have been stacked against the Palestinians, Kushner’s plan just may reverse the situation and make peace possible.
Abbas writes there’s a “strong counter argument that it is time to think outside the box” and adds: “The Palestinians should negotiate hard, and then take what they can to secure a nation state for future generations.”
The Agriculture Ministry warns shoppers of a bell pepper shortage that is expected to last two-three weeks.
The ministry says Israelis may experience higher prices on the vegetable in the coming weeks due to weather conditions this past winter that delayed harvests, but quote experts as saying July and August will see costs lowered and bell peppers flooding the markets.
Thirteen Palestinians are injured by Israeli security forces at protests near the Israel-Gaza border, the Hamas-run Health Ministry reports.
— Adam Rasgon
The number of Palestinians injured during the Nakba Day demonstrations at the Gaza border rises to 30, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
Some 8,200 Palestinians taking part in protests and riots along the Gaza border, according to the IDF, with the number expected to rise in the coming hours.
Rioters are throwing rocks and attempting to damage the security fence, and smoke from burning tires inside Gaza is clearly visible from several kilometers away.
The Israeli military is responding with tear gas, rubber bullets and in some cases live fire.
The wind is blowing in from the coast, rendering Israel’s tear gas largely ineffective against the crowds. These winds are also pushing balloon-borne incendiary devices into southern Israel, where they have sparked a number of small blazes, according to area firefighters.
— Judah Ari Gross
שדה חיטה של עלומים נשרף ,חזרנו לאותה נקודה מלפני שנה בהבדל של 2000 רקטות ו 4 הרוגים . pic.twitter.com/56lnwTgCYF
— חיים ילין Haim Jelin 🔥 (@HaimJelin) May 15, 2019
The crowds at the Nakba Day protests along the Gaza border swell to over 10,000, according to the IDF.
The military says there have been a number of cases of explosives being thrown toward the border.
— Judah Ari Gross
The Israeli military says Palestinians have already begun leaving the Gaza border area from Nakba Day demonstrations, far earlier than expected.
According to an IDF spokesperson, protesters have started retreating from the border throughout the Gaza Strip, though the riots were not yet over.
— Judah Ari Gross
The suspect accused of spitting at the Polish Ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski yesterday claims the security guard at the Polish mission in Tel Aviv used an anti-Jewish pejorative, his attorney says, according to Channel 13.
The man, who was arrested over the incident, says he arrived at the Polish mission to inquire about restitution of property in Poland, only to be called a “zhid” by the guard. The security guard also denied him entry to the building, the TV report says.
He was unaware that the man he spat at was the ambassador, his attorney says.
The ambassador has said that all he could make out from the shouting was “Polish, Polish,” but managed to take a picture of the attacker and his vehicle, which he then handed over to police, who arrested the suspect today.
Sixty Palestinians in Gaza are wounded by Israeli security forces as of 4 p.m., the Hamas-run health ministry says in a message to reporters.
The 60 Palestinians suffered “various wounds,” the ministry says.
— Adam Rasgon
Arik Lederman, who was arrested for spitting at the Polish ambassador to Israel, apologizes for his actions.
“I would like to express my apologies,” he says in a statement. “My family experienced the Holocaust and my appeal to the embassy was on the matter of restitution of property.”
Lederman says a security guard at the embassy called him a “zhid,” a derogatory term for a Jew, setting off his outburst.
He reiterates that he was unaware of the identity of the Polish envoy and says he has asked to apologize in person.
“I hope that with this, the incident will come to an end and will be kept in proportion,” he says.
An Emirati court Wednesday sentences a Lebanese man to life imprisonment and two compatriots to 10 years in prison on charges of planning attacks for the Lebanese group Hezbollah, Amnesty said.
Amnesty International says five other Lebanese defendants, all of them Shiite Muslims, were acquitted of the charge of planning to carry out attacks for the Iran-backed Shiite terror group.
“The absence of basic requirements of a fair trial, such as having access to a lawyer, strips today’s verdict of any reliability or credibility,” says Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty’s Middle East research head.
“The eight men were held in solitary confinement for over a year — this in itself can amount to torture. They were denied access to lawyers during the pre-trial interrogation,” she says in a statement.
The accused were residents of the United Arab Emirates for more than 15 years, seven of them as employees of Dubai-based airline Emirates.
Senior Hamas official Fathi Hamad addresses Palestinians near the border in the northern Gaza Strip.
“We came to tell the Zionist enemy, its men, army, government and Knesset: ‘Go away from us.’ The day of your slaughter, extermination and demise is approaching,” says Hamad, who is known for employing fiery rhetoric.
“All of you should look for a place in Europe… hell, the sea, the ocean or the Bermuda Triangle. There is no place for all of you in Palestine. There is no place for you in the land of Jerusalem. There is no place for you in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jaffa, Haifa, Acre or any place.”
— Adam Rasgon
Russian President Vladimir Putin says that he has been urging Iran’s leadership to stick to the nuclear deal, despite the US withdrawal from it.
Putin, who is meeting Austria’s president in Russia’s Sochi, tells reporters that the 2015 nuclear accords “are coming apart” but that he has been advising Iranian leaders to adhere to them no matter what the United States does.
The Russian leader says that after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran deal with world powers, “Europe can’t do anything to save it” and that if Iran begins to backtrack on its commitments, “everyone will end up blaming it all on Iran.”
Putin says Russia was glad to help mediate the deal and would be willing to help in the future but he adds that Russia “is not a rescue squad” and cannot fix “everything that doesn’t depend on us entirely.”
A German tourist in her 70s has drowned in the Dead Sea, police say.
The woman, who is not identified, is pronounced dead by medics at the scene.
Firefighters are working to extinguish five wildfires in southern Israel that were sparked by incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip.
Some of the fires are large, and one is tearing through a forest, the fire service says.
The Hamas-run health ministry says 65 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been wounded in clashes with the Israeli security forces.
Sixteen of the 65 Palestinians who suffered injuries were hit by live fire, the ministry says.
IDF soldiers arrest a Palestinian who crossed into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip, the army says.
The suspect is not armed.
He is detained for questioning.
The Alabama senate has passed the most restrictive abortion bill in the United States, which places a near-total ban on the termination of pregnancy — even in cases of rape and incest — and could punish doctors who perform the procedure with life in prison.
The text passed by the Republican-led senate Tuesday has been sent to Governor Kay Ivey’s desk for signature into law and, if approved, is expected to trigger a legal battle which its supporters hope will reach the Supreme Court.
Under the bill, performing an abortion is a crime that could land doctors who perform it in prison for 10 to 99 years. Abortions would only be legal if the life of the mother is in danger or the fetus has a fatal condition.
The largest human rights defense organization in the United States, the ACLU, promises to file a lawsuit to block its implementation, saying the vote showed “how little they (conservative lawmakers) regard bodily autonomy.”
“This bill punishes victims of rape and incest by further taking away control over their own bodies and forcing them to give birth,” it adds.
Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemns an altercation between an Israeli man and its envoy in Tel Aviv, saying “any such acts directed against diplomatic agents deserve unequivocal condemnation.”
The statement comes after the suspect, Arik Lederman, 65, apologizes for spitting at the Polish ambassador. Lederman says a security guard at the Polish embassy used a derogatory term for Jew, setting off his outburst. That allegation is not addressed in the ministry’s statement.
“Recognizing the prompt action of the Israeli police in apprehending the perpetrator, we call on the Israeli authorities to ensure that Polish diplomats are properly and effectively protected in Israel in the similar way as is the case with Israeli diplomats in Poland,” Warsaw says.
“We hope that the Israeli authorities will make every effort to bring those responsible to justice and to prevent similar incidents targeting Polish diplomats from happening again.”
Firefighters in southern Israel have brought eight fires in the Gaza region under control and are working to extinguish a ninth blaze.
The fires are believed to have been set by airborne incendiary devices flown over the border by Palestinian rioters.
NASA releases a photo of the impact site of the Israeli Beresheet spacecraft on the moon.
The image was captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter on April 22, 11 days after the SpaceIL probe malfunctioned during its much-anticipated landing and crashed onto the moon’s surface.
“From so far away, LROC could not detect whether Beresheet formed a surface crater upon impact,” says NASA. “It’s possible the crater is just too small to show up in photos. Another possibility is that Beresheet formed a small indent instead of a crater, given its low angle of approach (around 8.4 degrees relative to the surface), light mass (compared to a dense meteoroid of the same size), and low velocity (again, relative to a meteoroid of the same size; Beresheet’s speed was still faster than most speeding bullets).”
— Dave Mosher (@DaveMosher) May 15, 2019
Top leaders in Congress will be receiving a classified briefing on the Middle East as lawmakers demand answers from the White House about President Donald Trump’s actions toward Iran.
Multiple sources say Wednesday that the top House and Senate leaders of both parties would be briefed by the administration. The sources are not authorized to discuss the matter and are granted anonymity.
Thursday’s planned briefing comes amid rising tensions in the Persian Gulf region over still unspecified threats the Trump administration says are linked to Iran.
The US on Wednesday orders all nonessential government staff to leave Iraq. The US earlier moved an aircraft carrier and other resources toward the region.
House Democrats raise concerns about the situation at a closed meeting Wednesday and said they want answers.
An heiress of the Bahlsen biscuit empire in Germany has apologized for claiming her company treated forced laborers “well” during World War II, and said she should learn more about her firm’s history.
Verena Bahlsen, who owns a quarter of the company, said she “deeply regrets” comments she made about people forced into working at the biscuit factory during the Second World War under Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime.
“It was a mistake to amplify this debate with thoughtless responses. I apologize for that,” she says in a statement on the Bahlsen family’s website.
“Nothing could be further from my mind than to downplay national socialism or its consequences.”
The 25-year-old had dived headlong into controversy first with her unashamed claim of being a capitalist who “wants to make money and buy yachts with my dividends.”
As critics reminded her on Twitter that her company profited from forced laborers during Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime, she hit back, telling newspaper Bild that “we paid forced laborers as much as Germans and treated them well.”
Her comments drew a furious outcry from politicians and historians alike.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laments the “impossible demands” of his right-wing would-be coalition partners, amid ongoing talks on forming the next government.
“The parties are making impossible demands,” says the prime minister at a public event. “One party has requested four ministerial portfolios and budgetary demands that we don’t have.”
Netanyahu on Tuesday was granted a two-week extension to form the next coalition.
Residents in southern Israel, central Israel, and Jerusalem report tremors in what is believed to be a minor earthquake.
There is no immediate confirmation.
A minor earthquake, measuring 4.6 on the Richter scale, rattles Israel.
There are no immediate reports of injuries or damage.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells Likud officials he will advance a law to shield himself from prosecution while in office, according to Channel 12.
The prime minister is quoted as saying he’ll deal with the looming criminal charges after he retires, as a private citizen.
“The citizens of Israel deserve a full-time prime minister,” Netanyahu is quoted as telling his Likud associates. “After I finish my job, I’ll deal with the prosecution. The citizens of Israel knew what my status was and elected me [anyway]. If I thought about my own personal benefit I would deal with the court case as prime minister and not as a private citizen, but I understand that this is not in the benefit of the state.”
The contours of the planned so-called immunity bill are not immediately clear.
On Monday, the Haaretz daily reported that Netanyahu plans to promote a bill that would allow the government to overrule the High Court of Justice on administrative matters. If passed, the bill could safeguard the prime minister’s immunity from prosecution by permitting the annulment of any judicial decision that could rescind it.
Speculation has swirled that Netanyahu may use his newfound political strength in the wake of the April 9 elections to advance legislation that would grant him immunity from prosecution as long as he remains prime minister, or seek to utilize existing immunity provisions for the same purpose.
He has been reported to be considering conditioning entry to his new government on potential support for an immunity move or for a so-called French Law that would shelter a sitting prime minister from prosecution. Netanyahu has publicly given mixed signals about whether he will seek such legislation.
Current law already provides for any MK to obtain immunity by a majority vote in the Knesset House Committee and then in the Knesset plenum. Until 2005, MKs were automatically granted immunity from prosecution, and that immunity could be lifted by majority votes in the House Committee and plenum.
The prime minister is a suspect in three criminal probes, known as cases 1000, 2000 and 4000, in which investigators have recommended graft indictments, including bribery in one of the cases.
Poland’s Ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski denies his security guard hurled an anti-Jewish slur at an Israeli man.
The man, Arik Lederman, 65, claimed he was called a “Zhid” by a guard outside the Polish embassy. He made the claim during a hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court after police arrested him for shouting and spitting on Ambassador Magierowski’s car outside the Polish embassy in Tel Aviv.
One more thing. I’ve read some bizarre claims about inappropriate behaviour & language of the sec guard at @PLinIsrael. Simply not true. He is a loyal, hard-working, well-trained & delicate person. In his 2-month tenure he’s attended approx. 2K people. Not a single complaint.
— Marek Magierowski (@mmagierowski) May 15, 2019
The United States will not join an international bid to stamp out violent extremism online, the White House says Wednesday, while stressing that Washington backs the initiative’s aims.
“While the United States is not currently in a position to join the endorsement, we continue to support the overall goals reflected” in the so-called “Christchurch Call,” the White House says.
The initiative is named after the New Zealand city where a far-right gunman massacred 51 people at two mosques in March while broadcasting his rampage live on Facebook. It has been spearheaded by New Zealand Premier Jacinda Ardern and France’s President Emmanuel Macron.
The order to evacuate US diplomats from Iraq came in response to an “imminent” threat directly linked to Iran, senior State Department officials say Wednesday.
The officials, who speak on condition of anonymity, say that the threat came from Iraqi militias commanded and controlled by Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“It is directly linked to Iran, multiple threat streams directly linked to Iran,” says one official.
“This is an imminent threat to our personnel,” says a second official.
Earlier Wednesday, the US State Department ordered all non-emergency staff to leave its embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Arbil, citing a non-specific threat from “terrorist and insurgent groups” in Iraq that included “anti-US sectarian militias.”
The move came 10 days after the White House ordered a US aircraft carrier task force and B-52 bombers to the Gulf to prepare to respond to any Iranian-directed strike against US interests or allies in the region.
The commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has said his country is “on the cusp of a full-scale confrontation with the enemy,” according to a Reuters report citing the Fars news agency.
“This moment in history, because the enemy has stepped into the field of confrontation with us with all the possible capacity, is the most decisive moment of the Islamic revolution,” Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami says.