The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they unfolded.
Eurovision says Tel Aviv will host 2019 song contest
The Eurovision Song Contest has announced that next year’s competition will be held in Tel Aviv.
Today’s announcement clears up some of the controversy surrounding Israel’s hosting of the 2019 competition. The government initially insisted on holding the popular event in Jerusalem. But following a backlash over the US recognition of Jerusalem as its capital and a subsequent fear of boycotts it dropped the demand. Israeli ultra-Orthodox leaders also demanded that the contest rehearsals not be held on the Sabbath, against Eurovison regulations that bar any type of religious restrictions.
The Eurovision says it chose Tel Aviv, Israel’s cultural and commercial capital, because of its “creative and compelling bid.”
Israel won the Eurovision this year with a flashy pop tune called “Toy” by the charismatic, previously unknown singer Netta Barzilai, who dazzled viewers with her feminist lyrics, unconventional appearance and signature chicken dance. Her victory earned Israel the right to host next year’s contest.
Meretz MK asks PM to suspend Keyes after sex assault allegations
Meretz MK Michal Rozin calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to suspend a top aide following sexual assault allegations.
Rozin says that David Keyes, Netanyahu’s spokesman to the foreign media, can no longer represent Israel to the world. She says Netanyahu’s silence thus far could also be interpreted as tolerance of the alleged acts.
According to a Times of Israel investigation published yesterday, at least 12 women have accused Keyes of overly aggressive advances and inappropriate behavior.
Julia Salazar, a candidate for New York’s State Senate, accuses Keyes of sexually assaulting her five years ago. Others have since come forward. Wall Street Journal reporter Shayndi Raice tweeted she too had a “terrible encounter” with Keyes. She described someone who had “absolutely no conception of the word ‘no.'”
So far there has been no response from the prime minister or his office. However, in response to the allegations, Keyes told The Times of Israel yesterday that “all of the accusations are deeply misleading and many of them are categorically false.”
— Times of Israel staff with AP
UN: 38,500 flee in Syria since September 1 due to Idlib hostilities
Violence in northwest Syria has displaced more than 38,500 people in less than two weeks amid increasing hostilities and a looming regime assault on the opposition-held Idlib province, the UN says.
“Between 1-12 September, available information indicates that a sharp increase in hostilities and fears of further escalation has led to the displacement of over 38,500 people,” the UN humanitarian agency says.
Defense Ministry denies Saudi Arabia purchased Iron Dome
The Defense Ministry denies an Arabic media report that Saudi Arabia purchased the Iron Dome missile defense system from Israel.
“We deny the existence of a deal to sell Iron Dome to Saudi Arabia,” the Defense Ministry says in an emailed statement.
Al-Khaleej Online, an Arabic news site with offices in the UK and the Persian Gulf, reported earlier this morning that Saudi Arabia purchased the missile defense batteries from Israel to place along its border with Yemen, citing unnamed diplomatic sources.
— Adam Rasgon
Regev accepts Tel Aviv as Eurovision host, but says still ‘right’ to hold it Jerusalem
Culture Minister Miri Regev accepts Eurovision’s decision to hold next year’s song contest in Tel Aviv, but says she still believes it’s “right” to hold the event in Jerusalem
“As I said at the beginning of the process, I thought it it was right that Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, would host the Eurovision Song Contest,” she says in a statement. “Since the decision over hosting the Eurovision Song Contest has been made, I have no doubt that the State of Israel and the city of Tel Aviv will host the Eurovision Song Contest in the best and most respectful way possible.”
The government initially insisted on holding the popular event in Jerusalem. But following a backlash over the US recognition of Jerusalem as its capital and a subsequent fear of boycotts it dropped the demand. Israeli ultra-Orthodox leaders also demanded that the contest rehearsals not be held on the Sabbath, against Eurovison regulations that bar any type of religious restrictions.
— Raoul Wootliff
Erdan says tenure of police chief won’t be extended
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan announces that he will not be extending the term of Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich who is scheduled to end his tenure in December.
Erdan informed Alsheich of the decision in a meeting with the commissioner where he thanked him for his “longstanding and highly-acclaimed service for the security of the country and its citizens,” according to a statement released by Erdan.
Alsheich, who was appointed to the post in December 2015, had hoped to be asked to stay on the job for another year.
Erdan says he will present the final candidates for the next police commissioner in a press conference this afternoon.
Four deputy commissioners are in the running for the job: Jerusalem district chief Yoram Halevi; southern district chief Motti Cohen; Tel Aviv police chief David Bitan; and Moshe Edri, a former head of the Tel Aviv police and director general of the Public Security Ministry.
— Raoul Wootliff
Skripal suspects tell Russian media they visited Britain as tourists
The two Russian men charged in Britain with poisoning a former Russian spy with a deadly nerve agent appeared on Kremlin-funded television, denying their involvement in the attack and saying that their appearance in the English city of Salisbury was merely an “incredible, fatal coincidence.”
Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov make their first public appearance in an interview with the Kremlin-funded RT channel this afternoon, saying that they visited Salisbury to see its famous cathedral.
“Our friends have been suggesting for a long time that we visit this wonderful town,” Petrov said, while Boshirov added that they specifically wanted to see the Cathedral’s famous spire and clock.
Britain last week charged Boshirov and Petrov in absentia, alleging they were agents of Russia’s military intelligence agency known as the GRU who were dispatched to Salisbury to poison former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with the nerve agent Novichok.
'Our lives turned into a nightmare!' – UK’s suspects in Skripal case (EXCLUSIVE TEASER)
— RT (@RT_com) September 13, 2018
British police released CCTV footage and photographs showing the two men walking in Skripal’s neighborhood on March 4, the day of the attack. They were also pictured visiting the city a day earlier. Britain said the attack was almost certainly approved “at a senior level of the Russian state,” an allegation that Moscow has vehemently denied.
In the interview, both men deny that they are GRU agents or that they were in possession of the Soviet-made Novichok nerve agent.
“The whole situation is an incredible, fatal coincidence, and that’s that,” Petrov says. “What is our fault?”
They claimed they did not know who Skripal was and they did not know where he lived.
Minister slams decision to host Eurovision in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem
Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin slams the decision to host next year’s Eurovision song contest in Tel Aviv and not the Israeli capital.
In a statement, Elkin says he is “sorry” to hear about the decision made by the Israel Public Broadcaster Kan and the European Broadcasting Union.
He says that while he is “not surprised by the position of the Europeans,” he accuses Kan of abandoning Jerusalem.
Elkin, who is running for mayor of Jerusalem, says that holding the 2019 competition in Tel Aviv represents “a missed opportunity to strengthen the status of Jerusalem in the world and contribute to the development of the city.”
He warns Kan it will “lose people” if it continues to “cut itself off from Jerusalem.”
EU: Demolition of Khan al-Ahmar a ‘grave breach’ of international law
The European Parliament says Israel’s decision to raze a Bedouin village in the West Bank constitutes a grave violation of international law.
EU lawmakers warn Israel that “the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar and the forcible transfer of its residents would constitute a grave breach of international humanitarian law.”
The resolution says the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar will threaten peace efforts with the Palestinians, and calls on Israel to compensate the EU for the infrastructure it built in the village.
German protester gets suspended sentence over Hitler salute
A 33-year-old German man is handed a suspended sentence of eight months by a court in the eastern city of Chemnitz for making the illegal Hitler salute during far-right protests.
The Chemnitz local, who was not named, is also fined 2,000 euros ($2,300) over his action on September 1.
The penalty is more lenient than the one-year prison sentence sought by prosecutors, who are examining whether to lodge an appeal.
Thousands of demonstrators had answered a call by the far-right party AfD and the Islamophobic PEGIDA street movement to march over the fatal stabbing of a man, allegedly by asylum seekers, in late August.
During the heated rallies, a handful of people were seen publicly making the illegal salute, while others were shouting anti-foreigner slurs.
A 34-year-old man is due in court tomorrow over a similar charge.
Lapid: PM corruption investigations behind decision to replace police chief
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid criticizes the decision not to extend the term of Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, saying the move is directly linked to the corruption investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“There is one reason and one reason only that the term of Commissioner Roni Alsehich was not extended,” he says in a brief statement. “The prime minister wants a easygoing commissioner who won’t investigate him.”
Earlier today, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan announced he would not be extending Alsheich’s term, who is scheduled to end his tenure in December.
— Raoul Wootliff
Hurricane Florence’s winds and rain begin lashing Carolinas
The outer bands of wind and rain from Hurricane Florence are moving onshore along North Carolina’s barrier islands as the massive storm bears down on the southeastern coastline.
As of 8 a.m., the Category 2 storm was centered about 170 miles (275 kilometers) east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 220 miles (355 kilometers) east-southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Its forward movement slowed to 12 mph (19 kph) and top sustained winds stayed at 110 mph (175 kph).
Conditions are deteriorating in Kitty Hawk, NC as Hurricane #Florence closes in on the coast and outer bands begin to lash ashore, as evacuations are ordered for millions: https://t.co/38ZfhGNQBS@GioBenitez reports. pic.twitter.com/QFJSZx0MaK
— Good Morning America (@GMA) September 13, 2018
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami don’t expect it to strengthen from a Category 2 hurricane before it moves ashore, but they say the real problem will be water as Florence lingers along the coast through Saturday.
Florence’s hurricane-force winds were blowing 80 miles (130 kilometers) from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds reached up to 195 miles (315 kilometers) from the eye.
Iran says strike on Kurd rebels warning to ‘foreign powers’
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards say that a missile strike they launched on a Kurdish rebel base in neighboring Iraq last week should serve as a warning to “arrogant foreign powers.”
The elite Guards fired seven medium-range ballistic missiles at the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran in Koysinjaq in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, causing major casualties and damage with what they described as a precision strike.
“With a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles), our missiles endow the Iranian nation with a unique ability to fight against arrogant foreign powers,” Guards commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari tells the semi-official ISNA news agency.
“All those that have forces, bases and equipment within a 2,000 kilometer radius of Iran’s sacred borders should know that (our) missiles are highly accurate.”
Iranian officials have long referred to the United States as the “world arrogance” and the Guards’ arsenal of medium-range missiles puts US bases in the Gulf and beyond within reach.
2 more MKs call on Netanyahu to suspend spokesman accused of sexual assault
Two more Knesset members are calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to fire his foreign media adviser, David Keyes, following following sexual assault allegations by over a dozen women.
Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova slams Netanyahu for his silence in the wake of the allegations made in a Times of Israel report published yesterday.
“Is this the attitude towards women in the Prime Minister’s Office? His silence sends a message that women are objects of sexual gratification,” she tweets. “The prime minister must take the appropriate measure as quickly as possible.”
Fellow Zionist Union lawmaker Aliza Lavie also slams the prime minister for not responding to the allegations against Keyes.
“The accumulation of such severe accusations by a growing number of women requires an immediate and clear response,” Lavie says in a statement. “The silence from the Prime Minister’s Office is infuriating, and could be construed as acceptance of his actions. This must not be the face of Israel and the prime minister must suspend Keyes from all activities, at least until all of the suspicions have been investigated.”
UN official: US, Russia agree on need for peace in Syria’s Idlib
A top UN humanitarian aid official for Syria says the United States, Russia and other powers have expressed a “common agreement” on the need for a peaceful way forward for the rebel-held province of Idlib.
OCHA regional humanitarian coordinator Panos Moumtzis echoes concerns among many about possible bloodshed in a widely expected offensive by Syrian government forces and their Russian and Iranian allies upon a region largely controlled by an al-Qaida affiliate.
Speaking to reporters after a UN-backed humanitarian task force meeting chaired by the US and Russia, Moumtzis says the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and its partners want to be ready for up to 900,000 people who could flee Idlib.
“We hope it won’t happen … we hope it will not be needed.”
He quotes an unspecified Russian official in the closed-door meeting as saying that “every effort” was being made to find a peaceful way out of the crisis.
Officials estimate that nearly 3 million civilians are in Idlib.
Erdan says police chief to be replaced over ‘disagreements’
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan says Roni Alsheich will be replaced as police commissioner because disagreements between the two have eroded public trust in law enforcement.
At a press conference, Erdan says that while he does not regret appointing Alsheich, “at the same time, we disagreed on various issues, some of them weighty issues, which in my opinion had a significant effect on the public’s confidence in police.”
Erdan earlier today announced he would not extend Alsheich’s tenure for another year.
At the press conference, he nominates Jerusalem district chief Yoram Halevi, Tel Aviv police chief David Bitan and Moshe Edri, a former head of the Tel Aviv police and director general of the Public Security Ministry, as candidates.
Trump rejects Puerto Rico hurricane death toll, blames Democrats
US President Donald Trump rejects the official conclusion that nearly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico from last year’s Hurricane Maria, arguing without evidence that the number was wrong and calling it a plot by Democrats to make him “look as bad as possible.”
As Hurricane Florence approaches the Carolinas, the president picked a fresh fight over the administration’s response to the Category 4 storm that smashed into the US territory last September.
“When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000,” Trump tweets.
He adds: “This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico.”
Puerto Rico’s governor last month raised Maria’s official death toll from 64 to 2,975 after an independent study found that the number of people who succumbed in the sweltering aftermath had been severely undercounted.
Turkey beefing up its troops in Syria’s Idlib as regime offensive looms
Turkey is sending in military reinforcements to beef up its positions inside Syria’s last rebel bastion Idlib, activists report, even as the Turkish defense minister says Ankara is still trying with Russia and Iran to prevent a humanitarian tragedy in the case of a threatened Syrian government offensive.
Hulusi Akar, the Turkish defense minister, told foreign ambassadors last night that a military operation in the densely populated rebel enclave would drag the already problematic region toward disaster.
“We are working with Russia, Iran and other allies to bring peace and stability and to stop a humanitarian tragedy,” Akar said according to state-run media.
Russia-backed regime forces have massed around Idlib in recent weeks, sparking fears of an imminent air and ground attack to retake the last major opposition bastion.
Netanyahu aide ‘taking time off’ after sex assault allegations
David Keyes, the foreign media adviser for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, says he is taking time off to clear his name after being accused of sexual assault by a dozen women.
“In light of the false and misleading accusations against me and in order not to distract from the important work of the Prime Minister, I have asked to take time off to clear my name,” Keyes says in a statement.
“I am fully confident that the truth will come out,” he says.
At least 12 women have recounted Keyes’s overly aggressive advances and inappropriate behavior.
Julia Salazar, a candidate for New York’s State Senate, accuses Keyes of sexually assaulting her five years ago. Others have since come forward. Wall Street Journal reporter Shayndi Raice tweeted she too had a “terrible encounter” with Keyes. She described someone who had “absolutely no conception of the word ‘no.’”
The Prime Minister’s Office has not commented on the allegations against Keyes, but says it accepts his request to take time off.
Israeli company unveils bulletproof backpack to defend against school shootings
An Israeli company says it has come up with a first-of-its-kind protection gear against the threat of school shootings — a bulletproof backpack.
Masada-Armour says its backpack can transform into a bulletproof vest in less than two seconds by flipping out an armored plate from a concealed compartment. The standard protection claims to stop handgun bullets while upgraded versions can block rifle fire.
Co-owner Yair Rosenberg says the product was designed to provide schoolchildren with defenses against mass-shooting attacks. He says “people are looking for solutions and this is very beneficial.”
He says in an era when schools have become war zones, his company has seen increased interest in the product.
The basic version weighs three kilograms (6.6 pounds) and sells for $500. The heavier, upgraded version costs $750.
Facebook ‘better prepared’ for election meddling, Zuckerberg says
Facebook is better prepared to defend against efforts to manipulate the platform to influence elections, and has recently thwarted foreign influence campaigns targeting several countries, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg says.
Zuckerberg, posting on his Facebook page, outlines a series of steps the leading social network has taken to protect against misinformation and manipulation campaigns aimed at disrupting elections.
“We’ve identified and removed fake accounts ahead of elections in France, Germany, Alabama, Mexico and Brazil,” Zuckerberg says.
“We’ve found and taken down foreign influence campaigns from Russia and Iran attempting to interfere in the US, UK, Middle East, and elsewhere — as well as groups in Mexico and Brazil that have been active in their own country.”
Zuckerberg repeats his admission that Facebook was ill-prepared for the vast influence efforts on social media in the 2016 US election but added that “today, Facebook is better prepared for these kinds of attacks.”
PM welcomes Tel Aviv as Eurovision host, says 2019 show will be ‘excellent’
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praises the decision to hold next year’s Eurovision song contest in Tel Aviv, instead of Jerusalem.
“We are privileged to have the Eurovision in Israel. It will be held in Tel Aviv, and it will be an excellent Eurovision,” he says during a meeting with the visiting foreign ministers from Greece and Cyprus according to a statement.
“Tel Aviv is an international city, a vibrant city, and the whole world will see it and Israel,” he says.
Palestinian teen caught with knife at Tomb of the Patriarchs
Border Police officers arrest a Palestinian teenager who tried to enter the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron with a knife.
In a statement, police say the a 14-year-old from a nearby village aroused suspicions of security forces when he approached the entrance to the holy site with one hand behind his back. When they called on him to stop, the teen threw the blade to the ground.
The statement says the 14-year-old from the Hebron-area village of Dura was detained and taken in for questioning.
US blacklists North Korean-controlled firms in China, Russia
The United States is imposing sanctions on two North Korean-controlled information technology companies based in China and Russia.
The Treasury Department announces it’s designating China Silver Star, its North Korean CEO Jong Song Hwa, and its Russia-based sister company.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says in a statement that the sanctions are intended to stop the flow of illicit revenue to North Korea from overseas IT workers hiding behind front companies and aliases.
The Trump administration has kept up sanctions pressure on the North, even as the US seeks to negotiate on denuclearization.
Treasury says that China Silver Star is associated with the Munitions Industry Department of North Korea’s ruling party which oversees the nation’s ballistic missile programs.
2 Russia bombers off Alaska intercepted by US fighter jets
The US Air Force says two of its fighter jets have intercepted and monitored Russian bombers in international air space west of mainland Alaska.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command says in a statement that two F-22 Raptor fighter jets identified and intercepted two Russian TU-95 Bear bombers at 6 p.m. Alaska time on Tuesday.
The bombers were accompanied by two Russian Su-35 Flanker fighter jets.
The Russian aircraft did not enter US or Canadian air space.
NORAD commander Gen. Terrance O’Shaughnessy says radar, satellites, and fighter jets are used to identify aircraft and determine appropriate responses.
IDF ends humanitarian aid program for Syrians after 5 years
The Israel Defense Forces announces that it has officially shuttered its “Operation Good Neighbor” program, ending over five years of humanitarian assistance that the Jewish state has given Syrian nationals near the border.
The military first began allowing injured Syrians into Israel for medical care in early 2013, first treating them in field hospitals and later inside Israeli hospitals. A small number of Israeli non-governmental groups were also allowed to pass humanitarian aid across the border.
This assistance expanded considerably in 2016 with the creation of “Operation Good Neighbor,” which saw far more material assistance being transported into Syria, as well as the creation of a day clinic on the border and a program to allow Syrians into Israeli hospitals for non-battlefield ailments.
Last week, Foreign Policy magazine, which is not subject to Israel’s censor, also reported that the Jewish state gave military aid to rebel groups in southern Syria over the years in exchange for those opposition forces fighting to keep Iran-backed groups out of the region.
According to the IDF, over 4,900 Syrians were brought into Israeli hospitals for medical treatment since 2013, including 1,300 children.
Another 7,000 people were treated in the day clinic on the border, known as Mazor Ladach, whose name means “relief for the suffering.”
In addition, over the course of five years, Israel transported into Syria 1,700 tons of food; 1.1 million liters of fuel; 26,000 cases of medical equipment and medication; 20 generators; 40 vehicles; 630 tents; 350 tons of clothing; 8,200 packages of diapers; and 49,000 cases of baby food.
The Israeli military says that despite the ongoing humanitarian problems in southwestern Syria it is ending the program now that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has taken control of the area, after an offensive that he launched earlier in the summer forced the remaining rebel groups to surrender.
“The large and long-running humanitarian activity has come to an end with the return fo the Syrian regime to southern Syria,” the army says in a statement.
— Judah Ari Gross
Police in Galilee searching for weapon stolen from IDF soldier
Police in northern Israel are conducting searches for a weapon that was stolen from a soldier at the Shomera junction in Western Galilee.
The police spokesperson says large numbers of security forces are “exercising all means” to locate the weapon.
2nd medal for Israeli gymnast Linoy Ashram at World Championships
Israeli athlete Linoy Ashram wins a bronze metal at the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships in Sofia Bulgaria.
Ashram received a score of 18.500 for her ribbon routine. This is the second medal for Ashram in this competition. Yesterday, she won the silver metal for her hoop routine with a score of 20.000.
Netanyahu aide accused of misconduct takes leave of absence after talk with PM — report
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear to his foreign media spokesperson David Keyes that he needed to “take a vacation” after over a dozen women accused him of sexual misconduct, Hadashot news reports.
Keyes has denied the allegations, and earlier today announced that he would take a leave of absence “to clear my name.”
The Prime Minister’s Office also did not reply to several requests for comment regarding the various allegations against Keyes. A terse message released this evening noted it had accepted Keyes’ request for time off.
US peace envoy denies Trump offered Palestinians $5 b to resume talks with Israel
US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt denies a report by Israeli media outlet Globes that claimed the Trump administration offered the Palestinian Authority $5 billion to resume negotiations with Israel.
“When the peace plan is released, if the PA is serious about peace & wants to improve Palestinian lives, the PA should want to review the plan & engage,” Greenblatt tweets. “It is an absurd idea to pay $5b for a party to “return to the negotiating table.” How would that accomplish peace??”
Palestinians have blackballed US peace efforts for months and are largely boycotting the administration amid anger over Washington’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
US House passes bill requiring national anti-Semitism envoy
The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly votes in favor of a bill designed to enhance the role of the national anti-Semitism monitor and require the president to nominate someone for the position within 90 days.
The “Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Act” sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) passes easily in a 393-2 vote.
Lawmakers and Jewish communal organizations have chafed at the Trump administration’s failure to name someone to the anti-Semitism monitor post since Donald Trump became president, citing a perceived spike in anti-Semitism worldwide.
Victim of West Bank stabbing named as Ari Fuld of Efrat
The victim of a terror stabbing next the Gush Etzion Junction in the central West Bank is named as Ari Fuld.
Fold, a resident of the nearby settlement of Efrat, was a father of four.
He died at a Jerusalem hospital after being stabbed by a Palestinian teenager at a mall next to the junction.