India welcomes Israel-UAE deal, but calls for continued talks with Palestinians
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UAE minister: Long term freeze on annexation allows Palestinians to negotiate

Anwar Gargash tells Israeli news site that normalization announcement was not symbolic and that he expects progress on various fronts to come shortly

Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash speaks to journalists in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Monday, June 18, 2018. (AP/Jon Gambrell)
Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash speaks to journalists in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Monday, June 18, 2018. (AP/Jon Gambrell)

The Times of Israel is liveblogged Friday’s events as they unfolded.

Erdogan says Turkey could suspend UAE ties due to its deal with Israel

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey could suspend diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates after a landmark deal between Israel and Abu Dhabi.

“I gave an order to the foreign minister. I said we could suspend diplomatic relations with the Abu Dhabi administration or withdraw our ambassador,” Erdogan tells reporters.

In the deal, Israel pledged to suspend its planned annexation of parts of the West Bank in exchange for a normalization of ties with the UAE.

— with AFP

Netanyahu thanks Oman, Bahrain, Egyptian leader for supporting UAE deal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanks several Arab countries and leaders for publicly supporting Israel’s normalization pact with the United Arab Emirates announced yesterday.

“I thank Egyptian President [Abdel-Fattah] el-Sissi and the governments of Oman and Bahrain for their support of the historic peace treaty between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, which is expanding the circle of peace and will be good for the entire region,” Netanyahu says in a statement.

Israel has had a peace deal with Egypt since 1979, and Oman and Bahrain are reportedly next in line to sign normalization deals with the Jewish state.

Ministers approve new restrictions capping outdoor gatherings at 30 people

The government approves a unified standard for restrictions on gatherings in public spaces, which takes effect on Sunday at 2 p.m.

The move comes after ultra-Orthodox ministers criticized the different treatment for synagogues and restaurants.

According to the new rules, gatherings in outdoor spaces are capped at 30 people.

In indoor spaces smaller than 80 square meters (860 square feet), gatherings are capped at ten people. In larger spaces, 20 people are allowed.

In any place that isn’t a house of worship or a restaurant, larger gatherings will be allowed as long as there is no more than one person per 7 square meters (75 square feet).

Those will be the rules for all public spaces that haven’t been forced to close down.

The new rules were approved by members of the so-called coronavirus cabinet ministerial panel, in a vote held by phone, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Health Ministry say in a joint statement.

EU welcomes Israel-UAE deal

The European Union welcomes the agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to establish ties and restated its support for a two state Middle East peace deal.

“The normalization will be at the benefit of both. It is important both for them and for the regional stability. Both countries are our partners,” EU foreign policy spokeswoman Nabila Massrali tells reporters.

“And, of course, as the EU, you know very well that we are committed to a two state solution. And we are, of course, ready to work on the resumption of the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

The Israel-UAE agreement, announced by US President Donald Trump on Thursday, is only the third such accord Israel has struck with an Arab country, and raised the prospect of similar deals with other pro-Western Gulf states.

In it, Israel pledged to suspend its planned annexation of large parts of the West Bank, a concession welcomed by European and some pro-Western Arab governments as a boost for hopes of peace.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, tweets: “Suspending annexation is positive step, plans should now be abandoned altogether. EU hopes for resumed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on two-state solution based on international agreed parameters.”

—  AFP

Spain closes discos, bans smoking in street amid latest spike in virus numbers

Spain says it is closing discos and banning smoking in the street without social distancing, as it steps up restrictions to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

Health Minister Salvador Illa unveiled a raft of new measures to be enforced nationwide after as the country battles a surge in the disease, with nearly 3,000 new cases in 24 hours reported Thursday.

In a bid to rein in the spread of COVID-19, discos, night clubs and dancing halls will be shut, restaurants and bars will be required to close by 1:00 am, with no new customers allowed in from midnight.

The ban on smoking on the street — which is in line with World Health Organization recommendations — is already in place in two of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions, Galicia and the Canary Islands.

In retirement homes, visits will be limited and all new residents must be tested for the virus when they are admitted.

Regional authorities will be required to carry out testing among groups of the population that are particularly at risk, and in the built-up areas hard hit by the disease, but the health ministry gave no timetable for these measures to come into force.

A total of 28,605 people have died so far from COVID-19 in Spain, which declared a state of emergency between March 14 and June 21 that allowed the central government to impose restrictions nationwide.

With the state of emergency subsequently lifted, autonomy has been handed back to the regional authorities.

The health ministry has had to negotiate with them to impose the new measures on a nationwide basis.

Spain has a population of 47 million, and its infection rate of 110 cases per 100,000 inhabitants is higher than in other European countries.

— AFP

Diaspora affairs minister calls up UAE Jewish community members after normalization deal

Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich (Blue and White) spoke on the phone with members of the Jewish community in the UAE in what her office says is the first publicly disclosed conversation between an Israeli government representative and Jewish leaders in the Gulf country.

IDF chief tells Gaza area mayors that arson balloons should cease in coming days

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi tells leaders of municipalities near the Gaza Strip that he believes the launching of arson balloons from the coastal enclave will cease in the coming days in light of various steps taken by the military.

Friday has been another day in which Israeli fields surrounding the Strip have been torched by fires ignited by the incendiary devices.

Pompeo: Trump wrote to Assad about journalist missing in Syria

US President Donald Trump personally wrote to his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad about the case of journalist Austin Tice, who has been missing since 2012, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says.

“The US government has repeatedly attempted to engage Syrian officials to seek Austin’s release,” Pompeo said in a statement on the eighth anniversary of Tice’s disappearance.

“President Trump wrote to Bashar al-Assad in March to propose direct dialogue.”

Tice was a freelance photojournalist working for Agence France-Presse, McClatchy News, The Washington Post, CBS and other news organizations when he disappeared after being detained at a checkpoint near Damascus on August 14, 2012.

Thirty-one years old at the time he was captured, Tice appeared blindfolded in the custody of an unidentified group of armed men in a video a month later.

Since then, there has been no official information on whether he is alive or dead.

In March, Trump said the United States had written a letter to authorities in Damascus, without specifying that he himself had written personally to Assad, whom Washington wants out of power.

At that time, Trump said he did not know if Tice was still alive.

“No one should doubt the president’s commitment to bringing home all US citizens held hostage or wrongfully detained overseas,” Pompeo says.

“Nowhere is that determination stronger than in Austin Tice’s case.”

Pompeo says he and Trump hoped there would be “no need for another statement like this a year from now.”

“Austin Tice’s release and return home are long, long overdue. We will do our utmost to achieve that goal,” he adds.

A year ago, the US government said it believed Tice was still alive.

His mother Debra Tice said in January that she had “credible information” to that effect, without elaborating.

In 2018, US authorities announced a $1 million reward for information that would lead to his recovery.

— AFP

India welcomes Israel-UAE deal, but calls for continued talks with Palestinians

India welcomes the normalization agreement announced yesterday between Israel and the UAE.

A spokesperson for India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar tells reporters that his boss received a phone call from UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan in which the latter updated him on the normalization deal. The spokesman said the Indian foreign minister “deeply appreciated the update.

“India continues its traditional support for the Palestinian cause. We hope to see an early resumption of direct negotiations to find an acceptable two-state solution,” he adds.

PM instructs NSC head to lead preparations for UAE talks, pushing Foreign Ministry aside

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed the head of the National Security Council, Meir Ben-Shabbat, to coordinate the preparations for talks with the United Arab Emirates following yesterday’s normalization deal announcement, the PMO says.

Once again, the Gabi Ashkenazi’s (Blue and White) Foreign Ministry appears to be left out of an issue that would typically be part of its portfolio.

Iran FM congratulates Lebanese counterpart, Hezbollah head on anniversary of ‘victory’ in war against Israel

The Iranian foreign minister has sent letters to his Lebanese counterpart and Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah congratulating them both “on the anniversary of the country’s victory in its 33-day war against Israeli aggressors.”

He appeared to be referencing the end of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, which many analysts argue ended inconclusively with a ceasefire.

Pompeo says letting Iran arms embargo expire is ‘nuts’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urges an extension to a UN arms embargo on Iran, saying it would be “nuts” to let it expire.

Opposition from UN Security Council veto powers China and Russia is expected to block a resolution to extend the blockade beyond October.

Pompeo reiterates during a visit to Vienna that Iran should not be allowed to buy and sell weapons, calling the Islamic Republic “the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”

“I mean that’s just nuts… We’re urging the whole world to join us” to extend the arms embargo, he says.

As things stand, arms sanctions are set to be eased gradually from October, under a Security Council resolution blessing a 2015 deal Iran signed with world powers to limit its ability to develop a nuclear bomb — in exchange for easing trade barriers.

The landmark deal has come under strain since the US pulled out of it in 2018.

As Washington has re-imposed crippling sanctions, Tehran has in turn stepped up its nuclear activities again since last year.

Pompeo urges Tehran to provide “full, transparent and immediate cooperation” with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which monitors Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal.

— AFP

Boar that stole German nudist’s laptop may be culled

A wild boar that went viral after stealing a nudist’s laptop by a lake in German capital Berlin last week could be targeted in a local cull, an official says.

Photos of the female boar and her two young were shared thousands of times on social media after a naked sunbather was snapped unashamedly chasing after them to retrieve his laptop bag.

But Berlin state forestry office spokesman Marc Franusch tells AFP the boar and her babies could be culled when the hunting season begins in October.

They would not be shot immediately because it is the wrong time of year, Franusch said — but the agency will be keeping an eye on them.

“If there are special dangers for humans or animals in places such as the bathing area at Teufelssee (lake), appropriate measures must be taken to avert these dangers,” he says.

Wild boars are regularly culled by licensed hunters in Berlin and the rest of Germany to keep numbers down and to fend off diseases such as African swine fever.

Every year, 1,000 to 2,000 wild boars are shot in Berlin.

They often venture into residential areas looking for food, as appeared to be the case during the incident last week, and have been known to attack humans.

“Many of us were scared but the wild boars seemed to be peaceful,” Adele Landauer, the Berlin-based life coach who took the pictures, wrote as she shared them on Instagram last week.

“After they ate a pizza from a backpack of a man who was taking a swim in the lake they were looking for a dessert. They found this yellow bag and decided to take it away.”

Franusch urged people visiting the lake to avoid leaving food or rubbish behind, as this would only encourage the creatures.

— AFP

Biden campaign Hebrew merch goes on sale

The Jews for Joe group seeking to elect Joe Biden as the next US president announces that its Hebrew campaign merchandise has gone on sale.

Th merchandise includes “Joe Biden for President” buttons, bumper stickers, t-shirts, signs and yarmulkes, all in Hebrew.

Other products include buttons with the slogan — B”H — on them, standing for Biden and Harris and also “Baruch Hashem,” or “Thank God,” in Hebrew.

Another button being sold reads “Yo-Semite,” in a trolling of US President Donald Trump’s pronunciation of the Yosemite national park’s name earlier this month.

Putin calls for emergency Iran summit to decrease tensions

President Vladimir Putin calls on the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany to convene an emergency Iran summit to avoid an escalation of tensions in the Gulf.

China, France, Russia, Britain, the United States, Germany and Iran should take part in the video summit, the Kremlin chief says.

“It’s an urgent issue,” Putin says in a statement released by the Kremlin.

“Discussions at the UN Security Council over the Iranian issue are becoming increasingly tense,” Putin says, adding that Moscow’s ally Iran was a target of “groundless accusations.”

“The goal is to put together a blueprint that would allow to avoid confrontation, an escalation in tensions at the UN Security Council.”

He added that the leaders should also agree on ways to ensure security and trust in the Gulf region.

Tensions over Iran have escalated since 2018, when US President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from a multinational accord that froze Iran’s nuclear program and reimposed crippling sanctions on its economy.

Last week US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington would submit a UN Security Council resolution to extend an arms embargo on Iran despite opposition from Russia and China.

— AFP

US confirms seizure of Iranian fuel on Venezuela-bound ships

The US Justice Department confirms it had seized the fuel cargo aboard four tankers sent by Iran to crisis-wracked Venezuela, tying the shipments to Tehran’s Revolutionary Guards.

“With the assistance of foreign partners, this seized property is now in US custody,” the Justice Department says, putting the total at more than one million barrels of petroleum and calling it the largest-ever seizure of fuel shipments from Iran.

The department had issued a warrant last month to seize the cargo of the tankers Bella, Bering, Pandi and Luna.

— AFP

Trump’s younger brother, Robert, is hospitalized in New York

US President Donald Trump’s younger brother, Robert Trump, has been hospitalized in New York, according to the White House.

The president is expected to visit his 72-year-old brother at a hospital in Manhattan on Friday, according to White House spokesman Judd Deere. Trump was already scheduled to visit his property in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Friday.

The White House did not immediately release details about why Robert Trump had been hospitalized, but officials said that he was seriously ill.

Trump “has a very good relationship with his brother who is very special to him,” Deere says.

Robert Trump, one of four siblings to the president, recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Trump family seeking to stop publication of a tell-all book by the president’s niece Mary titled “Too Much and Never Enough.”

The president has said that Mary Trump’s book was a violation of a nondisclosure agreement she signed in connection to a financial settlement she received from the Trump family. Mary is a daughter of the brothers’ eldest sibling, Fred Trump Jr., who struggled with alcoholism and died in 1981 at the age of 43.

No family members joined Fred Jr., who was known as Freddy, at the hospital on the night he died. The president went to the movies with another sibling.

Robert Trump had previously worked for his older brother at the Trump Organization.

— AP

Bulgaria PM pitches overhaul, to resign if lawmakers approve

Bulgaria’s embattled prime minister says that he will step down if lawmakers approve his plans for the election of a grand national assembly that would push through constitutional amendments to overhaul the country’s political system.

In a televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov tries to appease protesters demanding the resignation of his government and Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor. The protesters who have been on the streets for a second month accuse the government officials of links to the mafia, corrupt practices and suppressing freedom of speech.

Borissov is proposing measures to make the work of Bulgaria’s parliament more efficient by cutting the number of lawmakers serving in the National Assembly from the current 240 to 120, as well as to make all actions taken by the chief prosecutor subject to stricter accountability.

“It is time not only to change the political system, but to restart the country,” Borissov says.

A two-thirds vote in parliament is required to call an election for a special Grand National Assembly that would consider proposed constitutional amendments. Meeting the threshold appears to be a difficult task.

Borissov argues that convening the special legislature would itself be a pro-democracy act.

“A Grand National Assembly is a unique opportunity, not just to restart our democracy, but to do it while the people enjoy the broadest political representation,” Borissov says.

He says he would “step down as prime minister the same day as parliament decides on such elections.”

The initial reaction of some protest organizers was to reject Borissov’s proposals as a panicked attempt to remain in office until his term ends in March.

— AP

Muslim woman accuses McDonald’s franchisee of discrimination

A Muslim woman who worked for a McDonald’s franchisee in Maryland claims managers and co-workers sexually harassed her and subjected her to religious discrimination after she converted to Islam.

Diamond Powell, 28, of Baltimore, has sued her former employer, Susdewitt Management LLC of Lanham, Maryland, on Thursday with the backing of attorneys from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group.

The Morgan State University graduate was Christian in 2016 when she started working for the company, which operated two McDonald’s locations at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Powell converted to Islam in February 2017 and began wearing a hijab, a religious head covering, to work.

A manager told her to “take that hoodie off” her head while another manager told her, “You don’t have to wait for God to wake up for you to pray,” Powell’s federal lawsuit alleges.

Powell has a religious belief that she must pray five times a day at prescribed times. A general manager initially granted Powell’s request to take short prayer breaks during her shifts, according to her lawsuit.

“Her prayer breaks lasted no longer than a typical bathroom break,” the suit says.

But the general manager prohibited Powell from praying in a quiet spot at the airport and instead told her to pray in a dirty stock room, the lawsuit alleges. After Powell continued praying outside the restaurant, the general manager eventually revoked her request to take a prayer break, saying, “God will understand,” according to the lawsuit.

“By doing so, the general manager forced Powell to choose between continuing her employment with McDonald’s or sacrificing her sincerely-held religious beliefs,” the suit says.

Powell resigned from the job in April 2018. Her suit accuses Susdewitt Management of violating the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Susdewitt Management owner Isaac Green disputed the lawsuit’s “characterizations” but said the company is reviewing Powell’s allegations and will “respond accordingly.”

“We pride ourselves on our diverse workforce, and we have policies in place to provide a welcoming workplace and to respect the accommodations employees may need for religious reasons,” Green said in a statement provided by a McDonald’s corporate spokeswoman.

The suit also claims Powell was sexually harassed at work, with several managers and co-workers asking her if she was a virgin and a shift manager making sexually explicit remarks.

— AP

1,525 new coronavirus cases in last 24 hours, Health Ministry reports

Health Ministry coronavirus figures released Friday evening showed that 1,525 new cases had been confirmed in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections to 91,080.

The updates numbers were released hours after ministers voted to further expand restrictions on crowding in both indoor and outdoor spaces in an effort to curb the unremitting infection rate.

Of the 91,080, 23,450 were active cases — a drop of 733 cases from 24 hours earlier.

The death toll grew to 665 — eight more since Friday morning and 14 more since Thursday night.

The number of serious cases was at 375, down by two from Friday morning. Of them, 108 were on ventilators.

Another 158 patients were in moderate condition, and the rest had mild or no symptoms.

The ministry said 28,871 coronavirus test results came back Thursday, of which 5.9 percent were positive. The sharee of positive results has steadily declined over the past week, after it rose to 9.3% on August 8.

Outflanked by UAE, Saudi Arabia remains mum on normalization deal

Twenty-four hours has passed since the Israel-UAE normalization agreement was announced by the White House, but no official comment has been issued by Saudi Arabia, which has been leaning toward more developed ties with the Jewish state in recent years.

“Analysts see the surprise UAE-Israel agreement announced on Thursday as a strategic boost for the UAE’s regional and global standing that could put it ahead of its powerful Saudi neighbor and ally, especially in critical relations with Washington,” the Reuters news agency writes.

“The move positions the UAE nicely should [Joe] Biden win [the upcoming US presidential election], as it will help smooth things over with [the US] Congress and, by doing so, leave Saudi Arabia outflanked and more exposed than ever before,” Neil Quilliam, associate fellow with Chatham House and managing director of Azure Strategy tells Reuters. “This must be the real concern for the Saudi leadership right now — and the lead calculation on how to respond to the UAE-Israel move.”

But while maybe more enticing for Gulf leaders, the idea of normalized ties with Israel is still far less popular at the ground level.

The Arabic social media hashtag “Gulfis_Against_Normalization” was trending in third place in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, Reuters reports.

US assessment said to conclude ‘Maintenance work’ caused fire that led to Beirut blast

The Wall Street Journal reports that a US government assessment concluded that “maintenance work” likely led to last week’s Beirut port blast.

The State Department assessment found no evidence of an attack on the ammonium cache or any evidence of foul play, a person familiar with the matter tells the Journal.

The assessment did not specify what kind of maintenance work led to the blast but found that that it was what started the fire that ignited the ammonium nitrate.

Arson wave continues as Gaza balloons spark 19 fires in south

Fire and rescue services say arson balloons launched by terrorist organizations over the Gaza border ignite at least 19 fires in southern Israel.

It is the 10th consecutive day of fires, which mostly cause damage to brush and agricultural areas.

The balloons, which sometimes carry explosive devices, have sparked well over 100 fires in Israel in the past week.

The IDF bombed Hamas targets in Gaza over the past four nights in response to the attacks.

Israel also closed its cargo crossing into the Gaza Strip for all goods except food and humanitarian supplies, and reduced Gaza’s allowed fishing zone to pressure Hamas to rein in the balloons.

Israel’s Thursday normalization agreement with the UAE ratcheted up tensions in the Palestinian territories, sparking protests in Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank, and an outcry from the Palestinian leadership.

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India welcomes Israel-UAE deal, but calls for continued talks with Palestinians

India welcomes the normalization agreement announced yesterday between Israel and the UAE.

A spokesperson for India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar tells reporters that his boss received a phone call from UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan in which the latter updated him on the normalization deal. The spokesman said the Indian foreign minister “deeply appreciated the update.

“India continues its traditional support for the Palestinian cause. We hope to see an early resumption of direct negotiations to find an acceptable two-state solution,” he adds.