Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia hold ‘anti-terrorism’ meeting
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Edelstein says Netanyahu’s credibility hurt after Independence Day speech

Knesset speaker attacks Miri Regev for pushing for PM's inclusion in official ceremony: 'I've had enough of her nonsense'

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein lights a torch at the official ceremony for Israel's 70th Independence Day ceremony at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on April 18, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein lights a torch at the official ceremony for Israel's 70th Independence Day ceremony at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on April 18, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

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

Israeli teen wins annual International Bible Quiz

Israeli teenager Azriel Shilat wins the International Bible Quiz for Youth, which is held every year on Independence Day.

Last month Shilat, 17, from the northern town of Hatzor Haglilit, won the National Bible Quiz for Youth.

The runner-up in this year’s International Bible Quiz is Oriah Cohen, from the northern city of Haifa.

Sintayehu Shafrao, an 18-year-old Ethiopian Jew who on Monday was given Israeli citizenship after reportedly being asked to deposit thousands of shekels as a guarantee he would leave Israel when the contest was over, did not finish in the top 16 of the contest.

Syrian rebels hand over arms, leave another town near Douma

BEIRUT — Syrian state media say hundreds of rebels fighters in a town northeast of Damascus have handed in their weapons and started to leave under an evacuation deal.

Under the agreement, the rebels are allowed to move with their families to opposition-held areas in the country’s north, effectively surrendering their turf to Syrian government forces.

The state SANA news agency says the Army of Islam fighters and their families are leaving the town of Dumayr on Thursday. The report says 1,500 rebels and 3,500 of their next of kin are to leave Dumayr for the town of Jarablus, near the Turkish border.

Dumayr is in the Qalamoun mountains, near the eastern Ghouta region which came under full government control last week after a weeks-long offensive and an alleged chemical weapons attack.

— AP

People walk among damaged buildings in the town of Douma, the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack, near Damascus, Syria, on April 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Iran arrests culture ministry official over public dance

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran on Thursday arrests a senior official after a video posted online showed young boys and girls dancing in public in the northeastern holy city of Mashhad, the judiciary says.

“The head of the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance in Mashhad was arrested for undermining public decency and disrespecting the laws,” the judiciary’s Mizan Online news agency says quoting a deputy prosecutor.

Islamic law in Iran prohibits public dancing.

The video shared on social networks showed young boys and girls dancing in a shopping mall, where a singer was performing for a huge crowd. The event took place on Tuesday.

Mohsen Afshar, a spokesman for the shopping center, tells the ISNA news agency that a monthly draw is organized and a car given away to the lucky winner to attract customers.

The performance can attract between 10,000 and 12,000 people, he says, including “some individuals whose behavior is contrary to the norms of the Islamic Republic.”

Mashhad is a holy and conservative city where in 2016 concerts were banned by the Friday prayer leader, Ayatollah Ahmad Allamolhoda, who also told music-lovers to “Go somewhere else.”

— AFP

200,000 Israelis visit national parks for Independence Day

Some 200,000 Israelis visit nature reserves and national parks nationwide to mark Independence Day, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority says.

It says the Banias and Ein Gedi nature reserves are receiving the most visitors, while among national parks Caesaria, Ashkelon, Yarkon, Eshkol and Masada are the most visited sites.

 

Iraq says it struck Islamic State positions in Syria

BAGHDAD — The Iraqi air force on Thursday carried out a “deadly raid” against positions of the Islamic State terror group in neighboring Syria, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s office says.

The strike against the jihadists was conducted on Abadi’s order “because of the danger they pose to Iraqi territory,” a statement says.

— AFP

Woman moderately wounded by falling tree branch

A woman is moderately injured by a falling tree branch in Tel Aviv, the Magen David Adom ambulance service says.

Paramedics provide treatment to the woman before evacuating her to the city’s Ichilov Hospital.

The woman, who MDA says is in her 50s, suffered an injury to her chest.

Thousands of Arab Israelis take part in ‘Nakba’ march

Thousands of Arab Israelis take part in a “March of Return” commemorating the Nakba — the “catastrophe” of Israel’s founding.

The march, which commemorates Palestinians who fled their homes in Israel during the War of Independence, is held in the northern town of Atlit, where there used to be an Arab village.

“What happened then was a catastrophe — a humanitarian and national disaster by any measure,” says Joint (Arab List) MK Ahmad Tibi, according to the Ynet news site.

“Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian citizens until today live near the communities from which they were uprooted. What is more natural, humanitarian, and just than returning them to their homes in their abandoned communities, and returning their stolen property to them,” he adds.

“The March of Return” has been held annually since 1998 at different Arab villages destroyed in the war, with participants calling for the return of Palestinian refugees to their former homes.

Suspected Brussels Jewish museum terrorist to stand trial

BRUSSELS — Frenchman Mehdi Nemmouche was ordered Thursday to stand trial in Brussels on suspicion of killing four people at the Jewish museum four years ago in a terror attack, his lawyer says.

Judges decide there was enough evidence to try Nemmouche and alleged accomplice Nacer Bendrer, who is also French, in a Brussels court for the attack in 2014, lawyer Henri Laquay tells AFP.

He does not name a date but the trial is expected to begin later this year or early next year.

But the judges decide there was not enough evidence to put Mounir Attalah, a third Frenchman linked to the attack, on trial.

On May 24, 2014 a gunman armed with an assault rifle opened fire in the entrance hall of the museum in the center of the Belgian capital, killing two Israeli tourists, a French volunteer, and a Belgian museum receptionist.

Six days later Nemmouche was arrested in the southern French port city of Marseille when getting off a bus from Brussels.

Nemmouche had returned from Syria where he had been fighting with Islamist extremists.

— AFP

Pictures released on June 1, 2014, shows the then 29-year-old suspected terrorist Mehdi Nemmouche. (AFP)

On Independence Day, State Department says it looks forward to embassy move

The US State Department congratulates Israelis on the celebration of the Jewish state’s 70th anniversary and says it looks forward to moving the American embassy to Jerusalem next month.

“The State of Israel has prevailed over every challenge it has faced over the past 70 years. In just a short time, the people of Israel have created a successful nation that has flourished and continues to thrive,” John Sullivan, acting secretary of state, says in a statement.

“The United States established our diplomatic presence in Jerusalem well before the State of Israel was born, over 170 years ago. This year, we look forward to opening the new Embassy of the United States in Jerusalem on May 14 which coincides with the 70th anniversary of President Truman recognizing the nascent State of Israel,” he adds.

“Israel and the United States have an unshakeable bond that has endured and grown even stronger over the past seven decades,” Sullivan continues, wishing Israelis a “happy Independence Day” in Hebrew.

Attacker in Berlin skullcap case turns himself in to police

BERLIN — A 19-year-old Syrian asylum-seeker turns himself in to police Thursday after his violent attack on a man wearing a Jewish skullcap in Berlin caused outrage across Germany.

The young Syrian shows up with his lawyer at a police precinct, police spokesman Winfrid Wenzel says.

The 21-year-old victim, an Arab Israeli, caught Tuesday’s assault on video. It quickly went viral and reopened a debate about anti-Semitism in the country. Even Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the assault sharply.

The video shows the attacker whipping the Israeli with a belt while shouting “Yehudi!” or Jew, in Arabic.

The victim, Adam Armoush, said he’s not Jewish but wore the skullcap as an experiment because he didn’t believe a friend who told him it’s too dangerous to wear one in public in Germany.

Following the attack, Merkel vowed Wednesday that the government would respond “with full force and resolve” against anti-Semitism in Germany.

The incident comes at a time of increased fears of anti-Semitism and indications that attacks against Jews are on the rise.

The RIAS group that tracks discrimination of Jews said Berlin last year had 947 anti-Semitic incidents, including 18 attacks and 23 threats.

Several Jewish students have reported anti-Semitic bullying in schools in recent months and Israeli flags were burnt during a recent protest in Berlin.

— AP

Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia hold ‘anti-terrorism’ meeting

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Russia hold a meeting in Baghdad on Thursday of military and security officials to coordinate “anti-terrorism” efforts, the Iranian defense ministry says.

“Cooperation in intelligence between the four countries for common aims and anti-terrorism missions has been successful in restoring stability and security, and it should form the basis for future cooperation,” Defense Minister General Amir Hatami says in a statement from the Iraqi capital.

The “coalition” had played an “important role in the defeat” of the Islamic State jihadist group in both Iraq and Syria, he says.

The meeting came the same day as Iraq said its air force carried out a raid on IS positions in Syria.

Tehran supports the Iraqi government and the Russian-backed regime in Syria in fighting rebel groups and jihadists by sending “military advisers” and “volunteers” from Iran and Afghanistan.

— AFP

Berlin anti-Semitic assailant reportedly a Palestinian from Syria

BERLIN — Germany’s Bild daily identifies the suspect in an anti-Semitic attack against two men wearing traditional Jewish skullcaps in central Berlin as a Palestinian from Syria named Knaan S.

The daily says the suspect was registered at a refugee home in Brandenburg state outside Berlin but was most recently living “out of a suitcase” in the capital.

— AFP

Islamic Jihad threatens IDF troops, officers in new video

Palestinian Islamic Jihad releases a video today showing Israeli soldiers in the crosshairs of a sniper from the Gaza-based terror group.

In the video, the sniper trains his sights on Israeli troops and officers at the Gaza border fence. Among those he aims at is Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the Defense Ministry’s military liason to the Palestinians.

“You are cold-blooded murderers of our people and think you are protected, when the scopes of our snipers are on your commanders and senior officials,” the terror group writes in Hebrew at the end of the video.

Eisenkot, Liberman denounce fliers attacking IDF commander

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot denounces fliers attacking an IDF commander, for which four far-right activists were arrested earlier today.

“It saddens me that extremist elements so decided to mark Israel’s 70th Independence Day. The same elements are working against those day and night protect the security of the state and its citizens, in a professional manner deserving of admiration,” Eisenkot says in a statement.

The army says Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan, the head of the IDF’s Central Command, spoke with the commander pictured in the flier and expressed his support for him.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman also condemns the fliers.

“The leaflets inciting against the commander of the Samaria Brigade are a shame and disgrace. We will act with all means to bring those responsible to justice,” he says.

The fliers claim Col. Gilad Amit “shoots at Jews” and is hostile to Israeli settlers.

Fliers attacking IDF Samaria Brigade chief Gilad Amit handed out by far-right activists on April 19, 2018. (Courtesy)

Video of woman’s violent arrest sparks outrage in Iran

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran orders an investigation after a video surfaced showing police pushing and pulling a young woman who was resisting arrest for not adhering to the Islamic dress code.

The semi-official ISNA news agency reportes Thursday that Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli has requested a “comprehensive investigation and report” into the police’s handling of the matter.

The video, circulated on social media, shows several police, including policewomen, trying to escort the woman from a public park. Another young woman shouts at the police to go easy on her, saying she has a heart condition.

Masoumeh Ebtekar, vice president for women’s affairs, condemns the police’s “violent” approach to the situation.

Under Iranian law, women must wear long, loose garments and cover their hair in public.

— AP

Netanyahu says recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will advance peace

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implores countries to follow the US and Guatemala in moving their embassies to Jerusalem, saying doing so will advance peace efforts.

“We’re happy about President Trump’s decision to move the embassy here. It says a simple thing: Peace must be based on truth,” Netanyahu tells foreign diplomats at an Independence Day event at the President’s Residence.

“Recognizing reality is the way to build peace. You cannot build peace on the basis of lies because it crashes on the rocks of reality,” he adds, calling on states to recognize the “fact” Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.

Netanyahu says half-a-dozen countries are currently in talks about moving their embassies to the city. He says Israel will provide “preferential treatment” to the first ten states who move their embassies.

“There is a simple principle [that] you know — ‘first come first serve.’ I decided that the first ten embassies that arrive here will get a preferential treatment. We’ll help you!” he says.

Netanyahu slams Iran as the ‘enemy of civilization’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decries Iran as a threat to the entire world and accuses it of seeking to inflame the Middle East.

“Iran is all of our enemy — Israel’s, the Arab world’s, and civilization’s,” Netanyahu tells foreign diplomats at an Independence Day event at the President’s Residence.

“It speaks openly — today in 2018, the 21st century — about the destruction of Israel,” he adds.

The prime minister accuses Iran of seeking regional dominance, pointing to its support for proxy groups in a number of regional countries.

“It is encircling the entire Middle East, which it wants to conquer. It fires missiles at Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. It is occupying Lebanon. It is trying to again inflame Gaza,” he says.”[Iran] is in Iraq and it is trying to establish a military base in Israel, something all the peace-seeking countries must oppose.”

Netanyahu urges the foreign diplomats to “speak against Iran.”

“If history has taught us anything, it is necessary to oppose a murderous dictatorship from its beginning,” he says.

Pentagon: No civilian casualties in Syria strikes

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says there have been no reports of civilian casualties from last week’s missile strikes by the United States, France, and Britain.

Spokeswoman Dana W. White says this is a testament to the accuracy of US and allied weapons. She also disputes Russia’s claim that a significant number of missiles were shot down.

Speaking alongside White at a Pentagon news conference, Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie says the US is confident — but not 100 percent certain — that chemical agents were present at all three sites attacked. He says this likely included chlorine gas and sarin.

White describes the strikes as successful. She says there are currently no indications that Syria is preparing to use chemical weapons again.

— AP

A Syrian soldier films the damage of the Syrian Scientific Research Center which was attacked by US, British, and French military strikes, in Barzeh, near Damascus, Syria, April 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Russia: Syrian troops found German chlorine in Ghouta

The spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry says Syrian troops found chlorine of German origin in the Eastern Ghouta region, which includes a town where a suspected chemical weapons attack prompted retaliatory missile strikes by the West on Syrian government targets.

Syria and its Russian backers deny that government forces were responsible for the reported attack in the town of Douma. The Russian Defense Ministry has claimed the incident was staged by Britain and a Russian general in Syria says no evidence of chemical weapons has been found in Douma. Rebels who once held the town abandoned it this month.

However, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova says Thursday that “Syrian government troops, in freeing the territory of Eastern Ghouta, found containers with chlorine, the most terrible kind of chemical weapon, from Germany.” The statement appeard to be aimed at bolstering contentions that Syrian rebels have used chemical weapons.

— AP

Edelstein says Netanyahu’s credibility hurt after Independence Day speech

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s credibility has been hurt after the premier spoke for nearly three times longer than agreed upon at Israel’s official Independence Day ceremony.

In an interview aired Thursday with Channel 10, Edelstein also takes aim at Culture Minister Miri Regev, who organized the ceremony and pushed for Netanyahu’s inclusion.

“I told her I’ve had enough of her nonsense,” Edelstein says, regarding claims he spoke to her threateningly.

The ceremony was at the center of a political squabble between Edelstein and Regev, both members of the ruling Likud party, over Netanyahu’s participation in the ceremony. Edelstein threatened to boycott the event if Netanyahu attended, but an agreement was later reached to include the prime minister.

As part of the agreement, Netanyahu was set to speak for five minutes, but instead spoke for 14, much longer than Edelstein’s own eight-minute-long speech.

 

UN, key parties discuss chemical watchdog work in Syria

The UN spokesman says discussions are taking place in Syria’s capital with all key parties on security arrangements for inspectors from the UN chemical weapons watchdog to visit the site of a suspected chemical attack in Douma.

Stephane Dujarric tells reporters at UN headquarters Thursday that “due to the volatility” of the situation on the ground in Douma the United Nations doesn’t want “to telegraph” when a UN security team will return to Douma to check out whether conditions on the ground are safe for the inspectors to visit.

A UN security team touring the sites of the alleged attack on Tuesday was shot at and subjected to a blast but returned safely to Damascus, Dujarric said earlier.

The alleged April 7 chemical attack in Douma prompted the United States, France, and Britain to strike at suspected Syrian chemical weapons facilities.

— AP

Palestinian said critically injured in fresh Gaza border clashes

A Palestinian man was critically wounded by IDF sniper fire during clashes today on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says.

It says the man was shot east of Jabalya in northern Gaza and was evacuated to a hospital.

Friday is the fourth consecutive week of mass violent protests on the Gaza border as part of the “March of Return.”

The demonstrations have been encouraged by the Hamas terror group, which controls Gaza and is committed to Israel’s destruction.

Saudis intercept ballistic missile fired by Yemeni rebels

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi air defenses intercepted a “ballistic missile” fired by Iranian-backed Yemeni rebels at the kingdom’s southern coastal city of Jizan, the Saudi-led coalition fighting the rebels says.

It is the latest in a series of such attacks.

“Saudi air defenses intercepted a ballistic missile launched by the Houthi militias targeting Jizan,” the coalition says in a statement.

The Houthis, in a statement on their news outlet Al-Masirah, claim that they fired a “Badr 1” ballistic missile and say it struck Jizan Regional Airport.

AFP is unable to reach the airport for comment, but open-source flight information appears to show flights arriving and departing on time.

Saudi Arabia has since March 2015 led a coalition of Arab states fighting to roll back the Houthi rebels in Yemen and restore its neighbor’s internationally-recognized government to power.

Nearly 10,000 people have since been killed in the conflict, in what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

In March, an Egyptian laborer became the first known fatality in a rebel missile attack on the Saudi capital.

Saudi Arabia accuses its rival Iran of smuggling missiles to the Houthis — a charge Tehran denies.

— AFP

Large area of Berlin center evacuated for WWII bomb disposal

BERLIN — Berlin police evacuate thousands of people from a central area of the German capital Friday and shut down the main train station in preparation for the removal of an unexploded World War II bomb found during recent construction work.

Some 10,000 residents and workers are being forced to leave a two-square-kilometer (almost a square mile) area, including the train station, while bomb experts defuse the 500-kilogram (1,100-pound) British bomb dropped during the war.

Trains are prevented from stopping at the busy station from 10 a.m., and through traffic is being shut down at 11:30 a.m. before experts begin their work, German rail operator Deutsche Bahn said.

Rail traffic is tentatively planned to resume at about 1 p.m. but it’s not clear yet how long the bomb disposal operation will take. Some 300,000 travelers use the station daily, according to Deutsche Bahn.

The evacuation area, a circle around the construction site north of the train station where the bomb was discovered during digging, also includes a hospital, the main office of Germany’s foreign intelligence service, and parts of both the economy and transportation ministries.

Even 73 years after the end of the war, such discoveries remain common in major German cities.

— AP

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Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia hold ‘anti-terrorism’ meeting

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Russia hold a meeting in Baghdad on Thursday of military and security officials to coordinate “anti-terrorism” efforts, the Iranian defense ministry says.

“Cooperation in intelligence between the four countries for common aims and anti-terrorism missions has been successful in restoring stability and security, and it should form the basis for future cooperation,” Defense Minister General Amir Hatami says in a statement from the Iraqi capital.

The “coalition” had played an “important role in the defeat” of the Islamic State jihadist group in both Iraq and Syria, he says.

The meeting came the same day as Iraq said its air force carried out a raid on IS positions in Syria.

Tehran supports the Iraqi government and the Russian-backed regime in Syria in fighting rebel groups and jihadists by sending “military advisers” and “volunteers” from Iran and Afghanistan.

— AFP