The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.
Sara Netanyahu indicted for fraudulently charging $100,000 in meals to the state
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit files an indictment Thursday afternoon against Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, for allegedly fraudulently charging some NIS 359,000 ($100,000) in gourmet meals to the state’s expense between 2010 and 2013.
According to the indictment, Netanyahu falsely claimed there was no cook at the time in the Prime Minister’s Residence.
Netanyahu’s attorneys have tried in recent months to reach a settlement that would see no criminal indictment filed but would include the return of the funds. The State Attorney’s Office rejected the proposal, arguing that returning funds allegedly obtained illegally is not sufficient punishment for someone suspected of systematically defrauding the state.
Mandelblit also rejected any settlement because Sara Netanyahu is also a suspect in “Case 4000,” the Bezeq graft investigation.
Iran lists demands for improving relations with US
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran announces a list of 15 demands for improving relations with the United States, including a US return to the 2015 nuclear accord, in response to a similar list of demands made by Washington last month.
In an article in a state-owned newspaper Thursday, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif calls on the US to stop providing arms to the “invaders of Yemen,” referring to Saudi Arabia, and to drop its opposition to the nuclear disarmament of Israel.
The article comes in response to demands laid out in May by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who called for a wholesale change in Iran’s military and regional policies, threatening the “strongest sanctions in history” if it refused. The US withdrew from the nuclear agreement with world powers earlier that month.
Syria shells rebel-held areas ahead of possible offensive
Syrian state media say government forces have shelled rebel-held areas in the south, in new violence that further undermined an international “de-escalation” agreement backed by the United States.
The intermittent shelling over the past week comes as the government has threatened to launch a new offensive in the area, which borders Jordan and the Golan Heights. The US, Russia and Jordan negotiated a de-escalation agreement in July.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the shelling Thursday on areas north of the city of Daraa, saying more than 12,000 people have been displaced by the shelling since Tuesday. State media say the shelling targeted “terrorists” posts, destroying their weapons.
Prisons Service says it foiled attempted killing of a prisoner by poison
The Israel Prisons Service says it recently prevented an assassination attempt against a prisoner by a fellow prisoner.
The attempt, whose details remain under wraps while the investigation is underway, involved smuggling poison into the prison and poisoning the target.
The motive, say investigators, was a power struggle among prisoners within the prison.
According to the Prisons Service intelligence branch, the suspect employed someone on the outside to carry out the assassination.
Both suspects are in custody.
Israel nabs six Palestinians suspected of damaging Jerusalem security fence
Border Police forces arrest six Palestinian from Bethlehem who are suspected of repeatedly vandalizing the security fence in the Jerusalem area.
Security forces have seen the individuals approach the fence near the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa “several times over the past month,” and proceed to cut communication cables attached to the barrier.
The damage was valued at some NIS 100,000 ($28,000).
One of the suspects, who are not identified by name in the police statement, is an Israeli citizen.
All are members of the Hamas terror group, according to police, and several are also suspected of “additional terror actions.”
Jewish Agency asks Isaac Herzog to be its next chairman
The Jewish Agency asks Labor MK and Knesset opposition leader Isaac Herzog to be its next chairman in a letter sent earlier today to the lawmaker.
The move may spark a row with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has pushed for his Likud ally, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, to be appointed to the position.
The Jewish Agency’s 120-member Board of Governors meets in Jerusalem on Sunday to vote on the next chairperson to replace the outgoing Natan Sharansky, who is retiring after nine years in the position.
Herzog accepts offer to be next chairman of Jewish Agency
MK Isaac Herzog says he accepts the request by the Jewish Agency’s nominating committee to be the organization’s next chairman, an invitation that must still be approved by the organization’s board of governors in a Sunday vote.
“After receiving a call for the leaders of Diaspora Jewry, I decided to accept the position of Jewish Agency chairman. These are days of significant challenges for the relationship between the Jewish people [in the Diaspora] and the State of Israel,” Herzog says in a statement.
“I will start the job on August 1,” he adds. He will have to resign his Knesset seat before entering the position.
Netanyahu cancels Jewish Agency meeting after Herzog nomination
In an unusual move, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has canceled a Monday meeting with Diaspora Jewish leaders and the heads of the Jewish Agency.
The move is seen as an expression of Netanyahu’s dissatisfaction with the Agency’s decision earlier today to invite Labor MK Isaac Herzog to be the next chairman of the organization, instead of Netanyahu’s favorite for the post, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz.
Liberman heads to Cyprus for trilateral meeting with Greek, Cypriot counterparts
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman is scheduled to travel to Cyprus tonight for a trilateral meeting with his Cypriot and Greek counterparts, his office says.
“Defense Minister Liberman and his counterparts will discuss strategic regional issues and topical defense matters that are relevant to the three countries,” his office says.
This will be the second time that Liberman meets with Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos and Cyprus’s Defense Minister Savvas Angelides in this forum. Their last trilateral meeting was in November.
— Judah Ari Gross
IDF drone fires warning shot at Gazans launching incendiary balloons
An Israeli drone fires a warning shot at a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian media.
The Hamas-affiliated Shehab news agency reports the incident occurred east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
The Israeli military does not immediately confirm the strike.
There are no Palestinian injuries reported.
— Judah Ari Gross
In Jordan, Merkel calls for tools to ‘counter Iranian aggression’
German Chancellor Angela Merkel tells Jordan’s King Abdullah II that Europe must find ways to counter Iranian moves in the Middle East.
“We must develop effective tools and use them to counter Iranian aggression in the region,” Merkel tells Abdullah, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.
Russia ‘skeptical’ about UN report on Syrian war crimes
Russia’s foreign minister says he is “skeptical” about a UN report accusing the Syrian regime of committing crimes against humanity during the siege of Eastern Ghouta.
The report published Wednesday says forces loyal to the government had deliberately starved civilians during the siege between February and April, among other crimes.
“We are in principle very skeptical towards the methods of this sort of work, whether it comes to war crimes or the use of chemical weapons,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says at a press conference in Moscow with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
When questioned by journalists, Lavrov confirms he had not seen the report.
But he says it was “based on data obtained through social networks, video that was filmed by witnesses,” rather than being put together on the ground.
The five-year siege, on the outskirts of the capital, ended in April when Damascus regained control of the rebel enclave.
Former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr lands in Israel for two shows
Former Beatles drummer Richard Starkey, better known by his stage name Ringo Starr, lands in Israel ahead of two shows over the weekend in Tel Aviv.
The visit is Starr’s first in Israel, and is part of a world tour.
He is set to perform at Tel Aviv’s Menora Mivtachim venue on Saturday and Sunday.
The famed drummer has never performed in Israel before, though fellow Beatle Paul McCartney performed in Yarkon Park in 2008.
A planned 1965 show by the Fab Four was famously nixed by the Israeli government, which cited the group’s supposedly corrupting influence on youth.
Trudeau: Canada to legalize marijuana on October 17
TORONTO — Marijuana will be legal nationwide in Canada starting October 17 in a move that should take market share away from organized crime and protect the country’s youth, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says.
The Senate gave final passage to the bill to legalize cannabis on Tuesday, legislation that will make Canada only the second country in the world to make pot legal across the country.
Trudeau says provincial and territorial governments need the time to prepare for retail sales.
“It is our hope as of October 17 there will be a smooth operation of retail cannabis outlets operated by the provinces with an online mail delivery system operated by the provinces that will ensure that this happens in an orderly fashion,” Trudeau says.
End of driving ban to boost Saudi women’s economic role
The end of a decades-old female driving ban is expected to bring an economic windfall for millions of Saudi women, making it easier for them to work and do business.
Taghreed Ghazala, who owns a chain of beauty salons, sees the move as a huge step forward for businesswomen like her in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
“I have many drivers that I pay to transport my employees around,” she told AFP ahead of the end of the ban on Sunday.
“Now I don’t need them anymore. My business will save money, effort and time and I can invest them to grow my business faster.”
Saudi women are severely under-represented in the jobs market, with a staggering 31 percent unemployment rate among the female workforce.
They make up just under 23% of the national workforce of six million, according to official figures — mainly because of their restricted mobility.
A recent survey by the Chamber of Commerce of the Red Sea city of Jeddah showed that transportation was considered one of the top barriers holding Saudi women back from joining the labor market.
Experts expect that the lifting of the driving ban will not only help raise female participation and employment rates but also create new jobs.
British envoy defends use of ‘occupied Palestinian’ for Old City of Jerusalem
The British ambassador to Israel defends describing Jerusalem’s Old City as being part of the “Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
“All the terminology that was used in the program was consistent with years of practice by British governments. It’s consistent with British government policy,” David Quarrey says.
“There’s no political message in this,” he adds. “The Duke is not a political figure. He’ll be here to see a little bit of the country and to get to meet some of the people here. And also to get a flavor of Israel, to see what’s happening here, some of the extraordinary successes in technology, some of the great culture here. And he really wants to get under the skin of the country.”
The fact that the Duke of Cambridge’s visit to the Old City was billed as part of his visit to the Palestinian Authority had garnered some criticism from Israeli officials, with Jerusalem Minister Ze’ev Elkin accusing the third-in-line to the throne of “politicizing” his visit to the region next week.
“United Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for 3,000 years and no distortion in the tour itinerary can change that reality,” Elkin said.
Briefing Israeli journalists in his Ramat Gan residence, Quarrey says that Prince William is looking forward to arriving here.
“It’s the first official visit by a senior member of the Royal family. I think it’s going to be a great success. I hope that it will be a celebration of the modern relationship, the modern partnership between the UK and Israel.”
— Raphael Ahren
IDF stops 40 Palestinians from breaching West Bank security fence
The army prevents a large-scale breach of the West Bank’s security fence, arresting some 40 Palestinians who tried to enter Israel near the Palestinian city of Tulkarem a short time ago, the military says.
The suspects have been handed over to the Shin Bet security service for further questioning.
— Judah Ari Gross
Trump’s Mideast team, including Jared Kushner, arrives in Egypt
CAIRO — Egyptian airport officials say US President Donald Trump’s Mideast team has arrived in Cairo on the latest stop in a regional tour to discuss a blueprint for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
The officials say Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, and Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt, will meet with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and other Egyptian officials Thursday.
They met Tuesday with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Wednesday with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, acknowledging the talks only after the fact. They were expected to visit Qatar and Israel, but have not released an official itinerary.
Intel CEO resigns after consensual relationship with employee
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich resigns after the company learned of what it called a consensual relationship with an employee.
Intel says that the relationship was in violation of the company’s non-fraternization policy, which applies to all managers.
Chief Financial Officer Robert Swan will take over as interim CEO immediately. A search for a new CEO is underway.
Kushner, Egypt’s Sissi discuss Israel-Palestinian peace process
US President Donald Trump’s adviser Jared Kushner and special envoy Jason Greenblatt meet Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on Thursday to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Sissi tells the US envoys, who are touring the region in a bid to revive long-stalled talks, that Egypt supports a “just and comprehensive settlement” to the conflict.
He argues in favor of a “two-state solution on the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Palestine,” the presidency says in a statement.
Trump’s administration sparked anger across the Arab world in December by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state.
The Palestinian leadership responded by freezing all contacts with US officials.
In May, Washington moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The White House says Thursday that Kushner and Greenblatt had discussed increasing cooperation between the United States and Egypt.
Merkel pledges $100 million loan for troubled Jordan
German Chancellor Angela Merkel promises a $100 million loan to troubled Jordan, where mass protests over austerity measures forced the prime minister to resign earlier this month.
She arrives later in the Lebanese capital Beirut, another major Middle Eastern refugee host country, where she is expected to meet officials, businesspeople, and representatives of UN organizations during a two-day visit.
Merkel is visiting Jordan and Lebanon, both neighbors of war-torn Syria, amid an escalating domestic row over migration. Standing next to Jordan’s King Abdullah II, she made no reference to the crisis that’s straining her ruling coalition.
The chancellor said Germany will provide the $100 million loan in addition to bilateral aid which amounts to about 384 million euros ($442 million) this year. She said she hopes the additional funds will help Jordan carry out economic reforms sought by the International Monetary Fund.
US warns Russia, Syria on cease-fire violations
The United States is warning Russia and Syria’s President Bashar Assad of “serious repercussions” for violations of an unraveling ceasefire in southwest Syria.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert says the US remains “deeply troubled” by reports of “increasing Syrian regime operations” within the boundaries of the truce. She says US reports show that Assad’s forces and militias have violated the cease-fire with airstrikes, rocket attacks and artillery.
Nauert says the US demands that Russia “restrain” Assad’s forces from further action in the zone covered by the truce. She says Secretary of State Mike Pompeo relayed that message to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov by phone over the weekend.
The US says it expects “all parties to respect the cease-fire.”
Trump says Congress must fix immigration
US President Donald Trump is defending his Wednesday executive order to end new family separations at the border, but says Congress needs to act to permanently fix the problem.
Speaking before a Cabinet meeting, Trump says “I signed a very good executive order.”
But he says the “only real solution” is for Congress to close loopholes in the immigration system, saying “If we don’t close these loopholes there is no amount of money or personnel in the world.”
As congressional Republicans look to pass sweeping immigration bills Thursday, Trump says Democrats are obstructionists and is accusing them of not caring about the children separated from their parents.
This spring, the Trump administration put in a place a zero-tolerance policy on illegal border crossings, resulting in children separated from families at the border.
US Justice Department denies reported freeze in prosecutions of migrant parents
A spokeswoman for the US Department of Justice says a report that parents who try to illegally cross the border with children will no longer be criminally prosecuted is inaccurate.
Spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores says there has been no change to the “zero tolerance” policy that resulted in the separation of more than 2,300 children from their parents.
In the face of worldwide outrage, US President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an order to stop the separations. Justice Department lawyers are working on a legal challenge to allow families to be detained longer than 20 days.
The Washington Post reports that the policy was suspended until US Immigration and Customs Enforcement could find space to detain them.
Monitor group says Hezbollah in Syria pulling back from Israeli border
A Syrian war monitor group claims Thursday that Hezbollah units deployed in Syria are pulling back dozens of kilometers from the Israeli border in response to a request from Russia, but that Iran was refusing to do the same with its forces in the area.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, citing what it described as “reliable sources,” says that Lebanese terror group Hezbollah and its allied gunmen have begun withdrawing to positions that are 40 kilometers (25 miles) away for the border with Israel, and a similar distance from the Jordanian-Syrian border.
Russia, Iran, and its proxy Hezbollah, have been providing military assistance to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad as it battles against rebel groups in a civil war which has entered its eighth year.
Israel has repeatedly said it wants Iran and militias it is backing to withdraw from the border area, and recent media reports have claimed that Jerusalem reached an agreement on the matter with Moscow.
2 seriously hurt in Yavneh shooting, police say likely not terror
Two people are seriously wounded in a shooting in Yavneh moments ago that appears to have targeted a man and a pregnant woman in a public street in the city.
Police say the shooting does not appear to be a terror attack, but is believed to be linked to criminal activities in the city.
Thousands flee as regime steps up shelling in south Syria
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Thousands of civilians have fled “intensified” regime bombardments of rebel-held areas in southern Syria in the past three days, a monitor said Thursday, as fears mount of a full-blown assault.
President Bashar Assad has set his sights on retaking rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria, whether through negotiations or a military operation, and has been amassing troops there in recent weeks.
So far, no deal has been struck to avert fighting over the southern opposition stronghold that borders Jordan and the Israeli Golan Heights.
On Thursday, a Britain-based war monitor said the regime had ramped up its bombardment of Daraa province, leading thousands to flee for their lives.