Israel exempts Palestinians from fuel tax to ease economic burden
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Palestinians say Israel agreed to partial payment of overdue taxes

PA minister says Ramallah exempt from paying fuel tax under NIS 2 billion agreement reached in bid to ease severe economic crisis

PA president Mahmoud Abbas addressing Palestinian and Arab journalists in the PA presidential headquarters on July 3, 2019. (Credit: Wafa)
PA president Mahmoud Abbas addressing Palestinian and Arab journalists in the PA presidential headquarters on July 3, 2019. (Credit: Wafa)

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

Supreme Court debates disqualifying extremist party from elections

The Supreme Court is debating a petition to disqualify the extremist Otzma Yehidit party and its leaders from the September 17 elections.

The court must approve the Central Elections Committee’s decision to let the far-right party run in in next month’s election re-do. Last month lawmakers sought to have the Otzma Yehudit disqualified from the elections due to its anti-Arab racism.

The party’s Itamar Ben Gvir tells the court that “if Arab-Israeli lawmaker Hanin Zoabi is allowed to run for the Knesset, then there should be no problem with Baruch Marzel.”

“Nothing that he has said comes close to what she has done,” Ben Gvir told the court according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Ben Gvir also noted that Marzel has apologized for his remarks, but the justices reportedly told him that he has apologized many times in the past, but continues to share inflammatory content on social media.

The court is also mulling a petition by Otzma, which is seeking to ban the Joint (Arab) List from running in the elections.

The appeal accuses the Joint List of incitement to terrorism, supporting a terror group, and denying Israel’s existence as a Jewish state

Turkey to host Syria summit with Russia, Iran on September 16

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will host his Russian and Iranian counterparts for a summit on Syria in Ankara on September 16, the presidential spokesman says.

Despite being on opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, Syria regime backers Iran and Russia have worked closely with rebel supporter Turkey to find a political solution.

“The president will host a three-way summit with the participation of Russia and Iran in Ankara,” spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said late last night.

The announcement of the meeting between President Vladimir Putin, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Erdogan comes at a time when Syrian forces have made advances into the last rebel stronghold of Idlib in Syria’s northwest.


Damascus to let civilians flee rebel-held Idlib

Damascus says it is opening a corridor for civilians to leave the rebel-held northwestern region of Idlib, where government bombardment has killed hundreds since late April.

The announcement came a day after government forces recaptured the strategic Idlib province town of Khan Sheikhun from jihadists and allied rebels.

Damascus has opened such corridors out of other rebel bastions in the past as a prelude to retaking them either by force or through negotiated surrenders.

This file photo taken on March 14, 2019 shows destruction following an airstrike in the jihadist-held city of Idlib, northwestern Syria. (Muhammad Haj Kadour/AFP)

The Idlib region, which sits on the Turkish border, is now the last major stronghold of opposition to the Russia-backed government of President Bashar Assad.

Since January, it has been ruled by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance, which is led by jihadists from Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.


Brush fire near Ben Gurion airport snarls traffic, halts trains

A brush fire near Ben Gurion International Airport is causing traffic jams in the area and delaying the trains that serve it.

Shuttle buses have been ordered for passengers at the airport and the Modiin stations. Passengers in Jerusalem are being directed to alternative public transportation.

Thousands flee north Nigeria towns amid Boko Haram attacks

Local officials say that thousands are fleeing Gubio in northern Nigeria after Boko Haram extremists took over.

Gubio Local Council Chairman Zanna Modu says that soldiers repelled the extremists on August 11 in the town north of Maiduguri, but withdrew last week. He said extremists took over Wednesday, setting houses and public buildings on fire. No casualty toll was yet available.

Women arrive in a camp in the village of Kidjendi near Diffa on June 19, 2016 as displaced families fled from Boko Haram attacks in Bosso. (AFP/ISSOUF SANOGO)

Another local official Usman Zannah said Boko Haram also took over Magumeri which is also north of Maiduguri. Zannah said extremists are taking advantage of troop withdrawals from strategic locations.

Nigerian military authorities have not given comment on these latest attacks.

Boko Haram’s 10-year insurgency has killed tens of thousands of people, displaced millions and created one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises.

— AP

UK’s Johnson presses for fresh Brexit talks in Paris

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson exudes confidence as he presses French President Emmanuel Macron to accept his request to reopen Brexit negotiations, meeting in Paris on the second stop of his first European tour as UK leader.

After ticking off examples of close ties between the two countries, Johnson turned on a charm offensive, stresses that the UK wants a Brexit deal with EU. But even as he chummily calls the French leader by his first name, Johnson adds it was his duty to carry out the wishes of the British people, who by a narrow margin voted to leave the EU.

“As you yourself have just pointed out, Emmanuel, it is vital for trust in politics, that if you have a referendum, then you should act on the instructions of the voters. And that is why we must come out of the EU October 31, deal or no deal,” Johnson says . “Then of course we can take our relationship forward. I agree with you wholeheartedly Emmanuel that it is a quite extraordinary relationship.”

— AP

Israel accuses Iran-backed Islamic Jihad of uptick in Gaza violence

The Israel Defense Forces blames the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad for the recent increase in violence from the Gaza Strip and calls on Hamas, the de facto ruler of the enclave, to rein in the terror group.

“We do not plan to accept terror attacks and rocket fire against our citizens,” the IDF’s Arabic-language spokesperson Avichay Adraee writes on Twitter.

Adraee is referring to a number of rocket and mortar attacks directed against southern Israel and infiltration attempts along the border in recent days.

Fighters from the Al-Quds Brigades, the Islamic Jihad terror group’s military wing, take part in a military march in the town of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 15, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

The Islamic Jihad is the second most powerful terror group in the Gaza Strip after Hamas. Israel has routinely accused the Iran-backed group of seeking to derail its unofficial ceasefire agreements with Hamas by carrying out attacks from Gaza.

“Hamas, as the ruler of the Strip, must enforce its authority over Islamic Jihad and prevent these terror attacks and plots,” Adraee says.

The spokesman says Islamic Jihad is responsible for any failure to implement the conditions of the ceasefire agreements and that it will “bear the consequences” for these activities.

— Judah Ari Gross

Syrian refugee convicted of Germany stabbing that sparked far-right protests

A court in the German city of Chemnitz convicts a Syrian asylum-seeker over a fatal stabbing last year that touched off far-right protests.

The state court in Dresden convicts Alaa S. of manslaughter and dangerous bodily harm in the killing last August of Daniel Hillig.

Judges sentence the 24-year-old defendant, whose last name wasn’t released in line with German privacy laws, to 9 years and 6 months in prison, slightly less than the 10-year-sentence prosecutors had demanded.

Alaa S, right, who is suspected of being responsible for the stabbing of Daniel Hillig in Chemnitz, escorted by a police officer as he arrives for the start of his trial at the court in Dresden, Germany, March 18, 2019. (Matthias Rietschel/AP)

Defense lawyers had called for their client to be acquitted, citing lack of evidence.

An Iraqi suspect in the case is still being sought on an international arrest warrant.

Following the killing, thousands of neo-Nazis, members of the far-right Alternative for Germany party and others assembled in Chemnitz to protest against migration.

— AP

Liberman reaches out to LGBT community after leaked video with extremist rabbi

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman reaches out to the LGBT community leaders after a video emerged of a 2013 meeting between him and fundamentalist Jerusalem rabbi Shmuel Auerbach drew widespread criticism.

During the meeting, Liberman was seen agreeing with Auerbach’s opposition to gay pride events in the nation’s capital, telling him that “there won’t be all these parades that they hold here or the gay festivals.”

Liberman, whose party campaigns on a secularist platform, was criticized for the remarks by lawmakers on both the right and left.

Avigdor Liberman meets with hardline Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach in Jerusalem in 2013. (Channel 12 screenshot)

In a letter to the leaders of Israel’s LGBT community, Liberman says he and his party are guided by the principle of “live and let live and respect for all people.”

“We are also not against the orthodox or religious people,” he said. “To each his own. I’ve said before that I would oppose opening a supermarket in Bnei Brak on Shabbat, but I will work to ensure that they don’t close supermarkets on Shabbat in Tel Aviv or Ashdod.”

Trump slams Danish PM’s ‘nasty’ rejection of Greenland deal

US Donald Trump snaps back at the Danish prime minister’s “nasty” dismissal of his attempts to purchase Greenland, heightening a row which has already prompted the US president to scrap a state visit.

Hours after announcing he would not visit Copenhagen next month as planned, Trump accuses Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of insulting the United States as a whole by rejecting talk of buying Greenland as “absurd.”

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

With Frederiksen voicing her annoyance at Trump’s cancellation, the war of words marks another spat between the US and one of its traditional allies since Trump came to power two years ago on an avowedly “America First” foreign policy platform.

Trump — who made his name as a New York property mogul — has characterized his idea of buying Greenland as essentially “a large real estate” deal, arguing it is a burden on Denmark as the autonomous territory’s economy depends heavily on subsidies from Copenhagen.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump says he isn’t the first US president to have raised the idea of buying the vast Arctic island which has housed an American air base since even before it became formally a part of Denmark.

“Greenland was just an idea, just a thought. But I think when they say it was ‘absurd’ — and it was said in a very nasty, very sarcastic way — I said, ‘We’ll make it some other time,'” Trump says.

A picture taken on July 11, 2015, shows houses in Upernavik, a small village in western Greenland. (Linda Kastrup / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP)

“We’ll go to Denmark. I love Denmark. I’ve been to Denmark. And, frankly, we’ll do it another time.”

The idea of the US buying Greenland was initially dismissed as a joke by some, but its strategic location has grown at a time when both Russia and China are flexing their muscles.


Israel exempts Palestinians from fuel tax to ease economic burden

Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed to exempt the Palestinians from paying taxes on fuel, senior PA official Hussein al-Sheikh tweets.

The agreement, if implemented, is likely to give the PA considerable economic relief as it confronts a major financial crisis.

Sheikh, however, says that the deal does not mark the conclusion of the PA’s current financial woes.

“This does not mean the financial crisis is over. Billions that belong to us are still being held by Israel,” Sheikh says.

Pentagon chief confirms death of Qaeda’s Hamza bin Laden

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has confirmed the death of Hamza bin Laden, the son and designated heir of Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.

“That’s my understanding,” Esper said in an interview late Wednesday with Fox News, when asked if Hamza bin Laden was dead.

“I don’t have the details on that. And if I did I’m not sure how much I could share with you,” he added.

An undated image of the late al-Qaeda terrorist Osama bin Laden and his son, Hamza. (YouTube screenshot)

US media reported at the beginning of August that bin Laden was killed during the last two years in an operation that involved the United States, citing US intelligence officials.

But President Donald Trump and other senior officials have refused to confirm or deny it publicly.

The 15th of Osama bin Laden’s 20 children and a son of his third wife, Hamza, thought to be about 30 years old, was “emerging as a leader in the Al-Qaeda franchise,” the State Department said in announcing the reward.


Dozens of former Yeshiva University high school students file sex abuse lawsuit

Thirty-eight former students of Yeshiva University High School have filed a sexual abuse suit at a civil court in New York.

The group of men say they were repeatedly abused by a teacher and principal during the 1970s and 1980s, and that school administrators covered up the crimes.

The plaintiffs are seeking over $680 million in damages. A previous sex abuse lawsuit brought against Yeshiva University in 2014 was thrown out by a New York court because the statute of limitations had expired. The suit filed earlier today falls under the newly passed Child Victim’s Act, which extends the statute of limitations for reporting sexual abuse.

Sarah Sanders heads to Fox News as a contributor

Former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who once sparred with journalists, has decided to join them.

Fox News says that Sanders has been hired to provide political commentary and analysis across all its properties, including Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network and the radio and podcast division.

Sanders was press secretary for President Donald Trump from July 2017 through June 2019, quarreling with reporters who aggressively questioned her about any number of controversies involving the president.

In a statement, Sanders says she is “beyond proud” to join Fox. She will make her debut on “Fox & Friends” on Sept. 6.

— AP

Macron to host Iran top diplomat for rare nuclear talks Friday

President Emmanuel Macron will on Friday hold talks on Iran’s contested nuclear program with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the French presidency says, in a rare encounter between a Western head of state and a senior Iranian official.

Macron will meet Zarif just one day before France chairs a three-day summit of leaders of Group of Seven (G7) countries, including President Donald Trump, in the southern resort of Biarritz.

Zarif, who has been on a tour of Scandinavia, had earlier this week said he planned to hold talks in Paris.

The discussions between Zarif and Macron will come at a critical time for relations between Tehran and the West as Iran ramps up its nuclear programme in response to Trump’s decision to pull out of the 2015 deal over its atomic drive.

France and other EU powers have insisted they want to keep the nuclear deal alive, although many analysts warn the US pullout dealt it a near-fatal blow.


Israeli toddler mauled by tiger in Thailand

A 2-year-old Israeli boy is moderately injured after being mauled by a tiger in Thailand.

According to reports, the incident took place at a zoo in the city of Ko Samui. The boy was rushed to a local hospital where he was undergoing surgery. Doctors said the boy was in stable condition and that there is no threat to his life. He will be flown back to Israel soon.

The circumstances of the incident were not immediately clear.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was aware of the injury and was assisting the family in whatever way possible.

Rights group blames Brazilian government for Amazon fires

Amnesty International says Brazilian government failures are responsible for fires raging in the Amazon rainforest.

The comment by the rights group on Thursday came after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro suggested some non-governmental groups could be setting the blazes in retaliation for losing state funds under his administration.

Bolsonaro did not provide any evidence for his allegation, which escalated international concern over the vast rainforest that is a major absorber of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Kumi Naidoo is secretary-general of London-based Amnesty International. He says the group has documented illegal land invasions and arson attacks in the Amazon, including a region where many fires are raging.

The World Meteorological Organization said this week that satellite images show smoke from Amazon fires is reaching the Atlantic coast and Sao Paulo.

— AP

Tibi rejects Odeh’s willingness to join next government

Joint (Arab) List MK Ahmad Tibi rejects party chief Ayman Odeh’s earlier remarks that he would be willing to sit in a government led by Blue and White chief Benny Gantz.

“I will not be a member of Gantz’s ‘government of generals,'” Tibi tells Channel 13 news.

The center-right Blue and White party is led by three ex-generals.

Ta’al party leader MK Ahmad Tibi speaks during a discussion on a bill to dissolve the parliament, at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on May 29, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Tibi tells Channel 13 that media outlets exaggerated the nature of Odeh’s remarks.

“There’s a difference between the headlines and Odeh’s actual interview,” Tibi says. “On social media, he explained that he will only join the government after the occupation is over and a Palestinian state is established. It seems that the occupation won’t end after the elections, and therefore this is a utopian scenario, but it does express our desire to have more influence in the political system.”

AG publishes guidelines for gender-segregated events

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit publishes a set of guidelines for local authorities seeking to hold gender-segregated events under certain conditions.

The rules come after an outcry over a gender-segregated concert by an ultra-Orthodox singer in Afula last week.

Mandelblit’s guidelines stipulate that the municipality must demonstrate that the intended audience would not be able to participate in the event if it was not separate seating for men and women.

NGOs urge Macron to call out Egypt’s human rights record

Rights groups are urging French President Emmanuel Macron to denounce the “worsening human rights crisis” under Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the G7 Summit in France later this month.

Sisi is slated to attend the international meeting where Macron will host world leaders in the French city of Biarritz from August 24-26.

“Public space has been virtually closed down in Egypt in the midst of a worsening human rights crisis, with a severe rollback of the freedoms of expression, assembly, association and the press,” the group of 20 human rights organizations said in a statement.

The coalition lambasting Sisi’s record included international advocacy organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Reporters without Borders, as well as Egyptian civil society groups.

Sisi rose to power after the military ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Under his government, authorities have cracked down hard on Islamists, secular and leftist activists as well as journalists and bloggers.


Satellite firm releases images of Iraqi base destroyed by mystery blast

An Israeli satellite imaging firm releases images of an Iraqi munitions depot that was targeted by a mystery explosion that was blamed on an Israel drone strike.

The before and after images analyzed and distributed by ImageSat International show heavy damage at the Balad airbase north of Baghdad.

ISI says the base appeared to have been targeted in an airstrike, triggering an explosion. A second blast was triggered when the munitions storage rooms caught on fire.

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Israel exempts Palestinians from fuel tax to ease economic burden

Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed to exempt the Palestinians from paying taxes on fuel, senior PA official Hussein al-Sheikh tweets.

The agreement, if implemented, is likely to give the PA considerable economic relief as it confronts a major financial crisis.

Sheikh, however, says that the deal does not mark the conclusion of the PA’s current financial woes.

“This does not mean the financial crisis is over. Billions that belong to us are still being held by Israel,” Sheikh says.