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Israel said to express concerns to US over Saudi nuclear program

Report says Prime Minister’s Office is treating matter with high sensitivity due to concerns about harming Jerusalem’s unofficial ties with Riyadh

Two buildings, located near Saudi Arabia's Solar Village research institute, that some analysts believe could be nuclear facilities (Google Earth screen grab)
Two buildings, located near Saudi Arabia's Solar Village research institute, that some analysts believe could be nuclear facilities (Google Earth screen grab)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s news as it happened.

Health Ministry says 53 virus deaths at senior living homes weren’t counted

The Health Ministry says 53 coronavirus fatalties at senior living homes during July and August were not included in its official COVID-19 death count.

“Health Minister Yuli Edelstein views this matter very gravely. The minister ordered a thorough check and to bring recommendations before him within a week, including personal recommendations if necessary,” a ministry statement says.

The statement says Chezy Levy, director-general of the ministry, also ordered that all coronavirus virus deaths be reported to a single source representing all medical facilities, including geriatric centers, which didn’t previously report fatalities to the ministry’s “computerized system.”

“Likewike, the ministry is checking whether there were any additional cases that weren’t added,” the statement adds.

According to Health Ministry figures released this morning, there have been 719 coronavirus deaths in Israel since the pandemic began.

UAE connects new nuclear power plant to electrical grid

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A nuclear power plant in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates has been connected to the country’s power grid, authorities say today.

The Barakah nuclear power plant in the Emirates’ far western desert near the border with Saudi Arabia began sending out electricity, according the state-run WAM news agency.

WAM publishes a photograph of employees working inside of the plant’s control room.

Authorities have not granted journalists access to the plant during its years of construction despite repeated requests. Officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency have seen the site.

On July 31, the plant’s first reactor reached what scientists called its “first criticality.” That’s when the nuclear chain reaction within the reactor is self-sustaining.

Plans call for four reactors to be operating at Barakah, which authorities say will provide some 25% of all energy needs in this OPEC-member nation.

The $20 billion Barakah nuclear power plant was built by the Emirates with the help of South Korea. It’s the first nuclear power plant on the Arabian Peninsula.

The US has praised the UAE’s nuclear program for agreeing never to acquire enrichment or reprocessing capabilities, which prevents it from being able to make weapons-grade uranium. The US says that’s a model agreement for other countries seeking nuclear power while also encouraging the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.

— AP

In this undated photograph published by the United Arab Emirates’ state-run WAM news agency, employees work at the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant in the UAE’s far western desert. (WAM via AP)

Iran passes 20,000 coronavirus deaths

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran has surpassed 20,000 confirmed deaths from the coronavirus.

Today’s announcement comes as Iran struggles with the largest outbreak in the Middle East with 350,200 confirmed cases. But despite the somber statistic, the Islamic Republic is still holding university entrance exams for over 1 million students and is preparing for mass Shiite commemorations at the end of the month.

Earlier this year Iran suffered the Middle East’s first major outbreak, with senior politicians, health officials and religious leaders in its Shiite theocracy stricken with the virus.

It since has struggled to contain its spread across this nation of 80 million people, initially beating it back only to see it spike again, beginning in June.

— AP

Netanyahu further threatens Gaza terror groups amid continued attacks from Strip

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu further threatens Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip amid continued arson attacks and rocket fire from the coastal enclave.

“We have been striking Hamas every day, for 11 nights in a row. If we need we’ll do much more. They need to understand that what happened to them last time will happen to them in multiples, [Hamas] and Islamic Jihad,” he tells the Knesset Lobby for the Negev, according to a statement from his office.

He also suggests Israel could employ targeted killings of senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad figures if violence further escalates.

“They saw we were prepared to use all the tools, including [targeted killings], if things develop,” he says, apparently referring to the Israeli strike in November that killed senior Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu Al-Ata.

Hamas-backed rally held in Gaza against Israel-UAE deal

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip rally against the US-brokered deal to normalize ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Protesters burn Israeli and American flags, trample on posters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump, and chant “normalization is betrayal to Jerusalem and Palestine.”

Unlike Palestinian protesters last Friday near the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, who also burned posters of the Emirati crown prince, the Gaza demonstrators stop short of burning symbols of the UAE — apparently not to antagonize the Gulf Arab country, where tens of thousands of Palestinians work and live.

The demonstrators in Gaza City also voiced support for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, for his rejection of Trump’s Middle East plan, which the Palestinians say unfairly favors Israel.

The protest was organized by the Hamas terror group, which rules the Gaza Strip, and by other factions.

Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official, denounces the Israeli-Emirati deal.

“Normalization with the occupation harms us and doesn’t serve us,” he says. “Instead, it serves and promotes the occupation in its projects that target Palestine and the region.”

— Agencies

Palestinians shout slogans during a protest against the United Arab Emirates’ deal with Israel to normalize relations, in Gaza City, on August 19, 2020. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Manchester suicide bomber’s brother snubs sentencing hearing

LONDON — The brother of a suicide bomber who killed 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in 2017 refuses to attend his sentencing hearing for murder.

A jury finds Hashem Abedi, now 23, guilty of 22 counts of murder, attempted murder and conspiring to cause explosions at the gig in northwest England after a trial that ended in March.

The attack, carried out by Salman Abedi, 22, inspired by the Islamic State jihadist group, was one of the deadliest terror attacks ever carried out in Britain, and left more than 200 people injured.

The defendant had sacked his legal team and refused to leave prison to attend the trial at the Central Criminal Court in London.

Judge Jeremy Baker says although he had been brought to court as required for the two-day sentencing hearing, he had refused to come to the courtroom and still had no legal representation.

“He has had every opportunity and has been encouraged to have legal representation. But he has made it clear and I am satisfied that he does not wish to be present at this hearing,” he says.

Family members of some of the victims and survivors are in court for the sentencing, which will determine how long Manchester-born Abedi spends in prison.

Others are following proceedings via videolink in Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and Glasgow.

Judge Baker says he cannot be given a whole-life term — ensuring he would never be released — because he was under the age of 21 at the time of the offences.

Hashem Abedi was in Libya when the attack took place at the Manchester Arena on the evening of May 22, 2017, but his trial showed he had helped his brother plan it for several months.

He obtained chemicals for the homemade bomb, found an address to make and store it, and bought a car to transport the materials.

Detectives who investigated the blast said both brothers were equally responsible and called them “proper jihadis.”

— AFP

Likud, Blue and White trade barbs as budget deadline ticks closer

The Likud and Blue and White parties snipe at each other amid an ongoing coalition crisis that could bring down the government if a new budget isn’t passed by August 25.

“Blue and White is again fighting the government while Prime Minister Netanyahu is fighting the coronavirus,” Likud says in a statement. “Blue and White must stop hampering the prime minister [from] passing a budget and open the school year on time.”

Hitting back, Blue and White accuses Likud of maneuvering for new elections.

“Likud is violating its promise for unity and stability, and everyday is searching for a new excuse for elections,” Blue and White writes on its Twitter feed.

The coalition infighting has centered on the passage of the state budget. Blue and White says the budget must run through 2021, as the parties agreed to in their coalition deal, while Netanyahu is calling for it to cover the rest of 2020 alone, citing the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reports, however, have said Netanyahu is demanding Blue and White agree to several changes to the coalition deal on matters unrelated to the budget as a condition for keeping the government intact.

Statues stolen from art museum at kibbutz in north

A number of valuable statues have been stolen from an archaeology and art museum at Kibbutz HaZore’a in northern Israel.

The thieves sabotaged the security cameras at the Wilfrid Israel Museum, according to the Ynet news site. Photos from the scene show a number of damaged statues on the ground.

Police have opened an investigation.

Lebanese lawyer files complaint against country’s leaders over Beirut blast

BEIRUT — A Lebanese lawyer files a legal complaint against the country’s president and prime minister for allegedly not taking action to remove dangerous material that had been stored at the port of Beirut.

The material — 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical used in fertilizers and explosives — ignited and exploded earlier this month, killing scores and wounding thousands of people.

The move by lawyer Majd Harb is largely symbolic, based on the fact that President Michel Aoun and outgoing Prime Minister Hassan Diab received a security report two weeks before the August 4 explosion, warning about the dangers of storing the chemical.

Following the explosion, Aoun said that once he received the report, he asked his military adviser to immediately act on it and do what was necessary. However, it was not clear why the material was not removed. There has been no comment from Diab, who resigned under pressure few days after the blast.

“They did not take any measures to prevent the explosion,” Harb’s complaint says. It is published by the state-run National News Agency.

Documents that surfaced after the blast showed that many customs, port, intelligence, military and judicial officials, as well as political leaders, knew about the stockpile of ammonium nitrate at Warehouse 12 at Beirut’s port and nothing was done.

The explosion, which killed 180 people, injured about 6,000 and left nearly 300,000 people homeless was the most destructive single incident in Lebanon’s history, and left property losses worth between $10 billion and $15 billion. There are 30 people still missing after the explosion.

— AP

After Israel-UAE deal, Saudi FM says still committed to Arab Peace Initiative

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan issues the kingdom’s first official comment on last week’s announcement that Israel and the United Arab Emirates will normalize diplomatic ties.

A tweet from the Saudi foreign ministry says Bin Farhan told his German counterpart Heiko Maas during a meeting in Berlin that “Saudi Arabia affirms its commitment to peace as a strategic option based on the Arab Peace Initiatives.”

The Saudi-backed initiative, proposed in 2002, conditions recognition of Israel on the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem. It also calls for a full Israeli withdrawal from areas captured in the 1967 Six Day War and a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees.

Hours after the US-brokered agreement last week, an Emirati spokeswoman told The Times of Israel that the UAE remains committed to the terms of the Arab Peace Initiative.

As part of the deal with the UAE, Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to drop plans to annex parts of the West Bank designated for Israel under the Trump administration’s peace plan.

“Saudi Arabia considers Israel’s unilateral policies of an annexation and building settlements as an illegitimate [way forward] and [as] detrimental to the two-states solution,” the Saudi foreign ministry quotes Bin Farhan as saying.

Saudi minister says Israel must sign peace deal with Palestinians before recognition

BERLIN — Saudi Arabia says it won’t follow the United Arab Emirates in establishing diplomatic ties with Israel until the Jewish state had signed an internationally recognized peace accord with the Palestinians.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan tells reporters on a visit to Berlin that “peace must be achieved with the Palestinians” on the basis of international agreements as a condition for any normalization of relations with Israel.

“Once that is achieved all things are possible,” he says.

He also said the deal, which also halted unilateral annexation by Israel of West Bank territory sought by the Palestinians, “could be viewed as positive.”

— Agencies

Likud official says new elections ‘terrible,’ but current situation may be worse as Netanyahu visits Mahane Yehuda

An unnamed official from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party is quoted by Hebrew media lashing out at Blue and White over the ongoing coalition crisis and suggesting no agreement will be reached on the state budget by August 25, which would lead to new elections being called.

“This business isn’t working. From the start I didn’t have high expectations, but I didn’t think it would be like this. It’s impossible to work,” the official says, according to the Ynet news site. “Will we go to elections Monday? This will be terrible but to continue in the current situation seems to me even more terrible.”

The comments come shortly after Netanyahu made a quick stop at Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, a popular campaign spot, in a further sign new elections are a growing possibility.

EU rejects Belarus election results, warns new sanctions imminent

BRUSSELS — The EU rejects the result of the disputed Belarus election, saying President Alexander Lukashenko’s victory was neither free nor fair, and warns fresh sanctions against his government are imminent.

After an emergency video summit, EU Council President Charles Michel tells the people of Belarus the bloc stood “by your side” as unprecedented protests against strongman Lukashenko entered an 11th day.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for national dialogue in Belarus — including Lukashenko, who has ruled for 26 years — to find a peaceful way out of the crisis.

The EU has been working on a new round of sanctions against Belarus, targeting those involved in allegedly fixing the August 9 vote and in the bloody repression of protests, which have shaken Lukashenko’s grip on the ex-Soviet republic as never before.

Michel says this would lead “shortly” to “a substantial number of individuals responsible for violence, repression and election fraud” being hit with EU travel bans and asset freezes.

“These elections were neither free nor fair and did not meet international standards. We don’t recognize the results presented by the Belarus authorities,” Michel tells reporters.

“The people of Belarus deserve better. They deserve the democratic right to choose their leaders and shape the future.”

— AFP

Long Island man threatens to shoot up Jewish day camp over alleged violations of virus restrictions

A suburban New York man threatened to shoot up an Orthodox Jewish day camp over its alleged violations of coronavirus restrictions.

The man, identified as Nicola Pelle, 58, of Long Island, called police to report the violations at the camp run by the Yeshiva Ketana of Long Island, saying approximately 500 campers there were not wearing masks. He called again as police were on their way to the scene, allegedly saying, according to local reports: “If I’ve got to go out there with a freaking machine gun and shoot all these people, I will.”

Pelle, who runs a landscaping business, lives next to the yeshiva, located in the Inwood neighborhood.

Officers who arrived at the site of the camp found 30 children and their parents, WABC-TV reports.

Pelle was found to have 14 weapons in his home, including handguns, rifles and shotguns, and two assault weapons. All were legally owned except for one rifle. He also has a valid gun license, News12 Long Island reports.

He is charged with making a terrorist threat, four counts of criminal possession of a weapon and two counts of criminal possession of a firearm. He posted bail, according to the report.

“While law enforcement is still trying to learn the motivation, this concerning incident shows how threats of violence against the Jewish community continue to surface and warrants our utmost vigilance,” says Evan Bernstein, CEO of Community Security Service, a New York-based organization that trains volunteers to protect their own synagogues.

— JTA

Turkey’s Erdogan vows not to yield to ‘pirates’ amid Eastern Mediterranean energy dispute

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vows not to yield to “pirates” and to continue searching for energy in disputed Eastern Mediterranean waters despite EU pressure to stop.

Long-held tensions in the region flared when Turkey last week sent a research vessel accompanied by warships off the Greek island of Kastellorizo.

The European Union urged Turkey to “immediately” halt on Sunday but Erdogan was undeterred.

“We’re 100 percent right on this issue. If we give in to the pirates, we will not be able to look future generations in the face,” he says on a visit to a new solar panel production plant in Ankara.

“We cannot leave to our children a country unable to defend its own rights, lacking self-confidence,” Erdogan says.

“The struggle in the Eastern Mediterranean is not only about rights, but the future… Turkey is determined to seek its rights until the end,” he says, regardless of “colonialist” powers and threats.

Erdogan’s last remark appears to be aimed at NATO ally France, which has repeatedly scolded Turkey and sent reinforcements to the eastern Mediterranean to support Greece.

Despite his defiant remarks, Erdogan again emphasizes the importance of continued dialogue.

“We are awaiting steps from our interlocutors that will decrease tensions, lead the way to dialogue,” he says.

Turkey had agreed, at German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s insistence, to give talks with Greece a chance to resolve the dispute last month, and suspended its decision to explore waters near Kastellorizo.

But Greece then signed an agreement with Egypt to set up an exclusive economic zone that outraged Turkey, which called the deal “null and void”.

Turkey then sent the seismic research ship Oruc Reis on August 10 to carry out activities off the island until August 23.

Turkey is increasingly isolated on the issue, as other countries in the region have forged alliances — including Greece, Cyprus and Israel.

— AFP

Gantz warns Gaza terror groups amid border tensions

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks to local leaders in southern Israel amid continued arson attacks and rocket fire from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

According to a statement from his office, Gantz says “we’ve changed the equation” in Gaza since he took over as defense chief.

“There are no security violations that don’t receive [a response]. We don’t just know how to strike buildings and targets, but also those operating within them,” he warns.

“The State of Israel has no interest in the Gaza Strip besides the return of the boys and complete quiet,” he adds, referring to the two Israeli citizens and the remains of two IDF soldiers being held in the Strip.

Gantz says if these conditions are met, “we can develop Gaza.”

His comments come as the Ynet news site says there have so far been 14 fires in the south today sparked by balloon-borne incendiary devices launched from Gaza.

Israel said to express concerns to US over Saudi nuclear program

Israeli security and intelligence officials have recently reached out to their US counterparts to express concerns over Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program, the Walla news site reports.

The report, which quotes one unnamed Israeli official, says the Prime Minister’s Office is treating the matter with high sensitivity due to concerns about harming Israel’s unofficial ties with Saudi Arabia.

“There are worrying signs but it’s still not that clear to us what exactly is happening at this facility,” an Israeli official tells the news site, referring to recent reports that Saudi Arabia is developing a nuclear facility with China’s help.

The official adds: “It’s also pretty unclear to the Americans and the International Atomic Energy Agency what is going on there and IAEA officials intend to check into this with the Saudis.”

US blacklists UAE-based firms for supporting sanctioned Iranian airline

WASHINGTON — The US Treasury Department places two United Arab Emirates-based companies on its sanctions blacklist for their support of already-sanctioned Iran’s Mahan Air.

UAE-based Parthia Cargo and Delta Parts Supply FZC “have provided key parts and logistics services for Mahan Air,” the Treasury says.

Mahan, one of Iran’s leading carriers, has been blacklisted under US counterterrorism regulations for its close relationship with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force, which Washington says carries out terror activities in the Middle East.

Mahan Air especially has been used by the revolutionary Guards to support the regimes of Syrian leader Bashar Assad and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, according to the Treasury.

“The Iranian regime uses Mahan Air as a tool to spread its destabilizing agenda around the world, including to the corrupt regimes in Syria and Venezuela, as well as terrorist groups throughout the Middle East,” says Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement.

“The United States will continue to take action against those supporting this airline.”

In the same action, the Treasury also places sanctions on UAE-based Iranian national Amin Mahdavi, who the Treasury says either owns or controls Parthia Cargo.

— AFP

Pompeo says US to soon invoke mechanism to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran

UNITED NATIONS — After a resounding defeat in the UN Security Council, the United States is poised to call for the United Nations to reimpose sanctions on Iran under a rarely used diplomatic maneuver — a move that is likely to further isolate the Trump administration and may set off a credibility crisis for the United Nations.

The sanctions had been eased under the 2015 nuclear deal that US President Donald Trump withdrew from two years ago. But last week the US lost its long-shot bid to indefinitely extend an international arms embargo on Iran and has now moved to a new diplomatic line of attack.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the move would come “soon,” but he won’t discuss timing. He is expected to travel to New York tomorrow to notify the Security Council president that the US was invoking the “snapback” mechanism in the council’s resolution that endorsed the nuclear deal.

“I don’t have any announcements on timing about what we’re going to do, but the president’s made clear we’re going to do it soon and we will,” Pompeo tells reporters, brushing aside concerns that other nations may not recognize the American move.

“This will be a fully valid enforceable Security Council resolution and we have every expectation that it will be enforced just like every other Security Council resolution that is in place,” he says. ”We will be in full compliance with that and we have every expectation that every country in the world will live up to its obligations.”

Snapback allows participants to demand the restoration of all UN sanctions in a complicated procedure that cannot be blocked by a veto.

— AP

US court: Massage parlor tapes of Robert Kraft violated his constitutional rights

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — A Florida appeals court rules that police violated the rights of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and others when they secretly video recorded them paying for massage parlor sex acts, barring the tapes’ use at trial and dealing a potentially deadly blow to their prosecution.

The state 4th District Court of Appeal rules Kraft’s rights were violated under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“The type of law enforcement surveillance utilized in these cases is extreme. While there will be situations which may warrant the use of the techniques at issue, the strict Fourth Amendment safeguards developed over the past few decades must be observed,” the judges rule.

“To permit otherwise would yield unbridled discretion to agents of law enforcement and the government, the antithesis of the constitutional liberty of people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures,” the court adds.

Prosecutors will likely appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court, but if it stands the misdemeanor charges brought against Kraft and other customers would have to be dropped for lack of evidence.

Felony charges against the Orchids of Asia spa owners and employees might proceed as there is other evidence besides the tapes against them.

Kraft, 79, and others were charged in February 2019 in a multi-county investigation of massage parlors that included the secret installation of video cameras in the spas’ lobbies and rooms. Police say the recordings show Kraft and other men engaging in sex acts with women and paying them.

Police say they twice recorded Kraft, a widower, paying for sex acts at the Orchids of Asia massage parlor. Kraft has pleaded not guilty but issued a public apology.

— AP

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, speaks after receiving Genesis Prize in Jerusalem, June 20, 2019. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

Pledging continued US support, Pompeo calls on Iraq to target pro-Iran militias

WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledges the Trump administration will continue to support Iraq as it confronts the threat posed by the Islamic State jihadist group, but he also calls for the Baghdad government to redouble efforts to rein in pro-Iran militias.

Pompeo says the United States is committed to helping Iraq regain and maintain security, despite US President Donald Trump’s oft-stated desire to reduce and then eliminate the American troop presence there. Pompeo speaks after talks with senior Iraqi officials and a day before a White House meeting between Trump and Iraq’s prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi,

“There is still work to do,” Pompeo tells reporters at a State Department news conference with Iraq’s foreign minister Fuad Hussein. “Armed groups not under the full control of the prime minister have impeded our progress. Those groups need to be replaced by local police as soon as possible. I assured Dr. Fuad that we could help and we would help.”

Pompeo declines to discuss possible future American troop withdrawals. But he says the US will not stop supporting Iraq’s security forces in their bid to defeat the Islamic State group, which is also known as ISIS, and “to curb the power of militias that have for far long terrorized the Iraqi people and undermined Iraq’s national sovereignty.”

The foreign minister calls the talks “good and important” and says the Iraqi government believes in the importance of its partnership with the United States.

“We are both in the same trench of fighting ISIS and we are still in the same trench and we will work together to defeat the terrorist elements,” he says. “We see that the United States of America is a strong ally and a strong ally of Iraq and we will continue to protect that alliance.”

— AP

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, and Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein, left, walk off of the stage together following a news conference at the State Department in Washington on August 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

PM said backing ex-cop who represented him in spending probe for police chief

Prime Minister Netanyahu wants to appoint a former senior police official who has represented the premier’s family as the next police commissioner, Channel 12 news reports.

The network says Netanyahu’s Likud party has floated Yaakov Borovsky’s name in talks with the Blue and White party and has asked to dismantle a commission that must approve the nomination of senior officials.

Netanyahu’s office denies the reports and says the prime minister, who faces criminal charges in a series of graft probes, isn’t involved in picking a new police chief.

Borovsky himself was investigated in 2004 over suspicions he offered then-prime minister Ariel Sharon favorable treatment in a corruption probe if he was appointed police commissioner. In 2015, he represented the Netanyahu family after a State Comptroller report alleged financial improprieties at the Prime Minister’s Residence and his private home in Caesarea.

A photo portrait of Yaakov Borovsky from May 21, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

28 fires sparked in south by Gaza incendiary balloons

Balloon-borne incendiary devices launched from the Gaza Strip have sparked 28 fires in southern Israel today, according to the Fire and Rescue Service.

Suspect arrested in suspected gang rape of 16-year-old in Eilat

Police are investigating a suspected gang rape of a 16-year-old in the Red Sea resort city of Eilat.

A 27-year-old suspect has so far been arrested in the case.

Ashkenazi reportedly says Netanyahu ‘will do everything’ to avoid leaving PM’s residence

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi of the Blue and White party has said in private conversations that Prime Minister Netanyahu is determined not to leave the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

“Netanyahu doesn’t want to vacate [the Prime Minister’s Residence] at all, he will do everything to avoid this. We don’t need to blink [first] and fold. He’s determined to go to elections, let’s see him do this,” Ashkenazi is quoted as saying.

According to the report, Ashkenazi and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn oppose agreeing to Netanyahu’s demands in the ongoing coalition crisis, while Blue and White leader Benny Gantz is weighing what compromises could prevent new elections.

Ashkenazi’s office denies the report.

Woman reportedly arrested for allegedly threatening US ambassador to Israel

A woman has been arrested for allegedly threatening to inflict physical harm on US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Channel 12 news reports.

According to the network, the woman was arrested after the security officer at the US embassy branch office in Tel Aviv filed a police complaint due to her suspicious behavior in the area of the building, which reportedly included her telling security guards, “I’ll bring my friends and we’ll hurt the ambassador.”

Following her arrest, she denied seeking to harm Friedman and was released under conditions, the report says.

Virus deaths jump to 781 after Health Ministry includes fatalities that weren’t counted

The national coronavirus death toll leaps to 781 after the Health Ministry’s announcement that 53 fatalities at senior living homes weren’t included in the tally.

The total number of infections since the pandemic began rises to 97,783, as the Health Ministry says 1,111 new cases have been recorded since midnight.

Of the 23,918 active cases, there are 398 in serious condition, with 118 on ventilators. Another 164 are in moderate condition and the rest have mild or no symptoms.

The ministry says 27,910 tests were performed yesterday.

Likud, Blue and White continue to trade blame for coalition crisis

The Likud and Blue and White parties continue to trade blame for the ongoing coalition crisis that could lead to new elections if a state budget isn’t passed August 25.

“Netanyahu wants elections for personal considerations. All the rest is noise,” Blue and White writes on Twitter, apparently referring to the prime minister’s indictment on graft charges.

Blue and White adds: “Likud forgot there are a million unemployed people. It would be better if Netanyahu removed the ministers from the [TV] studios and return them to dealing with the coronavirus.”

Likud meanwhile releases a statement against Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, the No. 2 in Blue and White, amid reports he opposes compromising on some of Netanyahu’s demands to keep the government intact.

“Gabi Ashkenazi has begun a campaign for the leadership of Blue and White and is pushing for elections with all [his] might. Apparently even more than toppling Netanyahu, he wants to topple Gantz,” Likud says.

According to a Channel 12 news report, Blue and White has begun discussing a compromise that would see the August 25 deadline pushed off and the approval of additional funds for the government to spend before a new budget is passed.

If no compromise is reached and elections are called, it would be the fourth national poll since April 2019.

Hundreds of Palestinians protest in West Bank against Israel-UAE deal

Hundreds of Palestinians hold a protest in the West Bank against last week’s announcement that Israel was normalizing ties with the United Arab Emirates.

Members of rival groups Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and the Fatah faction of President Mahmud Abbas’s West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, took part in the rally in a rare joint initiative, an AFP journalist reports.

“Today we tell the world that we are united against ‘the deal of the century’, annexation and normalization,” PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh tells the rally in the village of Turmus’ayya.

The bombshell announcement last week that Israel and the energy-rich UAE would normalize ties sparked fury among Palestinians, with both Hamas and the PA leadership denouncing the US-brokered agreement.

Under the deal Israel said it would suspend its plans to annex Jewish settlements and other territory in the West Bank.

Around 2,000 Palestinians take part in the rally at Turmus’ayya, a village in the north of the West Bank nestled between the cities of Ramallah and Nablus. They traveled there by bus from other areas of the West Bank

Clashes have been reported between protesters and Israeli forces on the outskirts of the village, with protesters throwing stones at Israeli forces, who have responded with tear gas.

— AFP

WHO seeks more information about Russian COVID-19 vaccine

LONDON — The World Health Organization’s Europe office says it has begun discussions with Russia to try to get more information about the coronavirus vaccine that Russia approved last week before the shot had passed the advanced trials normally required to prove it works.

Catherine Smallwood, a senior emergency official at WHO Europe, says “this concern that we have around safety and efficacy is not specifically for the Russia vaccine, it’s for all of the vaccines under development.”

She acknowledges WHO is taking an “accelerated approach” to try to speed development of coronavirus vaccines but says “it’s essential we don’t cut corners in safety or efficacy.”

Smallwood says WHO has begun “direct discussions” with Russia and that WHO officials have been sharing “the various steps and information that’s going to be required for WHO to take assessments.”

— AP

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Israel said to express concerns to US over Saudi nuclear program

Israeli security and intelligence officials have recently reached out to their US counterparts to express concerns over Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program, the Walla news site reports.

The report, which quotes one unnamed Israeli official, says the Prime Minister’s Office is treating the matter with high sensitivity due to concerns about harming Israel’s unofficial ties with Saudi Arabia.

“There are worrying signs but it’s still not that clear to us what exactly is happening at this facility,” an Israeli official tells the news site, referring to recent reports that Saudi Arabia is developing a nuclear facility with China’s help.

The official adds: “It’s also pretty unclear to the Americans and the International Atomic Energy Agency what is going on there and IAEA officials intend to check into this with the Saudis.”