Israeli aid group building shelters for victims of Italy quake
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Moscow, US both said pushing Israel-PA peace summits

Palestinian sources say no talks until Netanyahu agrees to settlement freeze, prisoner release; politicians and public figures offer tributes to former defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem, September 15, 2010. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem, September 15, 2010. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
  • Then US secretary of ttate John Kerry is seen at the State Department to mark the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, on July 29, 2013. (AP/Charles Dharapak)
    Then US secretary of ttate John Kerry is seen at the State Department to mark the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, on July 29, 2013. (AP/Charles Dharapak)
  • Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, April 30, 2014, in Tel Aviv. (AP/Dan Balilty)
    Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, April 30, 2014, in Tel Aviv. (AP/Dan Balilty)
  • Labor Party chair Isaac Herzog, right, with MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer at a party meeting, May 12, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
    Labor Party chair Isaac Herzog, right, with MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer at a party meeting, May 12, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
  • MK Ben-Eliezer presents his candidacy for President of Israel to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, May 27, 2014.(Issac Harari/Knesset Spokesperson/Flash90)
    MK Ben-Eliezer presents his candidacy for President of Israel to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, May 27, 2014.(Issac Harari/Knesset Spokesperson/Flash90)
  • IsraAID volunteers build a temporary shelter for earthquake victims in Scai, Italy. August 27, 2016. (Courtesy)
    IsraAID volunteers build a temporary shelter for earthquake victims in Scai, Italy. August 27, 2016. (Courtesy)
  • IsraAID volunteers help bring supplies to earthquake victims in Scai, Italy. August 27, 2016. (Courtesy)
    IsraAID volunteers help bring supplies to earthquake victims in Scai, Italy. August 27, 2016. (Courtesy)

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

Syrian rebels advance on Kurds in dramatic escalation of ‘Euphrates Shield’

Turkey-backed Syrian rebels seize a number of villages and towns from Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria amid Turkish airstrikes and shelling that have killed at least 35 people, mostly civilians, according to rebels and a monitoring group.

Turkey sent tanks across the border to help Syrian rebels drive the Islamic State group out of the frontier town of Jarablus last week in a dramatic escalation of its involvement in the Syrian civil war.

Turkish troops heading to the Syrian border, in Karkamis, Turkey, August 27, 2016. (Ismail Coskun, IHA via AP)

Turkish troops heading to the Syrian border, in Karkamis, Turkey, August 27, 2016. (Ismail Coskun, IHA via AP)

The operation, labeled Euphrates Shield, is also aimed at pushing back US-allied Kurdish forces. The fighting pits a NATO ally against a US-backed proxy that is the most effective ground forces battling IS in Syria.

Turkish officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

— AP

Israeli aid group building shelters for victims of Italy quake

IsraAID, the Israeli NGO dedicated to helping victims of natural disasters around the world, is aiding victims of last week’s deadly earthquake in Italy by building temporary shelter camps, distributing food and nonfood items, and providing grief counseling to families that lost relatives as well as to the Italian rescue teams, which suffer from burnout and acute stress.

A team of 20 volunteers is currently in the country, the first of whom arrived 24 hours after Wednesday’s earthquake in which nearly 300 people were killed.

IsraAID team member Mickey Noam Alon described how his team helped Gabriele Gabiza, an 82-year-old man from the town of Scai whose house was destroyed.

“Like hundreds of others, Gabiza was left stranded in the middle of the night, without shelter or a safe roof over his head. After hours of wandering through what remained of the streets, Gabiza headed to one of the community shelters that was erected within 24 hours of the quake. When I met him, he was clearly exhausted, shocked and confused…. Immediately an IsraAID team member helped him to find a place to sit, offered him a warm blanket and some water.”

At least 80 residents are now seeking safety in the community shelter, IsraAID says.

Italy’s national Jewish museum joins cultural sites donating day’s proceeds to earthquake relief

The National Museum of Italian Judaism and the Shoah in Ferrara, Italy, is one of dozens of state museums and cultural sites that will donate all proceeds from Sunday’s visitors to aid earthquake victims and rescue efforts in central Italy.

The museum, which is under development, does not yet have a permanent exhibition but announced it would donate Sunday’s entire proceeds from visitors to its temporary exhibit on the Torah.

Italy’s Culture Minister announced Thursday that Sunday’s proceeds from state-run museums and archeological sites all over the country would go to the area devastated by the quake that hit early Wednesday morning and urge Italians to visit them to show solidarity.

At least 291 people have been confirmed dead in the 6.2 magnitude temblor, which struck on Wednesday.

— JTA

 

Shimon Peres appoints Israeli soccer star Eran Zahavi as ambassador for peace

Former president Shimon Peres appoints Israeli soccer star Eran Zahavi as “Ambassador for Peace” on Zahavi’s first trip back from China after joining the Gwangju RP China football team last month.

The honor was given “in recognition of the importance of promoting peace and tolerance through football, as well as Zahavi’s role in serving as an example and role model for hundreds of thousands of young Israeli and Chinese, Arab and Jewish children,” a statement says.

Speaking at the ceremony held at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa and attended by Chinese Ambassador to Israel Zhan Yongxin, Peres addressed the importance of sports to promote peace.

“Football is an international language. It does not matter if you speak Hebrew, Arabic or Chinese; everyone has a place on the court. I believe that the children here today who are playing together will lead the advancement of peace,” he said.

Turkish army says 25 Kurdish ‘terrorists’ killed in Syria strikes

The Turkish army says it has killed 25 Kurdish “terrorists” in airstrikes on Syria on the fifth day of an unprecedented operation inside the country.

It says that 25 “terrorist members” of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) had been killed in the strikes in the area of the Syrian town of Jarabulus and five buildings used by them destroyed, according to the state run Anadolu news agency.

Turkish troops heading to the Syrian border, in Karkamis, Turkey, August 27, 2016. (Ismail Coskun, IHA via AP)

Turkish troops heading to the Syrian border, in Karkamis, Turkey, August 27, 2016. (Ismail Coskun, IHA via AP)

A monitor said earlier that Turkish shelling and airstrikes killed at least 35 Syrians, in the first reported civilian casualties in Turkey’s intensifying campaign in northern Syria.

The army said it was doing everything to avoid civilian casualties.

— AFP

Nigeria’s president says Boko Haram leader ‘wounded

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari says that Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is “wounded,” in his first comments on military claims that the jihadi leader was injured in an attack.

Nigeria’s armed forces said on Tuesday that Shekau had been wounded in an airstrike on Boko Haram’s forest stronghold, but released no further statement or evidence confirming his condition.

Nigeria's Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in a video from May 12, 2014 (Photo credit: AP Photo/File)

Nigeria’s Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in a video from May 12, 2014 (Photo credit: AP Photo/File)

“We learnt that in an airstrike by the Nigeria Air Force he was wounded,” Buhari says in a statement from Nairobi, where he is attending a development conference.

“Indeed their top hierarchy and lower cadre have a problem,” Buhari said. “They are not holding any territory and they have split to small groups attacking soft targets.”

Buhari says that Shekau had been “edged out” of the group, adding credence to claims that Islamic State (IS)-appointed Abu Musab al-Barnawi was now in charge of the insurgency.

— AFP

Iraq requests Saudi ambassador be changed

Iraq officially asks Saudi Arabia to recall its ambassador to Baghdad after the envoy allegedly told media outlets of a plot by Iran-backed Iraqi groups to assassinate him.

“The Iraqi foreign ministry has sent an official request to the Saudi foreign ministry to replace its ambassador to Iraq,” ministry spokesman Ahmad Jamal says in a statement.

“Several statements and opinions voiced in the media overstepped the boundaries of diplomatic protocol and of an ambassador’s duties,” he says.

Thamer al-Sabhan, whose credentials were received in January 2016, became the first Saudi ambassador to Iraq in a quarter century, after relations were cut following ex-president Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

— AP

US pushing for 3-way summit with Israel and PA — report

The United States is pushing for a trilateral peace summit with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, according to the Jordanian newspaper Alghad.

The report (Arabic) says that the US has invited both Israel and the PA but the Palestinian leadership has set two preconditions: Israel freeing Palestinian political prisoners and freezing settlement construction.

An unnamed PA source is quoted as saying, “We welcome any initiative to restart the diplomatic process but there are conditions that Israel needs to meet first.”

Italy lowers quake death toll back to 290

Italian authorities are revising the death toll in the country’s earthquake down by one, to 290 people killed.

Officials with the Civil Protection agency gave the 290 figure during a televised news conference Sunday.

A firefighter takes a rest in the central Italian village of Amatrice, on August 24, 2016 after a powerful earthquake rocked central Italy, killing at least 120 people. (AFP PHOTO/MARCO ZEPPETELLA)

A firefighter takes a rest in the central Italian village of Amatrice, on August 24, 2016 after a powerful earthquake rocked central Italy, killing at least 120 people. (AFP PHOTO/MARCO ZEPPETELLA)

The agency, which combines the figures it receives from different provinces affected by the quake, said the number is lower than the previous toll of 291 dead due to a correction in the numbers from the province of Rieti, where most of the victims died.

— AP

Military court begins discussing Ofek Buchris rape charges

Tel Aviv’s military court holds its first session in the trial of Ofek Buchris, the former military brigadier general accused of rape and other sexual crimes against subordinates.

The court decides that the trial will officially open on September 29.

The court session was a procedural one, in which the sides set the dates for further sessions. Buchris himself was not present at court.

Ofek Buchris speaks to reporters outside his Galilee home after an indictment was filed against him, charging the brigadier general with rape, sodomy and other indecent acts on July 21, 2016. (Screen capture: Walla news)

Ofek Buchris speaks to reporters outside his Galilee home after an indictment was filed against him, charging the brigadier general with rape, sodomy and other indecent acts on July 21, 2016. (Screen capture: Walla news)

Buchris officially resigned from the Israel Defense Forces in July in order to manage his legal defense as a civilian.

Buchris was indicted on charges of rape, sodomy, indecent acts and conduct unbecoming of an officer.

Iran arrests nuclear negotiator accused of spying

Iran’s official news agency is saying the country’s judiciary has confirmed the brief detention of a member of Iran’s negotiation team with world powers on suspicion of “infiltration.”

Earlier on Wednesday, hard-line news outlets said authorities detained a dual Iranian-Canadian national, Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani, who was a member of a parallel team working on lifting economic sanctions under one of the main negotiators for last year’s landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. The Sunday report by IRNA quotes judiciary spokesman, Gholamhosein Mohseni Ejehi, as saying, “The report is correct. He was released based on bail. Yet, his charge is not proved.”

He did not elaborate.

It remains unclear why Esfahani is under investigation, though dual nationals have been increasingly targeted by security forces since the nuclear deal.

— AP

Uzbekistan president hospitalized

Uzbekistan’s cabinet of ministers says that the country’s 78-year-old leader Islam Karimov has been “hospitalized,” in a statement published by the country’s state news agency.

The statement, widely reported by local and Russian media, does not offer any details about strongman Karimov’s condition.

Uzbek leader Islam Karimov chairs the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Tashkent, 24 June 2016. (CC BY 4.0 Kremlin.ru/Wikipedia)

Uzbek leader Islam Karimov chairs the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Tashkent, 24 June 2016. (CC BY 4.0 Kremlin.ru/Wikipedia)

“According to experts, a full medical examination and follow-up treatment will take a certain time,” the statement adds.

Authoritarian leader Karimov has long been the subject of rumors of ill health that are difficult to verify, since information in the Central Asian country is very tightly controlled. He has held power in Uzbekistan since before Uzbekistan’s independence from Moscow in 1991.

Karimov has no obvious successor and the country has never held an election judged free and fair by international monitors.

Uzbekistan is a landlocked former Soviet state with over 30 million people bordering Afghanistan.

— AFP

Soldier who shot unarmed Palestinian questioned under caution

An IDF soldier is being questioned under caution for shooting a Palestinian man to death on Friday after he allegedly charged at troops in a guard post near the West Bank settlement of Ofra, north of Ramallah, according to Hebrew media reports.

Preliminary reports said the suspect most likely did not pose a threat to the soldiers.

Israeli security forces at the scene where Iyad Hamad, a Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli soldiers after running towards a guard post near the West Bank village of Silwad, August 26, 2016. (Flash90)

Israeli security forces at the scene where Iyad Hamad, a Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli soldiers after running towards a guard post near the West Bank village of Silwad, August 26, 2016. (Flash90)

Palestinian medical officials say Silwad resident Iyad Hamad, 38, a father of three, was shot in the back. Hamad is said to have suffered from mental illness and was receiving psychiatric treatment, Hebrew media reported.

According to the IDF, troops stationed outside Silwad identified a suspect running toward them and opened fire, killing him. Initial reports Friday said the man had opened fire on the post and Israeli troops returned fire, but the IDF later said it appeared that the suspect was not armed when he approached the guard post.

Former defense minister Binyamin ‘Fuad’ Ben-Eliezer dies at 80

Former defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer passes away at the age of 80, according to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv.

He was hospitalized last month after complications from a routine dialysis treatment.

A former Labor Party leader and presidential candidate, Ben-Eliezer has suffered from various health issues for a number of years, and in December 2014 underwent a kidney transplant. Several months later, he was hospitalized with a serious case of influenza, at which time he was hooked up to life support until his condition improved.

Ben-Eliezer, 80, who left the Knesset in 2014 after a 30-year career with Labor, was indicted in December by state prosecutors for allegedly demanding and receiving more than NIS 2 million (over $500,000) from businesspeople in exchange for actions he allegedly took as a public servant.

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer photographed in Tel Aviv in April. (Photo credit: Yaakov Naumi/FLASH90)

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer photographed in Tel Aviv in April. (Yaakov Naumi/FLASH90)

He was also accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of foreign currency that he kept hidden and unreported in safes in his home and a bank, apparently in violation of tax laws and transparency rules for Knesset members. The funds were purportedly used to buy real estate, including an apartment in Jaffa.

In May, state prosecutors offered Ben-Eliezer a plea bargain aimed at punishing the octogenarian without forcing him to serve time in prison.

In December 2014, the politician announced he would leave politics to focus on his health and clearing his name, ending a 30-year political career.

— with Times of Israel staff

10-year-old girl stabbed in family dispute

A 10-year-old girl was stabbed with scissors by a family relative in Neve Yaakov neighborhood in Jerusalem, according to police, who say they are not treating the incident as terrorism.

The girl was taken to hospital in moderate condition.

Two people arrested by police at the scene.

Herzog: Ben-Eliezer was a ‘brave warrior’ and ‘good friend’

Opposition head and chair of the Israeli Labor Party Isaac Herzog responds to the death of former party chair and long-time colleague Binyamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer.

He was “a lone kid from Iraq, a brave warrior that finished his military service as a brigadier general and went on to an impressive political career, reaching the positions of defense minister and chair of the Labor Party,” Herzog says in a statement.

Labour party chair Isaac Herzog with MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer at a party meeting, May 12, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Labor Party chair Isaac Herzog, right, with MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer at a party meeting, May 12, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“Recently, I spoke with him at length about the cloud that hung over him [regarding accusations of fraud] and he always repeated that he was innocent,” he adds.

“We say good-bye to a good friend to so many for many years.”

Edelstein: Fuad’s contribution to Israel ‘immeasurable’

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein responds to the death of veteran Israeli parliamentarian Binyamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer.

“The immense contribution of Binyamin Ben-Eliezer to Israel and its security is immeasurable,” he writes in a statement.

MK Ben-Eliezer presents his candidacy for President of Israel to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, May 27, 2014.(Issac Harari/Knesset Spokesperson/Flash90)

MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, right, presents his candidacy for President of Israel to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, May 27, 2014. (Isaac Harari/Knesset Spokesperson/Flash90)

“Fuad dedicated the majority and best part of his life to the fortification of the Jewish people in its homeland and was an important and dominant voice in our public life for many years.”

Defense Minister: Ben-Eliezer made ‘huge contribution to the security of Israel’

Defense Minster Avigdor Liberman says Binyamin ‘Fuad’ Ben-Eliezer made a “huge contribution to the security of Israel.”

“The State of Israel and the Defense Ministry lowers its head over his passing,” he writes in a statement.

Ben-Eliezer was regarded as a fearless fighter who led Israeli troops in several campaigns, and later as the defense minister who steered the country during the restive years of the Second Intifada from 2001 to 2003, and engineering Operation Defensive Shield to crush Palestinian terrorism in the West Bank.

“Ben-Eliezer made a huge contribution to the security of the State but beyond all the grand titles, Fuad was always a good man in the fullest sense, with a smile and a friendly slap on the back,” Liberman adds.

“We will always remember him with respect and fondness.”

PM Netanyahu eulogizes Ben-Eliezer

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Benjamin Ben-ELiezer, March 31, 2009. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, March 31, 2009. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu releases a statement expressing condolences for the passing of former defense minister and veteran politician Binyamin ‘Fuad’ Ben-Eliezer.

“For decades, Fuad served the State of Israel as a fighter, commander public servant and senior minister,” Netanyahu says.

“In many conversations I had with Fuad, he expressed his concern and commitment to the future of this country which he loved so much.”

Russia to resume charter flights for tourists to Turkey

Russia lifts its ban on charter flights to Turkey, opening the way to a resumption of package tours that were once a major source of revenue for Turkey.

In rescinding the ban on Sunday, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said he was doing so on the orders of President Vladimir Putin.

Russia imposed the ban in November after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane at the Syrian border, an action that Putin denounced as a “treacherous stab in the back.”

After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan apologized for the downing, he and Putin patched up relations at a meeting three weeks ago. Putin said then that charter flights to Turkey could resume “in the near future,” but added that painstaking work was still needed to revive trade and economic cooperation.

— AP

President Rivlin praises once-rival Ben-Eliezer

President Reuven Rivlin praises Ben-Eliezer for “giving his best years to defend and fortify the state.”

“In his many years as a parliamentarian and minister, he served faithfully and wholeheartedly,” the president says. “In his passing, we salute his love of Israel.”

Rivlin successfully ran against Ben-Eliezer in the 2014 election for President of Israel.

Then-presidential candidate Reuven Rivlin seen with former presidential candidate and then-MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer in the Knesset during presidential elections, June 10, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Then-presidential candidate Reuven Rivlin, right, seen with former presidential candidate and then-MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer in the Knesset during presidential elections, June 10, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Mouse grounds Air France flight

A small rodent, probably a mouse, caused the grounding of an Air France flight from Bamako to Paris, the firm says.

It took several hours to remove the unwanted passenger from the flight bound for the French capital in the early hours of Saturday.

By the time the stowaway had been expelled, the cabin crew had reached the maximum time they are permitted to work to avoid fatigue, airline spokesman Christophe Paumier says.

The flight was delayed by 48 hours and is expected to operate later Sunday.

Mice and other rodents are a significant danger to aircraft as they have a tendency to nibble through vital cabling.

“Air France regrets the inconvenience caused by this significant delay and recalls that the safety of its passengers and its crew is its top priority,” the airline says in a statement.

— AFP

Six bodies found in past 2 days in quake-hit Italian town

A spokesman for firefighters says that rescue workers have found six bodies over the past two days from the rubble of Amatrice, the hardest hit of three towns struck by the recent earthquake in Italy.

Luca Cari says three of those bodies have been recovered and three others are stuck in a place that is hard for workers to safely reach and that it will still take more time to recover them.

All the bodies were found in the rubble of Hotel Roma.

Rescuers search amid rubble following an earthquake in Amatrice Italy, Wednesday, August 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Rescuers search amid rubble following an earthquake in Amatrice Italy, Wednesday, August 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Cari says that the workers are now “clearing the pathways so that our men are safe from possible collapses.”

There are 290 confirmed deaths from Wednesday’s 6.2 quake. It wasn’t immediately clear if the newly discovered bodies are included in that official toll.

— AP

10-year-old girl in serious condition after stabbed in family dispute

Shaare Zedek Medical Center says a 10-year-old girl admitted earlier today with multiple stab wounds to the upper body is in serious condition.

She has been put into an induced coma and is being aided by a breathing machine.

She was stabbed by scissors in what police described as a family dispute. Hebrew media are reporting the attacker was the boyfriend of the girl’s mother.

Egypt seeks tougher penalties for female circumcision

Egypt’s government says it will ask parliament to approve a draft law that would increase jail terms for those who perform female circumcision.

Female circumcision, or female genital mutilation (FGM), was banned in Egypt in 2008. But the practice involving the partial or full removal of the external sex organs, ostensibly to control women’s sexuality, remains widespread, especially in rural areas.

In Egypt, the procedure is practiced by both Muslims and Christians.

Under the current law, those who practice FGM can be sentenced to jail terms of between three months and two years.

The new bill seeks those convicted of female circumcision to be jailed for between five and seven years, a statement from the prime minister’s office says.

— AFP

 

Merkel rejects Muslim migrant ban, urges fair distribution

German Chancellor Angela Merkel slams countries in Europe who say they won’t take in Muslim refugees, a position that several eastern European governments have taken in response to the influx of migrants from the Islamic world.

Merkel says she was hopeful that European Union members would reach an agreement on outstanding questions arising from the migrant crisis, one of which is how to fairly distribute asylum-seekers among all the bloc’s 28 member states.

She told German public broadcaster ARD that “everybody has to do their bit” and didn’t rule out the possibility of letting some countries take in fewer migrants if they contribute more financially instead.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel greets members of the public at the Federal Chancellery during the 18th open day of the German Federal Government in Berlin, Germany, August 28, 2016. (Rainer Jensen/dpa via AP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel greets members of the public at the Federal Chancellery during the 18th open day of the German Federal Government in Berlin, Germany, August 28, 2016. (Rainer Jensen/dpa via AP)

But she reiterated her stance that blocking refugees based on their religion was misguided.

“What I continue to think is wrong is that some say ‘we generally don’t want Muslims in our country, regardless of whether there’s a humanitarian need or not,'” she said. “We’re going to have to keep discussing that.”

Her comments come almost a year after Merkel’s decision to allow hundreds of thousands of migrants stuck in other European countries to come to Germany.

— AP

French environment minister announces partnerships in Iran

France’s environment minister signs a plan for French firms to help tackle Iran’s environmental problems, but criticizes the refusal of her country’s banks to work with the Islamic republic.

Segolene Royal met in Tehran with the head of Iran’s Environmental Protection Organization, Massoumeh Ebtekar, and a group of ministers, agreeing to work together on the water shortage, energy efficiency and pollution problems facing Iran.

She is travelling for three days with senior business figures from French environmental and renewable energy firms, including the boss of multinational Engie.

But both sides are aware that the refusal of major French banks to work in Iran is a huge obstacle to working together.

“It’s a real problem. It’s been raised by the Iranian ministers but also by French businesses,” she told reporters in Tehran.

“It’s completely unacceptable. We can’t ask Iran to make efforts on energy transition… while the financial system doesn’t respond, including on industrial cooperation that could help deal with energy, climate and pollution issues,” she said.

Despite international sanctions being lifted under a nuclear deal with world powers in July 2015, major banks remain fearful of working in Iran in case they fall foul of remaining US sanctions related to its human rights record and ballistic missile programme.

— AFP

Moscow said planning Israel-PA summit

Russia is trying to organize a peace summit between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, according to Hebrew media reports.

Preliminary talks have reportedly taken place but no date has been set.

Palestinian sources say they will not agree to a summit until Israel freezes settlement construction in the West Bank and releases security prisoners.

“A few weeks ago, they were talking about Cairo and now they’re talking about Moscow, and perhaps in the future, they’ll talk about someplace else,” Dr. Ahmed Majdalani, an advisor to Abbas and member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, told Haaretz. “But changing the venue won’t change the Palestinian position, and there are agreements Netanyahu must fulfill, like freezing settlement construction, freeing the fourth tranche of veteran prisoners and setting a deadline for ending the occupation. Otherwise, any meeting will be superfluous and won’t lead to any progress.”

Amid speculation over a developing Egyptian bid to revive stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said last week that Russian President Vladimir Putin was willing to host Israeli and Palestinian leaders for direct talks.

Earlier today Jordanian media reported a similar effort by the US to hold a three-way summit with Israel and the PA, also rejected by Palestinian officials.

Argentine Jewish boxer Carolina Duer wins world bantamweight title on return to ring

Argentine Jewish boxer Carolina Raquel Duer won the interim International Boxing Federation’s world bantamweight title in her return to the ring after two years.

Duer, 38, nicknamed “The Turk,” knocked out Aline de Casia Scaranello of Brazil in the sixth round Friday in Quilmes, a Buenos Aires suburb. The bout was aired live by the main Argentine TV channel sport TyC, which called the knockout “spectacular” and spread a video of the victory via social media.

Duer, a former World Boxing Organization super flyweight and bantamweight champion, raised her record to 19-3 with one draw. The knockout was her sixth. She must defend the IBF crown against Chile’s Carolina Rodriguez, who is unbeaten in 15 bouts.

Duer is the daughter of Syrian immigrants to Argentina and attended the Jaim Najman Bialik Primary School in Buenos Aires. She spent more than a month in Israel in her younger years working on a kibbutz and touring the country.

In 2010, Duer was the first Jewish woman to hold a WBO crown, which she defended six times. In 2014 she became a boxer announcer for Argentine National TV.

As an amateur, Duer won 19 of 20 fights.

— JTA

Egypt frees renowned rights lawyer

Egyptian authorities release a renowned human rights lawyer arrested after protests against President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s decision to hand over two islands to Saudi Arabia.

Malek Adly had been held in pre-trial detention since being arrested by plainclothes police on May 5.

His defense team confirms his release.

“The case has not been referred to trial yet,” Tarek Khater, one of Adly’s lawyers says.

Adly had supported protests in April against the decision to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, which provoked outrage in Egypt and accusations that Sissi “sold” them in return for Saudi investments.

Egyptian protesters chant slogans during a Cairo demonstration against the handing over of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, April 25, 2016. (AFP Photo/Mohamed el-Shahed)

Egyptian protesters chant slogans during a Cairo demonstration against the handing over of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, April 25, 2016. (AFP Photo/Mohamed el-Shahed)

Police arrested dozens of activists ahead of an April 25 protest, after more than 1,000 people had chanted for “the fall of the regime” in an earlier demonstration in Cairo.

— AFP

Kerry heads to Bangladesh, India amid South Asian tensions

US Secretary of State John Kerry is set to visit Bangladesh and India amid increasing concerns about terrorism in both South Asian nations.

After talks on Syria with Russian and UN officials, Kerry plans to depart Geneva this evening for meetings with Bangladeshi officials, opposition and civic leaders who are coping with a series of extremist attacks. The most recent killed 20 people, including 17 foreigners, at a popular restaurant last month in Dhaka, the capital.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but authorities maintain that a local banned group, Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh, or JMB, was behind it.

Kerry, on his first visit to Bangladesh as secretary of state, plans to discuss counterterrorism cooperation, along with human rights and economic development. On Saturday, police said they had killed three suspected militants, including an alleged mastermind of the cafe attack. Attacks over the past two years have killed atheist bloggers, foreign aid workers and religious minorities.

— AP

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Israeli aid group building shelters for victims of Italy quake

IsraAID, the Israeli NGO dedicated to helping victims of natural disasters around the world, is aiding victims of last week’s deadly earthquake in Italy by building temporary shelter camps, distributing food and nonfood items, and providing grief counseling to families that lost relatives as well as to the Italian rescue teams, which suffer from burnout and acute stress.

A team of 20 volunteers is currently in the country, the first of whom arrived 24 hours after Wednesday’s earthquake in which nearly 300 people were killed.

IsraAID team member Mickey Noam Alon described how his team helped Gabriele Gabiza, an 82-year-old man from the town of Scai whose house was destroyed.

“Like hundreds of others, Gabiza was left stranded in the middle of the night, without shelter or a safe roof over his head. After hours of wandering through what remained of the streets, Gabiza headed to one of the community shelters that was erected within 24 hours of the quake. When I met him, he was clearly exhausted, shocked and confused…. Immediately an IsraAID team member helped him to find a place to sit, offered him a warm blanket and some water.”

At least 80 residents are now seeking safety in the community shelter, IsraAID says.