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Trump on a meeting with Iran’s Rouhani: ‘Anything is possible’

Hours after his administration piled more sanctions on Tehran, US president declines to rule out talks with Iranian counterpart on sidelines of UN next week

US President Donald Trump updates the media on Hurricane Dorian preparedness from the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, September 4, 2019. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP)
US President Donald Trump updates the media on Hurricane Dorian preparedness from the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, September 4, 2019. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP)

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

Netanyahu in 2012 nearly ordered Iran strikes in defiance of Obama — report

Israeli officials are considering the possibility of conducting a military strike on Iran, with or without the approval of the United States, believing that US President Donald Trump could elect to not stand in the way like his predecessor Barack Obama did, The New York Times reports in an exposé that reveals many details on the Israel-US relationship over the past decade.

Jerusalem has been actively pushing and preparing for a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities for many years, and in 2012 came extremely close to giving the Israel Defense Forces a green light to carry that out, the report says.

The report quotes dozens of current and former senior officials to describe how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had threatened the Obama administration that he would carry out the strike, in what some said had pushed the US president to expedite negotiations with Tehran that eventually yielded the 2015 nuclear deal loathed by Netanyahu.

According to the report, the Obama administration sent an official to Israel every several weeks to to “Bibisit” the Israeli leader and make sure he did not launch a strike on the Islamic Republic.

Employee at president’s residence suspended amid corruption probe

An employee of President Reuven Rivlin’s official residence who is the subject of a preliminary investigation into suspected financial offenses has been suspended, according to Hebrew media reports.

Ze’ev Dolinsky has been on unofficial suspension since last month, when police opened a preliminary investigation into allegations that he was using his position at the President’s Residence to advance the interests of an Israeli company that operates abroad, in exchange for money.

The Residence suspended Dolinsky for a period of six months after consultations with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

The Kan public broadcaster reports that police have collected evidence that incriminates Dolinsky in fraud, breach of trust, accepting bribes and money laundering.

Dolinsky says he will appeal his suspension at the Jerusalem Labor Court.

Judge to discuss unsealing new trove of Epstein court papers

A federal judge will discuss plans for unsealing a new trove of court records involving sexual abuse allegations against Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who took his own life last month while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

US District Judge Loretta Preska scheduled the hearing after an appeals court in New York ordered her to carefully review the records and release “all documents for which the presumption of public access outweighs any countervailing privacy interests.”

While it’s not clear who is named in the records, an attorney for a John Doe warned in court papers yesterday that the documents may contain “life-changing” disclosures against third parties not directly involved in the litigation. The attorney, Nicholas Lewin, requested the opportunity to be heard on the matter, citing his unnamed client’s “reputational rights.”

— AP

Judge rules Johnson’s suspension of UK parliament lawful

A British judge rules in favor of Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament in a move that will provide some respite for the beleaguered prime minister.

Judge Raymond Doherty at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, Scotland’s highest court, rejects a legal challenge by Johnson’s opponents — one of three before the courts.

“This is political territory and decision-making, which cannot be measured by legal standards, but only by political judgments,” Doherty says in his ruling.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a statement outside 10 Downing Street in central London on September 2, 2019 (Ben STANSALL / AFP)

“I do not accept the submission that the prorogation contravenes the rule of law,” the judge says.

Johnson’s decision last week to drastically reduce the number of days parliament can sit before the current date of Brexit on October 31 caused widespread outrage. The decision was seen as a move to curb opposition attempts to block his Brexit strategy and bring down his government.

A separate legal challenge supported by former prime minister John Major is due to be heard in court in London tomorrow.

— AFP

Mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus detected in Jerusalem

The Environmental Protection Ministry says it has detected mosquitoes infected with West Nile virus in a Jerusalem riverbed, raising the danger of an outbreak of the disease.

Mosquitoes carrying the virus were found in the Al-Hafi Wadi between the capital’s northern neighborhoods of Neveh Yaakov and Pisgat Zeev.

“The discovery of mosquitoes infected with West Nile virus presents the danger of an outbreak of the disease,” the ministry says in a statement.

Last year three people died and dozens became ill amid one of the worst outbreaks of the disease in years.

Rivlin says Hebron not an obstacle to peace, but test of coexistence

President Reuven Rivlin says the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron is not an obstacle to peace, but a coexistence test for Israelis and Palestinians.

Speaking at a conference marking the 90th anniversary of the 1929 massacre, Rivlin says the divided city “is not a barrier to peace. It is a test of our ability to live together, Jews and Arabs, to live decent lives side by side.”

“The State of Israel must promote quality of life for all residents of the area, to assure that Hebron and Kiryat Arba grow and flourish, and to establish new neighborhoods,” he says according to a readout from his office.

Rivlin goes on to thank the Jewish residents for returning to the city after the 1967 war, saying they “established and maintain the Jewish settlement with devotion, love of the land of Israel and love of the people of Israel.”

In 1929, Muslim rioters killed nearly 70 Jewish residents of the city and expelled the remainder of the Jewish population. Today in the flashpoint city, Palestinians live in close proximity to settlers who are guarded by Israeli troops, and is the scene of ongoing violence between the two sides.

The president is skipping the official state memorial later today due to scheduling conflicts, his office says in a statement.

UK’s Johnson proposes early election on October 15

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson challenges his Labour rival Jeremy Corbyn to vote in favor of an early election on October 15.

In a heated parliamentary debate, Johnson says that if Corbyn votes in favor of a draft law against the government’s Brexit strategy then he should also support an election to “allow the people of this country to have their view.”

— AFP

US embassy denies ambassador avoiding Netanyahu rival

A spokesperson for the US Embassy denies the American ambassador is avoiding meetings with senior Israeli officials who are Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rivals in the September 17 elections.

“The article in Yedioth Ahronoth claiming that Ambassador [David] Friedman has refused to meet with General [Benny] Gantz is false,” the spokesman tells the Times of Israel.

“In his role as United States Ambassador to Israel, Ambassador Friedman has met with many of Israel’s leaders from all sides of the political spectrum. In that context, Ambassador Friedman has met, one-on-one, with General Gantz on several occasions,” the spokesman says.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz speaks to reporters at the Knesset as his party submits its electoral slate to the Central Elections Committee on August 1, 2019. (Flash90)

Yedioth earlier today reported that US diplomatic staff in Israel have been “drafted” to help Netanyahu’s reelection campaign at the direction of his close ally, US President Donald Trump. The report did not allege that Friedman refused a meeting with Gantz outright, but said that Friedman has been giving Gantz “the cold shoulder” since he launched his political career in late 2018.

It wasn’t clear if Gantz requested a meeting and Friedman declined, or if there has just been little to no contact between them.

Yedioth also said that Friedman has also avoided official meetings with President Reuven Rivilin.

Netanyahu may meet Putin in Moscow ahead of September 17 election

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow before the September 17 elections, according to officials at the Prime Minister’s Office.

The officials say plans are underway for the prime minister to visit the Russian capital in “the near future.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, July 11, 2018. (Israel Foreign Ministry)

The announcement comes days after Netanyahu canceled his visit to India, a move that spurred rumors the Israeli leader was eyeing a different high-profile trip to boost his electoral prospects ahead of the September 17 vote.

Knesset speaker calls for annexation of entirety of Hebron

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein vows to enact Israeli sovereignty over the entire divided West Bank city of Hebron.

“We will turn it to a full-blown city of Israel,” says Edelstein at a ceremony marking the 90-year anniversary of the 1929 Hebron massacre in which Arab rioters killed nearly 70 Jewish residents of the city.

“The time has come for the Jewish settlement in Hebron to grow to thousands of residents,” he adds.

The flashpoint city, where some 800 Jewish settlers live in close proximity to some 200,000 Palestinians residents, is the often the scene of violence between the two sides.

— Jacob Magid

YouTube to pay $170m fine after violating child privacy laws

Google’s video site YouTube is being fined $170 million to settle allegations it collected children’s personal data without their parents’ consent.

The Federal Trade Commission fines Google $136 million and the company will pay an additional $34 million to New York state to resolve similar allegations.

The fine is the largest the agency has yet leveled against Google, although it is tiny compared to the $5 billion fine the FTC imposed against Facebook this year for privacy violations.

This March 18, 2010 photo shows the YouTube website (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File).

The FTC has been investigating YouTube for the way it handles the data of kids under the age of 13. Young children are protected by a federal law that requires parental consent before companies can collect and share their personal information.

“YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients,” FTC chairman Joe Simons said in a statement. Yet when it came to complying with the law protecting children’s privacy, he said, “the company refused to acknowledge that portions of its platform were clearly directed to kids. There’s no excuse for YouTube’s violations of the law.”

— AP

Hitler bust found in vault of French Senate

The French Senate says it’s investigating the discovery of a bust of Hitler, left over from the Nazi occupation of Paris, in the cellar of the upper house of parliament.

Le Monde newspaper reveals that the 35-centimeter-high bust had been found along with a Nazi flag measuring two by three meters in the vault of the Senate, in the 6th Arrondissement of Paris.

“I was not aware of the presence of this bust,” Senate president Gerard Larcher tells reporters, adding that he had ordered a thorough inventory of all the objects housed in the cellar.

Larcher, whose office was once that of German field marshal Hugo Sperrle, says he is “certain” that Senate staff had not tried to cover up the presence of the metal effigy.

Between 1940 and 1944 the stately Senate palace in the Luxembourg Gardens was occupied by the Nazi Luftwaffe command staff for the Western front. It was liberated by Allied forces and French Resistance members on August 25, 1944, after a week of fighting.

— AFP

Lebanese PM disavows Hezbollah, says Iran-backed group ‘a regional problem’

Lebanon’s prime minister disavows any responsibility for Hezbollah, and says he is unable to curb the activities of the Iran-backed terrorist organization.

In an interview with American cable news network CNBC days after a bout of cross-border fire between Hezbollah and Israel that raised concerns of an all-out conflict, Saad Hariri asserts the group is not “a Lebanese problem” but “a regional problem.”

“Israel wants to have … this scenario that Lebanon is responsible, with what Netanyahu says, and if you want to buy it, buy it. But he knows and the international community knows that this is not true.”

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri speaks during a conference at Chatham House in London on December 13, 2018. (Daniel Leak-Olivas/AFP)

During the weekend flareup Hariri tried to calm tensions, urging the United States and France to intervene to prevent further violence. He says his government is unable to control the paramilitary group.

“I am a pragmatic person, and I know my limits, and I know the limits of this region,” Hariri says. “If people were serious about this issue, they would have done things 10, 15, 20, 30 years” earlier.”

Culture minister joins call for annexing all of Hebron

Culture Minister Miri Regev joins her Likud colleague Yuli Edelstein in calling for Israel to annex the divided West Bank city of Hebron.

Speaking at a ceremony marking the 90-year anniversary of the 1929 Hebron massacre in which Arab rioters killed 67 Jewish residents of the city, Regev reminds Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of his pledge to annex Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

“There is no better place to start bringing that pledge into fruition than Hebron,” she says.

“If there’s no Hebron there’s no Tel Aviv,” Regev adds. “Tel Aviv’s right to exist is rooted in Hebron, where Abraham and Sarah are buried.”

— Jacob Magid

In rare visit to Hebron, Netanyahu says Jews will remain in divided city ‘forever’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says at the memorial of the 1929 Hebron massacre that the divided West Bank city will never again be empty of Jewish residents.

“We have come here to unite in memory, to express victory over the bloodthirsty rioters who committed the horrific massacre 90 years ago today,” Netanyahu says during his rare visit to the flashpoint city. “They were sure that they kicked us for good, but they made a serious mistake.”

“We have accomplished historical justice, and returned to the city of the patriarchs,” he says. “Hebron will never be empty of Jews.

“We are not strangers in Hebron, we will remain here forever,” he says. “We have not come to dispossess anyone, but nobody will dispossess us either.”

In his remarks, Netanyahu also lauds the Palestinian residents of Hebron who he says “risked their lives” to save Jews during the 1929 massacre.

Poland pressured to say if it bought Israeli phone spyware

The Polish government is coming under pressure to clarify whether it has purchased sophisticated and potentially illegal phone surveillance technology that has been used to stifle dissent in other countries.

Opposition lawmakers are asking Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki whether the special services bought Pegasus, the spyware produced by NSO Group, an Israeli company.

Morawiecki appears to sidestep the question. According to news agency PAP, he says “everything that needs to be, will be clarified in due time.”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives at the informal EU summit in Salzburg, Austria, September 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)

The parliamentary discussion on Wednesday follows an investigative report by private broadcaster TVN which indicated that the country’s Anti-Corruption Bureau might have bought the system.

Lawmakers expressed concerns that the technology could be used against independent journalists or opposition politicians.

Under Polish law, using such spyware without a court order would be illegal.

— AP

Palestinians condemn ‘provocative’ Netanyahu visit to Hebron

The Palestinian Authority has condemned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for visiting the West Bank city of Hebron, his first since 1998, as “provocative” and politically motivated.

“This is a purely colonialist, racist visit that Netanyahu is doing at the height of an election battle in an attempt to win votes from the right and the extreme right,” the PA’s foreign ministry says in a statement.

Palestinian activists from Youth Against Settlements raised a giant Palestinian flag in the area where Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders were gathered to mark the 90th anniversary of the Hebron massacre.

In the city center, witnesses said Palestinian youths threw stones and firecrackers at soldiers, who responded with rubber bullets.

— with AFP

US slaps sanctions on Iran shipping network over Syria oil

The United States is imposing sanctions on a shipping network it said was run by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, saying it sold millions of barrels of oil to benefit Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The sanctions on 16 entities, 10 people and 11 vessels are announced just as Iran threatened to cut further its commitments under a nuclear deal unless the United States eases its pressure.

— AFP

Netanyahu to meet with Johnson in London tomorrow

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will travel to London tomorrow for meetings with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, according to a statement from his office.

It will be Johnson and Esper’s first visit with a foreign leader since taking their respective positions, the Prime Minister’s Office says.

The statement says the meetings will deal with regional matters, including tensions with Iran.

— Raphael Ahren

Epstein filings name hundreds of third parties

A federal judge says sealed court records contain the names of hundreds of third parties mentioned in a civil case involving sexual abuse claims against Jeffrey Epstein.

This March 28, 2017 photo provided by the New York State Sex Offender Registry shows Jeffrey Epstein. (New York State Sex Offender Registry via AP, File)

US District Judge Loretta Preska says the unnamed people will be notified and allowed to object to the release of the documents.

An appeals court ordered Preska to review hundreds of filings in the case, including more than two dozen depositions, and release them after considering privacy concerns.

The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals recently released more than 2,000 pages in the since-settled defamation lawsuit filed by one of Epstein’s accusers.

That release came a day before he killed himself in a Manhattan jail.

An attorney for former Epstein’s former girlfriend said the sealed records also contain hundreds of pages of investigative reports.

— AP

US won’t waive sanctions to allow French-proposed Iran credit line

A senior US official rules out issuing waivers to Iran sanctions to permit a French-proposed credit line, which Tehran says could bring it back to full compliance with the nuclear deal.

“We can’t make it any more clear that we are committed to this campaign of maximum pressure and we are not looking to grant any exceptions or waivers,” Brian Hook, the State Department coordinator on Iran, tells reporters.

He adds, however, that he has not yet seen a “concrete” French proposal and could therefore not comment on the idea.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif holds talks in Biarritz on August 25, 2019 with France’s President Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (Handout photo via AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron has been seeking to ease soaring tensions by bringing some economic relief to Iran and last month appeared to draw President Donald Trump’s interest when Macron said he hoped to arrange a summit between the US leader and his counterpart Hassan Rouhani.

Iran has been threatening to take new actions to curb its compliance with a 2015 denuclearization deal, from which Trump withdrew last year as he reimposed punishing sanctions.

— AFP

Bid by UK parliament to block no-deal Brexit clears first hurdle

An attempt by British lawmakers to stop the country leaving the European Union in October without a divorce deal passes its first major hurdle in Parliament.

The House of Commons votes 329-300 to approve the bill in principle, sending it on for further debate and another vote later tonight.

If the legislation is approved by the House of Commons it will go to Parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords. Pro-Brexit peers are threatening to try to stop it by filibustering — talking so much that time runs out.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Britain must leave the EU on Oct. 31, with or without a deal, and plans to seek a snap election if the opposition bill becomes law.

— AP

Likud vows to advance voter surveillance bill despite opposition from AG

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party says it will continue to push legislation that will allow cameras at polling stations despite opposition from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

In a statement, the ruling party says the bill is designed to prevent voter fraud, but says the legal system was working to ensure the “exact opposite for reasons that remain unclear.”

Likud calls the Mandelblit’s position on the matter “alarming” and says that Justice Minister Amir Ohana will continue to push the legislation though the Knesset early next week.

A hidden camera allegedly snuck into a polling station in an Arab town by a Likud observer during parliamentary elections on April 9, 2019. (Courtesy Hadash-Ta’al)

Earlier today, Mandelblit told the Likud the legality of the legislation was questionable and warned it could be struck down.

Critics have charged that Likud’s efforts to monitor Arabs during the April 9 elections was a form of voter intimidation designed to keep the non-Jewish minority from the polls.

Trump on a meeting with Iran’s Rouhani: ‘Anything is possible’

US President Donald Trump declines to rule out meeting with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani even as his administration piled more sanctions on Tehran.

Asked at the White House whether he might meet with the Iranian leader at the United Nations, Trump responds: “Sure, anything is possible.”

Rouhani announced earlier today that Tehran was poised to take another step back from its commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal, from which the US withdrew from in May.

A short time after Rouhani’s statement, US officials announced new sanctions on Iran, this time targeting a shipping network it said was run by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to smuggle oil.

Brian Hook, the State Department coordinator on Iran, also ruled out a French-proposed credit line that Tehran said could bring it back into full compliance with the 2015 deal curbing its nuclear program.

— AFP

Ex-aide to PM says Sara Netanyahu made him delete texts between Yair and Case 4000 suspect

A former close adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told police investigators that the premier’s wife made him ensure that all communications between the Netanyahus’ son Yair and the wife of an Israeli telecommunications tycoon at the center of a corruption investigation were deleted.

Nir Hefetz, who was the Netanyahu family’s most trusted spokesman, turned state’s witness last year in a series of corruption investigations implicating the prime minister.

One of the probes Hefetz provided testimony in is Case 4000, which involves suspicions Netanyahu agreed to advance regulation financially benefiting Bezeq-controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch in exchange for flattering coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, together with their son Yair at a Hannukah event, on December 13, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Transcripts of a phone conversation between Hefetz and Sara Netanyahu from mid-2017 leaked to Channel 12 and 13 revealed the level of involvement the prime minister’s family had with the Elovitchs.

“Sara and Yair summoned me urgently [to the residence]. Yair was really stressed out and was almost shaking,” Hefetz is quoted as saying. “They asked me to urgently find Iris Elovitch and make sure she deleted all of the messages between them.”

Channel 13 commentators said that Sara and Yair Netanyhu are not suspects in case 4000, but the content of the phone call indicates the prime minister’s family is concerned about being charged with obstructing the police investigation.

IDF soldier injured in apparent hazing incident regains consciousness

An IDF soldier who suffered a brain injury after being hit in the head with a rock regained consciousness today, a day after being hospitalized.

First Sergeant Daniel Marder, a combat soldier serving along the northern border, was injured badly yesterday after other soldiers hurled rocks at him when exiting the restroom, according to a preliminary IDF investigation.

Marder’s parents told media outlets earlier today it took the commanders on their son’s base several hours before they admitted their son to the hospital.

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Judge to discuss unsealing new trove of Epstein court papers

A federal judge will discuss plans for unsealing a new trove of court records involving sexual abuse allegations against Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who took his own life last month while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

US District Judge Loretta Preska scheduled the hearing after an appeals court in New York ordered her to carefully review the records and release “all documents for which the presumption of public access outweighs any countervailing privacy interests.”

While it’s not clear who is named in the records, an attorney for a John Doe warned in court papers yesterday that the documents may contain “life-changing” disclosures against third parties not directly involved in the litigation. The attorney, Nicholas Lewin, requested the opportunity to be heard on the matter, citing his unnamed client’s “reputational rights.”

— AP