Lebanese army opens fire on Israeli drones near border — report
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Gantz and top aides targeted by Russian hackers in ‘unprecedented’ attack

Private intelligence firm says cellphones of Blue and White chief and senior campaign staff compromised in massive operation

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)
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)

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

Feiglin says inching closer to deal for Zehut to drop out of September elections

Moshe Feiglin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are inching closer to a deal that would see the libertarian party leader drop out of next month’s elections in exchange for a cabinet post in the next government.

Feiglin tells Army Radio that he recently “met with Netanyahu to discuss the cancellation of cannabis reform. If we reach agreements, I will withdraw my candidacy and receive a position in government.”

Zehut leader Moshe Feiglin submits his party’s list of candidates to the Central Elections Committee at the Knesset on July 31, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We’re talking about saving lives here,” Feiglin says. “There is progress in the direction of an agreement.”

Likud has reportedly been pressuring Zehut to drop out of the election in order to prevent right-wing votes from being “wasted,” as it is expected to fall short of the electoral threshold for entering the Knesset.

Johnson to suspend UK parliament until October 14

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces the suspension of parliament will be extended until October 14 — just two weeks before the UK is set to leave the EU — enraging anti-Brexit MPs.

MPs will return to London later than in recent years, giving pro-EU lawmakers less time than expected to thwart Johnson’s Brexit plans before Britain is due to leave the European Union on October 31.

“We’re going to do it on October 14,” Johnson tells reporters.

He is due to attend one last European Union summit three days later.

“There will be ample time on both sides of that crucial October 17 summit, ample time in parliament for MPs to debate,” Johnson says.


US warns businesses against taking part in Damascus fair

The United States is warning businesses against participating in an annual trade fare this week in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

The US Embassy in Syria, which closed the mission early on in the country’s eight-year civil war, posted a statement on Twitter ahead of the exhibition, which is expected to open later today.

The statement says anyone doing business with President Bashar Assad’s government will expose themselves to the possibility of US sanctions.

It says it’s “unacceptable and inappropriate” for businesses and individuals to participate, particularly at a time when Assad’s government, aided by allies Russia and Iran, is “attacking innocent civilians.”

The Damascus International Fairgrounds near the Damascus airport is hosting the fair. It used to be a high-profile event before the war started in 2011, attracting major investors.

— AP

Israel’s Sagi Muki advances to World Judo Championship finals

Sagi Muki advances to the World Judo Championship finals after defeating Egyptian opponent Mohamed Abdelaal, who refused to shake his hand at the end of the match.

The Israeli middleweight champion will face Belgium’s Matthias Casse to win the gold in the men’s under-81 kilogram weight class.

Father of teen killed in West Bank bombing released from hospital

The father of the Israeli teenager who was killed in the West Bank bomb attack last week is released from the hospital.

Rabbi Eitan Shnerb and his 19-year-old son Dvir were wounded in an explosion at a natural spring outside the Dolev settlement last Friday and hospitalized in serious condition. Daughter Rina, 17, was killed.

“I said I would continue to spread light for Rina and over the last few days it’s unbelievable how much light has been spread,” Shnerb tells reporters as he was discharged from Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem.

He tells reporters that Dvir’s condition is improving, and he expects him to be released soon.

Epstein accuser says Prince Andrew should ‘come clean’

One of the many women who have accused Jeffrey Epstein of sexual abuse is keeping Britain’s Prince Andrew uncomfortably at the center of the ongoing investigation.

Virginia Roberts Giuffre, speaking to reporters outside a New York courthouse, says of the British royal that “he knows exactly what he’s done and I hope he comes clean about it.”

Giuffre, who has says she was a 15-year-old working at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club when she was recruited to perform sex acts on Epstein, earlier told the court: “My hopes were quickly dashed, and my dreams were stolen.”

Andrew has rejected suggestions he may have been involved in Epstein’s crimes. A few days ago, he also denied any knowledge of criminal behavior by his one-time friend who killed himself in a New York jail while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

Giuffre’s comments have been widely reported in the British media Wednesday.

— AP

Israel’s Sagi Muki wins gold at judo world championships

Sagi Muki wins the gold medal at the World Judo Championship after defeating Belgium’s Matthias Casse in the finals in the men’s under-81 kilogram weight class.

The middleweight champion reached the finals after narrowly defeating Egyptian opponent Mohamed Abdelaal, who refused to shake his hand at the end of the match.

PM congratulates Israeli judoka for winning world championships

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulates Sagi Muki for taking first place at the world judo championships in Tokyo. The prime minister says Muki brought “respect and pride” to Israel by winning the gold medal.

Emergency crews rescue crashed paragliders stranded on cliff near Herzeliya

A military helicopter joined paramedics and other emergency crews to rescue two paragliders who crashed into the side of a cliff outside Herzeliya.

The paragliders, a 73-year-old man and a 15-year-old girl who were on the same glider craft, are taken to the hospital with moderate to serious injuries.

Gazans bury policemen killed in rare internal attacks

Thousands of Palestinians are taking part in funerals of three Hamas policemen killed in rare bombings at Gaza City checkpoints the previous night.

Hamas’s Interior Ministry says that investigations were ongoing, but an officer close to the probe said a suicide bomber was involved in one of the blasts that had targeted two checkpoints.

Hamas’s security service was investigating whether the other also involved a suicide bomber. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk to reporters.

Hamas hasn’t identified possible perpetrators, but the bombings bear the hallmarks of extremists influenced by the Islamic State group.

Hamas, which has run Gaza since 2007, has fought several rounds of bloody fighting with radical Salafists. However, these were the first coordinated bombings at Hamas-run checkpoints.

— AP

German far-right party expels regional leader over support for extremist group

The far-right Alternative for Germany party is expelling one of its regional leaders following a lengthy standoff over her support for a group described by intelligence officials as being extremist.

Alternative for Germany said that a national party tribunal decided to kick out Doris von Sayn-Wittgenstein because of “behavior damaging to the party.”

Von Sayn-Wittgenstein resigned as party leader in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany’s northernmost state, in December. She won the job back at a party congress in June, despite ongoing expulsion proceedings over her past support for the group Gedaechtnisstaette, or Memorial Site, which was co-founded by a convicted Holocaust denier.

The party is relatively weak in Schleswig-Holstein and has its biggest strongholds in the formerly communist east.

Von Sayn-Wittgenstein says she will take legal action against the decision.

— AP

Japan PM Abe to meet Iran’s Rouhani in New York

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in New York next month as Tokyo continues to seek a leading role in attempts to defuse rising tension in the Middle East.

Japan’s foreign ministry says the meeting was arranged yesterday during Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s visit to Tokyo, and would take place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Japan has long been a major importer of Iranian oil and was one of eight countries given a waiver by Washington on buying directly from Tehran.

Sanctions were imposed after the US President Donald Trump abandoned the Iranian nuclear agreement struck by his predecessor Barack Obama.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) greets Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (R) during their bilateral meeting in Yokohama on August 28, 2019. (Toshifumi KITAMURA / AFP)

Other signatories — including major European nations — disagreed with Trump’s action.

“I have received clear words from Supreme Leader Khamenei that he does not wish to build, possess and to use nuclear weapons,” Abe told Zarif during Tuesday’s meeting

“Japan wishes to continue diplomatic efforts toward stabilising the situation,” Abe said.


Soldier moderately injured after shooting herself in the leg

A female soldier is moderately injured after apparently shooting herself in the leg, the army says, and is taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.

The incident occurred on her base in southern Israel, the army says.

Military Police have opened an investigation into the accident and will present their findings to the military advocate general to determine if a crime has been committed, as required under IDF protocol.

— Judah Ari Gross

73-year-old paraglider killed after crashing into cliff

A 73-year-old man was killed this afternoon when his paraglider crashed into the side of a cliff near the coastal city of Herzliya.

His 15-year-old passenger sustained moderate injuries, and is recovering in a local hospital.

A military helicopter was scrambled to help paramedics reach the pair, who were stranded on the side of a cliff in Arsun.

Israel responsible for Beirut drone strikes — report

Israel is responsible for the drones that crashed in a Hezbollah stronghold in southern Beirut earlier this week, a defense official tells the Reuters news agency.

The official says the drone incident was “a strike that dealt a blow to Hezbollah’s capabilities in the realm of precision-missile manufacturing.”

“Israel’s message to Hezbollah here, writ large, was: Keep manufacturing, and we will keep hitting you,” the official is quoted as saying.

Lebanese military intelligence inspects the scene where two drones came down in the vicinity of a Hezbollah media center in the south of the capital Beirut, August 25, 2019. (Anwar Amro/AFP)

The official says that if Hezbollah escalates the situation beyond a retaliatory strike, Israel would hit back hard against the Iran-backed group.

“I imagine that Israel would then step up its strikes and wipe out this capability altogether. The details of these sites are known. The ball would now appear to be in Hezbollah’s court.”

Queen agrees to suspend UK Parliament ahead of Brexit

Queen Elizabeth II has approved the UK government’s request to suspend Parliament amid a growing crisis over Brexit.

The move was not unexpected, as the monarch has steadfastly refused to get involved in politics throughout her long reign.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to the queen earlier to request an end to the current Parliament session in September.

Opposition lawmakers contend that he wants to limit the ability of lawmakers to come up with legislation to block a no-deal Brexit.

The queen is the head of state and is politically neutral. She acts on the advice of her government in political matters.

— AP

Facebook tightens rules for political ads ahead of US elections

Facebook says it will tighten its rules for political ad spending ahead of the 2020 US elections, notably by requiring more information about who is paying for campaign messages.

The move is the latest by Facebook to crack down on efforts to deceive or manipulate users after the social network admitted lapses in the 2016 election.

While Facebook has already begun requiring political advertisers to provide identification to confirm who they are and where they are located, the new policy requires more information to show they are registered with the US government.

In this March 29, 2018, file photo, Facebook’s logo appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York’s Times Square. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

This new verification can be done by submitting a tax identification number or proof that the group is registered with the Federal Election Commission.

“People should know who is trying to influence their vote and advertisers shouldn’t be able to cover up who is paying for ads,” a Facebook blog post says.

The new steps call for “strengthening the authorization process for US advertisers, showing people more information about each advertiser and updating our list of social issues” for advertisers.

Facebook says organizations that fail to submit the verification will see their ads “paused” by mid-October.

Facebook rolled out similar restrictions in Israel ahead of elections in April 2019.


Israeli wanted in France for $75 million tax fraud scheme extradited

Israel extradites a French dual national back to Paris to face charges of a $75 million tax evasion scheme.

According to Hebrew-language media reports, Michael Aknin, who was arrested in Israel last September, was returned to France earlier today.

Akinin’s co-conspirator, David Blomberg, was arrested in Israel in 2016 and extradited back to France earlier this year. In July, he was sentenced to nine years in prison for his involvement in the tax fraud that French authorities dubbed the “scam of the century.”

In latest flip-flop, White House says peace plan won’t roll out until after elections

In the Trump administration’s latest reversal, the White House won’t be releasing its long-awaited Middle East peace plan until after the Israeli elections next month.

Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt posts on Twitter that the president has decided to roll out the plan after the September 17 election re-do.

“We have decided that we will not be releasing the peace vision (or parts of it) prior to the Israeli election,” Greenblatt says.

The White House had previously indicated it was waiting until after a new Israeli government is formed to release the political part of its proposal, but Trump earlier this week told reporters on the sidelines of the G7 he was not willing to wait that long.

Iran says delegation to visit France as nuclear talks progress

Iran is sending a delegation to France next week after progress was made in talks to defuse tensions since the US withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal, a senior official said Wednesday.

Tehran and Washington have been locked in a bitter standoff since last year when US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the deal that gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its atomic program.

At the height of the crisis in June, Iran shot down a US drone in the Gulf and Trump approved a retaliatory strike against the Islamic republic before cancelling it at the last minute.

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

“A delegation is going to France next week and they will negotiate… issues,” says Mahmoud Vaezi, the chief of staff of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.

“These negotiations have made relatively good progress since last week,” Vaezi was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.

The newly announced visit comes after Iran’s top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif traveled to France on Sunday for the second time in a matter of days.


Hamas says suicide bombers who killed officers identified

Gaza’s Hamas rulers confirm that two suicide bombers were responsible for killing three Palestinian police officers in the Strip last night.

Interior ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bozm says in statement they identified the two bombers who blew themselves up at two police checkpoints in Gaza City.

He does not name them but says security forces “continue to investigate who is behind them.”

Palestinians check a damaged police booth following an explosion targeted a Hamas police checkpoint in Gaza City, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

A source familiar with the investigation says a Salafist movement in Gaza that sympathies with the Islamic State jihadist group is suspected of carrying out the rare attack.

— with AFP

US blacklists suppliers of Iran missile programs

The US Treasury places two Iranian business groups on its sanctions blacklist, saying both are important suppliers of Tehran’s missile program and facilitators of its alleged proliferation activities.

The Treasury, working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, says the “Dehghan Network” of Hamed and Hadi Dehghan, has procured and supplied “military-grade electronic components” to an Iranian engineering company that works with the military and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The Dehghans work through their company Ebtekar Sanat Ilya, and a Hong Kong front company Green Industries (Hong Kong) Limited, the Treasury says.

In this September 24, 2017 file photo, surface-to-surface missiles and a portrait of the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are displayed by the Revolutionary Guard. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

A second group dubbed the “Shariat Network,” controlled by Seyed Hossein Shariat and focused on his Asre Sanat Eshragh Company, is also blacklisted for supplying aluminum alloy products to Iranian entities already sanctioned for their missile proliferation and nuclear weapons programs.

The sanctions freeze any property those names have in US jurisdictions and aim to lock those blacklisted out of global commercial and financial networks by banning US individuals and companies, including international companies with US arms, from doing business with them.


Honduras to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez will travel to Israel on Friday to inaugurate a “diplomatic office” in Jerusalem, recognizing the holy city as Israel’s capital.

The diplomatic office will be an extension of Honduras’s Tel Aviv-based embassy.

“For me it’s the recognition that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” Hernandez says.

The foreign ministry says in a statement Israel had proposed that Honduras move its embassy to Jerusalem, which is being “analyzed and evaluated in the international and national context.”

Honduras’ President Juan Orlando Hernandez speaks at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington on March 24, 2019. (Screen capture/AIPAC)

US President Donald Trump sparked a deterioration in relations between Washington and Palestinians last year when the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem. Israel applauded the move.

Guatemala and Paraguay followed suit while Brazil said it was studying the possibility. Paraguay reversed its decision after just four months.


Lebanese army opens fire on Israeli drones near border — report

The Lebanese military opens fire at two Israeli drones flying near the Lebanon-Israel border, the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen news outlet reports.

There is no immediate comment from the Lebanese or Israeli military.

“We are looking into it,” an IDF spokesperson says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Gantz and top aides targeted by Russian hackers in ‘unprecedented’ attack — report

The cellphones of Blue and White chief Benny Gantz and his top aides were reportedly compromised by Russian hackers earlier this year in what a private intelligence firm called an “unprecedented” breach.

The CGI Group, an Israeli company specializing in business intelligence, found that Gantz and other senior campaign staff were targeted in a “powerful and unprecedented attack by Russian hackers, the kind we have never seen before,” according to a Channel 12 report.

CGI was hired by Gantz to investigate who was responsible for leaks from the party.

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)

CGI said in its report that Blue and White was not targeted due to poor security protocols, and that Gantz and his aides were not guilty of leaving sensitive data vulnerable to hackers.

Ahead of the previous elections, reports said Gantz’s phone had been hacked, in an incident blamed on Iran.

CGI also identified a mole from the Yesh Atid party who leaked audio recordings of Gantz to the press in the run-up to the April election. CGI determined the leaker did not reveal any information that was seriously damaging to the party.

Liberman claims Likud ‘praying’ Netanyahu ousted after September elections

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman claims that Likud lawmakers are “praying” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once again fails to form a government after the September elections so that they can replace him, according to the Ynet news site.

Avigdor Liberman attends the Muni Expo 2018 conference at the Tel Aviv Convention Center on February 14, 2018. (Flash90 )

The report says Liberman told members of his party at a closed-door meeting that he met with Knesset members, mayors and central committee members from the ruling party to discuss Netanyahu’s tenure coming to an end.

“They believe at least two-thirds of the Likud faction is praying Netanyahu doesn’t get 61 seats [in the Knesset, the minimum required to form a majority government],” he told Yisrael Beytenu lawmakers according to Ynet.

14 injured in multi-vehicle crash on Highway 6

Fourteen people are injured, five of them moderately, in a multi-car accident on Highway 6.

According to reports, a truck and two cars crashed outside Moshav Alma in the upper Galilee.

The moderately injured passengers include several babies, Ynet reported, who have been rushed to Petah Tikva’s Beilinson Medical Center and Tel Aviv’s Sheba Medical Center.

Katz urges UK to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terror organization

Foreign Minister Israel Katz is reportedly urging the United Kingdom to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization.

In a meeting with his British counterpart Dominic Raab, Katz thanks the UK government for officially designating the Iran-backed group Hezbollah a terrorist organization earlier this year, but presses for the IRGC to also be included on the government’s terror blacklist.

According to reports in Hebrew-language media, Katz says the terror designation would be the “appropriate and justified response” to the attacks masterminded by IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani.

Rocket sirens sound in Gaza border communities

Incoming rocket sirens sound in southern Israel, sending hundreds of Israelis rushing to bomb shelters.

There are no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

The alarms are triggered in the Netiv Ha’asara community in Israel’s Hof Ashkelon region, north of the Gaza Strip.

The military says it is investigating what triggered the sirens.

— Judah Ari Gross

Turkey to seek ‘alternatives’ to US F-35 fighter jet

A day after vowing closer defence cooperation with Russia, Turkey says it will seek “alternatives” to the F-35 fighter jet program the United States has excluded it from.

Washington said last month Turkey will be scrapped from the F-35 program after Ankara bought Russian S-400 air defense systems.

“We need war jets. If we cannot buy the F-35s, we will look for new alternatives,” official news agency Anadolu quotes Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as saying in the Estonian capital of Tallinn.

Military vehicles and equipment, parts of the S-400 air defense systems, are unloaded from a Russian transport aircraft, at Murted military airport in Ankara, Turkey, July 12, 2019. (Turkish Defence Ministry via AP, Pool)

Turkey has lambasted as “unfair” the US move to exclude it from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme. The White House said the jet could not “coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities.”

Turkey has said it plans to start using the S-400 missile defence system by April 2020. The second phase of delivery began Tuesday.

Knesset panel loosens requirements for election observers

The Central Elections Committee says that polling station observers it will hire for the upcoming elections will not be required to have completed service in the IDF.

The announcement comes hours after job postings for the position publicized by a recruitment firm hired by the committee listed “full army service” as the one and only requirement, effectively closing off the position to many ultra-Orthodox and Arab Israeli communities.

Addressing those concerns, the committee explains that the qualification was written by the firm without their knowledge. However, because the job will partially require “securing” polling stations, some degree of background in the field will be required from candidates. This can be shown either through full military service, at least 18 months of service in the Israel Police, service in a foreign military not belonging to an enemy state or completion of a state-accredited security guards course.

In addition, every applicant will be required to declare that they are not a member of a political party and have not carried out any activity on behalf of a particular party in the last three years.

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)

On Monday, Central Election Committee chairman Hanan Melcer handed down a major ruling barring political parties from equipping their representatives on polling station committees with cameras, in a blow to Likud which planned on sending thousands of camera-ridden activists into Arab community ballot stations to prevent alleged voter fraud.

In his decision, Melcer ordered the launching of a pilot program in which his committee will hire impartial poll observers who will be stationed at ballot stations marked where irregular ballot counts were documented in April. These non-party affiliated observers will be given body cameras that they will only be authorized to turn on when there is suspicion of voter fraud and after Melcer himself has signed off on their use.

The observers will also be required to turn on the cameras in these particular polling stations to film the entire ballot counting process.

— Jacob Magid

Rocket fired from Gaza falls short of Israeli border

A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel fails to clear the border fence and lands inside the enclave, the army says.

The rocket launch triggered alarms in the Israeli community of Netiv Ha’asara, north of the Strip.

The community is hosting a night-time swimming event, which was interrupted by the attack and sent dozens of children rushing to bomb shelters.

— Judah Ari Gross

IDF confirms drones came under fire by Lebanese forces

The Israeli military largely confirms the Lebanese Armed Forces’ claims that its soldiers opened fire at Israeli drones operating near the border.

“Gunfire was heard from Lebanese territory toward the area where IDF drones were flying. The drones completed their mission, and no damage was caused,” the army says.

Judah Ari Gross

IDF bombs Hamas post after failed rocket launch attempt from Gaza

An IDF aircraft bombs a Hamas observation post on the Gaza border in response to a failed rocket attack from the enclave, the army says.

Judah Ari Gross

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Lebanese army opens fire on Israeli drones near border — report

The Lebanese military opens fire at two Israeli drones flying near the Lebanon-Israel border, the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen news outlet reports.

There is no immediate comment from the Lebanese or Israeli military.

“We are looking into it,” an IDF spokesperson says.

— Judah Ari Gross