Lebanese president vows reforms as protests engulf country
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Iran nuclear official says domestically made centrifuges to be unveiled soon

Tehran steadily increasing breaches of 2015 accord as it looks for a way around US sanctions that have kept it from selling oil abroad and crippled the Iranian economy

Illustrative. Centrifuges enriching uranium. (Public Domain/US Department of Energy/Wikimedia Commons)
Illustrative. Centrifuges enriching uranium. (Public Domain/US Department of Energy/Wikimedia Commons)

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

France reopens Jerusalem’s Tomb of the Kings for second time this year

An ancient tomb in Jerusalem prized for its archaeological and religious importance is reopened for visitation by France, which owns it, after a dispute over access scuttled an earlier attempt.

The site known as the Tomb of the Kings in East Jerusalem can now be visited during set hours twice per week, but visitors must pre-register online and pay a 10-shekel fee ($3 or €2.50), according to the French consulate.

Around 30 people — the most allowed at one time due to the sensitivity of the site — visited when the gates opened this morning, mainly ultra-Orthodox Jews who wanted to pray inside.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews pray at the Tombs of the Kings, a 2,000-year-old archaeological gem in the heart of Jerusalem owned by France, as it reopens for the public for a second time in six months, on October 24, 2019. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

Ultra-Orthodox Jews believe the tomb is the holy burial site of ancient ancestors King David and King Solomon.

France had attempted to open the site to visitors in June after having kept it closed since 2010, initially due to renovations but later because attempts to contest its ownership complicated its reopening. It however immediately re-closed the site after a group of more than a dozen ultra-Orthodox tried to enter and pray despite not having signed up as requested, shoving toward the gate.

Before reopening the site this morning, France sought guarantees from Israel it would not face legal challenges as well as commitments on how visits would be managed.

— with AFP

Rights group says record number of East Jerusalem homes demolished this year

Israeli authorities have demolished at least 140 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem this year, a rights group says, the highest annual number since it began keeping records in 2004.

The demolition of homes built without permits comes amid a major increase in Jewish settlement activity both in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank since US President Donald Trump took office.

A Palestinian building is blown up by Israeli forces in the village of Sur Baher, southern Jerusalem on July 22, 2019, (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90(

The Israeli rights group B’Tselem says 238 Palestinians have lost their homes this year, including 127 minors. The second highest number of demolitions on record was in 2016, when 92 homes were demolished.

Israeli officials did not respond to requests for comment.

— AP

Lebanese president vows reforms as protests engulf country

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun tells tens of thousands of protesters that an economic reform package put forth by the country’s prime minister will be the “first step” toward saving Lebanon from economic collapse.

Aoun spoke in an address to the nation earlier today, pledging to exert every effort to implement radical reform but also saying that change can only come from within state institutions.

He says freedom of transportation must be respected, urging demonstrators to remove roadblocks.

The comments were his first since protests over corruption and mismanagement erupted around the country a week ago.

Lebanese demonstrators take part in a protest against dire economic conditions in Lebanon’s southern city of Sidon on October 21, 2019. (IBRAHIM AMRO / AFP)

Aoun said that the protesters’ “call will not go unanswered,” adding he’s ready for constructive dialogue.

The protesters are taking aim at the country’s leadership, calling for the government and the president to resign.

— AP

Kushner, Gantz to hold first meeting, in Jerusalem next week

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz will hold his first official meeting with White House senior adviser Jared Kushner in Jerusalem next week.

Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, at the US-sponsored ‘Peace to Prosperity’ workshop in the Bahraini capital Manama, June 26, 2019. (Shaun Tandon/AFP)

A statement from the party says the two will meet at the US embassy in Jerusalem next Monday.

Kushner, who is expected to be accompanied by new US peace envoy Avi Berkowitz and special envoy for Iran Brian Hook, is also expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Berkowitz is taking over from outgoing envoy Jason Greenblatt, who announced his departure in September.

Death toll from heavy rains, flooding in Egypt rises to 11

Egyptian authorities say the death toll from heavy rains that pummeled the capital of Cairo and other parts of the country this week has risen to 11.

That’s according to updated statements released today by police departments and hospitals in provinces that were most affected by the downpours.

Most of the casualties, which include at least four children, died from electrocution by power cables that got submerged in floodwaters.

The downpours and the flooding, which started on Tuesday, also caused massive traffic jams in Cairo, and prompted authorities to close schools and universities in the Greater Cairo area on Wednesday. They reopened the following day.

The mayhem has elicited public outrage as it exposed the country’s poor infrastructure and dilapidated sewage and drainage systems after years of poor maintenance.

— AP

Spain begins relocating remains of late dictator Franco

Spanish authorities are flying the coffin carrying the remains of Spanish dictator Gen. Francisco Franco by helicopter to a new burial site following their exhumation from his grandiose mausoleum outside Madrid.

The government-ordered operation is a momentous event for Spain and satisfies a decades-old desire of many in Spain who considered the vainglorious mausoleum that Franco built an affront to the tens of thousands who died in Spain’s Civil War and his subsequent regime and to Spain’s standing as a modern democratic state.

The coffin of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco is loaded in a Super Puma helicopter for its transportation to the Mingorrubio El Pardo cemetery, after its exhumation from the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen) mausoleum in San Lorenzo del Escorial on October 24, 2019. (JJ GUILLEN / AFP)

The remains are to be taken to the Mingorrubio cemetery a 57-kilometer (35-mile) drive away, where Franco’s wife is buried.

The coffin was draped with a red cloth bearing the Franco family emblem and a wreath of laurel leaves with a Spanish flag ribbon top.

— AP

Senior rabbi warns about rise of anti-Semitism in Europe

The chief rabbi of the main Orthodox rabbinical alliance in Europe says a resurgence of anti-Semitism on the continent “poses an existential threat to the Jewish community.”

Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt of the Conference of European Rabbis tells The Associated Press on Thursday that the receding memory of the Holocaust, rising far-right sentiment and radical Islam are the key factors fueling the anti-Semitic climate.

Pinchas Goldschmidt. (Flash90)

An attack two weeks ago on a German synagogue that killed two people was the latest violent manifestation of the trend.

Goldschmidt spoke ahead of the awarding of the Moshe Rosen Award to the founder of the Catholic charity Sant’Egidio, Andrea Riccardi.

The award, to be presented today in Rome, recognizes non-Jews who promote dialogue, understanding and tolerance to ensure a Jewish future in Europe.

— AP

Car bomb targets Syrian town held by Turkey-backed fighters

A car booby-trapped with explosives detonated earlier this afternoon, wounding four people, in a northeastern Syrian town taken by Turkish-backed forces from Kurdish fighters during Turkey’s invasion, Syrian state media and a war monitoring group said.

The blast went off in the town of Tal Abyad outside the headquarters of a militia of Syrian fighters allied to Turkey, according to the SANA news agency and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reported the injuries.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing. Similar bombings have taken place in the past in another enclave held for several years by Turkey and its Syrian allies on the northwest part of the border. The Turkish-backed fighters are drawn from the ranks of Syrian rebels — many of them Islamic extremists — and are hated by both the Syrian government and Kurdish fighters.

Turkey invaded northeastern Syria on Oct. 9, aiming to drive the Kurdish forces out of a “safe zone” along the border after the withdrawal of US troops from the area. It captured a large section and has now halted the attack after a US-brokered ceasefire and an agreement with Russia.

— AP

Blue and White MK appointed chair of key Knesset panel

Blue and White lawmaker Avi Nissenkorn is appointed head of the key Knesset Arrangements Committee, a temporary panel that replaces the role of the House Committee in introducing legislation until a new government is formed.

Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn at the National Labor Court in Jerusalem, December 5, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

His nomination comes a day after Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz was tasked by the president with forming a government as prime minister-designate, prompting the reshuffling of the parliamentary panel.

The centrist alliance says it informed Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) of its nomination of Nissenkorn for the post earlier today, replacing Likud MK Miki Zohar.

Odeh calls on Gantz to ‘show courage,’ invite Arab parties to join government

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh calls on Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to form a minority government that includes the Arab-majority parties.

In an Channel 13 interview, Odeh urges Gantz “to act with courage” and invite the Joint List to join the coalition negotiations.

Gantz was tasked with forming the next government yesterday by the president, after Netanyahu failed to do so.

Joint (Arab) List leader Ayman Odeh speaks at the party’s Hebrew-language campaign launch in Tel Aviv on August 20, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90 )

But Gantz faces steep odds in every possible path to forming a government. He has been endorsed by just 54 lawmakers representing an array of parties that are unlikely to sit together in a coalition.

One option would be to form a minority government with Avigdor Lieberman, who emerged as kingmaker after his party won eight seats and has refused to endorse either Gantz or Netanyahu. Gantz might be able to convince the Joint List, which won 13 seats, to support the coalition from the outside.

That would bring down Netanyahu but result in a highly unstable government. It’s also far from clear that Liberman, a nationalist with a history of harsh rhetoric toward the Arab minority, would support such a scheme. No Arab party has ever sat in an Israeli government.

— with AP

IDF chief warns ‘precarious’ security situation in north could lead to conflict

With a stark warning of potential conflict, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi unveils a multi-year plan to make the Israeli military deadlier, faster, better trained and more capable of defending the Jewish state against the threats facing it today.

“In the northern and southern arenas the situation is tense and precarious and poised to deteriorate into a conflict despite the fact that our enemies are not interested in war. In light of this, the IDF has been in an accelerated process of preparation,” Kohavi says in a briefing to reporters.

The plan — dubbed Momentum, or Tenufa in Hebrew — will see huge amounts of investment in developing the Israel Defense Forces’ arsenals, including increasing its collection of mid-sized drones, obtaining large numbers of precision-guided missiles from the United States and purchasing additional air defense batteries.

Israeli soldiers walk near an Iron Dome defense system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells on August 9, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Jack GUEZ)

Despite the weighty price tag of the Momentum Multi-Year Plan, the IDF refuses to comment on how it planned to pay for these new weapons and defensive systems.

Kohavi’s plan will formally go into effect on January 1, 2020, but the IDF plans to put into place some of the proposals before then.

The IDF chief says the primary threat facing Israel come from Iran along Israel’s northern borders.

“The central strategic threat of the State of Israel lies in the northern arena: with the entrenchment of Iranian and other forces in Syria and with [the Hezbollah terror group’s] precision missile project,” Kohavi says, referring to an effort by the Iran-backed Lebanese militia to develop highly accurate long-range projectiles.

“Both of these cases are efforts led by Iran, using the territory of countries with severely limited governance,” he says.

Kohavi specifically refers to the case of Lebanon, where Iran’s ally Hezbollah is widely seen as being in control of the government despite technically having a small parliamentary presence.

“For years Hezbollah has taken the state of Lebanon ‘hostage.’ It built an army of its own and it is the one that dictates the security policy,” the army chief says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Denmark passes law to strip jihadists of nationality

Denmark’s parliament passes a controversial law allowing the government to strip dual-national suspected jihadists of their citizenship to stop them from returning to Danish soil.

The law is primarily designed to target Danes fighting for the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

It enables the government to revoke the citizenship of dual nationals while they are abroad, even without a court ruling — which previously was a requirement.

After recent developments with Turkey’s offensive into Syria, the bill was rushed through parliament.

— AFP

Germany arrests 2 people suspected of trafficking Syrians

Two members of a Lebanese family suspected of trafficking Syrians on flights to Germany and the Netherlands were arrested in a series of raids in Germany, authorities say.

Police say that 29 properties in four German states were raided as part of an investigation launched at the end of last year. Most were in Rhineland-Palatinate, in the southwest, and in North Rhine-Westphalia, its northern neighbor and Germany’s most populous state.

The Syrians, who had paid “large sums of money,” were flown largely from Beirut to Frankfurt, Duesseldorf, Munich and Amsterdam, using forged visas to get through passport checks in the Lebanese capital, prosecutor Peter Fritzen said. They applied for asylum on arrival.

In this Tuesday, December 18, 2018, photo, Syrian refugee women hold their children as they sit in Ouzai refugee compound, in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Investigators are looking into 26 attempts at trafficking people, 10 of which were prevented when authorities intercepted the forged visas and people were turned back in Beirut.

The suspects arrested Thursday were two members of a Lebanese family that has lived for years in the German town of Bitburg. Authorities were trying to track down two other suspects, and were also investigating other alleged offenses including theft.

— AP

Umm al-Fahm father arrested after video shows toddler son playing with loaded gun

An Arab Israeli man from northern Israel was charged over weapons trafficking, as footage on his cellphone revealed he had allowed his 18-month-old son to play in his crib with a loaded gun.

The Umm al-Fahm resident was arrested last month over suspicions he was illegally selling weapons, according to a Channel 12 report earlier today. He has been remanded in police custody until the legal proceedings against him are over.

Five Turkish soldiers said wounded in northeastern Syria

Five Turkish soldiers were wounded earlier today after an attack by Kurdish fighters in a northeastern Syrian border town, Turkey’s defense ministry says.

They were injured after “drone, mortar and light weapon attacks” from “PKK/YPG terrorists” while conducting reconnaissance and surveillance in the Ras al-Ain region, the ministry says on Twitter.

It says they retaliated in self defense, but gave no further details.

Under the October 17 United States-Turkey agreement, Ankara and its Syrian proxies have control over the 120-kilometre (75-mile) stretch of territory between Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad after Kurdish fighters agreed to withdraw from the area.

The deal came after Turkey launched a cross-border offensive against the US-backed Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia on October 9, which led to immediate international condemnation.

— AFP

Turkish town told to remove anti-Jewish, anti-Christian billboards

Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu ordered billboards in the city of Konya calling to boycott Jews and Christians to be removed, according to media reports.

According to reports, the billboards were part of a campaign launched by a number of radical Muslim groups in the area.

Soylu personally ordered the posters reomoved today after receiving dozens of complaints from Turkey’s Jewish and Christian communities.

Kurds welcome German plan for international force in Syria

The top commander of Syria’s Kurdish force welcome a German proposal for an international force to establish a security zone in the north of the country.

“We demand and agree to this,” Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces — the moribund autonomous Kurdish region’s de facto army — tells reporters.

— AFP

Gantz to meet with heads of Labor-Gesher party on Monday

Blue and White chief Benny Gantz is set to meet with the heads of the Labor-Gesher party as he seeks to form a broad unity government.

According to reports, Labor leader Amir Peretz and Gesher chief Orly Levy-Abekasis will meet the prime minister-designate on Monday.

MK Amir Peretz, leader of the Labor party, right, and Orly Levy, head of the Gesher party, seen at an opening event for the new election headquarters in Tel Aviv, on July 24, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Immediately after receiving the mandate to form a government from President Reuven Rivlin last night, Gantz began speaking with party leaders and inviting them to meet to negotiate their potential entry into a Blue and White-led coalition he hopes to establish, while also setting up meetings between his party’s negotiating team and other parties’ counterparts.

British PM Johnson to ask for early election on December 12

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he plans to ask Parliament to approve an early national election to be held on Dec. 12. Johnson says it’s the only way to break Britain’s Brexit impasse.

Britain’s next scheduled election is not until 2022. To call one early, Johnson needs to win a vote in Parliament. He has tried twice before and lost.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks in the House of Commons in London during the debate for the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill, on Oct. 22, 2019. (Jessica Taylor, UK Parliament via AP)

Johnson says the Dec. 12 date will give lawmakers time before the election to scrutinize his Brexit bill. Under his plan, Parliament would remain working until Nov. 6, when campaigning would start.

Researchers say hackers targeting UN humanitarian organizations

Cybersecurity researchers say a coordinated cyberespionage campaign has targeted UN relief agencies, the International Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations groups for the past 10 months.

The California cybersecurity outfit Lookout says the campaign, which uses phishing to harvest passwords from mobile phones and computers, is still active.

Lookout says the culprits are not known though there are indications some of their targets may have been members of the international community in North Korea.

The United Nations headquarters building, in New York, July 27, 2007. (Osamu Honda/AP)

Among the targeted organizations are UNICEF, the UN World Food Program, the UN Development Program and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Lookout says think tanks including The United States Institute of Peace, the Heritage Foundation and East-West Center were also targeted.

— AP

Tim Ryan drops out of Democratic presidential race

Democratic Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio is dropping out of the 2020 presidential race.

Ryan, who failed to gain traction and qualify for recent Democratic debates, announces his withdrawal on Twitter.

He says he will instead seek reelection next year to his US House seat.

Ryan says he ran to give voice to the forgotten people and businesses in the country that have been left behind and he wants to continue that in his congressional race.

The congressman’s most recent fundraising report showed he had only $158,000 on hand.

— AP

Gantz to be keynote speaker at annual Rabin memorial rally

Prime Minister-designate Benny Gantz will be the keynote speaker at this year’s memorial rally for slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on Saturday night, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.

Tens of thousands of Israelis typically attend the memorial that is held each year at Rabin Square in downtown Tel Aviv.

Prosecutors want PM charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust — report

State prosecutors are drafting a legal opinion recommending Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stand trial for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, according to a Channel 13 report.

Weeks after Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearing that sought to counter the looming indictment, prosecutors are urging Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to keep the original proposed charges intact, namely bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the so-called Case 4000, as well as fraud and breach of trust in Cases 1000 and 2000.

Mandeblit will begin consultations with state prosecutors to make a decision on Sunday, Channel 13 says.

UK lawmakers narrowly approve PM’s non-Brexit legislative program

The UK parliament narrowly approves Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s annual legislative program, delivering his minority government a symbolic win as he pushed for a snap general election.

Parliament’s lower House of Commons approves the proposal, which does not directly deal with the Brexit crisis, by 310 to 294 votes.

Moments earlier, Johnson proposed giving MPs more time to scrutinize his Brexit accord with the European Union if they agreed to hold an early general election on December 12.

— AFP

Odeh confirms meeting with Gantz next week

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh says he will meet with Prime minister-designate Benny Gantz early next week to discuss forming a government.

Odeh confirms a Channel 13 report that said the two would meet on Tuesday.

“We still have not confirmed a date but it is reasonable to assume the meeting will take place on Tuesday,” he says. “We will determine the time and date for the meeting on Sunday.”

Earlier, Odeh called on Gantz to form a minority government that includes the Arab-majority parties, saying that even if it doesn’t last, the “courageous” move would be worth it for the single purpose of ousting Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister.

PM slams report alleging prosecutors want him charged on all counts

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slams Channel 13 after it reported that state prosecutors were drafting a legal opinion recommending he stand trial for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust as originally planned.

Responding to the television report, Netanyahu describes it as “another tendentious leak that severely impairs the public confidence in the [legal] system.”

“Only in a field trial do they publish the conclusions before discussing the facts and arguments,” Netanyahu says in a statement.

During his pre-indictment hearing earlier this month, Netanyahu’s lawyers sought to have some of the charges dropped, but Channel 13 said prosecutors were urging Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to keep the original proposed charges intact, namely bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the so-called Case 4000, as well as fraud and breach of trust in Cases 1000 and 2000.

Iran nuclear official says domestically-made centrifuges to be unveiled soon

Iran plans to start using three new centrifuges for enriching uranium, a nuclear official tells the semi-official Fars news.

“We will soon witness the unveiling of three other generations of new centrifuges,” special assistant to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) head Ali Asqar Zare’an is quoted as saying.

He says Iran’s atomic agency will roll out three generations of the homemade centrifuges “in the near future.”

Iran has steadily increased its breaches of the crumbling nuclear accord as it pushes its European partners to find a way around US sanctions that have kept it from selling oil abroad and crippled the Iranian economy.

Jimmy Carter out of hospital after treatment for fall

Former President Jimmy Carter is out of the hospital where he was treated after fracturing his pelvis in a recent fall, a spokeswoman said Thursday.

Carter Center spokeswoman Deanna Congileo said in a statement that the former president had been released from Phoebe Sumter Medical Center and was recovering at his home in Plains, Georgia.

Carter, 95, fell Monday evening at his home. Congileo had said in a statement earlier that his fracture was minor, and he was in good spirits at the hospital and looking forward to recovering at home.

It was the third time Carter fell in recent months. He first fell in the spring and required hip replacement surgery. Carter fell again Oct. 6 and despite receiving 14 stitches, traveled the same day to Nashville, Tennessee, to rally volunteers and, later, to help build a Habitat for Humanity home.

Then-US president George W. Bush, center, poses with then-president-elect Barack Obama, second left, and former presidents, George H.W. Bush, left, Bill Clinton, second right, and Jimmy Carter, right, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, January 7, 2009 (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Carter is the oldest living former president in US history. He and 92-year-old wife Rosalynn recently became the longest married first couple, surpassing George and Barbara Bush, with more than 73 years of marriage.

— AP

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Lebanese president vows reforms as protests engulf country

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun tells tens of thousands of protesters that an economic reform package put forth by the country’s prime minister will be the “first step” toward saving Lebanon from economic collapse.

Aoun spoke in an address to the nation earlier today, pledging to exert every effort to implement radical reform but also saying that change can only come from within state institutions.

He says freedom of transportation must be respected, urging demonstrators to remove roadblocks.

The comments were his first since protests over corruption and mismanagement erupted around the country a week ago.

Lebanese demonstrators take part in a protest against dire economic conditions in Lebanon’s southern city of Sidon on October 21, 2019. (IBRAHIM AMRO / AFP)

Aoun said that the protesters’ “call will not go unanswered,” adding he’s ready for constructive dialogue.

The protesters are taking aim at the country’s leadership, calling for the government and the president to resign.

— AP