Massive fire breaks out off 443, near Modi’in-area settlement
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Italy, Croatia, Greece and Cyprus offer to send firefighting planes to Israel

Foreign ministry thanks countries for willingness to help Israeli crews working to contain hundreds of blazes amid during heatwave

  • An Israeli soldier walks past a burning house amid extreme heat wave in Kibbutz Harel in central Israel on May 23, 2019. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
    An Israeli soldier walks past a burning house amid extreme heat wave in Kibbutz Harel in central Israel on May 23, 2019. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
  • Effects of a fire in the central town of Mevo Modi'im on May 23, 2019. (Israel Fire Service)
    Effects of a fire in the central town of Mevo Modi'im on May 23, 2019. (Israel Fire Service)
  • Firefighters extinguish the fire of a burning house amid extreme heat wave in Kibbutz Harel in central Israel on May 23, 2019. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
    Firefighters extinguish the fire of a burning house amid extreme heat wave in Kibbutz Harel in central Israel on May 23, 2019. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
  • Smoke rises as a wildfire rages near Kibbutz Harel, Israel, Thursday, May 23, 2019.  (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
    Smoke rises as a wildfire rages near Kibbutz Harel, Israel, Thursday, May 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
  • Fire engulfs trees in a burning forest amidst extreme heat wave near the Israeli city of Modi'in on May 23, 2019. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
    Fire engulfs trees in a burning forest amidst extreme heat wave near the Israeli city of Modi'in on May 23, 2019. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
  • A picture taken on May 23, 2019 shows the ruins of a house that was destroyed by fire amid extreme heat wave in Kibbutz Harel in central Israel on May 23, 2019. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
    A picture taken on May 23, 2019 shows the ruins of a house that was destroyed by fire amid extreme heat wave in Kibbutz Harel in central Israel on May 23, 2019. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

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

Guards commander: Iran closely monitoring ‘malicious’ US government

A senior commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards calls the growing tensions with the US a “clash of wills,” and says Iran’s armed forces will remain watchful of the US government.

“The confrontation and face-off of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the malicious government of America is the arena for a clash of wills,” Major General Mohammad Baqeri is quoted as saying in state-run media according to Reuters.

“The enemies should know that the Iranian military will not waste even a single moment monitoring the enemies’ schemes and adventurism,” he says.

Baqeri adds that Iran will deliver a “hard, crushing and obliterating response” to any enemy “adventurism.”

British government postpones vote on Brexit bill

The British government postpones a crucial Brexit vote scheduled for the week starting June 3, following an outcry from hard-line Brexiteers over concessions made by Prime Minister Theresa May.

“We will update the house on the publication and introduction of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill on our return from the Whitsun recess,” government official Mark Spencer tells MPs.

— AFP

Residents in Hebron-area settlement evacuated due to brush fires

Firefighters are working to extinguish a brush fire near the West Bank settlement of Beit Hagai, south of Hebron.

Authorities have ordered the evacuation of Beit Hagai residents as a precaution, and are shutting of the community’s electric supply as a precaution.

Usually warm temperatures and smoldering remains of Lag B’Omer bonfires have sparked several brush fires across the country, including near the cities of Beit Shemesh and Elad.

Firefighters pull 3 kids out of burning building in Beitar Illit

Firefighters are working to put out at least three fires in the Jerusalem area, including one at an apartment building in the nearby Beitar Illit settlement where residents are believed to be trapped inside.

According to news reports, firefighters have pulled three children from the building in Beitar Illit, and are working to locate other residents.

Other blaze was reported adjacent to the Uzi Narkiss Bridge in northern Jerusalem, and in the Mevasseret Zion suburb.

Usually warm temperatures and smoldering remains of Lag B’Omer bonfires have sparked dozens of brush fires across the country.

Earlier, authorities evacuated dozens of residents in the southern West Bank settlement of Beit Hagai as firefighters battled a nearby blaze.

Senior German diplomat in Tehran for nuclear deal talks

A senior German diplomat is heading to Tehran to press Iran to continue to respect the landmark nuclear deal, despite the unilateral withdrawal of the US and increasing pressure from Washington.

Tensions are soaring in the Mideast recently as the White House earlier this month sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region over a still-unexplained threat it perceived from Iran.

Berlin’s Foreign Ministry says Political Director Jens Ploetner will hold talks with Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi to try salvage the nuclear deal signed in 2015 in Vienna.

“The situation in the Persian Gulf and the region, and the situation surrounding the Vienna nuclear agreement, is extremely serious,” the German Foreign Ministry says in an email to The Associated Press. “There is a real risk of escalation — including due to misunderstandings or an incident. In this situation, dialogue is very important.”

The flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea, on May 19, 2019. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Garrett LaBarge/US Navy via AP)

Relations between Washington and Tehran plummeted a year ago when Trump pulled out of the multinational agreement negotiated under his predecessor Barack Obama under which Tehran drastically scaled back its nuclear work in return for promises of sanctions relief.

Tensions have ratcheted up further this month, with Washington announcing additional economic measures against Tehran, before deploying an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region over a still-unexplained threat it perceived from Iran.

— Agencies

Poway synagogue dedicates new Torah scroll in honor of slain worshiper

A Southern California synagogue where a gunman killed a woman and wounded three people dedicated a new Torah scroll — the holiest object in Judaism — to the slain woman on Wednesday.

The handwritten Biblical scroll had the final letters inked by a scribe during a ceremony at Chabad of Poway. It was carried outside under a canopy into the street to clapping and singing.

The Torah was dedicated to Lori Gilbert Kaye, 60, who was killed on April 27 when a gunman walked into the synagogue on the last day of Passover and opened fire on congregants with a semiautomatic assault rifle. Authorities said the man emptied the 10 rounds from the gun and was carrying 50 more but had trouble reloading and during the pause he was chased outside by some congregation members.

Kaye was hit twice in the synagogue foyer.

Kaye’s husband, Howard Kaye, carried the Torah through the street.

The ceremony was conducted by Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who lost a finger in the attack and appeared with his hands bandaged. An 8-year-old girl and her uncle also were wounded.

— AP

Plane with faulty engine makes safe emergency landing at Ben Gurion Airport

A plane with an engine malfunction lands safely after an emergency was declared at the Ben Gurion international airport near Tel Aviv.

The plane, carrying 194 passengers and crew members, had a problem with its left engine overheating minutes after taking off from Israel to Batumi, Georgia.

Ambulances and large medical forces were waiting for the plane in case of a crash landing.

But the landing was carried out safely.

UN agency for Palestinians rejects US call to dismantle it

The head of the United Nations organization for Palestinian refugees rejects a US call to dismantle the agency, saying it cannot be blamed for stalled peace efforts.

UNRWA’s commissioner general Pierre Krahenbuhl rebuffs the criticism from US envoy Jason Greenblatt during a visit to the Gaza Strip.

“I unreservedly reject the accompanying narrative that suggests that somehow UNRWA is to blame for the continuation of the refugee-hood of Palestine refugees, of their growing numbers and their growing needs,” he says in response to a question about Greenblatt’s comments.

Pierre Krähenbul, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA), speaks at a press conference in Gaza City on May 23, 2019. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

“The fact that UNRWA still exists today is an illustration of the failure of the parties and the international community to resolve the issue politically — and one cannot deflect the attention onto a humanitarian organization,” he says at a press conference in Gaza City.

The Trump administration last year cut off its roughly $300 million annual donation to UNRWA, and administration officials now argue the agency has run its course.

— AFP

Firefighters evacuate Kibbutz Harel as brush fire encroaches on homes

Authorities are evacuating the residents of Kibbutz Harel as a nearby brush fire spreads in the direction of the community outside Jerusalem.

According to reports, police have confirmed the entire kibbutz has been cleared of people.

Unusually warm temperatures and smoldering remains of Lag B’Omer bonfires have sparked dozens of brush fires across the country.

In Jerusalem, two people are hospitalized for smoke inhalation from separate fires in and around the city.

Massive fire breaks out off 443, near Modi’in-area settlement

Dozens of firefighting units are battling a massive brush fire outside the West Bank settlement of Mevo Modiin, just off Route 443.

Firefighting planes are helping units on the ground struggling to control the several-meter high blaze.

Authorities have begun evacuating residents of Mevo Modiin, Gimzo and Kfar Daniel.

Route 443 is closed in both directions.

Central Israel fire chief calls up all firefighters amid wave of brush fires

The head of Fire and Rescue Services calls up all firefighters in Israel’s central region in light of the large number of blazes in the area.

Firefighters are battling fires outside Jerusalem and Modiin and in the southern West Bank. Hundreds of residents have been evacuated and Route 443 is closed to traffic as fire teams attempt to control a massive blaze.

Fire breaks out in Jerusalem’s Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood

A fire has broken out in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev.

Firefighters are trying to extinguish the fire that broke out in an empty lot next to Dov Sadan Street. Police have urged residents to keep away from the area and close their windows.

Firefighters are battling dozens of blazes in central Israel this afternoon and hundreds of residents have been evacuated from their homes.

Israel may reach out to Greece, Cyprus and Croatia for help battling fires

Southern District Fire Department Chief Shmulik Friedman says authorities are considering reaching out to Cyprus, Greece and Croatia to help battle the dozens of fires raging across the country.

Friedman tells the Kan public broadcaster that Israel may ask the countries to dispatch firefighting aircraft to help local emergency teams.

Over 20 treated for smoke inhalation, heatstroke as brush fires rage across Israel

Some 22 people were hospitalized for smoke inhalation from the wave of brush fires raging in central Israel today, including 2 in moderate condition, according to Magen David Adom spokesman Zaki Heller.

In Jerusalem, an 80-year-old man is hospitalized at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center after collapsing from an apparent heatstroke. The man is said to be in serious condition.

Fires break out in Israeli communities adjacent to Gaza border

Firefighters are working to extinguish a number of fires in the Israeli communities surrounding the Gaza Strip, some of which were caused by balloon-borne incendiary devices, the fire department says.

Palestinian media is reporting that the Sons of Zoari terror group has launched hundreds of these arson balloons into southern Israel from Gaza throughout the day.

At least two fires in the Eshkol region of southern Israel were sparked by these devices, the local fire department says.

One of them caused a large amount of damage to a wheat field outside Kibbutz Nahal Oz.

Another fire, in the Hof Ashkelon region, is still raging as “large numbers of firefighting forces” are working to extinguish it, the fire department says.

This fire was found not to have been caused by a Gaza balloon, according to an initial investigation.

In addition, a huge number of firefighting teams, assisted by construction crews and volunteers, are working to extinguish a massive fire outside the community of Kiryat Malachi, which began in a wheat field and spread to a number of greenhouses and surrounding grasslands.

“At this stage, the firefighters have control of the fire, and a lot of damage has been caused to the area. The firefighters are still working to fully extinguish the blazes,” a fire department spokesperson says.

The spokesman says it is not yet clear what sparked the fire.

— Judah Ari Gross

Netanyahu calls to congratulate India’s Modi on election victory

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joins other world leaders in congratulating Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his reelection.

“Narendra, my friend, congratulations! What a great victory! I hope that we will see each other soon, as soon as you form a government and as soon as we establish our own,” Netanyahu tells his Indian counterpart in a phone conversation.

He tells Modi the “amazing results” of the election is “a testimony to your leadership.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bids farewell to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi at Ben Gurion International Airport on June 6, 2017. (Kobi Gideo/GPO)

Earlier, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, congratulated Modi on Twitter.

Iran says no talks with US ‘under any circumstances’

Iran will not hold talks with the US “under any circumstances” while the rights of the Islamic republic are not respected, says a senior official quoted by state media.

“We have said clearly… as long as the rights of our nation are not satisfied, as long as words don’t change into action, our path will stay the same as now,” says Keyvan Khosravi, spokesman of the Supreme National Security Council.

“There will be no talks under any circumstances,” he is quoted as saying by the official state news agency IRNA.

Khosravi says there has been an uptick in official delegations traveling to Tehran from various capitals, though “most of them are coming on behalf of America.”

“Without exception we have responded with the message of the Iranian nation’s strength, reason and resistance” in line with the policies of the Islamic republic, he adds.

Route 3411 near Gaza border reopens after wildfire brought under control

Route 3411 has reopened to traffic after firefighters extinguish a fire that started near the Zikim Junction.

Police closed the highway near the Gaza border for several hours as a wildfire raged near the highway.

Netanyahu calls urgent meeting with faction heads over stalled coalition talks

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summons party faction heads to an urgent meeting at his office this evening at 8:30, as his coalition negotiations appear to be at an impasse.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on April 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Earlier, party sources told Hebrew-language media outlets that Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman “blew up coalition talks” over legislation formalizing draft exemptions for religious seminary students and other matters of religion and state.

Liberman is considered Netanyahu’s main obstacle in forming a coalition, as the premier’s Likud party needs Yisrael Beytenu’s five seats to secure a ruling majority.

Netanyahu says Israel seeking ‘immediate’ assistance from abroad to put out dozens of wildfires

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu orders the government to request foreign assistance as firefighters in Israel struggle to put out dozens of wildfires raging across the country.

In a tweet, Netanyahu says the National Security Council, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Public Security have been instructed to reach out “immediately” for aerial assistance. He does not specify which countries Israel would approach, but a senior Fire Department official said earlier they could turn to Cyprus, Greece and Croatia for help.

Nearly all of Mevo Modi’im destroyed by wildfire

A police official tells Channel 13 news that a fire has nearly completely destroyed the village of Mevo Modi’im, a community founded by the late songwriting Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

Firefighters are still working to bring the massive blaze in the Ben Shemen Forest under control.

Meanwhile, residents of the nearby town of Gimzo evacuated Torah scrolls from the community synagogue as the flames approached.

Suspect in Pittsburgh synagogue massacre wants plea deal

The man charged in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre still wants to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, according to his lawyer.

Judy Clarke tells a judge she hopes the case against Robert Bowers can be resolved without a trial. The 46-year-old truck driver wasn’t in court.

Authorities say Bowers killed 11 people and wounded seven at Tree of Life synagogue last October. It was the deadliest attack on Jews in US history. He has pleaded not guilty.

Driver’s License photo of Pittsburgh synagogue massacre suspect Robert Bowers. (Pennsylvania DOT)

Prosecutors in Pittsburgh have previously indicated their intent to seek the death penalty against Bowers, but a final decision rests with the US attorney general.

Assistant US Attorney Troy Rivetti says the death penalty review process is ongoing. He says the government won’t discuss plea negotiations in open court. Both sides met on May 9.

Clarke, who is known for negotiating plea deals that helped some of the nation’s most infamous killers avoid death row, said at Bowers’ February arraignment that he was open to such a deal, telling a judge the defense wanted to avoid a trial.

Bowers opened fire with an AR-15 rifle and other weapons during worship services inside Tree of Life, killing eight men and three women before a tactical police team tracked him down and shot him, according to state and federal affidavits. He expressed hatred of Jews during the rampage and later told police that “all these Jews need to die,” authorities said.

Bowers faces a 63-count indictment that charges him with hate crimes, obstructing religious belief and using a firearm during crimes of violence.

— AP

PM mulling new elections after Liberman ‘blows up’ coalition talks — report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told Likud officials he is mulling calling new elections due to Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman’s refusal to back down from his demands on religion and state issues.

Earlier, party sources told Hebrew-language media outlets that Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman “blew up coalition talks” over legislation formalizing draft exemptions for religious seminary students and other matters of religion and state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman in the Knesset, on October 24, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Liberman is considered Netanyahu’s main obstacle in forming a coalition, as the premier’s Likud party needs Yisrael Beytenu’s five seats to secure a ruling majority.

Netanyahu is holding urgent talks with faction heads at his office.

Police say hundreds of wildfires ‘more or less under control’

A senior police official says all the dozens of wildfires that swept across the country today are under control, and that there is no danger posed to the public.

“All of the fires are under control, there is no life-threatening danger,” says acting Public Security Minister Moti Cohen. “All of the fires are more or less under control.”

He adds that could change if the wind increases or changes direction overnight.

A picture taken on May 23, 2019 shows the ruins of a house that was destroyed by fire amid extreme heat wave in Kibbutz Harel in central Israel on May 23, 2019. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

“We’ll see how we manage at night, when firefighting planes aren’t operating.”

Some 3,500 people were evacuated from their homes earlier today as firefighters battled hundreds of fires, mostly in central Israel.

70-year-old man dies of heatstroke in central Israel

A 70-year-old man died of heatstroke in the central Israeli city of Or Yehuda earlier today.

Israel is gripped by a major heatwave, with temperatures reaching 45° C (118° F) in some parts of the country.

Kushner to visit Israel ahead of US peace plan rollout — report

US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is planning to visit Israel ahead of US peace conference in Bahrain next month, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, right, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on June 22, 2018. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem/Flash90)

US and Israeli officials are in advanced stages of the planning of the visit, that could come as early as next week.

Kan says Kushner will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before unveiling the economic aspects of its long-awaited Middle East peace plan at the Bahrain conference.

Israeli kingpin wanted for sex trafficking arrested in Portugal

An Israeli man wanted by Colombia for sex trafficking, including of minors, was arrested in Portugal yesterday, according to a police statement.

Police arrested Assi Ben-Mosh, 45, near Lisbon while in possession of fake Israeli identity documents, Spain’s Guardia Civil police force says in a statement.

He is suspected of having operated a “bunker-like” hotel in Taganga, a Colombian fishing village that has become popular with backpackers, where young women and underage girls were sexually exploited, the statement says.

Screen capture from video showing alleged crime lord Assi Ben-Mosh, right, on a flight after being expelled from Columbia. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Colombian authorities deported Mosh — whom local media called “the Devil of Taganga” — in 2017 because he was deemed a threat to public order.

But they recently issued an international arrest warrant for Mosh via Interpol for drug trafficking, money laundering and trafficking of human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Spanish police suspect Mosh hid for a while on the Spanish holiday island of Ibiza, and then Barcelona before he was arrested in Portugal earlier this week.

School trips on Friday canceled due to extreme heatwave

The Education Ministry cancels all school trips and outdoor activities scheduled for tomorrow due to the major heatwave and wildfires that swept across the country throughout the day.

Hundreds of brush fires destroyed dozens of houses and forced the evacuation of some 3,500 people from their homes.

By nightfall, police said the fires were “more or less under control,” but warned that could change with winds expected to pick up overnight and even warmer temperatures forecast for tomorrow.

Firefighters battle a blaze near Kibbutz Harel in central Israel, May 23, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

This afternoon, temperatures climbed to a sweltering 45° C (118° F) in some parts of the country.

Iran will not surrender to US even if bombed, Rouhani says

Iran President Hassan Rouhani says the Islamic republic will not surrender to US pressure or abandon its ideals, even if it is bombed.

“More than one year after the imposition of these severe sanctions, our people have not bowed to pressures despite facing difficulties in their lives,” Rouhani is quoted as saying by the state-run IRNA news agency, according to Reuters.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a ceremony to mark the second anniversary of the death of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, in Tehran, Iran, on January 10, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

“We need resistance, so our enemies know that if they bomb our land, and if our children are martyred, wounded or taken as prisoners, we will not give up on our goals for the independence of our country and our pride,” he says at a commemoration of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Relations between Washington and Tehran plummeted a year ago when Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Tensions have ratcheted up further in recent weeks, with Washington announcing additional economic measures against Tehran, before deploying an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region over a still-unexplained threat it perceived from Iran.

Italy, Croatia, Greece and Cyprus sending firefighting planes to Israel

Italy, Croatia, Greece and Cyprus are sending firefighting planes to help Israeli authorities after hundreds of brush fires swept across the country today.

The Foreign Ministry says the planes will arrive in Israel tomorrow.

“We thank these countries for their expression of willingness and commitment,” the statement says.

Effects of a fire in the central town of Mevo Modiim on May 23, 2019. (Israel Fire Service)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the Foreign Ministry to seek firefighting aircraft from abroad to help battle the hundreds of blazes raging across the country during an extreme heatwave.

By nightfall, police said the fires were “more or less under control,” but warned that could change with winds expected to pick up overnight and even warmer temperatures forecast for tomorrow.

Pentagon proposing US military reinforcements in Mideast

The Pentagon is presenting proposals to the White House to send military reinforcements to the Middle East to beef up defenses against Iran amid heightened tensions in the region, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan says.

Shanahan told reporters the Defense Department has not yet determined how many troops might be sent to reinforce the existing US military presence in the region.

The flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea, on May 19, 2019. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Garrett LaBarge/US Navy via AP)

He disputes reports by The Associated Press and others that the Pentagon is proposing to send up to 10,000 more troops. He said reports citing specific figures were “not correct,” but he would not say whether the number under consideration was higher or lower.

“What we’re focused on right now is, do we have the right force protection in the Middle East,” Shanahan says, referring to defensive forces. “It may involve sending additional troops.”

— AP

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Massive fire breaks out off 443, near Modi’in-area settlement

Dozens of firefighting units are battling a massive brush fire outside the West Bank settlement of Mevo Modiin, just off Route 443.

Firefighting planes are helping units on the ground struggling to control the several-meter high blaze.

Authorities have begun evacuating residents of Mevo Modiin, Gimzo and Kfar Daniel.

Route 443 is closed in both directions.