Military launches airstrikes in Gaza after rocket salvo
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Iron Dome shoots down rockets in fresh Gaza volley

Liberman convenes top military brass at IDF headquarters after 4 projectiles fired from Strip land in Sderot, injuring 2 people

Shrapnel covers the outside wall of an apartment building in the southern city of Sderot after a rocket that was launched from Gaza struck nearby on August 8, 2018. (Courtesy)
Shrapnel covers the outside wall of an apartment building in the southern city of Sderot after a rocket that was launched from Gaza struck nearby on August 8, 2018. (Courtesy)

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

Hamas delegation leaves for Cairo to talk Israel ceasefire

A Hamas delegation has left the Gaza Strip through the Rafah Border Crossing for meetings with Egyptian officials in Cairo on efforts to broker a ceasefire with Israel, Palestinian media reports.

The delegation is headed by Saleh al-Arouri, the deputy leader of Hamas who arrived in Gaza last week.

According to the Al-Quds daily, the Hamas members will present the Egyptians with their terms for a ceasefire — a 5-year truce with Israel in exchange for the openings of the border crossings with Israel and Egypt. The return of a pair of Israeli citizens and the bodies of two soldiers seized in the 2014 Gaza war would likely take place at a later state, the newspaper reported.

German FM warns new US sanctions on Iran may destabilize Middle East

BERLIN — German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warns Wednesday that US President Donald Trump’s decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran could further destabilize the Middle East and boost radical forces in the region.

Trump brought back the punishing sanctions after unilaterally pulling out of a landmark 2015 deal between Tehran and Western powers to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“We still think that it is a mistake to give up on the nuclear accord with Iran,” Maas says in an interview with the daily Passauer Neue Presse. “We are fighting for the deal because it also serves our purpose by bringing about security and transparency in the region.”

Noting Iran’s geographic proximity to Europe, Maas warns that “anyone who’s hoping for regime change must not forget that whatever follows could bring us much bigger problems.”

“Isolating Iran could boost radical and fundamentalist forces,” he says, adding that “chaos in Iran, as we have experienced in Iraq or Libya, would further destabilize an already troubled region.”

In a desperate bid to save the nuclear accord, European governments have pledged to do what they can to keep business links with Tehran.


Germany Foreign Minister Heiko Maas arrives for a Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) ministerial meeting on the Iran nuclear deal on July 6, 2018 in Vienna, Austria. (AFP Photo/APA/Hans Punz)

Knesset speaker refuses to sign MK’s resignation letter written in Arabic

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein refuses to sign the resignation letter of an Arab lawmaker because it is written in Arabic.

“No one will sign a document he can’t read,” Edelstein writes on his Twitter account. “I respect the Arabic language, but this is a basic matter.”

Edelstein however goes on to sign a Hebrew version of Joint (Arab) List MK Wael Younis’ letter after it was translated by the Knesset’s translation department. The speaker’s signature is needed for the resignation to be valid.

The Knesset speaker’s signing of the translated letter comes after Younis refused to back down.

“I am determined to submit my resignation letter in Arabic and the [Knesset] speaker must accept this,” Hebrew media quoted him saying.

He also said Edelstein’s refusal reflects the downgrading of Arabic from an official language to one with “special” status under the recently passed Jewish nation-state law.

Younis is stepping down as part of rotation agreement between the parties that make up the Joint List.

EU denies halting funding for association of left-wing NGOs

The European Union denies Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim it has froze funding to an association of left-wing NGOs.

The EU says while it is looking into possible breaches of its aid contract for the Freedom Protection Council, it does not say a decision has been made to end its financial support.

“Decisions by the EU to fund or to terminate funding for specific projects implemented by civil society organizations legally operating in a third country are decisions for the EU to take, and for the EU alone,” it says in a statement.

“We will continue to support civil society organizations which play an essential role in any democratic society, in fostering pluralism and in promoting international law, human rights, and democratic values, in Israel, in the EU and across the world,” the bloc adds.

Netanyahu said yesterday the EU agreed to stop funding the Freedom Protection Council, crediting his diplomatic efforts for the decision.

He said the organization, which includes NGOs such as B’Tselem and Adalah, “undermines Israel’s right to exist and tries to blacken the state’s image around the world.”

Southern highway shuttered over reported fears of Gaza shooting attack

The main highway leading to the Israeli community of Kibbutz Nahal Oz, located just outside the Gaza Strip, has been shut down, reportedly from concerns that terrorists in the Palestinian enclave may be planning to shoot at Israeli vehicles.

Residents of the area are told to use alternate routes.

The military does not immediately confirm the reports.

— Judah Ari Gross

Eisenkot says army more prepared for war than any point in last 20 years

IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot tells lawmakers that the military is the most prepared for war that it’s been in 20 years, which he credited to a multi-year plan to streamline the military, specifically its aspects dealing with training exercises and reorganization.

“The IDF finds itself in a good level of fitness and preparedness to fulfill its mission of defending the nation and winning wars,” Eisenkot says during a hearing at the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

The army chief’s testimony was delivered behind closed doors, but parts of it were later released to the public.

According to a statement from the committee, the chief of staff says the IDF maintains a “large advantage” over Israel’s enemies in terms of operational, intelligence and technological capabilities.

— Judah Ari Gross

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset on February 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )

Military shutters roads in south over fears of Gaza shooting attack

The military confirms it ordered the closure of several roadways in southern Israel out of concern that Palestinians in the Gaza Strip may open fire at Israeli vehicles in response to an exchange between the IDF and Hamas earlier this week.

The military says it made the decision in light of threats made by Hamas following the incident and after soldiers saw that the terror group had begun abandoning several of its positions — a move it generally takes as a precaution before carrying out attacks against Israel.

“The Southern Command decided to increase readiness and to close a number of roadways in the Gaza periphery,” the military says.

“Besides this, there are no special instructions for the home front.”

On Tuesday, an IDF tank shelled a Hamas observation post along the Gaza border, killing two of the terror group’s fighters, after IDF soldiers nearby said shots had been fired at them. It was later determined that the gunshots were not fired at the soldiers, but were part of a Hamas training exercise inside the Strip.

Hamas vowed to avenge its fallen members.

“The IDF will act to ensure the security of residents of the [Gaza] area and will not allow civilians and IDF soldiers to be harmed. The IDF is prepared for a variety of scenarios,” the military says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Abbas meets with Jordanian king, crown prince in Amman

A meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian King Abdullah and Crown Prince Hussein in Amman has begun, the official news agency Wafa reports.

Abbas, 83, has not met with Abdullah since falling ill with pneumonia in late May.

The PA president is slated to travel to Qatar following his meeting with the Jordanian monarch.

— Adam Rasgon

Pompeo blasts Iran as ‘at odds with world peace’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calls on countries to cut off Iran’s finances and says the Islamic Republic is “at odds with world peace.”

Writing on Twitter, Pompeo also accuses Iran’s leaders of oppressing their own citizens and sponsoring terrorism worldwide.

The tweet from Pompeo comes a day after US President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran as part of his withdrawal from the international agreement to limit the country’s nuclear program. Trump said the move was aimed at achieving “WORLD PEACE.”

Syrian presidency says Assad’s wife begins breast cancer treatment

BEIRUT — Syria’s presidency says first lady Asma Assad has begun treatment for breast cancer.

The presidency posts a photo on its social media accounts of President Bashar Assad sitting next to his wife in what appeared to be a hospital room with an IV in her left arm.

The statement posted with the photo says the “malignant tumor” was discovered in its early stages and wished her a speedy recovery.

Such public announcements are uncommon in the Arab world, where cancer is considered a taboo.

The 42-year-old Asma Assad has family roots in the central province of Homs. She was born and raised in Britain before moving back to Syria after meeting the president.

The two have been married for 18 years and have three children, Hafez, Zein and Karim.

— AP

Top Hamas member: Israel not making ‘actual’ efforts for prisoner swap

Israel is not making “actual” efforts to achieve a prisoner swap deal with Hamas, Khalil al-Hayya, a senior official in the terror groups says.

“They are not undertaking actual efforts,” Hayya tells Al-Jazeera, referring to what he described as Israel’s approach to a possible prisoner swap.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the government is making “unrelenting efforts” to return Israelis and the remains of Israeli soldiers believed to be held by Hamas, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

— Adam Rasgon

Hamas officials Husam Badran (2nd-L) and Khalil al-Hayya (L) arrive for a meeting with Palestinian factions in Gaza City on August 5, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Swedes from blockade-busting Gaza flotilla deported from Israel

STOCKHOLM — Seven Swedish activists detained by Israel’s navy for attempting to breach its maritime blockade of Gaza have been deported to Sweden, the organizers of the Ship to Gaza flotilla say Wednesday.

Four of the activists arrive back in the Scandinavian country on Wednesday, and the three others are expected later in the day, Ship to Gaza Sweden spokesman Dror Feiler tells AFP.

The Israeli Navy said the interception of the ship, Freedom for Gaza, late Friday was carried out in accordance with international law. It took the boat it to the port of Ashdod.

The ship was carrying medical supplies and had a total of 12 crew and activists on board, hailing from Sweden, Spain, Canada and Germany and France. All have been deported, Feiler says.

Meanwhile, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom says Wednesday Israel’s interception and boarding of the ship, as well as the detention of the activists and crew, violated international law.

“The (Swedish) government has been in contact with Israeli authorities about Ship to Gaza and has insisted that the actions of the Israeli authorities regarding the Swedish-flagged vessel Freedom and the people on board are not backed up by international law,” Wallstrom says in a statement.

She says her government had also demanded that the ship and its cargo be released.


Army says religious Paratroopers warned after turning back on female instructor

Some 30 soldiers in the IDF’s Paratroopers Brigade refused to listen to a female parachuting instructor this week, turning their backs to her when she tried to give them a demonstration, the army says.

The incident came to light after the mother of the instructor, a women’s rights activist, posted about it on Twitter earlier in the day.

The military confirms that the incident indeed took place.

According to the IDF, the soldiers were from a unit made up of religious yeshiva students.

The army says the soldiers’ commanders had a “conversation” with them, in which they were told that they would be kicked out of the parachuting course if they continued to show “disrespect” toward the female instructors.

— Judah Ari Gross

Italian PM says his country open to a ‘more rigorous’ stance toward Iran

ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte says Wednesday his country is willing to consider a “more rigorous” stance toward Iran, adding that he recently asked US President Donald Trump to share intelligence about Iran’s alleged nuclear program that has triggered fresh US sanctions.

Conte tells reporters at a news conference in Rome that Italy would hope to coordinate any initiatives with European Union partners in the aftermath of re-imposed US sanctions against Iran.

Italy isn’t part of the 2015 deal under which the United States and other world powers eased economic sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program, but the Italian government did support the accord when it was signed.

Trump pulled out of the deal earlier this year, and this week the United States reimposed sanctions.

Referring to US intelligence on Iran’s nuclear situation, Conte says, “I asked President Trump to share elements of concern.” The two leaders met at the White house last week.

Pressed to be more specific, Conte replies that in his meeting with Trump: “I didn’t take a specific stand. I said we are willing to evaluate the necessity to take more rigorous stances if the (nuclear) accord is shown to be ineffective.”

“We are waiting to have elements” of intelligence, the premier says, adding that Italy would like to evaluate it with its EU partners.

— AP

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte gestures as he speaks during a press conference at Chigi Palace in Rome, Italy, on August 8, 2018. (Angelo Carconi/ANSA via AP)

Abbas, Jordan king discuss ‘necessity’ of supporting Palestinian refugee agency

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian King Abdullah discussed during their meeting today “the necessity” of international support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the UN body that supports Palestinian refugees, the official Jordanian Petra news agency reports.

Last week, Foreign Policy reported that Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace envoy, had pushed Jordan to revoke the refugee status of some 2 million Palestinian in its territory so that UNRWA would cease its operations there, citing Palestinian officials.

“The meeting [between Abbas and Abdullah] dealt with the necessity of the international community supporting UNRWA to enable it to continue to provide education, health and humanitarian services to refugees,” the Petra report says.

— Adam Rasgon

Jordan’s King Abdullah II (R) meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Royal Palace in the Jordanian capital Amman on August 8, 2018. (AFP Photo/Pool/Khalil Mazraawi)

Austria probes teens over Nazi role play schoolwork

VIENNA — Five Austrian school students are being investigated for playing Nazi guards as part of coursework designed to teach them about the risks of indoctrination, a prosecutor says Wednesday.

“This is the first such case as far as I know… an investigation has been opened based on the law against Nazi activities,” prosecutor Johann Fuchs tells AFP, confirming a report in the daily Kurier.

The students allegedly put on the role play during breaks after a teacher at their school in Zurndorf in Burgenland state asked them to study the 1981 American film “The Wave” and the book of the same name by Todd Strasser, alias Morton Rhue.

Used frequently around the world, these works are based on a 1967 real-life experiment in California by a history teacher.

Seeking to highlight Nazi indoctrination mechanisms, the teacher enlisted students in a fascist experiment but instead of revulsion, it drew more enthusiasm from them than anyone expected.

At the Zurndorf school, some students pretended to be SS guards, while others took on the roles of “dirty Jews,” the Kurier newspaper said. The supposed leader, 15, demanded to be addressed with the Nazi salute; those who resisted were locked into a “gas chamber.”


Army: Shots fired at construction vehicles on Gaza border

Shots were fired at a number of civilian engineering vehicles being used to construct an underground barrier around the Gaza Strip, the army says.

No injuries are reported, but damage was caused to the vehicles, with several windows being shattered.

The military says the shots were fired from the northern Gaza Strip.

Earlier in the day, the military shut down a number of roads in that area for fear of shooting attacks by the Hamas terrorist group, which vowed to avenge two of its fighters who were killed by the IDF yesterday.

— Judah Ari Gross

Head of UN Palestinian agency in Gaza accuses union of ‘mutiny’ after job cuts

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Workers have seized partial control of the headquarters of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in Hamas-run Gaza, its head says Wednesday, accusing their union of “mutiny” over job cuts.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) announced last month more than 250 staff in Gaza and the West Bank would lose their jobs, after a $300 million cut in annual funding from the United States.

The redundancies have prompted daily protests by the agency’s labor union in the enclave, which UNRWA’s Gaza head says have led to security concerns.

“They have taken over the compound where my office and other offices are,” says Matthias Schmale.

The agency’s Gaza chief admits UNRWA does not have full control over the site, in Gaza City, explaining he has not been able to access his own office for more than two weeks.

“I am the captain of the ship which has 13,000 sailors on it and they have basically thrown me off the bridge and consigned me to my captain’s quarters,” he tells AFP, referring to the number of employees in Gaza.

Schmale accuses the labor union of multiple incidents of “threatening and intimidating other fellow Palestinian staff. For me that crosses a red line.”

“I am very concerned about the safety and security of my Palestinian colleagues,” he adds.

The union denies all allegations of intimidation and is due to continue demonstrating, with a general strike expected in the coming days unless a deal is reached.


Incendiary balloons spark 11 fires in Gaza area

Since this morning, firefighters have worked to extinguish 11 blazes caused by incendiary balloons that fell near Israeli communities along the Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Israel Fire and Rescue Services says.

Forces have managed to gain control of all the fires, the spokesman adds.

— Jacob Magid

Army shells Hamas post in Gaza after construction vehicles fired on

An IDF tank shells a Hamas observation post in the northern Gaza Strip after shots were fired at a number of civilian construction vehicles on the Israeli side of the border, the army says.

There are no immediate reports of Palestinian injuries.

— Judah Ari Gross

Warning sirens blare in Gaza area amid border tensions

Incoming rocket alert sirens blare in the city of Sderot and a number of communities in the Gaza area, the army says.

The IDF says it is investigating what set off the alarms.

Hadashot TV news reports that at least one projectile fired from Gaza landed in Sderot, slightly injuring a person.

— with Judah Ari Gross

Israel said to strike Gaza after rocket sirens heard in south

An Israeli drone strikes farmland near Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, the Hamas-linked Palestinian Information Center reports.

No injuries are reported, according to the news outlet.

— Adam Rasgon

Police: At least 2 rockets fired from Gaza hit Sderot

At least two rockets from the Gaza Strip have struck the southern town of Sderot, according to police.

Police bomb disposal units have been called to the scene and have closed off the area, a police spokesperson says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Man lightly wounded by rocket launched from Gaza

An Israeli man, approximately 50 years old, is lightly wounded by shards of broken glass in the southern town of Sderot as a result of the rocket attack from the Gaza Strip, according to the Magen David Adom ambulance service.

It is not immediately clear if the building in which the man was injured was hit by a rocket or by the remains of an Iron Dome interceptor missile.

— Judah Ari Gross

2 injured, 8 suffer panic attacks from Gaza rocket attack

Two people are now reported injured in the rocket attack that hit Sderot, medics says.

One man, 34, was lightly-to-moderately wounded by glass shards that hit his arms and legs.

A second man in his 20s was also lightly wounded by shrapnel, according to the Magen David Adom ambulance service.

In addition, eight people were treated at the scene after they suffered panic attacks, including two pregnant women, MDA says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Report: Israel considering delaying departure from UN cultural agency

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to meet with the head of the UN’s cultural agency next month to request a postponement of Israel’s departure from the organization, Channel 10 news reports.

In December, Israel announced it would follow the United States in leaving UNESCO, which it has long accused of discriminating against the Jewish state.

According to Channel 10, Netanyahu phoned UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay last month to thank her for addressing the organization’s bias against Israel. Azoulay in turn stressed she is commited to changing UNESCO’s stance toward Israel and said she would like to meet him on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York next month, the report says.

No date has been set for a meeting.

A senior Israeli official quoted in the report says rather than dropping the decision to quit UNESCO, Israel is considering delaying its departure to examine changes to the organization under Azoulay.

The official also says Israel must consider the US decision, as it cited UNESCO’s bias against Israel as a reason for its exit from the organization.

“The Americans can’t be ignored,” the official tells Channel 10. “We’ll have to consider them.”

Police say 4 rockets fired from Gaza struck Sderot, sappers at the scene

Police say four rockets fired from Gaza struck the southern city of Sderot.

Sappers have closed off the areas where the rockets exploded, police say.

Earlier, the army said eight rockets were fired from Gaza, two of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system.

Liberman convenes defense chiefs following Gaza rocket barrage

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman is meeting with senior officers from the Israeli military following a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip that hit the southern town of Sderot, injuring two people.

Liberman’s office says the “situational assessment” is taking place in the IDF’s Tel Aviv headquarters, known as the Kirya.

— Judah Ari Gross

Fresh rocket warning sirens sound in south

Fresh rocket sirens are heard in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council near the Gaza Strip, the army says.

Sirens were also heard in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council.

The activation of the warning sirens come after eight rockets were fired toward Israel this evening, with four landing in the southern city of Sderot.

Two people were injured as a result of the rocket fire.

Military launches airstrikes in Gaza after rocket salvo

The Israeli military confirms that it is conducting airstrikes across the Gaza Strip.

Local government officials from the Eshkol region of southern Israel tell residents to expect to hear loud explosions as a result of the IDF attacks in Gaza.

— Judah Ari Gross

Iron Dome said to intercept incoming projectiles in south

The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepts a number of incoming projectiles from the Gaza Strip that were headed toward southern Israel, according to a local government spokesperson.

Earlier, sirens had blared across the Eshkol region, sending thousands of residents into bomb shelters.

An Eshkol spokesperson says no rockets appear to have hit any of the communities in the region.

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Military launches airstrikes in Gaza after rocket salvo

The Israeli military confirms that it is conducting airstrikes across the Gaza Strip.

Local government officials from the Eshkol region of southern Israel tell residents to expect to hear loud explosions as a result of the IDF attacks in Gaza.

— Judah Ari Gross