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‘Code Red’ alarms sound in Eshkol Regional Council; several past incidents in recent months have been false alarms

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

  • A photo from the Israeli side of the Israel-Gaza border shows a smoke trail of rockets being fired by Palestinian terrorists from the Gaza Strip into Israel, August 22, 2014. (AFP/Jack Guez)
    A photo from the Israeli side of the Israel-Gaza border shows a smoke trail of rockets being fired by Palestinian terrorists from the Gaza Strip into Israel, August 22, 2014. (AFP/Jack Guez)
  • A Jewish worshiper holds the four plant species as he attends the annual priestly blessing during the Sukkot holiday at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on October 8, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
    A Jewish worshiper holds the four plant species as he attends the annual priestly blessing during the Sukkot holiday at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on October 8, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
  • Parents of late Israeli soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin speak with the press at the protest tent outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem on June 29, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
    Parents of late Israeli soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin speak with the press at the protest tent outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem on June 29, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
  • Demonstrators protest near the home of Attorney General Mandelblit in Petah Tikva on August 5, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
    Demonstrators protest near the home of Attorney General Mandelblit in Petah Tikva on August 5, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
  • Illustrative: Construction of new housing in the Israeli settlement of Kfar Adumim, September 25, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
    Illustrative: Construction of new housing in the Israeli settlement of Kfar Adumim, September 25, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

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

Tens of thousands flock to the Western Wall for priestly blessing

Tens of thousands of Israelis flock to the Western Wall in Jerusalem for the traditional biannual Priestly Blessing.

The ceremony sees male descendants of the Kohanic priestly caste gathering to recite a benediction. It is performed daily by devout Jews at synagogues throughout Israel, while mass blessings at the Western Wall take place on the festivals of Passover and Sukkot.

The Western Wall is the closest spot to the Temple Mount where Jews can legally pray. Though they are allowed to visit the Mount, where two ancient Jewish temples stood, Jews are not permitted to pray there under the status quo in place for decades.

ברכת הכוהנים ברחבת הכותל המערבי

הכותל המערבי: שידור חי של ברכת הכוהנים ברחבת הכותל המערבי, סוכות תשע"ח

Posted by ‎הכותל המערבי – Western Wall‎ on Sunday, 8 October 2017

Jewish visits to the Mount, today occupied by the Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, often spark tensions, and the blessing ceremony at the Western Wall below took place amid tight security.

Police arrested one Jewish teenager this morning on suspicion that he had prostrated himself while going up to the Temple Mount.

High court lifts restrictions on protests outside AG’s home

The High Court of Justice rules that the weekly demonstrations outside the home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit can continue unrestricted.

In her ruling, incoming court president Justice Esther Hayut says Mandelblit is not exempt from public criticism, and that critiquing the state and public figures is “the lifeblood of democracy.”

She says the demonstrations held every Saturday night in Petah Tikvah are about “the right to freedom of expression, which is at the heart of fundamental freedoms in a democratic state.”

In recent months, a growing number of Israelis have been protesting against what they call Mandelblit’s slow handling of a number of graft cases involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family.

Israel says it intercepted Hamas-bound army boots camouflaged as slippers

Defense Ministry Crossing Authority agents uncover a shipment of military-style boots bound for the Gaza Strip hidden inside colorful, cartoon-adorned slippers.

The ministry says in a statement that the army boots are believed to belong to the Hamas terrorist group, which has controlled the Gaza Strip for over a decade.

— Judah Ari Gross

UK police release driver detained in London crash

London police release a 47-year-old man arrested on suspicion of dangerous driving after a car crash outside the Natural History Museum injured 11 people.

Police say the man was released “under investigation.” He has not been charged or identified.

The crash yesterday afternoon on Exhibition Road in London’s busy museum district was initially feared to be a possible terrorist attack.

It seemed to resemble incidents earlier this year when extremists in vehicles attacked pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and on London Bridge.

Police said after several hours of urgent investigation that it was a traffic collision not related to terrorism.

The leg and head injuries suffered by pedestrians were not judged to be life-threatening.

Britain’s official terrorist threat level is set at “severe” indicating an attack is likely.

— AP

Thousands rally in Barcelona against Catalonia’s secession

Thousands of people were rallying in downtown Barcelona to protest the Catalan government’s push for secession from the rest of Spain.

Many in the crowd gathered in a central square carried Spanish and Catalan flags. Some chanted “Don’t be fooled, Catalonia is Spain” and called for Catalan president Carles Puigdemont to go to prison.

Sunday’s rally comes a week after Puigdemont and other separatist leaders of the Catalan government held a referendum on secession that Spain’s top court had suspended and the Spanish government said was illegal.

The “Yes” side won the referendum with 90 percent of the vote, though less than half of the region’s electorate voted. Puigdemont has pledged to push ahead for independence anyway and is set to address the regional parliament on Tuesday “to report on the current political situation.”

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy vows that his government will not allow Catalonia to break away from the rest of the country.

— AP

Parents of fallen soldier held by Hamas demand new negotiator

The parents of IDF Staff Sergeant Oron Shaul, who was killed in Gaza in 2014 and whose remains are believed to be held by Hamas, are demanding that an official be appointed to oversee efforts to retrieve of the remains of their son.

The Shaul family says it will take the matter to the High Court of Justice if the position vacated by Lior Lotan in August is not filled in the coming days.

“The Israeli government is disrespecting IDF soldiers who go out and defend Israel,” the family says in a statement according to the Ynet news site. “The fact that no new coordinator has been appointed attests to the government’s negligence toward us and toward Oron, who has not yet returned from the battlefield.”

Lotan, a retired IDF colonel, was appointed by Netanyahu in 2014 to lead the efforts to return Shaul’s body along with that of another slain IDF soldier, Hadar Goldin. He was also tasked with bringing back Avraham Mengistu and Juma Ibrahim Abu Anima, two Israeli men who crossed into Gaza of their own accord and are said held by the terror group.

Lotan stepped down in August citing the “extremely demanding” job.

Deputy foreign minister slams Trump for delaying embassy move

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely criticizes US President Donald Trump for saying he will delay moving the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem until an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan his administration is working on is given a chance to succeed.

“If you really would like to give peace a chance you would move your embassy to Jerusalem, in order to ensure that Jerusalem will never be divided,” Hotovely tells a visiting Israel Allies Foundation delegation of 26 members of parliament from around the world.

“We can’t give peace a chance when Hamas and Fatah wants to be a part of the same government,” she says.

Meanwhile, Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Zeev Elkin (Likud) says he is saddened by Trump’s decision to delay the move because of the “illusion” that it’s possible to advance peace with the Palestinians.

— Jacob Magid

Netanyahu ‘committed’ to negotiating return of Israelis held by Hamas

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “committed” to negotiating the return of the Israelis held by the Hamas terrorist group in Gaza.

An official says that Netanyahu raises the issue at “every diplomatic meeting,” including one with US President Donald Trump and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in New York last month.

“Netanyahu is engaged in this issue and is committed to the return of soldiers and civilians held in Gaza,” the official says according to a statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office.

He adds that the prime minister is looking to appoint a negotiator to oversee efforts to retrieve of the remains of the Israelis.

Earlier today, the parents of IDF Staff Sergeant Oron Shaul, who was killed in Gaza in 2014 and whose remains are believed to be held by Hamas, demanded that Netanyahu appoint a negotiator to replace Lior Lotan, who has resigned in August.

The Shaul family said they would take the matter to the High Court of Justice if the position is not filled in the coming days.

Settler leader urges Trump to implement pro-Israel policies

Settler leader Yossi Dagan praises the Trump administration’s position on Israel, but says policies have yet to be implemented on the ground.

“We are very happy with the Trump government in the USA,” he tells a visiting delegation of Israel Allies Foundation in the northern West Bank.

“It is a very big change after the hateful years of Obama. But this change has still not begun,” he says. “I believe that there is still a lot of work to be done.”

Yesterday, Trump announced he will delay his campaign promise to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem until an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan his administration is working on is given a chance to succeed.

He spoke alongside Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who slammed Trump for delaying the embassy move.

— Jacob Magid

Hamas rebuffs Abbas’s comparison to Hezbollah as ‘illogical’

Hamas spokesperson Hasam Bardan says the terrorist organization’s military wing is not comparable to Hezbollah’s vast militia in Lebanon.

“It is not logical to compare any regional situation to the Palestinian situation, neither the case of Hezbollah nor anyone else. We are a people living under occupation,” Hasam Bardan tells the Palestinian daily Al-Quds in an interview.

“Our cause is a national liberation issue…So there is no comparison between our experience as Palestinians and the experience of any other people living in a state naturally,” he says.

Bardan says Hamas would not comment on the statements of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who told Egyptian news stations last week that he would not allow the Gaza-based terrorist group to keep its weapons in the event a Palestinian unity government is formed.

The PA president said he would not allow another “Hezbollah experience” in Gaza and demanded the PA control “everything” in Gaza as it does in the West Bank.

— Dov Lieber

Iran confirms nuclear negotiator imprisoned for spying

Iran’s judiciary confirms the five-year prison sentence given to a Canadian-Iranian member of its nuclear negotiating team on spying charges.

“Mr Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani… was among some who were accused of spying and providing information for foreigners and had links with two espionage services,” judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejeie tells reporters. “The court sentenced him to five years in prison and the verdict is final,” Ejeie says.

Dorri Esfahani has a background in the banking sector and was a member of the supervisory board overseeing implementation of the nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers in 2015.

Since mid-2016, conservative websites and members of parliament have repeatedly accused Dorri Esfahani of spying for Britain.

The conservative-dominated judiciary has jailed a number of dual nationals and foreigners since the nuclear deal came into force, highlighting the ongoing concern within parts of the establishment over improving ties with the West.

— AFP

Suspicious object found at President’s Residence

Police are investigating a suspicious object that was found at the residence of President Reven Rivlin.

Sappers called to the scene are examining the object found at the entrance to the residence.

The president and his wife Nechama are taken to a secure area, and the residence is evacuated.

The Rivlins are scheduled to host their annual Sukkot open house tomorrow.

Spain to make changes for final World Cup qualifier against Israel

Coach Julen Lopetegui will have to make changes for Spain’s final World Cup qualifier against Israel tomorrow with three regular starters unavailable.

With a World Cup berth already secured, Spain will play Israel in Jerusalem without Gerard Pique, David Silva and Thiago Alcantara.

Pique and Silva are suspended, and Alcantara has a knee injury.

Israel is already out of contention for a World Cup spot, although it could still surpass Albania for third place in Group G.

— AP

100,000 Israelis flock to national parks today on Sukkot holiday

Some 100,000 Israelis take advantage of the Sukkot holiday today to visit the country’s national parks and nature reserves, according to the Parks Authority.

The authority says national parks at Caesarea, Zippori, Yarkon and Masada, along with the Stalactite Cave and Ein Gedi nature reserves, are especially crowded.

Istanbul charging Amnesty Turkey chief, 10 others with terror

Turkey’s official news agency says the Istanbul prosecutor’s office is charging Amnesty International’s Turkey chief and ten others with belonging to and aiding terror groups.

The Anadolu news agency said officials completed an investigation into the 11 human rights activists, who are now awaiting trial.

Police detained the activists during a workshop on digital security at a hotel near Istanbul in July. Eight people, including German Peter Steudtner and Swede Ali Gharavi, were arrested. Three others were detained but released pending trial.

They are accused of aiding armed terror organizations in alleged communications with suspects linked to Kurdish and left-wing militants as well as the movement led by US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of orchestrating last year’s coup attempt. Gulen has denied the accusations.

— AP

Female peace activists to arrive in Jerusalem after two-week march

Israeli and Palestinian activists are set to end a two-week march through parts of Israel and the West Bank with a Jerusalem rally to demand a so far elusive peace deal.

The Women Wage Peace movement organized the march, which began on September 24 and includes participants who have themselves been affected by violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Several thousand activists joined the march over the two weeks.

“We must come together to be able to reach the peace that we all want,” Michal Froman, who was stabbed by a Palestinian in January 2016 while pregnant with her fifth child, told AFP last week, saying she wants to “believe in peace.”

“As a religious woman, I say that to not believe in peace is to not believe in God.”

Huda Abuarquob, one of the organizers and a Palestinian from Hebron in the occupied West Bank, said: “This march is not just another protest, but a way of saying that we want peace, and together we can obtain it.”

Their arrival in Jerusalem coincides with the week-long Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which commemorates the Israelites’ journey through the Sinai desert after their exodus from Egypt.

— AFP

Shin Bet says murder of Israeli man last week was terrorism, 2 arrested

The Shin Bet Security Service says the murder of a 70-year-old Jewish man last week in the Israeli Arab city of Kafr Qassem was a terror attack.

According to a statement, two Palestinians from the northern Palestinian village of Qabatiya were arrested in connection to the murder of Reuven Schmerling.

The Shin Bet says the investigation is ongoing, and that further details of the case are under a gag order.

Israeli judoka wins gold medal at Tashkent Grand Prix

Israeli judoka Ori Sasson wins the gold medal at the Tashkent Judo Grand Prix this afternoon.

Sasson takes first place in the men’s over-100kg after beating Iurii Krakovetskii from Kyrgyzstan.

אורי ששון עלה לגמר בגראנד פרי טשקנט http://bit.ly/2g1QpL2הישראלי גבר על יריבים מאוזבקיסטן. ב-17:00: הקרב על הזהב————————-להורדת האפליקציה: http://bit.ly/2g1pYoQ

Posted by ‎ערוץ הספורט‎ on Sunday, 8 October 2017

Sasson won the bronze medal in the same category during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Monitor reports at least 11 killed in Syria market airstrike

At least 11 civilians including two children were killed on Sunday in airstrikes on a market in northwestern Syria, a monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strikes on the market in Idlib province’s Maaret al-Numan were probably carried out by regime forces.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said “military aircraft” had targeted the market in Maaret al-Numan, blaming the regime for the strike.

“At least 11 people were killed including two children,” he said. “There are around 20 wounded and the toll of victims could rise.”

Much of Idlib province, including Maaret al-Numan, is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a group led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate.

Idlib is one of four so-called “de-escalation” zones under a deal brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran in May.

However, the HTS is not party to the agreement.

— with AFP

9 Israeli tourists injured as jeep overturns in Nepal

Nine Israeli tourists are injured when their jeep overturns near the Annapurna Mountain Range in central Nepal.

According to reports, eight are injured lightly, and one suffered a head injury.

The Foreign Ministry says the Israeli embassy in Nepal is handling the incident.

Hezbollah chief: US and its allies hampering victory over IS

The head of the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah says the US is preventing the Syrian government from eradicating the Islamic State group.

“The Americans are trying to prevent and delay the battle against Daesh,” Nasrallah says at a memorial for two Hezbollah commanders killed in Syria last week, according to local media reports.

“The US only helps when its allies are the ones who would seize control of the liberated areas,” he tells Hezbollah supporters in the town of al-Ain, a town the Bekaa Valley.

He goes on to accuse the US of colluding with Saudi Arabia to “get rid of” Iran and its allies, and says they are responsible for destabilizing the region.

“Hezbollah is one of the factors that [is] achieving regional peace and security, which are being threatened by Saudi Arabia, Israel and America.”

Egypt’s UNESCO candidate not qualified, says rights lawyer

A top Egyptian rights lawyer says the country’s candidate for UNESCO’s top job is not qualified for the post because of her silence and “sometimes complicity” in the government’s repressive policies.

Gamal Eid, head of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, says that he had sought in vain to enlist Moushira Khattab’s help after security agents stormed three of six libraries he set up in poor neighborhoods with prize money from a rights award he won.

After promising to help, Khattab told him the courts would have the final say on the matter, a stance later repeated by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. Eid says there was no court case on the closures.

Khattab did not respond to messages by The Associated Press seeking comment.

— AP

Jordan says aid for stranded Syrians must come via Syria

Aid deliveries to thousands of Syrians stranded on their war-torn country’s desert border with Jordan must pass through Syria, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi says.

“They are Syrian citizens on Syrian territory. Syria must therefore assume this responsibility and not Jordan,” Safadi says, during a meeting with ambassadors from European Union countries.

Aid to them “must pass through Syrian territory,” he says.

Some 45,000 displaced Syrians, mostly women and children, have been stuck for months on the Syrian side of the frontier near the Rukban border crossing.

“Conditions on the ground now make it possible to send aid to the Rukban camp via Syria,” Safadi adds.

Jordan, which shares a 370-kilometer (230-mile) border with Syria, is part of the US-led coalition fighting IS in Syria and Iraq.

— AFP

Egypt’s Sissi: Fatah-Hamas unity a prelude to Israeli-Palestinian peace

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi says the current Palestinian reconciliation talks backed by Cairo are “preparation” for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

“Ongoing Egyptian moves to help our Palestinian brothers start a new stage of unity in the Palestinian ranks is preparation for a just peace between Palestinian and Israeli sides, and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state to meet legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a secure, stable and prosperous life,” he says, according to statements published by his official spokesperson.

Egypt this week will host delegations from the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah as the two sides continue to negotiate the terms of a unity government.

— Dov Lieber

Israel set to advance plans for close to 4,000 settlement homes in West Bank — report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is reportedly set to approve nearly 4,000 homes in Israeli settlements in the West Bank next week.

According to Channel 2, the 3,829 units are slated to be built in Hebron, Beit El, Givat Ze’ev, Naguhot, Rechalim and Tekoa.

An official told Channel 2 that the government rejected the criticism of the US government by a settler leader, saying his recent remarks hurt the settlement enterprise.

Earlier today, settler leader Yossi Dagan criticized US President Donald Trump for pressuring Israel to scale back settlement building and his delay in moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

IS ousts regime fighters from jihadist bastion in Syria, monitor says

Islamic State group fighters succeeded in expelling Syrian regime forces from the eastern town of Mayadeen, days after they entered the key remaining jihadist stronghold, a monitor says.

Backed by Russian air power, regime forces had managed to fight their way into western Mayadeen on Friday.

“Counter-offensives by IS managed to force the regime fighters away from the western outskirts of Mayadeen,” the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman says the Syrian forces are now some six kilometers (nearly four miles) from the town, which was being targeted by “intensive air strikes carried out by both regime and Russian aircraft.”

IS has controlled Mayadeen in Syria’s eastern province of Deir Ezzor since 2014.

Rocket sirens blare in Israeli communities near Gaza Strip

Sirens warning of an incoming rocket attack sound in several communities in southern Israel near the Gaza Strip.

The sirens are heard in the Eshkol Regional Council.

Several past incidents in recent months have been false alarms.

Egypt court asks Mufti to weigh in on death sentences for 13

An Egyptian court has referred the case of 13 defendants accused on terrorism charges to the country’s top religious authority, the Grand Mufi, for a non-binding opinion on whether they can be executed, as the prosecution seeks.

The Giza Criminal Court says the men were members of the militant group Ajnad Misr, or Soldiers of Egypt, which has claimed responsibility for several attacks since the 2013 military overthrow of an elected Islamist leader.

The men are accused of killing six security personnel and of the attempted murder of 100 others, in a campaign of bombings and attacks on police stations and state institutions.

The verdict in the case can be appealed, and the judge may rule independently of the Mufti. The verdict is set for December 7.

— AP

Gaza rocket hits open area in southern Israel, no injuries reported

A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit southern Israel this evening, not causing any injuries or damage.

The IDF says the projectile landed in open area in the Eshkol Regional Council.

While no group immediately claimed the rocket fire, Israel holds Hamas responsible for all rockets emanating from the Strip.

Hamas, the terrorist group that rules Gaza, has largely refrained from firing rockets into Israel since it fought a devastating war with Israel in 2014. Launches have often been ascribed to radical Salafist groups.

Last month, the IDF said that a rocket fired from Gaza landed in an open area in the in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, prompting a retaliatory Israeli strike on Hamas targets in the Strip.

Police say dozens detained in ‘horror clown’ craze

Police say they are on the lookout for teenagers in clown masks after fears the craze would cause violent reactions from those being frightened, with dozens already detained.

“Police operations are continuing in various areas to protect public places and prevent further incidents,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld tells AFP.

He says that about 12 youngsters, including two 14-year-olds, were detained over the past few days.

Rosenfeld says that they sought only to frighten people, not to harm them.

“There haven’t been any attacks. It’s just been people dressed up and walking around with fake axes, fake knives, etcetera,” he says.

Police have, however, warned that such pranks could go horribly wrong in a country where people are constantly on edge for fear of militant attacks and where many carry firearms.

Media reports have suggested a link between the phenomenon, which appears to have broken out around the beginning of October, and the September 14 release in Israel of Stephen King’s film “It,” featuring an evil clown who preys on teenagers.

— AFP

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Monitor reports at least 11 killed in Syria market airstrike

At least 11 civilians including two children were killed on Sunday in airstrikes on a market in northwestern Syria, a monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strikes on the market in Idlib province’s Maaret al-Numan were probably carried out by regime forces.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said “military aircraft” had targeted the market in Maaret al-Numan, blaming the regime for the strike.

“At least 11 people were killed including two children,” he said. “There are around 20 wounded and the toll of victims could rise.”

Much of Idlib province, including Maaret al-Numan, is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a group led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate.

Idlib is one of four so-called “de-escalation” zones under a deal brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran in May.

However, the HTS is not party to the agreement.

— with AFP