Netanyahu lawyer Shimron wraps up police testimony
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PM: Comptroller report ‘another attempt to create scandal’

UAE accuses Al-Jazeera of anti-Semitism; Steinitz says Turkey energy minister to visit Israel for pipeline deal; Hungary pulls anti-Soros ads ahead of Netanyahu visit; Remand of suspect in sub affair extended

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

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, confers with then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit during a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on December 20, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, confers with then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit during a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on December 20, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • A Qatari employee of al-Jazeera TV walks past the station's logo, in Doha, Qatar, November 1, 2006. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili, File)
    A Qatari employee of al-Jazeera TV walks past the station's logo, in Doha, Qatar, November 1, 2006. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili, File)
  • A poster with US billionaire George Soros is pictured on July 6, 2017, in Szekesfehervar, Hungary. (AFP PHOTO / ATTILA KISBENEDEK)
    A poster with US billionaire George Soros is pictured on July 6, 2017, in Szekesfehervar, Hungary. (AFP PHOTO / ATTILA KISBENEDEK)
  • Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz delivers a speech on July 12, 2017 at the 22nd World Petroleum Congress in Istanbul. (AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE)
    Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz delivers a speech on July 12, 2017 at the 22nd World Petroleum Congress in Istanbul. (AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE)
  • Education Minister Naftali Bennett (R) and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked attend a Jewish Home faction meeting at the Knesset on December 12, 2016.
(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Education Minister Naftali Bennett (R) and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked attend a Jewish Home faction meeting at the Knesset on December 12, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • President Reuven Rivlin (R) and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney during a working meeting at the president's residence in Jerusalem on July 12, 2017. (Mark Neiman/GPO)
    President Reuven Rivlin (R) and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney during a working meeting at the president's residence in Jerusalem on July 12, 2017. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

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

Herzog to stay on as opposition leader

Former Labor chairman Isaac Herzog announces he will remain opposition leader, at the request of the new party leader Avi Gabbay.

Gabbay, who is not a sitting Knesset member and can therefore not assume the post, had appealed to Herzog to retain the role.

“I am responding to your request to remain opposition leader,” says Herzog at Gabbay’s official swearing-in as party chief.

Urging all party members to rally around Gabbay and replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, Herzog pledges to “help you [Gabbay] in every way.”

— Marissa Newman

Soldier charged with raping, assaulting female comrade

An IDF soldier is charged with raping and sexually assaulting a female soldier in his combat battalion last month, the army says.

The alleged crimes were said to have occurred while a group of soldiers from the unit were in Tel Aviv on a social night out in June. In accordance with army rules, despite the suspected rape happening in “civilian circumstances,” the case will be tried in an IDF military court.

The Jaffa court orders the suspect to remaining custody in custody until July 25, though this may change as more evidence comes to light.

The identity of the soldier, as well as the unit in which they serve, is being kept under a court-issued gag order.

— Judah Ari Gross

Trump says son ‘open, transparent and innocent’ in Russia case

US President Donald Trump is defending son Donald Trump Jr. in regards to the Russia investigation, writing on Twitter that his son was “open, transparent and innocent.”

The president is again calling the investigation the “greatest Witch Hunt in political history.”

Trump takes to Twitter this morning in the aftermath of his son’s defense of a meeting he had last June with a Russian lawyer. According to emails released by Trump Jr., he appeared eager to accept information from the Russian government that would have damaged Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

The incident has raised questions of whether members of Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia to hurt Clinton and help Trump.

— AP

Turkey’s energy minister ‘to visit Israel for pipeline deal’

Turkey’s Energy Minister Berat Albayrak is set to visit Israel by the end of this year to conclude an agreement for the building of a natural gas pipeline from the Jewish state to Turkey, says Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz.

He says both countries decided to accelerate efforts to conclude by the end of this year an intergovernmental agreement that will enable the construction of a pipeline from Israel to Turkey.

“Hopefully, Mr. Albayrak will pay a visit to Israel this year in 2017, which will help us accelerate and try to conclude this agreement,” Steinitz says at the World Petroleum Congress in Istanbul after meeting Albayrak, He says no exact date has been set but it would take place in the coming months.

“We want to build a pipeline stretching from Israel to Turkey in order to able to export natural gas from Israel to Turkey,” Steinitz says, adding that the Israeli gas could be delivered to Europe and to the Balkans through Turkey.

A visit by Albayrak, son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a key member of his inner circle, would be a significant diplomatic move by Ankara after a rapprochement deal last year between the two countries mended a longstanding rift.

— AFP

Settler leader urges Liberman to reject expansion of ‘terror city’ Qalqilya

Samaria Regional Council Chairman Yossi Dagan calls on Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to reconsider his support for a project to expand the Palestinian West Bank city of Qalqilya, saying the plan would endanger Jewish residents in the area.

“Multiplying the terror city of Qalqilya endangers the residents of Judea and Samaria,” Dagan says, using the Biblical names for the West Bank.

Liberman in response insists the plan will only realistically establish 6,000 new housing units, not 14,000 as originally claimed. The defense minister also says the building would be completed entirely on private Palestinian land and on the Palestinian side of the security wall.

Dagan says the exact figure of housing units was not important, and that supporting the plan solely advances Palestinian interests.

He makes the remarks to Liberman and Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan while guiding the two on a tour in the area of the West Bank city.

The Qalqilya expansion plan is set to be debated in the cabinet later this evening.

— Jacob Magid

US laptop ban lifted in Egypt, Morocco

Egypt and Morocco’s airlines say a ban against carry-on laptops on US-bound flights has been lifted, leaving only two Saudi airports under the restrictions put in place in March.

Morocco’s Royal Air Maroc says in a statement that the ban, imposed amid fears the Islamic State group was developing a bomb concealed in electronics, would be lifted as of tomorrow.

EgyptAir said late last night that the United States had also lifted the ban for the carrier’s flights to New York from today.

The ban remains in place for Saudi Arabia’s two main international airports in Riyadh and Jeddah.

— AFP

High court to revisit decision allowing mini-marts to open on Shabbat

The High Court of Justice orders an additional hearing on allowing convenience stores in Tel Aviv to remain open on the Jewish day of rest.

The new hearing comes in response to a petition filed by Interior Minister Minister Aryeh Deri last month.

In April, the High Court upheld a 2014 Tel Aviv City Council ordinance allowing the stores to remain open on Shabbat, with the court saying it would protect the cosmopolitan character of the coastal and mostly secular city.

The ruling drew scathing criticism from religious groups, who said it threatened the Jewish character of the state. In his petition, Deri argued “the Shabbat and its observance is a cornerstone of the existence of the Jewish people,” and said “given the honor of the Sabbath and its importance to halacha, it deserves an additional discussion.”

Kremlin denies reaching out to Trump Jr. via property developer

The Kremlin denies reaching out to a Moscow-based property developer and his son who arranged a meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr. to discuss allegedly compromising information about Hillary Clinton.

The emails published by Trump Jr. show publicist Rob Goldstone telling Trump that singer Emin Agalarov and his father, developer Aras Agalarov, had “helped along” the Russian government’s support for Trump. In his email, Goldstone said that the “Crown prosecutor of Russia” offered to provide the information on Clinton to the Trump campaign in a meeting with Aras Agalarov.

Speaking to reporters in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov insists the Kremlin has not spoken to Agalarov and has no ties to the Russian lawyer who was at the meeting.

— AP

Hungary pulling anti-Soros campaign ahead of Netanyahu visit

The Hungarian government is reportedly pulling a billboard campaign targeting Jewish billionaire and philanthropist George Soros, three days before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to visit the country.

The government says the anti-Soros campaign had reached its goals and was no longer necessary, the Haaretz daily reported, citing a report in the Hungarian TV network ATV.

The statement says a new law regulating the display of political posters in public places was due to come into effect on July 15.

Israel and Jewish groups had slammed the anti-immigration campaign that attacked Soros as being anti-Semitic.

Netanyahu will meet with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in the capital Budapest on July 15.

PM barred from speaking to his lawyer, a suspect in sub affair

Police say they have barred Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking with his lawyer, David Shimron, a suspect in the so-called submarine affair.

Shimron is a suspect in “Case 3000,” in which authorities are investigating possible corruption and bribery involved in multi-billion shekel naval deals with German shipbuilding company ThyssenKrupp. He is currently under house arrest.

Police today also barred employees of ThyssenKrupp in Israel from contacting company headquarters in Germany.

Shimron was among seven others suspected of attempting to sway deals in favor of ThyssenKrupp. Earlier today, the eight were questioned for 12 hours on suspicions of fraud, bribery, tax evasion and money laundering

Netanyahu is not a suspect in the investigation; however, police are planning to summon him to testify on the case.

Visiting Irish FM defends Dublin’s Mideast policies after Netanyahu rebuke

Visiting Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney defends his government’s Mideast policies, a day after Netanyahu rebuked him for Ireland’s traditional support of Palestinians.

In a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, Coveney says his country’s own troubled history drives Dublin’s foreign policy, saying Ireland “wants to b e helpful” in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I know there is an impression here that Ireland takes a different position to Israel. Can I say that in essence though, we are yearning for the same thing that I think the vast majority of Israelis are, which is a peaceful future,” Coveney says after holding a working meeting with Rivlin.

“We have experienced a lot of violence on our own island, and we are still working on a peace process,” he says, adding that “the reason that Irish people are so interested in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship and conflict is because we have had a violent past ourselves, and we see this as one of the great conflicts and divisions in the world.”

“My reason for being here – the first visit I have made as foreign minister outside Europe – is despite what people may sometimes feel about Ireland, we do care about this region, and want to be helpful,” Coveney concludes.

Yesterday, Netanyahu “expressed his dissatisfaction over Ireland’s traditional stance,” telling Coveney that “his country does not condemn Palestinians for incitement and for glorifying those who commit terrorist attacks.”

Comptroller: PM, Communications Ministry didn’t disclose conflicts of interest to AG

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Communications Ministry failed to disclose possible conflicts of interest connected to Bezeq chairman Shaul Elovitz, the state comptroller says in a report released today.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira says Communications Ministry Director-General Shlomo Filber “acted unprofessionally and without justification” by failing to disclose his and Netanyahu’s personal relationship with Elovitz when asked by the attorney general in 2015.

The Israel Securities Authority is investigating Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecommunications firm, on suspicions of securities fraud.

Earlier today, the ISA said Filber had been interrogated by police for several hours. No further information was released due to an court-imposed gag order.

Tillerson meets Arab ministers over Qatar boycott

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is holding meetings with four Arab states boycotting Qatar as part of a round of intense shuttle diplomacy aimed at resolving the regional crisis.

Tillerson flew into Saudi Arabia where he met King Salman, whose country is leading a four-state alliance that has cut ties with Qatar over accusations that it supports extremism.

He then began talks with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in an attempt to mend fences between the crucial US allies.

In a setback to his efforts, the four Arab states yesterday quickly dismissed a counter-terrorism deal signed between Qatar and the United States as “insufficient.”

— AFP

Trump’s FBI pick Wray pledges ‘impartial pursuit of justice’

US President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Federal Bureau of Investigation pledged Wednesday to insulate the agency from outside interference, amid a probe into Russian election meddling that threatens top White House officials.

“If I am given the honor of leading this agency, I will never allow the FBI’s work to be driven by anything other than the facts, the law, and the impartial pursuit of justice. Period,” Christopher Wray tells a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination.

“I consider the director’s most important duty to ensure that nothing distracts the selfless patriots at the FBI from their mission,” he says.

— AFP

UN official warns ‘devastating’ crisis in Gaza could come back to haunt Israel

A UN official warns the current energy crisis in Gaza is having a devastating effect on the local population, and could come back to haunt Israel.

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, says that while Israel has no immediate role to play in solving the crisis, it should do its utmost to improve conditions for the citizens of the coastal strip.

“Of all the issues we deal with — the peace process, Palestinian institution building, the region — this is the one issue that keeps me up at night,” Mladenov tells reporters in his Jerusalem office.

“The effects of the crisis are devastating,” he adds. “And all of this, at the end of the day, will come back to Israel’s doorstep.”

— Raphael Ahren

300 refugees return to Syria from Lebanon border camps

Around 300 refugees return to their hometown in Syria from northeast Lebanon, where tensions have been high following army raids and suicide attacks on camps in the area.

The refugees returned home today under a deal negotiated by Syrian rebels in the camps and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is fighting in Syria on behalf of President Bashar Assad’s government.

Lebanon is home to more than a million refugees fleeing the six-year conflict in neighboring Syria, but Lebanese ministers say they must go home to safe territory as soon as possible.

— AFP

Netanyahu: Comptroller report ‘another attempt to create scandal’

Netanyahu reportedly responds to a state comptroller report that determined the prime minister acted improperly when serving as Communications Minister when he failed to report his close friend and Bezeq head Shaul Elovitz as a possible conflict of interest.

In a statement, Netanyahu’s office says the comptroller report was “another futile attempt to create a scandal against the prime minister out of thin air,” according to Channel 10.

It says Netanyahu and Elovitz “are on friendly terms but nothing more,” and that “all the decisions he made regarding the communications market were for the benefit of the public alone.”

12-year-old Israeli girl killed in Russia car crash while on vacation

A 12-year-old Israeli girl was killed in a car accident in the eastern Russian city of Khabarovsk while on vacation with her parents.

According to the Ynet news site, a Russian citizen was also killed in the accident.

Her parents were lightly injured in the crash.

The Foreign Ministry is coordinating the return of the girl’s body to Israel for burial.

IDF soldier injured by falling object

An IDF soldier is wounded after a heavy object fell on him, the army says.

The incident occurred on a base in northern Israel. The soldier has been taken to a nearby hospital for treatment, according to the IDF.

He is said to be in moderate condition.

— Judah Ari Gross

Court extends remand of suspect in submarine affair

The Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court extends the remand of Ronen Shamar, one of the suspects in “Case 3000,” in which police are investigating possible corruption and bribery involved in multi-billion shekel naval deals with German shipbuilding company ThyssenKrupp.

According to police, Shamar, who was detained earlier this week for questioning, will remain in custody until Sunday July 16.

Shamar is the right-hand man of Miki Ganor, ThyssenKrupp’s Israeli agent.

Along with six other suspects, Ganor and Shamar were questioned under caution for more than 12 hours on suspicions of fraud, bribery, tax evasion and money laundering, the Israel Police and the Tax Authority said in a joint statement earlier today.

South Syria ceasefire ‘globally respected,’ Russia says

The ceasefire in south Syria is being “globally respected,” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says, in comments broadcast on Russia television.

The zone where the ceasefire was declared had seen “a rapid fall in the level of violence,” Lavrov says.

Russia hopes that trend would continue and that the ceasefire zone would be extended at the next cycle of Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan next month, he adds at a news conference with Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders in Brussels.

The truce, which was brokered by Russia, the United States and Jordan, has been in force since Sunday in the provinces of Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida.

— AFP

UAE accuses Al-Jazeera of anti-Semitism, inciting hate

A top UAE official accuses Qatari broadcast giant Al-Jazeera of anti-Semitism, discrimination and inciting religious hate, in a rebuttal to UN accusations of attacking freedom of expression.

The United Nations has warned that demands that Qatar close Al-Jazeera by a rival Saudi Arabian-led alliance, which includes the UAE, violate basic freedoms.

A Qatari employee of al-Jazeera TV walks past the logo of Al Jazeera in Doha, Qatar, November 1, 2006 (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili, File)
A Qatari employee of al-Jazeera TV walks past the logo of Al Jazeera in Doha, Qatar, November 1, 2006 (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili, File)

The United Arab Emirates’ state minister for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, hit back in a letter to UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. In it, Gargash wrote that Al-Jazeera had “promoted anti-Semitic violence by broadcasting sermons by the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yusuf al-Qaradawi.”

Qaradawi, he adds, had “praised Hitler, described the Holocaust as ‘divine punishment’, and called on Allah to ‘take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people… and kill them, down to the very last one.'”

The letter was published in a statement from the UAE National Media Council.

— AFP

Trump FBI nominee says Russia probe not a ‘witch hunt’

The nominee to head the US Federal Bureau of Investigation rejects US President Donald Trump’s characterization of the probe into Russia’s meddling in the US elections as a “witch hunt.”

Christopher Wray, Trump’s pick to lead the FBI after firing director James Comey, gave his support to independent prosecutor Robert Mueller, the former FBI chief now in charge of the politically explosive probe.

“I do not consider director Mueller to be on a witch hunt,” Wray tells a Senate hearing, hours after Trump, in a tweet, called the investigation “the greatest Witch Hunt in political history.”

— AFP

Jewish activist who secretly married on Temple Mount banned for 6 months

The activist who last month secretly got married at the Temple Mount in an act of protest, is barred from entering the holy site for six months by police.

Tom Nisani, a member of the Students for the Temple Mount group which seeks to increase Jewish access to the site, married Sarah Lurcat in a hurried ceremony to protest against Israeli-imposed rules forbidding Jewish religious rituals at the flashpoint site.

In a Facebook post, Nisani slams the ban, claiming barring him from visiting the Temple Mount is a violation of his basic rights.

Gabbay to Abbas: Peace begins with creating trust, goodwill

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas congratulates Avi Gabbay on his election as chairman of the Labor Party.

“Peace doesn’t occur in international meetings, or regional conferences. It begins with creating trust and goodwill between both parties,” Gabbay tells Abbas.

He calls on Abbas and Netanyahu to meet to discuss ongoing issues between Israel and the PA.

Netanyahu lawyer Shimron wraps up police testimony

Netanyahu’s lawyer David Shimron finishes giving testimony to police in the possible corruption and bribery case involving multi-billion shekel naval deals with German shipbuilding company ThyssenKrupp.

Shimron was questioned under caution at the Lahav 433 serious crimes unit in Lod for over 9 hours.

As he left the building, he told reporters: “I can’t comment, let the police do their job,” according to Channel 2.

Tillerson, Saudi king make no progress on Qatar

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wraps up talks with the king of Saudi Arabia and other officials from Arab countries lined up against Qatar without signs of a breakthrough in an increasingly entrenched dispute that has divided some of America’s most important Mideast allies.

The secretary of state’s trip from Kuwait to the western Saudi city of Jeddah followed yesterday’s discussions with the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, which ended with the signing of a counterterrorism pact.

Tillerson’s visit to Saudi Arabia included talks with King Salman and his powerful son Mohammed bin Salman, who was recently elevated to the role of crown prince, placing him next in line to the throne. He also met with the foreign ministers of the four countries in the anti-Qatar bloc.

— AP

Lapid calls sub affair ‘a conspiracy of corruption’

Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid calls the possible corruption and bribery case involving multi-billion shekel naval deals with German shipbuilding company, a “conspiracy of corruption.”

“This is without a doubt the biggest corruption scandal in the history of the country,” he tells Channel 2 in an interview. “Money from the defense budget was transferred to a secret bank account in Germany, and then transferred to [Netanyahu’s] lawyer’s private account without the defense minister knowing about it.”

“I don’t know how the prime minister didn’t know about it,” he adds. “This is a conspiracy of corruption.”

Lapid says he voluntarily testified to police in the so-called submarine affair earlier today.

Netanyahu hits back at Lapid over ‘untrue accusations’

Netanyahu hits back at Yesh Atid party chairman Lapid for implicating him in the possible corruption and bribery case involving multi-billion shekel naval deals with German shipbuilding company during an interview with Channel 2.

“Lapid’s firmness in the media are making sure to pump out the untrue accusations regarding Bezeq and the submarines, despite there being no connection to the prime minister, who is not suspected of wrongdoing,” Netanyahu says in response.

Lapid earlier called the so-called submarine affair “the biggest corruption scandal in the history of the country,” and said he didn’t know how Netanyahu didn’t know about the scheme.

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Live updates (closed)

Netanyahu lawyer Shimron wraps up police testimony

Netanyahu’s lawyer David Shimron finishes giving testimony to police in the possible corruption and bribery case involving multi-billion shekel naval deals with German shipbuilding company ThyssenKrupp.

Shimron was questioned under caution at the Lahav 433 serious crimes unit in Lod for over 9 hours.

As he left the building, he told reporters: “I can’t comment, let the police do their job,” according to Channel 2.