The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they happened.
Cabinet okays move to increase political appointments without tender
The cabinet gives majority backing to a controversial coalition proposal to allow ministers to make additional political appointments without advertising the job via a public tender.
The proposal, put forward by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud), allows for the appointment of a deputy director general in all government offices with at least 150 employees.
Discussion of the idea took place in the cabinet on October 1, but was postponed for two weeks by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after ministers failed to reach agreement in a stormy cabinet meeting. Netanyahu reportedly expressed an interest in even more far-reaching political appointments.
Levin says the proposal intends to strengthen governing and to put an end to the “absurd situation” in which policy determined by ministers was not being fully implemented.
“The government proved today that governability and professionalism complement one another. People with managerial talents will join public service,” he says.
US-allied forces begin final assault on IS in Syria’s Raqqa
US-backed Syrian fighters launch an operation to retake the last Islamic State-held pocket of the northern city of Raqqa on Sunday after some 275 militants and their family members surrendered.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces say the operation will continue “until all the city is cleansed from terrorists who refused to surrender.”
The SDF has been on the offensive in Raqqa since early June and now controls about 90 percent of the city that was once the extremist group’s self-styled capital. Most of the fighters who remain in the pocket are foreigners, according to the SDF and opposition activists.
The operation was named after Adnan Abu Amjad, an Arab commander with the SDF who was killed in August while fighting against IS in central Raqqa.
The loss of Raqqa would hand another major blow to IS, which has lost most of the territory it once held in Syria and Iraq. Iraqi forces captured the northern Iraqi city of Mosul — the largest ever held by the extremist group — in July, and Syrian government forces retook the eastern Syrian city of Mayadeen, near the border with Iraq, yesterday.
Death toll from blast in Somalia’s capital rises to 53
The death toll from the most powerful bomb blast witnessed in Somalia’s capital has risen to 53 as hospitals struggled to cope with the high number of casualties, security and medical sources say. More than 60 others are injured.
Somalia’s government is yet to release the exact death toll from the truck bomb that targeted a busy street near key ministries. Officials fear the toll would continue to climb.
Ambulance sirens echoed across the city a day after the blast as bewildered families wandered in the rubble of buildings, looking for missing relatives.
“In our 10 year experience as the first responder in #Mogadishu, we haven’t seen anything like this,” the Aamin Ambulance service tweets.
— Aamin Ambulance (@AaminAmbulance) October 15, 2017
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed declared three days of mourning and joined thousands of people who responded to a desperate plea by hospitals to donate blood for the wounded victims. “I am appealing all Somali people to come forward and donate,” he said.
Many victims died at hospitals from their wounds, said Police Captain Mohamed Hussein.
Netanyahu: Trump move ‘opportunity’ to fix nuke deal, thwart Iran’s ambitions
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praises US President Donald Trump’s decertification of Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, saying it presented an “opportunity” to fix the accord and thwart the Islamic Republic’s regional ambitions.
Speaking at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu says Trump’s decision to not recertify the agreement would help prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, which the prime minister said it was on the path to doing under the current accord.
“I believe that any responsible government, and whoever seeks to promote peace and security in the world, needs to take advantage of the opportunity that President Trump’s decision has created in order to improve the agreement or abrogate it and, of course, stop Iran’s aggression,” Netanyahu tells his cabinet.
The prime minister also praises Trump’s decision to introduce new sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which backs regional terror groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas.
Zarif: Trump speech violated Iran nuclear deal
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif says US President Donald Trump’s speech outlining an aggressive new strategy against Iran violated Tehran’s nuclear agreement with world powers.
Trump’s virulent speech contravened three articles of the 2015 deal, Zarif says in televised remarks broadcast late on Saturday. They include the requirement to implement the accord “in good faith” and for the US to “refrain from re-introducing or re-imposing” sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programmer.
“I have already written nine letters [to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini] listing the cases where the United States has failed to act on or delayed its commitments under the JCPOA,” Zarif says, using the technical name for the nuclear deal.
Mogherini helped negotiate the nuclear deal alongside the US, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia.
Zarif said he would write a new letter regarding Trump’s speech last Friday, and warned of a “reciprocal measure” if sanctions were reimposed.
Opposition attacks cabinet’s okay of political appointments bill
Yair Lapid, head of the opposition Yesh Atid Party, attacks the cabinet’s approval for more political appointments “that nobody needs.”
The proposal gives the directors general of 21 ministries — those with more than 150 employees — the right to appoint a deputy without a tender, so long as the appointees had six to seven years of relevant experience and was tasked not with overseeing ministry staff but with supervising special projects and inter-ministry communications.
“Each post like that costs NIS two million,” Lapid says in a statement, with the result that “in total, all they’ve approved today is NIS 40 million for themselves and their close associates.”
Zionist Union’s Tzipi Livni says “the message that the government gave today is that budgets, salaries and everything that belongs to the public and is there to serve the public has become the property of the political parties in power.”
MK Michal Rozin of Meretz says the decision goes “against proper government and the rule of law.” It opened a “dangerous window” and weakened public confidence, she charges.
Defense Ministry recognizes Reuven Schmerling as terror victim
The Defense Ministry issues official recognition of Reuven Schmerling, a resident of the West Bank settlement of Elkana who was found dead in a storage unit belonging to his business in Kafr Qassem’s industrial area on October 4, as a terror victim.
The ministry came to the decision after police determined that the murder had been carried out on nationalistic grounds and should therefore be considered terrorism.
Police and the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, opened a joint investigation into the murder, looking at possible motives including a work- or money-related dispute. Schmerling owned a coal business in Kafr Qassem, employed residents of the city and had business contacts there.
The decision means Schmerling will be included in state memorials for terror victims and his family will now be eligible to receive the relevant national insurance benefits.
Jewish Argentine coach guides Colombia national soccer team to World Cup
Jewish Argentine coach, Jose Pekerman, is leading Colombia’s national soccer team to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Colombia qualified for next year’s World Cup in Russia with a 1-1 draw against Peru last week in the final round of matches in the CONMEBOL South American group.
The Jewish coach was born in Villa Dominguez in the Argentine countryside, one of the main centers of Jewish immigration to Argentina. His grandparents came from Ukraine. As an adult, Pekerman lived in the Buenos Aires Jewish neighborhood of Villa Crespo.
Pekerman, a former midfielder with the Argentine national team, took over as Colombia’s coach in January 2012 and led Colombia to return to the FIFA World Cup in 2014, following a 16-year absence from the world championships of soccer’s governing body. In June 2016 he led Colombia to a third place in the prestigious Copa America, held in the United States.
In more than five years as a coach of “the cafeteros,” or coffee makers, team he has skippered 70 games, with more wins than ties and losses: 38, 17 and 15 respectively.
Woody Allen: Weinstein affair ‘sad for everybody involved’
Veteran Jewish filmmaker Woody Allen says “the whole Harvey Weinstein thing is very sad for everybody involved.”
Actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie several other women told The New York Times in a report last week that Weinstein had sexually harassed them. Separately, five women have accused Weinstein of raping them.
“Tragic for the poor women that were involved, sad for Harvey that his life is so messed up. There’s no winners in that, it’s just very, very sad and tragic for those poor women that had to go through that,” Allen tells the BBC.
“You don’t want it to lead to a witch-hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere, where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself. That’s not right either. But sure, you hope that something like this could be transformed into a benefit for people rather than just a sad or tragic situation.”
Allen has worked with Weinstein on a number of films and says he had heard rumors but nothing “serious.”
“No one ever came to me or told me horror stories with any real seriousness,” Allen says. “And they wouldn’t, because you are not interested in it. You are interested in making your movie. But you do hear a million fanciful rumors all the time. And some turn out to be true and some — many — are just stories about this actress, or that actor.”
Allen has also faced accusations of sexual misconduct. His ex-wife actress Mia Farrow has said the director pressured reporters to drop investigations into his alleged sexual abuse of Dylan Farrow, his then 7-year-old daughter.
The 1992 allegation came shortly after Allen became involved with Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. Allen, then in his mid-50s, was not the adoptive father of Previn, who was about 19 at the time. The two married in 1997 and have two adopted daughters.
Man in serious condition after being electrocuted in West Bank settlement
A resident of the West Bank settlement of Rosh Tzurim in the Etzion settlement bloc is in serious condition after having been electrocuted, apparently while standing next to a generator during a power cut, police say.
He was taken to the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem.
Police have opened an investigation into the incident.
Coalition renews threats to close new public broadcaster
Several ministers are raising the possibility that the government will renew its efforts to close the new public broadcaster.
At today’s meeting of coalition party heads, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri is reported to have suggested closing the Kan public broadcasting corporation as a cash-saving measure to avoid expected across-the-board budget cuts for 2018, and gained the support of several other ministers including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Only Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon opposed the idea that was unexpectedly floated during the meeting, Globes reports.
Shortly after the meeting, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara wrote on Twitter: “I was happy to receive the blessings of the prime minister to close the public broadcaster: An end to a waste of public money.”
But the tweet was soon deleted and replaced with: “The coalition leaders approached me to close the public broadcaster. I approached the prime minister and when a final decision is taken on the matter I will update accordingly.”
According to Channel 2, Deri was asked to bring up the issue by Netanyahu.
Netanyahu confirms renewed efforts to close new public broadcaster
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirms reports that he is planning to close the Kan public broadcasting corporation, on the air for less than six months, as a cash-saving measure to limit expected across-the-board budget cuts for 2019.
“In today’s meeting of the coalition heads [Interior Minister Aryeh] Deri proposed looking into closing the corporation in order to find sources for government projects,” Netanyahu says in a statement.
“We are talking about an annual saving of some 500 million shekels,” he adds.
New broadcaster denies poor ratings amid renewed efforts to shutter it
Kan issues a statement denying the claims of some ministers that it has poor ratings and highlighting its importance as an independent broadcaster free from political and commercial influences.
Amid threats from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to close it down in order to save money, the broadcaster notes that it is cheaper to run than the Israel Broadcasting Authority which it replaced.
“We are continuing as usual, according to the law, at full power with a rise of tens of percentages in ratings numbers compared to the past, digital exposure to millions of [online] surfers, a quality alternative to the commercial broadcasts, and a saving of hundreds of millions of shekels of public money. We invited viewers to be impressed by the five new programs that will go on air this week on Kan 11, and by news broadcasts that are independent and free of political interests and commerce,” the statement reads.
UK police receive 3 new assault claims against Weinstein
British police are investigating three new allegations of sexual assault against film producer Harvey Weinstein.
London’s Metropolitan Police force says the same woman was the victim of the assaults, which allegedly took place in 2010, 2011 and 2015. It said Sunday that officers from the Child Abuse and Sexual Offenses Command are investigating.
The force did not name Weinstein, in keeping with its policy of not identifying suspects who have not been charged.
But it said the allegations involve a man against whom another was made on Wednesday. That case also is being investigated.
Actress Lysette Anthony says she reported to police Wednesday that Weinstein raped her in London in the late 1980s.
Anthony told the Sunday Times newspaper she was left feeling “disgusted and embarrassed” after the attack.
Death toll from terror blast in Somalia’s capital rises to 231
The death toll from the most powerful bomb blast witnessed in Somalia’s capital rises to 231 with more than 275 injured, making it the deadliest single terror attack ever in this Horn of Africa nation, according to a Somalian senator.
Abshir Abdi Ahmed says the toll comes from doctors at hospitals he has visited in Mogadishu. Many of the bodies in hospital mortuaries have not yet been identified, he said.
Saturday’s blast is the single deadliest attack ever in this Horn of Africa nation.
Doctors struggled to assist horrifically wounded victims, many burned beyond recognition. Officials fear the toll will continue to climb from the truck bomb that targeted a busy street near key ministries.
— with AP
Polls close in pivotal Austrian election
Voting in a general election that will decide whether Austria moves to the right after decades of centrist policies has ended.
Final results from Sunday’s election aren’t expected until later in the week, but provisional results are expected to start rolling in now that polls are closed.
Three parties are vying for first place in the national election: the Social Democrats, the People’s Party and the Freedom Party.
The People’s Party was favored to win the most votes. The party is part of Austria’s current governing coalition. Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz has taken it to the right since becoming party leader in the spring.
The 31-year-old Kurz would become Europe’s youngest leader if his party wins and he can form a government.
Kurz, 31, set to win Austria elections; projections give far right 26.8%
Austria’s conservative chief Sebastian Kurz looked set on Sunday to become Europe’s youngest leader after parliamentary elections, with projections placing him ahead of the far-right and the Social Democrats.
The People’s Party, rebranded by Kurz as his personal “movement,” is forecast to reap 30.2 percent of the vote, followed by the anti-immigration Freedom Party with 26.8 percent and the Social Democrats with 26.3 percent, public TV reported.
US launches $10 million water project in West Bank
The US government launches a $10 million project to improve access to wastewater treatment and water for Palestinian farmers in the Jericho area of the West Bank.
A top aide to US President Donald Trump, Jason Greenblatt, was among officials launching the project in the historic city near the Dead Sea. Greenblatt has been among Trump’s aides seeking to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. US officials have spoken of improving the Palestinian economy and infrastructure as part of their efforts.
At Sunday’s event, Greenblatt did not comment on White House peace efforts, which have been met with heavy skepticism from many analysts. He also did not speak about a unity deal signed last week between Palestinian rival factions Fatah and Hamas, aimed at ending their decade-long division.
The project announced Sunday aims to increase the number of homes connected to the Jericho area’s wastewater treatment plant previously built with Japanese assistance by about 10,000 residents. That would leave some 70 percent of Jericho residents connected, according to the US consulate in Jerusalem.
Recycled wastewater would then be available to Palestinian date farmers in the area, it says.
“The US administration and President Trump personally remain committed to a just and lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis, and a central element of that peace is a thriving economy and real opportunities for Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza,” US Consul General Donald Blome says.
As Venezuela votes, Israel calls for ‘free, fair and credible elections’
As the Venezuelan gubernatorial elections take place today, Israel’s Foreign Ministry is calling for “free, fair and credible elections with independent domestic and international observation.”
“Israel calls on the Venezuelan government to protect the ability of its citizens to exercise their constitutional rights to vote and to ensure that the regional elections are conducted in a free, timely, and transparent manner that respects the prerogative of the Venezuelan people to shape the course of their country.” according to an MFA statement.
“Israel urges the Venezuelan government to allow the Venezuelan opposition to freely compete for these positions,” the statement adds.
The election could tilt a majority of the country’ 23 governorships back into opposition control for the first time in nearly two decades of socialist party rule — though the government says the newly elected governors will be subordinate to a pro-government assembly.
The election is being watched closely as an indicator of how much support President Nicolas Maduro and the socialist movement founded by his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, maintain amid soaring inflation and crippling food and medical shortages that continue to wreak havoc in Venezuelans’ daily lives.
3 Egyptian soldiers killed in Sinai attack
Egyptians security and medical officials say suspected Islamic State militants have attacked six checkpoints in the turbulent north of the Sinai Peninsula, killing three soldiers.
The officials said the near-simultaneous attacks on Sunday took place at and around the town of Sheikh Zweid and left 11 soldiers wounded. They said the death toll is likely to rise.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Egyptian security forces have for years battled militants in northern Sinai, which borders the Gaza Strip and Israel. But the insurgency there has gained momentum after the Egyptian military ousted an elected Islamist president in 2013.
The insurgency is led by a local affiliate of the Islamic State group.
Netanyahu praises Trump’s ‘brave decision’ on Iran nuclear deal
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls US President Donald Trump’s decision to refuse to declare Iran in compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal “courageous.”
“It’s a very brave decision, and I think it’s the right decision for the world,” Netanyahu says during an interview with John Dickerson on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“I think that right now the deal as it stands guarantees that Iran will have not a single nuclear bomb, but an entire nuclear arsenal within 10 years. And I think the president was very courageous in saying, ‘I’m not going to kick this can down the road. I’m not going to say, Well, it’s going to be on somebody else’s watch. I’m going to stop this from happening,’” Netanyahu says.
Trump triggered a legislative review by Congress on Friday by refusing to declare Iran in compliance with the 2015 deal between six world powers, including the United States, and Iran, which trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. Trump said in a White House speech on Friday that he would pull the United States out of the deal if he was not happy with the result.
PM to Christian journalists: World leaders must stop Iran ‘devouring’ Mideast
At the opening event of the Government Press Office’s first convention for Christian journalists in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu calls President Trump’s Friday speech on Iran “courageous” and stresses that Israel is concerned with Iran’s dual threat.
“There’s the nuclear threat of a deal that will lead to a nuclear Iran, and also an aggressive Iran that is spreading terror throughout this region,” Netanyahu tells the group of 100 members of the Christian media at the Israel Museum.
“They’re devouring the nations one after another,” Netanyahu tells the Israel-friendly journalists, some of whom peppered his speech with “Yep!” “Come on now!” and “That’s right,” in the style of a Southern Baptist revival meeting.
“They’re in Yemen, they’re in Iraq where they are squeezing the Kurds, and they’re in Syria where they are colonizing Syria to turn it into military base for a war against Israel,” says Netanyahu.
He urges the Christian journalists to focus on Iran’s treatment of minority Christians.
“[Trump] could have kicked the can forward, he could have said, ‘It’s not going to happen on my watch so why should I deal with it?’” Netanyahu tells the largely Trump-supporting, right-wing audience. “But he said no. It’s the duty of leaders and perhaps most difficult duty of leaders to ward off danger before it becomes apparent.”
— Melanie Lidman
Iraqi Kurds deny PKK forces posted in Kirkuk
Iraqi Kurd officials deny PKK forces are among its peshmerga fighters in the disputed oil province of Kirkuk, although they could include sympathizers of Turkey’s outlawed Kurdish group.
“There are no PKK forces in Kirkuk, but there are some volunteers who sympathize with the PKK,” the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, says General Jabar Yawer, head of the peshmerga ministry.
There have also been “other volunteers, independents, and Islamists fighting Daesh since 2014,” he adds, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group.
“They support the peshmerga. They are irregular forces,” Yawer says.
The allegations came just hours before the expiry of a deadline for peshmerga fighters to withdraw from areas they took in Kirkuk in 2014 during a fightback against IS.
Liberia’s Weah, Boakai face presidential runoff next month
Former international footballer George Weah and Liberia’s Vice President Joseph Boakai will face a runoff for the presidency on November 7, the national election commission announces.
With tallies in from 95.6 percent of polling stations, Weah took 39% of the votes and Boakai 29.1%, both well short of the 50% barrier required to win outright from the first round of voting held on Tuesday.
National Elections Commission chairman Jerome Korkoya tells journalists that 1,550,923 votes had been counted and turnout was at 74.52%.
Three other candidates took a significant share of votes with veteran opposition leader Charles Brumskine at 9.8%, former Coca-Cola Executive Alexander Cummings at 7.1% and former warlord turned preacher Prince Johnson at 7%.
These candidates will now decide which runoff contender they will direct their supporters to follow, holding significant sway over the final results.