Thousands of Arad residents protest against planned phosphate mine
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Trump thanks Guatemalan president for following US on Jerusalem embassy move

At Washington meeting, US president expresses his gratitude to Jimmy Morales for supporting Israel and America

Guatamalan President Jimmy Morales speaks alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (not pictured) at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on November 29, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
Guatamalan President Jimmy Morales speaks alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (not pictured) at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on November 29, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

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

Holocaust survivors protest outside Polish embassy against new law

Holocaust survivors protest outside Poland’s embassy in Israel against a Polish law outlawing blaming Poland for Holocaust atrocities.

The demonstrators enter the embassy compound in Tel Aviv while carrying signs and chanting slogans against the legislation. They confront Poland’s deputy ambassador, who is trying to speak with the demonstrators.

Polish President Andrzej Duda signed the legislation Tuesday despite objections from Israel, the United States and Jewish groups.

Syria confirms rare US strike on pro-government forces

BEIRUT — Syrian state-run media on Thursday confirms a rare US strike on government-backed troops in eastern Syria, citing reports of dozens killed and wounded from the attack.

Syria’s state media says the US-led coalition bombed government-backed troops in Khusham, a town in the oil-rich Deir el-Zour province, describing them as tribal fighters. The media cites reports of dozens killed and wounded.

The official state news agency SANA says the local fighters were battling Islamic State militants and the US-backed SDF in the area.

SANA labels it an “aggression” and a “new massacre.”

A US official says the US launched the airstrikes after as many as 500 attackers began what appeared to be a coordinated assault on US-backed forces known as the Syrian Democratic Forces who were accompanied by US advisers in Deir el-Zour province.

The official says the strikes were in self-defense after the pro-government forces began firing artillery and tank rounds at the SDF. About 100 of the attackers were killed, the official says.

— AP

Billionaire Trump adviser donates $10 million to Israel National Library

An American billionaire and confidant of US President Donald Trump is making a major donation to Israel’s National Library.

Stephen Schwarzman, chief executive of private equity firm Blackstone, says the $10 million donation is his first in Israel.

In this file photo from September 20, 2017, Blackstone Group chairman and CEO Stephen Schwarzman speaks at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

The donation will fund classrooms and education workshops Schwarzman hopes will foster inclusiveness and “cross-cultural relationships” between Jews, Christians and Muslims.

The library broke ground in 2016 on a new home for its collection, which includes the world’s largest assemblage of Jewish texts, plus materials about Islam and the Middle East.

Schwarzman said on Wednesday the collection “enables all different types of groups to be comfortable in that setting and see things that reflect their historical backgrounds.”

Schwarzman has an estimated net worth of $13 billion and serves as economic consultant to Trump.

— AP

Foreign Ministry warns against traveling to Maldives amid political unrest

The Foreign Ministry warns Israelis against traveling to the Maldives amid political turmoil in the island country and the president’s declaration of a state of emergency.

The ministry advises Israelis currently in the Maldives “to consider the continuation of their stay there.” It tells Israelis to stay away from demonstrations and public gatherings and to take extra precautions.

The ministry says as there are no diplomatic ties between Israel and the Maldives, it’ll have difficulties assisting any Israeli who encounters a problem.

Rivlin visits family of rabbi slain in West Bank terror stabbing

President Reuven Rivlin pays a condolence visit to the family of Rabbi Itamar Ben-Gal, who was killed in a West Bank terror attack Monday.

“I came to be with you not only because of [the Biblical] commandment of comforting mourners but also on the personal level of friendship,” Rivlin tells Ben-Gal’s widow Mariam, four children and other relatives.

“I read and learned a lot about [Ben-Gal’s] actions and deeds and I will also host the students of this wonderful teacher at the President’s Residence in order to sit and discuss with them the terrible events,” he adds.

Ben-Gal, 29, lived in the Har Bracha settlement and was a middle school teacher at a yeshiva in the Tel Aviv suburb of Givat Shmuel.

Security forces are searching for 19-year-old Arab Israeli Abed al-Karim Assi, who is suspected of carrying out Monday’s stabbing outside the settlement of Ariel.

הרב איתמר בן גל ז"ל היה מורה נפלא, שנסע כל בוקר מהר ברכה לגבעת שמואל כדי להנחיל לתלמידיו ערכים. ראיתי את התלמידים המתוקי…

Posted by ‎Reuven Ruvi Rivlin – ראובן רובי ריבלין‎ on Thursday, 8 February 2018

Russia says US strike in Syria an attempt to take ‘Syrian economic assets’

BEIRUT — The Russian military says a US strike on government-backed troops in eastern Syria reflects Washington’s efforts to make a grab for the nation’s economic assets.

The overnight attack, which killed about 100 people according to the US military, came when hundreds of attackers launched an assault on US-backed forces known as the Syrian Democratic Forces who were accompanied by US advisers in the oil-rich Deir el-Zour province.

The Russian Defense Ministry says Thursday the US strike wounded 25 pro-government Syrian volunteers. It notes that the government-backed Syrian forces had failed to coordinate their action with the Russian military prior to launching the mission.

It says the incident “again showed that the US is maintaining its illegal presence in Syria not to fight the Islamic State group, but to seize and hold Syrian economic assets.”

— AP

Iran’s deputy FM: ‘No link’ between nuclear deal, regional meddling

Iran’s deputy foreign minister says there is no connection between the 2015 pact meant to limit the country’s nuclear program and Tehran’s regional ambitions.

“We have always fought against terrorism. Iran has always played a key role in bringing stability and peace to the region … There is no link between the (nuclear) deal and our role in the region,” Abbas Araqchi tells Reuters at a conference in Paris.

“Iran has always played a key role in establishing peace, restoring security and fighting against terrorism across the region,” he adds, while claiming the “policies of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States have led to crises and wars in the Middle East.”

Araqchi is a top Iranian negotiator to the nuclear deal, which US President Donald Trump has vowed to ditch if it is not changed to address issues such as Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi speaking in Tehran, Iran, on October 22, 2013. (AFP/Atta Kenare)

German receives prison sentence for running banned neo-Nazi site

FRANKFURT, Germany — A German court on Thursday sentences a man to two and a half years in jail for running a banned neo-Nazi website, finding him guilty of inciting racial hatred.

Judges in the western city of Stuttgart say the 29-year-old, identified only as Ralph K., who for several years ran the German-language “Altermedia Deutschland” site, “had led a criminal organization and propagated hate.”

Three co-defendants are convicted of contributing to the far-right platform and are handed suspended sentences of between eight months and two years, national news agency DPA reports.

The German government shut down “Altermedia” on Holocaust Remembrance Day two years ago following a series of police raids.

Until then, “Altermedia” had been one of Germany’s most popular online platforms for the far-right, attracting some five million visitors.


Abbas spokesman blames American envoy for ‘crisis in US-Palestinian relations’

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman blames US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman for the “crisis in US-Palestinian relations.”

Nabil Abu Rudeineh refers to a Monday tweet from Friedman accusing Palestinian leaders of praising the terrorist who stabbed to death Rabbi Itamar Ben-Gal outside the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

“The statements by the US ambassador lead us to wonder about the ambassador’s relationship with the occupation: Does he represent the US or Israel,” says Abu Rudeineh, according to the official Wafa news agency.

“The ambassador’s advice and consultations, which are not aimed at achieving a just peace based on international legality, have led to this crisis in US-Palestinian relations,” he adds.

Ties between the US and the PA have hit a nadir following Trump’s December 6 declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with Abbas declaring the US was no longer an honest broker in peace talks. He has also refused to meet with US officials, including Vice President Mike Pence.

Netanyahu denies leveling ‘personal attack’ at police chief

Netanyahu denies engaging in a “personal attack” against police chief Roni Alsheich.

“There is no personal attack here, not on the police commissioner and not on anyone else,” Netanyahu writes on Facebook.

Netanyahu, who is being investigated in a pair of corruption cases, criticized Alscheich in a Facebook post Wednesday over the police chief’s comment in an interview that “powerful figures” hired private investigators to gather information about police investigators in the Netanyahu cases.

In his Facebook post Thursday, Netanyahu says Alscheich’s allegation casts doubt on the objectivity of police investigators.

“Imagine how you would feel if police investigators conducting an investigation against you claim you used private investigators against them and their families,” Netanyahu says.

Khamenei: US ‘the most oppressive and merciless entity’ in the world

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calls America “the most oppressive and merciless entity” in the world and claims it created the Islamic State terror group.

“The US created #ISIS, the US president mentioned that in his presidential campaigns. Besides creating it, the US also supported them: it’s likely American groups, like the former Black Water, trained them on some of the barbaric and violent tactics,” says Khamenei in a series of Twitter posts.

“Backing the 70 years of oppression against the people of #Palestine, supporting the massacre and oppression of the people of #Yemen are clear examples of the US’s tyranny,” he adds.

“Despite all these instances of mercilessness and hardheartedness, the US regime claims, in its international propaganda, that it advocates for Human Rights, rights of the oppressed and animals rights. One should expose them by providing facts.”

In this picture released by official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a meeting with a group Qom residents, in a mosque at his residence in Tehran, Iran, January 9, 2018. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Police arrest 2 Old City residents for attempted murder

Police announce the arrests of two residents of Jerusalem’s Old City for attempted murder.

Police say the two suspects, ages 17 and 22, were arrested yesterday for injuring a man last month as he walked through the Old City.

The two suspects likely threw a brick at the man from the roof of a building, according to police.

Rivlin expresses support for migrant deportation plan

President Rivlin expresses his support for the government’s plan to expel African migrants from the country.

“I think the government’s decisions are very meaningful and logical even when they go against emotion,” says Rivlin.

“The poor of our nation come before the poor of another [nation],” he says, while adding that as a “moral nation” Israel should “extend a hand to refugees.”

There are an estimated 40,000 African asylum seekers in Israel, many of them from Eritrea and Sudan. Under the plan, those who leave voluntarily by the end of March will receive $3,500 and a plane ticket to an unnamed third country in Africa. Those still in the country by April 1 will be imprisoned or forcibly expelled.

Thousands of Arad residents protest against planned phosphate mine

Thousands of residents of Arad and the surrounding area protest against a planned phosphate mine near the southern city.

The protesters say the mine will pollute the air and be detrimental to the health of area residents. Haaretz puts turnout at around 3,000 people.

A number of lawmakers attend the protest, including Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.

The plan for the mine was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Planning, Construction and Housing (the Housing Cabinet) last month. It is opposed by the Health Ministry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is acting health minister, has submitted an appeal against the plan.

Lawyer for Paris attacks suspect says police shooting was criminal, not terror

BRUSSELS — A lawyer for the sole surviving suspect in the 2015 Islamic State attacks in Paris has denied any links to terrorism in the police shootout that led to his client’s capture.

Belgian lawyer Sven Mary, center, attends the second day of the trial of Salah Abdeslam and Soufiane Ayari at the Brussels Justice Palace in Brussels on February 8, 2018. (Didier Lebrun, Pool Photo via AP)

Lawyer Sven Mary also says Thursday that the attempted murder case against suspect Salah Abdeslam should be thrown out because court orders were in French and not in Dutch. Abdeslam is a French-speaking native of Belgium, a linguistically divided nation.

Mary says the 2016 shootout that left three police officers injured “was a spontaneous act, not a terrorist act,” and the terrorism charges against Abdeslam and another man are invalid.

His co-defendant has denied shooting. Abdeslam refused to testify at the trial that opened Monday and declined to appear in court for the second hearing Thursday.

— AP

Teva chief reports ‘strong progress’ in restructuring plan

The chief executive of Teva Pharmaceuticals says he is making “strong progress” on the company’s restructuring plan, but has acknowledged the generic drug giant faces a challenging 2018.

Kare Schultz, Teva’s new CEO, provides the update as the company releases its fourth-quarter earnings Thursday.

Kåre Schultz, CEO and president of Teva. (Courtesy)

Teva in December announced plans to cut 14,000 jobs, roughly one-quarter of its work force, in a broad restructuring as it confronts lower prices for generics, the expiration of patents on its core Copaxone drug and a more than $30 billion debt load.

Speaking to analysts, Schultz says roughly half the layoffs should be complete by July, with the remainder taking place by the end of 2019. “Everything is on plan. Everything is on target,” he says.

Teva forecasts lower revenue for 2018.

— AP

Family of rabbi slain in West Bank stabbing calls for new settlement building

The family of Rabbi Itamar Ben-Gal, who was killed Monday in a West Bank terror stabbing, calls for the government to approve the construction of hundreds of new housing units in the settlement where he lived.

“Mr. President, I ask of you to do everything you can to ensure the expansion of the settlement,” Ben-Gal’s widow Miriam tells President Rivlin as he visited the family’s home in Har Bracha for a condolence visit.

She says approving such construction is “what can console us.”

Russian deputy FM: US doctrine may lower nuclear threshold

MOSCOW — A senior Russian diplomat says Washington’s plans for modernizing its nuclear arsenal could lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov says Thursday the US Nuclear Posture Review “directly undermines, if not destroys strategic stability.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov looks on at the start of two days of closed-door nuclear talks in Geneva, October, 2013. (AP/Fabrice Coffrini)

The document released last week asserts that Russian strategy emphasizes the potential coercive and military uses of nuclear weapons, and calls for two new US capabilities in response — a sea-launched nuclear cruise missile and a “low-yield” warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Ryabkov rejects the US claims about Russian intentions as unfounded in remarks carried by Russian news agencies. He warns the US may view the prospective low-yield nuclear warhead as a battlefield weapon for use in a limited conflict, something that would dramatically lower the threshold for nuclear weapons use.

— AP

Trump thanks Guatemalan president for following US on Jerusalem embassy move

US President Donald Trump thanks his Guatemalan counterpart Jimmy Morales for announcing he would move his country’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

“President Trump thanked President Morales for supporting the United States and Israel, and for his announced decision to move the Guatemalan embassy to Jerusalem,” a White House readout says.

The two meet in Washington ahead of Trump’s appearance at the National Prayer Breakfast.

After Trump announced on December 6 the US would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy to the city, Morales said his country would follow the US and also move its embassy to Jerusalem.

The announced move was praised by Israel, with Prime Minister Netanyahu saying “God bless” Guatemala.

AG was ‘updated’ on private sleuths tracking officers in Netanyahu cases — reports

Attorney General Avichai Mandeblit was “updated” about the private investigators hired to follow police officers investigating Prime Minister Netanyahu, Hebrew media reports.

In addition Mandeblit, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan was also informed about the private investigators, according to similar reports from Haaretz and Hadashot TV news.

Haaretz reports the two were told about the investigators over a year ago by police chief Roni Alscheich. Quoting police sources, the daily says no police investigation was opened, as the private investigators ceased their work.

In an interview aired Wednesday, Alscheich said “powerful figures” hired private investigators to collect information about the police investigators in the Netanyahu cases.

Netanyahu has strongly criticized Alscheich and police for the claim, saying Thursday that it showed the officers investigating him couldn’t be unbiased.

Navy opens fire on buoys that strayed from Lebanese waters

Israeli Navy sailors opened fire at buoys that had floated into Israeli territorial waters from the Lebanese coast, the army says.

There was no immediate danger presented by the buoys. The sailors conducted the “controlled gunfire” in order to sink the devices, an army spokesperson says. This was to remove any potential threat posed by them, if they, for instance, had been rigged with explosives.

Over the past few weeks, Israeli and Lebanese officials have been in a war of words over an area of the Mediterranean Sea that is believed to sit above a natural gas deposit, known as Block 9, which both countries claim as their own.

— Judah Ari Gross

Likud MK to be questioned for seventh time in corruption case

Likud MK David Bitan will be questioned by police for a seventh time on Sunday in a corruption investigation involving officials from Rishon Lezion and Tel Aviv.

Bitan, a former deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion, has remained silent in recent investigations.

The Likud MK is suspected of receiving hundreds of thousands of shekels in bribes from businessmen in exchange for advancing city contracts in their favor. Bitan resigned as coalition chairman in December as the investigation developed.

Likud MK David Bitan attends a committee meeting at the Knesset on February 5, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Shots fired from Syria at Israeli drone

Shots are fired from Syria at an Israeli drone, missing it, but hitting a building in the Israeli town of Majdal Shams, the army says.

“No injuries were reported, [but] damage was identified in a house,” the Israel Defense Forces says. “IDF and Israeli Police are searching the area.”

On Wednesday, the Syrian army accused Israel of conducting an airstrike on a military research facility outside Damascus.

— Judah Ari Gross

Initial report: Attempted stabbing of soldier foiled in southern West Bank

Security forces foil an attempted stabbing of a soldier in the southern West Bank, according to a spokesman for the Har Hebron Regional Council.

The spokesman says the attacker tried to stab a soldier at a junction on Route 60.

He says no one was injured and the attacker was captured by troops.

IDF confirms attempted West Bank stabbing

A Palestinian was arrested while trying to stab a soldier in the southern West Bank, the army confirms.

The IDF says the suspect approached soldiers stationed near the Al-Fawwar refugee camp south of Hebron. He was detained and handed over for further questioning, the army says.

There are no reports of injuries.

A knife from an attempted stabbing attack on Israeli soldiers near the Al-Fawwar refugee camp in the southern West Bank, on February 8, 2018. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Syria says US airstrikes on pro-regime forces a ‘war crime’

DAMASCUS, Syria — The Syrian government on Thursday blasts deadly US-led coalition airstrikes on pro-regime forces in the country’s east as a “war crime.”

The US-led coalition said it carried out air strikes against pro-government fighters to defend its allies in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor.

In a letter addressed to the United Nations Secretary General, the Syrian foreign ministry says the attack “represents a war crime and a crime against humanity.”

It accuses the United States of using “the excuse of fighting terrorism to set up illegitimate bases on Syrian territory.”

“The Syrian government renews its call to dissolve this illegitimate coalition,” it says.


EU lawmakers urge US to reverse aid freeze for UNRWA

BRUSSELS — European Union lawmakers are urging the US to honor its financial pledge to the UN refugee agency working with the Palestinians as the agency faces a funding crisis that could affect millions.

In a resolution Thursday, the European Parliament “urges the United States to reconsider its decision and to honor the payment of its entire scheduled contribution to the agency.”

The US has been UNRWA’s largest donor, contributing one-third of the agency’s total budget. But Washington withheld half of the first installment of payments this year, demanding reforms in return for future aid.

The lawmakers welcomed a commitment from Arab League countries to contribute, but called on them to boost their contributions.

UNRWA is seeking $800 million for its emergency operations this year.

— AP

Lebanese prosecutor demands death for killer of UK woman

BEIRUT — Judicial officials say an investigative judge is demanding the death penalty for a suspected killer of a British woman whose body was found near Beirut two months ago.

The officials says Hanna Breidi, a type of government prosecutor, issued an indictment Thursday demanding the maximum penalty for Tarek Houshi, 29, accusing him of raping Rebecca Dykes before strangling her with a rope.

They add that Uber driver Houshi raped and killed Dykes in Beirut then threw her body off a road east of the capital.

The officials speak on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Dykes was found dead on December 16 on the side of a road, strangled and reportedly showing signs of sexual assault. Houshi was arrested days later.

Breidi referred Houshi to the criminal court.

— AP

This undated family photo shows Rebecca Dykes, a British staffer at the British embassy in Lebanon, who was found strangled by the side of the road east of the Lebanese capital Beirut on December 16, 2017. (Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office via AP)

Iran’s deputy FM: No talks on missile program if nuke deal not ‘successful’

Iran’s deputy foreign minister says Tehran will only be open to discussing its ballistic missile program and support for terror groups in the region if the 2015 deal meant to limit its nuclear program is reversed.

“Now they ask Iran to enter discussions on other issues. Our answer is clear: make the (deal) a successful experience and then we discuss other issues,” says Abbas Araqchi at a conference in Paris, according to Reuters.

He calls the Trump administration’s hawkish stance on Iran “destructive,” and says it violated the nuclear deal.

Araqchi is a top Iranian negotiator to the nuclear deal, which US President Donald Trump has vowed to ditch if it is not changed to address issues such as Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Syrian regime assault on Damascus suburbs kills 56

BEIRUT — Syrian activists say the death toll from airstrikes and shelling of eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus has risen to at least 56.

This photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, shows civilians standing near a body after airstrikes hit a rebel-held suburb near Damascus, Syria, on February 5, 2018.(Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

Rebel-held eastern suburbs of Damascus, also known as eastern Ghouta, have been bombarded for days leaving scores dead and hundreds wounded.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 56 people, including 10 children, were killed on Thursday.

Siraj Mahmoud of the Syrian Civil Defense, also known as White Helmets, says 58 people were killed in the shelling and airstrikes.

The Observatory says 211 people have been killed in eastern Ghouta since Monday.

— AP

State Department: Syrian chemical attacks ‘must stop now’

BEIRUT — The United States says Syrian President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons and bombings against civilians “must stop now.”

The State Department says it’s “extremely concerned” about growing violence in Idlib, as well as in the eastern Ghouta area near Damascus. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert says there have been reports of new attacks in the last 48 hours killing “dozens” of civilians.

Nauert says the US is supporting a United Nations call for a month-long “cessation of violence.” She says the goal is to allow humanitarian aid and medical care to flow to more than 700 civilians in eastern Ghouta.

The US says Russia must use its influence over Assad’s forces to ensure Syria immediately allows UN aid to reach vulnerable civilians.

— AP

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Thousands of Arad residents protest against planned phosphate mine

Thousands of residents of Arad and the surrounding area protest against a planned phosphate mine near the southern city.

The protesters say the mine will pollute the air and be detrimental to the health of area residents. Haaretz puts turnout at around 3,000 people.

A number of lawmakers attend the protest, including Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.

The plan for the mine was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Planning, Construction and Housing (the Housing Cabinet) last month. It is opposed by the Health Ministry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is acting health minister, has submitted an appeal against the plan.