Trump announces ‘great news’ as Pence, Erdogan meeting wraps up
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Pence announces Turkey has agreed to ceasefire in Syria

US VP says Turkish forces will halt offensive for 5 days to allow American-allied Kurds to withdraw; Trump: ‘Tough’ love helped get it done, ‘millions of lives will be saved’

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, talks with US Vice President Mike Pence, during their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, October 17, 2019. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, talks with US Vice President Mike Pence, during their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, October 17, 2019. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

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

Pence, Pompeo arrive in Turkey to push Syria ceasefire

ANKARA, Turkey — US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have arrived in Turkey to mount an improbable push for a ceasefire in Syria.

Their visit to Ankara today to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan comes a day after US President Donald Trump suggested the US has no stake in defending Kurdish fighters once allied against the Islamic State jihadist group.

The high-level US delegation is to warn Erdogan that Washington will escalate economic sanctions if his assault on Kurdish fighters continues. But the Turkish leader has said he would only agree to a ceasefire if Kurdish forces abandon key positions in Syria.

US officials acknowledge the odds are slim for an immediate halt to the weeklong conflict. The visit comes as Trump faces bipartisan condemnation in Washington for withdrawing American troops from northern Syria, which paved the way for the Turkish incursion.

— AP

Kurdish politician urges Israel to help halt Turkish offensive

A Kurdish politician in a northern Syrian city speaks to Israeli media, asking the Jewish state to help his people and saying the whole region would suffer if the Turkish operation in the Kurdish area isn’t stopped.

“We hope Israel will take action in the diplomatic arena to save the Kurdish people,” the politician, who was only named by the first Hebrew letter of his first name — Alef — tells Army Radio. “If the problems aren’t solved, the entire Middle East will be adversely affected.”

“As a result of the Turkish offensive, [Islamic State] terrorists have escaped prisons,” he adds. “If they reach countries in the region they will be ticking time bombs.”

— Michael Bachner

French FM in Iraq for talks on jailed jihadists in Syria

BAGHDAD — France’s top diplomat holds talks in Baghdad today about transferring foreign jihadists from northern Syria, where a Turkish offensive has triggered fears of mass jailbreaks, to be tried in Iraq.

European governments are worried that the Turkish operation will allow the escape of some of the 12,000 suspected Islamic State (IS) fighters — including thousands of foreigners — held by Syrian Kurds.

The issue is at the top of the agenda for French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in his talks with his Iraqi counterpart Mohammed Ali al-Hakim, President Barham Saleh and Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.

Le Drian says he discussed with Iraqi leaders “the way to implement an appropriate judicial mechanism” to try French and other fighters “in the best conditions.”

The aim is for foreign jihadists to be tried in Iraqi courts while upholding certain principles of justice and respect for human rights, a French diplomatic source says.

One issue will be Iraq’s use of the death penalty, which is outlawed throughout the EU.

Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden sent officials on a technical mission to Baghdad this week to assess the situation.

— AFP

Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Ali al-Hakim (R) meets his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian in Baghdad on October 17, 2019. (Sabah Arar/AFP)

Liberman urges Likud to focus on ‘essence’ in coalition talks, cut the spin

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman reiterates that his party won’t hold coalition talks with Likud unless they focus on “essence” and not the divvying up of ministerial portfolios.

“More than once or twice we’ve reached out to Likud in order to open negotiations and discuss essential matters,” Liberman writes on Facebook, rattling off issues such as military conscription of yeshiva students, public transportation on Shabbat and ending the government’s “surrender policy” in Gaza, among others.

“It’s incredible how much our requests have fallen on inattentive ears.”

Liberman’s comments come a week before the expiration of Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s mandate to form a government. While Netanyahu can request a two-week extension, analysts have posited that President Reuven Rivlin is unlikely to agree.

“As the sand in the hourglass trickles, the level of spin by Likud is rising and whoever thinks this is the solution, is making a big mistake,” Liberman says. The Yisrael Beytenu chief appears to be referring to speculation that he could support a minority government led by the Blue and White party from the outside — which he has given no indication of considering.

Liberman campaigned on forming a national unity government between Yisrael Beytenu, Likud and Blue and White if neither of the latter parties secured enough seats together with their allies in last month’s elections to form a government.

Though neither secured a majority, Likud’s insistence on only joining a government that includes its religious allies, and Blue and White’s refusal to sit in a coalition with Netanyahu in light of his legal woes, has hampered efforts to form a unity government.

IDF downs drone along Gaza border

Israeli forces have downed a drone along the border with the Gaza Strip, the Israel Defense Forces says.

An IDF statement says the drone was near the border fence but doesn’t specify if it entered Israeli airspace.

Netanyahu offers Gantz new proposal to join ‘broad unity goverment’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is extending a new proposal to Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz to join a “broad national unity government” that includes the premier’s Likud and his religious allies.

A Likud statement says the proposal calls for swiftly approving a multi-year defense plan in light of “growing security challenges”; agreeing on a deficit target and changing “budgetary priorities” to fund increased defense spending; formulating an agreement on “critical social needs” to be funded by the state; preserving the status quo on matters of religion and state for a year; as well as Netanyahu and Gantz presenting a “joint position” on US President Donald Trump’s peace plan and annexing the Jordan Valley.

Netanyahu releases a video statement saying he called Gantz to discuss the proposal.

“This is the only government that is possible to form now and the only government that must be formed now,” he says.

“All Israeli citizens are looking around and seeing how the Middle East is changing in front of our eyes — for the worse,” Netanyahu continues. “Whoever needs to know also knows that the security challenges are growing; they’re not waiting for us.”

Saudi Arabia, Palestinians agree to form joint business council

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia and the Palestinians agree to establish a joint economic committee and a business council, as the Palestinian Authority faces a financing gap that could top $1.8 billion.

Mahmoud Abbas’s PA has been in deep financial crisis since February when Israel decided to deduct around $10 million a month from the $190 million in tax and customs revenues it collects on behalf of the PA — to offset the sum the PA pays Palestinian terrorists and security prisoners in Israeli jails and their families — prompting the Palestinians to refuse to take any of the funds at all.

His administration then had to impose austerity measures, cutting almost half the salaries of PA employees.

Abbas, who arrived in Riyadh yesterday, met with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

It adds that the leaders reached “an agreement on the establishment of a joint economic committee and on a Saudi-Palestinian business council.”

The report doesn’t elaborate further.

The announcement came days after Saudi Arabia’s soccer team played Palestine in the West Bank for the first time on Tuesday, with the Saudi side having previously refused to enter the territory as part of its boycott of Israel.

Israel collects the around $190 million a month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through its ports, and then transfers the money to the PA.

In February, Israel decided to deduct around $10 million a month from the revenues — the sum the PA pays Palestinian terrorists in Israeli jails or their families — prompting the Palestinians to refuse to take any funds at all.

— with AFP

Blue and White officials on Netanyahu offer: He wants to avoid blame for new elections

Blue and White officials are dismissing Prime Minister Netanyahu’s latest offer for the centrist party to join a “broad national unity government” that includes his Likud and religious allies.

“Netanyahu is already deep in the [third] election campaign. He’s trying to take away the blame from himself for an election campaign that we’re only setting out on because of him,” the officials are quoted saying by the Ynet news site.

3 Palestinians nabbed in West Bank with explosives — Border Police

Israeli security forces have arrested three Palestinians in the West Bank for suspected terror actives, Border Police say.

The three were arrested this week in Beit Liqya, a town near Ramallah, and were in possession of explosive devices, according to a Border Police statement.

Border Police say the explosives were likely to be used for “terror purposes.”

Their remand is extended by 12 days by the Ofer Military Court.

Marchers descend on Jerusalem for 64th Sukkot march

Israelis and supporters of the Jewish state from all over the world are marching in Jerusalem to mark the Sukkot holiday.

Tens of thousands of people are taking part in the Jerusalem March, now in its 64th year, and numerous streets in the center of the city are closed off for the event.

Marchers from dozens of countries wave their national flags, among them Ghana, Brazil, China, Bulgaria and the Philippines.

Pence, Pompeo arrive for Erdogan meetings

ANKARA, Turkey — A senior US delegation arrives for meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on an improbable mission to push for a ceasefire in Northern Syria.

Armored SUVs carrying US Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien entered the vast Turkish presidency complex in Ankara to meet with Erdogan.

The White House says Pence was greeted by his Turkish counterpart before entering a one-on-one meeting with Erdogan. US special envoy for Syria Ambassador James Jeffrey is serving as the American translator. A second meeting with the full delegations was to take place later this afternoon.

The US officials are expected to warn Erdogan that he will face additional economic sanctions if he doesn’t halt his assault on Kurdish forces once allied with the US in the fight against the Islamic State group.

— AP

Gantz turns down Netanyahu offer, calls for ‘liberal unity government’

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz turns down Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal to form a government.

“Today I received an offer that is impossible to not refuse,” Gantz tweets.

“We’ll wait to receive the mandate from the president and we’ll start serious negotiations on forming a liberal unity government that will lead to a change and return hope to Israeli citizens,” he adds.

In a statement, Blue and White says the behavior of the “outgoing prime minister” shows his interest is “not unity but immunity.”

“He [Netanyahu] is unprepared to recognize that most Israeli citizens voted for a liberal unity government, without extremists,” the centrist party says.

“We call on Netanyahu to return the mandate to the president and enable the Blue and White chairman [Gantz] to lead the formation of a government that will fix the security and economic problems the current government created.”

Likud: Gantz a ‘serial refuser,’ giving into ‘dictates’ of Lapid, Liberman

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party brands Blue and White chief Benny Gantz a “serial refuser” for rejecting the premier’s latest offer to form a government.

“Gantz again surrendered to the dictates of [Blue and White No. 2 Yair] Lapid and [Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor] Liberman and became a serial refuser who is preventing the formation of a national unity government,” Likud says in a statement.

“Gantz refused the president’s proposal, refused to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu, refused a meeting of the negotiating teams and is now refusing the compromise proposal of the prime minister.”

Likud goes on to claim: “Lapid-Liberman and Gantz are leading to a minority government that relies on the Arab parties and when they also don’t succeed with this they’ll bring down the country to new elections.”

300,000 displaced in Turkish assault on northeast Syria — monitor

BEIRUT — Turkey’s week-old offensive against Kurdish-controlled areas of northeastern Syria has displaced more than 300,000 people, a war monitor says.

“More than 300,000 civilians have been displaced since the start of the offensive,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, says.

He says the jump in the number of people forced to flee was due to a fresh wave of displacement over the past few days from areas around Tal Abyad and Kobane and in Hasakeh province.

Most displaced people tried to move in with relatives in safer areas, some were sleeping rough in orchards and others in some of the 40 schools that have been turned into emergency shelters, Abdel Rahman says.

Turkey and its Syrian proxies launched a broad assault on Kurdish-controlled areas on October 9, after US troops pulled back from the border and started withdrawing from the northeast altogether.

Dozens of civilians — mostly on the Kurdish side — have been killed since the start of the offensive, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has refused to halt despite mounting international pressure.

— AFP

Displaced Syrians sit in the back of a pickup truck as Arab and Kurdish civilians flee amid Turkey’s military assault on Kurdish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria, on October 11, 2019, in the town of Tal Tamr in the countryside of Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province. (Delil Souleiman/AFP)

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg pledges $2.5 million to ADL

Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer at Facebook, has pledged $2.5 million to the Anti-Defamation League to support anti-hate programs in Europe and the United States.

Sandberg announces the gift in a post on Facebook — where else? — though she did not specify the amount. An ADL statement released minutes later says it would be $2.5 million.

In her post, Sandberg says she was making the contribution in honor of her parents’ 75th birthday and had been inspired to support the ADL following the shooting last week outside a synagogue in Germany.

“A week ago, on Yom Kippur – the holiest day of the Jewish year – I was sitting in synagogue, thinking about how, earlier that day, a gunman showed up at a synagogue in Germany, hoping to kill as many Jews as he could,” Sandberg writes. “He knew the temple would be full because of the holiday. In the end, a locked door kept him out, but he still managed to kill two people outside. Sitting in temple that day, I knew what my parents’ birthday present should be.”

The ADL’s national director, Jonathan Greenblatt, says the gift comes at a “critical juncture in the fight against bigotry.”

Sandberg’s post also mentioned her parents’ “horror” at rising anti-Semitism in the United States and elsewhere, including at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. She also notes a recent family trip to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance center in Jerusalem, as a “powerful reminder of where this hate can lead.”

— JTA

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on ‘Foreign Influence Operations and Their Use of Social Media Platforms’ on Capitol Hill, Washington, on September 5, 2018. (AP/Jose Luis Magana)

Epstein-linked French modeling agent accused of harassment

PARIS — A woman has filed a legal complaint in Paris accusing a French modeling agent who was close to disgraced US financier Jeffrey Epstein of sexual harassment.

The Paris prosecutor’s office says the woman is being questioned by investigators about her complaint against modeling agent Jean-Luc Brunel. The prosecutor’s office doesn’t release her identity.

The complaint is being investigated as part of a broad French probe into alleged sexual exploitation of women and girls by Epstein and his circle. Seven other women who have identified themselves as victims have spoken to police so far since the French probe was opened in August, the prosecutor’s office said.

Brunel is considered central to the French investigation because he was a frequent companion of Epstein, who killed himself August 10 in a Manhattan jail while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges.

French police searched the Paris offices of Brunel’s agency, Karin Models, last month. Epstein traveled often to France and had apartments in Paris.

Brunel’s lawyer said earlier this month that he contests accusations against him in the media, but that he’s available to talk to judicial officials. His whereabouts are unknown.

French police appealed last month for victims and witnesses to come forward to help their investigation into the alleged rape of minors and other possible charges linked to the Epstein case. The aim is to uncover any infractions in France as well as on any French victims abroad and to determine whether any French citizens were linked to crimes.

Numerous women in the United States allege they were sexually abused by Epstein, who had denied all charges against him.

— AP

Likud minister: Gantz not really looking to be PM, just wants Netanyahu’s head

After Benny Gantz rejects Prime Minister Netanyahu’s proposal to form a government, a Likud minister says the Blue and White party leader’s aim is not really to be premier.

“Gantz doesn’t really want to be prime minister. All he wants is Netanyahu’s head,” Ofir Akunis is quoted saying by the Knesset Channel at a Sukkot event.

“It is becoming clearer that Gantz and his party want to liquidate the idea of unity and bring Israel into a third election campaign,” he adds.

Science Minister Ofir Akunis arrives for a Likud party meeting in Jerusalem on May 28, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

EU leaders endorse Brexit deal, send to UK

BRUSSELS — European leaders have unanimously endorsed the Brexit deal, formally sending it to the British Parliament for ratification.

The European Council president’s office announces in a tweet that the leaders had endorsed a statement on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

The leaders invite the EU’s institutions to take steps to ensure the agreement can start on November 1, but emphasize that they want “as close as possible a partnership with the United Kingdom in the future.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to take the country out of the EU on October 31 and said Thursday’s agreement means no new delay is necessary.

He still needs parliament to agree, though, and a previous deal was rejected three times. His political rivals and some crucial allies have said they won’t back this latest agreement, putting its future in doubt.

— AP

US Senate to weigh bipartisan sanctions bill on Turkey

WASHINGTON — A key Republican ally of Donald Trump was to introduce tough sanctions against Turkey in the US Senate today, joining Democratic lawmakers in a sign of the bipartisan fury sparked by the US president’s abrupt decision to pull American troops out of Syria.

The Turkey Sanctions Bill is being presented in the Republican-majority Senate a day after the House of Representatives overwhelmingly condemned the withdrawal, rebuking the White House in a rare show of cross-party unity.

A total of 129 members of Trump’s Republican Party joined Democrats as the House voted 354-60 to denounce the pullout of US troops from northern Syria, which paved the way for a Turkish offensive against Kurdish militants.

While the House resolution just expressed disapproval, the bill being introduced in the Senate by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen has actual teeth, imposing wide-ranging mandatory sanctions on Turkey.

It imposes sanctions on the US assets of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and several members of his cabinet including the ministers of defense, foreign affairs and treasury.

It bans sales of American equipment to the Turkish military and threatens sanctions against any foreign company or individual selling weaponry to the Turkish armed forces.

Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell expressed support for the Senate sanctions bill, which could be vetoed by Trump if it reaches his desk, but has not set a date for a vote.

— AFP

Israel slams election of Venezuela, Libya to UN rights council

Venezuela wins a contested election for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council despite a campaign by over 50 organizations and many countries opposed to Nicolas Maduro’s government and its rights record.

There is scattered applause in the General Assembly chamber as its president announced the results of the voting for two Latin American seats. Brazil topped the ballot with 153 votes followed by Venezuela with 105 votes and late entry Costa Rica with 96 votes.

The 193-member world body elected 14 members to the 47-member Human Rights Council for three-year terms starting January 1. Under its rules, seats are allocated to regions to ensure geographical representation.

Africa had four countries on the ballot —Benin, Libya, Mauritania and Sudan — for four seats. But when General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande announces the results the winners were Namibia, Libya, Mauritania and Sudan, with Benin getting just one vote.

Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, slams the election of Venezuela and Libya to the body.

“The Human Rights Council continues to abandon human rights and is now in the business of protecting dictators and war crimes. In Venezuela, a dictator starves his people, and in Libya there are camps that torture African migrants,” he says in a statement.

“These countries are added to the Council’s ‘moral leadership,’ as the body no longer hides its obsessive hostility to Israel, and legitimizes those who blatantly violate and act against its original mandate,” he adds.

— with AP

Kushner to visit Israel this month, meet with Gantz for first time — report

White House senior adviser and the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner will visit Israel later this month and hold his first official meeting with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, Channel 13 reports.

Kushner, who will reportedly be accompanied by new US peace envoy Avi Berkowitz and special envoy for Iran Brian Hook, is also expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The report doesn’t specify when Kushner will visit but says he’ll arrive after October 24, the deadline Netanyahu has to form a new government. President Reuven Rivlin is widely expected to then give the mandate for assembling a coalition to Gantz.

Quoting Israeli officials, the network says Kushner’s visit will likely be aimed at taking the political temperature in Israel and assessing the chances of forming a government, with the Trump administration having said it won’t release its peace plan until there’s a new coalition in Israel.

Pence-Erdogan meeting stretches to 4 hours

ANKARA, Turkey — US Vice President Mike Pence’s meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stretches to more than four hours, as he presses the NATO ally to agree to a ceasefire in Northern Syria.

Pence’s office says talks between the US and Turkish delegations were continuing inside Turkey’s presidency complex more than two hours past their scheduled conclusion. It is not immediately clear if there is any movement toward a ceasefire or other developments from the discussions.

Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House are to hold a press conference when the meetings wrap up.

— AP

Trump announces ‘great news’ as Pence, Erdogan meeting wraps up

US President Donald Trump says there is “great news out of Turkey” as Vice President Mike Pence finishes his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Ankara on halting Ankara’s military offensive in Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.

Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire in Syria

ANKARA, Turkey — US Vice President Mike Pence says that Turkey has agreed to a ceasefire in Syria.

Pence speaks after a high-level delegation of US officials met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, Turkey.

Pence says there will “a pause in military operations for 120 hours” to allow the US-allied Syrian Kurds to withdraw.

The vice president says the US and Turkey have “mutually committed to peaceful resolution and future for the safe zone.”

— AP

Turkish FM confirms suspension of Syria offensive

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey confirmed suspension of its offensive in Syria until Kurdish militants withdraw from the area, the foreign minister says.

“We are suspending the operation, not halting it,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tells journalists in Ankara. “We will halt the operation only after [Kurdish militants] completely withdraw from the region.”

— AFP

Trump hails suspension of Turkish offensive in Syria, credits ‘tough’ love

US President Donald Trump is hailing Turkey’s suspension of its offensive on Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria, which was announced after Vice President Mike Pence met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara.

In a series of tweets, Trump says the agreement couldn’t have been reached a few days ago, crediting “tough” love for making it happen.

He says “this is a great day for civilization” and that because of the ceasefire, “millions of lives will be saved.”

After meeting Erdogan, Pence said Turkey agreed to halt its incursion for five days to allow US-allied Kurdish fighters to withdraw. He also said the US would remove recently imposed sanctions on Turkey when a permanent ceasefire is reached.

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Trump announces ‘great news’ as Pence, Erdogan meeting wraps up

US President Donald Trump says there is “great news out of Turkey” as Vice President Mike Pence finishes his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Ankara on halting Ankara’s military offensive in Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.