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Thousands protest in Tel Aviv, elsewhere over suspected gang rape of 16-year-old

Owner of Eilat hotel says no evidence alleged assault by 30 men took place there until proven otherwise, stresses she’s cooperating with police

Israelis take part in a demonstration in support of the 16-year-old girl who says she was gang raped in Eilat, in Jerusalem on August 20, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/flash90)
Israelis take part in a demonstration in support of the 16-year-old girl who says she was gang raped in Eilat, in Jerusalem on August 20, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/flash90)

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

Iran says it seized UAE boat over shooting of fishermen

Iran says it seized a United Arab Emirates vessel and summoned the UAE envoy after two of its fishermen were shot dead in an incident in the Gulf.

The foreign ministry says the boat was seized on Monday after UAE coastguard vessels “opened fired on several Iranian fishing boats… leading to the deaths of two fishermen,” adding that it had summoned the UAE charge d’affaires to protest.

— AFP

Gaza fire balloons spark 16 blazes in south

Balloon-borne incendiary devices launched from the Gaza Strip have sparked 16 fires in the south since the morning, according to the Fire and Rescue Service.

A statement from the fire service says most of the blazes were small and didn’t pose any danger.

WHO seeks more information about Russian COVID-19 vaccine

LONDON — The World Health Organization’s Europe office says it has begun discussions with Russia to try to get more information about the coronavirus vaccine that Russia approved last week before the shot had passed the advanced trials normally required to prove it works.

Catherine Smallwood, a senior emergency official at WHO Europe, says “this concern that we have around safety and efficacy is not specifically for the Russia vaccine, it’s for all of the vaccines under development.”

She acknowledges WHO is taking an “accelerated approach” to try to speed development of coronavirus vaccines but says “it’s essential we don’t cut corners in safety or efficacy.”

Smallwood says WHO has begun “direct discussions” with Russia and that WHO officials have been sharing “the various steps and information that’s going to be required for WHO to take assessments.”

— AP

Police ready to clear anti-Netanyahu protest encampment ahead of rally by PM’s supporters

Police are gearing up to clear a protest encampment outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem ahead of a planned demonstration there this evening by the premier’s supporters.

The demonstrators, who have been calling for Netanyahu’s resignation due to his indictment on graft charges and handling of the coronavirus pandemic, are rejecting the police’s conditions for clearing the site and say they don’t intend to leave without a struggle, according to the Haaretz daily.

Talks between the sides to reach an agreement are reportedly ongoing.

Regular protests against Netanyahu have been held over the past few months outside the Prime Minister’s Residence, with turnout usually highest on Saturday evenings.

Several anti-Netanyahu protesters chain themselves to fence outside PM’s residence

Eight protesters calling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign have chained themselves to a fence outside his official residence in Jerusalem.

The police have said that thousands of pro-Netanyahu demonstrators will gather in central Jerusalem this afternoon. They have asked protesters in an anti-Netanyahu encampment to leave, which they are refusing to do, or be removed by force.

Former Shin Bet director Carmi Gilon, who joined the anti-Netanyahu protest today, says he is willing to be arrested, rather than allow the encampment to be dispersed.

— Aaron Boxerman

Video shows new laser system intercepting Gaza fire balloon

Border Police release video of the new “Lahav Or” laser system intercepting balloon-borne incendiary objects launched toward Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Yesterday, the system shot down 32 balloons carrying incendiary and explosive objects. A Border Police source is quoted saying by the Kan public broadcaster that the system has a 90 percent interception rate.

Ex-Shin Bet chief, former general handcuff themselves to fence outside PM’s residence

Police have begun removing anti-Netanyahu protesters outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem by force, so that a demonstration of right-wing Netanyahu supporters can be held there later today. Some of the protesters appear to have been detained.

Police say they have closed down parts of Gaza, Arlozorov, and Keren HaYesod Streets, as well as Paris Circle, so that the pro-Netanyahu demonstration can take place. Agron and King George Streets are also expected to be closed, as the number of demonstrators grows, into the evening.

Former Shin Bet director Carmi Gilon has handcuffed himself next to retired Brigadier General Amir Haskel, and both of them are refusing to leave.

“We tried to speak to police, we listened to each other, but there was no progress,” Gilon tells The Times of Israel. “I’m willing to be arrested to protect my right to protest, which is a sacred right in my eyes.”

Amir Haskel tells The Times of Israel that police previously told them that they would not have to leave so that the pro-Netanyahu protest could take place. Haskel says it is a double standard for the anti-Netanyahu protesters to be removed when a similar pro-Netanyahu protest encampment there had never been asked to do so, during demonstrations against the prime minister.

“This is a clash of their right to protest versus our right to protest. It’s their right, just like ours,” Haskel says. “We’ve been protesting here for more than two months. Have we ever asked the [pro-Netanyahu protesters] to remove their tent here?”

In a statement, Jerusalem police say they are not “evacuating” the anti-Netanyahu protest tent, but merely “moving it several meters away so that the other protest could take place.” Police say they informed protesters that the anti-Netanyahu protest tent could be rebuilt as soon as the demonstrators supporting the prime minister leave.

“The decisions of the Israel Police are purely professional. They are intended to maintain the security of the protesters ,and to prevent friction between the parties as much as possible,” police say.

— Aaron Boxerman

Prosecutors to ask High Court to review ruling barring demolition of accused soldier killer’s home

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit instructs prosecutors to prepare to file a request that the High Court of Justice to hold another hearing on its decision to bar the military from demolishing home of a Palestinian man charged with killing an Israeli soldier.

A statement from the Justice Ministry says that the request will be filed with the High Court in the coming days.

The court earlier this month forbade the Israel Defense Forces from demolishing the home of Nazmi Abu Bakr, who is accused of killing 21-year-old Sgt. First Class Amit Ben-Ygal by throwing a brick at him, as the soldier took part in an operation in the West Bank village of Yabed.

The decision to seek another hearing comes after politicians and Ben-Ygal’s family slammed the ruling.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz hails the decision by Mandelblit.

“Demolishing homes as a deterrent is an important tool in the war against terror and I hope the High Court will approve the request and adopt the stance of the security establishment,” Gantz tweets.

Border cop moderately wounded in Jerusalem Old City stabbing released from hospital

The border guard who was moderately wounded in a stabbing attack earlier this week is being released from the surgical ward where he was treated in Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus, the hospital says.

“The guard’s condition is good. He is recovering from his injury and it seems like he’ll be able to make a full return to action shortly,” the hospital says.

The Border Police officer was stabbed in the chest in the attack in the capital’s Old City on Monday night. His assailant was shot dead at the scene.

— Judah Ari Gross

Rivlin phones coalition chiefs in effort to prevent fresh elections

President Reuven Rivlin has spoken in recent days with coalition party leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, with the goal of preventing additional elections, the President’s Residence says.

Rivlin met Netanyahu and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party leader Yaakov Litzman, and spoke on the phone with Gantz, Shas leader Aryeh Deri, and UTJ No. 2 Moshe Gafni, according to the statement.

He told the politicians that “it is unthinkable that the issue of approving the state budget will lead us to a fourth election.”

“Even though respecting agreements is important, if approving the budget is indeed the only obstacle on the way to preventing elections, all coalition heads must compromise in a way that enables its passage,” Rivlin is quoted saying.

“The public’s trust in its elected officials will hit an extreme low in the case of another election,” the president adds. “After three election cycles in less than a year, we, the citizens, feel deceived and fearful.

“If we are doomed to go to another election, we must make sure that we go to them with full transparency, with the public understanding the exact reason. We must not allow the budget to be the reason,” Rivlin says, apparently alluding to widespread suspicions that Netanyahu is interested in elections to avoid having to hand over the premiership to Gantz in November 2021.

Ex-Shin Bet chief, former general forcibly removed from protest at PM’s residence

Police have forcibly removed former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gillon and retired air force general Amir Haskel, as they clear an anti-Netanyahu protest encampment outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.

Manchester suicide bomber’s brother sentenced to life in prison

LONDON — The brother of a suicide bomber who killed 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert in the British city of Manchester is jailed for life for playing an “integral part” in the attack.

Hashem Abedi, 23, was convicted of murder, attempted murder and conspiring to cause explosions at a trial that ended in March, after one of the worst terror attacks on British soil.

The Islamic State jihadist group-inspired bombing, carried out by his 22-year-old brother Salman, detonated among crowds of mostly young people leaving the concert at the Manchester Arena.

The youngest victim was aged just eight. Others included parents who had come to pick up their children.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson calls the attack in northwestern England a “horrifying and cowardly act of violence which targeted children and families.”

“Those who were taken from us will never be forgotten, nor will the spirit of the people of Manchester who came together to send a clear message to the entire world that terrorists will never prevail,” he adds in a statement.

In court, judge Jeremy Baker says Abedi would spend a minimum of 55 years in prison for playing an “integral part” in the preparation of the pre-mediated attack.

But he says Abedi could not be given a whole-life term — ensuring he would never be released — because he was aged under 21 at the time of the offenses.

— AFP

Emirati minister: Israel-UAE deal will make it easier to buy F-35s from US

Anwar Gargash, the Emirati minister of state for foreign affairs, says the pending agreement between Israel and the UAE to normalize diplomatic ties will make it easier for Abu Dhabi to acquire F-35 stealth fighters from the United States.

“The F-35, the UAE has already indicated that it wants the F-35 six years ago. It’s already on the table. We have legitimate requests that are there, and we ought to get them. This is not, in my opinion, we ought to get them and the whole idea of a state of belligerency or war with Israel, so I think it should actually be easier. But the F-35, as I’ve said, is a request that we made six years ago,” Gargash says in an interview with the Washington-based Atlantic Council.

— Aaron Boxerman

Ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon arrested in fraud scam

NEW YORK — Former White House adviser Steve Bannon is arrested on charges that he and three others ripped off donors to an online fundraising scheme “We Build The Wall.”

The charges are contained in an indictment unsealed in Manhattan federal court.

Federal prosecutors allege that Bannon and three others “orchestrated a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors” in connection with an online crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $25 million to build a wall along the southern border of the United States.

A phone at the office of Bannon’s lawyer went unanswered this morning. A spokeswoman for Bannon doesn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

— AP

Belgium shocked by police brutality footage, which shows cop doing Nazi salute

BRUSSELS –Belgium is in shock after a video emerges showing a Slovak man being violently pinned down by airport police officers in images that recalled the fate of George Floyd in the US.

The CCTV images, seen by AFP, date to February 2018, when Jozef Chovanec was taken off a plane in Charleroi, Belgium, after refusing to show his ticket as he boarded.

Chovanec, who died in the wake of the incident, was taken to a holding cell where he is seen in harrowing footage banging his head against the wall until his face bleeds heavily.

Several police officers are later seen entering the room to handcuff Chovanec. When this fails to calm him, they return to hold him down, with one sitting on his chest for 16 minutes.

During this particularly shocking sequence, a female officer is seen in the cell dancing and making a Nazi salute.

Chovanec was afterwards taken to hospital where he died the next day, officially of a heart attack.

According to her legal team, widow Henrieta Chovancova chose to make the video public against their advice as she had grown frustrated with the investigation, which has dragged on for two years.

“Our client wanted to show these images to the world because she has no faith in the criminal investigation,” says Lennert Dierickx, a member of the legal team that is led by Ann Van De Steen.

“She felt the case was not being taken seriously,” he adds.

Chovanec’s death has been likened to the case of George Floyd, who died in May after a police officer knelt on his neck during his arrest in the United States.

“I am just sad,” widow Chovancova tells De Morgen newspaper.

“It makes me feel even more that they tried to sweep my husband’s death under the rug, as if he were garbage that had to disappear,” she says.

The video was first reported by Het Laatse Nieuws, a Belgian daily.

— AFP

Lapid on forcible removal of protesters from PM’s residence: ‘We’re in a war for a democracy’

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid comments on the forcible removal of anti-Netanyahu demonstrators from a protest encampment outside the Prime Minister’s Residence ahead of a rally there this evening by supporters of the premier.

“It begins with clearing the protest without any logical claim and continues with the forcible clearance of a Knesset member, former Shin Bet head and Brig. Gen. Amir Haskel. All this so Bibi can bring a few guys to applaud him. We’re in a war for a democracy,” Lapid tweets.

Lapid is referring to MK Yorai Lahav Hertzanu of his Yesh Atid party, former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gillon, and Haskel, all of whom were forcibly removed from the encampment.

Likud minister rebukes cops for forcibly removing Yesh Atid MK from anti-Netanyahu protest

A minister from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party rebukes police for forcibly removing an opposition lawmaker from a protest encampment outside the premier’s official residence in Jerusalem.

“I have a deep ideological disagreement with MK [Yorai Lahav Hertzanu] and his [Yesh Atid] party and of course I have no sympathy for the protests at Balfour. But there’s no place for behavior like this by the Israel Police toward a Knesset member and is completely contrary to the immunity of Knesset members,” Ze’ev Elkin writes on Twitter.

Police form special detail to investigate alleged gang rape of 16-year-old in Eilat

Police have formed a special investigate detail to probe an alleged gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in Eilat by 30 men.

A police statement says Deputy Commissioner Yoram Sofer, commander of the southern district, held a situational assessment with the detail.

A pair of suspects in their late 20s from the northern city of Hadera have so far been arrested.

According to Channel 12 news, one of the suspects denied involvement.

Pompeo due at UN to trigger Iran sanctions ‘snapback’

UNITED NATIONS — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travels to the UN today to activate a controversial mechanism aimed at reimposing international sanctions on Iran, in a disputed move that threatens the Iranian nuclear deal.

Pompeo will tell the Security Council president, currently Indonesia, at a 2:00 p.m. local time (9 p.m. Israel Time), that the US is triggering the so-called “snapback” procedure, which its European allies are set to contest.

The move widens the gulf between the US and the other permanent members of the Security Council on Iran policy, which began when President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord with Tehran in 2018.

The procedure, never before used, comes after the US suffered a humiliating defeat at the Security Council last week when it failed to muster support for a resolution to extend a conventional arms embargo on Iran.

The snapback aims to restore all international sanctions against Iran that were lifted as part of the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran in exchange for it agreeing not to develop nuclear weapons.

But it also threatens to torpedo that historic deal, which Britain, France and Germany — along with Russia and China — are trying to save.

Pompeo will also discuss the move with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at Guterres’ residence in New York during a meeting at 2:30 pm.

America’s top diplomat is then due to brief press at the UN at 3:30 pm.

— AFP

Netanahu: ‘Great effort’ being made to avoid renewed lockdown

Prime Minister Netanyahu again says the government is seeking to avoid reimposing a lockdown to contain the coronavirus, as ministers convene to discuss whether to put in place strict restrictions over the High Holidays.

“There’s definitely a great effort to avoid this to continue with the rehabilitation of the economy,” Netanyahu says at the start of a meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet, according to the Ynet news site. “This will definitely be tied to the morbidity situation.”

He also repeats his call to prevent new elections, which could be triggered if an agreement isn’t reached between his Likud party and Blue and White before the Monday night deadline to pass a budget.

“It’s important we do everything to prevent [new] elections and continue onward,” Netanyahu says.

Israeli envoy warns of ‘fatal blow’ to UN Security Council if US ‘snapback’ demand not obeyed

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s new ambassador to the United Nations, issues a statement backing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s expected demand to trigger “snapback” sanctions on Iran when he visits UN headquarters later today.

“If Security Council members don’t obey the sanctions that will be activated, it will be a fatal blow that will destroy the ability of the council to function and protect world peace and security,” Erdan says.

He adds: “The international community must obey the sanctions that will be brought back and not pave the way to a nuclear weapon for Iran’s murderous regime.”

Trump says Bannon’s arrest a ‘very sad thing’

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump denies any knowledge of an allegedly fraudulent fundraising campaign run by his arrested former aide Steve Bannon.

“Don’t know anything about the project at all,” Trump tells reporters in the Oval Office at the White House.

He says he feels “very badly” and that it is a “very sad thing.”

Bannon, a key player in Trump’s 2016 election victory and a godfather of the Trump administration’s nationalist ideology, is accused of defrauding people who donated to a $25 million fund supposedly for building a wall on the US-Mexican border.

Trump says he is out of touch with Bannon and “haven’t been dealing with him for a very long period of time, haven’t been dealing with him at all.”

— AFP

Trump hosts Iraqi PM at White House for talks on Iran, Islamic State

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump and the prime minister of Iraq meet today to discuss ways to confront Iranian aggression in the region, threats from Islamic State sleeper cells and the president’s desire to shrink the US military’s footprint in the country.

There are more than 5,000 American troops in Iraq now. Last month, the top US general for the Middle East said he believed the US will keep a smaller but enduring presence in the country. Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command, said after he met with Iraq’s new prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, that he believes the Iraqis welcome the US and coalition troops, especially in the ongoing fight to keep IS fighters from taking hold of the country again.

McKenzie would not say how many US troops might stay. But he said Iraqi conventional forces now operate on their own. US and coalition forces continue to conduct training and counterterrorism operations, including with Iraqi commandos. Any final decisions, he said, would be coordinated with the Iraqi government.

Al-Kadhimi, who is backed by the United States, assumed office in May when Baghdad’s relations with Washington were precarious, following the US killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike at the Baghdad airport.

Al-Kadhimi has often had to walk a tightrope due to the US-Iran rivalry. Asked if he was bringing any messages from Tehran following a recent visit there, al-Kadhimi told The Associated Press before he left for Washington: “We do not play the role of postman in Iraq.”

The US recognizes the cultural and religious ties that exist between Iran and Iraq, but the administration wants to decrease Iran’s destabilizing influence, often exercised by pro-Iranian militias, on the political and security establishments in Iraq.

— AP

Ministers said to push off vote on virus czar’s proposal for fighting pandemic

A vote on coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu’s proposal for containing the COVID-19 pandemic is pushed off, following a tense meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet, Hebrew media reports say.

According to the Ynet news site, ultra-Orthodox ministers Aryeh Deri and Yaakov Litzman led opposition to the plan, claiming it would prevent prayers at synagogues.

Health Ministry reports 6 more virus deaths; number of cases since pandemic began rises to 99,201

The Health Ministry reports six more deaths from coronavirus, raising the national toll to 795.

According to ministry figures, 868 new cases have been recorded since midnight, bringing the number of infections since the start of the pandemic to 99,201.

Of the 23,870 active cases, there are 389 people in serious condition, with 114 on ventilators. Another 159 are in moderate condition and the rest have mild or no symptoms.

The ministry says 28,391 tests were performed yesterday.

Netanyahu to UAE Jewish leaders: I hope to visit you soon

Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks with leaders of the UAE’s Jewish community after Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed to normalize diplomatic ties.

“This peace is good for the State Israel, good for our people and good for all peoples of the region,” he tells them during a Zoom call. “I hope to visit you this year.”

His office releases a short video clip of the call, which was held in Hebrew.

Thousands protest in Tel Aviv, elsewhere over suspected gang rape of 16-year-old

Hundreds are protesting in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square and elsewhere across Israel following an alleged gang rape of a 16-year-old in Eilat by 30 men.

The protests are being held under the banner of “we won’t be silent anymore.”

Owner of hotel where alleged gang rape took place says no proof suspected assault occurred there

The owner of a hotel in Eilat where a 16-year-old girl was allegedly gang raped by some 30 men says there’s no proof the suspected assault took place at her establishment.

Pnina Maman tells Channel 12 news that she has handed over all of the hotel’s security camera footage to police and that it does not show any groupings of 30 people. Stressing that the hotel is cooperating with police, Maman says she has children of her own and that her heart goes out to the girl.

She also complains of “shaming” of the hotel in the wake of reports on the alleged rape.

Likud, Blue and White slightly more optimistic elections can be avoided — TV

Senior Likud and Blue and White officials are expressing slightly more optimism that an agreement will be reached to prevent new elections, Channel 12 news reports.

According to the network, the sides are holding negotiations in an effort to solve the coalition crisis and it appears there’s still a chance of reaching a deal.

The report also says Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud is keen on pushing off the Monday night deadline to pass a state budget and hasn’t made serious efforts to try to put together a government without Blue and White.

The report comes shortly after Likud said Netanyahu spoke by phone with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the leader of Blue and White.

“Israeli citizens [need] a functioning government that is working to save their lives and livelihoods. If you accept the compromise offer, we can avoid elections. Let’s do everything to solve this today,” a statement from Likud quotes Netanyahu as saying.

300 Netanyahu supporters hold rally outside PM’s residence

Some 300 supporters of Prime Minister Netanyahu are demonstrating outside his official residence in Jerusalem, where regular demonstrations against him have been taking place.

Police had approved a rally of up to 3,000 people.

Ahead of the rally, police forcibly cleared a sit-in of anti-Netanyahu protesters outside the Prime Minister’s Residence. Among those removed by police were former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gillon, retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Amir Haskel and Yesh Atid MK Yorai Lahav-Hertzanu, whom officers forcibly escorted from the area despite him telling them he is a legislator with immunity.

The removal of Lahav-Hertzanu was condemned by a number of lawmakers, including by Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, a Likud party ally of Netanyahu’s.

Levin wrote on Facebook that he spoke with Lahav-Hertzanu to express his “shock.”

“This is an incident that undermines the basic ability of a Knesset member to fulfill his role, something that must not be accepted in a democratic system,” Levin says.

Yesh Atid MK Yorai Lahav-Hertzanu is removed by police from an anti-Netanyahu protest outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, on August 20, 2020. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Germany welcomes Israeli Air Force for first joint exercise

NOERVENICH, Germany — Germany welcomes military aircraft from Israel into its airspace, in their first joint combat exercises in German territory, as both air forces praised the intensive cooperation between the two countries.

“It was very emotional for us when, one after the other, the first Israeli jets arrived here in German airspace,” a spokesman for the German Luftwaffe tells the German news agency dpa.

“Nowadays, we have a very intense partnership with the Israelis,” spokesman Thorsten Weber says. “We work closely together, we do exercises together, German soldiers are being trained in Israel.”

Israeli Air Force pilot Lt. Colonel O., who doesn’t give his full name in line with the military branch’s regulations, says that during the exercises he remembered the difficult past of Germans and Jews while also looking to the future.

During the Third Reich, Nazi Germany murdered 6 million European Jews and others in the Holocaust. Relations between Israel and Germany were difficult in the first decades after the end of the war, but have been growing closer together over the years.

“I think all of us are feeling it right in the heart, how deep the past is,” O. tells The Associated Press. “But we’re looking into the future and are happy for the opportunity of flying together.”

He adds that the cooperation of the two air forces was a good thing for both countries.

Nowadays, Germany is one of Israel’s staunchest supporters.

Still, most interactions between the two nations carry a deeper symbolic significance because of the horrors of the Holocaust, which ended 75 years ago when Germany surrendered in World War II.

— AP

US sanctions 6 senior Syrian government, financial officials

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announces new sanctions against six Syrian military, government and financial officials as part of ongoing efforts to prevent money from reaching Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

“We will continue pressure against the Assad regime to compel it to end its attacks against the Syrian people,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says, adding that the sanctions were timed to coincide with the seventh anniversary Friday of the Assad’s government’s chemical weapons attack in Ghouta that killed more than 1,400 Syrians.

The State Department sanctions Yasser Ibrahim, who is suspected of obstructing a political solution to the Syrian conflict and using his networks across the Middle East and beyond to cut deals to enrich Assad.

The US Treasury Department takes action against the Syrian presidential office and Syrian Ba’ath Party by targeting Luna al-Shibl, Assad’s presidential media adviser, and Mohamad Amar Saati, a senior Ba’ath party official. The US accuses the party official of facilitating the entry of university students into Assad-backed militias.

The military officials Fadi Saqr, Ghaith Dalah and Samer Ismail are also sanctioned.

In June, the Trump administration increased pressure on Assad, his wife, Asma, and his inner circle with new economic and travel penalties for human rights abuses and for blocking a settlement of the country’s bloody nine-year conflict. Last month, the State Department imposed sanctions on Assad’s eldest son, Hafez.

— AP

Several rockets reportedly fired toward Israel but land in Gaza

Several rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, but appear to land in the coastal enclave, according to Hebrew media reports.

The rockets don’t trigger warning sirens in any Israeli communities near Gaza.

Meretz MK urges Blue and White to ditch Netanyahu, claims enough support for alternative government

With possible new elections looming, Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg calls on the coalition’s Blue and White party to ditch Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and form an alternative government, claiming there’s a majority in the Knesset to do so.

“The center-left bloc has a majority [of] 61 in the current Knesset. All that needs to be done is for Blue and White to vote in favor of a constructive no-confidence [vote] on Monday… and there’s a government that will pass a budget and can deal with citizens and not with itself, without elections or racism,” she writes on Twitter.

Despite Zandberg’s assertion, there doesn’t appear to be a majority in the Knesset for the move, as Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel and MK Zvi Hauser of the Derech Eretz faction of Blue and White — whose support would be needed — have previously ruled out working with the majority-Arab Joint List party to form a government without Netanyahu.

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg attends a party conference in Tel Aviv, January 14, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
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WHO seeks more information about Russian COVID-19 vaccine

LONDON — The World Health Organization’s Europe office says it has begun discussions with Russia to try to get more information about the coronavirus vaccine that Russia approved last week before the shot had passed the advanced trials normally required to prove it works.

Catherine Smallwood, a senior emergency official at WHO Europe, says “this concern that we have around safety and efficacy is not specifically for the Russia vaccine, it’s for all of the vaccines under development.”

She acknowledges WHO is taking an “accelerated approach” to try to speed development of coronavirus vaccines but says “it’s essential we don’t cut corners in safety or efficacy.”

Smallwood says WHO has begun “direct discussions” with Russia and that WHO officials have been sharing “the various steps and information that’s going to be required for WHO to take assessments.”

— AP