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Alongside Abbas, Biden backs 2-state solution, but says ‘ground not ripe’ for talks

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The Times of Israel is liveblogging Friday’s events as they unfold.

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US President Joe Biden is visiting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus.

Biden, a devout Roman Catholic, stopped by the church Friday after meeting with Palestinian leaders in the ancient West Bank city. He shook hands with local officials before entering the historic basilica, held sacred by Christians of all denominations.

The White House said Biden’s visit was to “underscore support for Christians who face challenges across the region.”

Inside, he was to meet with church patriarchs and receive a tour of its mosaics and architecture.

The visit is Biden’s last stop on his three-day trip to Israel and the occupied West Bank before he flies to Saudi Arabia to meet with the kingdom’s leaders and Gulf allies.

Israel’s Transportation Ministry says it is working with Moroccan mediators to open the Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan 24 hours a day seven days a week.

US President Joe Biden was expected to announce moves aimed at easing Palestinians access to the crossing, the only conduit out of the West Bank that does not go into Israel.

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli and her staff “have been in contact with US, Palestinian and Moroccan representatives to open the Allenby crossing between Israel and Jordan around the clock, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” the ministry says in a statement.

Illustrative: An Israeli soldier stands at the entrance to the Allenby border crossing, the main border crossing for Palestinians from the West Bank traveling to neighboring Jordan and beyond, March 10, 2014. (Sebastian Scheiner/AP)

Talks progressed with Biden’s visit to the region this week, according to the ministry.

The statement says the moves will be implemented as soon as logistical arrangements, including recruiting more staff, are completed.

There is no immediate comment from morocco on the mediation.

JEDDAH — Watching the Biden-Abbas press conference from the press center at the Intercontinental Hotel in Jeddah, dozens of reporters let out a gasp of disappointment as the US president struggles to pronounce the name of their slain colleague, Shireen Abu Akleh.

Biden at first pronounces her name “al-Kae’a” and then “al-Kaylee.”

Speaking in Bethlehem alongside Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Biden said the US “will continue to insist on a full and transparent accounting of her death and will continue to stand up for media freedom everywhere in the world.”

Biden said Abu Akleh “was performing very vital work” when she was killed in May.

Biden, who has spoken of his troubles with stuttering and often trips over his own tongue, regularly makes verbal gaffes with even non-foreign sounding words or names, which most Americans have stopped making an issue out of.

ועכשיו גם כיסא ריק pic.twitter.com/6GHN5MWnKk

— Nurit Yohanan (@nurityohanan) July 15, 2022

US President Joe Biden laments the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh who died during a firefight between the Israeli army and Palestinian gunmen in May during his statement alongside Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.

Biden notes that Abu Akleh was “an American citizen and a proud Palestinian” and says she was performing “vital work” as a journalist and for democracy.

A photo of slain US-Palestinian Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh, with a caption in Arabic reading “Shireen Abu Akleh, the voice of Palestine,” is seen ahead of a joint press conference between the US and Palestinian Authority presidents in Bethlehem on July 15, 2022. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

Abu Akleh “was performing the very vital work of independent media and vital work of democracy; her death is an enormous loss to the essential work of sharing with the world the story of the Palestinian people. I hope her legacy will inspire more young people to carry on her work of reporting the truth and telling stories which are too often overlooked,” says the US president.

He says the US will “continue to insist on a full and transparent accounting of her death and will continue to stand up for media freedom everywhere in the world.”

US President Joe Biden refrains from recognizing East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, as the Palestinian Authority had been pushing for him to do in talks ahead of Mahmoud Abbas’s meeting with the US president, according to an official in Ramallah.

Biden instead suffices by saying “Jerusalem is central to the national visions of both Palestinians and Israelis — to your histories, to your faiths, to your futures.”

“Jerusalem must be a city for all its people” where the status quo is preserved at its holy sites where Jordan maintains a custodial role, Biden adds.

“Throughout this holy land filled with so many places of significance to Muslims, Christians and Jews, we must all be free to practice our faith.”

While he doesn’t recognize East Jerusalem, his support for the pre-1967 borders when that part of the city was not under Israeli control does appear to represent de facto backing for the Palestinian goal, though the PA had been hoping he would say so more explicitly.

US President Joe Biden calls for a two-state solution “along the pre-1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” for the first time as president, during a joint news conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem. He says this remains “the best way to achieve an equal measure of security, prosperity, freedom and democracy for the Palestinians as well as the Israelis.”

“The Palestinian people deserve a state of their own that’s independent, sovereign, viable and contiguous,” Biden says, in a notable differentiation from the Trump peace proposal, which offered Palestinians only a semi-contiguous state while allowing Israel to hold onto all its settlements. “Two states for two people, both of whom have deep and ancient roots in this land, living side by side in peace and security. Both states fully respecting equal rights of the others’  citizens. Both peoples enjoying equal measures of freedom and dignity.”

In rare comments by a US president regarding the plight of Palestinians, Biden says: “I know the goal of the two states seems so far away while indignities like restrictions on movement and travel or the daily worry of your children’s safety are real and immediate. The Palestinian people are hurting now. You can just feel it… There must be a political horizon.”

Biden says, however, that “the ground is not ripe at this moment to restart peace negotiations” between Israel and the Palestinians, but says his administration will continue to try to foster progress between the two sides.

He says the current warming of ties between Israel and other regional states can be utilized — “we can harness that same momentum to reinvigorate the peace process between the Palestinian people and the Israelis.”

Biden notes that Christians, Muslims and Jews have a deep, intense connection to this land, particularly Jerusalem, a city that “is central to the national vision of both Palestinians and Israelis, to your histories, to your faiths, to your futures.

“Jerusalem must be a city for all its people, its holy sites preserving the status quo,” he says, “with the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan continuing to serve as custodian… We must all be free to practice our faiths in peace, in safety and in dignity.”

Addressing urgent Palestinian needs, Biden announces that the US is allocating “an additional $200 million for the UNRWA” refugee agency, “so it can continue its vital work of helping the most vulnerable Palestinians, especially Palestinian children. Earlier today, he notes, he allocated an extra $100 million for healthcare services via the East Jerusalem Hospital Network.

He says he is also engaging with Israel on ways “to spur greater Palestinian economic growth, including by implementing 4G mobile networks, increasing the supply of renewable energy, improving freedom of movement for Palestinians, both people and goods” — to make life better for Palestinians “right away.”

He adds: “The Palestinian Authority has important work to do as well, if you don’t mind my saying” — “to improve governance, transparency and accountability… and unleash the incredible potential of the Palestinian people.” He urges Abbas to “combat corruption and advance rights and freedoms, improve community services.”

Such work will “help build a society that can support a successful democratic future and a future Palestinian state.

“The United States will work with you, President Abbas, at every step,” he promises. “I hope our visit is the start of a new and reinvigorated dialogue between the Palestinian Authority and the United States, and between the Palestinians and countries throughout the region, including Israel.”

He concludes: “Let’s show young people that the future can be better than it is today.”

At a press conference in Bethlehem with US President Joe Biden, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas calls for a two-state solution and greater efforts to establish a Palestinian state.

“We have expressed the importance of re-establishing the foundations of what the peace process was based on, the two-state solution on the 1967 borders,” Abbas says in Arabic simultaneously translated into English.

“After 74 of nakba, displacement and occupation, isn’t it time for the occupation to end, and for our steadfast people to again gain their freedom and independence?” Abbas asks, urging an end to “the Israeli occupation of our land — the land of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

The “key to securing peace in our region begins with the recognition of the State of Palestine,” Abbas adds.

Abbas says the Palestinians “want the US consulate to be reopened in East Jerusalem,” as well as the US to remove the PLO from the US terrorist list — “We are not terrorists,” he says — and to reopen the PLO office in Washington. “We are ready to work in a framework of partnership and cooperation to achieve that.”

Abbas protests what he says is Israel’s “racial discrimination and apartheid against our people,” urges an end to settlements and settler violence, and cites Israeli expulsion of Palestinians, demolitions of homes and “storming of cities.” He also calls on Israel to “respect the historical situation in the Islamic and Christian holy sites and the Hashemite custodianship.”

He also references the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, and calls for Israel to be “held accountable.”

Only with the establishment of a Palestinian state, he says, will “Israel be accepted to live in peace, security and good neighborhood with the countries of the region.”

“The opportunity for a two-state solution on the 1967 borders may only be available today, we don’t know what will happen in the future,” Abbas says. “I take this opportunity to say I extend my hand to the leaders of Israel to make peace,” on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative.

Journalists waiting for the press conference of US President Joe Biden and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to start in Bethlehem leave an empty chair for slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

A photo of Abu Akleh with the caption “Shireen Abu Akleh, the voice of Palestine,” is left on an empty chair.

Abu Akleh was shot dead in the West Bank in a volley of gunfire when covering an IDF raid in May during gunbattles between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen. Palestinians have accused Israel of killing her, while Israel has said it cannot draw a conclusive decision about her death. Palestinians have pressured Biden to speak out more forcefully on Abu Akleh’s death during his visit.

The State Department said last week that the prominent Al Jazeera journalist was likely shot from an Israeli position, but that there was no evidence the killing was intentional and that the bullet was too damaged for a conclusive finding.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier this week that he spoke with Abu Akleh’s family and invited them to visit Washington.

A German court sentences a former soldier to five and a half years in prison for plotting a far-right attack on senior politicians while posing as a Syrian refugee.

“The accused is guilty of planning a serious act of violence endangering the state,” presiding judge Christoph Koller says.

Defendant Franco Albrecht, a 33-year-old father of three, had been in the dock before the regional superior court in the western city of Frankfurt since May 2021.

The Bundeswehr lieutenant was found to have cited cabinet ministers, MPs and a prominent Jewish human rights activist among his potential targets.

Paul Urey, a British man captured by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine, has died in detention, Moscow-backed separatists say. 

“He died on July 10,” Darya Morozova, a representative of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, says on Telegram, adding that he had diabetes.

Non-governmental organizations describe Urey as a humanitarian who worked as an aid volunteer in Ukraine, while Moscow-backed separatists insist he was a “professional” soldier.

Iran says it is “more determined” to protect its own interests in negotiations to revive a nuclear deal following US President Joe Biden’s visit this week to Israel.

“Reaching a good, solid and lasting agreement is our goal… The puppet show of the White House and Zionism in the region makes us more determined,” Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian writes in a Twitter post.

Environment Minister Tamar Zandberg says she will be taking a break from political life and not running in the next election.

Zandberg, a lawmaker from Meretz who previously headed the party, says she is taking a break in order to “make room for others.”

Current Meretz chief Nitzan Horowitz announced recently that he will not run for reelection as the party head in its leadership primary but will work to remain an MK. Currently, the only candidate for the Meretz primary is MK Yair Golan.

US President Joe Biden arrives at the Muqata presidential compound in Bethlehem and is greeted with an honor guard and renditions of the US and Palestinian national anthems.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas welcomes Biden to the city and the two leaders have now begun their meeting.

Biden and Abbas will deliver joint statements following their discussion after which Biden will visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

JEDDAH — A senior Biden administration official suggests that the US is comfortable with Israel refusing to offer military aid to Ukraine.

“We encourage nations to support Ukraine in the best way they see fit,” the official says, briefing several reporters.

The US official says that for some countries that means providing only humanitarian aid and for others it means providing security assistance as well.

“Each nation has to decide on its own,” they say.

Israel has thus far refused to offer Ukraine offensive military equipment due to fears of burning a bridge with Russia, whose airspace it operates from in Syria to target Iranian proxies.

But while the US previously publicly called on Israel to ensure it does not become a haven for Russian oligarchs to evade sanctions, the Biden administration official refrains from issuing such a warning regarding military aid.

Israel has provided millions in humanitarian assistance, operated a field hospital to treat refugees and more recently began sending non-offensive military equipment such as helmets and flak jackets.

The Israeli Air Force wraps up a drill that took place over Romania’s skies during the past 10 days.

The exercise, dubbed Blue Sky, was aimed at training the IAF’s C-130 and C-130J heavy transport aircraft for flights in unfamiliar enemy territory at low altitudes, the military says.

“We met the objectives of the exercise, which centered on safe, professional, and accurate training, while flying over high terrain, in dynamic weather, in operational flight designations, and in unfamiliar territory,” says the commander of the IAF’s 131st Squadron, identified only as Lt. Col. G.

“This training drill constitutes a great addition to the IDF’s extensive training schedule and contributes to the operational readiness for all relevant theaters,” he adds.

US President Joe Biden says during a visit to Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem that Palestinians and Israelis “deserve equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity and dignity, and access to health care when you need it is essential to living a life of dignity for all of us.”

In the president’s speech, he praises nurses and other healthcare workers for providing care and hope to the sick, and announces a commitment of $100 million by the US to Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem.

“The US will continue to work with the Palestinian leadership and the government of Israel and all our international partners to ensure that East Jerusalem’s hospital network remains sustainable and available, and is able to provide high-quality care the Palestinian people deserve,” says Biden.

About two dozen pro-Palestinian demonstrators have gathered in East Jerusalem. The protesters are holding Palestinian flags and posters of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist who was killed in May while covering an Israeli military raid in the West Bank.

The demonstration is several hundred meters from the hospital Biden is visiting, with Israeli police standing at a distance outside the building. It is not clear if Biden’s motorcade will pass by the crowd.

US President Biden has arrived at Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem.

President Joe Biden in visit to Augusta Victoria Hospital in east Jerusalem remarks, “It’s my hope we’re reaching one of those moments when hope and history rhymes.” pic.twitter.com/BwpTwF0UCy

— Aamer Madhani (@AamerISmad) July 15, 2022

JEDDAH — The White House press corps has landed in Saudi Arabia ahead of US President Joe Biden’s arrival later today.

Biden is wrapping up a two-day trip in Israel and the West Bank before becoming the first US President to fly directly from Israel to Jeddah where he will hold bilateral meetings with the Saudi leadership shortly upon landing and participate on Saturday in an expanded summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council known as the GCC+3.

He will also hold bilateral meetings with the leaders of Iraq, Egypt and the UAE before flying back to the US on Saturday evening.

The weather in Jeddah is a balmy 96 degrees.

Prime Minister Lapid weighs in on Riydah’s opening of its airspace:

“After a long and clandestine process, and intensive diplomacy with Saudi Arabia and the US, we are waking this morning to happy news.”

Lapid hails Saudi leadership for “first step” and says the government “will continue to work on this with the required care; for the Israeli economy, Israeli security and Israeli people.”

He thanks Biden, who will depart today, “for his commitment to Israel’s military and diplomatic strength.”

In a new statement this morning, US President Joe Biden says Saudi Arabia’s “historic decision” to open its airspace to planes flying to and from Israel “is an important step towards building a more integrated and stable Middle East region.”

He says he will do “all that I can, through direct diplomacy and leader-to-leader engagement, to keep advancing this groundbreaking process.”

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli welcomes the Saudi decision to open its skies to Israeli overflights.

“This is another step toward good relations with countries of the Middle East,” she says.

Satellite photos and on-the-ground images reveal a sharp increase in burials in Russian-held areas of Ukraine, according to a new report.

The non-government Centre for Information Resilience analyzed images of burials in six areas — two of them previously held by Russian forces and the rest still under Moscow’s control in southern Ukraine.

“Makeshift burials and the growing number of graves around Ukraine, particularly in and around occupied areas, is a stark illustration of the civilian death toll following the Russian invasion,” says Benjamin Strick, director of investigations at CIR.

The US Secret Service, the law enforcement agency that protects the president, deleted agents’ text messages sent during the January 6 Capitol riot, a government watchdog says.

Joseph Cuffari, the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, tells Congress in a letter dated Wednesday that his office has had difficulties obtaining records from the Secret Service from January 5 and 6, 2021.

The messages could be crucial to the House of Representatives and Justice Department investigations into whether Donald Trump and his close advisors encouraged the deadly insurrection by the former president’s supporters at the US Capitol, which aimed to prevent the certification of Democratic rival Joe Biden as the winner of the November 2020 election.

Insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump breach the Capitol in Washington, Jan.6, 2021.  (John Minchillo/AP) 

On June 29 a former White House staffer told the House January 6 investigation that Trump had attempted to force the Secret Service to take him to the Capitol to join his supporters on that day.

“The Department notified us that many US Secret Service (USSS) text messages, from January 5 and 6, 2021, were erased as part of a device replacement program,” Cuffari writes in the letter first reported by The Intercept and later published by Politico.

US President Joe Biden will wrap up his visit to Israel this morning with a trip to East Jerusalem and the West Bank, before heading to Saudi Arabia.

At 10:30 a.m. Biden is expected at Augusta Victoria Hospital on East Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, where he will announce a $100 million funding package for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network that treats Palestinians.

He will then travel to Bethlehem to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem at 11:30 a.m. He is expected to announce alongside Abbas a package of steps aimed at strengthening the PA.

Biden will head back to Ben Gurion Airport for a 3:30 p.m. flight to Jeddah, though he may make a brief stop on the way at Bethlehem’s Church of Nativity, if time permits.

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