The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they happened.
Abbas: All states that recognize Israel should recognize Palestine
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas tells the French Senate that “the two-state solution requires that all states that recognize Israel also recognize Palestine as well.”
He warns that he may have to stop security coordination with Israel if it continues to build in West Bank settlements.
Abbas is in Paris on an official visit.
Syria says Amnesty’s report of mass hangings ‘untrue’
BEIRUT — Syria’s justice ministry on Wednesday rejects an Amnesty International report of mass hangings of as many as 13,000 people in a prison near Damascus, calling the allegations “totally untrue” and part of a smear campaign.
The ministry’s statement, published by Syria’s state-run news agency, comes a day after Amnesty releases its report, based on a year of research and interviews with 31 former detainees at the Saydnaya prison near Damascus and over 50 former guards, prison officials, judges and experts.
Amnesty’s report includes chilling details from witnesses who saw various stages of the killings, down to the actual implementation and last-minute wishes of the men hanged, most of whom were civilians.
In Damascus, the justice ministry says “misleading and inciting” media outlets carried the Amnesty report with the intention to smear the Syrian government’s reputation on the world stage — particularly after recent “military victories against terrorists groups.” The government refers to all armed opposition as “terrorists.”
Rights groups ask High Court to block law legalizing settlement homes
Two rights groups ask the High Court of Justice to overturn a new law retroactively legalizing several thousand West Bank settlement homes built illegally on privately owned Palestinian land.
Adalah and the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center appeal to the high court on Wednesday, asking it to block implementation of the bill passed in parliament this week that sets out to legalize dozens of settler outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land.
The measure sparked heavy criticism both in Israel and abroad, with critics saying it amounts to legalized land theft. They also said it’s legally problematic as it seeks to impose Israeli law on occupied land that’s not sovereign Israeli territory.
Proponents claim the communities, some decades old and home to thousands of people, were built in “good faith” and quietly backed by several Israeli governments.
Appeal against outpost law includes 17 Palestinian towns
The municipal governments of 17 Palestinian towns and villages join the appeal to the High Court of Justice against Israel’s Regulation Law passed Monday.
The law requires the retroactive seizure of private Palestinian land on which some 4,000 Israeli settlement homes were built illegally.
An appeal to overturn the law as unconstitutional is filed Wednesday by two legal aid organizations, Adalah and the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center.
Deputy foreign minister defends ‘justice’ of settlements law
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, an attorney by training, rejects the widespread criticism of the Regulation Law passed Monday in the Knesset.
“The settlement law that the Israeli parliament passed this week reflects a just legal principle,” she says in a statement Wednesday.
“The underlying premise behind the critics of Israel is that this is occupied Palestinian land. This premise is incorrect. Israel has both historic and legal rights to this land and the law reaches the right balance between the rights of the Jewish families to their homes and the right of the owners of these plots of land to get compensation. The legal principle of compensation is known in all Western legal systems. And this principle that Israel adopted this week creates the right justice between the Palestinians and the Jewish families.”
After 60 years, archaeologists find new Dead Sea cave, but no scrolls
In what they described as “one of the most exciting archaeological discoveries…in 60 years,” Hebrew University archaeologists say they have found a twelfth cave containing remnants of casings and jars that once contained Hebrew-language religious scrolls that were part of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of 981 texts found between 1946 and 1956 in caves near Khirbet Qumran, in the eastern West Bank along the shores of the Dead Sea.
A Hebrew University announcement says:
Excavations in a cave on the cliffs west of Qumran, near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, prove that Dead Sea scrolls from the Second Temple period were hidden in the cave, and were looted by Bedouins in the middle of the last century. With the discovery of this cave, scholars now suggest that it should be numbered as Cave 12.
The excavators are the first in over 60 years to discover a new scroll cave and to properly excavate it.
The announcement quotes Dr. Oren Gutfeld, one of the cave’s discoverers, saying, “This is one of the most exciting archaeological discoveries, and the most important in the last 60 years, in the caves of Qumran.”
Jordan says Syria won’t be invited to Arab summit
Jordan says Wednesday it won’t invite Syria to an Arab summit next month, five years after the bloc suspended Damascus over a harsh crackdown against protesters.
Jordan is set to host the Arab League’s annual summit near the Dead Sea on March 29.
“How the invitations are dealt with will be based on the decisions of the Arab League, and we will abide by what it has decided,” says Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi.
The bloc suspended Syria’s membership in late 2011 after anti-regime demonstrations were met with brutal repression.
EU envoy won’t rule out punitive measures over Regulation Law
The European Union’s top envoy to Israel will not rule out punitive measures against Israel in the wake of the controversial Regulation Bill.
“Well, we’ll have to see about that,” Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Anderson replies when The Times of Israel asks him whether the union will make do with the sharp criticism its foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, issued yesterday, or whether Jerusalem should brace itself for additional steps.
“We put out a statement now, and then we’ll have to see what other measures we might follow up with. I am not privy to any knowledge at this point in time.”
Speaking at the sidelines of a diplomatic seminar in the Knesset, Lars Faaborg-Anderson says the EU is “very concerned” over the legislation, calling it a “very drastic measure” that distances prospects for peace and could even lead to unrest in the region.
“There are a number of worrying elements, including the fact that the Knesset is exceeding its authority by legislating in an area in which it doesn’t really have a mandate, in which it doesn’t really have any authority.”
Together with Israel’s recent announcement of over 6,000 housing units across the West Bank, this law is another indication of Jerusalem’s unwillingness “to pay more than lip service to the idea of negotiations about a two-state solution,” he says. “Certainly these steps are pointing in a totally opposite, different direction [from past Israeli policy]. And we’re worried about it. We’re also worried about keeping stability on the ground, and I don’t think these measures are very helpful in that regard, either.”
— Raphael Ahren
Netanyahu: Israel seeks support of African states at UN
Israel’s top diplomatic goal in Africa is to end the “automatic” votes against the Jewish state by African representatives at the UN, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells a gathering of Israel’s envoys to the continent.
Africa holds a “very high place” in Israel’s foreign policy priorities, Netanyahu says. “Our first interest is to dramatically change the tally of votes by African states at the UN and international bodies from opposition to support.”
The prime minister predicts that “the day is not far off when we will have a majority [of support] there.”
— Raphael Ahren
Travel ban decision in hands of federal appeals court judges
SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court is set to decide whether to reinstate US President Donald Trump’s travel ban after a contentious hearing in which the judges hammered away at the administration’s motivations for the ban, but also directed pointed questions to an attorney for two states trying to overturn it.
It is unclear which way the three judges of the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will rule, though legal experts say the states appear to have the edge.
“I’m not sure if either side presented a compelling case, but I certainly thought the government’s case came across as weaker,” says Stephen Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
A ruling could come as early as Wednesday and could be appealed to the US Supreme Court.
Canadian ex-lawmaker finds swastika carved in snow
A former Canadian politician reported a swastika carved in the snow near her home in St. Vital, Manitoba.
Chris Melnick, who served as a member of the Legislative Assembly, said she came upon the hate symbol last Thursday while walking her dog, CBC Radio Canada reported Tuesday.
Underneath the symbol were the words “F–-k Jews,” she said.
Melnick erased the swastika, saying it was near a school and that she didn’t want anyone else to have to see the hurtful message.
B’nai Brith Canada said swastikas have also been scrawled into the snow on windshields of at least four cars in the Montreal borough of Outremont in recent days.
Last month a swastika was drawn in the snow on the front lawn of a columnist for a Canadian Jewish publication in Ontario.
Liberman vows to act against anti-draft Haredi seminaries
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman plans to take action against two ultra-Orthodox seminaries after some of their students took part in violent protests against the detention of a draft-dodging member of their community, his office says.
Liberman orders his ministry to reconsider the automatic draft deferral granted to students of the Ma’alot HaTorah Yeshiva in Jerusalem and the Grudna Yeshiva in Ashdod, which are both led by Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, a staunch anti-draft campaigner.
The defense minister also asks MK Oded Forer to “work with relevant government ministries to stop the funding of those yeshivas,” his office says.
On Monday night and Tuesday morning, dozens of ultra-Orthodox protesters were arrested for taking part in violent protests in various cities, which included lighting dumpsters on fire to block traffic and throwing rocks at police officers, according to police.
“Minister Liberman says he will never, under any circumstances, ignore these riots and the severe incitement that occurred during them against IDF soldiers,” his office says in a statement.
— Judah Ari Gross
High Court gives state 30 days to respond to petition against Regulation Law
Justice Zvi Handel, after hearing the Wednesday petition by 17 Palestinian municipalities against the Regulation Law, gives the state 30 days to offer its defense of the controversial law.
The law mandates the retroactive seizure of private Palestinian land on which some 4,000 Israeli settlement homes were built illegally.
The Palestinians’ bid to overturn the law as unconstitutional is filed Wednesday by two Israeli legal aid organizations, Adalah and the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center.
Portuguese teens who left names on Auschwitz gate sentenced
WARSAW, Poland — A Polish court hands one-year suspended prison terms and fines two Portuguese teenagers who wrote their names on a gate of the former Nazi German death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The lawyer for the 17- and 18-year-old says they regret and have apologized for putting their names and the date on the red brick gate of Birkenau, part of the Auschwitz complex. The teens were there on July 28, while attending a world youths’ meeting with Pope Francis in Poland.
Under Polish law any damage to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial is a crime. One of the teens used a pen to inscribe his name, the other a stone.
Defense lawyer Marcin Surowiec tells The Associated Press he plans to appeal the sentences issued Wednesday because his clients did not damage the gate.
US commander: Mosul, Raqqa should be retaken in 6 months
Forces fighting the Islamic State group should be able to retake the IS-held cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria within the next six months, according to the top US commander in Iraq.
On a tour north of Baghdad Wednesday, US Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend says “within the next six months I think we’ll see both (the Mosul and Raqqa campaigns) conclude.”
Townsend, who heads the US-led coalition against IS, says Iraq’s military is still in the process of putting forces into place ahead of the push into western Mosul, but predicts operations would begin “in the next few days.”
Iraqi forces declared Mosul’s east “fully liberated” in January after launching the operation to retake the city in October.
Chabad rabbi called security risk in Russia, ordered to leave
An American rabbi who has worked for the Chabad movement in Russia since 2002 says he and his family are facing deportation under a provision dealing with threats to national security.
Ari Edelkopf, a father of seven who grew up in the United States and lived in Israel before settling in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi as Chabad’s envoy there, writes on Facebook on Sunday that he was informed of the decision without receiving further information on specific allegations.
Amid a crackdown in Russia on organizations with foreign funding, Edelkopf’s staying permit was revoked in December, according to Interfax. He lost an appeal at the regional court, forcing him to leave Russia by February 11. He denies any involvement in political issues or crimes.
The Chabad-affiliated Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia condemns the move. Boruch Gorin, a spokesperson for the federation, says it is “far from an isolated incident” during an interview with AFP. He adds that at least seven rabbis have been forced to leave Russia in recent years for alleged immigration violations.
Gorin says this was “an attempt to establish control” on Jewish communities in Russia, which he says are serviced by some 70 rabbis, of whom half are foreign.
Arie Vardi to be awarded Israel Prize in music
The Israel Prize for music will be given this year to pianist Arie Vardi, who turns 80 this year, of Tel Aviv University for his contribution to classical music and the advancement of Israeli music and musicians worldwide.
Identity of Louvre machete attacker confirmed
French investigators on Wednesday confirm the suspect in last week’s machete attack outside the Louvre Museum in Paris is a 29-year-old Egyptian, a source close to the probe says.
The man, Abdallah El-Hamahmy, had already been tentatively identified through phone and visa records that matched the name he gave to police.
“Following checks, there is no longer any doubt as to his identity,” the source says.
In Friday’s attack at the world’s busiest museum, Hamahmy was wielding two machetes when he lunged at four soldiers in the underground ticketing area, shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great).
One of the soldiers shot and seriously wounded him in the stomach, and he is recovering in a Paris hospital.
Belgian police arrest 11 in anti-terror raids
Belgian police arrest 11 people in anti-terrorism raids targeting jihadists who have returned from Syria, prosecutors say Wednesday.
Police raid nine houses in various areas of Brussels including Molenbeek, the district that was home to several of those involved in the Paris and Brussels attacks.
“The investigation was launched in relation to the issue of possible returning Syria fighters,” the federal prosector’s office says in a statement in English.
“In all, eleven persons were arrested and taken for questioning.”
Belgium has been on high alert since three suicide bombers attacked Zaventem Airport and the Brussels metro system in March 2016, killing 32 people.
Bannon compared Occupy protesters to Nazi Brownshirts in 2012
Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s senior strategist, compared left-wing protesters to Nazi Brownshirts in 2012.
In interviews to promote his film Occupy Unmasked, Bannon made several comments likening the Occupy Wall Street protests against income inequality and financial industry predation to the actions of Nazi paramilitaries, CNN reported.
“The Occupy movement is really a combination of the internet, the media and street thugs. Right? It’s a weapon of intimidation,” Bannon said in a September 2012 interview with the radio host Larry Sinclair. “It is the moral equivalent today of the Brownshirts of the 1930s. It’s going to be used as a weapon of intimidation.”
In a 2012 interview with Breitbart.tv, Bannon claimed that the protesters sought to block people from gathering at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
“I think you see from Occupy Wall Street, you start to see how Brownshirts operated,” Bannon said. “You start to see it as instrument of intimidation, bully tactics.”
Bannon, the former chief of the right-wing news site Breitbart, has proved to be one of Trump’s more controversial appointments. On Friday, the Washington Post reported that in a 2007 proposal for a documentary that was never made, Bannon accused the American Jewish community of being “enablers” of jihad.
Submarines affair turns into criminal investigation — report
Channel 2 says police are moving from a preliminary inquiry to a full criminal investigation into the so-called submarines affair.
The case involves suspicions that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal attorney David Shimron, while representing the prime minister, lobbied the Defense Ministry to purchase naval vessels from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp, including new submarines for Israel’s navy and ships intended to protect the country’s maritime natural gas fields.
Netanyahu is not a suspect in the case.
That inquiry has transformed into a criminal probe, Channel 2 claims Wednesday, purportedly after police received the testimony of former Israel Navy commander Maj. Gen. (res.) Ram Rothberg in recent days.
The report says Shimron, businessman Mickey Ganor and Maj. Gen. (res.) Eliezer Marom are all being questioned under caution in the affair.
Police look for quid pro quo in Netanyahu gifts probe
A police inquiry into gifts given to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by billionaire businessman and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan turns to the question of possible quid pro quos Netanyahu may have given Milchan in return, Channel 2 says Wednesday.
Milchan is part owner of Israel’s Channel 10 television station. Police are reportedly examining whether Netanyahu, who is also the communications minister, was involved in tax and other breaks given to Channel 10 in recent years.
The inquiry has not yet developed into a full-fledged criminal investigation, and, according to Channel 2, will likely not result in an indictment unless investigators find a clear quid pro quo on Netanyahu’s part.
Republicans block House vote slamming White House Holocaust statement
House Republicans block a Democratic effort to vote on a resolution slamming the White House for its International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that did not specifically mention Jews.
Rep. Joe Crowley, D-New York, seeks to force a vote Tuesday on a resolution he introduced last week emphasizing that the Nazis targeted Jews during the Holocaust and calling on the White House to affirm that fact, the Washington Examiner reports. Republicans block the effort in a party-line vote.
The resolution, sponsored by more than 100 Democrats, refers to the White House statement last month, which was widely condemned by Jewish organizations for not mentioning the Jewish people specifically. Trump administration officials defended the omission, saying it was seeking to be “inclusive.” On Monday, an aide to President Donald Trump called criticism of the statement “asinine.”
“It is beyond belief that President Trump would allow a Holocaust remembrance statement to go out under the banner of his White House that did not discuss the genocide perpetrated against the Jewish people,” Crowley says. “The Trump administration doubled down and defended its statement, despite many pointing out the consequences of such inaccuracies.”