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

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Court strikes down restrictions on women’s prayer at Western Wall

In a historic High Court decision, the government of Israel has until February 1 to find good cause why a woman may not pray from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall.

In a sweeping decision joining three petitions, the court rules that women may read from the Torah at the Western Wall, pending a government response.

It also says that the government may no longer argue that the Robinson’s Arch area of the plaza constitutes “access to the Western Wall.”

Further, contrary to current practice under the plaza’s administration by the Western Wall Foundation, women will no longer be subjected to body searches for “contraband” Jewish ritual objects by foundation staff.

Anat Hoffman, director of Women of the Wall, holds a Torah scroll at the Western Wall, November 2, 2016. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Anat Hoffman, director of Women of the Wall, holds a Torah scroll at the Western Wall, November 2, 2016. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

If the government fails to find “good cause” for not permitting women from reading for the Torah, it is still a question whether they will have access to the hundreds of scrolls now located in the men’s section of the Western Wall plaza.

Anat Hoffman, head of the Women of the Wall, says she is “elated” over the decision.

“Today, we have come much closer toward implementation of the Western Wall agreement on gender equality and religious freedom at the Wall. I am elated because when I was looking for justice, and then courage, they were missing and now the highest court in the land has shown me both,” she says.

— Amanda Borschel-Dan

Bill banning Breaking the Silence from schools clears initial hurdle

The Knesset has given a preliminary okay to a controversial bill banning left-wing NGO Breaking the Silence from speaking in schools.

Following a stormy debate in the plenum, the measure passes 51-17.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who championed the move, says before the vote that the group, which collects and disseminates testimony of wrongdoing from IDF veterans, is actively working to hurt the country.

“Breaking the Silence doesn’t only want to poison the world against us, but to poison our children with their lying reports,” he says.

The bill must still pass three more readings in the Knesset before becoming law.

Driver of runaway truck that killed 7 sentenced to 4 years in jail

The driver of a truck who killed seven people after losing control of his vehicle near Haifa in 2013 has been sentenced to four years in prison.

Jamal Abu Sayam of Rahat said his brakes stopped working as he plowed into at least eight cars after running a red light between Haifa and Nesher on April 10, 2013.

The scene of a deadly accident near Haifa on April 10, 2013. (photo credit: Flash90)

The scene of a deadly accident near Haifa on April 10, 2013. (photo credit: Flash90)

Police said at the time that the truck’s weight exceeded the permitted 32 metric tons by about 25 percent, turning the vehicle into a “deadly weapon.” The truck was taken off the road due to a violation only days prior to the crash, they added.

Turkey rounds up businessmen suspected of Gulen ties

A Turkish court has ordered 60 businessmen formally arrested pending trial over their suspected ties to the movement allegedly responsible for the failed coup in July, the state-run Anadolu news agency reports.

The agency says 110 businessmen were brought before an Istanbul court to be formally arrested on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization.”

Fifty were given conditional release, barring them leaving the country and requiring them to regularly report in to authorities, though the prosecutor will appeal.

The suspects are accused of belonging to the movement of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, which Turkey accuses of orchestrating the coup attempt. Gulen denies any involvement.

— AP

85-year-old woman killed in Bat Yam fire

Rescue officials say an 85-year-old woman has been killed in a house fire in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam.

Firefighters and paramedics say the woman was found dead in the apartment after the flames were extinguished.

It’s not immediately clear how the fire started.

Trump cites Russia to dismiss claims Moscow has dirt on him

President-elect Donald Trump is persisting in efforts to contain embarrassing damage caused by the publication of unverified claims that he is being blackmailed by Russian intelligence, by citing Moscow saying that the report is false.

The comment comes after Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismisses the report and says the allegations could be used to keep American politicians from wanting to improve ties with Russia.

“We should treat it with humor, but there is a sad side to it, too,” he said. “There are people who are whipping up this frenzy, who are doing their best to keep this witch hunt going.”

“This is an evident attempt to harm our bilateral ties,” Peskov says. “The Kremlin does not engage in collecting compromising information.”

A US official told The Associated Press on Tuesday that intelligence officials had informed Trump about an unsubstantiated report that Russia had compromising personal and financial information about him. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not allowed to publicly discuss the matter.

— with AP

Former Jenin governor arrested for ‘advanced weapons’ trade

The Shin Bet security service confirms that former senior Palestinian Authority official Talal Dweikat was arrested early this morning.

According to the Shin Bet, Dweikat is suspected of taking part in “the advanced weapons trade.”

He was arrested in his home in Nablus as part of a series of overnight raids in the West Bank.

Dweikat, who served as governor of Jenin, was also a top Palestinian intelligence officer.

— Judah Ari Gross

Trump asks if US in Nazi Germany

Continuing his Twitter rant, Donald Trump compares the allegations that Russia has damaging dirt on him to Nazi Germany.

It is not clear why Trump would compare the reports to something done under Hitler.

Comparisons of anything to Nazis are often met with denunciations that they dishonor their victims by minimizing the Holocaust.

It is not clear if Trump’s use of “leak” in quotes is a pun connected to reports that Russian intelligence has a video of him in a lewd sex act with a number of prostitutes.

Meretz head says Yedioth blacklisted her for not backing bill

Responding to a column in Yedioth Ahronoth in which she is attacked for not supporting a proposed law which would have squeezed Israel Hayom, Meretz head Zehava Galon wrote on Facebook that the newspaper threatened her and then punished her by putting her on a blacklist.

The allegation comes amid reports that Yedioth publisher Arnon Mozes tried to reach a deal with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for positive coverage in exchange for support for the bill, which would have banned free papers as a way to push Israel Hayom out of the market.

“Months before the vote I got calls from lobbyists, PR people and even acquaintances. The message was simple: If I don’t support the bill, Yedioth will erase me. In those words. ‘You will not appear anymore in Yedioth,'” she writes.

“They promised and it happened. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve appears in Mozes’s paper since then. Journalists who worked at Yedioth tell me that articles on me would suddenly disappear during editing, and stories that mentioned me would be cut. I went on their blacklist.”

Survey shows most Israelis back women Torah readings at Western Wall

The Hiddush organization, which lobbies for religious pluralism in Israel, releases a survey showing most Israelis support allowing women to read from Torah scrolls at the Western Wall.

The survey conducted in December, shows 62 percent of Israelis support the move.

The number is even higher, 86%, when polling only secular Israelis. Among so-called “traditional” Israelis, 61% back the move. However, only 19% of “Zionist Orthodox” and 5% of ultra-Orthodox are in support.

“It is starkly clear that the vast majority of Jewish Israelis support the right of women to read the Torah in the women’s section of the Western Wall plaza and reject the Chief Rabbinate’s and the State’s position that they should be prohibited from doing so,” Hiddush head Rabbi Uri Regev says in a statement.

Earlier Wednesday, the High Court ordered the state to either explain why women cannot read Torahs at the Western Wall or allow them to do so.

Minister Levin testified to police in Netanyahu-Mozes affair

Tourism minister Yariv Levin has testified to police regarding the Netanyahu-Mozes affair, according to Hebrew media reports.

Levin, a Likud member considered close to Netanyahu, confirms to Haaretz that he was summoned to testify but does not give any other details.

According to reports, he spoke to police on Sunday.

IDF says Hamas tried to hack soldiers by pretending to be pretty girls

The Israel Defense Forces has uncovered a plot in which Hamas members pretended to be “attractive women” and army veterans in order to trick soldiers into revealing sensitive military information, a senior intelligence official says.

The Military Intelligence officer would not reveal the exact number of soldiers that were affected by these attacks, but says it was “many dozens.”

“There is, of course, a potential of serious harm to national security, but the damage that was actually done was minor,” the official says.

At this point, the official says, the plot is considered foiled, and there is no threat of additional soldiers being hacked.

“Anyone who was infected, is not infected anymore. If it comes up again, we’ll cut the grass again,” he says.

However, the officer notes, “We don’t know everything.”

The highest ranking person affected was a major, while most were lower level conscripts.

The Hamas hackers set up fake profiles on social media, mostly on Facebook, using stolen photos of young, attractive girls from Israel and Europe or of IDF soldiers.

With these profiles, the hackers contacted IDF soldiers and started chatting with them. They would send photos, some of them risque, the officers says.

At a certain point they would ask the soldier to download a piece of software to continue chatting, telling them they couldn’t download WhatsApp or other popular communication apps.

The applications, which had names like YeeCall Pro or Wowo messenger, were in fact “Trojan horse” software that gave the Hamas hackers control over the soldiers’ cellphones, allowing them to download contacts and files, GPS data, take photographs, collect text messages and install additional applications on the device.

— Judah Ari Gross

Dozens protest house demolitions in Qalansawe

At least 100 protesters are rallying at the entrance to the city of Qalansawe, a day after 11 structures were destroyed for lacking proper permits.

The protest comes after a day that saw Arab Israelis across the country go on strike to protest the demolitions and what they say is discrimination by the Jewish state that makes it impossible for them to obtain planning permission to expand their communities, thus necessitating the illegal building.

Mohammad Barakeh, the head of an Arab Israeli umbrella organisation and a former MP, tells AFP that strike observance “exceeded expectations.”

“There was an excellent response in all Arab villages and towns,” he says.

The Joint List, a coalition of predominantly Arab parties, condemned Tuesday’s demolitions.

“The act of demolishing 11 houses, whose owners built on their private lands in Qalansawe, is an unprecedented crime and a declaration of war against the residents of Qalansawe and against the Arab community in Israel,” it says.

— AFP contributed

Secretary of state pick Tillerson says Russia a ‘danger’

A hearing for Rex Tillerson, nominated to be secretary of state, has begun, with the Exxon CEO calling Russia a “danger” to the nation.

Rex Tillerson, center, arrives for questioning in his confirmation hearing for Secretary of State in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on January 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. ( Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP)

Rex Tillerson, center, arrives for questioning in his confirmation hearing for Secretary of State in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on January 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. ( Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP)

Unlike Trump, who has played down the allegations of Russian malfeasance in the presidential campaign, Tilllerson tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recent Russian actions “disregarded American interests” and alarmed US allies, even if cooperation between Washington and Moscow remained desirable on a range of issues.

He also takes aim at the outgoing Obama administration for failing to live up to “good intentions,” withdrawing from critical areas and sending mixed signals to both friends and adversaries.

“China has emerged as an economic power in global trade, and our interactions have been both friendly and adversarial,” he said in remarks prepared for his hearing. “While Russia seeks respect and relevance on the global stage, its recent activities have disregarded American interests. Radical Islam is not a new ideology, but it is hateful, deadly, and an illegitimate expression of the Islamic faith. Adversaries like Iran and North Korea pose grave threats to the world because of their refusal to conform to international norms.”

— AP

Building sites in Jabel Mukaber cleared out, torn down

Israeli authorities have cleared out a number of structures built without proper permits in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, the city says.

The move comes days after the city placed a security cordon around the neighborhood following a deadly truck-ramming attack carried out by a driver from there.

Authorities remove a temporary structure put up without permits from Jabel Mukaber on January 11, 2017. (Flash90)

Authorities remove a temporary structure put up without permits from Jabel Mukaber on January 11, 2017. (Flash90)

Eight temporary buildings being used as part of a building supplies storehouse on a five-dunam plot were removed or demolished Wednesday, the city says.

A day earlier, five buildings used as stables were demolished, the city says. The stables were located near the family home of Fadi al-Qunbar, the driver in the deadly truck attack.

On Tuesday, authorities torn down 11 homes in the city of Qalansawe, sparking protests and a strike in the Arab community, which says the state refuses to grant Arab building proper permits, necessitating illegal building.

Tillerson says Putin not war criminal

In the Rex Tillerson hearing, Florida Senator Marco Rubio pushes the nominee on whether Russian action in Syria and elsewhere amount to war crimes, with Tillerson refusing to say they are.

When Rubio asks if Tillerson would call Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal, he answers, “I would not use that word.”

Tillerson also says he has not spoken to Trump about Russia or sanctions.

Trump press conference to begin any minute

Trump is scheduled to begin a news conference, his first since winning the presidency, any minute.

The highly anticipated conference was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. New York time (6 p.m. Israel) but the president-elect has yet to show up.

In Washington, Rex Tillerson tells senators, that US, Russia unlikely to “ever” be friends.

Trump WH press secretary pick calls intel report ‘sad and pathetic’

Trump has arrived at his press conference. Before it begins, incoming press secretary Sean Spicer rails against the intel report claiming Russia has dirt on Trump to blackmail him.

“This is a sad and pathetic attempt to get clicks,” Spicer says angrily, before introducing Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

Pence says press trying to demean Trump

Pence talks excitedly about the incoming administration and also hits out at the press, accusing the media of being irresponsible for publishing the Russian intel report.

He calls it an attempt to “demean” Trump, “and the American people are sick and tired of it,” he adds to weak applause.

He then introduces Trump.

Trump: Intel agencies may have leaked report

Trump says he’s well versed in news conferences but stopped giving them because of inaccurate news.

He accuses the intelligence community of possible leaking the Russian intel document, calling it a “tremendous blot” on them.

He also praises some unnamed news organizations.

Trump: I’ll be greatest job maker God ever created

Trump also says he has “great respect for freedom of the press and all that.”

He talks up his efforts to bolster the economy, keep manufacturing at home and become “the greatest job producer God ever created.”

He also says he’ll do “big things” to cut military jet costs.

Trump: People who put together dossier ‘sick’

After announcing a Veterans Affairs pick, Trump is asked his first question, about his relationship with Russia.

“It is a disgrace that information would be let out. … it’s all fake news, it’s phony stuff, it didn’t happen,” he says, accusing those who put together the dossier of being “sick people.”

He admits Russia may have hacked the US, but “we get hacked by others as well,” citing China for one.

 

If Putin likes me, that’s an asset, but he might not

Asked about his relationship with Putin, he repeats that Russia denied dossier.

He also criticizes the Democrats for getting hacked, adds that “if Putin likes Donald Trump, it’s an asset.”

US President-elect Donald Trump gives a press conference January 11, 2017 in New York. (AFP/Don Emmert)

US President-elect Donald Trump gives a press conference January 11, 2017 in New York. (AFP/Don Emmert)

He adds that there’s a good chance he won’t get along with Putin and asks if Clinton would have been tougher.

Trump: I’m too much of a careful germaphobe for Russia to get me

Trump says he knows he’s being watched when in hotels and goes abroad and is “extremely careful.”

Trump says it’s not just Russia but elsewhere too and adds that he’s a “germaphobe.”

Asked about any info Russia might have on him, he says he has no deals or loans or dealings with Russia, and says he could but it would be a conflict.

He adds he was offered $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai with a developer but didn’t go for it.

He repeats that he could keep his business interests if he wants, but he won’t.

He also says he won’t release tax returns because they are under audit, and that nobody cares about it except reporters.

Trump lawyer: President will give sons control of firm, but doesn’t have to

Trump says he will put all his business assets in a trust and hand control of his company to his two adult sons and a longtime business executive to allay concerns about conflicts of interest, and then introduces a lawyer to explain the move.

Sheri Dillon says the company will do no new foreign deals but can pursue domestic ones, and says that the Trump Organization will appoint an ethics adviser to its management team who must approve deals that could raise concerns about conflicts.

However, she says he is not obligated to do this and says he will not divest.

She says Ivanka Trump will also remove herself from management of the company.

She adds that Trump terminated some 30 deals the company was involved in when winning the presidency, losing the firm millions of dollars.

— AP

Troops arrest man who fails to stop at checkpoint

Meanwhile, in the West Bank, Border Police officers have arrested a Palestinian man after they say he failed to stop at a checkpoint.

The incident occurs in the southern Hebron Hills.

Troops at the checkpoint shoot at the wheels of the suspect’s car when he does not stop, and then arrest him when he does.

Trump announces repeal and replace plan for Obamacare

Back in New York, Trump retakes the podium and praises his various nominees, especially Rex Tillerson and Jeff Sessions.

On Obamacare, he calls it a disaster. He says 2017 will be a catastrophe and his administration could sit back and let it implode.

Instead, he announces he will propose a repeal and replace plan to take place simultaneously.

He says he is doing the Democrats a favor by taking the existing plan off their hands.

Trump: Dossier is something Nazis would have done

A reporter asks Trump what he meant earlier by comparing intel agencies to Nazi Germany amid a litany of other questions.

Starting with the Mexico border wall, he says it will be built, though he won’t wait for them to pay. Instead, they will reimburse the US, he vows. He says he likes “the people of Mexico. Many of them work for me. They are fantastic.”

He says he will probably nominate a Supreme Court justice to replace Antonin Scalia two weeks after being inaugurated.

He’s asked about the Nazi comment again and finally answers that leaking the dossier is something they would do.

“I think it was disgraceful that the intelligence agencies. “That’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do…. That information that was false and fake got to the public.

He calls Buzzfeed a “pile of garbage” and says they will pay the consequences.

Trump and ‘fake’ reporter bicker at press conference

A brief ruckus erupts at the press conference after a reporter — either from Buzzfeed or CNN — tries to ask a question and Trump calls him fake news and says he will not answer anything from him.

The reporter refuses to stop asking and Trump calls him rude and asks him several more times to be quiet.

Putin shouldn’t have hacked US, won’t anymore, Trump says

Asked what message he has for Russia and Putin if they did hack the DNC, he says they “shouldn’t have done it” and things will change.

“Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I am leading it than when other people have led. He shouldn’t have done it. We have to work something out.”

He also accuses China of hacking.

He ends the news conference with a joke about how if his sons don’t run his company well while he’s president he’ll tell them “you’re fired!”

Paper: Netanyahu threatened publisher in secret talks

Haaretz, quoting sources involved in the reported secret talks between Benjamin Netanyahu and Yedioth publisher Arnon Mozes, reports that the prime minister threatened the media baron during their talks.

During the conversations, tapes of which the police reportedly have hours of, Netanyahu told Mozes “if he smears him, he will take care of him,” in the language of the paper.

The paper also reports that Mozes complained to Netanyahu that he wouldn’t let him destroy his family business built by his grandfather.

However, Mozes told Netanyahu he would be willing to fire Igal Sarna, who sits on the Yedioth editorial board and is seen as a prominent enemy of Netanyahu, but doing so would be complicated, according to the report.

Rahat man held for pro car-ramming Facebook post

Police have arrested a man from the Bedouin city of Rahat for posting a video to his Facebook page that called for people to carry out car-ramming attacks.

The video featured footage from Sunday’s terror attack, in which an East Jerusalem man drove his truck into a group of soldiers, backed up and ran over them again.

In the background of the video a voice, speaking in Arabic, encouraged people to carry out similar attacks.

The suspect, a 30-year-old Rahat resident, was first detained on Tuesday. He will remain in jail until at least January 15, police say.

“While protecting free speech, we cannot allow incitement and threats on Facebook,” the police say in a statement.

— Judah Ari Gross

Jewish groups decry Trump use of Nazi analogy

The ADL has criticized President-elect Donald Trump’s comparison of the leak of a dossier on Russian intelligence against him to Nazi Germany, saying it is inappropriate.

“The President-Elect’s use of Nazi Germany to make a political analogy is not only an inappropriate comparison on the merits, but it also coarsens our discourse and diminishes the horror of the Holocaust,” ADL head Jonathan Greenblatt says in a statement.

The AJC (formerly known as the American Jewish Committee) also slams the remark.

 

Sara Netanyahu summoned to testify in gifts probe

Channel 10 reports that Sara Netanyahu has been summoned to give testimony to the police in the gifts investigation.

Her spokesperson is not immediately available for comment.

Speaking at a meeting of Likud activists, Benjamin Netanyahu says that he can’t discuss the criminal investigations against him.

“But now that I know what they are about I can say there won’t be anything, because there is nothing,” he jokes, repeating his oft-used phrase.

— with Raoul Wootliff

Mozes to be grilled again after PM claims he was setting trap — report

Yedioth Publisher Arnon Mozes has been summoned by police to be questioned for a second in the other Netanyahu affair, possibly as early as Thursday. This time he will be faced with Netanyahu’s version of events.

According to Channel 10, Netanyahu told police he was only talking with Mozes to get him to tell him what his real plan was and never actually planned to do any of the things he talked about, like sinking Israel Hayom in exchange for better coverage.

The channel quotes a Likud minister saying the affairs could spell the end for Netanyahu.

“The new details are a game changer, you can smell it in the air that the era of Netanyahu is coming to an end. We need to prepare for the day after,” the unnamed minister is quoted saying.

The channel also reports that minister Zeev Elkin was summoned to police to give testimony. Elkin’s spokesperson tells The Times of Israel he has not been invited.

— Raoul Wootliff

Israel, Egypt create fast-track for beefing up Sinai forces

A defense official says the country has developed a new policy in recent years to allow Egypt to quickly beef up its forces in the volatile Sinai Peninsula as part of a shared struggle against Islamic terror.

The official’s comments come days after Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh el-Sissi said there are about 25,000 Egyptian troops operating in Sinai.

It was the first time an Egyptian leader has commented on the number of troops battling militants there.

A historic 1979 peace treaty limited the number of Egyptian forces in the Sinai. But it allows the two countries to change those numbers in coordination.

The Israeli official, who is not authorized to be identified, says Israel now has a policy of approving Egyptian requests much faster than in the past.

— Agencies

White House hits back at Trump over dossier kerfuffle

The White House is cautioning President-elect Donald Trump about impugning the motives of US intelligence, describing his allegations of bias as “deeply misguided.”

Responding to Trump’s latest public row with US spymasters, White House spokesman Josh Earnest heaps praise on individuals leading organizations like the CIA, portraying them as patriots who have spent decades serving America in the military and in the shadows.

— AFP

Gazan comedian arrested for criticizing power outages

Authorities in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip have arrested a Palestinian singer-comedian after he made a video about the electricity crisis in the enclave.

Adel Meshoukhi was summoned by police and arrested, an interior ministry source says.

On Wednesday Meshoukhi published an online video about the ongoing shortages of electricity and employment in Gaza which included the line “Hamas enough.”

It has been viewed more than 150,000 times.

Musical comedian Meshoukhi, who has been detained previously, is perhaps best known for an ode to a cat.

— AFP