The Times of Israel is liveblogging Wednesday’s events as they unfold.
Palestinian held after found with knife
A Palestinian man with a knife in his possession has been arrested by Israeli security forces near the Beit Anun junction in the southern West Bank.
The man was taken to the Shin Bet for questioning, according to initial reports.
The Beit Anun area has been the site of several attacks and attempted stabbings during the four-month wave of violence.
German think tank says adios to Egypt over restrictions
A well-known German think tank says it is moving its Mideast operations out of Egypt, maintaining that ever-stricter government restrictions have made it impossible to carry out its work.
Wolfgang Gerhardt, chairman of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, which has links to Germany’s Free Democratic Party, tells the dpa news agency Wednesday he is moving the organization’s operations to Amman, Jordan.
“Since today every political seminar, every conference that we organize with our Egyptian partners is misunderstood as a possible threat to the internal security of Egypt. We have no basis to operate,” Gerhardt says.
Egypt launched a strict crackdown on dissent after the army’s 2013 ouster of a contentious Islamist president.
Britain’s Lord Weidenfeld dies at 96
Jewish British publisher and philanthropist George Weidenfeld has died at the age of 96, the Jewish Chronicle reports.
A cause of death was not given.
Lord Weidenfeld’s publishing firm put out memoirs by Golda Meir and Yizthak Rabin, as well as Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita.” He also advised Israel’s first president Chaim Weizmann, according to the Chronicle, and was knighted in 1969.
Last year, he founded a mission to save Christians in Syria and Iraq, saying he was inspired by the work of Sir Nicholas Winton, who saved hundreds of Jewish children during the Holocaust.
Work on Jordan border fence underway
The Defense Ministry says it has begun laying the first parts of a planned 30 kilometer fence on Israel’s eastern frontier with Jordan.
The NIS 300 million project (about $75 million) is expected to stretch from the southern resort city of Eilat to the Samar Sands.
The fence, similar to barriers on the Egypt, Lebanese and Syrian borders, was announced in September as a measure to keep jihadis from making their way into Israel.
On Monday, IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot warned that the Islamic State may target Israel and Jordan after failing to gain ground in Syria.
Over 1,000 Syrian civilians killed in Russian airstrikes — watchdog
More than 1,000 civilians have been killed in Russia’s airstrikes in Syria since they began nearly four months ago, a monitor says.
The raids, which started on September 30, have killed 1,015 civilians, including more than 200 children, as well as over 2,000 combatants, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Iran: US sanctions over missile test are illegal
Iran Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif says new sanctions imposed by the US against Iran over ballistic missile tests are “illegal.”
Speaking to the AP ahead of an appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he is expected to take part in a debate focusing on the Islamic Republic, Zarif decries what he calls the United States’ “addiction to coercion” with its new sanctions.
He also justifies Iran’s program as self-defense.
The United States on Sunday imposed sanctions against 11 individuals and entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program as a result of Tehran’s firing of a medium-range ballistic missile.
The new punishment came one day after the Obama administration lifted economic penalties against Iran over its nuclear program.
Khamenei condemns embassy riot, lauds sailors’ capture
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is publicly condemning for the first time the January 2 attack on Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran as “a very bad and wrong incident.”
“Like the British embassy attack before it, this was against the country (Iran) and Islam, and I didn’t like it,” he says.
Britain’s embassy in Tehran was stormed and ransacked by a mob in 2011.
The arson attack on Saudi Arabia’s embassy — for which local media reports say as many as 140 people have been arrested — led to Riyadh quickly severing diplomatic ties with Tehran.
The incident occurred late at night after Saudi Arabia executed Shiite cleric and activist Nimr al-Nimr, a force behind 2011 anti-government protests in the eastern province, for crimes against the kingdom.
Khamenei and Iranian officials lambasted Saudi Arabia over the killing.
Khamenei also spoke for the first time Wednesday about the brief detention by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ naval force of 10 US Navy personnel who strayed into Iranian waters in the Gulf.
“This move by our dear youth… against the enemies’ aggression in our waters, they showed power,” Khamenei says.
“I didn’t have an opportunity to thank them. I really thank them. It was a very appropriate action,” he adds.
A-G clears ex-IDF chief Ashkenazi in Harpaz scandal
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has decided to close a criminal investigation into former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi over the so-called Harpaz affair, a convoluted episode of high-level infighting that embroiled several members of military brass.
The move runs against a 2014 police recommendation which determined that there was enough evidence to charge Ashkenazi with breach of trust and delivering classified information to journalists.
In January 2013, Israel’s comptroller issued a scathing report stemming from a state investigation into Ashkenazi’s combative relationship with former defense minister Ehud Barak. The crux of the dispute revolved around a mid-2010 attempt to influence the appointment of Ashkenazi’s successor, and involved a fake plant of a document meant to torpedo the nomination of Brig. Gen. Yoav Galant for the position.
The decision will likely clear the way for Ashkenazi to enter politics and make a long-rumored run for the Knesset.
Kurds destroying Iraqi Arab villages, group says
Iraqi Kurdish forces are deliberately destroying Arab villages under their control, according to an Amnesty International report released today.
The human rights group says these actions could amount to war crimes.
Kurdish forces have bulldozed, blown up and burned down thousands of homes in Arab villages recaptured from the Islamic State group, the report says.
“The forced displacement of civilians and the deliberate destruction of homes and property without military justification may amount to war crimes,” says Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International in a statement.
“We are not talking about collateral damage happening in the heat of battle, rather this is deliberate destruction,” Rovera tells The Associated Press.
She calls the treatment of Arab Iraqis detailed in the report “a form of collective punishment on families and communities who have themselves not committed any crimes.”
Migrants streaming into Europe face intense cold
Subfreezing temperatures and snow have settled in over Central Europe, adding to the difficulties of migrants heading to Western Europe but not deterring them from continuing their journeys.
Liene Veide, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, says around 2,000 migrants continue to cross from Macedonia into Serbia daily, even with temperatures plunging to a low of -19 (-2 F) Wednesday.
She says many arrive without clothing or boots appropriate for the winter weather, and that some have pneumonia, fever or other illnesses. Still, she says, most refuse hospitalization and insist on pressing on with their journeys.
Temperatures plunged overnight Wednesday in Romania to the lowest of the year, with -29.5 C (-21 F) recorded in one town in central Romania.
Netanyahu arrives at Davos for high-level confab
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has landed in Davos, Switzerland, where he is joining other world leaders at the World Economic Forum.
Netanyahu is scheduled to speak to US commentator Fareed Zakariya on stage on Thursday.
Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, who earlier participated in a panel discussion at the conference, is expected to give a press conference there later today.
Bennett hits back in ongoing tiff with PM
Shooting off the latest volley in a war of words with Netanyahu, Education Minister Naftali Bennett accuses the prime minister of making an ad hominem attack on him in a thinly veiled statement.
“The greatness of any system is in its ability to renew and test its basic axioms,” he says, defending remarks a day earlier in which he seemed to criticize Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon for resting on outdated assumptions. “The security of Israeli citizens depends on it and thus it’s important to have a broad discussion, deep and to the point of the body of the issue and not to the body of the person.”
Earlier in the day, sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed Bennett for his stinging rebuke of the government’s strategy in the face of terror attacks and threats from outside Israel’s borders.
“It seems there are those who still don’t understand the difference between being a minister in the cabinet and an internet commenter in the opposition,” an official quipped.
“While the IDF, police and Shin Bet are battling terror every day and in every place, cabinet members are expected to take responsibility and contribute to the shared effort — instead of begging for votes by floating slogans and populistic attacks against a government they themselves sit in,” the source added.
Austria puts cap on migrants, Germany hints at same
Austria has put a cap on the number of refugees it wants to accept — 37,500 this year and a total of 127,500 through 2019.
Chancellor Werner Faymann says the figures are a “guideline” while Deputy Chancellor Reinhard Mitterlehner calls it an “upper limit.”
Officials said the government will be examining legal options on how it can react if those numbers are exceeded.
Faymann calls the decision an “emergency solution,” but says Austria “cannot accept everyone applying for asylum.”
Soon after the announcement, the German government says it wants the number of migrants coming to the country to fall “significantly” after almost 1.1 million asylum seekers arrived last year.
Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, says the flow of refugees has already slowed this year, but a further reduction is needed.
Seibert doesn’t say what number the government is aiming for and declines to comment on the cap announced Wednesday by Austria.
Zarif names jihadi groups, and not Israel, as world’s enemies
Zarif, speaking at a press conference in Davos, calls on the world to unite around the common enemy — Islamic State, al-Qaeda and the al-Nusra Front (an al-Qaeda offshoot) — but tellingly leaves Israel off his axis of evil.
He also downplays the amount of domestic opposition to the nuclear deal by the hard-line Revolutionary Guard in Iran, and slams Saudi Arabia for its efforts against the agreement.
Quashing rumors of a secret meeting with Saudi counterpart Prince al-Turki, he says Riyadh spent millions in Congress to try to torpedo the deal.
Zarif: Footage of captured sailors should not have been seen
Regarding the capture of US sailors in Iran earlier this month, Zarif defends the actions of his army in arresting the service members, but says pictures of the arrest were leaked to the press and “may have been better left in the archives.”
Pictures and videos of the soldiers showed them being arrested at gunpoint and a video showed one teary-eyed sailor apologizing.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who brokered a deal to get them released with Zarif, as well as a later prisoner swap, said the footage made him “angry.”
Former US defense chief: Iran won’t change after deal
Former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the world should not expect Iran to become more moderate in the wake of the nuclear deal.
“The notion that betting that this regime is going to temper its behavior in the region because of this nuclear deal I think is mistaken. I think that will not happen,” Gates says in an interview with Business Insider.
A number of officials in the US and other countries party to the landmark seven-nation nuclear agreement have expressed hopes that the pact could bring Iran closer to the West and open an avenue toward detente, a notion gates dismisses.
“My view is that the belief that Iran over time is going to evolve into a regular nation state and abandon its theological revolutionary underpinnings, its aspirations in the region, or even its aspirations for nuclear weapons is unrealistic,” Gates says.
IS names two unknown Paris attackers
The Islamic State group has published an online photo tribute to the Muslim terrorists who killed 130 people in Paris, including pictures of two unknown men identified as Iraqis.
Belgian federal prosecutor Thierry Werts says investigators “didn’t know them at all,” referring to two men identified by their noms de guerre as Ali Al-Iraqi and Ukashah Al-Iraqi. Al-Iraqi in Arabic means “the Iraqi.”
The photo display in Dabiq, the IS propaganda magazine, also shows suspected Paris attack ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud and eight other men in battle dress.
Fugitive suspect Salah Abdeslam is not among them — an omission Belgian jihadi watcher Pieter van Ostaeyen says may be due to IS’s desire to honor only those extremists slain in the November 13 bloodbath and its aftermath.
Take fight to retreating IS, says French defense chief
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says the coalition fighting IS jihadists must increase its efforts against the group, which has suffered several setbacks in recent months.
“Daesh is retreating, it is time to increase our joint efforts by implementing a coherent military strategy,” Le Drian says after a meeting between seven defense ministers in Paris.
Le Drian also calls on Russia to stop bombing Syrian opposition fighters.
Syria peace talks are expected to begin within the next few days, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says, rejecting suggestions the negotiations might be delayed until February.
“We don’t have any thoughts on moving the start of talks to February,” Lavrov says, adding “We are sure that in the next few days, in January, these talks should begin.”
PLO’s Erekat slams West Bank land transfer as theft
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat visits the site of a planned Israeli land appropriation, telling journalists the land is being stolen from the Palestinians.
“As you see, they call it a security area but you don’t see a single security thing here,” says Erekat from a field in the Jordan Valley south of Jericho.
“And if you go between here and 70 kilometers (45 miles) straight you will see nothing but farms of grapes, palm trees, vegetables, stealing the water from Palestinians, the land from Palestinians,” he adds.
Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now says the move to declare some 370 acres state land will hurt efforts to reach a diplomatic settlement with the Palestinians.
“The government’s decision is another step on the way to destroying the possibility for a two-state solution,” Peace Now said in a statement.
The Defense Ministry unit that oversees civilian affairs in the West Bank, known as COGAT, says in a statement that “the lands are in final stages to be declared as state lands.”
Pro-Palestinian protesters riot at London event with ex-Shin Bet head
A protest at a pro-Israel event at a London university Tuesday turned violent, with pro-Palestinian activists smashing a window, throwing chairs and reportedly assaulting an organizer.
Police had to be called to quell the melee at the King’s College event where former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon was scheduled to give an address, and a British government official has called the riot “totally unacceptable.”
Protesters reacted to being shut out of the overcrowded conference room where the event was being held by banging on windows, chanting “free, free Palestine” and setting off fire alarms across the building, the Jewish Chronicle reports.
Esther Endfield, one of the organizers of the event, says on Facebook that she had also been assaulted during the protest.
Endfield also posts a video showing the scrum.
No arrests were made. Police say one woman was hit by a protester but there were no injuries.
In a tweet, Baroness Susan Williams, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the UK’s Department of Communities and Local Government, says she’s “appalled to hear reports of violent protests at Kings College Israel Society meeting yesterday. Totally unacceptable.”
The Israeli Embassy in London tells the Chronicle the incident was “shocking and shameful.”
The university launched an investigation into the incident, according to the paper.
Anti-Israel professor probed for IS ties
A professor at Kent State University with a history of anti-Israel activity is under FBI investigation for ties to the Islamic State.
The FBI confirmed that Professor Julio Pino is being investigated, the Akron Beacon Journal reported Tuesday night.
The Cuban-born Pino, a convert to Islam who is also known as Assad Jibril Pino, has denied connections to the Islamist group.
“I can only imagine, given my past record at Kent State dealing with controversial issues about the Middle East, some people may be favorable or unfavorable. Rumors start, and that’s the only thing I can think would draw attention from a government agency,” Pino told the Beacon Journal.
The FBI has questioned Pino’s colleagues and students, according to the newspaper.
Pino, a tenured history professor, has courted controversy for years, writing an opinion column in 2002 in the Kent State student newspaper in which he praised a Palestinian suicide bomber.
In 2011, he shouted “Death To Israel” during a lecture at the university by Ishmael Khaldi, the former deputy consul general at the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco.
Rocks thrown at light rail for ninth time in two days
Rocks have been thrown at the Jerusalem light rail for a third time Wednesday, news site 0404 reports.
There is no official word on injuries or damage after the incident in the Shuafat area of East Jerusalem.
The incident is the latest in an uptick of rock throwing attacks against the Jerusalem conveyance, with 0404 reporting nine incidents in the last two days alone.
Attacks on the line as it passes through Shuafat have been a constant problem since the light rail was opened in 2011, though officials touted hopes it would serve to connect the Arab East and Jewish West districts of the capital.
Army holds major drill on northern border
The army announces it has wrapped a major two-week drill on the northern border simulating concurrent wars on the Lebanese and Syrian fronts for the first time.
The drill was designed to prepare troops for a long-term conflict, according to the army, and came amid heightened tensions with Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, following the reported Israeli assassination of Samir Kuntar, a major figure in the organization.
GOC Northern Command Aviv Kochavi says in a statement that the exercise was designed to simulate a fight against Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad terror group on the two fronts.
“We simulated vast maneuvers, substantial fire power, and attack of thousands of targets in all combat areas, with high efficiency, including residential areas exploited by the enemy,” he says.
The exercise was planned ahead of time and was not related to the current situation, the army says.
Supermarket sued for refusal to deliver to Arabs
The Shufersal supermarket chain is being sued over the company’s refusal to deliver groceries to Arab towns.
Two citizens of Arab towns in northern Israel are asking a Haifa court to award them NIS 450 million over Shufersal (also called Supersol) declining to deliver products to their homes as a matter of policy.
“At first I thought naively that the chain only delivers to big cities where they have a store. But I was recently informed that Shufersal delivers to nearly every town in Israel, so long as they are not Arab,” one of the claimants says, according to Haaretz.
A recording of a conversation with a company representative on Channel 2 has her stating that the company does not deliver to Arab towns.
Among the places that are serviced by Shufersal are West Bank settlements.
The company says in response that it does not discriminate based on ethnicity or religion, and says it will study the complaint once it receives it, Haaretz reports.
Israel 25th best country in world, study finds
An ambitious best countries ranking revealed by US News and World Report at the World Economic Forum in Davos lists Israel as No. 25, well behind the Western European and North American nations that dominate the list’s heights.
Topping the list is Germany, with Canada, the UK, US and Sweden rounding out the top five.
The ranking is based on 65 factors lumped into nine categories like adventure, quality of life, and “open for business.”
Israel does best in “Power” where it is ranked number 8, while it comes in at only #53 in adventure.
The No. 25 ranking puts it one spot behind Russia and one ahead of Greece.
A number of other rankings of best countries are also released, with Israel’s best showing (#8) notched on the Most Influential Countries list, while it only garners a No. 51 ranking in Best Countries to Travel Alone and Best Countries to Start a Business.
Syrians return to Damascus homes after truce
Hundreds of families displaced by fighting in a neighborhood on the edge of the Syrian capital are returning to their homes as part of a truce between the government and local rebels reached last year.
Their return to the Qadam neighborhood is the latest in a series of ground-level local agreements to end fighting and ease suffering in the war-stricken country.
State news agency SANA says 25 buses transported the returnees from nearby areas after final arrangements had been made for their return to homes fled in 2013-2014 battles that transformed Qadam into a ghost town.
The area was largely destroyed by intense fighting that ended with a cease-fire in August 2014 after months of negotiations.
The government has struck several similar deals with rebels in other neighborhoods and suburbs of Damascus, usually after besieging them for months and pounding them into submission, opposition activists say.
Syrian authorities tout the truces as part of the government’s program of “national reconciliation” to end the conflict, which has killed more than 250,000 people since March 2011.
2015 was hottest year ever recorded, study finds
Blistering heat blanketed the Earth last year like never before, making 2015 by far the hottest year in modern times and raising new concerns about the accelerating pace of climate change.
Not only was 2015 the warmest worldwide since 1880, it shattered the previous record held in 2014 by the widest margin ever observed, says the report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“During 2015, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.62 Fahrenheit (0.90 Celsius) above the 20th century average,” says the NOAA report.
“This was the highest among all years in the 1880-2015 record.”
Compared to 2014, last year was 0.29 Fahrenheit (0.13 Celsius) warmer, the “largest margin by which the annual global temperature record has been broken.”
The US space agency NASA, which monitors global climate using a fleet of satellites and weather stations, confirms that last year broke records for heat in contemporary times.
Scientists report new ninth planet in solar system
Scientists report they finally have “good evidence” for Planet X, a true ninth planet on the fringes of our solar system.
The gas giant is thought to be almost as big as Neptune and orbiting billions of miles beyond Neptune’s path — distant enough to take 10,000 to 20,000 years to circle the sun.
This Planet 9, as the two California Institute of Technology researchers call it, hasn’t been spotted yet. They base their findings on mathematical and computer modeling, and anticipate its discovery via telescope within five years or less.
The two reported on their research Wednesday in the Astronomical Journal because they want people to help them look for it.
“We could have stayed quiet and quietly spent the next five years searching the skies ourselves and hoping to find it. But I would rather somebody find it sooner, than me find it later,” astronomer Mike Brown tells The Associated Press.
Plea deal close for Givat Zeev stabber — report
Prosecutors are working on a plea deal for a teen terrorist involved in an attack in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev in October, in which two people were seriously injured.
Ahmed Manasra was 13 when he carried out the attack with his cousin, Hassan Manasra, who was shot and killed as he charged at police with a knife.
The deal would sea Manasra, who cannot be sentenced to a life term for attempted murder because of his age, plead guilty to a lesser charge, according to a Channel 10 report.
A 13-year-old Israeli boy and a 25-year-old man were both seriously injured in the attack.
Partial ban on Palestinian workers to remain in place
After a relatively quiet day in the West Bank security-wise, the IDF says it will still restrict Palestinian laborers from entering some Israeli settlements Thursday, for the third straight day.
On Tuesday, the army banned all Palestinian laborers from entering West Bank settlements, keeping tens of thousands from jobs mostly in construction, manufacturing and agriculture.
Some settlements were green-lighted to allow in workers on Wednesday, a day which saw no stabbing attacks or attempts as of 9:30 p.m.
The ban followed two attacks by Palestinian terrorists who sneaked into settlements, including the fatal stabbing of Dafna Meir in Otniel on Sunday.
IDF: Some settlements still off limits to Palestinian workers
Palestinian workers will still not be able to enter some of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, in the areas of Hebron, Nablus and Ramallah, the army announces.
The IDF declines to detail which specific communities in those areas would still be off-limits.
“In the area of Bethlehem, Palestinian workers will be able to enter all of the Israeli communities with the exception of Tekoa,” an IDF spokesperson says.
The decision will be assessed by the head of the IDF’s West Bank division Brig. Gen. Lior Carmeli tomorrow, the spokesperson says.
— Judah Ari Gross