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In about-turn, Trump pledges to move US Embassy to Jerusalem

Republican front-runner says he is '100 percent' in favor of the change; Netanyahu, Shapiro meet after public spat over West Bank ‘double standards’ comments

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

  • Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a town hall style campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, December 11, 2015. (Steve Pope/Getty Images)
    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a town hall style campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, December 11, 2015. (Steve Pope/Getty Images)
  • Police patrol in front of the main train station and the cathedral in Cologne, Germany, Monday, January 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
    Police patrol in front of the main train station and the cathedral in Cologne, Germany, Monday, January 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
  • Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon at the Israel Democracy Institute on Wednesday, November 25, 2015 (Ariel Hermony/Defense Ministry)
    Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon at the Israel Democracy Institute on Wednesday, November 25, 2015 (Ariel Hermony/Defense Ministry)
  • Deputy Foreign Minister Tzippi Hotovelli and former foreign minister Tzippi Livni during a live broadcast on Channel 2 news. (Screenshot)
    Deputy Foreign Minister Tzippi Hotovelli and former foreign minister Tzippi Livni during a live broadcast on Channel 2 news. (Screenshot)
  • MK Ahmad Tibi seen at the Israeli parliament during a special plenum session marking the 50th birthday of the Knesset, January 19, 2016. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    MK Ahmad Tibi seen at the Israeli parliament during a special plenum session marking the 50th birthday of the Knesset, January 19, 2016. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • US Ambassador Dan Shapiro speaks at the 9th Annual International Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv on January 18, 2016. (Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv)
    US Ambassador Dan Shapiro speaks at the 9th Annual International Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv on January 18, 2016. (Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv)
  • US Rep. Dan Kildee meets with former Iran prisoner Amir Hekmati at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany, January 18, 2016. (Courtesy of the Hekmati Family via AP)
    US Rep. Dan Kildee meets with former Iran prisoner Amir Hekmati at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany, January 18, 2016. (Courtesy of the Hekmati Family via AP)
  • Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (L) and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein in the Knesset during a special plenum session marking the 50th birthday of the parliament building, January 19, 2016. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (L) and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein in the Knesset during a special plenum session marking the 50th birthday of the parliament building, January 19, 2016. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Republican front-runner says he is '100 percent' in favor of the change; Netanyahu, Shapiro meet after public spat over West Bank ‘double standards’ comments

The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s developments as they unfolded.

French parliament to probe handling of 2015 attacks

The French parliament will create a commission to investigate the government’s handling of last year’s attacks in the country, the parliamentary leader of the opposition Republicans party says Tuesday.

The probe into “the resources put in place by the state to fight terrorism since January 7, 2015” — the date of an attack on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo — will begin soon, Christian Jacobs tells reporters.

Four days after the jihadist terror attacks of November 13 claimed 130 lives in the French capital, Jacob said his parliamentary group was likely to ask for the probe “so that the French people will know the whole truth about the conditions in which these attacks could have happened.”

A policeman stands guard, on January 21, 2015, in front the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket where jihadist gunman Amedy Coulibaly killed four Jewish men on January 9, 2015 in Paris. (AFP/Eric Feferberg)

A policeman stands guard, on January 21, 2015, in front the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket where jihadist gunman Amedy Coulibaly killed four Jewish men on January 9, 2015 in Paris. (AFP/Eric Feferberg)

–AFP

UN: Nearly 19,000 civilians killed in Iraq since 2014

At least 18,802 civilians were killed and another 36,245 were wounded in Iraq between the start of 2014 and October 31 of last year as Iraqi forces battled the Islamic State group, says a new UN report.

The report documents a wide range of human rights abuses, including the IS group’s conscription of some 3,500 people into slavery, mainly women and children from the Yazidi religious minority captured in the summer of 2014 and forced into sexual slavery.

People carry the body of a victim killed in a truck bombing in Jameela market in the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq, August 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim, File)

People carry the body of a victim killed in a truck bombing in Jameela market in the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq, August 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim, File)

It says another 800 to 900 children were abducted from Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, for religious and military training. It said a number of IS child soldiers were killed by the extremists when they tried to flee fighting in the western Anbar province.

–AP

Five injured, two seriously in Tel Aviv mafia bombing

A car explosion in Tel Aviv has seriously injured two people and moderately hurt another. Police say the blast is an underworld gang hit and not a terror attack.

Two passersby were lightly hurt in the bombing, which rocked roads near the stock exchange in Ramat Gan, the Ma’ariv news site reports.

The injured includes a senior figure in the crime organization headed by Amir Mulner.

Prof. Pini Halpern, head of the emergency ward at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, confirms in a statement that three people with injuries have arrived at the ward, two of them in serious condition, who were being treated in the trauma room.

Paramedics treat injured in Tel Aviv gang-hit explosion

Yehuda Hildesheim, a volunteer with the Hatzalah emergency response organization describes the scene of the underworld gang hit in Tel Aviv where a car exploded and burst into flames injuring five.

He says that when he arrived at the site, he found two people with serious injuries and burns resulting from the force of the explosion in their car. They received initial treatment on site.

He adds that a man and a woman who happened to be passing by at the time of the blast were treated for light injuries.

Effi Levev, deputy director of the Tel Aviv District Magen David Adom ambulance service, and senior ambulance paramedic Danny Ben Aroush, says two men were lying seriously hurt outside of the car when they arrived, one of them unconscious, and nearby was a third man, aged around 30, who suffered injuries from the force of the explosion.

Swedish prosecutor opens inquiry into FM Wallstrom

A Swedish anti-corruption prosecutor has opened an inquiry to determine whether a crime was committed when Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom obtained a Stockholm rental apartment from a union.

“The media has since Friday published reports that representatives for the trade union Kommunal have since late summer 2014 until April 2015 promised and then obtained a rental contract for Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom in one of the union’s buildings in Stockholm,” special prosecutor Alf Johansson at the National Economic Crimes Bureau says in a statement.

The prosecutor says he had “decided to open an inquiry into both the giving and taking of a bribe to determine if a crime has been committed.”

Wallstrom insists she acted in good faith and that she had received guarantees that Kommunal was following the rules. She welcomes the inquiry.

“I welcome an investigation. I have nothing to hide and it is good that this will get sorted out,” she tells news agency TT, adding: “I will continue to do my job.”

The 61-year-old Social Democrat has repeatedly enraged Israel, starting with Sweden’s recognition of a Palestinian state shortly after she became foreign minister in October 2014.

In December, she called on Israel to halt what she called “extrajudicial executions” in response to attacks by knife-wielding Palestinians, following up with a demand this month for “thorough” investigations into the killing of Palestinians by the Israeli army.

Sweden's Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallstrom gives a statement to the media in Stockholm, Sweden, on the Paris terrorist attacks, on November 14, 2015. (AFP/TT News Agency/Henrik Montgomery)

Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallstrom gives a statement to the media in Stockholm, Sweden, on the Paris terrorist attacks, on November 14, 2015. (AFP/TT News Agency/Henrik Montgomery)

with AFP

Olmert makes final appeal to avoid jail in Talansky case

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert makes a final appeal to the Supreme Court in in his appeal of the Talansky case. He is appealing an eight month jail sentence for receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from New York businessman Moshe Talansky.

“I served the country for decades without taking a penny for myself,” Ynet says Olmert told the court.

“I gave every day and night to the service of the State of Israel.”

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seen at the Jerusalem Supreme Court on January 19, 2016, to appeal his sentence in the Talansky Case. (Photo by Amit Shabi/POOL)

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seen at the Jerusalem Supreme Court on January 19, 2016, to appeal his sentence in the Talansky Case. (Photo by Amit Shabi/POOL)

Olmert had been sentenced in May 2014 to six years in prison on two separate charges of taking bribes in the early 2000s in connection with the construction of Jerusalem’s massive Holyland residential complex. In December the Supreme Court reduced his sentence to 18 months in prison and acquitted him of one of the charges.

Israel Radio reports Olmert struck a deal Monday with the prosecution to avoid another jail term

The report says Olmert’s lawyer reached the agreement on behalf of the 70-year-old with the prosecutor general who had accused Olmert of obstructing justice. The prosecutor agrees to Olmert concurrently serving six months for obstructing justice with his 18-month sentence for corruption.

Olmert had been sentenced in May 2014 to six years in prison on two separate charges of taking bribes in the early 2000s in connection with the construction of Jerusalem’s massive Holyland residential complex. But in December the Supreme Court reduced his sentence to 18 months in prison and acquitted him of one of the charges.

11 swine flu deaths in Syria since September

Eleven people have been killed by the swine flu virus in Syria since September, the country’s health ministry says.

“Since September, 27 people infected with the H1N1 virus have been hospitalised. Eleven of them died,” Ahmad Damiriyeh of the health ministry’s division on chronic and contagious diseases is quoted in the state-run Al-Thawra daily as saying.

In December one woman died of swine flu in Israel and another ten people were hospitalized with the disease.

The H1N1 cases were spread across Syria, according to the newspaper.

Syria reported its first death from swine flu in August 2009, during a regional outbreak that sparked warnings from governments and the World Health Organization.

By August 2010, when the WHO lifted its warning, the virus had killed 18,500 people in 214 countries.

 

Ya’alon: I have no doubt we will defeat this wave of terror

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon says he is sure Israel will be successful in ending the current wave of terror.

“There is wave of terror, but we defeat it, I have no doubt,” Ya’alon says during a visit to the West Bank settlement of Otniel, where a woman was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist on Sunday.

“We need to be determined, we need to be aware, but in the end, we will defeat this as we have done in the past,” he adds.

More than two dozen Israelis have been killed in stabbing, shooting and car ramming attacks since October 1.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, right, during a visit to the settlement of Otniel in the West Bank, January 19, 2016. (Government Press Office)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, right, during a visit to the settlement of Otniel in the West Bank, January 19, 2016. (Government Press Office)

Ya’alon also thanks security forces for their help in capturing the perpetrator of Sunday’s attack.

“At this opportunity I want to praise the IDF, the Central Command, the Shin Bet security agency, border police officers and the police for their tireless work in order to bring security to the area,” he says

Ya’alon toured the area around the Otniel settlement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, IDF Central Region Commander Major General Roni Numa and other senior regional commanders.

 

Iran’s Khamenei warns against US ‘deceit’ in nuclear deal

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warns against American “deceit” after Tehran finalized a landmark nuclear deal with world powers led by the United States.

In his first comments since the agreement was implemented, Khamenei stresses in a letter to President Hassan Rouhani the need to “guard against deceit and violations of arrogant states particularly the United States.”

The supreme leader, who had the final say on Tehran’s nuclear negotiations, welcomes the lifting of sanctions under the deal, but says it is “not enough for boosting the economy and improving people’s lives,” according to the letter published by the IRNA news agency.

Khamenei has never endorsed repairing relations with the US and has largely followed a similar tack to Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who dubbed America the “Great Satan.”

The nuclear deal saw an end to years of economic sanctions on Iran but Washington on Sunday announced new financial measures against Tehran’s ballistic missile programme.

Tehran decries the new measures as “illegitimate”.

–AFP

Two men charged with murdering French Jewish MP

Two men are being indicted for the murder of French Jewish politician Alain Ghozland. The men, aged 21 and 23 were arrested Saturday morning, the French daily Le Parisien reports.

They are accused of “Murder, robbery, arrest, arbitrary detention and forcible confinement and concealment.”

French Jewish local politician Alain Ghozland, 73, was found dead in his home on January 12, 2016 (Facebook)

French Jewish local politician Alain Ghozland, 73, was found dead in his home on January 12, 2016 (Facebook)

Ghozland was found dead in his Paris home last Tuesday. An autopsy found he died of asphyxiation and had several contusions on his body.

Police investigators were said to believe his death may have have been a robbery gone wrong, but were keeping all avenues of investigation open.

Ghozland, originally from Algeria, was found by his brother, who came looking for him after he didn’t show up to synagogue a day earlier. He represented the heavily Jewish Parisian suburb of Créteil.

‘Chandelier’ singer Sia to play Tel Aviv in May

Australian pop singer Sia, known for her hits “Chandelier” and “Elastic Heart,” is reportedly planning to perform in Israel end of May.

Sia, whose full name is Sia Kate Isobelle Furler, will appear in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park, Ynet reports. Concert promoter Ilan Elkayam of 3A Productions — LIVE in Israel tells the site that Sia signed a contract, but that no further information was available.

Australian pop star Sia has signed on the dotted line to perform in Tel Aviv this spring (Courtesy SiaLovers/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Australian pop star Sia has signed on the dotted line to perform in Tel Aviv this spring (Courtesy SiaLovers/CC BY-SA 4.0)

The performance will be the pop star’s first in Israel.

“Chandelier” was one of the singer’s first major hits, released in 2014 along with another single, “Elastic Heart,” from her album “1000 Forms of Fear.”

US LGBTQ group cancels event with Israeli gay leaders

A Wider Bridge, an Israeli LGBT activist group, alleges that the National LGBTQ Task Force canceled a reception with leaders of the Israeli gay organization, Jerusalem’s Open House, scheduled to be held at the Creating Change conference in Chicago, due to pressure from anti-Israel activists.

The conference will be held January 20-22.

The organization announced over the weekend it would move the reception scheduled for January 22 to a new location outside the conference venue.

Local Jewish communities in the Bay Area show their support for the gay community at the San Francisco gay parade. (file photo; photo credit: Daniel Dreifuss/Flash 90)

Local Jewish communities in the Bay Area show their support for the gay community at the San Francisco gay parade. (file photo; photo credit: Daniel Dreifuss/Flash 90)

A Wider Bridge calls for the event to be included on the conference’s program, and for an apology from the National LGBTQ Task Force.

“We are saddened by what appears to be capitulation to the intimidation of a small number of anti-Israel extremists who want to shut down the voices of those who don’t adhere to their rigid and exclusive party line. As LGBTQ people, we are all too familiar with being oppressed through shaming, the closet, and imposed silence, and we see great danger in allowing this kind of censorship and blatant double standard to become the norm in our community,” says Arthur Slepian, executive director of A Wider Bridge, in the statement.

Netanyahu: We will continue to build and protect our land

Speaking on the occasion of the 67th anniversary of the opening of the first Knesset, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will remain steadfast against threats on its democracy and its citizens.

“Israel stands on the other side of despotic Middle Eastern regimes. We have rule of law. We have democracy. We have democratic institutions,” he says.

Referencing Sunday’s fatal stabbing in the West Bank settlement of Otniel, Netnayahu says, “no one will be successful in removing us from our land.

“We will be here forever. We will continue to build it and protect it,” he adds.

Arab lawmakers walk out during Netanyahu speech

MKs from the Joint (Arab) List walk out during a Knesset session marking 67 years since the first plenary session as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks from the podium.

In a speech praising Israeli democracy, Netanyahu tells the plenary that Israeli values stand “on the other side to the ideologies we see in the Arab world today.”

Knesset speaker: Israeli democracy is in danger

Speaking on the occasion of the 67th anniversary of the opening of the first Knesset, speaker Yuli Edelstein warns that bad behavior by lawmakers is damaging the image of the parliament and limiting its ability to govern.

“Knesset members come and go, but it is Israeli democracy, ladies and gentlemen, that is in real danger,” Edelstein says.

“The Knesset is your home and all of us are it’s emissaries.” he tells the lawmakers. “Please don’t spill the baby with the bathwater, don’t lose the Knesset as an essential institution of the rule of law.”

The first meeting of the Knesset took place on February 14, 1949. The anniversary is held each year on the Hebrew date of the 10th of Shvat which is also the traditional “birthday for trees.”

Iran gets first $32 bn as first sanctions lifted

Iran says it successfully transferred some of the billions of dollars’ worth of frozen overseas assets following the implementation of the nuclear deal with world powers.

Iranian state television quotes the head of Iran’s Central Bank as saying that Tehran transferred funds from banks in Japan and South Korea to other banks in Germany and the United Arab Emirates.

An Iranian woman walks past a Bank Pasargad in the capital Tehran on January 19, 2016. Iran will receive $32 billion of unfrozen assets after sanctions were lifted in a deal with world powers over its nuclear programme, Iranian central bank chief Valiollah Seif said.( AFP / ATTA KENARE)

An Iranian woman walks past a Bank Pasargad in the capital Tehran on January 19, 2016. Iran will receive $32 billion of unfrozen assets after sanctions were lifted in a deal with world powers over its nuclear programme, Iranian central bank chief Valiollah Seif said.( AFP / ATTA KENARE)

He does not say how much money was involved in the transfers, though he said the nuclear deal would give Tehran access to $32 billion in overseas assets.

Seif says that $28 billion (25.8 billion euros) would go to the central bank and $4 billion “will be transferred to the state treasury as the share of the government”.

He also pledges to address the parallel exchange rate for Iranian rials and foreign currencies on the black market, which trade 20 percent higher than their official values. The black market rate is 36,000 Iranian rials to the dollar while the official rate is 30,000 rials for a dollar.

–AP, AFP

Central region army drill set for Wednesday

The army says the Home Front Command will hold a training exercise in a number of cities in central Israel on Wednesday.

Heavy troop movement can be expected in the cities and towns of Holon, Modiin, Givat Shmuel, Nes Tziona and Beit Dagan, according to an army statement. The drill will take place in the “early hours” of Wednesday morning.

The Army Spokesman’s office stresses that the exercise had been planned in advance and was not connected to recent events.

Thousand mourn dean of prominent Haredi yeshiva

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews swell the streets of Jerusalem during the funeral procession ceremony of Rabbi Rafael Shmuelovich, the long-time dean of the Mir Yeshiva.

He died Monday at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. He was 78.

Thousands of Ultra Orthodox Jews attend the funeral ceremony of Rabbi Rafael Shmuelovich at the Mir Yeshiva Hall in Beit Israel neighborhood of Jerusalem, on January 19, 2016. (Flash90)

Thousands of Ultra Orthodox Jews attend the funeral ceremony of Rabbi Rafael Shmuelovich at the Mir Yeshiva Hall in Beit Israel neighborhood of Jerusalem, on January 19, 2016. (Flash90)

Shuelovich had served as the dean or “Rosh Yeshiva” of the Mir Yeshiva since 1979 when his father, the previous dean passed away.

He was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS in 2012 and given just months to live but showed signs of recovery after experimental stem cell treatment at Hadassah Medical Center.

He was the subject of a Channel 2 News documentary on the treatment.

Belgian Jewish newspaper complains over Holocaust denier interview in daily

A Belgian Jewish newspaper is complaining to the country’s watchdog on journalism about a daily that published a Holocaust denier’s claim that no one died in Nazi gas chambers.

The Antwerp-based Joods Actueel monthly filed the complaint against the De Morgen daily last week, the monthly’s editor-in-chief, Michael Freilich, tells JTA Monday.

In its complaint against De Morgen, Joods Actueel cited legislation from 1995 that forbids claiming the Holocaust did not happen – a law which Freilich claims was broken both by De Morgen and by the newspaper’s interviewee, Siegfried Verbeke.

In an interview published earlier this month, Verbeke, a far-right symathizer with multiple convictions for inciting racial hate against Jews and denying the genocide, said, “Of course gas chambers existed, hundreds of them. To disinfect the clothes of people who went through them. But gas chambers designed to kill people never existed, no.”

The Belgian state’s authority for combatting discrimination, ICGK, said it was looking into legal action against Verbeke over this statement and Antwerp Mayor Bart De Wever expressed support for his prosecution. But “De Morgen is for all intents and purposes an accomplice in this offense, and should answer for its actions,” Freilich says.

–JTA

Number of complaints in Cologne attacks continues to grow

German prosecutors say more than 800 complaints have now been filed in connection with assaults and robberies in Cologne on New Year’s Eve that investigators have linked largely to foreigners.

About 521 complaints allege some kind of sexual assault, including three rapes. The overall number of complaints has grown from 766 on Monday to 809 on Tuesday.

Police patrol in front of the main train station and the cathedral in Cologne, Germany, Monday, January 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Police patrol in front of the main train station and the cathedral in Cologne, Germany, Monday, January 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

The attacks have stoked a fierce debate in Germany about how to integrate the almost 1.1 million asylum-seekers who arrived last year.

German news agency DPA reported Tuesday that police are investigating 21 people from North African countries in connection with the Cologne attacks for robbery, theft and trafficking stolen goods. Eight suspects are currently in detention. One of them is accused of sexual assault for allegedly groping a woman.

–AP

German police searching for Hitler-lookalike who attacked immigrants

Dresden police are searching for a man — described as sporting a Hitler mustache and wearing a Nazi-style helmet emblazoned with a swastika — who assaulted an Afghan immigrant on a sledding hill in eastern Germany.

Police say the man approached two Afghan men, aged 21 and 26, on Saturday in Geising, south of Dresden. Witnesses say the attacker insulted them, and then hit the younger man on the head, knocking him to the ground.

After passers-by intervened, police say the man showed the stiff-armed Nazi salute, then fled the scene.

The man, who is being sought on charges of assault and the display of banned symbols, is described as strongly built, about 25-30 years old, with a shaved head.

Police are appealing to the public for any information.

–AP

Tzipi vs. Tzipi

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni trade barbs during a live broadcast on Channel 2 news.

The two blamed each other’s political ideologies and government’s actions for the current wave of violence that has claimed the lives of at least 25 Israelis since October.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni during a live broadcast on Channel 2 news. (Screenshot)

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni during a live broadcast on Channel 2 news. (Screenshot)

“We gained absolutely nothing from your failed attempts to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority,” Hotovely tells Livni. “The wave of violence we are seeing now is a consequence of you bolstering Abu Mazen.”

“Stop hiding behind what we did and blaming us for your lack of control,” Livni responds.

“This government has damaged our relations with the US and is failing to protect the citizens of Israel,” she adds.

When Hotovely tries to interrupt the former foreign minister, Livni snaps, “Let me answer. You will let me answer.”

Brno Jewish community unveils new Torah scroll

The Jewish community of Brno in the Czech Republic, inaugurates a new Torah scroll in the city’s only surviving synagogue.

The dedication ceremony marks the completion of a more than one-year-long renovation of the synagogue in the country’s second largest city.

Several hundred people attend the inauguration, including the head of the Czech Republic’s federation of Jewish communities Petr Papousek, Israeli ambassador to the Czech Republic Gary Koren, the mayor of Brno Petr Vokral and the bishop of the Brno diocese Vojtech Cikrle.

The Torah scroll was fashioned by Jewish scribe Rabbi Moshe Fluemenbaum of Jerusalem.

The costs of the renovation, which amounted to about $480,000, were covered by the EU as well as the European Economic area and Norway grants. The cost of the new Torah scroll alone was over $32,000, according to the manager of the project, Petr Špunar of the Brno Jewish community.

The Jewish community of Brno has about 300 members. The functionalist-style Agudas Achim synagogue was erected in the 1930s. It was re-dedicated in 1945 and has since been in active use as the only synagogue in the eastern region of the country.

–JTA

New Jersey schools evacuate over bomb, shooting threat

US authorities on Tuesday evacuated at least nine schools in New Jersey after receiving a bomb and shooting threat, a sheriff office’s spokesman says.

The schools affected are located in Bergen County in the northeastern part of the state, across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

Police in the town of Clifton say “numerous school districts in the area” had received a bomb threat by voice mail early Tuesday.

Police were dispatched to Clifton High School but have found “no credibility to these threats” although “precautions are still being taken throughout the district in response to the situation,” according to a statement on Facebook.

The message was apparently recorded overnight and “indicated a non-specific threat to the school district involving the placement of a bomb in one of the schools, as well as a secondary threat of a ‘mass shooting,'” police write.

The schools evacuated are located in Bergenfield, Englewood, Fair Lawn, Garfield, Hackensack, Leonia, Tenafly and Teaneck, said the spokesman for Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino.

–AFP

US LGBTQ group re-invites Israelis after protest

The National LGBTQ Task Force is reinstating a event for Israeli gay activist group Jerusalem’s Open House, after its cancellation elicited criticism from Israeli and Jewish organizations.

“Having taken in a range of information and seeing what has happened over the last couple of days, I have decided to reverse our decision to cancel the ‘Beyond the Bridge’ reception hosted by A Wider Bridge with guest speakers from the Jerusalem Open House. It is our belief that when faced with choices, we should move towards our core value of inclusion and opportunities for constructive dialogue and canceling the reception was a mistake,” Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force says in a statement.

“In reversing the decision today, we want to make it quite clear that the Creating Change Conference will always be a safe space for inclusion and dialogue for people with often widely different views. It was not at all our intention to censor representatives of the Jerusalem Open House or A Wider Bridge at Creating Change and I apologize that our actions left people feeling silenced,” the statement reads.

A Wider Bridge, an Israeli LGBT activist group, alleged that the National LGBTQ Task Force had canceled a reception with leaders of Jerusalem’s Open House, scheduled to be held at the Creating Change conference in Chicago, due to pressure from anti-Israel activists.

The New Israel Fund had condemned the cancellation calling it “morally and pragmatically wrong.”

Netanyahu, Shapiro meet after public spat over West Bank ‘double standards’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro Tuesday, a day after the envoy leveled sharp criticism against Israel’s West Bank settlement policy, and alleged Israel had two standards of law in the territory, one for Israelis and one another for Palestinians.

The ambassador’s comments on Monday drew a furious response from Israel, but according to Hebrew reports on Tuesday, Netanyahu and Shapiro held a friendly half-hour meeting in the Prime Minister’s Office.

The two were signaling that there was no lingering tensions between the US and Israel following Monday’s public spat.

Ambassador Dan Shapiro meets PM Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, November 7, 2012. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Ambassador Dan Shapiro (left) meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in November 2012. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Shapiro’s comments — coming on the day that an Israeli mother-of-six killed by a Palestinian terrorist was laid to rest, and a pregnant woman was injured in a second attack– drew a harsh response from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, who called the remarks “unacceptable and incorrect.”

–Tamar Pileggi

Freed US Marine says he feels lucky after Iran prisoner swap release

Former US Marine Amir Hekmati says he feels humbled and lucky to be free again, after being one of four Americans released by Iran as part of a prisoner swap.

Hekmati tells reporters Tuesday outside the US military’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany that news of his impending release came as a surprise.

The 32-year-old says he and his fellow prisoners weren’t able to relax until the Swiss government plane they were flown out in had left Iranian airspace, after which “champagne corks were popped.”

US Rep. Dan Kildee meets with former Iran prisoner Amir Hekmati at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany, January 18, 2016. (Courtesy of the Hekmati Family via AP)

US Rep. Dan Kildee meets with former Iran prisoner Amir Hekmati at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany, January 18, 2016. (Courtesy of the Hekmati Family via AP)

US Rep. Dan Kildee, a Democrat from Hekmati’s home state of Michigan, said he spent several hours with the 32-year-old and that he seems in good health.

“He has not had much of a chance to exercise and he’s lost some weight but he looks fit and I think he is on the mend,” Kildee told The Associated Press. “A better diet and a chance to exercise… and I think he’ll turn out to be just fine.”

Hekmati, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and pastor Saeed Abedini arrived late Sunday at Landstuhl for treatment. A fourth American released in exchange for the U.S. pardoning or dropping charges against seven Iranians opted to stay in Iran, and a fifth American was released separately.

Hekmati was detained in August 2011 on espionage charges. Hekmati says he went to Iran to visit family and spend time with his ailing grandmother. After his arrest, family members say they were told to keep the matter quiet.

He was convicted of spying and sentenced to death in 2012. After a higher court ordered a retrial, he was sentenced in 2014 to 10 years on a lesser charge.

Trump flip-flops, pledges to move US Embassy to Jerusalem

Donald Trump says he would move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“They want it in Jerusalem,” the front-runner among Republican presidential candidates says in an interview posted Tuesday by The Brody File, a Christian Broadcasting Network show. “Well I am for that 100 percent. We are for that 100 percent.”

David Brody, the CBN journalist, had asked Trump whether he agreed with GOP rivals, including Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who have pledged to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem once elected.

Trump’s agreement seems to be an about-face from remarks in December at the Republican Jewish Coalition, when the real estate magnate refused to commit to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital.

Speaking over boos at that event, Trump said it was foolish to harden positions ahead of talks.

“You can’t go in with the attitude ‘we’re gonna shove it down your,’ you’ve got to go in and get it and do and do it it nicely, so that everybody’s happy,” he said there.

Congress passed a law in 1995 mandating the move of the embassy to Jerusalem, but allowed the president a waiver. Each president since then has routinely exercised the waiver, citing the national security interests of the United States.

— JTA, Times of Israel staff

Ya’alon: I prefer Islamic State in Syria than Iran

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon says that Iran poses a greater threat than Islamic State and that if the Syrian regime were to fall, Israel would prefer IS controlling the territory than an Iranian proxy.

“In Syria, if the choice is between Iran and the Islamic State, I choose the Islamic State. They don’t have the capabilities that Iran has,” Ya’alon tells the INSS conference.

The Defense Minister was speaking about the threats facing Israel during the thinktank’s annual conference.

–Judah Ari Gross

ADL praises LGBTQ group’s reversal on invite for Israelis

The Anti-Defamation League welcomes the National LGBTQ Task Force’s reversal of its decision to cancel a reception for Israeli gay group Jerusalem’s Open House at their upcoming annual “Creating Change” conference.

“We are very pleased that the Task Force has reversed course and taken responsibility for their deeply misguided decision to cancel this reception. We were surprised and disappointed with the initial choice to cancel an event that had been designed to celebrate and embrace ties with Israel’s diverse LGBTQ community. That initial decision was unworthy of an organization committed to justice and equality,” the ADL says a statement.

“The initial decision to cancel an event highlighting the work of an organization that serves the entire Israeli LGBTQ community, Jews and Arabs alike, was an indefensible exception to that practice,” the statement adds.

6-year-old NJ boy killed by car while walking to synagogue

A 6-year-old New Jersey boy was struck and killed by a car while walking to his Orthodox synagogue.

Chaim Kraus of Highland Park was heading to Agudath Israel of Edison and Highland Park with his mother, Rochie, when the two were hit by a car that skipped onto the sidewalk curb on Raritan Avenue in their Central Jersey township on Saturday afternoon.

Rochie Kraus, 37, was still being treated for critical injuries as of Monday, according to WABC-TV in New York.

The driver, Shang Zhen Huang, 21, of Piscataway, was treated for minor injuries before being released to police.

Huang has been charged with two counts of aggravated assault and is being held in lieu of a $200,000 bail. Police are still investigating the incident.

“The tragic accident yesterday has the entire community grieving,” Highland Park Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler tells NJ.com.

–JTA

Cabinet minister calls for the creation of an independent Kurdistan

In an unprecedented move Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked calls for relations with Kurds to be at the center of a new Israeli national security policy, and says the time has come for the rectification of the historic injustice of the lack of a Kurdish state.

“We must openly call for the establishment of a Kurdish state that separates Iran from Turkey, and that will be friendly towards Israel,” Shaked tells the annual INSS security conference in Tel Aviv.

“We must build economic and other ties with them. It is time to help them,” she says.

“The Kurdish people are a partner for the Israeli people,” she tells the conference, noting the shared interests of Israel and the Kurds in defeating the rise of jihadist Muslim groups in the region. “The Kurds are an ancient, democratic, peace-loving people that have never attacked any country,”

Iraqi Kurdish forces take part in an operation backed by US-led strikes in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar on November 12, 2015, to retake the town from the Islamic State group and cut a key supply line to Syria. (AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED)

Iraqi Kurdish forces take part in an operation backed by US-led strikes in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar on November 12, 2015, to retake the town from the Islamic State group and cut a key supply line to Syria. (AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED)

Iraqi Kurdistan and Israel do not have an official status of relations, though there are claims that there are numerous contacts between the entities on government and business levels.

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Five injured, two seriously in Tel Aviv mafia bombing

A car explosion in Tel Aviv has seriously injured two people and moderately hurt another. Police say the blast is an underworld gang hit and not a terror attack.

Two passersby were lightly hurt in the bombing, which rocked roads near the stock exchange in Ramat Gan, the Ma’ariv news site reports.

The injured includes a senior figure in the crime organization headed by Amir Mulner.

Prof. Pini Halpern, head of the emergency ward at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, confirms in a statement that three people with injuries have arrived at the ward, two of them in serious condition, who were being treated in the trauma room.