The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.
Return of attackers’ bodies draws MKs’ criticism
The Knesset House Committee comes out swinging following the news that the government reached a deal to release two bodies of Palestinian terrorists for burial as early as tonight.
The panel sends a communique to the government calling on it to rethink the move and calls it a “prize” for Arab MKs who attended a meeting with families of attackers and stood for a moment of silence in solidarity, drawing ire from nearly the full range of the Israeli political spectrum.
“The government suggests laws, but turns around and give these Arab MKs a prize for intermediating in the matter. That’s insane,” the communique reads, according to Ynet news.
On Sunday, the government proposed a law allowing a supermajority of 90 Knesset members to boot fellow MKs for unethical behavior, seen as a way of punishing Arab lawmakers who seem to side with the Palestinian cause.
22 migrants drown off Turkish coast
Turkey’s state-run news agency says 22 migrants attempting to reach Greece have drowned after their boat sank off the Turkish coast.
The Anadolu Agency says the boat capsized in the Bay of Edremit, which is just a short distance away from the Greek island of Lesbos.
Earlier, the private Dogan news agency said the bodies of 11 migrants were found further south, near the Aegean resort of Dikili.
Dogan reported the 11 had died in a separate boat accident, bringing the total number of dead Monday to 33.
The International Organization for Migration says 374 migrants have died so far this year while trying to reach Greece.
Iran nuclear negotiators awarded medals
Iran has awarded medals of honor to its nuclear negotiators who helped clinch a landmark deal with world powers last year.
President Hassan Rouhani awards the “Medal of Merit” to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the “Medal of Courage” to Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan and Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi, who is also the country’s nuclear chief.
“We passed behind us difficult days, difficult hours and nights,” Rouhani says at the ceremony. “But we did not lose the right path and God did not leave us alone.”
He also praises Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters in Iran.
“Without the Supreme Leader, there was no national unity. Without the Supreme Leader, our (nuclear) accomplishment would have not been as great as it is today and maybe we would not have had such an achievement,” he says.
Upon receiving his medal, Zarif says Iranian unity forced the world to freeze sanctions and respect the country.
“What helped the team of nuclear negotiators to fulfill such duty was the Iranian nation’s vigilance and resistance, which paralyzed the weapon of sanctions and forced the world’s big powers to respect (Iran),” Zarif says, according to the Iranian Tasnim news agency.
— with AP
Iran: We support Hamas, as always
Speaking days after a Hamas terror movement leader was heard saying they had not received any aid from Iran in years, Tehran’s foreign ministry rebuffs the claims, saying it continues to support the Palestinian group.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaberi-Ansari singles out Hamas in detailing that supporting “Palestinian resistance movements” is part of Iran’s foreign policy, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.
He calls the Palestinian issue “pivotal and basic” for Muslims, according to the agency.
In a leaked phone call published by London-based daily A-Sharq al-Awsat late last month, Hamas political chief Moussa Abu Marzouk is heard saying of the Iranians that “we haven’t gotten anything from them since 2009, and everything [the Iranians] are saying is a lie.”
Hamas harboring IS fighters in Gaza, Israeli general says
Hamas has been treating Islamic State fighters from Sinai in Gaza hospitals in exchange for money and weapons, Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories chief Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai tells the Saudi website Elaph.
The Islamic State fighters enter Gaza through tunnels from Egypt and receive medical treatment in Hamas-run hospitals, Mordechai tells the Saudi site.
In exchange, the IS-affiliate gives Hamas guns and money, he says.
There are a number of small Salafist groups in Gaza claiming ties to the Islamic State, some of whom have been trying to wrest some control of the Strip from Hamas, which is the de facto ruler of the Palestinian enclave.
Egypt, locked in a battle with Islamic State-linked fighters in Sinai, has recently upped efforts to clamp down on smuggling between Gaza and Sinai, flooding a network of smuggling tunnels and building a moat the length of the border.
— with Judah Ari Gross
Coalition to support MK suspension bill
Coalition party heads agree in a meeting to support a legislative measure that would allow a supermajority of 90 Knesset members to suspend a lawmaker who breaks ethical rules, according to Ynet.
The coalition heads also decide to fasttrack the measure, introduced Sunday by Minister Zeev Elkin following an uproar over three Joint List lawmakers who visited with families of killed Palestinian attackers and observed a moment of silence for them.
Currently, the most the Knesset Ethics Committee can do is suspend a lawmaker from certain parliamentary activities for six months.
Joint List defends ‘terrible meeting,’ condemns backlash
At a press conference held by the Joint List Knesset faction, MK Jamal Zahalka defends a meeting he and two other MKs had with families of slain Palestinian attackers, saying that what he referred to sarcastically as a “terrible meeting” was only held to help them get bodies back for burial.
Zahalka calls the issue a humanitarian one and says he was only serving his constituency.
He says any other characterization of the meeting, which has drawn widespread condemnation as a show of support for terror, as “lies.”
Joint List head Ayman Odeh also calls the issue an ethical and humanitarian one, and blasts new legislation that would seek to clamp down on such activity.
“The Joint List strongly condemns the wild incitement and string of delegimitization and demonization against the Arab community and its leadership,” he says.
30,000 Syrians at our border, Turkish PM says
Around 30,000 Syrians are at the Turkish border after fleeing a Russia-backed regime offensive on the northern region of Aleppo, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says.
“Around 30,000 Syrians have now massed,” the border with northwestern Syria which remains closed, he tells a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Ankara.
Davutoglu also says Turkey and Germany have agreed on a set of steps to halt the flow of refugees from Syria, including a joint diplomatic initiative to stop the onslaught against Aleppo.
Davutoglu says the two countries would also carry out “joint efforts” for greater NATO involvement in the refugee issue. He said they would seek the use of NATO’s observation capabilities at the border with Syria and in the Aegean Sea.
Meanwhile, a top government official has reacted angrily to European Union pressure on Turkey to open its doors to the tens of thousands of Syrians who have massed at the frontier.
Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan accuses the EU of giving Turkey lessons in morality and pushing the refugee burden on the country, without taking any responsibility itself.
“On the one hand they say ‘open your borders, take everyone in’ on the other hand they say ‘close your border don’t let anyone through,” he says
“Without even providing money, they say ‘taking these people is conscience necessity,'” Akdogan says. “Is it just us that must to act with conscience? … Why don’t you take them in?”
— AP and AFP
Khamenei slams US support for ‘child-killing zionists’
Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei scoffs at the US’s claim of support for human rights, pointing to its contumacious backing of Israel as proof of Washington’s hypocrisy.
“They (the US) support the child-killer Zionist regime and regional allies which aren’t familiar with and don’t understand elections at all,” he says, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
American support for Saudi Arabia, which is bombing Iran-backed rebels in Yemen, also takes the brunt of Khamenei’s tongue lashing.
He also tells Iranian officials to be wary of Americans who commit war crimes before they “smile and talk to you,” according to the report.
Despite talk of a possible detente between Washington and Tehran following the landmark nuclear deal, ties have remained chilly and rhetoric at times heated between the two countries.
Netanyahu says MK suspension bill will protect democracy
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauds coalition support for the bill that would see MKs who break ethical rules suspended if 90 lawmakers vote in favor.
Given confusion surrounding what an MK will have to do to be suspended, he says the bill will specify the grounds for punishing an MK.
“I praise this since we need to ensure basic standards for behavior so our democracy doesn’t turn, in the words of the great American jurist, into a suicide pact. It needs to look after itself and protect itself,” he says.
11-year-old stabbed in Ramle, incident under investigation
An 11-year-old boy has been rushed to a hospital with moderate injuries after being stabbed in the central Israeli town of Ramle, the Magen David Adom rescue service says.
Police say the incident is under investigation, indicating it is not clear if it is nationalistic or criminal.
According to police, the youth’s mother said he was knifed in the back by an attacker, who then escaped.
Earlier this week, a guard at the bus station in the working class city was lightly injured after being stabbed by two 13-year-old girls in a nationalistic attack.
Police launch manhunt for Ramle stabber
Police have set up roadblocks in and around Ramle in a search for the suspect who stabbed a boy, Channel 2 news reports.
According to police, the boy, 11, ran home after being stabbed with scissors, and his mother called for help.
Medic: Boy had several stab wounds
Magen David Adom paramedic Moshe Glebstein says the boy was fully conscious when medics arrived at his home to treat him.
“He had stab wounds on several places on his body. We gave him first aid and took him to Assaf Harofeh Hospital in light to moderate condition,” he says.
Red Cross reopens in Gaza after protests
The International Committee of the Red Cross says it has reopened its Gaza office after closing it the previous day in response to repeated attempts by protesters to storm it.
Spokeswoman Suhair Zakkout says all normal activities were resumed after “discussions” with officials from Hamas. She declined to elaborate.
Dozens of Gazans have protested daily at the office in recent weeks in solidarity with a Palestinian hunger striker detained by Israel, demanding that the Red Cross help bring about his release.
They tried to enter the building forcefully on Sunday, causing damage.
Mohammed al-Qiq, a 33-year old journalist, has been on a hunger strike for 76 days.
Israel says he is involved in terror activities linked to Hamas.
Arab teen detained in connection with Ramle stabbing
Channel 2 news reports that a man of about 17 is being detained by police near Ramle in connection with the stabbing.
The channel reports that the stabber took off toward the Jawaresh neighborhood of the mixed Arab-Jewish city after the attack.
The victim says he was walking down the street when an Arab teen asked him for a lighter, and stabbed him when he answered he did not have one, the Walla news website reports.
Woman with knife arrested at Damascus gate
Jerusalem police guarding the Damascus Gate area near the Old City say they arrested an Arab woman carrying a large knife.
According to the cops, the woman, around 42 years of age, aroused their suspicions and they asked to search her, uncovering the blade.
Last week, one border guard was killed and another injured when three Palestinian men carried out a shooting and stabbing attack in the same area.
The Damascus Gate is the main entrance to the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
Israel blasts North Korea over missile launch
Israel has condemned the North Korean launch of a rocket carried out Sunday, thought to be a cover for a ballistic missile test, joining the world community in blasting Pyongyang.
In a statement, the Foreign Ministry says the launch “was carried out in contravention of its relevant international obligations.”
“Israel regards North Korea’s repeated provocations with profound concern and calls on the international community to prevent any further violations, which clearly pose a threat to international peace and security,” reads the statement.
The UN Security Council on Sunday condemned North Korea’s launch of the long-range rocket that world leaders called a banned test of ballistic missile technology and another “intolerable provocation.”
The UN’s most powerful body pledged to quickly adopt a new resolution with “significant” new sanctions.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un went ahead with the launch just two hours after an eight-day window opened early Sunday, and a month after the country’s fourth nuclear test.
He ignored an appeal from China, its neighbor and important ally, not to proceed, and, in another slap to Beijing, he chose the eve of the Chinese New Year, the country’s most important holiday.
— with AP
Sudanese stabber was sick, not terrorist, friends say
Representatives of the Sudanese expatriate community in Israel insist that Kamel Hassan, who police say stabbed a soldier yesterday before being shot and killed as he fled, did not have “nationalistic” motives.
Hassan had been suffering from mental health problems, Mutasim Ali, a Sudanese advocate, tells journalists and members of the Sudanese community in southern Tel Aviv.
Ali and other representatives of the Sudanese community had spoken with friends of Hassan who said that he’d been suffering from emotional problems for a while, but they had recently gotten worse.
“We don’t know exactly what his motivations were or that he for sure was the one who did it,” Ali says. “What we do know is that there wasn’t a nationalist attack.”
Ali and two other Sudanese men say they denounce the attack and wish a speedy recovery to the injured soldier.
“We stand with Israeli society,” Ali says.
— Judah Ari Gross
Defending MK suspension bill, Netanyahu asks what would Congress do?
Speaking in the Knesset, Netanyahu reiterates his defense of a law that would allow the suspension of MKs who break ethical rules and his lambasting of a group of three lawmakers who visited families of terrorists.
The prime minister asks to imagine what would happen if the British Parliament held a moment of silence for Jihadi John or Congress held one for the San Bernadino shooters.
“They wouldn’t accept it and we won’t accept it. We will work against it,” he says.
Responding to accusations that the law would disenfranchise the Arab community, Netanyahu says his government is doing much to integrate Arabs into Israeli society.
“But at the same time and for the same reasons, we are not ready to accept a situation in which MKs support families of those who murder Israelis,” he says. “There’s a limit.”
Syria carrying out ‘extermination’ in its jails, UN body charges
UN investigators are accusing Damascus of “extermination” in its jails and detention centers, saying prisoners were executed, tortured to death or held in such horrific conditions that they perished.
Over the past four and a half years, thousands of detainees have been killed while being held by different sides in Syria’s brutal conflict, the UN commission of inquiry on Syria says in its latest report.
The report paints a stark picture of prisons and detention centers run by the Syrian authorities.
“The mass scale of deaths of detainees suggests that the government of Syria is responsible for acts that amount to extermination as a crime against humanity,” commission head Paulo Pinheiro tells reporters.
The Syrian government was also guilty of committing a range of other war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, torture and forced disappearance, the commission says.
Hamas denies claim it is treating Islamic State fighters
Hamas is denying Israeli accusations that wounded Islamic State group fighters from Egypt had been smuggled through tunnels to receive medical care in the Gaza Strip.
The Hamas interior ministry dismisses the allegations as “false.”
Spokesman Iyad al-Bozom says the allegations were “aimed at inciting against the Gaza Strip and causing tension in the relationship between the Strip and the Arab Republic of Egypt (while) working to tighten the siege.”
Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra says hospitals in the enclave treat only local residents.
Israeli General Yoav Mordechai had accused the jihadist group of smuggling wounded fighters from Sinai Province — the IS affiliate in northern Egypt — through tunnels into the Palestinian enclave for treatment.
He alleged that wounded jihadis were taken to the hospital in Khan Yunis, but provided no firm evidence for the claim.
— with AFP
On Sanders’s secret kibbutz, candidate is a mystery
Bernie Sanders’s name may be on the tip of the tongue of most Americans, and increasingly among Israelis interested in the US presidential elections, but on the kibbutz in the Haifa area where Sanders spent time over 50 years ago, nobody remembers him.
Sanders has coyly refused to divulge the name of the kibbutz where he spent several months in 1963, but Haaretz unearthed a 1990 interview with Sanders identifying the agricultural commune as Sha’ar Ha’amakim.
No one currently at Sha’ar Ha’amakim remembers Sanders, who has preached his doctrine of democratic socialism on the campaign trail. No records with his name survive, JTA reports.
But Albert Ely, 79, who managed the kibbutz volunteer program in the early 1960s, remembered someone named Bernard. And he said that if Sanders was there, he was probably picking fruit before the sun rose.
“I was astonished that the name Bernard, which is French, belonged to an American,” Ely told JTA, sitting in his home here. “I remember a lot of volunteers. I don’t remember him. If he was here, he was with the Americans.”
Canada to call off anti-Islamic State airstrikes
Canada will end air strikes targeting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria and bring home its six fighter jets on February 22, the government says, going against public opinion.
In their place, Ottawa will triple the number of special forces training Kurdish militia in northern Iraq to about 210, while a handful of surveillance and refueling aircraft will continue to play roles in the US-led coalition, Defense Minister Hargit Sajjan tells a joint news conference with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and senior officials.
Trudeau had pledged during legislative elections last year to end the airstrikes.
ICRC closes in Ramallah amid protests
A day after its Gaza branch was shut down, a Ramallah-area office of the International Committee of the Red Cross has been shuttered amid protests over a Palestinian hunger striker in Israeli prison, the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reports.
Protesters have been urging the ICRC to intervene on behalf of Mohammed al-Qiq, a journalist on hunger strike for 76 days to protest his detention without charge.
Protesters outside the al-Bireh branch in the West Bank tell the news agency they are rallying against “the silence by international community organizations — namely the ICRC in Palestine — about al-Qiq, who has been on hunger strike in Israeli custody for 76 days.”
On Sunday, the ICRC in Gaza shut its doors after protesters tried to force their way in, after several days of protests.
— with AP
Egypt says cops not involved in Italian’s death
Egypt’s interior minister is rejecting charges of security forces involvement in the case of Italian Giulio Regeni, who was found dead bearing signs of torture after disappearing in Cairo last month.
“This did not happen,” Magdy Abdel Ghaffar says at a press conference when a reporter asks if Regeni, a Cambridge University PhD student, had been arrested by the police.
“It is completely unacceptable that such accusations be directed” at the interior ministry, he says.
“This is not Egyptian security policy — Egyptian security has never been accused of such a matter.”
Regeni disappeared on January 25 and was found dead on February 3.
Russia launches major war games
Russian President Vladimir Putin has scrambled thousands of troops and hundreds of warplanes across southwestern Russia for large-scale military drills intended to test the troops’ readiness amid continuing tensions with the West.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says that military units were put on combat alert early Monday, marking the launch of the exercise that involves troops of the Southern Military District.
The district includes troops stationed in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, as well as forces in the North Caucasus and southwestern regions near the border with Ukraine.
Shoigu says the maneuvers will also engage airborne troops and military transport aviation, as well as the navy.
He notes that the drills are intended to check the troops’ ability to respond to extremist threats and other challenges.
Report: Bennett seeking offensive against Gaza tunnels
Education Minister Naftali Bennett is pushing for the Israel Defense Forces to take a proactive approach to thwarting tunnels apparently being dug by Hamas under the Gaza frontier, Channel 2 News reports.
The move is opposed by both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, according to the report.
Bennett, head of the hard-line Jewish Home party, says he won’t respond to the report.
Netanyahu’s office also says it won’t speak about what is discussed in cabinet meetings and calls on ministers to refrain from trying to use the media to mischaracterize cabinet discussions.
In July 2014, Bennett was a strong proponent of an Israeli ground campaign in Gaza to destroy the network of Hamas tunnels. Netanyahu and Ya’alon eventually ordered the ground campaign and the military said it destroyed a network of dozens of tunnels.
Southern residents and some officials have raised worries recently that Hamas may have begun rebuilding its tunnels under the border to be used in eventual attacks on Israeli soil.
IDF investigations to uncover tunnels have yet to turn up any passages.
Abbas: Jewish extremist attacks riled rock-throwing Palestinians
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is blaming the violence that has roiled the region for the last several months on extremist Israeli attacks against Palestinians.
“The Israeli government needs to ask itself why a child of 13 would throw stones or try to hurt others. The answer is that these kids see what is happening in Duma to the Dawabsha family, and what was done to Muhammed Abu Khdeir,” he tells a group of Arab journalists, according to Ynet.
“They are sick of it.”
Abu Khdeir was kidnapped from an East Jerusalem street and burned alive by Jewish extremists in July 2014. Earlier this month, two of his killers were sentenced to life and 21 years in prison respectively. A third convicted murderer has yet to be sentenced.
Three members of the Dawabsha family in the West Bank town of Duma died when their house was firebombed by suspected Jewish terrorists. The Shin Bet has arrested several suspects and two people have been indicted in the case.
Over 25 Israelis as well as an American, an Eritrean and a Palestinian have been killed in anti-Israel violence since mid-September.
Some 160 Palestinians have also been killed, over 100 of them in the course of near-daily attacks, according to Israeli officials.
Officials in Jerusalem have blamed the violence on Palestinian incitement, including from the PA.
Arab MKs banned for 2-4 months over meet with attackers’ families
The Knesset Ethics Committee has decided to ban three MKs from the Joint (Arab) List faction from parliamentary activity for 2-4 months over a visit to families of terrorists at which they observed a moment of silence for slain Palestinian attackers, Channel 2 News reports.
Hanin Zoabi and Basel Ghattas are banned for four months and Jamal Zahalka for two months, according to the report.
They will still be allowed to participate in Knesset votes.
All three veteran parliamentarians from the Balad Party, which merged into the Joint (Arab) List before the last election, visited families of Palestinian assailants killed during attacks in a bid to secure the release of their bodies for burial.
They observed a moment of silence for the attackers at the meeting.
The incident drew widespread condemnation after it was reported last week.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to push through legislation that could see lawmakers suspended from the Knesset over ethical violations if 90 MKs agree to it.
Earlier in the day, Netanyahu defended the measure in the Knesset plenum.
During his speech, Zahalka yelled out that the prime minister was “a fascist.”
Zahalka attended ethics panel, garnered more-lenient sentence
In a statement from the Knesset, the Ethics Committee details that Zahalka showed up to a hearing over the case, hinting at the reason for his more-lenient punishment.
The decision means that the lawmakers cannot participate in Knesset committee meetings or plenum discussions. However, they can continue to vote in the plenum and in committees.
Turkey looking to keep fleeing Syrians in Syria
Turkey’s deputy prime minister says his country’s priority is to keep fleeing Syrians within the borders of their country and provide them with assistance there.
Tens of thousands of Syrians have massed at the Turkish border in recent days, escaping a Syrian government onslaught around the city of Aleppo. Turkey kept the border closed for a fourth day on Monday and it was not clear if the refugees would be allowed in.
Numan Kurtulmus says after a cabinet meeting that Turkey would care for Syrians outside of Turkey “as much as possible.”
He says some 77,000 Syrians are being given assistance in displaced persons camps in Syria along the border with Turkey, including those who arrived recently.
Kurtulmus says that an estimated 600,000 Syrians could mass at the border in the “worst case scenario.”
Joint List faction condemns ‘anti-democratic’ decision to bar MKs
The Joint (Arab) List issues a statement rejecting and condemning the decision to bar three members from the Knesset for 2-4 months, calling it “anti-democratic and unethical.”
The list says it will continue to demand the release of bodies of Palestinian attackers.
“The Joint (Arab) List notes that the MKs who were banned are paying a political price for an ethical and humanitarian stance,” the statement reads. “The vindictive punishment won’t keep us from continuing to fight against the racist and fascist policies, and for true equality and true democracy, which Netanyahu tries with all his might to destroy.”