Raids kill 34 civilians in IS-held Syria villages – monitor
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‘Game-changing’ F-35 aircraft makes first touchdown in Israel

Bennett announces new plan for Amona outpost residents; Egypt arrests four in Coptic church bombing; at least 34 civilians killed in airstrikes on IS-held Syria villages

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

An F-35A designated for the Royal Australian Air Force landing at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona on December 18, 2014 (photo credit: AP Photo/ US Air Force/ Staff Sgt. Staci Miller)
An F-35A designated for the Royal Australian Air Force landing at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona on December 18, 2014 (photo credit: AP Photo/ US Air Force/ Staff Sgt. Staci Miller)

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

No sign of new fighter jet

No sign of the F-35 fighter, which is expected to land in Israel today for service in the air force. The planes are reportedly delayed because of fog over Italy. The arrival ceremony was slated for 2 p.m., but it may be canceled altogether.

No doubt the Lightning II aircraft will arrive like a bolt out of the blue.

Jets may arrive this afternoon

The Air Force is anticipating the planes will arrive by 4:30 p.m., maybe.

Raids kill 34 civilians in IS-held Syria villages – monitor

At least 34 civilians, including 11 children, were killed on Monday in a series of airstrikes on villages held by the Islamic State group in central Syria, a monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it could not confirm if the strikes on the east of Hama province were carried out by Syrian or Russian warplanes.

— AFP

Anti-drug officials advise decriminalizing under 25 grams of pot

Israel may take steps to ease penalties for possessing marijuana, as two officials from a government authority advised the Knesset to decriminalize holding less than 25 grams of pot. The Israel Anti-Drug Authority says the government ought to adopt a model similar to that of Portugal, which focuses on decriminalization and treatment rather than incarceration, Haaretz reports.

Beersheba to face Beşiktaş in Europa League

Hapoel Beersheba will play against Istanbul’s Beşiktaş, whose stadium was just hit by a terror attack, in the next round of the Europa League. The match will take place on an as-yet unset date in February.

Beersheba, Israel’s national league champs, drew with Southampton last week to make its way to the next round of the soccer tournament.

Egypt arrests 4 for church bombing

Egypt arrests four over the deadly church bombing in Cairo, its president says.

— AFP

 

Fighter jets probably won’t leave Italy today

An Italian official says it’s likely the F-35 jets en route to Israel, which are anticipated with great pomp, probably won’t take off today due to heavy fog.

Sissi names suicide bomber who killed 24 at Cairo church

Egypt’s president says a suicide bomber caused the explosion that killed 24 Christians during Sunday Mass at a Cairo chapel.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on Monday identified the bomber as 22-year-old Mahmoud Shafiq Mohammed Mustafa.

He says three men and a woman have been arrested in connection with the attack at a chapel adjacent to Cairo’s St Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The president spoke after Health Ministry officials revised down the number of victims to 24, suggesting that the 25th body belonged to the bomber.

— AP

Herzog says political appointments would increase corruption

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog says government efforts, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to increase political appointments will lead to more corruption in the public sector.

The cabinet reportedly appointed a special committee to look into the issue.

“The public sector is the basis for the rule of law. State employees are not a punching bag and any damage they suffer harms the foundations of the State of Israel,” he tells the weekly Zionist Union faction meeting.

On Sunday, Netanyahu reportedly said he thought the government should be able to make political appointments, as is done in the US, according to Haaretz.

“The meaning of giving tenders to cronies will be employing 100 more police investigators and building two more prisons, that’s it.” Herzog says.

— Raoul Wootliff

Bennett announces new Amona resettlement plan

Jewish Home chair Naftali Bennett says a new plan has been made to move the residents of Amona to an adjacent plot of land following the High Court-imposed evacuation due this month.

After intense efforts and negotiations with the prime minster and the attorney general, we have succeeded in forming a plan to keep Amona on the mountain,” Benet tells his weekly faction meeting.

After efforts to prevent the evacuation by reversing the High Court ruling via legislation to legalize West Bank outposts failed, attorney general Avichai Mandelblit had recommended moving the residents to a piece of land next to the existing settlement where they would be allowed to stay for eight months. But that plan was also reportedly scuppered last week by fresh Palestinian claims of private ownership.

“The new plan has longer prospects than the previous one and even has potential for expansion in the future,” Bennett says, but he refused to give details of the agreement.

“I don’t want to reveal the plan before we present it to the people of Amona, whose determination has brought us to this agreement,” he says, adding that representatives of the Jewish Home will meet with residents later today. “I believe that we will get their agreement.”

The plan, however, would not prevent residents being forced to leave their current homes and Bennett says that “any evacuation of a Jewish settlement is a tragedy but this will mean keeping Amona on the mountain.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Trump says F-35 costs ‘out of control’

Just as the F-35 is having trouble of its own getting to Israel, President-elect Donald Trump rags on the fighter jet, saying its “cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th.”

Lockheed Martin takes nosedive after Trump F-35 tweet

Lockheed Martin, manufacturer of the F-35, saw its stock go into a tailspin after Trump’s tweet, with pre-market shares down almost 3% almost instantaneously.

Lockheed Martin head: I’d be ‘thrilled’ to discuss F-35 with Trump

The head of Lockheed Martin says the F-35 jets should be leaving Italy soon, and, replying to Donald Trump’s tweet, says he’d be “thrilled” to discuss the aircraft with the president-elect.

F-35 arrival slated for 7:30 p.m.

The F-35 welcome ceremony is now slated to begin at 7:30 p.m., barring additional fog or inclement weather, Judah Ari Gross reports. The planes set out from northern Italy after fog prevented takeoff.

Politicians blast Netanyahu ‘rope’ poster

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog condemns an art installation at Jerusalem’s Bezalel art school that shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a hangman’s noose. Likud MK Oren Hazan has lodged a complaint with the police over the artwork.

“Free speech is important and essential, but there’s no place to make use of it to incite harm against public figures on the right or left,” Herzog says.

The image of Netanyahu is modeled off US President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign poster, but instead of Hope the message is Rope.

Trump aide: Moving embassy to Jerusalem ‘big priority’

Moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a “big priority” for Trump, senior aide Kellyanne Conway tells conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Monday.

“He made it very clear during the campaign, Hugh, and as president-elect I’ve heard him repeat it several times privately, if not publicly.”

“It is something that our friend in Israel, a great friend in the Middle East, would appreciate and something that a lot of Jewish-Americans have expressed their preference for,” she says. “It is a great move. It is an easy move to do based on how much he talked about that in the debates and in the sound bites.”

Kellyanne Conway, campaign manager for President-elect Donald Trump, arrives to Trump Tower on November 12, 2016 in New York City, November 12, 2016. (Yana Paskova/Getty Images/AFP)

Kellyanne Conway, campaign manager for President-elect Donald Trump, arrives to Trump Tower on November 12, 2016 in New York City, November 12, 2016. (Yana Paskova/Getty Images/AFP)

Families sue Iraq officials after deadly raid blunder

The families of civilians killed in October, when an aircraft apparently mistakenly struck a place of worship in northern Iraq, said on Monday they were suing top officials.

The relatives of the victims of the October 21 airstrike in the town of Daquq told reporters they were filing suit against Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the defense ministry, and the head of the air force.

“Several families and lawyers of the victims of the Khani husseiniyah (a Shiite place of worship) affected by the aerial bombing are filing class action,” Haider Ahmed al-Daquqi, one of the relatives, told AFP.

Abadi is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and Anwar Hama Amin is the head of Iraq’s air force. The post of defense minister is currently vacant.

The preliminary findings of a government investigation into the strike, which killed 14 people and wounded more than 100, suggest the strike was carried out by an Iraqi aircraft.

Most of the victims were women and children, gathered in a section of the husseiniyah that is reserved for them.

Daquq lies south of Kirkuk and about 200 kilometers (120 miles) north of Baghdad. There was no jihadist activity there at the time of the strike, and the area is mostly under Kurdish control.

— AFP

Guterres sworn in as new UN chief

Antonio Guterres is taking the oath of office on Monday as the United Nations’ new secretary-general during a formal ceremony at the General Assembly.

The former prime minister of Portugal pledges to “exercise in all loyalty, discretion and conscience” his duties as UN chief when he takes over from Ban Ki-moon on January 1.

–AFP

Western modernity ‘not best’ for Muslim women: Azhar head

The head of al-Azhar, Egypt’s top Sunni authority, said on Monday that the Western concept of modernity is not the “best example” for Muslim women to follow.

“Islam has done justice to the Muslim woman and freed her from shackles and restrictions,” said Al-Azhar’s grand imam, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb.

Muslim women were “influenced more by tradition and customs than by the precepts of Islam,” he told the Global Summit of Women Speakers of Parliaments in Abu Dhabi.

The sheikh said that in some ways the situation of women had deteriorated to a pre-Islam state, in an apparent reference to the influence of radical Islamists.

However, he insisted that emulating life in the West was not the solution.

“The Western concept of modernity is not the best example to be followed by the rest of the world,” he said, acknowledging, however, the “positive aspects” of scientific and humanitarian progress.

The two-day summit brings together 50 women parliamentary leaders from around the globe.

— AFP

Jets set to land in Israel as dignitaries return to stage

Dignitaries are returning to the Nevatim air base for the imminent arrival of the F-35 fighter jets, hours after they were initially expected to land.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter just pulled up along with some of the IDF’s brass, followed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.

All we’re waiting for now is the planes.

Rivlin: F-35’s arrival in Israel ‘will change the Middle East’

Rivlin addresses the crowd, saying the F-35 is “more than 22 tons of flying steel” that will “change the Middle East.”

“The aircraft will change the rules of the game,” he says of the fifth generation fighter set to arrive any moment. “It will change the scope of our activities.”

“Our enemies already know that Israel is not worthwhile to harm.”

— Judah Ari Gross

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the ceremony for the arrival of the F-35 fighter jet in Israel on December 12, 2016. (screen capture: Channel 2)

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the ceremony for the arrival of the F-35 fighter jet in Israel on December 12, 2016. (screen capture: Channel 2)

Netanyahu lauds ‘longer, stronger’ air arm with F-35

Netanyahu is up now and opens thanking Obama, Carter and the US Congress.

“Israel is your best friend in the Middle East, and I think beyond the Middle East,” he says. Referring to the air force as Israel’s “long arm” of defense, he says “This long arm was just made longer and stronger today. I want to say clearly — anybody who thinks of attacking us, will be attacked. Only strength brings deterrence, only strength brings peace,” he says.

 

‘Trump team looking for embassy site in Jerusalem’

Trump’s team is reportedly trying to determine a possible site for a US embassy in Jerusalem, Channel 2 reports, just after a senior aide to the president-elect said moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was a “big priority.”

Carter: ‘No better symbol’ of US-Israel ties than F-35

Defense Secretary Ash Carter says he’s seen “the many threats that face you every day from many directions” and that they are part of the reason for the close ties between Israel and the US.

“There’s no better symbol of that relationship than the F-35,” he says. “Together, we will dominate the skies.”

“We’ll continue to provide Israel with the most advanced capabilities, including more F-35s, to sharpen Israel’s military qualitative edge. With the turmoil in the region,” he says, “we’re more dedicated to Israel’s security today than ever before.”

F-35s are wheels down after delay

At 8:16 p.m., the first F-35 touched down, officially becoming property of the State of Israel. It’s followed at 8:17 p.m. by the second fighter jet.

F-35 arrives in Israel

Judah Ari Gross snaps a photo of the F-35 after its arrival in Israel:

Israel's new F-35 fighter on December 12, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel staff)

Israel’s new F-35 fighter on December 12, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel staff)

White House backs election probe

The White House on Monday threw its support behind a Congressional investigation into Russian meddling in the US election, saying lawmakers had a “special responsibility” to investigate such an explosive issue.

“We have long supported the principle of congressional review of this matter,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest, saying one was “certainly warranted.”

Dismissing President-elect Donald Trump’s doubts about Moscow’s role, Earnest added: “You didn’t need a security clearance to figure out who benefited from malicious Russian cyber activity.”

— AFP

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Raids kill 34 civilians in IS-held Syria villages – monitor

At least 34 civilians, including 11 children, were killed on Monday in a series of airstrikes on villages held by the Islamic State group in central Syria, a monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it could not confirm if the strikes on the east of Hama province were carried out by Syrian or Russian warplanes.

— AFP