The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s developments as they unfolded.
3 Turkish journalists said abducted by PKK
Three journalists working for Turkish state-run news agency Anatolia are abducted Sunday by members of the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in southeastern Turkey, the agency says.
Anatolia says that the incident occurred in Nusaybin in Mardin province, where the security forces have been conducting a vast operation aimed at flushing PKK rebels out of the area.
The agency is Turkey’s largest and has a large network of journalists in Turkey and abroad.
The border town of Nusaybin has been a hotspot in the fighting that flared up again between Turkish forces and the PKK after a fragile two-and-a-half year truce fell apart in July.
Kerry announces ‘provisional’ Syria ceasefire deal
US Secretary of State John Kerry says Sunday that a “provisional agreement” has been reached on a ceasefire that could begin in the next few days in Syria’s five-year civil war.
Kerry says he spoke in the morning with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss terms of a ceasefire and the two now must reach out to the parties in the conflict.
“There is a stark choice for everybody here,” Kerry says.
He declines to go into the details of the agreement because all parties need to be fully consulted. Kerry says he hopes US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin would talk soon and that after that, implementation could begin.
The Russian Foreign Ministry says Lavrov and Kerry spoke on the phone Sunday for a second day in a row and discussed “the modality and conditions” for a ceasefire in Syria that would exclude groups that the UN Security Council considers terrorist organizations.
Lebanese minister resigns over Hezbollah domination
Lebanese Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi announces his resignation from the cabinet, saying the militant Hezbollah group is dominating the government.
Rifi has been one of Hezbollah’s harshest critics in Lebanon and his resignation on Sunday came two days after Saudi Arabia halted deals worth $4 billion aimed at equipping and supporting Lebanese security forces.
Lebanon has a sectarian divide that reflects the wider regional split between Sunni and Shiite powerhouses Saudi Arabia and Iran, and has long been a battlefield where the region’s proxy wars play out.
Rifi says in a statement that “the practices of Hezbollah’s statelet and its allies are not acceptable.”
Egyptian columnist in stinging attack against Sissi
A prominent columnist on Sunday delivers the harshest attack in the local media to date against Egypt’s president, saying that, in terms of freedoms, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s rule is not different from the Islamist regime he removed in 2013.
In a front-page column in the al-Maqal daily, Ibrahim Eissa expresses outrage over a two-year prison sentence passed Saturday against author Ahmed Naji for publishing a sexually explicit excerpt of his novel that prosecutors said violated “public modesty.”
The sentence against Naji, passed by a Cairo appeals court, can be appealed.
“Say what you will, Mr. President and speak at your conferences … as you wish, but the reality of your state is different,” he writes. “Your state violates the constitution, harasses thinkers and creators and jails writers and authors.
“Your state is a theocracy, Mr. President, while you are talking all the time of a modern, civilian state,” he writes. “Your state and its agencies, just like those of your predecessor (Islamist Mohammed Morsi), hate intellectuals, thought and creativity and only like hypocrites, flatterers and composers of poems of support and flattery.”
Eissa, also a popular TV talk show host, strongly supported the July 3, 2013, ouster by the military of Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president. His removal, led by then defense minister Sissi, followed days of massive street protests against the divisive one-year rule of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group now labeled a terrorist organization.
Block executions this year, pope tells Catholic leaders
Pope Francis is urging Catholic leaders not to allow executions this year, while he is stressing mercy.
Francis tells tourists and pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square Sunday that he is proposing Catholic leaders should “make a courageous and exemplary gesture” and ensure that no convicted inmate is executed during the church’s Holy Year of Mercy, which runs through November 20.
He adds he was also appealing to the conscience of all leaders so they can reach “international consensus” to abolish the death penalty.
Francis has reinforced earlier church teaching, especially by St. John Paul II, that there’s no justification in modern society for capital punishment.
The pope says “even criminals hold the inviolable right to life” given by God. He also calls for improved prison conditions.
Tell Israel to free hunger-striker – Abbas to Kerry
Kerry meets with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan.
Abbas tells Kerry that he plans to ask the UN Security Council to condemn settlements and halt West Bank construction, Israel Radio reports.
The PA president urges Kerry to pressure Israel to free hunger-striker Mohammed al-Qiq, who is held without charges, and return the bodies of Palestinian attackers, according to the radio report.
2 Palestinian teens arrested for rock-throwing
Police arrest two Palestinian teenagers who were allegedly throwing rocks at Jerusalem’s light rail near the Shuafat neighborhood in the eastern part of the city, a police spokesperson says.
One passenger is treated for shock at the scene, but no other injuries were reported in the incident earlier today, according to police.
The train is lightly damaged, police say.
— Judah Ari Gross
Clashes in jihadist-held Iraq city halt after residents seized
Clashes between Iraqi tribesmen and the Islamic State group in Fallujah are halted after the jihadists detain dozens of residents of the city west of Baghdad, officials say Sunday.
Tribesmen in three areas of the city “withdrew from the clashes (with IS), fearing for the fate of the detainees,” an army lieutenant colonel tells AFP on condition of anonymity.
“The clashes stopped because of the imbalance of power and fear that the detainees would be executed,” says Issa Sayir who was appointed by the Anbar governor to administer the Fallujah area.
Raja Barakat, a member of the provincial council in Anbar, where Fallujah is located, says: “We now fear that the (IS) organization will carry out a massacre in the city.”
Romney to endorse Rubio for nomination — report
Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will endorse Senator Marco Rubio for president, The Huffington Post reports, citing two Republican sources.
Romney held off on the endorsement until now “due to his respect for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush,” the report says.
Bush suspended his presidential campaign on Saturday night, after a poor showing in South Carolina.
At least 50 IS fighters said killed near Aleppo
At least 50 Islamic State group fighters have been killed in the last 24 hours in an advance by Syrian government forces east of Aleppo city, a monitor says Sunday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the fighters were killed in clashes as well as strikes by Russian forces that are waging an aerial campaign in support of government troops.
Bahrain adopts steps to counter Iran ‘interference’
Bahrain says Sunday it has adopted measures including travel curbs and monitoring of money transfers to counter Iran’s “interference” in the Sunni-ruled kingdom shaken by Shiite-led unrest since 2011.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Al-Khalifa speaks of the “dangers of Iran’s interference in the internal security” of Bahrain during a meeting with clerics, MPs and newspaper chiefs, says the official BNA news agency.
“We have taken a series of measures to confront the dangers of terrorism,” Sheikh Rashid says.
These include forming a committee to monitor money transfers and donations to combat the “financing of terrorism” and imposing travel restrictions on citizens, especially aged between 14 and 18, to “unsafe countries,” he says.
Bahrain has previously announced the dismantling of “terror” cells whose members it said were trained by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards and Lebanon’s Tehran-backed Shiite movement Hezbollah.
Egypt to try policeman over driver’s killing
A policeman is to stand trial for murder after a driver was shot dead in a dispute over a fare, the Egyptian prosecutor’s office says Sunday, as public concern rises over police abuses.
Mustafa Mahmud is alleged to have shot dead Mohamed Ali Sayed Ismail, 26, with his police issue firearm late Thursday in central Cairo after a row over the fare for a delivery.
Mahmud has been charged with “premeditated murder” and “illegal use of his service weapon” and will go on trial, a senior official at the prosecutor’s office says.
Rubio says time for Trump to spell out policies
Marco Rubio says he’s in good shape to more directly take on Donald Trump as a smaller Republican field moves on after South Carolina.
The Florida senator tells CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the choice for Republicans is becoming “clearer and clearer” now that rival Jeb Bush is out of the race.
Rubio says it’s time for Trump — who won in South Carolina on Saturday — to start spelling out clear policy positions on national security matters, health care and more.
Rubio puts it this way: “If you’re running to be president, you can’t just tell people you’re going to make America great again.”
Trump says he has ‘great knowledge of foreign policy’
Donald Trump rejects the idea that the Republican nomination is his to lose after his big win in South Carolina.
Trump says on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he still faces some tough competition, so “I don’t want to say it’s mine.”
Trump is asked about Marco Rubio’s suggestion that he needs to be more specific about his policy ideas. The billionaire businessman responds that he has “great knowledge of foreign policy.” And he says he has a better vision for how to end the bloodshed and unrest in Syria than those who offer themselves as “great military geniuses.”
Russia’s defense minister makes surprise Iran visit
Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu arrives on Sunday in Tehran for a surprise visit, Iran’s state television reports.
Shoigu is expected to meet President Hassan Rouhani and his counterpart Hossein Dehghan during his trip to discuss the “situation in the region,” it said.
The trip comes days after Dehghan visited Moscow on Tuesday, during which Shoigu said Russia and Iran were ready to step up their military cooperation.
Russia and Iran are both longtime allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Blasts near Shiite shrine south of Damascus
Blasts are reported near a Shiite shrine south of Damascus, Syrian state TV reports, according to AFP.
Muslim nations must lead in counterterrorism — Saudi prince
A prominent Saudi prince says Muslim countries need to take the lead on fighting terrorism.
Prince Turki al-Faisal’s comments Sunday in the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi come as the kingdom hosts military exercises with 20 member states of a recently announced Islamic counterterrorism alliance. Defense Ministers of the 34-nation coalition are scheduled to hold their first meeting in Saudi Arabia sometime in March.
The coalition was first announced by Saudi Arabia in December. The prince tells reporters it should have been created sooner because the majority of terrorism victims are Muslims.
The coalition will have a logistical hub based in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. The kingdom’s regional rival Iran, as well as Syria and Iraq, are not members of the coalition. All three are battling the Islamic State group.
Abducted Turkish journalists released by PKK
Three journalists working for Turkish state-run news agency Anatolia were kidnapped and released on Sunday by members of the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in southeastern Turkey, the agency says.
The three — a local correspondent, a cameraman and a photographer — were released uninjured to members of the pro-Kurdish Democratic People’s Party (HDP) in the same area where they were taken, the agency reports.
But their equipment was taken by the militant group which has been fighting against the Turkish state since 1984.
Dead and wounded reported in Syria attacks
Four blasts including at least one caused by a car bomb hit near a Shiite sanctuary south of Syria’s capital Damascus on Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group says.
State television says “three terrorists attacks” near the Sayyida Zeinab shrine had left dead and wounded, without providing a toll.
Third Palestinian detained for fatal supermarket stabbing
A third Palestinian suspect is arrested in connection with the fatal supermarket attack in Sha’ar Binyamin in the West Bank Thursday, in which an off-duty soldier was stabbed to death, Channel 10 reports.
The report does not specify when the suspect was detained.
The two 14-year-old Palestinian assailants were shot and taken into custody at the scene.
At least 30 said killed in Syrian shrine blasts
At least 30 people are killed in the simultaneous attacks south of Damascus, AFP reports.
Sanders attributes Nevada loss to low turnout
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders says his loss to Hillary Clinton in Nevada probably was caused by lower voter turnout.
The Vermont senator says on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that “We will do well when young people, when working-class people come out” to vote. He adds: “We did not do as good a job as I had wanted to bring out a large turnout.”
The state party estimates that 80,000 Democrats caucused Saturday. That’s about 10,000 more than most expected but still well below the nearly 120,000 who showed up in 2008.
Hillary Rodham Clinton says she understands that independent voters in particular have questions about whether they can trust her.
She says on CNN’s “State of the Union” that voters have an “underlying question…is she in it for us or is she in it for herself?”
She adds: “That’s a question that people are trying to sort through…I know that I have to make my case.”
The FBI is investigating whether classified information passed through Clinton’s homebrew server while she was secretary of state.
Iraq tracks down missing radioactive material
Iraqi authorities on Sunday recover radioactive material that had gone missing in the country’s south more than three months earlier, the environment ministry’s spokesman says.
“We found the radioactive material that was lost by a Turkish… company,” Amir Ali Hassoun tells AFP.
The material “still had the same properties and did not lead to the injury of anyone,” Hassoun says.
He says the environment ministry will keep the material — Iridium-192 — until it can be returned to its owner, which another official earlier said was Turkish firm SGS.
Cruz claims tie with Rubio in South Carolina
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz says that his third place finish in South Carolina is effectively a tie for second place with Marco Rubio.
The Associated Press has called the race for Donald Trump, with Rubio placing second by two-tenths of 1 percentage point over Cruz, who finished third.
Cruz says Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that “last night we effectively tied for second,” adding that, “there is now only one strong conservative remaining in this race who can win.
Cruz says the “game plan from Day One was to do well in the first four states and consolidate conservatives to go forward to Super Tuesday” on March 1. “We’re positioned ideally to do exactly that.”
Germany condemns ‘disgusting’ anti-migrant incidents
Shocked German officials on Sunday condemn two “disgusting” incidents involving anti-migrant mobs in the ex-communist east of the country, including a crowd cheering a blaze at a planned refugee shelter.
A group of 20-30 apparently drunken onlookers applauded as fire took hold in a former hotel being converted into home for asylum seekers in the town of Bautzen in Saxony state overnight. Police suspected arson and traces of fire accelerant were found.
Some members of the group tried to impede the work of firefighters dispatched to the scene, police say.
A police spokesman says that the group showed “unabashed delight” at the blaze and made “disparaging comments” about the efforts to contain it.
No one was hurt in the incident. Two 20-year-old men were temporarily detained for defying police orders.
The events came two nights after 100 people in the Saxony town of Clausnitz tried to block the arrival of a bus carrying about 20 asylum seekers to a new shelter.
The scenes, captured on video, show the mob angrily shouting “We are the people,” borrowing the pro-democracy slogan from the peaceful revolution that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
IS claims responsibility for blasts near Damascus
The Islamic State group claims responsibility for a triple blast in a Damascus suburb that killed at least 22 people.
The Aamaq news agency, which is affiliated with the group, says two IS fighters detonated a car bomb before blowing up their explosive belts in Sayyida Zeinab, a Shiite neighborhood.
Residents say the attack was about a kilometer (0.6 mile) from one of Shiite Islam’s holiest shrines and did not damage it.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV says the blasts killed 22 people, while the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 31 were killed and dozens wounded.
Different figures are not uncommon in the chaotic aftermath of such attacks.
Joint US-Israeli military exercise kicks off
The Israel Defense Forces announces the beginning of a joint ballistic missile exercise with United States European Command (US EUCOM), dubbed Juniper Cobra 16.
“During the course of the exercise, over 1,700 US Service members, civilians and contractors will participate together with the IDF in addressing computer simulated challenges that Israel could face. The IDF sees Juniper Cobra as an opportunity to increase the long-standing cooperation between the military forces,” the IDF says in a statement. “During the exercise, increased military activity may be noted.”
US Major General Mark Loeben, director of Exercises and Assessments at Headquarters, United States European Command, says the drill is “our nation’s premier exercise in the region, and EUCOM’s highest priority exercise for 2016.”
Australia warns of possible terror attacks in Kuala Lumpur
Australia warns Sunday that terrorists may be plotting attacks in and around Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s largest city.
The Australian High Commission in Malaysia says in a travel advisory that there is an ongoing terrorism threat in Malaysia, noting that authorities there have arrested a number of people allegedly involved in planning attacks, including against entertainment venues in Kuala Lumpur.
“Terrorists may be planning attacks in and around Kuala Lumpur. Attacks could be indiscriminate and may target Western interests or locations frequented by Westerners,” the commission says in the advisory, which was posted on its website.
Malaysia has raised its security alert level following the January 14 attacks in Jakarta, the capital of neighboring Indonesia, that left eight people dead.
Trump says he is ‘fighting for his life’
Billionaire businessman Donald Trump acknowledges he probably needs to act more presidential and says he’ll do so “pretty soon.”
The often brash Trump tells “Fox News Sunday,” ”I think I’ll be very presidential at the appropriate time. Right now, I’m fighting for my life.”
Trump has chalked up his second win in a row, duplicating his success in New Hampshire with a win in South Carolina on Saturday. His victory comes after a week in which he threatened to sue one rival, accused former President George W. Bush of lying about the Iraq war and even tussled with Pope Francis on immigration.
Trump says he “can act as presidential as anybody that’s ever been president other than the great Abraham Lincoln.” He says Lincoln was hard to beat.
Kasich not exiting the presidential race yet
Note to Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and anyone else who wants John Kasich to exit the race for the GOP presidential nomination: Not gonna do it. Not anytime soon, at least.
The Ohio governor tells CBS’s “Face the Nation” that for him, the goal is gathering delegates in such Republican contests as Massachusetts, Vermont, Virginia, Mississippi, Michigan and Illinois. He says, “I don’t have to win in these places, I just have to hang in there and continue to gather momentum.”
Kasich argues that besides, he’s the only governor left in the GOP field, now that former Florida governor Jeb Bush has exited.
Saudi accuses 32 of spying for Iran
Saudi Arabia accuses 32 people of spying for Iran, al-Arabiya reports.
The suspects are mostly Saudi nationals, one Iranian and one Afghan national.
The list of charges includes “establishing a spying unit in collaboration with members of the Iranian intelligence and providing very important and dangerous information related to the military field.” The 32 are accused of meeting with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, “carrying out hostile acts against Saudi Arabia and committing high treason against their country and their king,” and “owning banned books, publications and automated computer devices which might be prejudicial to public order and the security of Saudi Arabia.”
False reports of stabbing in Jerusalem
Initial reports of a stabbing in Jerusalem, near the Central Bus Station, are false, police say.
— Judah Ari Gross
Damascus shrine death toll hits 62
AFP reports that the death toll in the Damascus shrine attacks rises to 62.
Trump, Cruz ‘missed the mark’ on Israeli-Palestinian conflict — Clinton
Hillary Clinton says Donald Trump and Ted Cruz “missed the mark” when they described their posture toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Trump has recently suggested that he’ll be “sort of a neutral guy” in the dispute. Cruz, meanwhile, says he has “no intention of being neutral” in his support for Israel.
The former secretary of state suggested on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the situation is far more complex. She pledged to defend and do everything she can to support Israel, but adds that “the Palestinians deserve to have a state of their own. That’s why I support a two-state solution.”
London mayor backs Brexit in blow to Cameron
London Mayor Boris Johnson on Sunday says he would support a vote for Britain to leave the European Union in a blow for Prime Minister David Cameron ahead of a membership referendum in June.
“After a great deal of heartache… I will be advocating vote Leave,” says Johnson, a popular politician from Cameron’s own Conservative Party who is seen as a potential successor to the prime minister.
His comments will be seen as a key victory by supporters of Britain’s departure from the EU — or “Brexit” — although Johnson in his comments implies he would not lead the movement and would not take part in frontline campaigning.
He says Cameron had done “fantastically well” on negotiating reforms at an EU summit last week but added: “I don’t think anybody could realistically claim that this is fundamental reform of the EU or of Britain’s relationship with the EU.”
“There should be no confusion between the wonders of Europe and the holidays in Europe and fantastic food and friendships… with a political project that has basically been going on now for decades,” he says.
Duma suspect says Shin Bet used ‘women singing’ to extract confession
The main suspect in the fatal Duma attack, in which three members of the Dawabsha family were burned to death last July, tells Channel 2 about the Shin Bet interrogation, and denies the allegations against him.
Amiram Ben-Uliel says he “didn’t cooperate until they understood I don’t listen to women’s voices,” for religious reasons, and would play the radio. When he got up to turn it off, they would handcuff him “and beat him up a bit.”
The Shin Bet then brought in a woman interrogator “who would sing to me,” he says, and at one point touched him on the shoulder.
After 18 days, they interrogated him all night.
In the next stage — after the attorney general ruled the national security agency could treat the suspects as “ticking bombs” — he claims the interrogators slapped him, and handcuffed him in painful positions.
“I screamed terribly,” he tells Channel 2, but would not talk.
Ben-Uliel says the interrogators told him they would “drink your blood from your ears.”
At one point, he told them: “I’ll talk, I’ll talk.” He later reenacted the scene at Duma.
He told them no one was with him during the attack, “and they didn’t believe me.”
After meeting with his lawyer, Ben-Uliel retracted his confession, but “they didn’t want to listen.” He continues to profess his innocence.
The Shin Bet says, in response, that the interrogation was conducted in accordance with the law.
Kahlon said planning economic relief for Palestinians
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu party) is set to build an economic relief plan for the Palestinians, Channel 10 reports.
The minister has held several meetings with his Palestinian counterpart on the subject, the TV report says.
Once created, Kahlon will present the plan to Netanyahu. It will include cooperation on real estate building and integration of Palestinians into Israel’s hi-tech sector. Palestinian doctors will also be given medical training in Israel, the report says.
If the prime minister approves it, Israel will present the plan to US President Barack Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Rouhani says only political process will end Syrian war
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tells Russia’s defense minister that the Syrian conflict can only be resolved through a political process.
The official IRNA news agency reports the talks in Tehran on Sunday, and says visiting Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu gave a message from Russian President Vladimir Putin to Rouhani. It does not elaborate.
Russia and Iran are key allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.
Syrian state TV ups death toll near Damascus to 83
Syrian state TV raises the death toll in the IS-claimed attacks near Damascus to 83.