The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they happened.
US envoy Haley looks to slash UN peacekeeping
UNITED NATIONS — Washington’s new UN envoy Nikki Haley is putting in motion a far-reaching review of UN peacekeeping that is likely to lead to closures and downsizing of missions, according to diplomats.
Haley took up her post with a vow to overhaul the United Nations and “do away” with what she termed “obsolete” activities amid fresh clamor in Washington over US funding for the world body.
During one-on-one meetings with Security Council ambassadors this week, the new US envoy raised peacekeeping as a priority for cuts, zeroing in on the UN’s flagship enterprise, according to three diplomats with knowledge of the discussions.
Haley is setting up a mission-by-mission review of all 16 peace operations and is “relatively skeptical” of the value and efficiency of many of the blue-helmet deployments, said the diplomat, who spoke on background.
While the United States has few soldiers serving as peacekeepers, it is by far the biggest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping, providing nearly 29 percent of the $7.9 billion budget for this year.
Paul Ryan: Enforce the Iran nuclear deal, don’t dismantle it
WASHINGTON – It makes more sense to rigorously enforce the Iran nuclear deal than to dismantle it, says Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, signaling diminishing support for pulling the United States out of the deal.
Ryan, speaking on “Meet the Press” in an interview to be broadcast in full on Sunday, says the removal of sanctions under the nuclear rollback for sanctions relief deal reached in 2015 between Iran and six major world powers, meant it would be too hard to reconstitute the sanctions.
“A lot of that toothpaste is already out of the tube,” he said in a segment of the interview NBC posted on its website on Friday. “I never supported the deal in the first place, I thought it was a huge mistake, but the multilateral sanctions are done. I don’t think you’re going to go back and reconstitute the multilateral sanctions that were in place.”
President Donald Trump said while campaigning that the deal was a bad one and at times suggested that he would pull out of it. Other Republicans throughout the campaign pledged to kill the deal. However, since Trump’s inauguration last month, his defense secretary, James Mattis, has said pulling out of the deal would be unwise.
“I think we would expend our effort where it can pay off the most and that’s why I think what they’re doing now does make a lot of sense,” Ryan says. “I think the key is to rigorously enforce this deal.”
Father of alleged Louvre attacker insists son is innocent
MANSOURA, Egypt — The father of an Egyptian man accused of attacking French soldiers guarding Paris’s Louvre museum says he trusts the French judiciary to find out the truth behind his son’s alleged involvement.
Reda Refaie al-Hamahmy tells The Associated Press late Saturday that his 28-year-old son Abdullah is not a terrorist and that he leads a normal life with his wife and infant son.
Speaking at the family home in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, north of Cairo, the father says “if he is convicted, God be with us. But if he is innocent, they owe us an apology.”
The Paris prosecutor’s office says the attacker was shot four times Friday after injuring a soldier patrolling an underground mall near the famous museum but his injuries are no longer life-threatening.
Iran lifts ban on American wrestling team
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran lifts a ban on US wrestlers, allowing them to take part in the Freestyle World Cup later this month in the Iranian city of Kermanshah, Iranian media reports on Sunday.
The Sunday report by state TV quotes Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi as saying that the ban is lifted after the “discriminative restrictions” on Iranian nationals travelling to the US are suspended by a US federal judge.
The wrestlers were originally banned Friday from the Feb. 16-17 competition after President Donald Trump temporarily suspended travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran. The Trump administration is now appealing to reinstate the travel ban. On Sunday a judge in San Francisco rejected the government’s request for an immediate reinstatement. Formal arguments in the case begin on Monday.
Trump transportation pick paid by ‘cult-like’ Iranian exile group
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — An official in US President Donald Trump’s Cabinet and at least one of his advisers gave paid speeches for an Iranian exile group that killed Americans before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, ran donation scams and saw its members set themselves on fire over the arrest of their leader.
Elaine Chao, confirmed this week as Trump’s transportation secretary, received $50,000 in 2015 for a five-minute speech to the political wing of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, previously called a “cult-like” terrorist group by the State Department. Former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani also was paid an unknown sum to talk to the group, known as the MEK.
More than two dozen former US officials, both Republican and Democratic, have spoken before the MEK, including former House Speaker and Trump adviser Newt Gingrich. Some have publicly acknowledged being paid, but others have not.
While nothing would have prohibited the paid speeches, they raise questions about what influence the exiles may have in the new administration.
Already, a group of former US officials, including Giuliani, wrote a letter to Trump last month encouraging him to “establish a dialogue” with the MEK’s political arm. With Trump’s ban on Iranians entering the US, his administration’s call this week to put Iran “on notice” and the imposition of new sanctions on Friday, the exile group may find his administration more welcoming than any before.
Mosul residents outraged by IS ‘hole fee’
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Cash-strapped jihadists punching holes in people’s homes to move across west Mosul undetected are now asking victims to pay for the labor, several residents said Sunday.
The fee is a modest 7,000 Iraqi dinars (around $6 or NIS 22) but adds insult to injury, say residents of Mosul’s west bank, where the Islamic State group is digging in for a planned offensive by the Iraqi security forces.
“Daesh is smashing holes in the walls of our homes without giving us a choice,” says a resident of an area known as “Pepsi street” who gave his name as Abu Asaad, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
Democrats demand Trump remove Bannon from NSC
WASHINGTON — Two Jewish members of the US House of Representatives spearhead a letter by 50 House Democrats to President Donald Trump demanding the removal of Stephen Bannon from the National Security Council.
The letter sent Friday and initiated by Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, and Ted Deutch, D-Florida, decries the removal of the chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence from the Council, and their replacement with Bannon, Trump’s chief political strategist, and Reince Priebus, his chief of staff.
The letter takes special issue with Bannon and his senior role on the NSC, however, noting his background prior to joining Trump’s campaign last summer helming Breitbart News. Bannon once described Breitbart News as a platform for the “alt-right,” a loose assemblage of anti-establishment groups that includes anti-Semites as well as strident defenders of Israel.
One unifying thrust of the alt-right has been its hostility to Islam, and the letter writers say that Bannon is an especially inappropriate choice as the United States confronts the Islamic State jihadist group.
“At a time when the United States is leading the fight against ISIS, we should not be giving our partners in the Arab world, who are fighting alongside US troops, any reason to doubt US commitment to our alliances with these predominantly Muslim countries,” the letter says.
Jewish disability activists lobby against Republican legislation
WASHINGTON — Close to 200 Jewish disability activists are lobbying against proposed Republican changes to Medicaid and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The activists lobbied in Washington on Thursday under the aegis of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism and the Jewish Federations of North America.
In a summary statement, the groups were careful not to single out the two major initiatives they opposed as Republican-backed. However, the likelihood of the proposed bills passing has increased with both chambers of Congress under GOP control and with President Donald Trump in the White House.
The activists targeted changes proposed to Medicaid, the health insurance plan for low-income Americans, by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, the US House of Representatives Speaker, and backed by Tom Price, the health secretary, that would convert much of Medicaid funding into block grants to the states.
Disability advocates say the change would decrease the influence of the federal government in how the money is spent, and could adversely affect funding for items such as nursing, transportation and occupational therapies, among other needs currently paid for by the program.
A US House of Representatives bill backed by Republicans and initiated by Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, would, by amending the Americans with Disabilities Act, add hurdles to disabled people seeking redress for businesses that fail to provide adequate access.
Multiple El Al flights to and from Europe canceled amid wage dispute
All El Al flights from Europe to Israel, as well as three flights leaving Israel for Europe, are canceled amid an ongoing wage dispute between the largest Israeli airline and its pilots union.
Pilots are objecting to a wage agreement according to which aging pilots receive just 34 percent of their full wages between the ages of 65 and 67. International aviation rules forbid airline pilots from flying international routes after age 65, but Israeli pilots don’t start receiving their pensions until the country’s retirement age of 67. How to compensate long-time pilots during that two-year gap has been the subject of an ongoing skirmish between El Al’s management and its pilots union.
Overnight Saturday, the airline said it had to cancel three outgoing flights to Boston, New York and Moscow. Channel 10 reports that El Al is now adding to that list the 5:15 p.m. flight to London, the 5:25 p.m. flight to Madrid and the 5:30 p.m. flight to Warsaw.
The planes’ grounding in Israel is causing a cascade of cancellations down the flight schedule.
Netanyahu asks to delay settlements bill vote so he can coordinate with US
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly tells coalition party leaders that he wants to delay the final Knesset vote on the contentious Regulation Bill.
Netanyahu tells the party leaders he wants to coordinate steps with the new US administration before bringing the dramatic bill to the Knesset floor.
The bill, slammed by large parts of the Israeli left and center-right, as well as Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, would legalize several thousand homes in Israeli settlements in the West Bank built illegally on privately owned Palestinian property, offering financial compensation to the landowners and staving off any further demolitions such as the one carried out against the illegal Amona outpost last week.
Netanyahu’s comments to the coalition leaders come just hours after he tells his own Likud ministers that the bill would come up for its second and third readings, the final votes before becoming law, on Monday as scheduled.
Senior Hamas field commander said to die in accidental explosion
Hamas’s al-Qassam Brigades says in a press release a high-ranking field commander, Muhammad Walid al-Quqa, 37, dies today from wounds incurred yesterday in an “accidental” blast.
He was “setting up” something when the blast occurred, the statement says cryptically.
The statement adds that al-Quqa was from the Al-Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza.
— Dov Lieber
Pence warns Iran against testing Trump’s resolve
US Vice President Mike Pence in an interview airing Sunday warns Iran “not to test the resolve” of the Donald Trump administration, days after Washington slapped new sanctions on Tehran following a ballistic missile test launch.
Relations between the two sides have deteriorated sharply since Trump took office last month promising a tough line on what he sees as Iranian belligerence toward US interests.
“Iran would do well to look at the calendar and realize there’s a new president in the Oval Office. And Iran would do well not to test the resolve of this new president,” Pence tells ABC News in an interview taped Saturday.
The tough talk comes after Trump’s Pentagon chief James Mattis declared last week that Iran was “the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world.”
The charged rhetoric raises questions over whether the United States will abandon commitments it made under a landmark deal — negotiated with several world powers and approved by president Barack Obama in 2015 — that obliged Iran to curtail its nuclear program in exchange for relief from US and international sanctions.
“The Iranians got a deal from the international community that again, the president and I and our administration think was a terrible deal,” Pence says. “Well, we’re evaluating that as we speak,” he says.
Netanyahu: US, UK, Israel must be united against Iran’s ‘extraordinary aggression’
Iran is “trying to test the boundaries” of new administrations in Washington and London “with extraordinary aggression, with unusual hutzpah and antagonism,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells reporters as he boards a plane to London ahead of meetings Monday with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
“There’s a new administration in Washington, a new government in Britain. I intend to speak with both of them on strengthening ties, both between each one and Israel, and trilaterally,” he affirms. “That’s what I will do next week in Washington, and that’s what i’m doing tomorrow in London.
“I think the most important thing at the moment is that countries like the United States, with its leadership, and Britain and Israel, stand united against Iran’s aggression and set clear boundaries for her.”
Netanyahu is slated to meet May and British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson in London. He is scheduled for his first summit with new US President Donald Trump in Washington on February 15.
Netanyahu brushes off right-wing pressure to advance Regulation Bill
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejects pressure from his right wing, which is seeking to pass the controversial Regulation Bill this week.
According to unconfirmed media reports, Netanyahu is seeking to delay the final votes on the bill to legalize several thousand West Bank settlement homes built illegally on private Palestinian property until after he meets with new US President Donald Trump on February 15.
But his ruling coalition’s far right, especially ministers from the Jewish Home party, are vowing to move ahead on Monday with the final parliamentary votes on the Regulation Bill.
“I’m always hearing fake ultimatums,” Netanyahu tells reporters at Ben Gurion International Airport as he boards a plane to London for meetings with British Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Minister Boris Johnson.
Such ultimatums, he adds dismissively, “don’t excite me.” He pins various rumors about the bill’s status on “false briefings to the media.”
He concludes: “I’m busy running the country. And as I run the country I think only about our overarching interest.”
Islamic authority rejects Egypt’s move to reform divorce
CAIRO — Egypt’s top Islamic authority rejects the president’s suggestion for legislation that would invalidate the practice of men verbally divorcing their wives.
Al-Azhar’s Council of Grand Clerics says Sunday that verbal divorce, when appropriately declared by husbands with sound minds, has been an undisputed practice since the days of the 7th century Prophet Muhammad.
As a compromise, it proposes harsher penalties for those who don’t swiftly document such divorces.
Alarmed by high divorce rates, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi last month suggested that legislation be adopted so a divorce would be legal only in the presence of a state-authorized cleric.
Sissi has spoken in the past of reforming Islamic teachings in order to combat extremism.
Suspect in Louvre attack quizzed for first time
PARIS – French investigators Sunday begin questioning a suspect in the attack on troops outside the Louvre Museum in Paris, but the man has so far refused to speak, a judicial source says.
The suspect, believed to be an Egyptian national, was shot in the stomach and seriously wounded after lunging at soldiers with a machete during Friday’s incident. Investigators decided to question him in hospital after his condition improved, the source says.
Le Pen vows to pull France out of EU, NATO
LYON, France — French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen is reiterating her commitment to pull France out of the European Union and to restore the franc as the country’s official currency.
Le Pen uses her closed speech at a far-right conference Sunday in the southeast city of Lyon to highlight some of her key campaign promises from the 144 commitments she announced a day earlier.
She says she plans, if elected, to schedule a referendum within her first six months on a “Frexit” and intends to negotiate issues like borders and currency with the EU.
Le Pen says she also wants France to leave NATO’s integrated command and to build up the country’s capabilities to provide for its own defense.
Travel ban will not keep Iraqi MP from receiving Lantos prize
The State Department gives Yazidi leader and Iraqi lawmaker Vian Dakhil an exemption from the Trump administration’s travel ban and she will be allowed to travel to the United States to receive a prize named for Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress.
Dakhil, a member of the Iraqi parliament who has led the effort to raise awareness of the mass killings of her people at the hands of the Islamic State terrorist group, is slated to receive the prize February 8 in the US Capitol.
Her travel visa had been nullified by US President Donald Trump’s executive order signed last week placing a temporary travel ban on citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iraq.
A federal judge in Seattle on Friday issued a temporary nationwide restraining order which immediately halted Trump’s immigration order and travel ban. Early on Sunday, a US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco denied a request by the US Department of Justice to restore the travel ban.
Lantos, who hailed from a Hungarian Jewish family and worked with Raoul Wallenberg during the Second World War, was a prominent advocate for human rights during his nearly three decades in Congress.
Ministers endorse bill to export medicinal cannabis
Ministers on Sunday endorse a draft bill to legalize export of cannabis for approved medical use, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s office says, without elaborating.
Adoption by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, which meets outside the full cabinet, means that the draft will now move forward as a government bill.
Shaked’s office says a scheduled debate on decriminalizing marijuana use in favor of fines and treatment was put back until next Sunday.
Although the recreational use of cannabis is currently illegal in the Jewish state, for the past 10 years its therapeutic use has not only been permitted but encouraged.
In 2015, doctors prescribed the herb to about 25,000 patients suffering from cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress and degenerative diseases.
Last month, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan announced his support for decriminalizing recreational use.
Shaked has reportedly indicated she will support it.
Louvre attack suspect silent during initial questioning
PARIS — An Egyptian man suspected of charging soldiers at Paris’ Louvre museum with a machete is questioned by French investigators Sunday for the first time since the attack.
The Paris prosecutor’s office says the suspect, who allegedly shouted “Allahu akbar!” while rushing toward the soldiers and was shot four times after slightly injuring one, remained silent during the interview and will remain in custody.
The Louvre was closed immediately following the Friday attack, but reopened for the weekend.
French authorities so far have not named the suspect, but confirmed they thought he was Egyptian.
They are being more cautious than their Egyptian counterparts, who have identified the attacker as 28-year-old Abdullah Reda Refaie al-Hamahmy.
Hamahmy’s father spoke out Saturday to say that his son is not a terrorist, but a family man who led a normal life with his wife and infant son.
Jewish Home doubles down on vow to pass Regulation Bill Monday
The Jewish Home party doubles down on its insistence that the controversial Regulation Bill will come up Monday for its final votes in the Knesset plenum.
The bill seeks to legalize several thousand West Bank settlement homes built illegally on private Palestinian property.
“Half a million residents of Samaria, Judea and the Jordan Valley deserve normal lives just like residents of Kfar Saba and Tel Aviv. Fifty years late, the Regulation Bill will come up tomorrow and pass in the Knesset in order to give them this normalcy,” says a statement from Jewish Home.
The statement adds: “We are certain that all members of the coalition will lend their support to make that happen.”
The statement is a response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who earlier Sunday rejected pressure from his right wing over the bill.
According to media reports, Netanyahu is seeking to delay the final votes on the bill until after he meets with new US President Donald Trump on February 15.
“I’m always hearing fake ultimatums,” Netanyahu said of Jewish Home’s pressure to push the bill Monday. Such ultimatums, he added dismissively, “don’t excite me.”
NFL players head to Israel to meet locals, visit religious sites
Top National Football League players are set to visit Israel next week, the ministries of tourism and public diplomacy announce.
The delegation of 12 — Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Martellus Bennett, Delanie Walker, Michael Kendricks, Cameron Jordan, Kenny Stills, Calais Campbell, Carlos Hyde, Dan Williams, Justin Forsett, and ESPN commentator and former linebacker Kirk Morrison — will visit Rambam hospital in Haifa, the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem and the Black Hebrew community in Dimona, according to a statement put out by the ministries.
“The players will also hold an exhibition match in Jerusalem with the Israeli Football team on Saturday evening,” the statement says.
Players will also visit the Jordan River site of Yardenit, where some will undergo baptism.
Gilad Erdan, head of the ministry for strategic affairs and public diplomacy, suggests the visit will give the players “a balanced picture of Israel, the opposite from the false incitement campaign that is being waged against Israel around the world.”
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin echoes the sentiment. “Football stars are a source of inspiration for all American citizens. I am sure that, after the experiences that the players will enjoy in Israel and after they have seen the unique tourist sites and the special atmosphere here, they will become ambassadors of good will for Israel,” he says.
Suspected double homicide in Kafr Qassem
Two men, aged 50 and 30, are found dead in a car in the Kafr Qassem industrial zone, police say.
The discovery is being investigated as a double homicide likely linked to a turf war among criminals, according to a Channel 2 report.
A third man, aged 65, is found wounded near the vehicle. He is taken to hospital.
Swastika drawn on base of founders statue at Rice University
A swastika is drawn in chalk on the base of the founders statue at Rice University in Houston.
The word “TRUMP” accompanies the swastika on the 2,000-pound William Marsh Rice statue, located in the heart of the academic quad of the campus, the Houston Chronicle reports. The vandalism reportedly occurs on Friday night, according to the university.
It is the third act of racist vandalism on the campus this month.
“I have had it with this behavior,” undergraduate dean John Hutchinson says in a statement released by the university that is also posted on Facebook. “The use of the swastika clearly reveals that whoever did this is either ignorant of the history of true evil associated with this emblem of hate or is genuinely motivated by blind hatred.”
If a student is discovered to have drawn the graffiti, he or she faces expulsion from the university, Hutchinson reportedly says.
UC Riverside students vote to remove Sabra hummus from dining service
The student government at University of California Riverside votes to approve a resolution calling for the removal of Sabra brand hummus from campus dining services.
The resolution passed last week by a vote of 13 to 0 with one abstention. The removal was requested because the Sabra company’s joint owner is the Israel-based Strauss Group, which allegedly supports the Israeli military.
The resolution is supported by the campus organization Students for Justice in Palestine.
The resolution is not enforceable, and the UC Riverside administration says it has no plans to remove the hummus.
“Sabra Dipping Company is owned by two independent global food companies – PepsiCo, based in the US and Strauss Group, which is headquartered in Israel,” Sabra spokeswoman Ilya Welfeld says in a statement issued to local NBC affiliate NBC4.
“Each company is a separate entity and independent company,” she says, adding that Sabra has “no political positions or affiliations.”
White House predicts courts will reinstate travel ban
WASHINGTON — Rebuffed in its bid for a quick reversal, the White House says Sunday it expected the courts to reaffirm US President Donald Trump’s executive power and reinstate a ban on refugees and travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.
The case promises to extend into Monday at least, when fresh legal filings were due, and observers have no doubt the Supreme Court ultimately will have a say.
The San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, in a brief order overnight, denied the administration’s request to set aside a Seattle judge’s ruling that put a temporary hold on the ban nationwide.
The lawsuit by the states of Washington and Minnesota said Trump’s order harmed residents and effectively mandated discrimination. Their lawyers had until 2:59 a.m. EST Monday to submit briefs opposing the government’s request. The Justice Department then had a 6 p.m. EST deadline to respond.
“We’ll accomplish the stay and will win the case on the merits,” Vice President Mike Pence says.
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