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Live updates (closed)Latest: Bennett: Regulation Bill legislates that nation cannot occupy its own land

Bill to legalize outposts on Palestinian land passes first reading

Assad says Aleppo victory won't end war, but will bring resolution closer; Netanyahu tells Paris he'll meet Abbas if peace summit scotched; Likud renegade Begin calls outpost bill 'not smart, responsible or stable'

  • Syrian government troops patrol the newly captured al-Sakhour neighborhood in the eastern part of the northern city of Aleppo on December 7, 2016. (AFP /GEORGE OURFALIAN)
    Syrian government troops patrol the newly captured al-Sakhour neighborhood in the eastern part of the northern city of Aleppo on December 7, 2016. (AFP /GEORGE OURFALIAN)
  • French president Francois Hollande, center, escorts newly appointed Prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve, left, out of the Elysee Palace following the weekly cabinet meeting, on December 7, 2016 in Paris. (AFP/Eric FEFERBERG)
    French president Francois Hollande, center, escorts newly appointed Prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve, left, out of the Elysee Palace following the weekly cabinet meeting, on December 7, 2016 in Paris. (AFP/Eric FEFERBERG)
  • MK Benny Begin, in blue shirt,  being surrounded by opposition MKs in the Knesset on December 7, 2016. (Raould Wootliff/Times of Israel)
    MK Benny Begin, in blue shirt, being surrounded by opposition MKs in the Knesset on December 7, 2016. (Raould Wootliff/Times of Israel)
  • US President-elect Donald Trump speaks at the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, North Carolina on December 6, 2016. (AFP/TIMOTHY A. CLARY)
    US President-elect Donald Trump speaks at the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, North Carolina on December 6, 2016. (AFP/TIMOTHY A. CLARY)
  • Gray Cranes flocking at the Hula Lake in the Hula valley in northern Israel on December 7, 2016. (AFP/JACK GUEZ)
    Gray Cranes flocking at the Hula Lake in the Hula valley in northern Israel on December 7, 2016. (AFP/JACK GUEZ)
  • Syrian residents fleeing the violence in the eastern rebel-held parts of Aleppo walk past a makeshift barricade made of wreckages of buses as they evacuate from their neighbourhoods through the Bab al-Hadid district after it was seized by the government forces, on December 7, 2016. (AFP/GEORGE OURFALIAN)
    Syrian residents fleeing the violence in the eastern rebel-held parts of Aleppo walk past a makeshift barricade made of wreckages of buses as they evacuate from their neighbourhoods through the Bab al-Hadid district after it was seized by the government forces, on December 7, 2016. (AFP/GEORGE OURFALIAN)
  • Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely seen with the father and brother of Emmanuel Moreno stands by his memorial monument at the Netiv Ha'avot outpost in Gush Etzion, on December 6, 2016. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
    Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely seen with the father and brother of Emmanuel Moreno stands by his memorial monument at the Netiv Ha'avot outpost in Gush Etzion, on December 6, 2016. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
  • IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano delivers an opening statement at an IAEA summit in Vienna, Austria on December 6, 2016. Dean Calma/IAEA)
    IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano delivers an opening statement at an IAEA summit in Vienna, Austria on December 6, 2016. Dean Calma/IAEA)

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

Former MK detained over bribery suspicions

Police announce they have brought a former MK in for questioning as part of a probe into suspicions he took bribes, including sex, from a businessman.

Police do not name the former MK.

A statement says he is being investigated under caution, which means he may be held in custody pending charges.

“The national police detained for questioning this morning a former Knesset member, over suspicions that while serving he received bribes from a businessman, including favors of a sexual nature, in return for pushing through issues related to his business interests,” a police statement reads.

UN agency says Iran no longer in violation of nuke deal

A UN agency says Iran is no longer in violation of its nuclear agreement with six world powers because it has reduced its store of heavy water.

Heavy water cools reactors that can produce substantial amounts of plutonium used to make the core of nuclear warheads. A recent report from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency said that Tehran had slightly more heavy water stored than the 130 metric tons (143.3 tons) called for by the deal between it and six world powers.

A new confidential IAEA report obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press says the agency verified Tuesday that an Iranian export shipment of 11 metric tons (over 12 tons) of heavy water had arrived at its destination.

The agency did not specify the destination but diplomats say it’s Oman.

— AP

Pakistani passenger plane ‘disappears’ from sky

A Pakistani plane carrying 37 passengers lost contact on Wednesday on a domestic flight from the northern city of Chitral to Islamabad, an airline spokesman said.

The Pakistan International Airlines carrying 37 passengers plus crew “has disappeared,” airline spokesman Danyal Gilani said.

— AFP

Trump appears to reveal he is TIME person of the year

Donald Trump has appeared to have inadvertently revealed that he will be named TIME’s Person of the Year in the coming minutes.

Twenty minutes after the NBC’s “Today” tweets that it will interview the TIME person of the year right after the announcement, Trump tweets that he will be interviewed on the show at 7:30 a.m. (2:30 p.m. Israel time).

3 charged in Belgium with IS recruiting, fundraising

Belgian authorities have charged two Kosovars and a Serb with terrorist offenses over suspicions they helped recruit jihadists for Syria and raised funds for the Islamic State group.

A counter-terrorism judge kept in custody three of the eight people who were detained during raids across Belgium on Tuesday but released the remainder after questioning, federal prosecutors say.

“They were charged with participation in the activities of a terrorist group,” the prosecutor’s office says in a statement.

It identifies them as Egzona K., a 23-year-old Serb, Kastriot M., a 23-year-old Kosovar, and Mahid D., a 27-year-old Kosovar.

Following the raids on Tuesday, the prosecutor’s office said those arrested were “suspected to be involved with recruiting people to leave for Syria and with having financially supported IS.”

— AFP

TIME confirms Trump named person of year ‘for better or worse’

Shocking nobody, TIME Magazine has named President-elect Donald Trump person of the year.

The magazine’s cover image shows Trump sitting in a worn chair and calls him “President of the Divided States of America.”

In a story about the selection, the magazine’s Nancy Gibbs writes that the person is chosen based on the impact they have made, for better or worse, and leaves the question open as to which Trump is.

“It’s hard to measure the scale of his disruption. This real estate baron and casino owner turned reality-TV star and provocateur—never a day spent in public office, never a debt owed to any interest besides his own—now surveys the smoking ruin of a vast political edifice that once housed parties, pundits, donors, pollsters, all those who did not see him coming or take him seriously. Out of this reckoning, Trump is poised to preside, for better or worse,” she writes.

“For reminding America that demagoguery feeds on despair and that truth is only as powerful as the trust in those who speak it, for empowering a hidden electorate by mainstreaming its furies and live-streaming its fears, and for framing tomorrow’s political culture by demolishing yesterday’s, Donald Trump is TIME’s 2016 Person of the Year,” the piece concludes.

Pakistan confirms plane crashed with 47 aboard

Pakistani aviation authorities confirm that a plane carrying 47 people crashed on a domestic flight from the mountainous northern city of Chitral to Islamabad.

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Flight PK661 crashed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the civil aviation authority tells AFP.

“A plane has crashed and locals told us that it is on fire,” says Saeed Wazir, a senior local police official. “Police and rescue officials are on the way but have yet not reached on site.”

— AFP

Trump says magazine cover ‘a great honor’

Speaking to NBC’s “Today” show by telephone about being named person of 2016 by Time magazine, Trump says “It’s a great honor. It means a lot.”

Much like in real life, Democrat Hillary Clinton was the runner-up for the recognition, Time managing editor Nancy Gibbs says on the program.

She says the choice of Trump this year was “straightforward.”

On social media, the announcement is met with ad nauseum reminders of others who have won the coveted spot.

Rounding out the list of also-rans according to Time are the “The Hackers,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Crispr pioneers at the head of gene editing technology and pop singer Beyonce.

— with AP

Life sentence urged for Serb military chief at tribunal

United Nations prosecutors are demanding a life sentence for Gen. Ratko Mladic, telling judges they should convict and imprison the former Bosnian Serb military chief for orchestrating atrocities throughout Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.

Former Bosnian Serb military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic looks across the court room at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague Netherlands in this image taken from video Monday December 5, 2016. (ICTY Video via AP)

Former Bosnian Serb military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic looks across the court room at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague Netherlands in this image taken from video Monday December 5, 2016. (ICTY Video via AP)

Prosecutor Alan Tieger tells judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia that it would be “an insult to the victims, living and dead, and an affront to justice to impose any sentence other than the most severe available under law: A life sentence.”

Tieger was speaking at the end of prosecutors’ closing statements at the conclusion of Mladic’s trial on charges including genocide, murder and terror.

Verdicts are expected late next year.

— AP

Deputy minister says West Bank memorial to fallen soldiers can be moved

Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan says he has found a solution for a memorial monument for two soldiers in the West Bank slated to be destroyed for being placed on private Palestinian land.

Ben-Dahan says after touring the site, near the outpost of Netiv Ha’avot in the Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem, he has found that the memorials for Lt. Col. Emmanuel Moreno and First Lt. Asher Ezra can be moved to a nearby plot.

“The monuments will not be destroyed. We will move it a few meters forward and the monument, along with the lookout spot, will stay whole and healthy,” he says, according to Army Radio.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely seen with the father and brother of Emmanuel Moreno stands by his memorial monument at the Netiv HaAvot outpost in Gush Etzion, on December 6, 2016. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely seen with the father and brother of Emmanuel Moreno stands by his memorial monument at the Netiv HaAvot outpost in Gush Etzion, on December 6, 2016. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

In March, the High Court ruled that the monuments and accompanying lookout were on private land and must be destroyed, responding to a Peace Now petition.

The families of the two had asked for more time to find a solution, but the Peace Now group said Tuesday it was not willing to be flexible, in response to the Knesset pushing ahead with legislation that could see Nativ Ha’avot and other outposts legalized.

Morena and Ezra were killed during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

US, other Western powers call for immediate Aleppo ceasefire

The leaders of the United States and five other Western powers are calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

USPresident Barack Obama is joining with the leaders of Britain, Germany, Italy, France and Canada in a joint statement demanding that Syria’s government address the humanitarian crisis by allowing UN aid in to eastern Aleppo.

Syrian residents fleeing the violence in the eastern rebel-held parts of Aleppo walk past a makeshift barricade made of wreckages of buses as they evacuate from their neighbourhoods through the Bab al-Hadid district after it was seized by the government forces, on December 7, 2016. (AFP/GEORGE OURFALIAN)

Syrian residents fleeing the violence in the eastern rebel-held parts of Aleppo walk past a makeshift barricade made of wreckages of buses as they evacuate from their neighbourhoods through the Bab al-Hadid district after it was seized by the government forces, on December 7, 2016. (AFP/GEORGE OURFALIAN)

They’re accusing Russia of obstruction at the Security Council. The leaders say Russia and Iran claim to want to work toward a political solution but are unwilling.

The leaders want the United Nations to investigate reports that war crimes are being committed in Syria.

The statement comes as several Syrian rebel factions are proposing a five-day ceasefire in the eastern part of Aleppo to allow civilians to be evacuated.

— AP

Liberman cops to attacking Syria to thwart Hezbollah

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman admits that Israel is responsible for recent attacks in Syria, saying they were meant to “prevent the smuggling of advanced weapons, military equipment and weapons of mass destruction from Syria to Hezbollah.”

Speaking to representatives from the European Union, Liberman does not specify what incident or incidents he is referring to.

On Wednesday morning, a bombing near a Damascus military airport was blamed on Israel. Last week, Israeli planes reportedly struck both a weapons site near the Syrian capital and a Hezbollah weapons convoy.

Israel generally does not officially admit to carrying out attacks deep inside Syria, though it has maintained it will not allow advanced weapons to be transfered to Hezbollah.

The defense minister also insists that Israel is not interested in getting involved in the Syrian civil war, but will work to defend its citizens and its sovereignty.

“When I am asked, time after time, what a possible future agreement with Syria will be like, I say that my position is that regardless of what agreement will be in Syria — the Iranians and [Syrian President Bashar] Assad have to be out of Syria and not be a part of any deal,” Liberman says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Liberman says peace with Palestinians far off

In his remarks, Liberman also dismisses the possibility of a peace agreement with the Palestinians in the near future.

“The notion of a permanent solution will have to be postponed for at least a few years, and in the meantime, we need to ensure normal lives in Judea and Samaria for both Jews and Palestinians,” Liberman says, using the biblical term for the West Bank.

The defense minister scolds European leaders for considering Israeli settlements to be “the biggest problem in the world.”

“At least 500 people are killed each day in the Middle East, from South Sudan to Iraq, which is much more serious and important than what is happening in Amona, but this is something you don’t see in the European press,” he says.

It is not clear where he gets that figure from.

— Judah Ari Gross

Israel said to reject French peace talks proposal

A senior Israeli official says Jerusalem has rejected a French proposal for a peace summit between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the Haaretz daily reports.

The proposal for the parley on the sidelines of a peace conference Israel has refused to attend was originally reported by French newspaper Le Monde, which cited an Israeli source saying Jerusalem was likely to reject the idea.

According to Haaretz, Israel told France that since it was not taking part in the peace confab it would not take part in a side meeting, the official is quoted saying.

The official is quoted accusing Paris of trying to engineer Israeli participation in the meeting and says Israel is open to direct talks without preconditions and not as part of the summit.

“If the French are interested in hosting, why don’t they invite us a day before the foreign ministers’ meeting, or a month after,” the official is quoted saying.

 

Former MK suspected of graft to remain behind bars until Sunday

A court has ordered that the former Knesset member detained today for questioning on bribe suspicions be held in custody for at least four more days as the investigation proceeds, according to Hebrew media reports.

The ex-lawmaker’s name remains under gag order.

Opposition gets rare win on bill to raise stipend for disabled

The Knesset opposition has scored a rare victory in the Knesset, pushing through a bill that will guarantee disabled Israelis get a state stipend equal to the minimum wage.

Currently, the state only gives the handicapped a maximum of NIS 2,714 ($714) monthly while minimum wage stands at NIS 4,825 ($1,269) a month.

The bill will also ensure the stipend goes up each year along with the minimum wage.

The vote passes a preliminary reading by a vote of 42 to 39. It will still have to go through committee and pass another three readings.

“It’s impossible to live off this [currecnt] amount,” MK Dov Khenin (Joint List), one of the bill’s sponsors, says in the Knesset plenum. “Raising the disabled stipend will save many people from poverty, and the battle against poverty is one of the central fights we as a society must wage.”

In a tweet, Joint List head Ayman Odeh calls the bill’s passage a “moment of joy in the plenum.”

Ministers likely to muzzle mosque-muffling measure

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri says top ministers are opposed to the so-called muezzin bill, which would ban mosques from broadcasting the traditional call to prayer on loudspeakers, and predicts the proposal will ultimately be buried.

In an interview with the ultra-Orthodox Kikar HaShabat website, Deri says that in a meeting several weeks ago, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, and Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin all opposed the legislation.

“They said unequivocally — the law is unnecessary, it will cause damage,” Deri says.

According to Deri, the ministers suggested setting up a committee to cut a deal with Arab Israeli leaders to lower the volume on the prayer calls.

Should the law pass, it would fall to Elkin and Deri’s offices to both enforce it and make exceptions.

While urging dialogue with local Muslim leaders, Deri also insists that the existing noise pollution laws were sufficient to crack down on the phenomenon.

“There is no need for other legislation,” Deri says.

“If we don’t enforce [the noise pollution laws] today, when the muezzin law passes, that will be enforced?” he adds rhetorically.

The minister maintains the bill — which is backed by Netanyahu — will likely not become law.

“My assessment is that it won’t advance to other readings,” he says.

A preliminary vote on the bill was postponed on Wednesday for the third time in a month.

— Marissa Newman

Mosque bill sponsor says vote going ahead despite loggerheads over timing

Despite rumors of the so-called mosque bill’s demise, the measure’s sponsor tells The Times of Israel the proposal to ban mosques from using loudspeakers to broadcast the traditional call to prayer will be voted on next week.

A vote on the bill was pulled from the Knesset agenda earlier in the day and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri indicated it will be buried.

But Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev, who pushed for the bill, says that it will go ahead, though disagreements over the hours the ban would apply mean the text of the first reading of the bill is likely to include two versions of a clause defining the scope of the law.

Moti Yogev, second row center, gesturing during a Knesset debate on October 12, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Moti Yogev, second row center, gesturing during a Knesset debate on October 12, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Earlier, Yogev said the delay was requested by the prime minister and Knesset speaker in order to “soften the bill to [apply to] the night hours only,” referring to a compromise with the ultra-Orthodox parties reached several weeks ago, which was announced but apparently did not make in into revisions of the legislation.

“We are working on it now,” he tweeted.

According Hebrew media reports, however, Netanyahu is in fact seeking to restore the bill to its original form, namely to have it apply both during the day and night hours.

The proposal was initially blocked by Health Minister Yaakov Litzman over fears it would prevent synagogues from using sirens to announce the onset of Shabbat.

The idea to offer two versions of a single clause is apparently taken from the Regulation Bill to legalize West Bank outposts, which had included two version of a clause regarding the evacuation Amona. There, as in this case, including two options were intended to allow the bill to progress through the legislative process while disagreements over the final text were still being negotiated.

— Raoul Wootliff

MK’s name to be kept under gag until tomorrow

A statement from the police says that the magistrate hearing the case of the MK suspected of taking bribes and sexual favors has rejected a request to keep his name under gag order.

However, the gag will only be lifted Thursday afternoon, to give the lawmaker a chance to appeal.

The statement also says the MK was ordered to remain behind bars for five days, and not four, as previously reported.

Police say the investigation is partially the fruit of a piece broadcast by investigative news magazine Uvda.

 

Trump said to pick John Kelly as Homeland Security chief

Donald Trump will nominate retired general John Kelly to be director of Homeland Security, several US news sites report, citing those close to the transition team.

Kelly, 66, spent 40 years in the Marines and led the US Southern Command before retiring.

His son Lt. Robert Michael Kelly, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, and sources tell The New York Times that his role as a gold star father played a part in the decision to nominate him.

Trump has yet to tell Kelly, who is out of the country, of his decision, according to the Times, and will officially nominate Kelly and other top national security positions next week.

US President-elect Donald Trump's motorcade moves to a fundraiser at Cipriani's, December 7, 2016 in New York. (AFP/ Bryan R. Smith)

US President-elect Donald Trump’s motorcade moves to a fundraiser at Cipriani’s, December 7, 2016 in New York. (AFP/ Bryan R. Smith)

Included in those is secretary of state and Trump says former rival Mitt Romney still has a chance to win the post.

“Yes, he does,” Trump tells NBC’s “Today.”

Romney, the 2012 presidential nominee, was blisteringly critical of Trump on foreign policy and other issues during the businessman’s campaign against Democrat Hillary Clinton. So Trump’s consideration of him — and Romney’s inclusion on the short list for one of the Cabinet’s most prestigious positions — has been a surprise.

Trump has put Romney through a very public audition process — and allowed aides to take the unusual step of denouncing him in interviews. Over the weekend, Vice President-elect Mike Pence said Trump was widening his search for his top diplomatic representative to the world, and a top transition official told The Associated Press that longtime Romney rival Jon Huntsman was now also in the running.

In another development, the president-elect, appearing at a Manhattan transition fundraiser Wednesday, has announced that he selected Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad as the new US ambassador to China. Trump and Branstad are expected to appear together in Iowa on Thursday, according to transition officials.

— With AP

Ellison says he’ll resign from Congress if elected DNC chair

Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison says he’ll resign his seat in Congress if he wins the election for the Democrats’ party chair.

Ellison says in a statement that he’ll be “all-in to meet the challenge” of rebuilding the party after the Democrats’ devastating defeat in the 2016 elections.

The race to lead the Democratic National Committee has emerged as a central battleground in the fight for the future of the Democratic Party.

Ellison has taken flack from some pro-Israel groups for appearing to take stances critical of the Jewish state.

Ellison says he decided to vacate his seat after hearing from many party activists concerned that he couldn’t hold both positions. Some saw the criticism as a way of opposing Ellison without directly linking it to Israel.

He plans to continue serving in Congress until the DNC election.

The former chairwoman, Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, attracted criticism for being focused on her own re-election and insufficiently committed to the job of leading the national party.

— with AP

Court gives six month extension to move West Bank memorial

The High Court has ruled that a memorial monument and lookout for two dead soldiers built near an illegal West Bank outpost does not need to be moved for another six months.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely with the father and brother of Emmanuel Moreno at the memorial site in the Netiv HaAvot outpost in the Eztion Bloc. December 6, 2016. (Courtesy of Tzipi Hotolevy's spokeswoman)

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely with the father and brother of Emmanuel Moreno at the memorial site in the Netiv HaAvot outpost in the Eztion Bloc, December 6, 2016. (Courtesy of Tzipi Hotolevy’s spokeswoman)

The court had earlier ruled in response to a petition that the memorial near Netiv Ha’avot cannot remain on private land and Peace Now had sought its immediate removal.

In its ruling to give until May 7, 2017 to move the structure, which it says should not be complicated, the court notes that it weighed the feelings of the families of the soldiers and the public against the need to uphold private rights and the rule of the law in the sensitive case.

 

 

Begin says he will vote against outpost bill again

The first of 60 planned speeches have begun in the Knesset plenum, ahead of a vote on the first reading of the controversial outpost regulation bill

Among the first to mount the podium is Likud MK Benny Begin who says he will again break ranks and vote against the outpost bill in its first reading this evening, as he did in the preliminary vote.

Begin says that the Jewish people have a natural right to all of the Land of Israel but that the bill will only damage Israel and the settlement project.

“This bill is not smart, responsible or stable, and that is why the government is still looking for other options,” he says. ” I can therefore not support it and will vote against it.”

​On Tuesday, the chairman of the governing coalition suspended Begin from the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee a day after he twice voted against the preliminary version of the bill to recognize illegal West Bank settlement outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land.​

After speaking, he is embraced by opposition lawmakers for his stance.

MK Benny Begin, in blue shirt, being surrounded by opposition MKs in the Knesset on December 7, 2016. (Raould Wootliff/Times of Israel)

MK Benny Begin, in blue shirt, being surrounded by opposition MKs in the Knesset on December 7, 2016. (Raould Wootliff/Times of Israel)

— Raoul Wootliff

Target website not blocked in Israel

Despite rumors that the US shopping behemoth Target blocked Israeli users from online consumerism, the website is back up and running, complete with shipping to Israel and prices in shekels.

It had been down for much of the day, with users getting an error message.

Earlier in the day, the Jerusalem-based Janglo forum posted a letter it said was from Target corporate headquarters saying that Israel had been blocked for being the origination point of malicious attacks on its website.

Target does not immediately respond to a Times of Israel request for comment.

Fears of crackdown after Egyptian human rights activist arrested

A prominent Egyptian human rights activist and lawyer has been arrested in connection with an ongoing investigation of the country’s top rights campaigners for illegally receiving foreign funds.

Her arrest has had a chilling effect on Egyptian rights activists who fear they will be next.

As she was being away led by police, Azza Soliman tells The Associated Press by phone that security forces arrived to her house and presented her with an arrest warrant.

Soliman, the chairman of the Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance, was banned from traveling abroad last month and told her name was blacklisted; days later she learned that her assets had been frozen.

“Azza Soliman’s arrest is the latest chilling example of the Egyptian authorities’ systematic persecution of independent human rights defenders,” says Najia Bounaim at Amnesty International. “There is a real risk that her arrest could signal an accelerating crackdown with many other human rights defenders subject to the same inquiry facing the risk of imminent arrest.”

An asset freeze was also issued by a court in September against several of the country’s most prominent human rights leaders.

— AP

UK’s May, Gulf leaders pledge to counter Iran

British Prime Minister Theresa May and leaders from six Gulf Arab countries agree to counter Iran’s “destabilizing activities,” a pledge meant to calm nerves following the nuclear deal with world powers.

The decision comes at the end of a two-day summit in Bahrain of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional bloc of Western-allied countries including the tiny island nation, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, left, attends a Gulf Cooperation Council summit on December 7, 2016, in the Bahraini capital Manama. (AFP/STRINGER)

British Prime Minister Theresa May, left, attends a Gulf Cooperation Council summit on December 7, 2016, in the Bahraini capital Manama. (AFP)

Those Gulf nations, especially the Sunni-ruled kingdom of Saudi Arabia, have watched with concern as Iran backed Shiite rebels in Yemen and supported embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad.

May says all parties must “work together to push back against Iran’s aggressive regional actions, whether in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Syria or in the Gulf itself.”

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi responds to May’s statements by saying the UK is, “not in a position to accuse others of interfering in regional affairs,” according to Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency.

— AP

Netanyahu tells Hollande he’s up for Abbas talks, but not during confab

Netanyahu has called French President Francois Hollande to tell him that he won’t be coming to Paris for direct talks with PA President Abbas, as Hollande had suggested take place on the sidelines of an international peace summit later this month.

According to a statement from Netanyahu’s office, the prime minister told Hollande he objected to the talks being timed to coincide with the summit, which Israel has rejected, saying it prefers direct talks.

“Netanyahu told Hollande if there’s no international conference in Paris, the prime minister will meet with Abbas for direct talks without preconditions,” the statement reads.

“Israel will not take part in the international conference, which won’t contribute to bringing peace,” the statement concludes.

Abbas and foreign ministers from nearly two dozen countries are expected to meet in Paris on December 21 to try to jump-start peace efforts.

Palestinians say Abbas wasn’t invited to direct talks with Netanyahu

The spokesman for the Palestinian Authority Presidency says Abbas never got an invitation to direct talks with Netanyahu, apparently proposed by French President Francois Hollande to take place on the sidelines on the French peace conference later this month.

“Palestinians have received neither an official invitation to attend the French-sponsored international peace conference nor any other meeting,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh says, according to official PA mouthpiece WAFA.

However, he says Ramallah supports the French peace effort.

Netanyahu called Hollande to say he was open to talks without preconditions, but not during the conference, which Israel rejects in favor of direct talks.

Turkey post-coup purge depleting NATO staff, commander complains

NATO’s top military officer says about 150 Turkish officers have been recalled or retired from the alliance’s high command since a failed coup attempt in Turkey, placing a significant burden on his staff.

US Army General Curtis Scaparrotti says losing so many seasoned officers had placed “an extra load on our remaining people” and that “it obviously has an impact on their military.”

“I had talented, capable people here, and I’m taking a degradation on my staff,” he says.

Turkey, a NATO ally, has launched a large-scale crackdown on followers and institutions it thinks are linked to US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by Ankara of masterminding the failed July 15 plot to topple the government.

Authorities have arrested close to 38,000 people and purged more than 100,000 others from government jobs, including the military. Gulen has denied orchestrating the coup.

The officers who were recalled or retired from NATO make up about half of Turkey’s roughly 300-strong officer contingent at the alliance’s high command in Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands.

Scaparrotti says that about 75 of them have been replaced so far.

— AP

Assad: Aleppo win ‘huge,’ but not end of war

Syrian President Bashar Assad says a victory for his army in the battered second city of Aleppo would be a “huge step” towards ending the country’s five-year civil war.

In an interview with Syrian daily Al-Watan to be published on Thursday, an early copy of which was seen by AFP, Assad says defeating beleaguered rebels in Aleppo would not put an end to Syria’s conflict.

“It’s true that Aleppo will be a win for us, but let’s be realistic — it won’t mean the end of the war in Syria,” Assad says. “But it will be a huge step towards this end.”

Syrian government troops patrol the newly captured al-Sakhour neighborhood in the eastern part of the northern city of Aleppo on December 7, 2016. (AFP /GEORGE OURFALIAN)

Syrian government troops patrol the newly captured al-Sakhour neighborhood in the eastern part of the northern city of Aleppo on December 7, 2016. (AFP/George Ourfalian)

Assad also calls the possibility of a truce in Aleppo “practically non-existent, of course.”

“The Americans in particular are insisting on demanding a truce, because their terrorist agents are now in a difficult situation,” Assad tells Al-Watan.

— AFP

Italy’s Renzi resigns, again, asked to stay on, again

Italian Premier Matteo Renzi has resigned after a humiliating defeat on his reforms agenda that was central to his nearly three-year-long government.

But President Sergio Mattarella asks him to stay on in a caretaker role until a new government can be put in place.

The car with Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, leaves the Quirinal presidential palace in Rome, Wednesday, December 7, 2016. (AP/Alessandra Tarantino)

The car with Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, leaves the Quirinal presidential palace in Rome, Wednesday, December 7, 2016. (AP/Alessandra Tarantino)

A presidential aide, Ugo Zampetti, tells reporters that Mattarella will start consultations late Thursday with various party leaders to see where support lies for a new government.

Renzi tried to resign on Monday, but Mattarella told him to stay on until Parliament gave final approval to the 2017 national budget legislation.

The Senate approved the budget earlier Wednesday.

— AP

Up to 1,750 jihadists back in Europe, report warns

Around a third of the estimated 5,000 European jihadists who went to Syria and Iraq have returned to Europe, and some may have orders to attack, an EU report is warning.

Up to 2,500 fighters from Europe remain on the battlefield but their massive return in the short term seems unlikely, according to the report seen by AFP.

As many as 1,750 may have returned, based on the percentages listed in the report which EU counter-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove will present to EU interior ministers on Friday.

The report says between 15 to 20 percent of the Europeans have died on the battlefield, around 30 to 35 percent have returned and 50 percent remain in the battle theater, which amounts to between 2,000 and 2,500 Europeans.

— AFP

Outpost bill passes first Knesset reading

A bill to legalize settlement outposts built on private Palestinian land passes its first Knesset reading.

The controversial bill, which has been subject to compromises and revisions in order to secure enough support, passes by 58 votes to 51.

— Marissa Newman

Bennett: Regulation Bill legislates that nation cannot occupy its own land

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett praises the Regulation Bill, ahead of the Knesset vote, saying the Israeli government is “legislating” for the fact that a “nation cannot be an occupier of its own land.”

The next step is annexing the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, he says, to some jeering from the opposition.

Bennett thanks the prime minister, the residents of the Amona outpost and the Peace Now NGO for making the Regulation Bill possible.

In an apparent warning to Amona residents not to violently resist their impending evacuation, the Jewish Home leader says: “No man shall lift a hand to his brother.”

— Marissa Newman

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Target website not blocked in Israel

Despite rumors that the US shopping behemoth Target blocked Israeli users from online consumerism, the website is back up and running, complete with shipping to Israel and prices in shekels.

It had been down for much of the day, with users getting an error message.

Earlier in the day, the Jerusalem-based Janglo forum posted a letter it said was from Target corporate headquarters saying that Israel had been blocked for being the origination point of malicious attacks on its website.

Target does not immediately respond to a Times of Israel request for comment.