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PM to be questioned for 3rd time tomorrow in graft probes

Yedioth publisher grilled for sixth time by police; Mexican president cancels White House talks amid row over wall; State Department senior managers quit en masse

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem on January 26, 2017, on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. (Photo by Hadas Parush/FLASH90)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem on January 26, 2017, on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. (Photo by Hadas Parush/FLASH90)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with former mayor of New York City, Rudolph 'Rudy' Giuliani, at PM Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem on February 1, 2015. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with former mayor of New York City, Rudolph 'Rudy' Giuliani, at PM Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem on February 1, 2015. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
  • Yossi Barkan, the exterminator who left the poison that led to the deaths of young sisters Avigail and Yael Gross attends a court hearing in Jerusalem District Court on January 26, 2017. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Yossi Barkan, the exterminator who left the poison that led to the deaths of young sisters Avigail and Yael Gross attends a court hearing in Jerusalem District Court on January 26, 2017. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Border Police officers search a Palestinian vehicle in the West Bank village of Bani Na'im on January 26, 2017 (Photo by Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
    Border Police officers search a Palestinian vehicle in the West Bank village of Bani Na'im on January 26, 2017 (Photo by Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
  • Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (C) holds a press conference in Tel Aviv to announce his support for a new marijuana policy on January 26, 2017 (Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
    Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (C) holds a press conference in Tel Aviv to announce his support for a new marijuana policy on January 26, 2017 (Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
  • Television host Guy Lerer (R) joins a pro-marijuana legalization protest outside the police headquarters in Tel Aviv on January 26, 2017 (Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
    Television host Guy Lerer (R) joins a pro-marijuana legalization protest outside the police headquarters in Tel Aviv on January 26, 2017 (Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
  • US President Donald Trump arrives in Philadelphia on January 26, 2017 to attend a Republican strategy retreat. / AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM
    US President Donald Trump arrives in Philadelphia on January 26, 2017 to attend a Republican strategy retreat. / AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM

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

Netanyahu meets Guiliani in Jerusalem ahead of Trump talks

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with former New York mayor and Trump confidant Rudy Giuliani in Jerusalem.

The Prime Minister’s Office says in a statement that Giuliani delivered a personal message from Trump to the prime minister in anticipation of their scheduled meeting in early February.

Truck driver hits dozens of parked cars in Tel Aviv, flees scene

A truck driver hits dozens of parked cars on the corners of Strauss and Mazeh streets in central Tel Aviv and flees the scene.

No one is injured in the incident. Police launch an investigation and are searching for the driver.

Officials stress that they do not suspect terrorism.

— Judah Ari Gross

Neo-Nazis crowdfund ‘bounty’ for man who punched Spencer

Neo-Nazis launch a money-raising drive for a “bounty” to track down the man who punched white supremacist Richard Spencer in Washington following Trump’s inauguration on Friday.

The push has raised a little over $5,000 so far.

The organizers of the money-raising drive post an image of the man they are looking for, and say they will hand over any information “to the appropriate law enforcement department.” The page also stresses that the initiative “is not a call for any vigilante justice, libel, or other illegal action.”

Spencer in November spoke at a white supremacist event in Washington, DC, celebrating Trump’s victory. At the event, Spencer said “Hail Trump!” and was greeted by Nazi salutes.

The attack sparked dozens of memes, many using video fighting games or popular music, as well as a debate on whether it is acceptable “to punch a Nazi.”

Trump slams ‘ungrateful TRAITOR’ Chelsea Manning

Trump lashes out at “ungrateful TRAITOR” Chelsea Manning, the US Army soldier who passed military documents to WikiLeaks whose jail sentence was commuted by Barack Obama in his final days as president.

Trump takes to Twitter to slam at Manning over her op-ed in the Guardian criticizing Obama for what she says is his “very few permanent accomplishments” and failure to stand up to stonewalling and intransigence from his political opponents.

EU cautious on US plan for Syria safe zones

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini says it is too early to comment on reports of US plans for safe zones in Syria.

Commenting on reports that Trump is directing the Pentagon and State Department to “produce a plan” for safe zones in Syria within 90 days, Mogherini says the European Union “will consider plans when they come.”

Speaking at a press conference in Beirut, Mogherini says the EU wants to see a political solution and a political transition in Syria that would allow “every single Syrian” to return to their country.

“We need to turn this from a proxy war to a proxy peace, and our role is to facilitate,” she says.

— AP

Shia LaBeouf arrested after hitting man who praised Hitler

American Jewish actor Shia LaBeouf is arrested at his anti-Trump “He Will Not Divide Us” art installation in New York after he hits a passerby for praising Hitler.

Video footage from the incident shows the two men standing side by side at the installation and the actor lashing out when the other man says “Hitler did nothing wrong.”

The installation in Queens consists of a camera mounted on a wall outside the Museum of the Moving Image. Below is the phrase “He will not divide us.”

Passersby are invited to stand in front of the wall repeating the phrase into the camera, which is live-streaming to the installation’s website.

2 hurt in car bombing in Haifa suburb

Two people are wounded in a car bombing in the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Yam.

The two — both in their 20s and both passengers in the car — receive emergency treatment at the scene from Magen David Adom rescue personnel, before being taken to Rambam Hospital in Haifa. Police say one of the two is in critical condition and the other sustained moderate injuries.

Police are investigating the incident.

Man dies of injuries following Haifa suburb blast

Police say a man has died of injuries sustained in a suspected gangland car bombing in a Haifa suburb earlier in the day.

The man was critically injured when the blast hit the car in which he was sitting. His companion sustained moderate wounds and a third person who was not in the car suffered light injuries.

Plea deal sees exterminator jailed for deaths of 2 little girls

Jerusalem District Court approves a plea bargain in the case of an exterminator who caused the death of two young sisters in 2014 by exposing them to toxic chemicals.

Avigail and Yael Gross (Courtesy of the Gross family)

Avigail and Yael Gross (Courtesy of the Gross family)

Under the terms of the bargain, Yossi Barkan will admit using the deadly pesticide that killed Yael and Avigail Gross, aged 1 and 4, and badly harmed the other family members.

In return, Barkan will serve a reduced jail sentence of 3 years and pay the Gross family NIS 200,000 ($50,000) in damages.

Trump to Mexico leader: Pay for wall or meeting is off

Trump takes to Twitter to threaten Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto with canceling their January 31 meeting if his country refuses to pay for the wall the American leader plans to build along their shared border.

“The US has a 60 billion dollar trade deficit with Mexico. It has been a one-sided deal from the beginning of NAFTA with massive numbers of jobs and companies lost,” Trump writes. “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.”

Nieto and his predecessor Vicente Fox have both insisted that Mexico will not pay for the wall, which was a key platform of Trump’s presidential campaign.

Democratic senator holds up resolution slamming UN for Israel condemnation

At least one Democratic senator is holding up a US Senate resolution criticizing last month’s United Nations Security Council condemnation of Israel’s settlement expansion in the West Bank.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois speaks to Face the Nation on CBS, Febraury 1, 2015. (screen capture: YouTube/Face the Nation on CBS)

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois speaks to Face the Nation on CBS, Febraury 1, 2015. (screen capture: YouTube/Face the Nation on CBS)

According to the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) placed the hold on the grounds that the Senate resolution “completely ignores the settlement issue.”

“I think the settlements have to be part of the issue if you are passing a resolution,” Durbin says.

Meanwhile, the Jewish Insider website quotes Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico as saying that the Senate resolution’s language is objectionable as it does not recognize that settlements are an obstruction to peace. Udall says that should Durbin lift his hold, he would place one of his own.

The Republican Jewish Coalition responds by urging its members to call Durbin’s office to “stop playing games with Israel’s security.”

— JTA

Israel approves 153 new homes in East Jerusalem, official says

Israeli officials give final approval Thursday to 153 homes in East Jerusalem, says the city’s deputy mayor Meir Turgeman.

Turgeman says the approvals by a city planning committee were among those held up due to pressure from former US president Barack Obama’s administration.

— AFP

Russia, Turkey urge caution on US plan for Syria safe zones

The Trump administration’s expressed interest in setting up safe zones for civilians in Syria is greeted with caution by Russia and Turkey, who have taken the lead in the latest peace efforts to end the Mideast country’s devastating six-year war.

Asked to comment on a draft executive order that Trump is expected to sign this week, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin says it is important to “weigh all possible consequences” of the measure.

Dmitry Peskov says in a conference call with reporters that the US hasn’t consulted with Russia on the subject and notes that “it’s important not to exacerbate the situation with refugees.”

A Turkish official says his country has always supported the idea of safe zones in Syria but would need to review any US plans before commenting.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Huseyin Muftuoglu tells reporters that Turkey has “seen the reports on a request for a study on the safe zone,” adding that “what is important is to see the result of these studies.”

There is no indication on how a safe zone would look or how it would be enforced.

— AP

With Trump’s rise, ‘Doomsday Clock’ moves closer to midnight

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moves its symbolic “Doomsday Clock” 30 seconds closer to midnight, warning that comments by Trump and a “darkening global security landscape” have made the world less safe.

The clock — which serves as a metaphor for how close humanity is to destroying the planet — was last changed in 2015, from five to three minutes to midnight. It is now set at two and a half minutes to midnight.

The decision to move the clock is led by a group of scientists and intellectuals, including 15 Nobel laureates.

The minute hand on the clock was moved amid concerns about “a rise in strident nationalism worldwide, President Donald Trump’s comments on nuclear arms and climate issues, a darkening global security landscape that is colored by increasingly sophisticated technology, and a growing disregard for scientific expertise,” the group says in a statement.

“Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person,” two scientists at the Bulletin, Lawrence Krauss and David Titley, say in an opinion piece in The New York Times. “But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter.”

This file photo taken on February 26, 2002 shows the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist's 'Doomsday Clock' in Chicago reading seven minutes to midnight. (AFP PHOTO/SCOTT OLSON)

This file photo taken on February 26, 2002 shows the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist’s ‘Doomsday Clock’ in Chicago reading seven minutes to midnight. (AFP PHOTO/SCOTT OLSON)

— AFP

IDF crackdown triples price of makeshift guns in West Bank — army

The price of makeshift guns in the West Bank skyrocketed in 2016, tripling from May to October, as a result of the military’s ongoing crackdown on their manufacture and sale, an IDF intelligence officer says.

Throughout last year, the IDF shuttered 44 alleged gunsmithing workshops in the West Bank, a dramatic increase from the previous year, the officer from the Central Command tells reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It’s easy to remember the number for 2015: zero,” he says.

According to the officer, that effort is part of the army’s overall effort to root out terror in the West Bank and protect the people who live there.

“One way to stop civilians from being injured is to make sure [terrorists] meet a soldier or a police officer instead. Another way is to keep him from getting a gun,” he says.

That crackdown has had an impact on the street, driving the price of a craft-made Carlo-style submachine gun from approximately NIS 2,000 in January-May to its current cost of over NIS 6,500, the officer says.

The price of a cheaper version of the makeshift gun also increased by 300 percent, from NIS 1,500 in January-May to NIS 4,500 today, he adds.

— Judah Ari Gross

Israeli officials meet secretary general of French National Front

The secretary general of France’s far-right National Front meets with IDF, government and political officials during a visit to Israel.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon says Nicolas Bay is on a private visit and would not meet Israeli officials.

But Bay tweets photos of his meetings with the Health Ministry’s deputy director general, an Israeli colonel, a leading member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, the head of the party’s youth organization, and other leaders.

Bay’s photo of his meeting with the colonel and the Health Ministry official later disappears from his Twitter account.

The Health Ministry and the IDF had no immediate comment.

— AP

Shots fired at West Bank highway, none injured

Shots are fired at passing vehicles on a highway in the central West Bank, thre aarmy says.

No one is reported injured in the incident, which occurred near the village of Aboud, close to Ramallah.

The gunfire is spotted by a soldier monitoring surveillance cameras of the area.

IDF troops are searching the area for the perpetrators.

Last night in Aboud, a Palestinian man opened fire at an IDF post, causing no injuries. The soldiers shot back, wounding the gunman who was subsequently arrested.

— Judah Ari Gross

Egypt to open Gaza border crossing for three days

Egypt will open its Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip for three days, beginning Saturday.

Senior Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh, who is currently in Egypt, is expected to return to Gaza when the crossing opens, Ynet reports.

Haniyeh has been away from the Strip for the past five months, most of which he spent in Qatar.

PM: Trump understands ‘danger’ of Iran nuclear deal

Netanyahu says Trump understands the “danger” of the Iranian nuclear deal and discussed “Iran’s commitment to destroy Israel” in a phone call with the prime minister a few days ago.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem on January 26, 2017, the day before International Holocaust Day. (Photo by Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem on January 26, 2017, the day before International Holocaust Day. (Photo by Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

Speaking at a ceremony at Yad Vashem to mark International Holocaust Memorial Day tomorrow, the prime minister says Trump spoke “about the nature of this nuclear agreement, and the danger it poses.”

Netanyahu is due to visit the White House in early February.

— AP

Mexican president cancels US trip amid row over wall

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto says he informed the White House that he canceled his upcoming trip to Washington for talks with Trump.

Trump himself threatened earlier today to nix the January 31 talks if Mexico continued to refuse to fund his planned wall along the shared border.

Both Nieto and predecessor Vicente Fox have consistently said their country would not pay for Trump’s barrier, which he claims will stop Mexicans entering the US illegally.

State Department’s senior management quits en masse — report

The Washington Post reports that the “entire senior level of management officials” resigned today, in what the newspaper says is part of “an ongoing mass exodus of senior foreign service officers who don’t want to stick around for the Trump era.”

The resignations include the State Department’s undersecretary for management, Patrick Kennedy, and three of his senior officials at State.

The Post describes all four as “career foreign service officers” who have worked for both Democratic and Republican presidents.

Ex-CEO of group helping Jewish abuse victims nabbed for graft

The former head of an organization in the Miami area that helps young victims of sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community is arrested for embezzlement.

David Shapiro, the ex-CEO of Jewish Community Watch, was arrested yesterday by officers from the North Miami Beach Police Department, WSVN Channel 7 News in Miami reports. Shapiro is being charged with four felonies, including grand theft and fraud, according to the report, which says he posted bond and left jail last night.

Jewish Community Watch says in a statement posted on its website that it has filed a civil suit to recover the stolen money, more than $31,000. The statement says Shapiro resigned last year after board members noticed several internal financial irregularities.

According to the arrest warrant, Shapiro transferred money from the organization to his personal account and used it to fund trips to theme parks, rent cars and for hotel rooms, as well as other personal uses, WSVN reports.

“Thankfully, Shapiro’s role was only administrative and he was not involved directly with our clients, most of whom are survivors of abuse,” says the group’s statement, which was signed by three board members. “For that reason, none of the work accomplished by JCW was compromised.”

— JTA

GOP leaders: Bill to build wall will cost up to $15 billion

Republican leaders say Congress will move legislation this year providing up to $15 billion to build a wall along the Mexican boundary. But they will not say how they’d prevent the massive project from worsening federal deficits, and meet resistance from GOP lawmakers.

In this March 3, 2015, photo, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to the media at the Capitol in Washington. (Photo credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

In this March 3, 2015, photo, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to the media at the Capitol in Washington. (Photo credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tell reporters at a GOP strategy retreat that they are planning legislation providing $12 billion to $15 billion for constructing the wall, one of Trump’s chief goals.

Congress will pay for “the construction of the physical barrier on the border,” Ryan says.

“We intend to address the wall issue ourselves,” says McConnell.

Pressed on whether construction would increase federal deficits, Ryan says Republicans are fiscal conservatives and that strengthening the economy and replacing Obamacare are two of the best ways to bolster the government’s budget.

— AP

Police to question PM for third time in graft probes

Netanyahu will be questioned for the third time tomorrow by police investigating corruption allegations against him, Channel 2 says.

Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes was questioned today for sixth time as part of the investigation into suspicions that he and Netanyahu discussed how to reduce the newspaper’s hostility to the prime minister in order to help ensure he retained power.

Under the alleged deal, the newspaper would scale back its critical coverage of the prime minister in return for Netanyahu ensuring legislation to reduce the impact of Yedioth’s competitor, Sheldon Adelson’s pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom free daily.

 

GOP chairman won’t probe Trump vote fraud claims

Breaking with his president, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee says he sees no evidence of voter fraud in the November election, and his committee won’t investigate it.

Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah says Trump is free to order the Justice Department to investigate, but “the oversight committee is not planning to do anything with it.”

Chaffetz tells journalists at a GOP retreat in Philadelphia that voting happens at the local level, adding, “I don’t see any evidence” of widespread fraud.

Trump has claimed, without evidence, that at least 3 million people voted illegally in the election, denying him a popular vote majority. If true, the claim would mark the most significant election fraud in US history.

— AP

Talks with Mexico leader would have been ‘fruitless’ — Trump

Trump says talks with Mexican counterpart Enrique Pena Nieto — now called off — would have been “fruitless” if Mexico is unwilling to pay for a wall along the countries’ common border.

“The president of Mexico and myself have agreed to cancel our planned meeting scheduled for next week,” Trump tells Republican lawmakers at a retreat in Philadelphia.

“Unless Mexico is going to treat the United States fairly with respect, such a meeting would be fruitless, and I want to go a different route. I have no choice,” he says.

— AP

Trump says decision to nix Mexico meeting was mutual

Trump is claiming that he and Nieto agreed jointly to cancel their planned meeting over disagreements about who will pay for the US president’s promised southern border wall.

Trump says during a Republican House and Senate retreat in Philadelphia that, “The president of Mexico and myself have agreed to cancel our planned meeting scheduled for next week.”

Trump says that, “Unless Mexico is going to treat the United States fairly, with respect, such a meeting would be fruitless, and I want to go a different route. I have no choice.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said earlier today that the administration would be looking to reschedule the meeting in the future and would “keep the lines of communication open.”

— AP

Austrian chancellor invokes country’s role in Holocaust

Austria’s chancellor is reminding citizens of their country’s role in the Holocaust and urging them to ensure its horrors are never repeated, ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day tomorrow.

In a statement, Christian Kern says that Austria’s history “breeds the eternal duty … to be alert against all racist and anti-Semitic tendencies.”

Austrians overwhelmingly welcomed the country’s annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938. Proportionately, more Austrians than Germans were members of Hitler’s National Socialist party, and many of his henchmen were Austrian.

— AP

Ahead of Trump visit, May says UK ‘absolutely’ condemns torture

Britain “absolutely” condemns the use of torture, Prime Minister Theresa May says — and insists she’s not afraid to tell that to Trump when she meets him in Washington tomorrow.

May’s face-to-face talks at the White House will be Trump’s first with a foreign leader since his inauguration. May plans to seize the opportunity to bolster the trans-Atlantic “special relationship.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London, Jan. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London, Jan. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

The PM tells reporters aboard her Royal Air Force plane that “we absolutely condemn the use of torture,” and says her “view on that won’t change, whether I’m talking to you or talking to the president.”

She says her talks with Trump in the Oval Office will focus on the fight against Islamic State group terrorism, the future of the NATO alliance — and Britain’s desire for a quick trade deal with the US after the UK leaves the EU, likely in 2019.

— AFP

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Truck driver hits dozens of parked cars in Tel Aviv, flees scene

A truck driver hits dozens of parked cars on the corners of Strauss and Mazeh streets in central Tel Aviv and flees the scene.

No one is injured in the incident. Police launch an investigation and are searching for the driver.

Officials stress that they do not suspect terrorism.

— Judah Ari Gross