Palestinian PM calls Israel decision to freeze tax funds ‘collective punishment’
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Palestinian PM calls Israel decision to freeze tax funds ‘collective punishment’

PA officials warn withholding 138 million in tax revenues over terrorist stipends will damage Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah attends a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA, conference, in Rome, March 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah attends a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA, conference, in Rome, March 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they happened.

IDF suspends commander whose soldiers beat Palestinian detainees

The commanding officer of a group of soldiers charged with beating two Palestinian prisoners last month has been indicted with failure to prevent a crime, negligent assault and conduct unbecoming of an officer, the army says.

According to the military, the lieutenant “saw that his soldiers were acting very violently toward Palestinian prisoners, while they were handcuffed and blindfolded, and nevertheless failed to prevent them from continuing to strike the prisoners.”

The lieutenant is not suspected of having beaten the prisoners.

He has been suspended from his position, the army says.

The military says the lieutenant failed to “fulfill his duty and command responsibility as an officer and commander of the troops.”

The five soldiers allegedly involved in the abuse of the prisoners, which resulted in one of the Palestinian suspects being hospitalized for several days, were indicted on January 31.

— Judah Ari Gross

Katz calls appointment as interim FM a ‘moving moment’

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz calls his appointment as interim foreign minister a “moving moment.”

“Together with the prime minister we will continue to advance and lead Israel’s foreign policy to further achievements,” Katz says in a statement

Earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tapped Katz to be foreign minister until the April 9 elections. The move follows court challenges arguing Netanyahu — who is also health and defense minister — has taken on too many governmental portfolios.

Katz is currently transportation and intelligence minister.

— with agencies

Bar Refaeli’s father convicted of threatening deputy mayor

The father of Israeli supermodel Bar Rafaeli is convicted of threatening the deputy mayor of Hod Hasharon during a road rage incident last year.

The Kfar Saba Magistrate court sentences Rafi Refali to three months’ probation for the altercation with Yoav Rozen in August.

“I’m shocked. We will be appealing,” Refali says after the hearing, according to the Ynet news site. Refali claims that police are harassing him because they failed to pin an earlier assault on him.

Iran summons Pakistan envoy over suicide bombing

Iran’s foreign ministry summons the Pakistani ambassador after Tehran accused Islamabad of harboring a jihadist group behind a deadly suicide attack on security forces.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran expects Pakistan’s government and army to seriously confront … the terrorist groups active on its border with Iran,” the foreign ministry says in a statement.

An Iranian official at the ministry called on Pakistan to quickly take the necessary steps for the identification and arrest of the attack’s perpetrators.

The suicide bombing last week killed 27 members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards traveling on a bus in the volatile southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan, which straddles the border with Pakistan.

— AFP

Polish PM skipping Jerusalem summit over Netanyahu Holocaust remarks — report

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has reportedly pulled out of a high-level European summit hosted by Israel this week after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to point at Polish cooperation with the Nazi regime during WWII.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, Poland’s Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz will attend the meeting of the so-called Visegrad group in Jerusalem on February 18-19.

Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a conference on Peace and Security in the Middle East in Warsaw, Poland, February 14, 2019. (AP/Michael Sohn)

During a visit to Warsaw last week, Netanyahu told journalists that “Poles cooperated with the Nazis” — wording suggesting that some Poles during the German occupation of Poland took part in killing Jews.

However, some reports quoted him as saying “the Poles,” which could be taken as blaming the entire Polish nation; the Jerusalem Post initially mischaracterized his quote as referring to the Polish nation.

The matter threatened to spark another major spat between the two countries, which clashed last year over a new Polish law that made it illegal to blame the Polish nation for collaboration in the Holocaust.

— with AP

Zarif: European mechanism to skirt US sanctions not enough to save nuke deal

Iran’s foreign minister says European nations need to do more than talk if they want to preserve a deal meant to keep Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon after the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the treaty.

Mohammad Javad Zarif tells the Munich Security Conference that a barter-type system known as INSTEX set up last month by France, Germany and Britain to allow businesses to skirt direct financial transactions with Iran, and thereby evade possible US sanctions, is not enough.

Zarif says “INSTEX falls short of the commitments by the (European countries) to save the nuclear deal. Europe needs to be willing to get wet if it wants to swim against a dangerous tide of US unilateralism.”

— AP

Poland confirms PM not coming to summit in Israel

The Polish Embassy has confirmed to The Times of Israel that Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki will not attend the V4 summit in Jerusalem scheduled for later this week.

The wPolityce news website reports that in a phone conversation Sunday, Morawiecki informed Netanyahu that he would not attend the summit.

The site reports that the conversation between the two was positive nonetheless.

The summit is slated to take place Tuesday morning at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

The Prime Minister’s Office refuses to comment.

Assad: US-backed forces in Syria ‘shouldn’t bet on’ American protection

Syrian President Bashar Assad says only the Syrian army can protect groups in northern Syria.

In a speech in the Syrian capital Damascus, he appears to be referring to US-allied Kurdish groups, which fear a Turkish assault once American troops withdraw from northeastern Syria.

Assad says any foreign troops in Syria will be dealt with as occupation forces.

He doesn’t specifically mention the planned withdrawal of 2,000 American troops from northern Syria but says that “no one should bet on protection from the Americans.” He suggests the Syrian army will return to the area after the American troop pullout.

“Every inch of Syria will be liberated, and any intruder is an enemy,” he said.

— AP

Iran unveils first semi-heavy missile-equipped submarine

Iran’s state TV is reporting that the country’s President Hassan Rouhani has unveiled the first Iranian made semi-heavy submarine.

The report says the Fateh, “Conqueror” in Persian, is capable of being fitted with cruise missiles.

Since 1992, Iran has developed a homegrown defense industry that produces light and heavy weapons ranging from mortars and torpedoes to tanks and submarines.

Iran’s Ghadir submarines are seen in the southern port of Bandar Abbas in Persian Gulf, Iran, August 8, 2010. (AP Photo/Iranian Defense Ministry, Vahid Reza Alaei/File)

The Fateh has subsurface-to-surface missiles with a range of about 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles), capable of reaching Israel and US military bases in the region.

— AP

Official says Jerusalem happy to host downgraded Polish delegation

An Israeli diplomatic official tells The Times of Israel that Jerusalem is happy to host the delegation of Polish diplomats at a conference in Jerusalem despite it being downgraded over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks about the Holocaust.

“We are happy to host the Polish foreign minister in Israel. We expect this summit to become a great success,” the official says, adding that “we understand that in Poland, too, there are elections.”

Poland is slated to hold national elections later this year.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki pulled out of a high-level European summit to be hosted by Israel this week after Netanyahu appeared to point at Polish cooperation with the Nazi regime during WWII during a visit to Warsaw last week.

Instead, Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz will attend the meeting of the so-called Visegrad group in Jerusalem on February 18-19.

The decision came after Netanyahu was quoted as saying that “Poles cooperated with the Germans” in the Holocaust.

During a visit to Warsaw last week, Netanyahu told journalists that “Poles cooperated with the Nazis” — wording indicating that some Poles during the German occupation of Poland took part in killing Jews.

However, some reports quoted him as saying “the Poles,” which could be taken as blaming the entire Polish nation; the Jerusalem Post initially mischaracterized his quotes as saying the Polish nation.

Netanyahu’s office has insisted that the Israeli leader was misquoted and had not implicated all Poles in the Holocaust.

Ministers discuss implementing law deducting Palestinian tax revenues

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convenes his security cabinet for approval to implement a law to cut funds to the Palestinian Authority over its payments to terrorists and their families.

The Knesset passed a law last year slashing Palestinian tax funds Israel transfers to the PA by the amount Ramallah pays to convicted terrorists and the families of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks.

The law was opposed by Israeli security officials who fear further cuts to the Palestinian Authority’s budget could hurt security cooperation or destabilize the West Bank and lead to new terror attacks against Israelis.

The government has refused to implement the power given to it by the law to freeze the fund transfers, though politicians have faced public pressure to crack down on the PA’s payments, which are viewed as incentivizing terror attacks.

Netanyahu, who is seeking reelection this April, has come under increasing pressure to crack down on the PA in the wake of the brutal murder of an Israeli teen in a terrorist attack earlier this month.

Last week, he told ministers that he would deduct the payments immediately after he received permission from the high-level security cabinet.

Hebrew U distances itself from professor who said Israel tests weapons on Palestinian kids

Hebrew University is distancing itself from one of its professors who claimed in a talk last week that Israel tests its weapons on Palestinian children in order to help boost its international arms sales.

In a statement, the university says “the views expressed by Prof. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian don’t represent or express in any way the views of the Hebrew University or the university administration, but are her personal opinion that reflects only her views.”

Screen capture from video of Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, professor of social work and law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, during a presentation. (YouTube)

Shalhoub-Kevorkian presented the claim at New York’s Columbia University as part of the results of a study she conducted in Israel, according to a report and audio recordings carried by Army Radio.

US-backed Syria force says IS holding 1,000 civilians

Islamic State fighters are preventing more than 1,000 civilians from leaving a tiny area still held by the extremist group in a village in eastern Syria, a spokesman for the US-backed Syrian militia fighting the group said Sunday.

“Regrettably, Daesh have closed all the roads,” Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, tells The Associated Press, referring to IS by its Arabic acronym.

SDF officials say the jihadists are hiding among civilians in a tented village and using a network of caves and tunnels. IS, which once ruled a proto-state in large parts of Syria and Iraq, is clinging to an area less than a square kilometer (square mile) in the village of Baghouz, in eastern Syria.

The extremists may include high-level commanders, and could be holding hostages among those trapped inside.

— AP

Rivlin meets with Israeli scientists ahead of moon launch

Israeli scientists making final preparations for the country’s first-ever moon mission met with President Reuven Rivlin this afternoon ahead of Thursday’s historic launch.

Israel’s Beresheet lunar lander will be launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday, which if successful, will become the first privately funded mission to launch from Earth and land on the moon.

Scientists from SpaceIL, the nonprofit organization behind the launch, presented Rivlin with a replica of the lunar lander at his Jerusalem residence.

“This is a historic moment. In a few days, the first Israeli spacecraft will be sent to the moon,” he says in a statement. “Bereishit will make history!”

“This project is of the greatest national importance. It is a national project!” Rivlin says.

The cost of the project is some $95 million (84 million euros), with private philanthropists providing funding. SpaceIL has also partnered with state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, one of Israel’s largest defense firms.

Hamas takes full control of Palestinian side of main Gaza border crossing

Gaza’s Hamas rulers announce their security forces are in full control of the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel.

In a statement, Gaza Interior Ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bozm says Hamas security forces are carrying out “necessary security measures” at the crossing “especially after the recent events in the Gaza Strip.”

Hamas says PA border employees have “refused to cooperate” with the new measures, and claims they left their posts at the crossing voluntarily.

However, the official PA news outlet says Hamas “expelled” PA border guards and “banned them from entering the crossing.”

Hamas, an Islamist terrorist group sworn to Israel’s destruction, has controlled Gaza since ousting the Fatah-dominated PA in 2007. However, employees of the Ramallah-based PA government have continued to coordinate the entry of goods into the Strip through Kerem Shalom.

The announcement comes a day after Hamas reportedly said its security forces seized a shipment of army boots outfitted with tracking devices at Kerem Shalom.

Senior ministers okay withholding $138m in Palestinian tax revenues over terror payments

The security cabinet approves the implementation of a law to cut funds to the Palestinian Authority over its payments to terrorists and their families.

A statement from the security cabinet says that ministers agreed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could withhold some $138 million in PA tax revenues, the amount it says Ramallah paid out in stipends to attackers and their families in 2018.

The law, passed by the Knesset last year, faces opposition from Israeli security officials who say further cuts to the PA budget could hurt security cooperation and destabilize the West Bank.

The government has refused to implement the measure, though politicians have faced public pressure to crack down on the PA’s payments, which are viewed as incentivizing terror attacks.

Netanyahu, who is seeking reelection this April, has come under increasing pressure in the wake of the brutal murder of an Israeli teen in a terrorist attack earlier this month.

Last week, he told ministers that he would deduct the payments immediately after he received permission from the security cabinet.

Polish PM says Jewish compensation issue ‘resolved’

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki insists that the question of Polish compensation for Jewish assets stolen by the Nazi was “definitively resolved,” rebuffing a US call for further action.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who visited Poland last week, called on Warsaw to move forward with legislation to help “those who lost property during the Holocaust era”.

But Morawiecki tells the PAP news agency: “The question of restitution of assets to US citizens of Jewish origin has been definitively resolved.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives at the informal EU summit in Salzburg, Austria, September 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)

“A law of compensation, signed with the United States settles the question, and frees Poland from these responsibilities,” he said. The compensation law to which he was referring was passed in 1960.

“I want to underline that: this subject does not exist,” he adds.

The claims for compensation were based on a fundamental misunderstanding, he said. “Poland was the victim and not the executioner,” he argues.

And Germany had never compensated Poland “for losses inflicted by the Third Reich’s criminal policies,” he adds.

Likud asks AG to investigate deal between police, Gantz’s security firm

The Likud party is requesting that the attorney general investigate former police chief Roni Alsheich and and former IDF chief Benny Gantz in the wake of a report claiming police invested millions of shekels into Gantz’s cyber security company without a tender.

On Friday, Haaretz reported that the Israel Police in 2017 invested millions in an unspecified pilot program run by a now defunct company that offered artificial intelligence solutions to law enforcement agencies.

The report says the joint venture amounting to NIS 4 million ($1.1 million) went ahead in 2017 without a tender, as required by law.

New IDF chief Kohavi makes first round of appointments

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi names current Northern Command chief Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick to lead the military’s Ground Forces, which are currently under increased scrutiny with allegations they aren’t prepared for war.

Kohavi appoints three other major general-level positions in the Israel Defense Forces — his first senior staffing decisions since taking over as army chief last month.

To replace Strick, Kohavi names rising star Maj. Gen. Amir Baram as the next head of the IDF Northern Command, which defends both the Lebanese and Syrian borders.

Brig. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, the current commander of the Gaza Division, will be promoted in rank to major general and sent to the United States as the next military attache in Washington, replacing Maj. Gen. Mickey Edelstein.

Brig Gen. Itai Virov, who previously served as chief of staff of the Ground Forces, will also be promoted to major general and will take over for Baram as the head of military colleges.

The appointments are approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also the defense minister. The officers are due to begin their new positions in the coming months, the army says.

— Judah Ari Gross

New polls indicate drop in support for Gantz in favor of Labor

New polls conducted by news channels show a drop in the number of projected seats for the Israel Resilience party led by former IDF chief Benny Gantz.

A Channel 12 poll shows Israel Resilience getting 18 seats, down from 24 forecast in recent polls. The loss in support for Gantz translates into more support for the Labor party, who is projected to win 10 seats, up from 5 seats in last week’s polls.

Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid is projected to win 12 points, a slight increase from the 10 projected last week.

The poll shows Netanyahu’s Likud staying comfortably in the lead with 30 seats. Other polls conducted in recent weeks have the ruling party hovering between 30-32 seats.

A Channel 11 poll conducted yesterday shows similar results, projecting 30 seats for the Likud, 20 for Israel Resilience 10 for Labor and 10 for Yesh Atid.

Netanyahu held secret Iran talks with Moroccan FM last year — report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a secret meeting with Morocco’s foreign minister on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last year, according to a Channel 13 report.

A senior Israeli official tells the TV station that Netanyahu and Nasser Bourita discussed the possibility of normalizing ties between the two countries, as well as their shared concerns about Iran.

The report says Netanyahu suggested he visit Morocco as a sign of warming ties, but the offer was rejected.

The Prime Minister’s Office does not deny the report, but says in response that “we don’t usually comment on contacts with countries with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations.”

Palestinian officials denounce Israel decision to freeze $138m in tax revenues

Senior Palestinian officials are harshly criticizing the decision by the Israeli security cabinet to implement a law deducting tax revenues otherwise sent to the Palestinian Authority, over its payments to terrorists and their families.

“Deducting funds from the Palestinian treasury is a form of collective punishment imposed by Israel,” he says according to the Kan public broadcaster. “This could jeopardize the Palestinian economy and undermine the PA’s ability to pay its salaries on time.”

Senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Ahmed Majdalani accuses Israel and the US, which has cut hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian aid, of an attempt at blackmail.

“The occupation government is seeking to destroy the national authority in partnership with the US administration of Donald Trump,” Majdalani says in a statement.

Other PA officials tell Channel 13 that PA President Mahmoud Abbas may refuse to accept all of the tax revenue to protest the Israeli move.

The officials say the move is likely to damage Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation.

IDF soldier reportedly injured in Gaza border riots

An IDF soldier is injured in clashes along the Gaza border, east of Jabaliya, according to initial reports.

The extent of the soldier’s wounds are not immediately known.

He was reportedly hit by an improvised explosive thrown by Palestinians during a riot along the Gaza border.

During the same clash in the northern Gaza Strip, nine Palestinians were injured, the Hamas-run Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra says in a statement to reporters. They suffered varying injuries, he adds.

— Judah Ari Gross and Adam Rasgon

IDF says solider moderately injured by explosive device on Gaza border

The IDF confirms that a soldier was injured during clashes with Palestinian rioters along the northern Gaza border.

The military says Palestinians burned tires near the security fence surrounding the Gaza Strip, and threw improvised explosive devices at the Israeli troops on the other side of it.

“An IDF soldier was injured apparently by an explosive device that was thrown at him,” the army says.

The serviceman appears to be in light-to-moderate condition. He was taken to the hospital for treatment and a more complete examination, the army says.

— Judah Ari Gross

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