US aid to Palestinian security services to end Friday
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US aid to Palestinian security services to end Friday

PA asks for $35 million in American assistance be cut off by end of January to avoid prosecution under Trump administration’s anti-terrorism laws

File: Palestinian security forces in Hebron, November 14, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
File: Palestinian security forces in Hebron, November 14, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

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

Netanyahu hails IDF readiness, says forces ready for ‘crushing attack’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the IDF is prepared for battle, as he paid a surprise visit to a weapons depot at the Sirkin base in central Israel.

“My impression is that forces are ready for the day of command, and the forces here are capable of delivering great power in battle,” he says during the visit.

Netanyahu adds that the IDF is “prepared for a crushing attack.”

Belgian prosecutors probe intimidation Jewish Museum attack lawyer

Belgian prosecutors say they are investigating an apparent attempt to intimidate a lawyer in the trial of a suspect in the 2014 shooting attack at the Brussels Jewish Museum.

The Brussels prosecutor’s office say that a baseball bat and false Kalashnikov assault rifle were left on the lawyer’s desk after a theft at his office yesterday . A laptop computer containing the case file of Mehdi Nemmouche, who stands accused of shooting dead four people at the museum, was stolen from the lawyer’s office.

State broadcaster RTBF names the lawyer as Vincent Lurquin, who was representing a woman at the museum when the attack happened.

Prosecutors say they are investigating the theft and intimidation, described as “threat by symbols.”

The trial is scheduled to run until March 1.

— AP

World Council of Churches pulling observers from Hebron over security concerns

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), which brings international church members to the West Bank to “experience life under occupation,” is pulling its volunteers from Hebron due to security concerns.

In a statement, the EAPPI says the flagship program of the World Council of Churches has “reached a critical point this week as a result of alleged harassment by settlers and by Israeli soldiers.”

The announcement comes two days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would not renew the mandate of an international observer force in Hebron. Netanyahu said the Temporary International Presence in Hebron was biased against the Jewish state, and he would not allow an organization “that acts against us” to continue operations.

Jerusalem-Ben Gurion train stopped due to technical problems

The Jerusalem-Ben Gurion Airport train has been shuttered due to an technical problem on one of the rail cars.

Israel Railways says the electricity on the line had to be shut off while the rail car is towed to Lod.

The service has been delayed until further notice. The company says it will provide alternate transportation for passengers.

Hundreds attend Ethiopian-led protest against police brutality in Tel Aviv

Over a thousand Ethiopian-Israelis and their supporters are staging a large rally in Tel Aviv, protesting alleged institutional racism and racist police brutality and blocking a major highway in the center of the city.

According to reports, the Begin-Kaplan intersection, adjacent to the Hashalom railway station, is being blocked to traffic in all directions.

The demonstration was called amid mounting anger after a police officer shot dead an Ethiopian-Israeli man earlier in the month. Yehuda Biadga, 24, was killed January 18, in his hometown of Bat Yam as he charged at the officer with a knife, police said.

Police have denied Biadga’s ethnicity was connected to the officer’s decision to open fire, saying he felt a credible fear for his life. An investigation was opened into the incident and the shooting officer has since been placed on leave.

The demonstration, which has a police permit, began at the Azrieli complex in Tel Aviv and will continue in the direction of the city’s Rabin Square.

Atheist blogger appeals for funds to help him ‘Escape Egypt’

A prominent atheist video blogger says he has given up hope on life in Egypt and has launched a crowdfunding page called “Help Me Escape Egypt” to aid him in purchasing another nationality.

The video appeal posted by Sherif Gaber had collected over $12,000 in pledges as of this afternoon, a day after it opened. Gaber says he needs $100,000 to obtain nationality from a place such as the Caribbean island nation of Dominica.

Gaber says that although he has no criminal record, officers from Egypt’s national security agency have prevented him from leaving the country despite several attempts over the years.

He has been repeatedly detained by authorities accusing him of blasphemy, which is sometimes prosecuted in Egypt under laws against “insulting religion.”

— AP

Gantz rising in popularity following maiden political speech — poll

The maiden speech delivered by ex-IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz last night has boosted the retired general’s political campaign to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming elections.

According to a poll by Walla news, the political alliance of Gantz and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon would get 19 Knesset seats if elections were held today, up from 12 seats in recent polls.

The poll also found that Netanyahu’s Likud party would drop from its previously estimated 33 seats to 29 following Gantz’s speech.

Jewish collector’s heirs want US painting on loan in Germany

An impressionist painting from an American museum on loan in Germany has become the focus of attention because of allegations it may have been looted by the Nazis from a Jewish art collector.

The Barberini Museum in Potsdam, near Berlin, says the heirs of the Jewish collector are claiming ownership of Henri-Edmond Cross’ “Regatta in Venice” from 1903/04, which is on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas.

German daily Bild first reported that the purported heirs of Jewish-French collector Gaston Levy have filed a complaint in Potsdam state court demanding the return of the painting.

The Barberini Museum confirmed the court’s involvement and said it was in touch with the Houston museum and that both “see the clarification of the legitimate owner as an urgent obligation.”

— AP

Netanyahu reportedly to visit India next month

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make an official one-day visit to India next month, according to reports in Indian media.

The PTI news agency says Netanyahu will meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the visit scheduled for February 11, and that “other details are being worked out.”

Netanyahu made a state visit to India in January 2018.

Trump says US intelligence services ‘naive,’ ‘wrong’ on Iran

US President Donald Trump attacks the US intelligence services as “naive” and “wrong” on the threat he says is posed by Iran.

“Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!” Trump says in a blistering tweet.

Erdan threatens to ban Amnesty over Airbnb policy

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is threatening to ban Amnesty International from Israel after the rights group on accused Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor of profiting from “war crimes” by offering accommodation in West Bank settlements.

“Amnesty International, that hypocritical organization that speaks in the name of human rights, is acting to promote a boycott of Israelis as part of a campaign of anti-Semitic delegitimization,”Erdan says. “I have instructed the Ministry of Strategic Affairs to examine the possibility of preventing the entry of members of Amnesty to Israel.

“A few weeks ago, I went to the Finance Ministry to ask it to cancel the tax benefits” granted to the organization, he adds, without providing further details.

Amnesty issued a report calling on Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor to stop listing tourist accommodation, activities and attractions in settlements in West Bank.

“In doing business with settlements, all four companies are contributing to, and profiting from, the maintenance, development and expansion of illegal settlements, which amount to war crimes under international criminal law,” the London-based rights group said.

— AFP

Anti-police brutality protesters blocking major highways in Tel Aviv

Major highways in downtown Tel Aviv are being blocked by a large Ethiopian-led protest against alleged institutional racism and racist police brutality.

Police say Ayalon Highway southbound starting at the Glilot interchange, and northbound starting from the Ganot interchange is blocked to all traffic.

Additionally, Kaplan Street is blocked in both directions from Ibn Gvirol to Menachem Begin Road

Police are urging drivers to avoid the area and use alternate routes.

Palestinian vineyard destroyed in suspected hate crime

Around 30 grapevines belonging to a Palestinian farmer in the northern West Bank were destroyed earlier today in an suspected hate crime, according to Kan public broadcaster.

Pictures of the damage showed the vines had their trunks sawed through.

Iran worried over delay in Chinese nuclear reactor redesign

Tehran says that China has slowed down working on its redesign of a heavy water reactor in Iran, following the US withdrawal from Tehran’s nuclear agreement with world powers.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s nuclear agency, is quoted by state-run news agency IRNA as saying that “the Chinese side decreased the speed of cooperation with us despite their commitments.” He says Iran has “alternative” choices if China cannot not fulfill its job. Salehi speculates that Beijing fears possible sanctions by the US if it continues cooperation with Iran but did not elaborate further.

Under the 2015 nuclear agreement, experts from the United States and China were to help Iran redesign the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor to limit the amount of plutonium it produces as a byproduct.

— AP

German court says bell dedicated to Hitler can stay in church

A German appeals court rejects the complaint of a Jewish man against a town’s decision to allow a bell dedicated to Adolf Hitler to continue to hang in a church tower.

The Koblenz state court upholds a lower court’s rejection of the complaint from the unidentified relative of Holocaust survivors, who argued the bell was a “mockery and ridicule of the victims of Hitler’s terror.”

The Herxheim am Berg council voted last year to preserve the bell, which carries the inscription “Everything for the Fatherland — Adolf Hitler” above a swastika. It also announced plans to place an explanatory plaque nearby in the hope of sparking dialogue about violence and injustice.

The Koblenz court finds the response appropriate, saying the town wasn’t trying to downplay the Holocaust.

— AP

Despite strong Gantz polling, Yesh Atid insists Lapid the only Netanyahu challenger

In the first response from the party to Benny Gantz’s maiden political speech yesterday, a Yesh Atid source tells The Times of Israel that it is “pleased to see Gantz is adopting parts of our manifesto, we hope he’ll also follow our lead on the rest of our manifesto including our detailed plan to fight corruption and the importance of everyone studying core curriculum subjects.”

The source, however, said that only Yesh Atid could effectively challenge Netanyahu, despite the first poll since the speech showing that the electoral alliance between Gantz’s Israeli Resilience and Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party would overtake Yesh Atid to be the second largest faction in the Knesset following national elections in April.

“With due respect to Gantz, the only question is who can beat Netanyahu and there are two important factors – who can go head to head with Netanyahu in the political arena and which party can go head to head with the Likud in the field. The only answer is Lapid and Yesh Atid,” they said.

— Raoul Wootliff

US aid to Palestinian security services to end Friday

US aid to the Palestinian security services will end this week at the Palestinians’ request, an official in the West Bank says, to preempt lawsuits over alleged support for terrorism.

The Palestinian Authority has demanded the funding stop at the end of January for fear it could expose the PA to costly lawsuits under the US Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA), which comes into force on February 1.

“The money will be cut off,” senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat tells AFP in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “We don’t want to receive any money if this will take us to court.”

The ATCA legislation passed by Congress last year provides for any government that receives funding to be subject to US counterterrorism laws. The PA faces potential lawsuits from families of American victims of past Palestinian attacks.

The aid of around $35 million a year was in support of Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, which cooperate closely with their Israeli counterparts against Hamas and other terrorist groups.

— AFP

Trapped in Gaza, star of Sundance doc misses film festival

A new documentary called “Gaza” is hitting the screens at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival this week, providing a colorful glimpse of life in the blockaded Hamas-ruled territory.

But one of its main subjects, Gaza actor and playwright Ali Abu Yaseen, won’t be attending the gathering due to the very circumstances depicted in the film.

Abu Yaseen had hoped to make his first-ever trip to the US to take part in the festival. But the continued closure of Gaza’s border with Egypt, and Hamas’ bureaucratic inefficiency, made it impossible for him to reach Cairo in time to receive a visa from the American Embassy needed to travel to Utah.

After missing yesterday’s premiere, Abu Yaseen has all but given up hope of reaching Utah. The film’s final screening is Saturday.

— AP

Ohio man charged with hate crime in synagogue shooting plot

A 21-year-old man accused of plotting a mass shooting at a synagogue in Ohio is indicted on a federal hate crime charge.

The Justice Department says that his plan was never carried out and that it came about after a gunman killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October.

A federal grand jury grand jury indicts Damon Joseph this week on charges that include attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State group and attempting to commit a hate crime.

Joseph, of the Toledo suburb of Holland, was arrested in early December after he received two AR-15 rifles from an undercover agent. Investigators say he talked about wanting to kill as many people as possible at a synagogue in the Toledo area.

His attorney declines to comment.

— AP

Erekat says ousting Hebron monitoring group ‘green lights’ Israeli abuses

PLO secretary-general Saeb Erekat expresses concern over Israel’s decision not to renew the mandate of an international monitoring group in the West Bank city of Hebron.

He labels the move a “green light” for Israeli settlers in the city to carry out abuses.

“I think nations should stand tall against this,” Erekat says.

He says Israeli settlers and soldiers had committed “40,000 attacks and violations against the Palestinian people in Hebron” since the Temporary International Presence in Hebron was formed in 1994, without giving a source for the figure.

“Imagine what will they do without the presence of this force,” he adds.

— AFP

Trump talks with Venezuela’s Guaido in phone call

US President Donald Trump held a phone call with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Wednesday to offer his backing for Guaido’s claim to the presidency, the White House says.

“President Donald J. Trump spoke today with Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaido to congratulate him on his historic assumption of the presidency and to reinforce President Trump’s strong support for Venezuela’s fight to regain its democracy,” the White House says in a statement.

Opposition demonstrators take part in protest against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, called by opposition leader and self-proclaimed ‘acting president’ Juan Guaido, near Parque Cristal, in Caracas on January 30, 2019. (Juan Barreto/AFP)

Washington has recognized Guaido’s claim to lead Venezuela, but hard-left President Nicolas Maduro, who still controls the military and police, says Guaido is part of a US-led coup plot.

The pro-government Supreme Court has barred Guaido, who is calling for large anti-Maduro street protests this week, from leaving the country.

— AFP

European diplomats express concern after observers ousted from Hebron

European officials express regret over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to end the mandate of an international monitoring group in the West Bank city of Hebron.

“We have learned of this decision with regret but we continue our efforts,” Italy’s Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi tells Italian news agencies after meeting with PLO secretary-general Saeb Erakat.

“Sweden and the other countries of the mission deeply regret the Israeli statements,” a Swedish foreign ministry spokesman says. “We believe that the mission is important and should continue.”

The Norway-led team is comprised of 64 observers tasked with documenting rights abuses against Palestinians in Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank.

— AFP

Police investigating Bennett’s 2012 campaign for Jewish Home leadership

Police have been conducting a probe into potential wrongdoing by Education Minister Naftali Bennett during his 2012 campaign for leadership of the national-religious Jewish Home party, according to a report in the Haaretz daily.

According to the report, a number of officials who worked on Bennett’s campaign have testified to Lahav 433 anti-corruption investigators in recent months.

Bennett was elected Jewish Home leader in 2012 and led it until last month, when he and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announced they were jumping to ship to set up the New Right party.

A spokesperson for Bennett said he is not familiar with the investigation.

New poll shows Gantz closing the gap on Netanyahu

Another poll conducted in the wake of ex-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz’s maiden political speech Tuesday night shows the retired general is closing the gap on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the upcoming elections.

According to a poll by Hadashot news, Gantz’s Israel Resilience party would get 30 Knesset seats if elections were held today, up from 12 seats in recent polls. The results show that a Gantz-headed alliance with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party would win 35 seats to the Likud’s 30.

The Hadashot poll also finds that 36% of Israelis prefer Netanyahu as prime minister, compared to $35% who say they prefer Gantz. Asked to place Gantz on the political spectrum, 30% said he was “neither right nor left” — which is what the candidate has himself asserted; 24% said he was left-leaning — which is what Likud says of him; 18% said he was right-leaning, and 28% didn’t know.

Pence to travel to Europe for talks on NATO, Mideast security

The White House says Vice President Mike Pence will visit Poland and Germany in mid-February.

During his meetings and speeches, he will focus on the NATO alliance, trade and stabilizing the Middle East.

The vice president will give keynote remarks at a forum in Warsaw. The White House says he will focus on America’s commitment to work with partners to “help build a strong, secure and economically viable Middle East.”

The White House says the vice president will also work to enhance US-Poland relations, particularly on military and energy issues.

In Germany, Pence will speak about international security challenges at the Munich Security Conference. He will also have one-on-one discussions with other participants and highlight the administration’s call for more equitable cost sharing within NATO.

— AP

British artists urge BBC to oppose Israel hosting Eurovision

Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and Pink Floyd singer Roger Waters are among dozens of figures from Britain’s creative industries urging the BBC to oppose Israel hosting this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

The 50-strong coalition, which also includes filmmaker Mike Leigh and author Yann Martel, say the broadcaster should “act on its principles” and call for the annual competition to be moved over Israel’s “systematic violation of Palestinian human rights.”

“The BBC is bound by its charter to ‘champion freedom of expression,'” the group state in a letter published in The Guardian newspaper. “It should act on its principles and press for Eurovision to be relocated to a country where crimes against that freedom are not being committed.”

In response, a BBC spokeswoman said the Eurovision “is not a political event and does not endorse any political message or campaign” and that the broadcaster had no role in choosing the host.

“We do not believe it would be appropriate to use the BBC’s participation for political reasons,” she added, noting it would be taking part.

— AFP

Scuffles break out at Ethiopian-led protest against police brutality

Fights and low-level riots erupt in Tel Aviv during an Ethiopian-led protest against alleged police brutality toward the minority group.

According to reports in Hebrew-language media, a number of fights have broken out near the rally at Rabin Square and groups of protesters are throwing chairs and other objects at local businesses.

Earlier, the demonstrators blocked a major Tel Aviv highway and paraded through the streets protesting what they consider to be systemic police mistreatment of the minority group. They carried signs saying “Police are killing Beita Yisrael,” a Hebrew term for the Ethiopian Jewish community.

Earlier this month, a policeman shot dead 24-year-old Yehuda Biadga, a mentally distressed man wielding a knife in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam. Israel’s Justice Ministry is investigating the incident.

Biadga’s family accused police of excessive force, and protest organizers called the incident “the straw that broke the camel’s back” after years of perceived discrimination by Israeli authorities.

— with AP

US-born Iranian newscaster arrives back in Tehran

An American-born Iranian television anchorwoman who was detained by the FBI and held as a material witness in a US case, has returned to Iran.

The report by state-run English-language channel Press TV says Marzieh Hashemi has arrived in Iran’s capital Tehran.

She was welcomed by her colleagues in a special ceremony upon her arrival at Imam Khomeini International Airport, according to the report.

The 59-year-old Muslim convert, who has lived in Iran for years, was detained by the FBI at St. Louis International Airport in Missouri on Jan. 13 while in the US to visit her ill brother and other family members.

— AP

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