The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they unfolded.
Netanyahu: Nobody cares about settlements like my government does
Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his government has shown more love for settlers than any other and calls on residents of Amona to take a deal to move off the land peacefully and accept a nearby plot for most of the outposts families.
“We have held dozens of discussions and submitted very many proposals, some I would say out-of-the-box, very creative proposals. We did so out of goodwill and love for settlement; love for settlement, indeed so,” he says. “There has not been a government that showed more concern for settlement in the Land of Israel and no government will show more concern.”
Netanyahu says he, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Amona leaders met through the night to come up with the solution, though it was previously reported that they had only met with Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan.
“I think that Amona community leaders, who were with me and Minister Bennett in my office until the early morning, can attest to a simple fact: We have done the maximum,” he says. “Now I can only hope that the residents of Amona, who are now discussing the proposed outline among themselves, will accept it and this would be the right decision for them, for settlement, for the entire people of Israel and for the State of Israel.”
The outpost, ordered by the High Court to be razed by December 25, is expected to be evacuated in the coming days, if not hours, and the settlement is expected to vote on the deal later Sunday.
Police arrest US tourist for smashing up Church of Annunciation
Police say they have arrested a metal rod-wielding American tourist who caused damage to Nazareth’s Church of the Annunciation.
The man, who the police suspect is mentally unstable, caused damage to a partition and threw several chairs in the basilica, considered in Christian tradition to be built over the spot where the annunciation of Jesus took place.
Worshipers in the church managed to subdue the man and called police, who are transferring him to a hospital, according to police spokesperson Luba Samri.
Slomiansky suspends self from Knesset committee
Jewish Home MK Nissan Slomiansky, suspected of sexual offenses, has suspended himself from the chairmanship of the Knesset Law, Justice and Constitution Committee.
The move comes after Slomiansky’s name was revealed Thursday as the MK from the party suspected of a series of offenses. Police have reportedly opened an investigation into the accusations.
A number of lawmakers, including some from his own party, have called on the MK, 70, to step down from the Knesset altogether until an investigation is completed.
Yesh Din says new plot for Amona settlers not abandoned
After the government offers Amona residents a plot of land in the West Bank to build permanent homes as part of a deal to get them to evacuate peacefully, the Yesh Din anti-settlement group says it will offer opposition to the move.
The government plans to recognize the plot, known as parcel 38, as abandoned, thereby allowing it to take it over, but Yesh Din says it has lined up Palestinian claimants who say they have ownership of the land.
Yesh Din says the move will sink the government plan.
A Twitter account run by the Amona settlers describes the Yesh Din move as “anchoring solution for
— Amona_EN (@AmonaEn) December 18, 2016
Ex-president Katsav to be released from prison early
Former president and convicted rapist Moshe Katsav will be released from prison early, a parole board has ruled in a decision announced now.
The court does not say when Katsav will be released.
“We have come to the conclusion that the time has come to order the prisoner’s release,” the ruling from the parole board reads.
Katsav will be subject to several conditions, such as checking in with a parole officer, continuing to attend a rehabilitation program and therapy session, and a restriction on speaking to the media.
The ruling comes after Katsav, convicted of rape and other sexual offenses, was rejected twice over his refusal to admit he had done anything wrong or try to rehabilitate himself.
He has served over five years of a seven-year sentence.
Katsav’s release to be delayed by week
A court spokesperson says Katsav’s release has been delayed by seven days after the state prosecutor asked for the time.
The statement says the delay is in order to “consider the position.”
It’s not immediately clear if the move could torpedo Katsav’s early parole.
— with Raoul Wootliff
Lawmakers decry early release for Katsav
In an early reaction to the decision to free Katsav, Meretz leader Zehava Gal-on calls the decision “frightening.”
“Katsav used his political power to rape and now he is using his political power to get out early,” she writes on Facebook. “The parole board ignored today the public interest and the terrible message they send to his victims, but also all victims of sexual violence: that you can rape women and get away easy, especially if you are well-connected.”
Yesh Atid MK Yael German also expresses dismay over the move and says she hopes President Reuven Rivlin doesn’t sign off on the move, though it’s not clear he would need to.
“It’s impossible that a man who held the most respected position in Israel and was supposed to serve as an example to citizens won’t serve out his sentence for such severe offenses,” she says, according to Walla news.
At least one women is pleased. Katsav’s wife Gila says she is “happy with the decision,” according to Channel 2.
UN nuclear watchdog head urges deal compliance in Iran
The head of the UN nuclear watchdog is visiting Iran for the second time since a landmark nuclear agreement with world powers went into effect at the start of this year.
Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is urging all sides to adhere to the agreement.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani says Iran will abide by the deal if other nations do, and says IAEA reports should be “technical and impartial.”
The IAEA said last month that Iran exceeded its heavy water limit by 100 kilograms (220 pounds) over the 130 metric tons allowed under the agreement. Heavy water is used to cool reactors that produce plutonium, which can be used in atomic bombs.
Iran later said it transferred 11 tons of heavy water to Oman.
Yad Vashem head urges stop to ‘atrocities’ in Syria
The head of Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum says the world must put an end to the killing in Syria.
Speaking at an academic conference devoted to the plight of Jewish refugees in the Holocaust, Avner Shalev expresses “deep concern over the appalling images of massacres of human beings” in Syria.
The comments mark a rare venture into contemporary affairs for a body devoted to commemorating the World War II genocide of 6 million Jews.
Shalev notes how after World War II world leaders enacted universal principles and instituted organizations aimed at preventing future crimes against humanity.
“The global community must put a stop to these atrocities and avert further suffering as well as provide humanitarian assistance to the victims seeking safe haven,” he says.
Gunmen open fire on Jordan tourist spot
Unknown gunmen have opened fire at a security center in the southern Jordanian city of Kerak, injuring four people, according to media reports.
Arab media reports says the gun battle is ongoing, with security personnel rushing to the scene.
The reports say tourists are among the injured.
A security source tells the Jordanian news site Khaberni that three gunmen arrived to the security center in a “tourist’s vehicle” and with a lot of ammunition.
— Dov Lieber
Amona residents agree to leave outpost peacefully
Residents of the Amona outpost have voted in favor of the proposal offered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which 24 families would be moved to an adjacent plot of land while the rest would be set up in nearby Ofra.
The government will request an extension for the evacuation notice, which the High Court is likely to accept.
In exchange, the residents of Amona will evacuate peacefully.
The residents voted 45 in favor, 25 opposed and two abstentions.
— Judah Ari Gross
Mixed emotions in Amona after decision
After the Amona settlers pass the deal, many of the hundreds who gathered there to support the community and fight evacuation forces are expressing anger, a reporter on the scene says.
“They did something dirty behind your back. The people here were weak,” one person yells on a loudspeaker.
Many people are beginning to leave the hilltop outpost.
“How disgusting,” one person mutters.
In a statement, the Amona community calls the decision one of the hardest they ever had to make, and says they “will not hesitate to restart the struggle if” the state does not come through.
— Amona_EN (@AmonaEn) December 18, 2016
They also thank the youths and others who showed up to support the community.
“Thanks to you, Amona will remain on the map, legalized and God-willing will expand in all four directions. We owe you,” the statement says.
— with Judah Ari Gross
Right-wing lawmakers praise Amona settlers
MK Bezalel Smotrich, who had taken up the cause of the Amona settlers in the Knesset, praises the settlers for taking the government deal and says their struggle shows hope for the future of the settlement enterprise.
“Today with their decision, the people of Amona are continuing on the path of hope. My brothers who are heroes of hope, thanks to you the settlements will continue to grow and strengthen,” he says in a statement.
Likud MK Yehudah Glick also thanks them for their “respectful struggle,” “their ethical stand” and their “brave decision.”
Amona protester feels ‘betrayed’
One protester who had come to Amona to fight off the evacuation says he’s unhappy with the decision, taking his cues from the Bible.
“I feel betrayed by the residents. They decided not to fight but to go against their interests. It’s against the Torah. It’s not the truth,” says the protester who declines to be named.
Another protester overhears and joins in, “There are difficulties in life. The Torah is full of difficulties.”
“The fight isn’t over,” says a spokesman from the nearby settlement of Ofra.
“We’re taking our foot off the gas for a month. If in the next month the state lives up to its promise to build 52 houses and public structures, then the struggle will be crowned a success and Amona will stay on the hill. If the state doesn’t fulfill its promises, we won’t hesitate to renew the fight with more grit and more strength. Amona won’t fall again.”
— Judah Ari Gross
Canadian tourist among five dead in Jordan attack
Five people have been killed, including an Canadian tourist, after unidentified gunmen attacked a police station and patrols in the town of Karak in western Jordan.
Nine people have been injured in the attack.
Karak, a city and tourist destination known for one of the biggest Crusader castles in the region, is located around 120 kilometers (roughly 70 miles) south of the capital Amman.
“Five people were killed and nine others wounded, including policemen, when unknown gunmen attacked a police station and some patrols in Karak,” a source says on condition of anonymity, adding that police were hunting the gunmen and reinforcements were sent.
Lefty lawmakers fulminate against Amona deal
Meretz head Zahava Gal-on calls the decision of the Amona settlers to take the state deal “important,” but that doesn’t mean she’s happy.
“The deal draft is another prize for organized fraud and political bullying,” she says.
Party colleague Tamar Zandberg is more blunt, accusing the settlers of bending the government, and the state, to their will.
“This new deal is a new peak of the willingness of the government to dance to the tune of 40 families, who have no problem walking all over the law and the Israeli interest,” she says.
MK Ghattas reportedly probed for ‘security offenses’
MK Basel Ghattas (Joint List) is under investigation by police for undisclosed “security offenses” related to visits he made to prisoners serving time in Israel, according to Channel 2.
The probe stems from information sent to the police from the Prison Service’s intelligence unit, according to the report.
There is no immediate confirmation from police or reaction from Ghattas.
Police searching for gunmen in Jordan
Sources in Jordan have identified the four other fatalities in the Karak attack as officers.
“Four of the dead are policemen and one is a (female) Canadian tourist,” says source who declined to be identified.
Police are searching for the perpetrators. According to a source speaking to AP, they fled to the town, whereas AFP reports they fled to the famous castle nearby.
Gunmen said holding tourists hostage in Jordan
Jordanian news site al-Ghad reports gunmen are holding 14 hostages in the famous Crusader castle of the city of Karak, after opening fire on a police station and killing five people.
The site reports that tourists are among the hostages, including some from Malaysia.
The massive fortress is a popular tourist destination in Jordan.
Al-Qaeda group said to burn buses used for Syria evacuations
Activists say fighters have burned at least five buses assigned to evacuate wounded and sick people from two villages in northern Syria.
The incident could scuttle a wider deal that encompasses the evacuation of thousands of trapped rebel fighters and civilians from the last opposition foothold in east Aleppo.
The opposition’s Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday that the al-Qaeda affiliated Fatah al-Sham Front burned buses assigned to evacuate people from the rebel-besieged villages of Foua and Kfarya.
Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror group fighting alongside Syria’s government, says the buses were burned during fighting between Fatah al-Sham Front and a rebel group that supported the evacuations.
The Observatory says six buses were burned while Hezbollah’s media outlet puts the number at five.
Jordan attack death toll reportedly rises to six
Jordanian outlet al-Ghad says a second civilian has died of their wounds, putting the death toll at six.
The news site says 10 gunmen are holed up in Karak castle, though an official statement puts the size of the cell at five or six.
According to the site, at least two of the eight injured are foreign tourists.
According to some unconfirmed reports, some hostages being held in Karak castle have been freed.
Brits nix Farage as ‘a bridge’ to Trump
The British government says it doesn’t need maverick anti-European politician Nigel Farage to be its go-between with the incoming Trump administration.
Senior figures in Prime Minister Theresa May’s government reject the idea after Farage, former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, argued he would be ideal given his bond formed on the US presidential campaign trail with Trump.
“I can help to be a bridge between the government … and not just Donald Trump, but his team and his administration. I would like to do that,” Farage told BBC radio.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox says Britain has “a perfectly good ambassador in Washington.”
The US president-elect met Farage last month at Trump Tower and tweeted that Farage would make an excellent ambassador to the United States.
Cabinet approves Amona deal
Government ministers have voted unanimously to okay the deal with Amona residents to move them onto a nearby plot of land and start construction of new homes, Channel 2 reports.
In a statement, Yesha settlers council official Oded Revivi praises the Amona settlers for taking the deal.
“I was very happy to hear that the people of Amona were able to reach a compromise that will avoid unnecessary conflict between brothers,” he says. “I feel the pain of each and every family being uprooted from their homes after two decades. Clearly this isn’t an easy situation for anyone involved and I hope that we will be able to avoid such incidents in the future.”
Jordan shooting death toll up to 7, video shows chaos in castle
Jordan’s general security department now says four policemen, a female Canadian tourist and two Jordanian civilians have been killed in a series of shootings.
Several others are reported wounded.
Video from inside Karak castle, taken hours ago, shows tourists scrambling to leave the fortress as security forces try to move in, under a hail of fire.
— Rami (@RamiAILoIah) December 18, 2016
— with AFP
Russia to veto UN resolution on monitors for Aleppo
Russia is prepared to use its veto to block a French-drafted resolution on sending UN observers to Aleppo to monitor evacuations and help protect civilians, Moscow’s envoy says.
“We cannot allow it to pass because this is a disaster,” Ambassador Vitaly Churkin tells reporters.
France circulated a draft text late Friday stating that the council is “alarmed” by the worsening humanitarian crisis in Aleppo and by the fact that “tens of thousands of besieged Aleppo inhabitants” are in need of aid and evacuation.
The UN Security Council was set to meet for closed-door consultations followed by a vote on the proposals.
Churkin says Russia, Syria’s ally, will put forward its own proposals for monitoring, but he declines to give details.
Agam fountain ‘evacuated’ from Dizengoff Square
While half the nation’s eyes were turned to Amona and the impending dismantling of the outpost there, Tel Aviv was being transformed with its own evacuation — of an iconic piece of urban art.
City workers have begun taking apart Yaakov Agam’s famous fountain, which has graced the city’s Dizengoff Square for decades.
Panel by rainbow colored panel, the art piece is being taken apart and moved to the city’s Reading Station, where it will reside for a year while the square is renovated, Haaretz reports.
Russia submits own UN resolution on Aleppo
Russia has circulated a draft resolution to address the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo after warning it was prepared to veto a French-drafted text on deploying UN observers to the Syrian city, diplomats say.
The Russian proposal calls on the United Nations to make “arrangements” to “monitor the condition of civilians remaining in Aleppo” but does not mention the deployment of observers, according to the draft seen by AFP.
Katsav victim: I’m done fighting, though parole is wrong
While many have criticized the decision to release former president and convicted rapist Moshe Katsav from prison early, one of his victims says she won’t oppose the move.
“I have no interest in continuing to fight the decision, even if it’s the wrong one,” the woman known only as A., who was raped by Katsav, says according to Channel 2.
Another one of Katsav’s alleged victims, Odelia Carmon, who accused Katsav of rape, but for which he was never convicted, calls the decision “miserable.”
“The parole board made a decision that clarifies to the women of Israel that we are in Sodom and there is no end to the contempt for them,” she says, according to the channel.
The fact that the Katsav decision was made on the same day that a number of high profile sexual harassment and assault cases came up “shows the moral and ethical depths of the society we are living in,” she says.
Hamas sets up Gaza mourning tent for slain drone maker
Hamas terrorists in Gaza have set up a mourning tent for Mohammed al-Zoari, the Tunisian aviation expert who supervised the group’s drone program and was killed last week. Hamas has accused Israel of assassinating him.
Members of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades armed wing receive dozens of mourners, including officials and gunmen from other Palestinian groups, in a tent erected in a Gaza City park.
Jerusalem asks Belarus not to deport blogger to Azerbaijan
The Foreign Ministry has asked Belarus not to deport an Israeli blogger to Azerbaijan after he was arrested, ostensibly for traveling into an area of the caucuses without Baku’s permission.
Alexander Lapshin has been held by Minsk since last week. According to reports in Israel, Lapshin published Russian-language blogs critical of Azerbaijani president Ilham Alyev.
However, according to Panarmenian.net, he was stopped for visiting the restive Nagorno Karabakh region on the Armenian border without coordinating with authorities in Baku.
The arrest came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was visiting Azerbaijan, a first for an Israeli head of government.
— With Raphael Ahren
Ghattas probed for passing cell phones to inmates — report
MK Basel Ghattas is being investigated over suspicions that he smuggled 15 cell phones to two inmates at Ketziot Prison being held for national security offenses, Channel 2 reports.
Ghattas was asked to accompany police to be questioned as he left the prison earlier in the day, but refused, according to the report, and officials fear he may flee the country.
The founder of Ghattas’s Balad party, former MK Azmi Bishara, fled Israel in 2007 after he came under suspicion of passing information to Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War.
There is no official confirmation from police.
Dozens rally for Syria in Tel Aviv
Several dozen people are rallying for Syria in Tel Aviv, aiming to form a human chain between the US and Russian embassies, about 500 meters (1,640 feet) apart.
Several people are holding signs in English and Hebrew urging, “Stop the massacre.”
Liberman: Joint List are all spies and traitors
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman says suspicions that MK Basel Ghattas passed cell phones to security prisoners is “more proof that the Joint List is really a joint list of spies and traitors.”
“From Azmi Bishara to Basel Ghattas, through the representation of the Marmara in Israel Hanin Zoabi and the rest of their friends — I will continue to act so that not only will they not serve in the Knesset, but also won’t be citizens of Israel,” Liberman adds.
Ghattas, responding to the reports, says the probe is just the latest witch hunt against Arab lawmakers.
“Visits to prison by Arab lawmakers are done in coordination with the Prisons Service and with the permission of the Public Security Ministry,” he says, according to Ynet. “I have nothing to hide.”
Erdan says Ghattas only kept out of jail by immunity
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan says in light of the Ghattas probe, he will redouble efforts to ban prison visits by Knesset members.
“These visits include a real fear of harm to the state’s security and I will fight to end them,” he says.
He also says Ghattas is only not in prison because of his parliamentary immunity.
“The suspicions against MK Ghattas are extremely severe and if he weren’t a Knesset member, it seems he would be in jail over the suspicions,” he says.
Netanyahu: Suspicions against Ghattas serious
Netanyahu has been responding to the allegations against Ghattas, saying that he should be banned from serving as an MK should the suspicions be true.
“Should the suspicions against MK Ghattas turn out to be correct, then we will be talking about a serious offense against the security of Israeli citizens,” he says. “Whoever harms the security of the state needs to be punished severely and should be banned from serving in the Knesset.”
Jordan gunmen killed, sources deny there ever were hostages
Jordanian security forces have stormed the Karak castle and killed a number of gunmen, according to reports.
The forces are now combing the castle for more gunmen.
Security sources in Jordan deny media reports that hostages had been held in the fortress.
A senior security source said some people were trapped in a lower floor of the citadel when the gunmen took shelter there.
“There are no hostages. But some people who were on a lower floor were afraid of leaving as the gunmen traded fire with the security forces,” says the unnamed source.
— with AFP
Syria evacuation suspended after buses come under fire
The evacuations expected Sunday of fighters and civilians from east Aleppo and two Shiite villages under rebel siege in northwestern Syria have been postponed until further notice, a monitor says.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the move was decided after gunmen attacked buses sent to evacuate people from the villages of Fuaa and Kafraya and in the “absence of security guarantees for the evacuees.”
One of the bus drivers was killed in the incident, the Observatory says.
Yasser al-Youssef of the Nureddin al-Zinki rebel group confirms that “the evacuations have been momentarily suspended.”
The Observatory says buses would not leave the rebel areas of Aleppo until residents of Fuaa and Kafraya were also able to leave.