The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.
The head of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee says the details of an emerging prisoner swap with the Hamas terror group in Gaza are “outrageous” and will bring hundreds of terrorists “back into circulation.”
Hamas is currently believed to hold two Israeli civilians, Avera Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who entered Gaza of their own accord in 2014-2015, and the remains of two Israeli soldiers, Sergeant First Class Oron Shaul and Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, killed in action during the 2014 Gaza war.
Ostensible details of the deal were reported by Hebrew media in recent days, with unnamed Israeli officials saying that Israel will not allow murderers to be released, but that it is expected to include various gestures toward Gaza, including medical aid to help deal with coronavirus in the territory.
Derech Eretz MK Zvi Hauser, head of the powerful FADC, tweets that as part of his work “I have been privy to all the details.”
He warns it would violate the recommendations made by the 2012 Shamgar Commission that set out to determine principles for prisoner releases.
“I call on the prime minister to withdraw from this dangerous move and learn the lessons of the Shalit deal, the majority of whose freed prisoners returned to terror.”
President Reuven Rivlin speaks to Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on the phone.
“Peace is made between peoples and nations,” Rivlin says. “I am full of hope that the Palestinians will also take steps to build mutual trust, cooperation and peace.”
Earlier in the day Rivlin hosted a delegation of “opinion leaders” from Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, in Israel to foster cooperation between the peoples following the recent normalization accords.
US presidential electors are meeting across the United States today to formally choose Joe Biden as the nation’s next president.
Today is the day set by law for the meeting of the Electoral College. In reality, electors meet in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to cast their ballots. The results will be sent to Washington and tallied in a January 6 joint session of Congress over which Vice President Mike Pence will preside.
The electors’ votes have drawn more attention than usual this year because President Donald Trump has refused to concede the election and continued to make baseless allegations of fraud.
Biden is planning to address the nation tonight, after the electors have voted. Trump, meanwhile, is clinging to his false claims that he won the election, undermining Biden’s presidency even before it begins.
What could be the main event in Georgia’s twin US Senate runoffs — early in-person voting — begins today.
More than half of the record 5 million votes in the November 3 general election were cast during its two-week early voting period. Early in-person voting could be even more important in these January 5 runoffs because of the short time frame for voters to request and send back ballots by mail, as the two races decide which party will control the US Senate.
“It’s very important,” Democrat Raphael Warnock, who is challenging Republican US Sen. Kelly Loeffler in one of the races, said Friday after a speech to labor union canvassers. “It’s how we won in the general and it’s how we’re going to win in the runoff.”
No one expects turnout to be as high in the Warnock-Loeffler contest or the race between US Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff. But Bernard Fraga, an Emory University professor who studies voting, says overall turnout could reach 4 million.
In a rare occurrence, many Google services appear to be down worldwide, including Gmail, YouTube, Calendar and Docs.
The cause of the malfunction is not immediately clear.
Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem denies Hebrew media reports of an emerging prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and the Israeli government.
“This is a ploy by Netanyahu to enhance his personal stature in any expected Zionist elections. This Zionist media talk has no basis in truth,” Qassem says.
“Netanyahu is still evading a decision in this issue, and is manipulating the feelings of the families of the captured soldiers,” Qassem says.
— Aaron Boxerman
The Knesset passes an amendment to coronavirus legislation to obligate airlines to refund passengers within 30 days for a canceled flight.
The law will take effect tomorrow.
According to the Ynet news site, millions of shekels have been lost by hundreds of thousands of Israelis as a result of flights canceled by the virus crisis.
Some companies have compensated passengers, either with refunds or vouchers for future flights.
MKs Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser of the tiny Derech Eretz faction say they will resign their governmental positions — though not their Knesset seats — if the parliament does not disband in the coming days.
“We will not support any further compromises,” the two say in a statement.
“We support disbanding the Knesset and returning to the voter in order to replace Netanyahu. If the coalition decides on another extension [of the deadline to pass a budget] we will resign our positions.”
Hendel is currently communications minister, while Hauser heads the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. These are the posts the two would be quitting.
Hendel and Hauser were originally part of Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem faction of Blue and White. When the alliance broke up earlier this year, with Benny Gantz heading to the coalition and Ya’alon and Yair Lapid to the opposition, the two MKs broke away to form Derech Eretz and joined Gantz’s bloc in the government.
They have announced in recent days they plan to join breakaway Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar New Hope party for the next election.
Iran will not accept any US preconditions to a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, and issues including Iran’s missile program and regional affairs are “non-negotiable,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says in a speech.
He also says he will not allow any delay to the end of sanctions on Iran. He may be referring to the so-called sunset clauses of the deal, which limit Iran’s use of certain advanced centrifuges until 2025 and the cap on its uranium stockpile until 2030.
Iran has breached both aspects of the deal since the US pulled out of the accord.
“Some people want to delay the process but we will not consent to it whether it be for one hour,” he says.
“Iran has repeatedly made it clear that it will also abide by its full commitments if all of the participants to the agreement live up to their full commitments.”
US President-elect Joe Biden has said he plans to reenter the deal when he enters office. He has not set the issue of limits to Iran’s ballistic missile program and regional intervention as a precondition to this, but has said he will seek dialog on the matter.
The UN rights chief voices outrage at Iran’s execution over the weekend of opposition figure Ruhollah Zam, and urges Tehran to halt its “alarming and increasing” use of the death penalty.
“I am appalled at the execution in Iran on 12 December of Ruhollah Zam,” Michelle Bachelet says in a statement. “His death sentence and execution by hanging are emblematic of a pattern of forced confessions extracted under torture and broadcast on state media being used as a basis to convict people.”
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani says Israel was behind the killing of a scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program in the 2000s in an effort to ignite regional violence in the last days of President Trump’s administration.
Rouhani’s comments in a news conference mark the first time he has directly accused the Jewish state of carrying out the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh late last month.
Israel, long suspected of killing Iranian nuclear scientists over the last decade, has repeatedly declined to comment on the attack.
“Waging instability and war in the final days of the Trump administration was the main aim of the Zionist regime in the assassination,” Rouhani says.
Rouhani vows to avenge the killing but says his country will not allow Israel to decide the “time or venue“ of any retaliatory action. He says Iran will not allow instability in the region.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will enter quarantine until Friday after meeting a person who was later confirmed to be a carrier of coronavirus, his office says.
Netanyahu underwent virus tests yesterday and today and came out negative for the virus, it adds.
This will be the third time Netanyahu has had to quarantine since the start of the pandemic.
The Jerusalem District Court rejects a demand by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attorneys to cancel the indictment against him due to issues with its filing process.
However, the court does order prosecutors to significantly amend the Case 4000 file to clearly distinguish Netanyahu from his family members as well as suspect Shaul Elovitch from his wife.
Lawyers had complained that Netanyahu had in many cases been grouped with his family in supposed demands from Elovitch to make various changes on the news site he owned, Walla. They said it was not clear why Netanyahu must answer for demands allegedly made by his wife or son.
The court said prosecutors must make clear who made the demands in every case, and whether the prime minister was supposedly aware of the requests, or involved in them.
It also tells prosecutors to provide detailed information about the alleged contacts between Netanyahu and the Elovitches and the benefits they gave him. The premier’s lawyers had asserted that the information provided was not detailed enough.
Judges reject a demand to amend the Case 1000 charges.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounces as “barbaric” Iran’s execution of opposition figure Ruhollah Zam, who ran a popular social media channel.
“The US strongly condemns Iran’s unjust, barbaric execution of Ruhollah Zam, an Iranian journalist kidnapped abroad by the regime,” Pompeo writes on Twitter.
The U.S. strongly condemns Iran's unjust, barbaric execution of Ruhollah Zam, an Iranian journalist kidnapped abroad by the regime. Zam exposed the brutality and corruption of the regime, which has killed or arrested more than 860 journalists in its 41-year reign of terror.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) December 14, 2020
The largest vaccination campaign in US history gets underway as health workers in select hospitals roll up their sleeves for shots to protect them from COVID-19 and start beating back the pandemic — a day of optimism even as the nation’s death toll nears 300,000.
“I feel hopeful today. Relieved,” says critical case nurse Sandra Lindsay, the first to get the shot at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York.
— Derick Waller (@wallerABC7) December 14, 2020
Shipments of precious frozen vials of vaccine made by Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech begin arriving at hospitals around the country.
“This is the light at the end of the tunnel. But it’s a long tunnel,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says as he watches Lindsay’s vaccination via video.
A fuel tanker that suffered an explosion off the western coast of Saudi Arabia earlier today was attacked by an explosives-laden boat, state media reports, calling it a “terrorist” attack.
“A fuel transport ship, anchored in the fuel terminal in Jeddah, was attacked by an explosive-laden boat in the early hours of this morning,” the official Saudi Press Agency says, citing an energy ministry spokesman.
It does not say who was behind the assault.
The Singapore-flagged BW Rhine saw all 22 sailors on board escape without injury, the BW Group said in a statement. The company warned it was possible some oil had leaked out from the site of the blast.
Japan’s space agency says it has confirmed the presence of black soil samples inside a capsule that the spacecraft Hayabusa2 brought back from a distant asteroid last week.
The pan-shaped capsule, 40 centimeters (15 inches) in diameter, was dropped by Hayabusa2 from space onto a spot in a sparsely populated Australian desert on December 6. It arrived in Japan last Tuesday for research that will hopefully provide insights into the origins of the solar system and life on Earth.
The capsule in the Australian outback.
Magnificent images have been released from today's discovery and recovery of the #Hayabusa2 sample return capsule in the Woomera Prohibited Area, South Australia.
— Australian Space Agency (@AusSpaceAgency) December 6, 2020
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency says its scientists opened the capsule and found an unspecified amount of sandy black particles.
“It’s obviously from Ryugu, the asteroid,” JAXA says in a statement. It says it will continue an initial examination ahead of fuller studies of the samples later.
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz says he will remove Derech Eretz MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel from their positions in the coalition, after their announcement they will join with Gideon Sa’ar’s party and their statement earlier today that they will resign from the posts if new elections are not called.
“Hauser and Hendel have chosen their new political home, and their time holding positions on behalf of Blue and White has thus come to an end,” Gantz says in a statement.
Hendel is removed as communications minister effective immediately. Hauser’s removal as head of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee will take a bit more time, as it demands a vote in the Knesset.
The United States for the first time accuses Iran of direct involvement in the “probable death” of former FBI agent Bob Levinson, who vanished 13 years ago, and imposes sanctions on two intelligence agents.
Releasing the finding a month before President-elect Joe Biden takes office, Donald Trump’s administration urges his successor to prioritize the release of at least three Americans in Iranian custody as his team expects to resume diplomacy with the US adversary.
“The government of Iran pledged to provide assistance in bringing Bob Levinson home, but it has never followed through,” FBI Director Christopher Wray says in a statement.
“The truth is that Iranian intelligence officers — with the approval of senior Iranian officials — were involved in Bob’s abduction and detention.”
An alligator that some believe belonged to Adolf Hitler has been taxidermied and put on display in Moscow following the reptile’s death at age 84.
The Darwin Museum says the alligator named Saturn was put on public display several months after the Moscow Zoo donated his remains. “The installation of Saturn in the permanent exhibition is the culmination of six months of work by our taxidermists and the entire museum,” it says in a statement.
Born in the United States in 1936, Saturn was moved to the Berlin zoo where he escaped on November 23, 1943, after a bombing raid that killed several of his fellow reptiles. In 1946, he was found by British soldiers who handed him over to the Soviet authorities.
When Saturn was brought to Moscow in July 1946, the rumors began circulating that he had been part of Adolf Hitler’s personal collection, the zoo said.
— with AFP
Following his decision to fire Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel of Derech Eretz, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who leads the Blue and White bloc in the coalition — which includes Blue and White, Derech Eretz and Labor — will serve in that post as well, his office says.
The High Court of Justice has rejected a petition by two Likud MKs who sought to annul the approval of 61 new judges at a meeting of the Judicial Appointments Committee that they boycotted last week.
Transportation Minister MK Miri Regev and MK Osnat Mark, alongside Derech Eretz MK Zvi Hauser, had refused to attend the meeting, complaining of the plan to appoint judges opposed by right-wingers. They had believed the panel could not legally convene without them, but legal advisers in the Justice Ministry ruled that the meeting could go forward.
The High Court rules that the meeting was indeed legitimate.
Israel’s Institute for Biological Research says it has successfully completed the first stage of its coronavirus vaccine and plans to expand its trials to some 1,000 volunteers for the next phase.
The first stage tested the Defense Ministry laboratory’s vaccine on 80 people out of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospitals and Ramat Gan’s Sheba Medical Center.
“During the first phase, no significant side effects were identified, and two expert committees, both internal and external, recommended the approval of the second phase. As such, the institute completed all the necessary preparations and is ready for the immediate launch of the second phase,” the Defense Ministry says.
The second phase of the clinical trials will begin in the coming days and will take place over several months, with approximately 1,000 volunteers taking part. This stage of the trial will again begin at the Sheba and Hadassah hospitals, but will gradually expand to other medical centers throughout the country.
“The scientists of the IIBR are Israel’s ‘elite unit,’ and have taken on an extremely important task — saving human lives. I see great importance in the development of an Israeli vaccine that will continue to serve Israeli society for years to come,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz says.
— Judah Ari Gross
A homeless man has been jailed for more than seven years after he attacked a prayer leader at a London mosque with a knife.
Daniel Horton, 30, attacked Raafat Maglad, a 70-year-old muezzin, who makes the call to prayer at London Central Mosque, on the edge of Regent’s Park, in February.
He pleaded guilty to one count of grievous bodily harm and possession of a bladed article at a previous hearing.
At the time, witnesses described how Horton had quietly prayed behind Maglad before stabbing him, leaving him with injuries including a 1.5-centimetre gash to his neck.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court rejects President Donald Trump’s lawsuit attempting to overturn his loss to Democrat Joe Biden in the battleground state, ending Trump’s legal challenges in state court about an hour before the Electoral College was to meet to cast the state’s 10 votes for Biden.
The ruling came after the court held arguments Saturday, the same day a federal judge dismissed another Trump lawsuit seeking to overturn his loss in the state. Trump appealed that ruling.
Trump sought to have more than 221,000 ballots disqualified in Dane and Milwaukee counties, the state’s two most heavily Democratic counties. He wanted to disqualify absentee ballots cast early and in-person, saying there wasn’t a proper written request made for the ballots; absentee ballots cast by people who claimed “indefinitely confined” status; absentee ballots collected by poll workers at Madison parks; and absentee ballots where clerks filled in missing information on ballot envelopes.
Liberal Justice Jill Karofsky blasted Trumps’ case during Saturday’s hearing, saying it “smacks of racism” and was “un-American.” Conservative justices voiced some concerns about how certain ballots were cast, while also questioning whether they could or should disqualify votes only in two counties.
The Energy Ministry says it has formed three work groups with its Emirati counterpart to develop cooperative projects.
The groups focus on gas and fuel, renewable energy and innovation, and cyber defense for national infrastructures.
“The joint discussions… will allow an exchange of knowledge and to establish cooperation in various areas, which will advance both the Israeli and Emirati energy sectors,” the ministry says.
Israel currently has 313,000 doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine and will have 3.8 million by the end of the month, Channel 12 reports.
Vaccination is set to start on Sunday. It has not yet been decided whether to first limit inoculation to at-risk populations or allow anyone who wants to get vaccinated, the network says.
Since the morning, 1,444 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus, the Health Ministry says.
The number of active cases stands at 17,745, of which 375 are in serious condition. The death toll stands at 3,004.
A former Israeli consul general to New England and Boston will be the next executive director of J Street Israel.
Nadav Tamir, a longtime diplomat who most recently served as director of international affairs at the Peres Center for Peace, will lead the liberal lobby’s operations in Israel.
“I’m excited to be joining J Street at the dawn of a new era for American diplomacy,” Tamir says. “I’ve been a fan of the organization since it was first founded during my time as consul in Boston, and I’m so impressed with its growth since then.
“I’m looking forward to working with the team in Israel and in the US to advance policies that truly help secure Israel’s future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people, living in peace and security alongside an independent Palestinian state.”
— Jacob Magid
The United States imposes sanctions on Turkey’s military procurement agency after the NATO ally defiantly bought Russia’s S-400 air defense system.
“Today’s action sends a clear signal that the United States will fully implement [US law] and will not tolerate significant transactions with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says in a statement.
The Knesset passes a bill to prevent a parent from having guardianship over a child if that parent is convicted of murdering or attempting to murder the child’s other parent, or if that parent raped or sexually abused one of his children.
An indicted person will have guardianship rights temporarily revoked, while a conviction will lead to permanent revocation, the new law states.
Amazon is looking into shipping to Israel from the United Arab Emirates, according to reports in several media outlets, in a move that could allow the e-commerce giant to expand in the Israeli market.
In the wake of the normalization deal between the countries, Amazon is now weighing shipping to Israel from its warehouses in Dubai, the Globes business daily and Channel 12 say.
Doing so would allow Amazon to supply goods to Israelis directly, rather than through third-party sellers.
Moroccan authorities have stopped a demonstration against the normalization agreement with Israel from taking place in the capital Rabat, Reuters reports.
The news agency says large contingents of police spread out near the parliament with anti-riot gear and water cannons and stopped protesters from congregating there.
Yesterday the country’s main Islamist groups rejected the pan to establish formal ties with the Jewish state, with one organization denouncing it as “Zionist infiltration.”
The religious branch of the co-ruling conservative Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), called the Unity and Reform Movement (MUR), said in a statement that the move toward an agreement with Israel was “deplorable.”
Israel’s health maintenance organizations will officially start vaccinations of the general public next Wednesday, December 23, they say.
Further announcements are expected on who can come in to be vaccinated, with the elderly and other at-risk populations expected to go first.
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