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

Iran reportedly arrests family of man killed in fuel price ‘riots’

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran has arrested the family of a young man killed in street violence that flared during last month’s protests against fuel price hikes, Mehr news agency reports.

The family of Pouya Bakhtiari, who was “killed suspiciously during the recent riots,” had been invited for talks with authorities, Mehr says, citing what it calls an informed source.

They were found to have been “carrying out a counter-revolutionary project” and “anti-structural activities,” says the agency, which is close to moderate conservatives in Iran.

“Consequently, these elements were arrested by a judicial order in order to protect the order and the security of the honorable people and others damaged by the rioters,” it says, without specifying which family members were taken into custody.

Bakhtiari was reportedly killed in Karaj city, west of Tehran, in street violence that erupted in mid-November during nationwide protests over a shock decision to hike petrol prices by as much as 200 percent. He was 27.

His Instagram account, which is now reportedly run by his father, announced a ceremony marking 40 days since his death would be held at Karaj cemetery on Thursday.

It is still active with more than 18,000 followers today.

Officials in Iran have yet to issue an overall death toll for the unrest, but international human rights group Amnesty International has put the number at more than 300.

An Iranian security official rejected a foreign media report yesterday that the figure was as high as 1,500, saying it was based on “false propaganda.”


Netanyahu rejects Sa’ar proposal to push for him to be made president

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejects MK Gideon Sa’ar’s proposal to push for the premier’s appointment as president if Sa’ar wins Thursday’s leadership primaries for the Likud party.

“Sa’ar’s spin unfortunately attests that he has gotten in line with the left and the media to remove him from leading the country,” Netanyahu’s campaign headquarters says.

“This is not the time for division in Likud, but rather to unite around Netanyahu.”

Sa’ar, considered a serious underdog in the Likud leadership race, floated the idea of seeking to make Netanyahu president at an event yesterday with supporters.

Incumbent President Reuven Rivlin’s term ends in July 2021.

The president, who is chosen by Knesset members to a seven-year-term, has immunity from prosecution under Israel law.

Netanyahu is facing criminal charges in three cases. He denies wrongdoing.

Political paralysis in Iraq as anti-government protesters harden stance

BAGHDAD — Iraqi protesters step up their demonstrations today with the authorities in Baghdad increasingly paralyzed as they seek a way out of a political impasse.

Once again the capital’s iconic Tahrir Square began filling early in the day, with protesters making clear their opposition to names touted by the establishment to fill the post of prime minister.

Portrait pictures of these candidates — marked by a huge red cross — increasingly adorn facades of buildings and tents in the protest area.

And once again the main avenues and roads in cities in the south of the country are blocked, as well as entrances to schools, universities and government buildings.

After dwindling in recent weeks, the civil disobedience campaign has rediscovered its vigor, as the protesters seek to uproot a political system condemned as deeply corrupt.

Negotiations over a candidate to replace premier Adel Abdel Mahdi, who quit in November in the face of protests against corruption and unemployment, have remained deadlocked since the latest in a series of deadlines expired at midnight on Sunday.

While a pro-Iran camp has tried to impose a candidate, Iraqi President Barham Saleh has reportedly put up resistance.

For Iraqis protesting since October 1, the system installed by the United States after it led a military coalition to overthrow dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 has become overly beholden to Iran and is beyond reform.


Netanyahu wishes Merry Christmas to Christians: ‘We have no better friends’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extends Christmas greetings to Christians in Israel and around the globe in a video released by his office.

Russia’s most advanced fighter jet crashes, pilot survives

MOSCOW — Russian officials say a top-of-the-line fighter jet has crashed on a training mission but its pilot bailed out safely.

Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation says in a statement today that the Su-57 fighter came down during a training flight near Komsomolsk-on-Amur in the country’s far east. It says the plane’s pilot safely ejected and there was no damage on the ground.

The cause of the crash isn’t immediately known.

The Su-57, which made its maiden flight in 2010, is Russia’s most advanced fighter plane. It has stealth capability and carries sophisticated equipment and weapons. The twin-engine aircraft has been designed by the Sukhoi company to compete with the US F-22 Raptor stealth fighter.

The crash marks the first loss of a Su-57, 10 of which have been built at Sukhoi’s plant in Komsomolsk-on-Amur for pre-production tests and combat evaluation. Some of them have been flown in combat during Russia’s military campaign in Syria.

The Russian air force has placed an order for 76 such aircraft to be delivered by 2028.

— AP

This photo from August 27, 2019, shows Russian Air Force Sukhoi Su-57 fifth-generation fighter jets perform during the MAKS-2019 International Aviation and Space Show in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)

Gaza Christians say they’ve received few Israeli travel permits for Christmas

Christians in the Gaza Strip say they’ve been granted less than half the number of permits they’ve requested from Israel to visit Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Bethlehem for Christmas.

Quoting Palestinian border officials, Reuters reports Israel has issued 316 permits, out of of 800 Christian leaders in Gaza say were requested.

“They issued permits for old people, not the young,” Haifa Assalfiti tells the news agency before exiting from Gaza through the Erez border crossing to travel to Bethlehem.

“My son, my daughter and my daughter-in-law didn’t get permits. They are at home angry,” she adds.

There is no immediate comment from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians.

Israel said Tuesday it would allow Christians in Gaza to visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem for Christmas, after a COGAT spokeswoman said earlier that travel permits would only be issued for abroad in a move criticized by Palestinian Christian leaders in the Strip.

Christians flock to Bethlehem for Christmas festivities

BETHLEHEM, West Bank — Pilgrims from around the world gather today in the biblical city of Bethlehem, revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, to celebrate Christmas in the Holy Land.

Thousands of Palestinians and foreigners converged on the “little town” in the Israeli-controlled West Bank, with Christmas Eve festivities taking place in and around the Church of the Nativity.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the most senior Roman Catholic official in the Middle East, traveled from the holy city to Bethlehem this after.

He was later to lead midnight mass at the church, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expected to attend.

After crossing through the security barrier, Pizzaballa says it is a difficult time but there is reason for “hope.”

“We see in this period the weakness of politics, enormous economic problems, unemployment, problems in families — so when we look at this reality, we could say that there is nothing to hope for,” he saud.

“On the other side, when I visit families, parishes, communities, I see a lot of commitment… for the future.

“Christmas is for us to celebrate the hope.”

In the square outside the church, a few thousand people watch in the winter sun as Palestinian scouts paraded to the sound of drums. A group of 20 New Zealanders sings carols in front of the 15-meter Christmas tree.

In the morning tourists queued to visit the grotto inside the church, believed to be the exact site where Jesus was born.


Sa’ar laments ‘baseless’ attacks by Netanyahu ahead of Likud leadership vote

MK Gideon Sa’ar, who is running for leader of the Likud party, laments what he calls “baseless” attacks by the Netanyahu campaign.

“Likud members already understand that without change in the Likud leadership, after the [March 2] elections a left-wing government will be established,” Sa’ar writes on Twitter.

The tweet comes after Netanyahu’s campaign charged that Sa’ar has “aligned with the left” for proposing to push for the premier’s appointment as president if he were to pull off an upset in Thursday’s Likud primary.

2 teenagers dies of flu-related complications

A teenager from Jerusalem has died of flu-related complications, the city’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center says, after arriving at the hospital without a pulse.

Doctors were briefly able to resuscitate the 19-year-old but he died shortly later due to organ dysfunction, according to the hospital.

Earlier, a 14-year-old girl died from the flu after being hospitalized at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer.

Putin accuses Poland of collusion with Hitler, anti-Semitism

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin ups the ante in a war of words with Europe, accusing Poland of colluding with Hitler and of anti-Semitism.

Tensions are running high between Moscow and Warsaw, with NATO and EU member Poland fearing what it has described as Russian military adventurism and imperialist tendencies.

Speaking today to military top brass and using bad language at one point, Putin says that Poland was in cahoots with Hitler during World War II.

“Essentially they colluded with Hitler. This is clear from documents, archival documents,” Putin says in an emotional end-of-year speech at the defense ministry.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) addresses the audience at the annual meeting of the Defense Ministry board, Moscow, December 24, 2019. (Mikhael Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP)

Resorting to foul language, Putin says a war-time Polish ambassador allegedly promised to put up a statue of Hitler in Warsaw for his pledges to send Jews to Africa.

“A bastard, an anti-Semitic pig, you cannot put it any other way,” Putin says, referring to what he said were the diaries of the Polish ambassador in Germany.

“He expressed full solidarity with Hitler in his anti-Semitic views,” the Russian leader says.

He slams what he called attempts to erase the memory of Soviet victory in countries in Moscow’s former sphere of influence.

“It is people like those who negotiated with Hitler — it is people like that who today are tearing down monuments to the liberating warriors, the Red Army soldiers who freed Europe and the European people from the Nazis,” Putin fumes.

Last week, Putin blamed the Western powers and Poland for World War II, pointing to various treaties signed with Nazi Germany before the conflict began in 1939.


IDF defends intel process for Gaza strike that killed 9 family members

The Israeli military says it has wrapped up its investigation into two days of fighting in the Gaza Strip last month sparked by Israel’s targeted killing of a top military commander in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group.

“The main conclusion from the investigation is that the plan for ‘Black Belt’ met the purpose defined for it: Creating conditions to improve the reality in the Gaza Strip by killing Baha Abu al-Ata, seriously hurting terror operatives and military infrastructure of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, reducing harm to Israeli civilians and avoiding being dragged to a wider campaign,” the IDF says in the statement, using the name it gave to the battle.

During the two days of battle, the military says it took out 25 terrorists and struck over 100 targets linked to Islamic Jihad.

It also says the investigation looked into an airstrike on a building in the central Gaza town of Deir el-Balah, killing nine members of a family.

According to the IDF, the house had been linked to Islamic Jihad military activity and was properly approved multiple times for the military’s target bank, including days before the strike.

“During the planning and carrying out of the attack, the estimation in the IDF was that no citizens would be hurt as a result,” the statement says.

It adds: “In the investigation it became clear at the site that was attacked military activities had been carried out, but it was not a closed site and in actuality citizens were also there.”

The IDF says the investigation included recommendations on how to avoid such “exceptional events” in the future, but doesn’t give further details.

Israeli-American jailed in Russia on drug charges seeks second appeal

An Israeli-American jailed in Russia on drug charges will file another appeal, her mother tells Hebrew media outlets.

Naama Issachar, who has been held by Russia since 9.5 grams were found in her luggage during a layover in Moscow in April, last week lost an appeal against her 7.5 year prison sentence.

“I won’t give up, even if we don’t believe in the [Russian] legal system. If I don’t appeal it as if I’m admitting guilt,” Yaffa Issachar quotes her daughter saying in comments to Channel 12 news.

Yaffa Issachar met with her daughter at the Russian prison where she is being held earlier today.

Besides seeking an appeal with a higher-level court, Issachar’s family is also considering turning to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, according to the network, which could bring more international attention to the case.

US-Israeli backpacker Naama Issachar, center, sits inside a glass cage during appeal hearings in a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, December 19, 2019. (Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr./AP)

Iran’s top chess player ‘wants to change his nationality’ over ban on facing Israelis

Iran’s top ranking chess player is reportedly seeking to renounce his citizenship to get around the country’s policy of not competing against Israeli athletes.

Mehrdad Pahlavanzadeh, the president of Iran’s Chess Federation, tells the Tasnim news agency that Alireza Firouzja wanted to participate in an upcoming tournament in Russia that Tehran has decided not to take part in.

“Firouzja has made his decision and has told us that he wants to change his nationality,” Pahlavanzadeh is quoted saying by Reuters.

“Firouzja is currently living in France … and may want to play under the French or US flag,” the chess federation head adds.

Firouzja, 16, is No. 2 in the International Chess Federation’s rankings of junior players.

Iran does not recognize Israel and its sport teams have long avoided competing against Israeli athletes.

Saeid Mollaei, an Iranian judoka, announced in September he would no longer compete for Iran after being forced to throw a match to avoid facing an Israeli rival.

Mollaei has since received asylum in Germany and the International Judo Federation has indefinitely banned Iran from competing over its refusal to face Israelis.

PA official: 317 Gazan Christians so far given approval to visit Jerusalem, West Bank

317 Christian Palestinians from the Gaza Strip have thus far received permits to go to Jerusalem and the West Bank during Christmas, Saleh al-Ziq, a senior Gaza-based official in the PA Civil Affairs Commission, tells The Times of Israel.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, a Defense Ministry body responsible for liaising with the Palestinians, said on Sunday that Israel would grant permits to Christian Palestinians from Gaza to visit Jerusalem and the West Bank during the holiday “in accordance with security assessments.”

COGAT’s announcement came some 10 days after its spokeswoman told Reuters that Christian Palestinians from the coastal enclave would not be permitted to go to Jerusalem and the West Bank for the holiday.

The COGAT spokeswoman’s initial statement to the news agency was blasted by Christian Palestinian leaders, as well as by Gisha, an Israeli human rights group that monitors the movement of people into and out of Gaza.

Ziq says that 183 other Christian Palestinians from Gaza would receive permits to visit Jerusalem and the West Bank tomorrow.

— Adam Rasgon

Jewish Home central committee to vote on electoral pact with Otzma Yehudit

Jewish Home says an agreement to run on a joint slate with the far-right Otzma Yehudit party in the March 2 Knesset elections will be brought before its top internal decision-making body.

Education Minister Rafi Peretz, the head of Jewish Home, met today with deputy mayors belonging to the party.

“It was agreed that the agreement with Otzma will be brought for the central committee’s approval, as well as that there is a need for female representation in the first five [slots] on the united list,” a spokesperson for Peretz says in a statement.

The agreement with Jewish Home has been opposed by some party members, but is expected to win the approval of the central committee.

Jewish Home’s decision last week to team up with Otzma Yehudit, whose leaders include disciples of the late extremist rabbi, Meir Kahane, for the elections was met with widespread condemnations from center-left politicians.

Jewish Home leader Rafi Peretz, right, with Itamar Ben Gvir, left, of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party on December 20, 2019. (Courtesy)

Coming off the fence, Erdan backs Netanyahu in Likud leadership race

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan announces he will back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against MK Gideon Sa’ar in this Thursday’s Likud party leadership race.

“As a member of the security cabinet, I am very familiar with the tremendous challenges we face… and therefore, after taking into account all the considerations, I’ve arrived at the conclusion Prime Minister Netanyahu is the most fitting person to continue to lead Likud,” Erdan says in a video statement.

While backing Netanyahu, Erdan welcomes Sa’ar’s challenge, saying it “maintains the democracy” in the party.

“Unlike other voices that have been heard, I’m convinced it strengthens Likud,” Erdan says of Sa’ar’s candidacy. “Our true competition is on March 2, against the left, and we must come to it united for a Likud victory.”

Along with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Erdan had been one of the last remaining Likud lawmakers to refrain from weighing in on the race.

Netanyahu vows to secure US recognition of sovereignty over settlements

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is promising to secure American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over all West Bank settlements if he wins the March 2 elections for the Knesset.

In a campaign video, Netanyahu calls on his “brothers and sisters in Judea and Samaria” to back up in Thursday’s Likud leadership primaries, claiming no previous prime minister has “stood up to the pressures” he has for Israel to pull out of the West Bank.

“They want us to withdraw, that I uproot [settlements], and I said to them: ‘No.’ This is our land,” he says.

“Now we’re moving to a new stage,” Netanyahu continues. “Just as I brought the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the American recognition of our sovereignty in the Golan [Heights] and the American declaration that settlements don’t contravene international law… we’re going to something more. We’re going to bring American recognition of our sovereignty in Jordan Valley and, pay attention, in all settlements, those in the blocs and those beyond them.”

“Only I will bring this,” he concludes.

Netanyahu has repeatedly promised to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and Israeli settlements if he forms the next government, something he was unable to do after two inconclusive rounds of elections in April and September.

The vow to secure US backing for such moves comes days after the top prosecutor at the International Criminal Court announced there were grounds to move forward with an investigation of alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories and among other things noted Netanyahu’s stated plans to annex the Jordan Valley.

Bennett says New Right will push for religious services ministry after elections

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett is promising his New Right party will push for the Ministry of Religious Service following upcoming general elections.

“We’ll return the religious services portfolio to religious Zionism,” Bennett tweets.

“Our tradition and heritage needs to become the glue of unity, not a battleground,” he adds. “Approachable Judaism needs to be returned: On kashrut, on marriage, on conversion — on everything.”

Bennett was religious services minister from 2013-2015, when he headed the national religious Jewish Home party, but since then the ministry has been held by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

Issues of religion and state figured prominently in the campaign for September’s elections, in which the right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu party emerged as kingmaker between the blocs after calling for a national unity government that did not include religious parties.

New Right has advertised itself as a partnership between religious and secular right-wing voters and as having a more liberal stance on religion than other national religious factions.

Lawyer: Man tied to Jersey City kosher market shooters deserves bail

NEWARK, New Jersey — The new attorney for a pawn shop operator whose number was found in the pocket of one of two attackers who killed four people in Jersey City says his client deserves to be freed on bail on a weapons charge.

Ahmed A-Hady has been jailed since his arrest several days after the December 10 shootings. He is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, stemming from a 2012 drug conviction. He has not been charged with providing weapons to the Jersey City shooters.

Attorney Robert Stahl, who took over the representation of A-Hady last week, tells The Associated Press that he will continue the effort to have his client released on bail. He says the note is the only connection between his client and shooters David Anderson and Francine Graham, both of whom died in a shootout with police.

“It’s as if he had the number of a sporting goods store in his pocket, or a hardware store,” Stahl says. “You would certainly go check it out, but it doesn’t mean there’s some tie. I think people have been trying to show some connection that just isn’t there.”

Authorities have not said publicly if they know why the number was in Anderson’s pocket.

Anderson and Graham killed Jersey City Police Det. Joseph Seals before driving a van to a kosher market and killing three people inside. Authorities have said they acted out of a hatred for Jews and law enforcement.

— AP

In Christmas Day message, pope says many in Israel ‘awaiting a time of peace’

Pope Francis offers a Christmas message of hope Wednesday against darkness that cloaks conflicts and relationships in large parts of the world, from Israel and the Middle East to the Americas to Africa.

The pope tells tens of thousands of tourists, pilgrims, and Romans gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the annual Christmas Day message that “the light of Christ is greater” than the darkness “in human hearts” and “in economic, geopolitical and ecological conflicts.”

Pope Francis looks at the crowd after he delivered the Urbi et Orbi (Latin for ‘to the city and to the world’ ) Christmas Day blessing from the main balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, December 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

The traditional “Urbi et Orbi’’ (“to the city and to the world’’) Christmas message has become an occasion for popes to address suffering in the world and press for solutions. Francis was flanked by Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, president of the papal council for migrants, and Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the pope’s official almsgiver.

The pope cites the Syrian people “who still see no end to the hostilities that have rent their country over the last decade,” as well as Israel, where Jesus “was born as the savior of mankind and where so many people — struggling but not discouraged — still await a time of peace, security, and prosperity.”

Francis also calls for an easing of the crisis in Lebanon, social tensions in Iraq and “a grave humanitarian crisis” in Yemen.

— AP

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