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Netanyahu taken offstage at Ashkelon campaign event as rocket is fired from Gaza

Projectile intercepted by Iron Dome, in second incident in recent months in which Palestinian terrorists disrupt election event by PM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taken offstage during a Likud primary campaign event in Ashkelon as rocket alerts sound, December 25, 2019. (Screenshot: Twitter)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taken offstage during a Likud primary campaign event in Ashkelon as rocket alerts sound, December 25, 2019. (Screenshot: Twitter)

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

Security cabinet to convene Sunday to discuss ICC probe against Israel

The high-level security cabinet will convene Sunday for the first time since last month’s two-day military flareup in Gaza and Naftali Bennett’s appointment as defense minister.

The cabinet will discuss the International Criminal Court’s decision to open a war crimes probe against Israel regarding the 2014 Gaza war.

Iranian warplane crashes near dormant volcano

An Iranian military fighter jet has crashed near a dormant volcano in the northwest of the country and its pilot was missing, official media reports.

State news agency IRNA says the jet went down at 9:00 a.m. (local time) near Mount Sabalan, in the Lesser Caucasus range, and that it was a MiG-29 on a test flight after being overhauled.

Amateur video footage published on the social media accounts of various media outlets in Iran appear to show smoke rising above snow-capped peaks.

Fars news agency says the plane was found, but there was no trace of its pilot and that he could have ejected from the aircraft.

A search and rescue operation is underway for the pilot, who the army identified as Colonel Mohammadreza Rahmani, one of its most experienced fliers.

“Following the crash of a military plane in Ardabil (province), helicopter and rescue groups have been sent to the region,” Iran’s Red Crescent says in a statement on its website.

The official website of the army says search and rescue efforts were hampered by bad weather, with snow making areas impassable.

Iran’s third highest peak, Mount Sabalan, features a crater that turns into a lake at certain times of the year.


Jewish man arrested for entering Jerusalem church with knife during Christmas Mass

A young Jewish man was arrested earlier today inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City with a knife, Channel 13 reports.

Jerusalem Police arrested the man who entered the holy Christian site during Christmas Mass carrying a large kitchen knife, the report says, adding that the incident caused panic inside the church.

He was remanded for one day. There were no casualties in the incident.

It is not immediately clear whether the man had brandished the knife or planned an attack on worshipers.

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

Man stabbed, critically injured in Jerusalem; circumstances unclear

A 50-year-old Israeli man is stabbed and critically wounded in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa.

Magen David Adom paramedics take the unconscious man to the hospital after giving him initial treatment at the scene.

The motive for the attack is not immediately clear and the circumstances are being investigated. Channel 12 says an initial investigation indicates the man was having his home renovated by Arabs, but that several angles are being examined.

Iran shuts down internet in some provinces ahead of expected protests — report

Iran says the internet is down in several provinces after authorities have taken action ahead of a fresh round of anti-government protests planned for tomorrow, the semi-official news agency ILNA reports, according to Reuters.

The report quotes an informed source at the Communications and Information Technology Ministry as saying the shutdown in the Alborz, Kurdestan and Zanjan provinces in central and western Iran and in Fars in the south, was ordered by “security authorities.”

The shutdown could also affect other areas, the report says.

Tehran blocked internet in the country for about a week last month, as authorities carried out a violent and deadly crackdown on demonstrators protesting fuel price hikes.

Bennett says ICC ‘encourages terror,’ is ‘breeding ground for anti-Semitism’

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett lambastes the Hague-based International Criminal Court for opening a probe on alleged Israeli war crimes, calling it a “breeding ground for modern anti-Semitism.”

Speaking at a ceremony ending an Israel Defense Forces military pilot course, Bennett says: “When you take off for a mission to surgically hit our enemies, you deal with immense pressure. A new aspect has been added in recent days to that pressure — the ICC in The Hague. That cannot hold you back.

You defend us, we will defend you. No soldier or commander will be deterred from protecting the lives of his people and family because of the hypocritical court in The Hague.

“Any attempt to please or appease this body will not succeed. The Hague is a breeding ground for modern anti-Semitism. It encourages terror. Now that it is clear, we must treat it as such. We will fight terror as if there is no Hague, and fight The Hague as if there is no terror.”

Gantz calls Sa’ar’s proposal to make Netanyahu president ‘moral bankruptcy’

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz denounces as “moral bankruptcy” Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar’s proposal to appoint Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as president if Sa’ar wins tomorrow’s party primary.

Netanyahu faces corruption charges in three cases, including bribery in one of them. He denies wrongdoing. A serving president cannot be indicted.

“This moral rottenness must be replaced,” Gantz says at a faction meeting in the Knesset. “Likud can definitely not lead the State of Israel at this time.

“As to whether someone facing charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust can accept a mandate to form a government, the answer is clear: no,” he adds. “Neither in moral terms nor regarding practical implications. We will leave the legal considerations to the attorney general and the courts and respect their ruling regardless of their decision.”

Seven killed in Nigeria jihadist attack on Christmas Eve

Boko Haram jihadists have killed seven people on Christmas Eve in a raid on a Christian village near the town of Chibok in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state, local militia and residents tell AFP.

Dozens of fighters driving trucks and motorcycles stormed into Kwarangulum yesterday night, shooting fleeing residents and burning homes after looting food supplies.

Boko Haram and its IS-affiliated Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) faction have recently stepped up attacks on military and civilian targets.

“They killed seven people and abducted a teenage girl in the attack,” local vigilante David Bitrus says.

“They took away food stuff and burnt many houses before leaving,” he says, adding that a church was also burnt.

The jihadists are believed to have attacked from Boko Haram’s nearby Sambisa forest enclave, says Chibok community leader Ayuba Alamson who confirms the toll.


Man stabbed in Jerusalem dies of his injuries; police arrest suspect

The man who was stabbed in Jerusalem’s Har Homa neighborhood has died, Hebrew-language media reports.

Police have arrested a suspect, a man who lives near the neighborhood, the reports say.

The circumstances of the suspected murder are still unclear.

Netanyahu: Putin said that without me as PM, Israel and Russia would be at war

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a rare media interview ahead of tomorrow’s Likud leadership primary, in which he faces a challenge from Gideon Sa’ar, but uses much of it to push his own talking points and repeat his past remarks rather than answering the questions he is asked.

In pushing his message that Israel’s achievements in recent years are all thanks to him personally, the premier claims in an Army Radio interview that Russian President Vladimir Putin told him that had he, Netanyahu, not been prime minister — Israel would have been in a war with Russia. “Only because we meet every few months has this been avoided,” he alleges.

He brands as “absurd” the Russian court ruling to jail Israeli-American Naama Issachar for 7.5 years for carrying several grams of cannabis while in transit at Moscow’s airport, expressing hope Putin will grant her parole.

Netanyahu evades questions such as whether he will ask the Knesset to grant him immunity from prosecution in three corruption cases, and whether he will continue chairing the Likud party even if the High Court of Justice rules that he cannot form a government due to the criminal charges against him.

Man stabbed to death in Jerusalem named as court guard senior officer Amos Sa’ar

The man who was stabbed to death in Jerusalem is identified as Amos Sa’ar, the chief security officer in the Jerusalem district of the body in charge of securing Israeli courts.

The circumstances of his suspected murder in a staircase in the capital’s Har Homa neighborhood are still unclear.

Israelis detained for hours at Ukraine airport, will be deported

Seven Israelis have been detained for more than four hours at Ukraine’s international airport, Channel 12 reports, and are being deported back to Israel amid a tiff between Jerusalem and Kyiv.

The Israelis, who include journalist Shai Golden and singer Elkana Marciano, are waiting for a flight back to Israel, which they will be able to board only if there are empty seats left.

Avichai Shahaf, one of those detained, is quoted as saying that the Ukrainian officials have expressly admitted the detention is political.

“The Ukrainians told us Israel is returning their people so they decided to return us,” he says, adding that the matter is being dealt with by the Israeli embassy and the foreign minister.

Shira Ronen, the wife of one of the detainees, is quoted as saying the men came for a quick visit to the city of Uman, a pilgrimage site for many Hasidic Jews where a prominent rabbi is buried.

“They are waiting at the airport and not doing anything. They put a policeman next to them and they aren’t allowed to go anywhere. I understood they tried to find out what happened and weren’t given any answers,” she says.

Similar incidents have happened several times in Ukraine over the past year. In recent weeks authorities in neighboring Russia also detained several groups of Israelis without giving a reason.

Labor passes contentious motion letting Peretz reserve 2 candidates of his choice

The Labor Party Central Committee approves a motion to let chairman Amir Peretz reserve spots for two new candidates of his choice in the party’s top 10 in its slate for the upcoming election, a spokesman for Peretz says in a statement.

Labor MKs Itzik Shmuli (L) and Amir Peretz at the party’s headquarters in Tel Aviv on February 13, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The move was bitterly opposed by Labor’s No. 2 Itzik Shmuli, who is expected to be bumped down the list of candidates and boycotted the discussion in protest.

The committee also decides to continue the partnership with Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher party and to forego a primary vote for the party’s slate.

1.5-year-old girl dies of flu complications in 2nd such death in 2 days

A 1.5-year-old girl dies of complications of the flu at Kaplan hospital in Rehovot, in the second death related to the disease in as many days.

Israel has been hit with a lethal bout of flu which has already killed 10 people during the 2019-2020 season.

Yesterday, a 19-year-old died in Shaareh Zedek Medial Center in Jerusalem due to flu complications.

Hebrew-language media reports also said a 14-year-old girl and man in his 50s recently died of complications from the disease.

2nd suspect arrested in murder of man in Jerusalem

Police arrest a second suspect in the murder of court guard senior officer Amos Sa’ar in Jerusalem’s Har Homa neighborhood earlier today.

The 50-year-old man is suspected of aiding the main suspect, a 30-year-old man.

While the circumstances of the incident aren’t yet clear, multiple Hebrew-language news outlets has reported that investigators are estimating it could have been a neighbors dispute.

Stav Shaffir announces she’s running in elections as head of new Green Party

Democratic Camp MK Stav Shaffir announces she will be running in the upcoming Knesset election as the head of a new party, further dividing the center-left.

Shaffir defected from the Labor Party ahead of the September elections and — as leader of the dormant Green Party — joined Meretz and Ehud Barak’s Israel Democracy party to create Democratic Camp.

At a party event, Shaffir says: “The Green Party will be a brave force that doesn’t deal with shady business or act out of ego. In the last elections we prevented Meretz’s suicide, but unfortunately they are making it hard to succeed in doing so again this time around.”

Stav Shaffir speaks during a press conference announcing the Democratic Camp in Tel Aviv on July 25, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Incoming rocket sirens sound in Gaza-adjacent communities

Incoming rocket sirens sound in various Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip, including the city of Ashkelon.

There are no immediate reports of an impact.

Rocket sirens sound in Ashkelon during Netanyahu campaign event there

The rocket alarms in Ashkelon and Gaza-adjacent communities sound while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the area for a campaign event ahead of the Likud primary vote tomorrow.

Hebrew-language media says several Iron Dome missiles were launched, although it isn’t yet clear whether there were actual rockets fired from Gaza.

One rocket fired at Israel, intercepted by Iron Dome — IDF

The IDF says one rocket was fired at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip this evening.

The projectile was shot down by the Iron Dome air defense system, the military says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Gaza groups announce border protests will take place less frequently in 2020

The committee responsible for organizing weekly protests in the border region between Israel and the Gaza Strip announces that demonstrations will take place less frequently in 2020.

The High Commission for the March of Return and Breaking the Siege, which includes representatives of Gaza-based terror groups and political factions, says in a statement that protests would occur on “a monthly basis as well as whenever we need masses to gather and during prominent national occasions,” starting on March 30, 2020.

“We, in the High Commission for the March of Return and Breaking the Siege, are making this decision and embodying national responsibility,” the statement says. “Through this [decision], we are affirming the bold and responsible leadership role of the commission.”

— Adam Rasgon

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