The Times of Israel is liveblogging Thursday’s events as they unfold.
Putin: Deal reached on Syria truce; Russia and Turkey guarantors
Russian President Vladimir Putin says an agreement has been reached on a nationwide ceasefire in Syria, which will begin at midnight tonight, with Russia and Turkey acting as guarantors.
The ceasefire will be followed by renewed peace negotiations to end the nearly six-year conflict.
Putin also orders the Russian military to scale down its presence in Syria, but does not say how many troops and weapons will be withdrawn.
He says Russia will continue “fighting international terrorism in Syria” and supporting Assad’s military.
Syrian military, rebels agree to nationwide truce from midnight
The Syria military and opposition National Coalition agree to a nationwide ceasefire brokered by Turkey and Russia that will take effect from midnight.
“The National Coalition expresses support for the agreement and urges all parties to abide by it,” says spokesman Ahmed Ramadan.
Turkey welcomes Syria ceasefire, says all attacks will stop
Turkey welcomes the Syrian ceasefire set to come into effect at midnight.
The Foreign Ministry says groups regarded as terror organizations by the UN Security Council will be excluded from the ceasefire, an apparent reference to the Islamic State group and the al-Qaeda-linked Fateh al-Sham Front.
It says the government and the opposition have agreed to halt attacks, including aerial attacks, and not to expand territories under their control in a way that would be detrimental to each other.
Turkey and Russia will closely follow the situation on the ground to ensure the ceasefire holds. The statement calls on all sides wielding influence on the warring parties to provide the necessary support to halt hostilities.
US clothing chain GAP to close its Israel stores
American clothing chain GAP is closing its seven stores in Israel due to poor sales, the Hebrew-language media reports.
Israeli company Gottex, which owns the GAP trademark in the country, says it will try to absorb workers from the stores “in other areas of the corporation.”
There are GAP stores in locations across Israel, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Herzliya and Beit Shemesh.
Galant: Israel won’t annex territories during Trump presidency
Housing Minister Yoav Galant (Kulanu) says he does not believe Israel will annex territories during the Trump presidency as advocated by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who leads the pro-settler Jewish Home party.
“I do not think it will come to that,” Galant says, according to Army Radio. “I think that there are [also] other issues about which we should take a more moderate outlook.”
Netanyahu: Ties with US strong despite disagreements
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the relationship between Israel and the US is strong, despite differences of opinion on certain issues.
“I am grateful to the American people, to Congress and to the American government for defense aid to Israel, including the two F-35s we received,” he says at an IAF pilots’ graduation ceremony at Hatzerim air base, Walla reports.
“The alliance between our countries is strong, even when there are disagreements between us. I look forward to working with the new administration to further strengthen the security of the two nations,” Netanyahu says, a day after he lambasted US Secretary of State John Kerry for what the prime minister said was a “skewed” speech on the Middle East peace process.
Russia arrests 7 suspects over IS terror plots
Russia’s security agencies arrest seven people suspected of preparing New Year’s terror attacks in Moscow on orders from the Islamic State group in Syria.
Russia’s main domestic security and counter-terrorism agency, the FSB, says its agents arrested the suspects in the North Caucasus province of Dagestan. The FSB says the suspects were preparing attacks with automatic weapons and explosives in crowded places.
Islamist insurgents in Dagestan have mounted frequent attacks on police and officials, and some have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State group.
Russia has waged an air campaign in Syria since September 2015 in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad. President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials have said that thousands of citizens of Russia and other ex-Soviet nations have joined the Islamic State in Syria.
Norway public broadcaster apologizes for Holocaust spoof
Norway’s public broadcaster apologizes for referencing Nazi death camps and the Jewish genocide in a satirical cartoon about the financial situation of university students.
“This cartoon should not have spoofed the Nazi genocide, and we’re sorry this reference obstructed what the sketch is really about,” a spokesperson for the NRK broadcaster writes on Facebook following complaints about the video, which today remains accessible on NRK’s online satirical section.
The video shows three young characters who are taken by an older character on a tour of what appears to be a Nazi concentration camp similar to Auschwitz. When the group reaches an oven full of ashes and the remains of a human ribcage, one of the students enthusiastically inquires whether the oven is for making pizzas.
“The animated video is about the student economy, which often has students in desperate situations,” NRK writes. “To make this point, we used visual references to a concentration camp.”
One person lightly hurt in stabbing during Jerusalem brawl
One person is lightly injured in a stabbing in the Old City of Jerusalem that police say was the outcome of a brawl.
A police spokesperson says officers are at the scene and initial findings show that the attack was criminally motivated.
The police say the incident occurred when two Arab youths got into a fight at a shop just inside the New Gate entrance to the Old City.
One of the two then approached police stationed in IDF Square, just outside the Old City, saying he had been stabbed.
The injured man is receiving treatment in hospital.
— Ilan Ben Zion
PM: Israel is anchor of stability in war-torn Middle East
The PM tells graduating IAF pilots at Hatzerim air base that Israel is a bastion of stability in the Middle East, where far more devastating wars than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are taking place.
“An aerial view clearly shows the extent of the destruction of nations and cities, the mass slaughter of innocent people,” Netanyahu says in a likely reference to Syria, Ynet reports.
“With all due respect to those who talk about the heart of the conflict in the Middle East, this [Syria] is the greatest and most genuine catastrophe affecting the region — not our conflict with the Palestinians, which is relatively marginal. Several months of fighting in Syria, Yemen and Sudan have killed more people than a hundred years of conflict here.”
He adds: “Israel is an anchor of stability and security in the region, it is a force preventing a further avalanche, and many in the world — and of course in the United States — understand this.”
1 dead, 4 hurt in Dead Sea car crash
A man dies and four other people are injured in collision between two cars on Route 90, close to the Einot Tsukim nature reserve on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea.
A woman in her 40s suffers serious injuries and is airlifted to a hospital in Jerusalem, Israel Radio reports. The three other victims are taken to Hadassah Medical Center, Mount Scopus.
The road is closed to traffic, the radio says.
MKs urge PM to nix Shas bill, create egalitarian prayer space at Western Wall
Thirty coalition and opposition MKs call on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sideline a new bill from Shas that would ban mixed-gender prayer at the Western Wall, and implement the plan for egalitarian worship at the Jewish holy site.
According to Ynet, the MKs say that the proposed legislation from the ultra-Orthodox party “divides the Jewish people and perpetuates discrimination against the Reform and Conservative streams, right in the land of Israel.”
“The government must honor its decisions,” says Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai, the driving force behind the call and the chair of the Knesset Lobby for Strengthening the Jewish World. “Israel is gnawing away on its own strategic and vital connection to American Jewry, leaving millions of Jews hurt and disappointed.”
Liberman demands police probe into threats against Haredi soldiers
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman urges Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to order a speedy police investigation into threats against ultra-Orthodox soldiers serving in the IDF, Israel National News reports.
The threats came in the form of a series of images of ultra-Orthodox Jews who serve in the army, with the words “Cast out and ostracize.”
Liberman also calls on Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to instruct ministry officials to lay the groundwork for tighter penalties on those who incite against Haredi soldiers.
Scarlett Johansson named world’s biggest box office draw
Scarlett Johansson is named the top grossing movie star of 2016 by Forbes magazine, after appearing in films that amassed $1.2 billion in global ticket sales.
The Tony Award-winning American actress stars in the Marvel blockbuster “Captain America: Civil War” the year’s biggest box office hit, which made $1.15 billion worldwide.
Johansson, 32, edges ahead of co-stars Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr — who tied for second place — because she also appears in the Coen brothers’ “Hail, Caesar!” which raked in $63.2 million.
It has been a lucrative year for Johansson, a perennial A-list darling who was named the world’s third highest paid actress by Forbes in August, with annual earnings of $25 million.
Britain’s Felicity Jones appeared on the box office list for the first time, making ninth place with total takings for her films at $805 million.
With roles in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” mystery thriller “Inferno” and children’s fantasy “A Monster Calls,” she was the only star in the top 10 not to rely heavily on movies based on comics.
Qatar backs Kerry principles for Israeli-Palestinian peace
Qatar says it embraces the framework for Middle East peace outlined yesterday in a speech by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
In a statement, the Sunni Gulf state says it “welcomed the proposals” put forward by Kerry “regarding a permanent settlement for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”
The country’s Foreign Ministry says Kerry’s proposals “go in line with the majority of international legitimacy’s resolutions as well as the Arab Peace Initiative, stressing Qatar’s support for efforts aiming at reviving the peace process in the Middle East.”
The acceptance of Kerry’s proposal appears to be a tacit nod to the Israeli government’s core demand the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Citing the 1947 UN partition plan, Kerry endorsed Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize the principle of two states for two peoples — “one Jewish and one Arab, with mutual recognition and full equal rights for all their respective citizens.”
“Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state has been the US position for years, and based on my conversations in these last months, I am absolutely convinced that many others are now prepared to accept it as well – provided the need for a Palestinian state is also addressed,” Kerry said.
— Raphael Ahren
HRW: UN settlements vote boosts FIFA pressure on Israel
A UN resolution condemning settlements raises pressure on FIFA to take action against Israeli soccer clubs based in the West Bank, Human Rights Watch says.
Six soccer clubs are based in settlements in the West Bank but play in the Israeli leagues, in what rights groups argue is a violation of international law.
“The UN resolution makes it much more difficult for FIFA to pretend that allowing Israel to hold games in the settlements is neutral or acceptable,” says Sari Bashi, HRW’s Israel advocacy director.
“The resolution clearly says that the settlements have no validity,” she added, saying that this means states and bodies like FIFA “should distinguish between Israel and the occupied territory.”
FIFA had been due to rule on the future of the six clubs in October but instead delayed its decision until the next meeting, due to take place January 9-10.
Both the Israeli and Palestinian football associations are members of FIFA and the body’s governing rules prevent matches being played on another association’s territory without permission.
Russian embassy in Syria hit by mortar fire
Russia’s foreign ministry says a mortar round has exploded inside the Russian embassy compound in the Syrian capital Damascus.
Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova says in a statement that the mortar fired from a rebel-controlled suburb of Damascus fell near the entrance of the embassy’s consulate department. The ministry reports “insignificant material damage” and no injuries.
This is the second mortar attack on the Russian embassy in as many days. The foreign ministry said yesterday that a mortar round landed in the embassy courtyard without exploding, and another fell in the vicinity.
Wiesenthal Center’s Hier to deliver prayer at Trump inauguration
Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, will offer a prayer at President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Hier reportedly will offer readings, recite an original prayer and give Trump and his vice president Mike Pence each a benediction at the Jan. 20 ceremony.
“Since the first inaugural ceremony, our leaders have paid tribute to the blessings of liberty that have been bestowed upon our country and its people,” says Tom Barrack, the chairman of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, in a statement announcing the six faith leaders who will participate in the inauguration.
“I am pleased to announce that a diverse set of faith leaders will offer readings and prayers at the swearing-in of President-elect Trump and honor the vital role religious faith plays in our multicultural, vibrant nation.”
Hier tells the Los Angeles television station KPCC that the Inaugural Committee contacted him about his participation and that he said “it would be my honor to do so.” He says his prayer will have a “21st century ring to it.”
EU stands by 2-state solution to conflict
The European Union joins the Obama administration in defending the two-state solution as the best way to achieve lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
A spokeswoman for the 28-nation bloc reiterates EU support for the two-state solution, the day after Secretary of State John Kerry warned that settlement construction was endangering it.
EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic says Kerry’s remarks “all send one key message: The international community does not give up on peace in the Middle East.”
She adds: “The only way to end the conflict is through a two-state solution negotiated between the parties.”
US: Syria ceasefire deal is ‘positive development’
The United States calls a nationwide ceasefire deal in Syria brokered by Russia and Turkey a “positive development,” saying it hoped it would lead to fresh talks on the war-wracked country’s political future.
“We hope it will be implemented fully and respected by all parties,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner says in a statement, emphasizing that Washington is not part of the ceasefire negotiations.
“Any effort that stops the violence, saves lives, and creates the conditions for renewed and productive political negotiations would be welcome,” he says.
Assad regime: Truce ‘real opportunity’ to end war
Syria’s foreign minister says the ceasefire soon to take effect across the country is a “real opportunity” for a political solution to the nearly six-year war.
“There is a real opportunity for a political solution to the crisis to bring an end to the bloodshed,” Walid Moallem tells state television.
The ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey is due to begin at midnight (2200 GMT).
Report: PM suspected of massive corruption, involving Israeli, foreign businessmen
Netanyahu is the central and prime suspect in a police investigation into massive corruption, Channel 2 reports.
According to the television, the prime minister is suspected of accepting large scale “favors” from businesspeople in Israel and abroad.
The breakthrough in the case came three weeks ago, the report says.
Shapiro: US decision not to veto resolution was not revenge
US envoy Dan Shapiro tells Israel’s Channel 10 television that the US was not behind the UN resolution condemning settlements that passed on Friday, saying the decision not to veto the resolution did not stem from any hostility towards the Israeli government.
“We understand why it hurts Israelis to hear such harsh things. The timing [of the vote] came from other countries, and was not revenge,” says Shapiro in Hebrew, when asked why Obama chose now to make a stance on Israeli-Palestinian peace, with just weeks left of his presidency. Obama and Netanyahu have had a notoriously strained relationship over the past eight years.
Shapiro also dismisses an Egyptian report of a secret meeting between American and Palestinian officials in which they planned the text of the resolution.
“I heard there is evidence that the US was behind the decision and I don’t believe it,” he says. “The document published by the Egyptian newspaper does not prove anything; the meeting between the US and the Palestinians described in the documents did not take place. We did not make the decision not to veto [the resolution] until we got the final text of the draft resolution in the Security Council,” he says.
Argentina to reopen probe into coverup in AMIA bombing
An Argentine court orders a renewed investigation into a prosecutor’s accusation that former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner covered up the alleged involvement of Iranians in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.
In its ruling, the country’s top criminal tribunal accepts a request by a delegation of Argentine Jewish associations to re-examine the charge prosecutor Alberto Nisman made on Jan. 14, 2015, against Kirchner, her Jewish foreign minister Hector Timerman and other officials in her government. Nisman was found dead with a gunshot to the head four days later. Authorities never determined if he was killed or took his own life.
Iran rejected any connection with the attack and refused to turn over the suspects in the case. Kirchner, who was president from 2007-2015, also denied wrongdoing in the case.
Santiago Kaplun, secretary general of the delegation of Jewish organizations, welcomes the court ruling, telling the Todo Noticias cable television channel that “we are very hopeful.”
US expelling Russian intel operatives in response to hacking
The US says it is expelling 35 Russian intelligence operatives and shuttering two Russian compounds in response to Moscow’s efforts to hack American political institutions.
According to the New York Times, the US will also slap sanctions on Russia’s two top intelligence services, as well as “four top officers of the military intelligence unit the White House believes ordered the attacks on the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations.”
Obama: All Americans should be alarmed by Russian hacking
Announcing America’s retaliation for the Russian hacking during US election, President Barack Obama says “all Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions.”
He says more measures against Moscow are coming, some of which are “not publicized.”