The Times of Israel liveblogged events on Tuesday as they unfolded.

EU says West Bank annexation cannot go unchallenged

The European Union says it will not accept Israeli attempts to annex parts of the West Bank, after Jerusalem indicated it could do so as part of the US Mideast peace plan.

“Steps towards annexation, if implemented, could not pass unchallenged,” a spokesperson for EU foreign policy czar Josep Borrell says in a statement.

“The European Union calls on both sides to re-engage and to refrain from any unilateral actions contrary to international law that could exacerbate tensions,” the statement says.

It does not say how the body might challenge the annexation. The EU in the past has threatened to begin labeling settlement produce and other sanctions, drawing accusations of anti-Semitism from Jerusalem.

Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu said he would push ahead with plans to annex the Jordan Valley and settlements scattered throughout the West Bank as early as this week, after the plan was rolled out last week.

However, the US swiftly pressured Netanyahu to backtrack, saying it did not support the move before March 2 elections

The EU also expresses reservations about the plan, which it says “departs … from internationally agreed upon parameters.”

“The European Union will continue to support all efforts aimed at reviving a political process in line with international law, which ensures equal rights and which is acceptable to both parties.,” the spokesperson says.

Lebanese-American charged with murder for working with Israel-backed SLA

A military investigative judge has charged a Lebanese-American man with murder and torture of Lebanese citizens, crimes he allegedly committed during Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon, judicial officials say. The accusations could carry a death sentence.

In this June 2016 photo provided by Guila Fakhoury, her father Amer Fakhoury holds his granddaughter, Kira, in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. (Guila Fakhoury via AP)

Amer Fakhoury has confessed to working as a senior warden at Khiam Prison, which was run by an Israel-backed Lebanese militia. Fakhoury was detained after returning to his native Lebanon from the US in September.

However, he’s undergoing cancer treatment, and it remains unclear if he’ll be able to stand trial.

The judge, Najat Abu Shakra, referred Fakhoury to a military court where he will be tried, the officials say.

The officials say Abu Shakra charged Fakhoury with “murder and attempted murder of prisoners inside Khiam Prison as well as kidnapping and torture.”

The prison, run by the so-called South Lebanon Army, was abandoned after Israeli forces pulled out of southern Lebanon in 2000, ending an 18-year occupation.

A former inmate of Khiam prison holds a mock gallows during a sit-in near a military court where an arrest warrant was issued for Lebanese-American Amer Fakhoury, who confessed he’d worked for Israel during its occupation of Lebanon for nearly two decades, in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, September 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Human rights groups have said in the past that Khiam Prison was a site of torture and detention without trial. Israel denies the allegations.

— AP

Greece to send some Patriot missiles to Saudi Arabia

Greece will send some of its Patriot defense missiles to Saudi Arabia under a program involving the US, Britain and France, the government spokesman says.

Athens will deploy the missiles at Saudi cost “to protect critical energy infrastructure,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas tells reporters.

“The deployment contributes to energy security, promotes our country as a factor of regional stability and strengthens our ties to Saudi Arabia,” Petsas says, adding that talks on the move began in October.

Dutch military trucks carrying NATO's Patriot Missile Defense System to protect Turkey in case neighboring Syria launches an attack, are being unloaded at Incirnik base, near Adana, Turkey, Thursday, January 24, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Rob van Eerden, Dutch Defense Ministry, HO)
Dutch military trucks — carrying NATO’s Patriot missile defense system to protect Turkey in case neighboring Syria launches an attack — being unloaded at Incirnik base, near Adana, Turkey, Thursday, January 24, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Rob van Eerden, Dutch Defense Ministry, HO)

He does not give a date for the deployment.

The US, Britain and France are part of the same initiative and Italy is likely to join, the spokesman said.


Rockslide onto road near Dead Sea caught on camera

A video published by the Kan broadcaster shows a large rockslide on Route 31 near the Dead Sea.

The desert highway, which runs from Arad to the southern part of the Dead Sea, has been closed off in the area, according to the report.

There are no reports of injuries.

UK tells citizens to leave China over virus

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has urged all British citizens in China to leave because of the outbreak of the new virus.

The Foreign Office said in an updated travel advisory on Tuesday that it advises against “all but essential” travel to mainland China.

Raab said the government now advises British citizens in China “to leave the country if they can, to minimize their risk of exposure to the virus.”

The Foreign Office said it is continuing to work to evacuate British citizens from the epicenter of the virus outbreak, Hubei province.

— AP

Health minister says Israel ready for Wuhan virus outbreak

Health Ministry Yaakov Litzman says “Israel is prepared to deal with the coronavirus,” while touring the ministry’s central lab at Sheba Medical Center outside Tel Aviv.

Israel has not yet had any confirmed cases, but officials believe it is only a matter of time before the outbreak comes ashore.

Yaakov Litzman visiting a Health Ministry lab at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv on February 4, 2020. (Courtesy Health Ministry)

Dr. David Heymann, who led the World Health Organization’s response to the 2002-03 SARS outbreak, says it’s too early to tell when the new coronavirus will peak, but that it appears the disease is still on the increase.

Heyman says the spike in China’s caseload in recent days was partly attributable to the fact that Chinese officials expanded their search to include milder cases, not only people with pneumonia.

Heymann declines to predict whether the virus would ultimately cause a pandemic, or worldwide outbreak. According to WHO, a pandemic requires sustained transmission of a disease in at least two world regions.

— with AP

Katz attacks Mandelblit as Scheherazade at immunity hearing

Likud MK Haim Katz and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit are engaging in a heated battle of words at a Knesset meeting where immunity for Katz from criminal prosecution is being considered.

After Mandelblit tells the panel that the ex-welfare minister’s actions bordered on bribery, which would carry a harsher sentence than the fraud and breach of trust charges he actually plans on filing, Katz explodes in anger.

MK Haim Katz attends a House Committee discussion on his request for immunity, at the Knesset on February 4, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“You’ve built a fairy tale. What’s happening here is One Thousand and One Nights. You haven’t done your homework,” he says, according to the Ynet news site.

Katz also tells committee chair Avi Nissenkorn that Mandelblit “is destroying my health. He’s hurting me. You don’t understand. Over nothing.”

Katz is accused of advancing legislation to help a businessman friend. He has denied wrongdoing.


Africa slow to equip labs for coronavirus, WHO says

World Health Organization officials are reporting slower progress than expected in equipping laboratories across Africa to test for the new virus.

Officials had hoped to have about 20 countries equipped by early this week. They tell reporters that four countries — Nigeria, Ghana, Madagascar and Sierra Leone — are equipped in addition to two referral labs in South Africa and Senegal. Emergency operations manager Dr. Michel Yao says 20 more countries should be ready by the end of the week.

The WHO officials say no confirmed cases of the virus have been reported in Africa. But health security adviser Dr. Ambrose Talisuna said the risk is “very, very high.” Several countries have reported suspected cases, and some are waiting for test results.

— AP

Iowa Democrats say computer bug fixed, caucus results later today

The Iowa Democratic Party says the caucus delay is due to a “coding issue” that has been fixed.

It says precinct level results are still being reported, but it plans to release the results later Tuesday.

— with AP

Israel says EU warning on annexation ‘odd’

Israel’s Foreign Ministry says the European Union’s decision to rejected the US peace plan and warn it would “challenge” any Israeli annexation of the West Bank is “regrettable and odd.”

“The fact that the High Rep of the EU, Josep Borrel (sic), chose to use threatening language towards Israel, so shortly after he assumed office & only hours after his meetings in Iran, is regrettable &, to say the least, odd,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Hayat says.

“Pursuing such policies and conduct is the best way to ensure that the EU’s role in any process will be minimized,” he adds in a statement.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, welcomes European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell in the capital Tehran on February 3, 2020 . (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Borrell, the body’s foreign policy chief, visited Tehran on Monday and held talks aimed at lowering tensions over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

Sudanese PM says he had no idea about Netanyahu meeting

Sudan’s prime minister says he was caught totally off-guard by a meeting between the country’s provisional leader and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Sudanese journalist Wasil Ali.

Abdalla Hamdok makes the comment to a coalition of Sudanese political and rebel leaders, according to the report.

Netanyahu says he held talks in Uganda with  Abdul Fatah Al Burhan on Monday where the two agreed to start normalizing ties.

Burhan has yet to comment on the meeting.

On Monday, a government spokesman said the country’s cabinet also did not know about the meeting and was summoning Burhan for clarifications.

The meeting was also kept under wraps in Israel, where the military censor gagged it until late Monday.

Some in Sudan have protested the move to normalize ties with Israel, though others see it as a necessary step to be taken off of the US terror blacklist.

Sudan cabinet says normalization with Israel not yet on table — report

Sudan’s cabinet has cast doubt on the possibility of quickly normalizing ties with Israel, Reuters reports.

The cabinet met Tuesday, a day after the country’s provisional leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan held a secret meeting in Uganda with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu said the two agreed to start normalizing ties, and an Israeli official said planes to and from Israel were expected to get the okay to fly over Sudan in the coming days.

Prominent activist Amjed Farid says Burhan had no mandate from the people of Sudan to offer Netanyahu a “promise of that” which is not his to give, the Associated Press reports.

Sudan has said in the past that it could normalize ties with Israel after a long-sought Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is forged.

The Sudan Tribune says that the episode has exposed a rift between the military junta headed by Burhan and the civilian government led by Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok.

Hamdok and a government spokesman earlier said they were not informed about the meeting. The government says it is waiting for clarifications from Burhan, who has yet to speak publicly about the rapprochement effort.

EU reportedly blocked from unanimous condemnation of Trump plan, annexation

The Kan broadcaster reports that a sharply worded statement from the EU’s foreign policy chief rejecting the Trump peace plan and threatening to challenge Israel’s annexation plans came after a bid to issue a resolution was torpedoed by two central European countries.

According to the report, it would have also condemned the peace plan and Israel’s annexation plans, but failed to gain the unanimous support of all 27 foreign ministers in the bloc, leading Josep Borrell to issue his own statement Tuesday.

According to the Ynet news site, Hungary and the Czech Republic were among the countries blocking the statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has attempted in recent years to neutralize EU criticism by building a smaller bloc of friendly more conservative countries in eastern and central Europe.

The Times of Israel has not been able to confirm the reports.

NSO spyware firm adviser Kayyem quits after outcry — report

Juliette Kayyem, a former Obama administration official, has stepped down as an adviser to Israeli cyber spyware firm NSO Group, after protests over her role there, the Guardian reports.

Kayyem, who was a top official in the Department of Homeland Security, was one of three high profile figures hired by NSO six months ago help the company, which has been accused of selling its Pegasus program to regimes who use them to track and sometimes torture or kill dissidents, activists and others.

The company denies any wrongdoing and says it only sells its spyware to fight crime and terror.

Kayyam, who is a professor at Harvard, came under fire on Monday when groups protested the university’s decision to have her host an online seminar, forcing it to cancel the session, according to the British news outlet.

Kayyem previously came under fire when she was hired as a columnist by the Washington Post, which had also employed Jamal Khashoggi. Activists claim NSO’s program was used by Saudi Arabia to track Khashoggi before he was killed.

German court says anti-Semitic sculpture can stay on church

A German appeals court has rejected a Jewish man’s bid to force the removal of a 700-year-old anti-Semitic statue from a church where Martin Luther once preached.

The “Judensau,” or “Jew pig,” sculpture on the Town Church in Wittenberg is one of more than 20 such relics from the Middle Ages that still adorn churches across Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

This carving on the facade of Martin Luther’s church in Wittenberg, Germany shows Jews suckling at a sow’s teat. (Toni L. Kamins/JTA)

Placed on the church about four meters (13 feet) above ground level, the sculpture depicts people identifiable as Jews suckling the teats of a sow while a rabbi lifts the animal’s tail. In 1570, after the Protestant Reformation, an inscription referring to an anti-Jewish tract by Luther was added.

Plaintiff Michael Duellmann argued that the sculpture was “a defamation of and insult to the Jewish people” that has “a terrible effect up to this day.”

Duellmann, who has suggested removing the relief from the church and putting it in the nearby Luther House museum, says he will appeal Tuesday’s decision to the Federal Court of Justice and is prepared to take the case outside Germany to the European Court of Human Rights, if necessary.

— AP

WHO chief says window open to stop spread of coronavirus

The dramatic measures taken by China to rein in the deadly coronavirus outbreak have prevented significant spread abroad, providing a “window of opportunity” to halt transmission, the World Health Organization says.

The chance was there because of “the strong measures China is taking at the epicenter… Let’s not miss this window of opportunity,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tells a technical briefing on the virus to the UN agency’s executive board.

He also accused some wealthy countries of being “well behind” in sharing data on new coronavirus cases, calling for more global solidarity to combat the virus.

“Of the 176 cases reported outside China so far, WHO has received complete case report forms for only 38 percent of cases. Some high-income countries are well behind in sharing this vital data with WHO,” Ghebreyesus says.


Israeli diplomats meet with Bolivian leader for first time since ties restored

A high-level diplomatic delegation has visited La Paz for the first time since Israel and Bolivia resumed ties in November.

The delegation met in La Paz with interim Bolivian President Jeanine Anez, who took power after street protests forced out long-time socialist leader Evo Morales in November.

They also met with acting foreign minister Karen Longaric.

The Israeli delegation included Israeli ambassador to Peru Asaf Ichilevich and a representative for Mashav, Israel’s foreign aid arm.

Israeli diplomats meet with members of Peru’s acting government on February 4, 2020. (Israeli Embassy in Peru)

Among the topics discussed was “easing restrictions” for Israeli backpackers who travel to the impoverished country, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said.

Morales cut ties with Israel in 2009 to protest Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, but Anez quickly restored them after declaring herself president.

“Restoring ties with Bolivia will contribute to the strengthening of Israel’s foreign policy and its place in the world,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz says in a statement.

Netanyahu tells rally to vote for him to ensure annexation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells a Likud rally in Beit Shemesh that he is still planning on pushing ahead with the annexation of West Bank lands, but indicates it may only come after elections in March.

“We won’t let this great opportunity slip through our fingers. We brought [the plan] and we are here to make it happen. But to ensure it, to ensure Israel’s borders … I need all the Likud members to vote and bring others to vote,” he says.

He also mocks rival Benny Gantz’s commitment to the Trump peace plan.

Netanyahu promised last week to swiftly bring the annexation of the Jordan Valley and settlements for a vote this week after the rollout of the US peace plan, but seemingly reversed course after the US indicated it would only back such a move after elections.

The Israel Hayom outlet, seen as pro-Netanyahu, reports that sources close to the prime minister say he is still trying to push at least some annexation before the March 2 vote.

Air force reprimands officers, removes base commander over plane floods

The commander of the Israeli Air Force has formally censured three officers over the flooding of a number of underground hangars that caused an estimated NIS 30 million in damage to eight F-16 fighter jets and infrastructure, a senior IAF officer says.

In addition, the commander of the base — who for security reasons can only be referred to by his rank and first Hebrew initial, Col. ‘Ayin’ — decided to leave his position early. He will, however, continue his career in the military and is set to become a defense attaché in an Israeli embassy abroad.

Chief of staff of the air force Brig. Gen. Nir Barkan says the interim findings of the military’s investigation into the incident show that the officers on the base failed to take the steps necessary to prevent the flooding, despite there having been clear warning of inclement weather.

“The proper and professional operation of the base’s drainage system, which was recently upgraded, would have minimized the damage significantly,” Barkan tells reporters.

The commander of the affected F-16 squadron, the maintenance squadron commander and the aviation squadron commander all received official rebuke. IAF chief Amikam Norkin did not call for any other censures at this time, though Barkan notes that the investigation is ongoing.

The air force’s probe also admits that it was wrong to initially censor the snafu.

“The mistake arose from incorrect professional, security consideration,” Barkan says.

According to Barkan, five of the planes damaged in the flooding have already returned to service. The other three are still being repaired and should return to their squadron in approximately two months.

— JUdah Ari Gross

Iran calls Abbas to chat about rejecting Trump plan

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and told him Iran rejects the US plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the official PA news site Wafa reports.

— Adam Rasgon

Haim Katz granted immunity by Knesset panel

Knesset lawmakers have voted to grant immunity to Likud MK Haim Katz, after a heated debate, by a vote of 17-12.

Katz was set to be charged with fraud and breach of trust over allegations he pushed legislation to benefit a businessman.

The Movement for Quality Government says it plans to appeal the decision in Court, Channel 12 news reports.

White House hosted secret anti-Iran meeting between Israel, US and UAE — report

The White House hosted a secret meeting in December between officials from the US, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, to discuss countering the common threat from Iran, Axios reports.

According to the report, also on Channel 13 news, Israel was represented by National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and the UAE team led by ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba.

The American team reportedly included national security adviser Robert O’Brien and deputy Victoria Coates. Special envoy for Iran Brian Hook is also said to have attended the meeting.

The network says that senior adviser and son-in-law to US President Donald Trump, Jared Kushner, played a key role.

Israel and UAE are increasingly demonstrating greater openness to each other, reportedly developing ties over their shared concerns about Iran.

Last year the Wall Street Journal reported that meetings were taking place, without giving details on the date or location.

Weinstein accuser tells court: ‘He is my rapist’

NEW YORK — A key accuser at Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial returns to the witness stand, a day after she became so upset while being questioned by the former movie mogul’s lawyers that the judge suspended her cross examination.

Subdued and somber in her third day testifying about her complex relationship with Weinstein, the woman stares at jurors and tells them: “I want the jury to know that he is my rapist.”

The woman is expected to be on the stand much of the day as Weinstein’s lawyers continue a painstaking review of her emails and other communications.

While dozens of women have accused Weinstein of sexual assault or harassment, he is on trial for allegations involving just two episodes with two women: The woman testifying and a former film and TV production assistant, Mimi Haleyi, who alleges he forcibly performed oral sex on her in 2006.

— AP

Haim Katz after Knesset panel votes to grant him immunity: ‘I learned my lesson’

Former Likud minister Haim Katz responds after a vote to grant him immunity following a heated debate, telling Knesset lawmakers that he has “learned my lesson.”

“I apologize that you have had to spend so many hours here because of me. Sorry for the inconvenience. I learned my lesson, thank you very much,” Katz says.

Katz was set to be charged with fraud and breach of trust over allegations he pushed legislation to benefit a businessman.

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