Iranian Guards chief says missile strike did not aim to kill US troops
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Iranian Guards chief says missile strike did not aim to kill US troops

Remarks to Iranian parliament come after CNN reports US troops at Iraqi base knew of impending attack 2.5 hours ahead of time

Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami speaks at Tehran's Islamic Revolution and Holy Defense museum, during the unveiling of an exhibition of what Iran says are US and other drones captured in its territory, on September 21, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami speaks at Tehran's Islamic Revolution and Holy Defense museum, during the unveiling of an exhibition of what Iran says are US and other drones captured in its territory, on September 21, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

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

Historic first Jewish circumcision ceremony held in Abu Dhabi

In a historic first, a brit, or circumcision ceremony, for a Jewish infant takes place in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

The ceremony is overseen by a Chabad rabbi, Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, from Berlin.

The family of the baby, who had lived in Berlin for a while, is not identified in media reports.

A small Jewish community lives in the UAE, but its presence only became public this year as the governments of the various emirates, especially Abu Dhabi and Dubai, are trying to show themselves as hubs of international commerce and religious tolerance. The UAE has also grown closer to Israel in recent years amid a shared threat from Iran.

Abu Dhabi is currently constructing the first official synagogue in the emirate, slated to be completed within two years.

Top Iran Guard briefs parliament over downed jet after protest

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s top Guards commander briefs parliament a day after the armed forces said a Ukrainian airliner was shot down in error in an admission that sparked an angry demonstration.

This morning, the day after the rally at Tehran’s Amir Kabir University, tensions appear to be mounting again on the streets of the capital, with a heavy police presence notably around the iconic Azadi Square south of the city center.

Riot police armed with water cannons and batons are seen at Amir Kabir, Sharif and Tehran universities as well as Enqelab Square. Around 50 Basij militiamen brandishing paintball guns, potentially to mark protesters to authorities, are also seen near Amir Kabir.

The military acknowledged Saturday that the Ukraine International Airlines plane was mistakenly shot down Wednesday, killing all 176 people aboard, after denying for days Western claims it was downed by a missile.

— AFP

Iran anti-regime protesters return to the streets

Some of the anti-regime protests have renewed in Iran, according to local media and Iranians sharing footage online.

Protests erupted yesterday after Iran admitted it had shot down a Ukrainian airliner, killing 176 people, including many Ukrainians, Canadians and Iranians.

World leaders travel to Oman to meet its newly appointed sultan

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — World leaders travel to Oman today to meet the country’s new sultan, named just a day earlier after the death of the nation’s longtime ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince Charles are among those who arrive in Muscat to meet Oman’s new ruler, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said.

This image made from video shows Oman’s new sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, taking part in a cannon-fire salute outside the Royal Family Council in Muscat, Oman, January 11, 2020. (Oman TV via AP)

Other leaders included Kuwait’s ruling emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, as well as Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and the president of Yemen’s internationally recognized government, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, are also visiting.

Sultan Haitham was Oman’s culture minister before being named as the successor to Sultan Qaboos, the Middle East’s longest-ruling monarch whose death was announced Saturday. He died at the age of 79 after years of an undisclosed illness. He also oversaw a growing strategic partnership with Israel against shared foe Iran that led to a historic first visit to the country by an Israeli prime minister in 2018.

— AP and Times of Israel staff

High Court lets Knesset legal adviser issue opinion on Netanyahu immunity

The High Court of Justice says Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon, who faces accusations by Likud of a conflict of interest in handling Netanyahu’s corruption cases, can nevertheless release his legal opinion allowing the Knesset to consider Netanyahu’s immunity request — and likely to reject it.

Likud MK Miki Zohar files a petition calling on the High Court to rule that Yinon cannot deal with the cases due to a “serious conflict of interest” due to his wife Amit Merari being part of the team of prosecutors who worked on the prime minister’s criminal cases.

In response, High Court Justice Yehudah Amit gives Yinon until Wednesday at 4 p.m. to respond to the claims.

But Justice Amit says Yinon has sent the court a letter announcing he plans to release his decision on Netanyahu’s cases at 4 p.m. today.

Yinon is set to issue a legal opinion on whether the Knesset’s speaker, Likud’s MK Yuli Edelstein, is allowed by law and parliamentary procedure to prevent the formation of the committee of lawmakers empowered to consider Netanyahu’s immunity request.

If the committee meets, it is expected to decide against granting Netanyahu immunity, opening up the prime minister to formal indictments before the March 2 election.

Netanyahu had hoped to stall the immunity process until after election day.

In his letter to the High Court, Yinon says that since he had made it clear as early as Thursday that he planned to announce his decision on Sunday, and since the petition against his doing so does not call for an immediate blocking of his decision until a final High Court ruling is announced, he still plans to release his opinion on Sunday afternoon.

Knesset Speaker Edelstein, who had called a press conference on the subject for 1:15 p.m., announces that he will delay his own comment until 5 p.m., after he has read Yinon’s legal opinion.

— Raoul Wootliff

Iran says UK envoy arrested but freed once identified

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s deputy foreign minister says Britain’s ambassador to Tehran, Rob Macaire, was arrested as a foreigner at “an illegal gathering” but was freed soon after being identified.

“He wasn’t detained, but arrested as unknown foreigner in an illegal gathering,” Seyed Abbas Araghchi tweeted, adding Macaire was released 15 minutes after he called the British diplomat to confirm his identity.

Macaire was arrested yesterday near a protest against the regime in Tehran.

— AFP

Ramle man arrested after guns, ecstasy pills found at his home

A 25-year-old man from the central Israeli city of Ramle is under arrest after a search of his home uncovers three improvised Carlo-style automatic guns, a large cache of ammunition and a bag of ecstasy pills, police say.

Germany: Mass evacuation underway before WWII bomb defusing

BERLIN — Thousands of people have to evacuate in the western Germany city of Dortmund as experts prepare to defuse as many as four bombs from World War II.

Authorities already had evacuated two hospitals Saturday and opened schools for residents who had to leave their homes.

Some 14,000 people are asked to leave the areas where the bombs are thought to be buried. The city’s train station is shut down and, starting at noon today, all trains will be rerouted.

Authorities had hoped to begin with the defusing operations by noon.

Almost 75 years after the end of the war, unexploded bombs are frequently found in Germany. Disposing of them sometimes entails large-scale evacuations as a precaution.

— AP

Iranian students seen refusing to trample US, Israeli flags

Students at an Iranian university are filmed this morning refusing to trample an American and an Israeli flag painted on the floor.

The footage is shared on social media accounts supportive of the anti-regime protests of the past two days.

Stepping on flags of countries despised by the Iranian regime is a common pro-regime ritual in the Islamic Republic. It is not immediately clear if the apparent refusal to do so is a sign of support for the flags or the nations they represent, or simply an act of resistance against a sign of fealty to the regime in Tehran.

In blow to PM, Knesset adviser rules Netanyahu immunity debate can go ahead

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon releases a procedural legal opinion that, though written in dry legalese, contains a bombshell for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Yinon says, does not have the right to prevent the Knesset plenum from forming a parliamentary committee to consider Netanyahu’s request for immunity.

The opinion, a de facto legal ruling, means that the current Knesset can debate Netanyahu’s immunity request — at a time when analysts believe a majority in the committee and in the plenum would vote to reject the immunity.

Netanyahu had hoped to delay the immunity process until the next Knesset, to be formed after the March 2 election, since his indictment in three corruption cases can’t take place until after the Knesset hands down the decision.

The fact that the Knesset is now likely going to take up the immunity question in the coming weeks means Netanyahu may become the first prime minister in history to go into election day while on trial on criminal corruption charges.

A decade after first test, upgraded Iron Dome system gets ‘100%’ in new tests

A decade since the first tests of the Iron Dome missile system, the Defense Ministry says it has completed a fresh series of successful interception trials with an upgraded version of the air defense battery.

“We have completed a series of tests with a success rate of 100%. The system intercepted all threats, which were simulated in an area secured for the purposes of the experiment,” says Pini Yungman, a vice president of the Rafael defense contractor, which performed the tests alongside the Defense Ministry.

According to the ministry, an advanced version of the Iron Dome was used in the tests, which “simulated the future threats that the system may confront.”

The Iron Dome air defense system is made up of an advanced radar array, manufactured by a subsidiary of the Israel Aerospace Industries, interceptor missiles, produced by the Rafael defense contractor, and a command-and-control center made by the firm mPrest. The system represents the shortest-range system in the Israeli military’s multi-tiered air defense array.

Pushed into development by former defense minister Amir Peretz, the system saw its first real-world tests in 2010 and was declared operational a year later.

Since then, it has performed over 2,400 successful interceptions, the Defense Ministry says.

“The successful test series that we have completed took place exactly ten years after the first interception test of the Iron Dome system. Throughout the last decade, we have conducted tens of interceptions as part of a framework of tests and more than 2000 operational interceptions,” says Moshe Patael, the head of the ministry’s Israel Missile Defense Organization.

— Judah Ari Gross

Trump warns Iran not to kill protesters, door still open to talks

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump warns Iran against killing protesters who have risen up over the regime’s downing of a Ukrainian airliner, as his defense secretary leaves the door open to talks with Tehran without preconditions.

Trump’s salvo comes as Iran’s Islamic regime faces a challenge from angry street protests, having come to the brink of war with the US with a series of tit-for-tat confrontations.

“To the leaders of Iran – DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS,” Trump tweets, warning that the world and “more importantly, the USA is watching.”

In an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” just before the tweet, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper says Trump is still willing to hold talks with Iran’s leaders.

“We’re willing to sit down and discuss without precondition a new way forward, a series of steps by which Iran becomes a more normal country,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper says on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

— AFP

4 Jews injured in brawl with locals in Uman, Ukraine

Four Jews are lightly injured in the Ukrainian city of Uman in a violent altercation with a group of non-Jewish locals.

The incident happened Friday night, JewishNews.com.ua reports today.

Violence broke out between the four Jews and as many as 30 men, some of them wielding clubs, the report says. The incident began as a dispute between a Jewish person and a non-Jewish local. Both parties called on friends and a brawl ensued, according to the report.

Police were called and arrived at the scene. The report did not say whether any arrests were made.

About 40,000 Jews from Israel and beyond arrive in Uman each year in autumn for the Jewish New Year. They gather there because it is the burial place of Rabbi Nachman, an 18th-century luminary and founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.

Uman also has a permanent Jewish population of several hundred people, almost all from Israel.

Friction between the non-Jewish population of Uman and the Jewish locals and tourists have resulted in multiple cases of violence, some of them anti-Semitic.

— JTA

Blue and White vows to move ahead with Netanyahu immunity debate

Blue and White chairman MK Benny Gantz says his party will convene the Knesset’s Arrangements Committee “as soon as possible” to begin the process of voting on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for immunity from prosecution in three criminal corruption cases.

“I have instructed the chairman of the Blue and White faction, MK Avi Nissenkorn, to convene the Arrangements Committee as soon as possible in order to establish the Knesset committee to discuss Netanyahu’s immunity,” Gantz says in a statement.

“Netanyahu asked for it, Netanyahu will get it,” he promises, referring to the premier’s request for an immunity vote.

A majority of the current Knesset is believed to be opposed to immunity for Netanyahu.

Netanyahu had hoped to delay a vote until after the March 2 election in order not to find himself going into election day on trial for corruption. Those hopes were dashed earlier today when Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon ruled that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a Likud lawmaker, cannot prevent the formation of a committee to consider Netanyahu’s immunity request.

In blow to PM, Knesset speaker indicates he can’t block immunity process

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein says he disagrees with a legal opinion limiting his ability to delay a Knesset debate on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s immunity request — but will abide by it.

The announcement comes after the Knesset’s legal adviser Eyal Yinon said earlier today that the speaker can’t prevent lawmakers from considering Netanyahu’s immunity before the March 2 election.

Most lawmakers in the current Knesset are believed to oppose granting Netanyahu immunity.

Edelstein insists a Knesset vote on Netanyahu’s immunity cannot be conducted fairly during an election campaign.

“Convening a Knesset House Committee now would be a terrible mistake. We can’t let such an important process, a kind of judicial process, to be undertaken like this. We can’t let the House Committee turn into a jungle that shames the parliament. I can’t promise a fair process. Irrespective of the identity of the person asking for immunity, he deserves a fair process. The Knesset deserves a fair process. We citizens deserve a fair process,” he says.

He says “I disagree with [Yinon’s] decision,” but indicates he does not intend to stand in its way.

“As far as it concerns me, I don’t intend to help the tainted process that begins today.”

Nasrallah threatens US troops, vows retaliation against Israel

Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Hezbollah terror group, threatens violence against the US if it does not withdraw its troops from the Middle East, and says any future American attack on Iran would draw a retaliation against Israel.

“If in the coming days or weeks the US doesn’t withdraw its forces from the Middle East, the American soldiers will return to the US in coffins,” Nasrallah says.

He adds that Iran’s missile strike on bases housing US troops in Iraq showed Tehran’s military strength, since the missiles it used were produced in Iran, Channel 13 reports.

“All the American bases in the Middle East are within range of Iran’s accurate missiles,” Nasrallah says. “The attack on the American bases is also a strong message to Israel and Netanyahu, who dreams of attacking Iran.”

Nasrallah says Tehran had conveyed to Washington through intermediaries and via the media that any future American attack against Iran would bring a strong response against both the US and Israel.

Nasrallah makes the remarks at a memorial ceremony for slain Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Lebanon.

Air force returns Yasur helicopters to active service after last month’s crash

The Israeli Air Force clears its fleet of heavy transport helicopters for flight today, over a month after one of the aircraft made a crash landing and caught fire due to a malfunction, the military says.

“Today, the air force’s fleet of Yasur helicopters gradually returned to flights, under a decision by air force commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin,” the military says in a statement.

On November 26, the pilots of a Yasur heavy transport helicopter were forced to make an emergency landing in an open field in southern Israel following a technical failure in a gear connected to its left rotor, which caused a fire that destroyed the aircraft. The pilots’ quick actions — landing the helicopter in under a minute — were credited with allowing all 14 soldiers on board to escape the aircraft unscathed.

Norkin ordered an investigation of the incident and grounded the aging fleet of helicopters, which have been in service in the IAF since the 1960s.

The full probe into the malfunction has yet to be completed, the military says, but the initial findings provided sufficient information to allow the aircraft to return to service.

“The interim findings of the investigation provided a large amount of information on possible causes of the accident and the ways to safely return [the fleet] to flights, but has yet to definitively determine the cause of the malfunction in the Yasur helicopter,” the military says.

“[Norkin] stressed that these were only interim findings and ordered the completion of the investigation of the malfunction and instructed the fleet of Yasur helicopters to gradually return to training flights,” the IDF says.

— Judah Ari Gross

US seeking to amplify voices of protest in Iran amid turmoil

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is trying to amplify voices of dissent in Iran by suggesting that the Islamic Republic is under internal threat after denying and then admitting it shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane last week.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper says street protests in Tehran show that the Iranian people are hungry for a more accountable government.

“You can see the Iranian people are standing up and asserting their rights, their aspirations for a better government — a different regime,” Esper says. He appears on two Sunday news shows while US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, is interviewed on three others — pressing the White House’s campaign to bring “maximum pressure” on Tehran to change its behavior.

O’Brien suggests the United States sees this moment as an opportunity to further intensify pressure on Iran’s leaders, with whom the US has been at odds for four decades. Iran’s leaders already are under enormous strain from economic sanctions that have virtually strangled Iran’s main source of income — oil exports.

After the US killed Iran’s most powerful general in an airstrike in Baghdad on January 3, it appeared the backlash in Iran and elsewhere had helped Tehran by shifting the focus away from its internal problems. The strike also seemed to divert attention away from domestic unrest in Iraq over government corruption, and it intensified efforts by Iraqi politicians to expel American and other foreign forces.

But the shootdown of the Ukrainian plane opened a new avenue of pressure for the Trump administration. “I think the regime is having a very bad week,” O’Brien says. “This was a regime that’s reeling from maximum pressure, they’re reeling from their incompetence in this situation and the people of Iran are just fed up with it,” he says, adding that regime change is not US policy.

— AP

Pelosi: Americans want ‘fair trial’ on Trump impeachment

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says senators will “pay a price” if they block new witnesses from testifying in the impeachment trial of US President Donald Trump. She says Americans expect a fair trial.

Pelosi says the House plans to vote this week to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate for the historic trial on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress over Trump’s actions toward Ukraine. It will be only the third impeachment trial in American history.

“It’s about a fair trial,” Pelosi tells ABC’s “This Week.” “They take an oath to have a fair trial and we think that should be with witnesses and documents.”

She warns: “Do that or pay a price.”

Right before Pelosi is set to appear for the interview, Trump tweets against Pelosi, calling her a derisive nickname, “Crazy Nancy.”

Asked about Trump’s tweet, Pelosi says, “Every knock from him is a boost.”

The Democratic-run House is set to vote this week to send the articles of impeachment to the Republican-controlled Senate after Pelosi ended a more than three-week delay.

— AP

CNN publishes footage from US base in Iraq hit by Iranian missiles

CNN is the first news organization to get a reporter and camera into the US base at the Al-Asad Airbase in Iraq targeted last week by Iranian missiles.

The footage shows destruction at the base, and US servicemembers interviewed by the network’s Arwa Damon describe how they huddled in the bunker while the missiles slammed into the installation and shook the ground.

CNN reporter Arwa Damon at the US military facility in Al-Asad Airbase in Iraq, in footage broadcast January 12, 2020, days after an Iranian missile strike destroyed part of the compound. (CNN screen capture)
CNN reporter Arwa Damon at the US military facility in Al-Asad Airbase in Iraq, in footage broadcast January 12, 2020, days after an Iranian missile strike destroyed part of the compound. (CNN screen capture)

US troops at Iraqi base knew of impending Iranian attack 2.5 hours ahead of time

CNN reporter Arwa Damon, the first journalist to enter the US military’s compound at the Al-Asad airbase in Iraq struck by Iranian missiles on Wednesday, reports that troops on the base were aware of the imminent Iranian attack at least two-and-a-half hours before the strike.

The troops were either “flown out of the base or sheltering in bunkers by 11:00 p.m. local time Tuesday — shortly before the first of four volleys of missiles began at just after 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday,” CNN reports, citing officers who spoke with Damon during the tour of the airbase.

The report suggests Iran was eager to ensure no Americans were hurt in the attack, a sign that Tehran sought to avoid further escalation after the strike, which came in retaliation for the US killing the previous Friday of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

The network adds: “An Arab diplomatic source also told CNN that Iraq gave advance warning to the US on ‘which bases would be hit’ after Iranian officials passed on the information.”

Unarmed Gazan caught crossing border into Israel, army says

IDF troops on the Gaza border catch a man as he crosses over from Gaza into Israel.

The man is unarmed, the army says in a statement. He is taken for questioning.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon decides to quit politics — reports

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon decides to quit politics, Hebrew media reports.

The once-popular former Likud minister, who left the party in 2013 and ran as the head of his own Kulanu party, successfully garnering 10 seats in the 2015 elections, returned to Likud last year after a poor four-seat showing in the April 2019 race.

He is not speaking publicly about the decision, but reports say he is disappointed at Kulanu’s decline and doesn’t see a bright future for himself in Likud.

His name will not appear on the Likud Knesset list in the March 2 race, the reports say.

World War II bomb defused in Germany after mass evacuation

BERLIN — Two World War II bombs are successfully defused in the western German city of Dortmund today, hours after thousands of people were evacuated from the surrounding area, officials say.

The bombs were 250-kilogram (330-pound) American and British bombs. Authorities initially thought they had detected four bombs, but later clarified that only two were found.

Authorities had evacuated two hospitals and opened schools for residents who had to leave their homes. City officials asked about 14,000 people to leave the areas where the bombs were buried.

The city’s train station had also been shut down and trains were rerouted. Before experts defused the two bombs, helicopters patrolled overhead to ensure everyone had evacuated.

Almost 75 years after the end of the war, unexploded bombs are frequently found in Germany. Disposing of them sometimes entails large-scale evacuations as a precaution.

— AP

12-year-old boy killed when he’s hit by a bus in Modi’in Illit

A 12-year-old boy is killed after he is hit by a bus while crossing a street in Modi’in Illit, police say.

The boy was crossing at a designated crosswalk on Hafetz Hayim Street.

Police and safety officials launch investigations into the incident.

Left-wing Labor, Meretz close to inking deal to run as united list in March race

Labor and Meretz, the two main parties on the political left, are close to closing a deal to run as a joint slate, according to officials in both parties.

The news comes as polls show both hovering at between four and six Knesset seats, in danger of falling below the 3.25% threshold of total votes required to enter the Knesset.

Labor chief Amir Peretz announced his plans to unite with Meretz a short time ago at a Labor party gathering.

Peretz is set to meet later tonight with Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz.

The parties will also seek to join smaller factions to the new shared list, including Gesher, which ran together with Labor in the last election, and former IDF deputy chief of staff Yair Golan, who was on the Democratic Camp list led by Meretz in the September race.

Defying police, Iranians continue to protest downing of airliner

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iranian demonstrators defy a heavy police presence to protest their country’s days of denials that it shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane carrying 176 people, the latest unrest to roil the capital amid soaring tensions with the United States.

Videos posted online show protesters shouting anti-government slogans and moving through subway stations and sidewalks, many near Azadi, or Freedom, Square after an earlier call for people to demonstrate there. Other videos suggest similar protests were taking place in other Iranian cities.

Riot police in black uniforms and helmets earlier massed in Vali-e Asr Square, at Tehran University and other landmarks. Revolutionary Guard members patrolled the city on motorbikes, and plainclothes security men were also out in force. People looked down as they walked briskly past police, hoping not to draw attention to themselves.

The plane crash early Wednesday killed everyone on board, mostly Iranians and Iranian-Canadians. After initially pointing to a technical failure and insisting the armed forces were not to blame, authorities on Saturday admitted to accidentally shooting it down in the face of mounting evidence and accusations by Western leaders.

Iran downed the flight as it braced for possible American retaliation after firing ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq housing US forces. The missile attack, which caused no casualties, was a response to the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top general, in a US airstrike in Baghdad. But no retaliation came.

Iranians have expressed anger over the downing of the plane and the misleading explanations from senior officials in the wake of the tragedy. They are also mourning the dead, which included many young people who were studying abroad.

— AP

Iran’s Khamenei calls for ‘strengthening’ of ties in region

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calls for countries in the region to bolster ties to overcome the “turbulent situation” caused by the presence of the US and its allies.

“The current situation in the region demands — more than ever before — strengthening of relations between countries in the region as well as avoiding influence of foreigners'” meddling, Khamenei is quoted as saying on his official Twitter account as he hosts Qatar’s emir.

“The reason for the current turbulent situation in our region is the corruptive presence of the US and its cohorts. The only way to confront this is to depend on cooperation within the region,” he said.

— AFP

Iran Guards say missiles did not aim to kill US troops

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s Revolutionary Guards say they did not aim to kill US troops when firing a wave of missiles last week at Iraqi bases hosting American forces.

“Our aim was not really to kill enemy soldiers. That was not important,” the Guards’ commander, Hossein Salami, tells parliament, referring to Wednesday’s missile operation launched to avenge the killing of a top Iranian general.

“The physical destruction (caused by the missiles) was just because we wanted to say that we are so much more superior to the enemy (and) that we can hit any point we choose,” he adds, in a speech aired on state television.

Iran launched a wave of missiles at bases in Iraq hosting American and other foreign troops on Wednesday. The US said no American personnel were harmed in those missile attacks on Iraqi soil. The Iranian operation was carried out in response to the killing of Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Guards’ Quds Force, in a January 3 US drone strike near Baghdad airport.

Hours after launching the missiles on Wednesday, Iran shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane soon after it took off from Tehran, killing all 176 people aboard in what it later admitted was a catastrophic error.

— AFP

Army admits fighter jets damaged in flooding last week

Several fighter jets were damaged last week as heavy rains flooded their hangars, the military acknowledges today, after attempts to have the information censored.

The repairs are expected to cost in the tens of millions of shekels.

“A number of planes were damaged. They will be repaired and will return to flight in the coming days,” the military says.

Last week saw major flooding along the coast and in the Negev desert. According to the Israel Defense Forces, an undisclosed air force base in southern Israel was hit hard by the storm, as nearby streams flooded, sending huge amounts of rainwater toward the covered hangars where the fighter jets were stored.

A photograph of one of the planes, an F-16 fighter jet, in a flooded hangar is shared widely on social media on Sunday evening after the military censor allows Israeli outlets to report on the incident.

An F-16 fighter jet sits in a flooded hangar on an air force base in southern Israel in January 2020. (Social media)

The military will not specify the precise number and varieties of aircraft damaged by the flooding.

Channel 12 news reports that several mechanics needed to be rescued from the flooded hangars as well, with waters reaching more than 1.5 meters (4.5 feet) in height. The IDF will not immediate confirm that report, but says that no soldiers were injured in the flood.

The military says staff on the air force base pumped out the rainwater from the hangars over the weekend.

— Judah Ari Gross

False alarm sets off nuclear scare in Canada

MONTREAL, Canada — An alert signaling an incident at a major nuclear power plant near Toronto is sent “in error” to millions of residents Sunday, causing a scare and prompting calls for an investigation.

The emergency alert went out shortly before 7:30 a.m. (1230 GMT). Though intended for residents living within a 10-kilometer (six-mile) radius of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station, it went to all Ontario residents.

About an hour later, the Ontario Power Generation company that manages the nuclear plant announced on Twitter that the alert was issued by mistake.

“There is NO active nuclear situation taking place at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station,” it said. “The previous alert was issued in error. There is no danger to the public or environment.”

One of the world’s largest nuclear power plants, the Pickering facility is located about 50 kilometers (some 31 miles) east of Toronto, Canada’s most populous city, with three million inhabitants.

— AFP

Rockets hit Iraq base hosting US troops

SAMARRA, Iraq — A volley of rockets slam into an Iraqi airbase north of Baghdad where US forces have been based, wounding four local troops, the Iraqi military says.

Its statement says eight Katyusha-type rockets landed on Al-Balad airbase, wounding two Iraqi officers and two airmen.

Al-Balad is the main airbase for Iraq’s F-16s, which it bought from the US to upgrade its air capacities.

The base had held a small US Air Force contingent as well as American contractors, but a majority had been evacuated following tensions between the US and Iran over the past two weeks, military sources tell AFP.

“About 90 percent of the US advisers, and employees of Sallyport and Lockheed Martin who are specialized in aircraft maintenance, have withdrawn to Taji and Erbil after threats,” one of the sources says.

“There are no more than 15 US soldiers and a single plane at al-Balad,” the source adds.

Military bases hosting US troops have been subject to volleys of rocket and mortar attacks in recent months that have mostly wounded Iraqi forces, but also killed one American contractor last month.

— AFP

2 US troops killed by roadside bomb in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan — Two US service members are killed and two others injured when their vehicle is hit by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan, the US military says.

In keeping with defense department rules, the US military does not identify the service members.

The Taliban immediately take responsibility for the attack. A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yusouf Ahmadi, says it occurred in the southern Kandahar province.

More than 2,400 US service members have been killed in Afghanistan. Last year was the deadliest for US service members since 2014, with 23 American troops killed, even as Washington engaged in peace talks with the Taliban.

— AP

4 Iraqi soldiers wounded by rocket attack on air base

BAGHDAD — Four members of Iraq’s military are wounded in a rocket attack targeting an air base just north of Baghdad where American trainers are present, Iraqi security officials say.

The attack by at least six rockets came just days after Iran fired ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq that house US forces, causing no casualties.

Recent heightened tensions between the US and Iran were sparked last month when a rocket attack killed an American contractor at a base in Iraq. The US has blamed that attack and others on Iran-backed militias.

An Iraqi army soldier stand guard near a US- made Iraqi Air Force F-16 fighter jet at the Balad Air Base, Iraq, February 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed, File)

Sunday’s attack wounds an Iraqi air force officer and three enlisted men, Iraqi security officials say.

No group claims responsibility for the attack.

The rockets struck Balad air base, which hosts American trainers, advisers and a company that provides maintenance services for F-16 aircraft. Some rockets fall on a restaurant inside the airbase, the officials say. The base is located some 50 miles (80 kilometers) miles north of Baghdad.

— AP

European powers urge Iran to fully return to nuclear deal

PARIS, France — France, Germany, and Britain call on Iran to return to “full respect” of its commitments under Tehran’s 2015 nuclear accord with world powers.

The three European signatories to the deal have sought to salvage the accord intended to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions after it began unraveling when US President Donald Trump pulled the United States out in 2018.

“It is essential that Iran return to full compliance with its commitments under the agreement,” a joint European statement says. “We have expressed our deep concern at the actions taken by Iran in violation of its commitments since July 2019. These actions must be reversed.”

All three European parties to the pact have maintained their commitment to saving the deal, despite a call by Trump this week to join him in walking away.

The joint statement confirms their position after Iran’s admission early Saturday that it had accidentally shot down the Ukraine International Airlines plane, killing all 176 people aboard.

The three signatory countries and their EU partners shared “fundamental common security interests,” the statement says. One of those interests “is upholding the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and ensuring that Iran never develops a nuclear weapon. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) plays a key role in this respect.”

It pointed out that all the remaining parties to the agreement — China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and Iran, with the EU as coordinator — were still committed to preserving it: “We must address — through diplomacy and in a meaningful way — shared concerns about Iran’s destabilizing regional activities, including those linked to its missile program. We reiterate our readiness to continue our engagement for de-escalation and stability in the region.”

— AFP

Ticket change in Tehran saves Ukrainian’s life

KYIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian political analyst who was in Iran’s capital for an international conference planned to head home when it was done, but then chose to stay one more day and do some sightseeing. The decision saved his life.

Andrey Buzarov tells The Associated Press today that his original plan would have put him on the flight that Iran shot down by mistake last week, killing all 176 people on board.

“I found out within an hour after the crash. My friend, an Iranian, came to me and showed photos from local Iranian social networks; the media hadn’t written yet, no one had information,” Buzarov says.

His top concern was to let his mother know he was alive. But she lives in a rebel-controlled part of eastern Ukraine and communication with the region is difficult. His mother uses Facebook, but that social network is banned in Iran.

Andrey Buzarov, a Ukrainian political analyst, during an interview with the Associated Press in Kyiv, Ukraine, January 12, 2020. Buzarov, who was in Iran’s capital for an international conference, planned to head home when it was done on the flight shot down Wednesday by Iranian forces — but then chose to stay one more day to see the city’s sights. The decision saved his life. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Finally, he was able to make a Facebook post by using a virtual private network, or VPN, which creates encrypted links between computers, “and then she calmed down,” he says.

Buzarov, a specialist in Middle East affairs and a consultant to the Ukrainian parliament, had been invited to Iran for an international conference run by the country’s foreign ministry.

He was in Tehran when millions jammed the streets to mourn the death of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by a US strike in Iraq. Iran accidentally downed the flight as it braced for possible American retaliation after firing ballistic missiles at bases in Iraq housing US forces. But no retaliation came.

— AP

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