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IDF launches air strikes in Gaza in response to rocket fire

Four rockets were fired earlier today at Israeli communities; Israeli Air Force now striking terror group installations in territory

Illustrative: An explosion is seen following an Israel airstrike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip early on November 27, 2019. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Illustrative: An explosion is seen following an Israel airstrike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip early on November 27, 2019. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday events as they happened.

On eve of world Holocaust memorial day, Israel home to 192,000 survivors

Twelve days before International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which commemorates the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in 1945, or 75 years ago, Israeli officials release statistics about the Holocaust survivors who still live among us.

About 192,000 people in Israel are recognized as survivors. Of them, 59,000 survived the Nazi concentration and death camps, were interned in a ghetto, or were forced into hiding during the war, according to the Finance Ministry’s office in charge of disbursing welfare and other benefits to survivors.

Some 14,800 survivors, or 7 percent of last year’s total, have passed away since the last international remembrance day.

About two-thirds of Israel’s survivors, 64%, were born in Europe, half of them (36% of the total) from the former Soviet Union, 18% from Romania and 6% from Poland.

The remainder hail from Arab and Muslim countries, where they faced often brutal knock-on effects from the Nazi onslaught in Europe.

Some 18% of recognized survivors are Algerian and Moroccan Jews who faced persecution under Vichy French rule in those countries. Another 11% are Iraqis who experienced the Farhoud pogrom and faced persecution from the pro-Nazi regime during the war years.

Israeli state benefits to survivors cost some NIS 4 billion last year, including some 493 million for homecare and over 415 million for medication subsidies.

Lebanon: 59 arrested after protest clashes near central bank

BEIRUT — Lebanese security forces arrest 59 people, police say, following clashes overnight outside the central bank as angry protesters vent their fury against the country’s ruling elite and the worsening financial crisis.

The hours-long clashes that erupted on Tuesday evening also left 47 policemen injured, the security forces say, as some protesters smash windows on private banks in Beirut’s key commercial district.

Earlier on Tuesday, protesters rallied outside the central bank in the bustling Hamra neighborhood, denouncing the bank governor and policies they say have only deepened the country’s financial woes.

The rally turned violent as protesters tried to push their way through the security forces deployed outside the bank. In over five hours of pitched street battles, security forces lobbed volleys of tear gas at the protesters, who responded with rocks and firecrackers.

Some protesters, using metal bars and sticks, smashed windows on commercial banks and foreign exchange bureaus nearby. The clashes marked an end to a lull in the three-months-long protests.

Lebanon is facing its worst economic troubles in decades. One of the most highly indebted countries in the world, it imports almost all basic goods but foreign currency sources have dried up. The local currency has lost over 60% of its value — dropping for the first time in nearly three decades from a fixed rate of 1,507 pounds to the dollar to 2,400 in just the past few weeks.

— AP

Qatar offers to mediate to reduce US-Iran tensions

BAGHDAD — Qatar seeks to play a mediating role amid escalating tensions following the January 3 US drone strike that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Iraq, the Qatari foreign minister said Wednesday.

Speaking on an official visit to Baghdad, Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani says Qatar is in contact with regional and international countries in order to de-escalate tensions. His visit to Iraq comes days after Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani visited Tehran.

“Qatar, together with some friendly countries, is trying to decrease tensions. We have made international contacts for more consultations with our brotherly and sisterly countries,” al-Thani says in a joint press conference with Iraq’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammed al-Hakim. “Today we see signs of decreased tensions and we hope this will continue.”

Al-Thani is scheduled to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and President Barham Saleh later today.

“We discussed ways of decreasing tensions in our region and we have our common efforts and joint efforts together with our friends in Iran and America and our talks,” says al-Hakim. “Our talks concentrated on Iraq not being a scene for fighting.”

Tension soared following a US drone strike early this month that killed a top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, and senior Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Iran retaliated by firing a barrage of missiles that hit two bases in Iraq where American troops are based, but caused no casualties. Tensions soared further after Iran, just hours following the missile attacks, mistakenly shot down an Ukrainian passenger plane that had taken off from Tehran, killing all 176 people on board.

— AP

Shunned by the left, Stav Shaffir set to announce her political future

MK Stav Shaffir, fresh from the sting of being left out of the new Labor-Meretz-Gesher union of left-wing parties, is convening a press conference this afternoon to announce her political future.

Shaffir is the chair of the Green List party, and some have speculated she may try to mount a hail-mary Knesset run with that list.

Another theory, one that fits the harsh political realities a little better, suggests she may announce her retirement from politics.

Jordan’s king warns US-Iran war would bring ‘untold chaos’

STRASBOURG, France — A war between the US and Iran would wreak “untold chaos” on the world, Jordan’s King Abdullah II warns in a speech to European lawmakers on the tensions boiling across the Middle East.

Although Washington and Tehran are currently in a standoff after tit-for-tat military actions over the past two weeks, the king tells the European Parliament that the danger has not passed.

“What if next time neither side steps back from the brink, dragging us all towards untold chaos? An all-out war jeopardizes the stability of the entire region,” he says.

“What’s more, it risks massive disruptions of the entire global economy including markets, but threatens a resurgence of terrorism across the world.”

The alarm is among a raft of other warnings by King Abdullah, a pro-Western leader whose country is a haven of relative stability in a Middle East roiled by proxy conflicts, sectarian violence and competition between powers inside and outside the region.

Urging greater leadership and “patience” to address the tensions, Abdullah expresses concern about developments in Syria and Iraq.

“What if Syria remains hostage to global rivalries and spirals back into civil conflict? What if we see a reemergence of ISIS and Syria becomes a staging ground for attacks against the rest of the world?” he asks. Turmoil in Iraq, he says, risks tipping that country into a cycle of “recovery and relapse — or, worse yet, conflict.”


Rocket sirens sound in communities near Gaza Strip

Incoming rocket sirens sound in a number of communities near the Gaza Strip.

There are no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

The alarms are heard in the towns of Sa’ad, Kfar Aza and Nahal Oz.

— Judah Ari Gross

Jordan’s Abdullah: Israel imposing ‘unthinkable solution’ on Palestinians

Jordan’s King Abdullah II accuses Israel of trying to “impose an unthinkable solution” on Palestinians as hopes fade for a two-state solution backed by the international community.

Speaking to lawmakers at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, he says Israel’s construction of settlements in the West Bank and “disregard of international law” could be summed up as “one state turning its back on its neighborhood, perpetuating divisions among peoples and faiths worldwide.”

The Jordanian monarch carries the hereditary title of “custodian” of holy Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem.


Army confirms four rockets fired from Gaza at southern Israel

Four projectiles were fired at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, the military says.

Two of the incoming mortar shells were intercepted by air defense units, according to the IDF.

The other two appear to have landed in open fields, causing neither injury nor damage.

A spokesperson for the Sha’ar Hanegev region says no impact sites were found within its communities.

— Judah Ari Gross

Box resembling home-made bomb placed outside Amsterdam kosher eatery

AMSTERDAM — A box resembling a home-made bomb is left outside a Dutch kosher restaurant where several anti-Semitic attacks have occurred.

The cardboard box, bearing the logo of the Heineken beer brand, is found outside the HaCarmel restaurant in southern Amsterdam. Masking tape fastens wires and a black electric trigger switch to its top.

The police bomb disposal unit rushes to the scene to examine the device, according to the Twitter account of the Federatief Joods Nederland group. Police say on social media that they are examining the box. They do not say whether explosives were found inside.

A package resembling a bomb discovered outside the HaCarmel kosher restaurant in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on January 15, 2020. (Federatief Joods Nederland/via JTA)

In 2017, a 29-year-old man waving a Palestinian flag smashed the windows of HaCarmel with a wooden club, stealing an Israeli flag hanging there. Police officers stood by as he vandalized the place but arrested the suspect when he came out.

The perpetrator, Saleh Ali, was a Syrian asylum seeker. He was convicted of vandalism after 52 days in jail while awaiting his trial. He was released with no additional penalty. Dutch Jews criticized the ruling because it did not contain a reference identifying his actions as a hate crime.

The restaurant in recent years has been the target of multiple such incidents, including damage to the windows and the pelting of its façade with eggs. Last year, the owner, Sami Bar-On, said he would have to close down unless police manage to curb the attacks on his business.


Democrats disclose new documents ahead of Trump impeachment trial

WASHINGTON — House Democrats release documents they obtained from a close associate of US President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, including a handwritten note that mentions asking Ukraine’s president to investigate “the Biden case.”

The documents, obtained from Lev Parnas as part of the impeachment investigation, show Parnas communicating with Giuliani before the removal of Marie Yovanovitch, who was the US ambassador to Ukraine. A man named Robert F. Hyde disparaged Yovanovitch in messages to Parnas and gave him updates on her location and cell phone use, raising questions about possible surveillance.

Democrats released the files Tuesday as they prepared to send articles of impeachment to the Senate for Trump’s trial. The documents add new context to their charges that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Democrats as he withheld military aid.

Parnas was in frequent communication with Giuliani and with Ukrainian officials, the messages show. He appeared to be pushing unsubstantiated allegations that Democrat Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, were somehow engaged in corruption in Ukraine.

Among the documents is a screenshot of a previously undisclosed letter from Giuliani to Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky dated May 10, 2019, which was before Zelensky took office. In the letter, Giuliani requests a meeting with Zelensky “as personal counsel to President Trump and with his knowledge and consent.” In the letter, Giuliani said he would be accompanied at the meeting by Victoria Toensing, a Washington attorney and Trump ally.

One of the documents is a handwritten note on stationery from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Vienna that says “get Zalenskiy to Annonce that the Biden case will be Investigated.” Trump asked Zelensky in a July call to investigate his political rival, Democrat Joe Biden, and his son Hunter. Hunter Biden served on the board of a gas company based in Ukraine.

— AP

Russian prime minister submits resignation to Putin

MOSCOW — Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev submits his resignation hours after President Vladimir Putin proposed a constitutional overhaul to boost the powers of parliament and the Cabinet, a move signaling Putin’s intention to carve out a new position for himself after his current term ends, during his state of the nation address.

The Russian leader thanked Medvedev for his service but said the prime minister’s Cabinet had failed to fulfill all of its objectives. In televised remarks, Putin said Medvedev would take up a new position as a deputy head of the presidential Security Council.

Medvedev, a longtime close associate of Putin’s, has served as Russia’s prime minister since 2012. He spent four years before that as president in 2008-2012, becoming a placeholder when Putin had to switch into the prime minister’s office because of constitutional term limits on the presidency. Medvedev obediently stepped down after just one term as president and let Putin reclaim the top job in what was widely seen as cynical political maneuvering and triggered massive protests in Moscow.

Putin asked the members of Medvedev’s Cabinet to keep working until a new Cabinet is formed.

— AP

Stav Shaffir says she won’t run in March election, but will ‘come back stronger’

MK Stav Shaffir, until recently of the Labor party and now a Democratic Camp lawmaker, announces she won’t be running in the March election after she was left off the united left-wing slate of Labor, Gesher and Meretz.

Shaffir, who had long urged Labor to seek such a union, says she does not regret that it came at a personal cost to her.

“This union is more important than me,” she says at a press conference on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, the swanky pedestrian boulevard where she first rose to prominence as a leader of the 2011 cost-of-living protests.

Now the head of the Green Movement party, Shaffir says, “I won’t run in this election, but I will stay in the race for our country. Today we’re taking the Green Movement out [of the Knesset] — out to the streets, to the cities, to the neighborhoods — in order to build our tomorrow and come back stronger.”

She adds, in a reference to scandal-plagued Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “Today’s fight is to remove the mafia don from the prime minister’s chair and to clean the Augean Stables of our government from the terrible corruption that has gripped it and from the incitement that has pitted all the beautiful parts of Israeli society against one another.”

Rivlin to Sissi: Natural gas ‘links our countries and our peoples’

President Reuven Rivlin sends a letter to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to laud the two countries’ relations as Israeli natural gas begins to flow to Egypt.

“Today is a day to celebrate in the history of the relations between our two countries. As I write to you, natural gas has begun flowing from the Israeli Leviathan gas field to Egypt, linking our two countries and our two peoples,” Rivlin writes.

He adds: “Mr. President, the State of Israel sees our relationship with the Arab Republic of Egypt as a strategic asset. It is a vital component of regional stability and an example of what is possible in future relations across the Middle East.

“Our political and security cooperation are already strong foundations that bring stability and security to both our peoples, and I believe that we can widen our cooperation to additional civilian fields.

“By looking for ways to connect our peoples, we can ensure that the values of peace that our courageous leaders bequeathed us in the historic peace treaty become part of today’s relations between the next generations of Israelis and Egyptians. Bringing the fruits of peace to our peoples would be the greatest tribute to their brave leadership and the best guarantee of a better, safer future for us all.”

Fatah official says Arafat tacitly encouraged the terror waves of the Second Initifada

A Fatah party official says Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had tacitly urged Palestinians to launch the Second Intifada following the breakdown of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at Camp David in 2000.

“Yasser Arafat, may he rest in peace, signed the Oslo Accords and came here,” Abdel-Elah Atirs said in an interview with Palestine TV earlier this month. “When he went to Camp David and saw that Jerusalem, or part of it, was not part of the deal, he came back and hinted to us to start the Second Intifada.”

“Fatah’s thermometer is ready to move in any direction,” he added, according to a translation of his remarks by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

Atirs, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, also said Arafat was behind deadly rioting in 1996 after Israel opened the Western Wall Tunnels to the public.

The Second Intifada, which began in the fall of 2000, saw some 140 suicide bombings target Israeli buses, restaurants and other civilian areas, before it was suppressed beginning with the IDF’s Operation Defensive Shield in the spring of 2002.

Pelosi names lawmakers Schiff, Nadler as prosecutors for Trump trial

WASHINGTON — US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi names two House committee chairmen who led US President Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry as prosecutors for Trump’s Senate trial.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who led the probe, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, whose committee approved the impeachment articles, will manage the prosecution.

“Today is an important day,” says Pelosi in a statement on Capitol Hill, flanked by the lawmakers. “This is about the Constitution of the United States.”’

Schiff and Nadler will lead the seven-member team that includes a diverse selection of lawmakers, particularly those with courtroom experience.

They include Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Sylvia Garcia of Texas, Val Demings of Florida and Jason Crow of Colorado.

Trump was impeached by the Democratic-led House last month on charges of abuse of power over his pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden as Trump withheld aid from the country. He was also charged with obstructing Congress’s ensuing probe.

The House is set to vote later in the day to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate for a trial on whether the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress are grounds for his removal. The managers will then walk the articles across the Capitol to the Senate.

— AP

Egypt loses pilot in fighter jet crash in Sinai

CAIRO — Egypt’s military says one of its fighter jets crashed in the Sinai Peninsula where the country’s forces have been battling jihadist groups, and that the pilot was killed. The Islamic State group claims it downed the aircraft.

According to a tweet by Egypt’s military spokesman, Tamer Refai, the jet crashed during a training exercise on Tuesday. He says an investigation into the crash is underway.

The Islamic State group says in a posting online that its fighters had hit the F-16 jet with a missile near the town of Shabana, south of the border town of Rafah in Sinai.

Egypt has for years been battling an insurgency in northern Sinai that is now led by an Islamic State affiliate. The fighting intensified in 2013, after the military overthrew the country’s elected but divisive Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi.

— AP

Trump derides Senate impeachment trial as a ‘con’

US President Donald Trump derides his impeachment as a “con” as Democratic leaders announce the team that will lead the trial in the Senate.

“Here we go again, another Con Job by the Do Nothing Democrats,” Trump tweets seconds after Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, unveils the seven-member trial team, which is to be led by House lawmakers Adam Schiff and Jerrold Nadler.


In scathing statement, Bennett rejects union with Otzma Yehudit

In a blunt, uncompromising statement, the New Right party’s chairman and current defense minister Naftali Bennett refuses to unite his party with the extremist Otzma Yehudit faction, citing its support for the perpetrator of the 1994 massacre of Muslim worshipers in Hebron, Baruch Goldstein.

Bennett rejects mounting pressure by Likud and others on the right to include Otzma’s head, Itamar Ben Gvir, on his Knesset slate, noting that Ben Gvir famously keeps a photograph of Goldstein hanging in his living room.

“As the chairman of the New Right party now running for Knesset, and as a former education minister of the State of Israel, I won’t include on my slate someone who keeps a photograph in his living room of a man who murdered 29 innocent people,” Bennett says.

“That’s so self-evident that I’m amazed I’m being asked to explain it at all.

“Imagine a member of the US Congress hanging a photograph in his home of someone who murdered dozens of Jews at prayer. Does that seem reasonable to you?

“I don’t care how much you pressure me. I can’t even consider this. It won’t happen. This is my final decision.”

He also lashes Otzma Yehudit’s support for the “price tag” terror attacks against Arabs, and for the “hilltop youth” violence targeting Palestinians and IDF soldiers.

“Instead of building, they break. Instead of repairing, they riot. This is an ideology of deep disdain for the State of Israel and its institutions,” he says of the party. “We didn’t return from the exile to live as wild, lawless militias. That’s not right-wing, it’s anarchy.”

He then tells Likud to put its money where its mouth is.

“Likud’s demand that I put Ben Gvir on the slate I’m leading is inappropriate. Likud friends — if you want him so much, put him on your slate!”

Wednesday at midnight is the deadline to file each party’s final slate for the March 2 election.

Ben Gvir responds to Bennett: Fine, I’ll take down Baruch Goldstein’s picture

The leader of the extremist Otzma Yehudit faction says he’s willing to take down the photograph of Jewish mass-murderer Baruch Goldstein, perpetrator of the 1994 massacre in Hebron of 29 Muslim worshipers, in order to join a united right-wing Knesset late.

In a scathing Facebook post a short time ago, New Right leader Naftali Bennett emphatically ruled out sharing a Knesset list with Otzma Yehudit’s leader Itamar Ben Gvir, noting the photograph of Goldstein that hangs in Ben Gvir’s living room and his support for “price tag” attacks on Palestinians and IDF soldiers by Jewish extremists.

“Faced with the fact that the fate of the Jewish people and the land of Israel hang in the balance, I’m declaring that for the sake of unity and a right-wing victory in the elections, I’m removing the photograph in my living room,” Ben Gvir says in his response on Facebook.

“I call on you [Bennett] to show responsibility” and include Otzma Yehudit in the right-wing alliance, he adds.

It’s not clear from the statement that Ben Gvir understands that Bennett’s concern wasn’t about his interior decorating style, but about Ben Gvir’s longstanding support for Goldstein’s terrorism, which he does not disavow in tonight’s statement.

Albania expels 2 Iranian diplomats

TIRANA, Albania — Albania’s Foreign Ministry expels two Iranian diplomats for activities “not in line with their status.”

A ministry statement says the two diplomats, Mohammad Ali Arz Peimanemati and Seyed Ahmad Hosseini Alast, are declared persona non grata and asked to “immediately” leave Albania.

In December 2018, Albania expelled two other Iranian diplomats for “violating their diplomatic status” by allegedly engaging in unspecified illegal activities that threatened the country’s security.

Albania is home to about 2,500 members of the Iranian exile opposition group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, which moved there from Iraq.

— AP

Blue and White names Yevarkan’s replacement: Ex-journalist Andre Kushnov

Blue and White announces that it will fill the 33rd slot on its electoral slate vacated by MK Gadi Yevarkan with “a new candidate to represent the Russian sector,” Andre Kushnov.

Kushnov, who has served as Blue and White’s Russian-language spokesman since November, is a former military correspondent for the Russian-language Channel 9.

He will take the 33rd spot on the list instead of Michal Cotler-Wunsh from the Telem faction, who was due to jump up from 36th.

Yevarkan is slated to run with the Likud party as No. 20 on its slate, assuming his cross-party transfer overcomes legal hurdles.

— Raoul Wootliff

In colorful costumes, Pirate Party registers for March election

The Pirate Party registers its electoral slate ahead of March’s election.

Filing the party’s papers with the Central Elections Committee in the Knesset, party chairman Noam Kuzar, wearing a tricorn hat, says his party represents “all the people who think the current public discourse doesn’t represent them.”

The party registers its full name as “The Pirate Party: Click Here,” because “in the next election, after we are elected, you will be able to vote by internet. In fact, you will be able to vote by internet for each law,” Kuzar says.

Pirate Party representatives register their slate for the March 2, 2020, election, at the Central Elections Committee in the Knesset on January 15, 2020. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)

The party has run in every Israeli election for the last 15 years. It has yet to win a seat in the Knesset.

— Raoul Wootliff

2010s were Earth’s hottest decade on record

The decade that just ended was by far the hottest ever measured on Earth, capped off by the second-warmest year on record, two US agencies report today. And scientists say they see no end to the way human-made climate change keeps shattering records.

“If you think you’ve heard this story before, you haven’t seen anything yet,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says at the close of a decade plagued by raging wildfires, melting ice and extreme weather that researchers have repeatedly tied to human activity. “This is real. This is happening.”

The 2010s averaged 58.4 degrees Fahrenheit (14.7 degrees Celsius) worldwide, or 1.4 degrees (0.8 C) higher than the 20th century average and more than one-third of a degree (one-fifth of a degree C) warmer than the previous decade, which had been the hottest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The decade had eight of the 10 hottest years on record. The only other years in the top 10 were 2005 and 1998.

NASA and NOAA also calculated that 2019 was the second-hottest year in the 140 years of record-keeping. Five other global teams of monitoring scientists agreed, based on temperature readings taken on Earth’s surface, while various satellite-based measurements said it was anywhere from the hottest year on record to the third-hottest.

Several scientists said the coming years will be even hotter, knocking these years out of the record books.

“This is going to be part of what we see every year until we stabilize greenhouse gases” from the burning of coal, oil and gas, Schmidt said.

— AP

Blue and White registers its Knesset slate for March race

Blue and White MKs Yoaz Hendel, Orna Barbivai, Pnina Tamano-Shata and Gadeer Kamal-Mreeh present the party’s slate to the Central Elections Committee ahead of the midnight deadline.

“Our list is made of up excellent people who have come to represent the people of Israel,” Tamano-Shatta says.

The list is almost identical to the last election but the party announced earlier that it will fill the 33rd slot on its electoral slate vacated by MK Gadi Yevarkan with “a new candidate to represent the Russian sector,” former military correspondent Andre Kushnov.

Blue and White MKs register their party’s slate for the 23rd Knesset at the Central Elections Committee in Jerusalem on January 15, 2020. (Raoul Wootliff/The Times of Israel)

Yevarkan is slated to run with the Likud party as No. 20 on its slate, assuming his cross-party transfer overcomes legal hurdles.

In addition, Michal Cotler-Wunsh from the Telem faction, the faction Yevarkan represented, will be bumped from slot 46 to 36.

— Raoul Wootliff

Iran’s president slams barring of candidates from elections

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s president slams the disqualification of thousands of people, including 90 current lawmakers, from running in upcoming parliamentary elections.

Although hard-liners are among those disqualified by the powerful Guardian Council, most of those rejected are reformist and moderate candidates, according to Tehran’s reformist newspaper Etemad.

President Hassan Rouhani appears to confirm this in his stinging critique of the council, which barred more than 9,000 from the over 14,000 people who had registered to run. Among them are 90 sitting lawmakers out of some 247 who registered to run for re-election.

Rouhani says it is not possible to run the country with just one faction in power.

“Do not tell the people that for every seat in parliament, there are 17, 170 or 1,700 candidates running in the election,” he says in a televised speech to the Cabinet. “Seventeen-hundred candidates from how many factions? Seventeen candidates from how many parties? From one party? This is not an election.”

He compares it to a store placing 1,000 copies of the same item on its shelves and telling customers they have a diverse selection to pick from.

“People need diversity,” Rouhani says.

Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei criticizes Rouhani’s remarks. In a tweet, he says that controversy around the vetting of candidates is nothing new, “but the president’s initiation of this anti-national project is regrettable.”

— AP

EU comes to aid of Poland over WWII row with Russia

STRASBOURG, France — The European Union executive comes to the aid of Poland, which is involved in a bitter dispute with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Poland’s role in World War II.

EU Commissioner Vera Jourova tells the parliament Wednesday that she “rejects any false claim” that paints Poland as a perpetrator instead of a victim of the 1939-1945 war. She says she “will not tolerate these attacks on Poland.”

Putin has said on several occasions that Poland bears responsibility for the outbreak of the war. The remarks have deepened tensions between the two nations.

Jourova’s comments come during a debate on “Distortion of European history and remembrance of the Second World War,” which ended 75 years ago this year.

Manfred Weber, the head of the EPP Christian Democrat group, says that people “cannot accept Putin’s attempt to rewrite history.”

The Polish prime minister has said Putin has been deliberately lying with his remarks, and argued that Putin is doing it to deflect from recent Russian political failures.

World War II began in 1939 when Poland was invaded first by Nazi Germany, then by the Soviet Union two weeks later. The dual occupation came days after the two totalitarian states signed a pact with a secret protocol to carve up Poland and the Baltic states. Some 6 million Polish citizens were killed in the war, three million of them Jews.

— AP

IDF launches air strikes in Gaza in response to rocket fire

Israel’s air force carries out strikes in Gaza against installations belonging to terror groups in the territory in response to the rocket fire on Israeli communities earlier today.

A Channel 13 reporter standing in a community near the Gaza border tells the television network he heard at least three explosions from the Gaza side of the border.

Palestinian reports also confirm IDF strikes are taking place.

There is no immediate word on damage or casualties.

Sderot police examining suspected incendiary balloons in the city

Police are responding to as many as three suspected incendiary balloons that landed in the city of Sderot, near the Gaza Strip, according to initial reports.

Residents found suspicious objects attached to balloons in the city amid rising tensions on the border.

Four rockets were fired from Gaza at Israeli communities in the south earlier today, which led the IDF to strike several Hamas installations in the territory just a few minutes ago.

Left-wing Labor-Gesher-Meretz union files its slate for March election

The Labor-Gesher-Meretz union files its electoral slate for the March elections with the Central Elections Committee in the Knesset.

“The list we are now submitting is the social conscience and political compass for Israel,” says party chief and Labor chairman Amir Peretz after filing the joint slate. “This list will steer the next government and double the strength of the ‘hope and change camp.'”

Gesher chair Orly Levy-Abekasis, placed second on the slate, says, “We are joining hands for the children, for the elderly, for all Israeli society. We will do everything we can to promote the really important things. Together we will bring these issues to the forefront.”

Of the union between the three parties, Levy-Abekasis says, “We did what was needed and now we are looking forward.”

Meretz chair and the list’s no. 3 Nitzan Horowitz says, “Today we bring great hope to everyone who dreams of the left-center government. The united run will bring us back to the cabinet table and will return the left to national leadership.”

— Raoul Wootliff

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