New polls indicate PM’s immunity request does not hurt him electorally
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New polls indicate PM’s immunity request does not hurt him electorally

Parties maintain their numbers from previous surveys, more or less, with Blue and White at 35 and Likud at 33; Liberman remains kingmaker

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) is seen during a Knesset vote to revoke a law limiting the number of government ministers, on May 20, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) is seen during a Knesset vote to revoke a law limiting the number of government ministers, on May 20, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

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

40-year-old dies of flu complications in Ramat Gan

A 40-year-old man has died of flu complications at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, the 15th death of the season. Meanwhile a nine-year-old girl was hospitalized in serious condition from the disease as the country continues to suffer from a particularly aggressive strain of the virus.

Authorities are scrambling to purchase more flu vaccinations to deal with the overwhelming demand as Israelis rush to inoculate themselves against the spreading disease.

Indonesia floods leave nearly 30 dead, several missing

Indonesia’s disaster agency warns of more deaths after torrential rains pounded the Jakarta region, triggering floods and landslides that killed at least 29 and left vast swaths of the megalopolis underwater.

Tens of thousands fled to temporary shelters across the capital region — home to some 30 million — with scores of houses damaged in the deadliest flooding in years, after torrential rains on New Year’s Eve.

Images showed waterlogged homes and cars covered in muddy floodwaters, while some people took to paddling in small rubber lifeboats or tyre inner-tubes to get around.

Villagers make their way across a river after the bridge was destroyed by a flood at the Banjar Irigasi village in Lebak, Banten province on January 2, 2020, after flooding triggered by heavy rain hit the area (SAMMY / AFP)


Turkey’s parliament debates sending troops to Libya

Turkey’s parliament is convening to vote on whether to send Turkish troops to Libya to help the UN-supported government in Tripoli battle forces loyal to a rival administration that is seeking to capture the capital.

Turkish lawmakers are expected to approve a motion at their emergency session for a one-year deployment despite concerns that Turkish forces could aggravate Libya’s conflict further and destabilize the region.

The Tripoli-based government of Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj has faced an offensive by the rival regime in the east and commander Gen. Khalifa Hifter. The fighting has threatened to plunge Libya into violent chaos rivaling the 2011 conflict that ousted and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he addresses the members of his ruling party, in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019 (Turkish Presidency via AP, Pool)

— AP

Soldier lightly injured from unintentional weapon discharge

A 22-year-old soldier has been lightly injured after his weapon unintentionally discharged at the IDF’s Tel Hashomer base.

The soldier was taken to nearby Sheba Medical Center for treatment with a leg injury.

5-year-old dies after falling from horse in Golan Heights

A five-year-old boy has died after falling off a horse while riding in the Golan Heights.

The child was rushed by helicopter to Ziv Medical Center in Safed in critical condition but doctors could not save his life.

Netanyahu meets Greek PM ahead of inking pipeline deal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting with Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Athens.

He will later meet with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and the three will hold a trilateral meeting during which they will sign a deal for an undersea pipeline that will carry gas from new offshore deposits in the southeastern Mediterranean to continental Europe.

The 1,900-kilometer (1,300-mile) EastMed pipeline is intended to provide an alternative gas source for energy-hungry Europe, which is currently largely dependent on supplies from Russia and the Caucasus region.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Athens, January 2, 2020 (Haim Tzach/GPO)

— with AP

Palestinian tries to stab soldiers in West Bank, is shot

A Palestinian attempted to stab soldiers at the West Bank’s Gush Etzion Junction, the army says.

Troops fired at the assailant and “neutralized” him, the army says.

The soldiers were not injured in the incident.

— Jacob Magid

Court set to rule on whether Netanyahu can be tasked with forming government

The High Court of Justice is set to give its ruling today on whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can be tasked with forming a government following the March 2 election, in light of the charges against him in three criminal cases.

According to Channel 12 news, observers expect the petition against the premier to be rejected by court justices, in light of the nature of court deliberations in recent days.

A rejection could be temporary, with judges potentially ruling that they cannot make a decision at this stage and must be consulted when the issue potentially becomes relevant, i.e., after the election.

Iraqi protester shot dead as anti-regime rallies continue

An Iraqi activist was shot dead overnight in Baghdad, a police source tells AFP, as anti-government rallies carry on despite a separate day-long siege of the US embassy.

The activist, Saadoun al-Luhaybi, was shot in the head in a southwestern neighborhood of the Iraqi capital, the police source says.

He had been taking part in youth-led demonstrations rocking Iraq since early October that have demanded the ouster of a governing class seen as corrupt, inept and beholden to Iran.

An Iraqi anti-government protester holds a national flag as he stands by a fire at a makeshift roadblock in the southern city of Basra late on December 25, 2019. (Photo by Hussein FALEH / AFP)


High Court rejects petition against Netanyahu being able to form new coalition

The High Court has thrown out a petition that urged it to bar the prime minister from forming a government after the upcoming March election due to his criminal cases.

The court says it will not make a decision at the moment. Though it acknowledges the question raised by petitioners is “fundamental and important,” it adds that “at this time the petition is theoretical and premature.”

Court judges had previously indicated they believed it was too early to give a ruling as the election has not yet taken place, and said it may be more appropriate if and when Benjamin Netanyahu is set to be tasked with forming a government after the national poll.

Rivlin: We must oppose racism, including by those that claim to support Israel

President Reuven Rivlin appears to criticize Israel’s relations with international leaders who support Israel but have a problematic track record vis-a-vis the Jewish community.

Hosting representatives of the World Union of Jewish Students at his residence in Jerusalem, the president says it is important to clearly oppose all forms of racism and anti-Semitism, including by those that claim to support Israel.

“One cannot hate Jews and love Israel, just as one cannot hate Israel and love Jews,” he says. “There can be no compromise on this position.”

President Reuven Rivlin (center) hosts representatives of the World Union of Jewish Students at his residence in Jerusalem, January 2, 2020 (President’s Office)

The governments of Hungary and Poland have both adopted staunchly pro-Israel positions in recent years, while also being accused of encouraging anti-Semitic sentiment in their countries and showing a troubling acceptances of far-right activists.

Rivlin adds, “As young leaders you are on the frontline in facing anti-Semitism, and I know that it is not always easy to express your identity or support Israel on campus. Even wearing a kippah or a Star of David can be dangerous sometimes.

“You are on the frontline in fighting BDS campaigns on campus, which seek to harm Israel, and to distance young Jews from Israel. Thank for all that you do for us.”

Blue and White said looking at ousting Knesset speaker if he stalls on immunity

Blue and White is looking at the possibility of moving to replace Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) if he refuses to move forward on discussions regarding the prime minister’s immunity request, Channel 12 news reports.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday officially filed a request with Edelstein for immunity from prosecution in his three criminal cases. Opposition parties want to discuss the request immediately, despite the Knesset having disbanded in December, with the hope of the plenum rejecting it, thus allowing the premier’s trial to continue.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein gives a press statement in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on November 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But a source close to Netanyahu said earlier that Edelstein will prevent a Knesset discussion weighing the request before the March elections at minimum.

Blue and Whie MK Avi Nissenkorn, who leads the House Committee which would review the immunity request, says: “We have wanted for a long time now to form a House Committee and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein opposes it. When the prime minister asks for immunity we should honor that request and hold a discussion on the matter. The Knesset is not a shelter [from prosecution].”

Likud: High Court acted correctly, only the voters can decide who’ll lead them

Likud welcomes the High Court’s decision to reject a petition against the prime minister being tasked with forming a government.

“The High Court acted correctly,” the party says. “In a democracy only the people decide who will lead the people, and no one else.”

Gantz ‘respects’ court ruling on PM: ‘We’ll take him to court of public opinion’

Blue and White chief Benny Gantz says he respects “the correct decision of the High Court” not to rule out Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forming a government after the next election.

“We will take Netanyahu to the court of public opinion at the polls, and win,” he tweets.

US defense chief: More attacks by Iran-backed groups expected, they’ll regret it

The Pentagon warns that the Iran-backed Kataeb Hezbollah group that stormed the US embassy in Baghdad will likely carry out more attacks on US facilities — and will regret it.

“The provocative behavior has been out there for months… So do I think they may do something? Yes. And they will likely regret it,” US Defense Secretary Mark Esper tells reporters.

“We are prepared to exercise self-defense, and we are prepared to deter further bad behavior from these groups, all of which are sponsored, directed and resourced by Iran,” he adds.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks onstage during a briefing at Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida, on December 29, 2019. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP)


Man accused of trying to deal in weapons during house arrest for weapons crimes

A former member of a local council in northern Israel has been indicted for attempting to deal in weapons while under house arrest for weapons possession, Channel 12 reports.

Charges were filed against the man in the Haifa District Court, alongside three other people involved in the alleged crimes.

The defendant is accused of contacting weapons traders in the West Bank to try and arrange deals.

However, the report adds that the central suspect in the case has not yet been apprehended.

Taxi drivers block Route 1 as they protest new fare system

Taxi drivers are blocking Route 1 in the westbound lanes from Ben Gurion Interchange to Shafirim Interchange in protest against a reform of their fares.

Drivers say the new fare system, which is beginning to go into effect, will slash their income by some 30 percent.

Police are at the scene of the protest and were working to open up the road.

Court extends remand of suspect accused of planning price tag attack

The Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court rules to extended until Monday the remand of an Israeli suspect arrested early this morning reportedly en route to carry out a price tag attack.

The court also accepts the prosecution’s request to bar the 18-year-old suspect from meeting with an attorney during that four day period.

However, the court rejects the prosecution’s request to extend the remand of a 15-year-old accomplice, who was arrested along with the suspect after police pulled them over outside the Bat Ayin settlement.

Illustrative: A car torched in a price-tag attack targeting the Palestinian village of Far’ata on December 20, 2019. (Far’ata municipality)

The court orders that the minor be released to house arrest, but agrees to a stay in executing the decision to provide the prosecution with an opportunity to appeal the ruling.

— Jacob Magid

Elite Iraqi troops secure US embassy after attack

Elite Iraqi troops have deployed to secure the US embassy, a day after a pro-Iran mob laid siege to it in dramatic scenes that overshadowed months of anti-government grassroots protests.

More than a dozen black armored vehicles of the US-trained Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service deploy on the embassy’s streets in the capital’s Green Zone to reinforce security there.

The unprecedented attack on the American mission in Baghdad — in which intruders threw rocks, laid fires and graffitied walls — sparked fears of a wider proxy war between Iran and the United States, both of them close allies of Iraq.

Iraqi counter-terrorism forces stand guard in front of the US embassy in the capital Baghdad on January 2, 2020 (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)

Supporters of Iraq’s powerful Hashed al-Shaabi military force laid siege to the embassy in outrage at US air strikes that killed 25 of their fighters, but pulled back on Wednesday after an order from the group.


Police arrest suspect who refused to undergo security check at Temple Mount

Police arrest a man who refused to undergo a security check at the entrance to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount compound.

Officials say the man was stopped by police after behaving suspiciously. He then tried to run away while assaulting officers at the scene. He was subdued with pepper spray and taken for questioning.

Satellite photos show results of US airstrikes on Iran-backed Iraqi militia

ImageSat International issues photos of the results of Sunday’s US airstrikes on Iran-backed Iraqi militia Kataeb Hezbollah in western Iraq.

One photo of the facility in al-Qaim shows “one structure was completely destroyed and another one was partially damaged.” Another photo shows “two structures were completely destroyed and one was partially damaged.”

Netanyahu: Court ruled properly, but should not have even considered petition

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the High Court of Justice “acted properly by rejecting the petition” to bar him from being tasked with forming a government, “but to be clear, I don’t think it should even have considered it.

“The people’s choice of who will lead [them] is the people’s choice and no one else’s.”

Party registrar okays request by wife of Rabin’s killer to form political party

The party registrar has approved a request by the wife of Yigal Amir, assassin of late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, to form a political party.

Attorney Eyal Globus says he received an affidavit from Larissa Trimbobler in which she said “her party and/or actions do not seek to justify the murder of a prime minister.” Globus says “there is no justification in the law to prevent the party from being registered.”

Democratic Camp MK Stav Shaffir had petitioned Globus to strike down the party.

Trimbobler has said her party will seek just trials and potential repeat trials in cases where there is a suspicion of miscarriage of justice. Several of her partners in the new party previously led a party calling for Amir to be released.

Trimbobler’s party has virtually no chance of winning enough votes to enter the Knesset.

Larissa Trimbobler, wife of Yigal Amir, seen at court in Lod on September 19, 2019 (Flash90)

Greece, Cyprus, Israel sign EastMed pipeline deal

Greece, Cyprus and Israel sign an agreement for a huge pipeline project to ship gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe despite Turkey’s hostility to the deal.

The move comes amid tensions with Turkey over its activities in the area and a maritime deal with Libya expanding Ankara’s claims over a large gas-rich area of the sea.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (C), his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiadis pose in Athens on January 2, 2020, ahead of the signing of an agreement for the EastMed pipeline project designed to ship gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe. (ARIS MESSINIS / AFP)

The 2,000-kilometer (1,200-mile) EastMed pipeline will be able to carry between nine and 12 billion cubic meters of gas a year from offshore reserves held by Israel and Cyprus to Greece, and then on to Italy and other southeastern European countries.


New polls indicate PM’s immunity request does not hurt him with voters

A new Channel 12 poll carried out in the wake of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request that the Knesset grant him immunity from prosecution indicates that the move hasn’t hurt him with voters.

The poll shows the parties more or less with the same numbers they had in previous polls: Blue and White leads with 35 seats; Likud has 33; the Arab majority Joint List has 13; Yisrael Beytenu, United Torah Judaism and Shas are tied at 8; New Right has 6; Labor-Gesher is at 5 and Meretz is at 4.

Currently Jewish Home, Otzma Yehudit and National Union do not pass the electoral threshold, though they are expected to squeak through with four seats if they all merge.

A Channel 13 poll shows Blue and White at 36 and Likud at 34. Interestingly, New Right (8) passes Yisrael Beytenu (6). Still, the right-wing bloc is unable to form a coalition without Avigdor Liberman’s party, with 56 seats. Jewish Home, Otzma Yehudit and National Union remain below the electoral threshold.

PM once again asks to receive outside funding for legal defense — report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is once again asking the Permits Committee at the State Comptroller’s Office to allow him to receive outside funding for his legal expenses, Channel 12 news reports.

The committee has already rejected his request to receive donations from wealthy benefactors for his legal expenses on three occasions and instructed him to return funds he had already received.

Netanyahu’s attorneys are claiming there has been a significant change in circumstances that justifies reexamining the request, Channel 12 says. Two judges will review the request.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on December 29, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

In October the attorney general allowed Netanyahu to receive a loan from a friend, American businessman Spencer Partrich, to help fund his legal defense.

Austria’s new government vows to combat anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism

The new Austrian government vows to combat anti-Semitism as well as anti-Zionism, reiterating the country’s “historical responsibility” toward the State of Israel.

The coalition agreement old-new Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s People’s Party signed today with the Austrian Greens lists “continuation of Austria’s fight against anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on a global and European level” as one of the incoming government’s goals.

“Austria has a special historical responsibility as well as a current bond to the State of Israel. We are committed to the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and in particular to its security. Israel’s right to exist must not be questioned,” the documents reads.

Head of the Austria People’s Party (OevP) Sebastian Kurz (L) and Head of the Austrian Green Party Werner Kogler shake hands after addressing a press conference to present the newly-formed coalition government’s programme on January 2, 2020 in Vienna (ALEX HALADA / AFP)

“Austria will not support any initiatives and resolutions in international organizations that contradict Austria’s commitment to Israel as laid out above.”

In the coalition agreement, the two parties further vow to support “sustainable peace solutions in the Middle East,” and reiterated Vienna’s support for a two-state solution.

— Raphael Ahren

Trump warns Erdogan against ‘foreign interference’ in Libya

US President Donald Trump warns his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan against any “foreign interference” in Libya, the White House says, after Turkish lawmakers approved a military deployment to shore up the UN-backed government in Tripoli.

In a telephone call, Trump “pointed out that foreign interference is complicating the situation in Libya,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley says in a statement.

The government in Tripoli has been under sustained attack since April by military strongman General Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Turkey’s regional rivals — Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Erdogan has repeatedly accused Russia of sending private mercenaries to support Haftar’s forces, though this has been denied by Moscow.


Iraq’s Sadr reactivates famous anti-US ‘Mahdi Army’ after strike

Iraq’s militia leader turned populist politician Moqtada Sadr reactivates his Mahdi Army following a US strike that killed top Iranian and Iraqi commanders.

Taking to Twitter, Sadr orders “fighters, particularly those from the Mahdi Army, to be ready” following the strike, reactivating the notoriously anti-American force nearly a decade after he dissolved it.


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