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Police chief: Hard to envisage PM not being indicted

Roni Alsheich flatly rejects claims that investigators are framing Netanyahu; says he has not interrogated premier himself, but has read over every word of testimony

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Former police chief Roni Alsheich (R) is interviewed by Udi Segal at the Institute for International Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv on January 27, 2019. (Sc
Former police chief Roni Alsheich (R) is interviewed by Udi Segal at the Institute for International Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv on January 27, 2019. (Sc

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

PM says Nasrallah has ‘good reason’ to fear full force of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismisses Hezbollah’s chief as being in a state of turmoil in the wake of Israel’s success in identifying and destroying a series of cross-border attack tunnels from Lebanon, and says the terror group is struggling financially in the wake of sanctions imposed on its sponsor Iran.

“Yesterday (Hassan) Nasrallah broke his silence. He is in a state of turmoil for three reasons: Firstly, due to our tremendous success in Operation Northern Shield. He and his men invested tremendous effort in the surprise weapon of the penetrating tunnels, including digging them — contrary to what he said — in recent years and in recent months. Within six weeks we completely deprived him of this weapon,” the prime minister says.

Baghdad to summon Turkey envoy over death of Kurdish protester

Iraq says it will summon the Turkish ambassador over the death of a Kurdish protester after Turkish troops opened fire on demonstrators in the country’s northwest.

On Saturday night, Kurdish protesters stormed a Turkish army position in the Shiladzeh region of northwestern Iraq to protest the deaths of four civilians they said were killed last week in Turkish bombardment.

Witnesses says Turkish troops opened fire on the demonstrators, causing casualties and damage.

Iraq’s foreign ministry has denounced the incident, saying one person was killed and several others wounded when Turkish forces “opened fire on citizens in the Shiladzeh area.”

“The foreign ministry will summon the Turkish ambassador to hand a protest note about the incident and demand that it not be repeated,” it adds.

Turkish forces are deployed in Iraq’s northern autonomous Kurdish region and often carry out raids and airstrikes against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), seen as a “terrorist” group by Ankara.

— AFP

UN envoy Mladenov condemns ‘settler violence’

The UN’s Mideast envoy is calling the death of a Palestinian in West Bank clashes with Israeli settlers “shocking and unacceptable.”

Nikolay Mladenov calls on Israel to “put an end to settler violence and bring those responsible to justice.”

Hamdi Naasan, 38, was killed Saturday near the village of al-Mughayyir, close to Ramallah. The Palestinians say settlers shot him. The settlers say a Jewish man was stabbed by Palestinians and they fired in the air while chasing away the attackers.

Israeli police and military have launched investigations.

— AP

PM downplays government report’s conclusion on threat far-right poses to Diaspora Jews

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu downplays a new report from the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, which highlights the growing threat the far-right poses to Jews around the world.

“In contrast to previous years, when Islamist anti-Semitism was the main and most dangerous threat to Jewish communities, in 2018 there has been a turnaround and now anti-Semitic incidents emanating from the far-right are the main and most dangerous threat to Jewish communities, especially in the United States and Europe,” the report states.

Speaking at the cabinet meeting during which the findings were announced, Netanyahu asserts that “anti-Semitism on the right is not anything new.”

“What’s new in Europe is this merging of Islamist anti-Semitism with the extreme left, as we’re seeing in Britain and Ireland,” he claims.

Cabinet approves export of medicinal marijuana products

The cabinet has approved the export of medicinal marijuana products in a decision that is expected to open new markets for Israeli manufacturers and lead to increased investment in research, agriculture and production.

Arab activist allegedly beaten by police officer at rally announces Knesset run

Rights campaigner Jafar Farah, an Arab Israeli who accused a police officer of beating him and breaking his knee after his arrest at a Gaza solidarity rally in Haifa last year, announces that he will be running in April’s Knesset elections.

Farah will run for a spot on the slate of Hadash, a socialist Jewish-Arab party that made up part of the Joint List in the Knesset.

Germany earmarks funds for Russian siege survivors

Berlin and Moscow announce that Germany has provided 12 million euros to help Russian World War II veterans and siege survivors but Moscow said it was not enough.

The announcement comes as Russia marked the 75th anniversary of the end of a World War II siege of Leningrad that claimed more than 800,000 lives.

The initiative was billed as a “voluntary humanitarian gesture towards the surviving victims of the blockade.”

Saint Petersburg, formerly known as Leningrad, is home to around 86,000 siege survivors.

“We, foreign ministers of Germany and Russia, welcome the decision of the German government to provide 12 million euros ($13.7 million) for the modernization of a hospital for war veterans and the establishment of a German-Russian meeting center,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov says.

“We are confident that this voluntary action will improve the quality of life of the surviving victims of the siege and serve in the historical reconciliation of the people of both countries as a basis for our bilateral relations in the future,” the ministers says.

— AFP

Israel lauds Greek lawmakers’ ratification of Macedonia name change

The Foreign Ministry releases a statement congratulating Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and Greek President Alexis Tsipras after lawmakers in Athens ratified a landmark name change deal with neighboring Macedonia.

The agreement “will advance peace and stability in the Balkans,” the Foreign Ministry says.

Early this month, Macedonia’s parliament backed a constitutional revision to change the country’s name to the Republic of North Macedonia. But for the deal to go through, the change had to also be approved by Greek MPs.

 

IDF delegation takes off for Brazil to search for missing in dam collapse

A delegation of some 130 Israeli conscripted and reservist soldiers has taken off for Brazil to assist the South American country in the search for the hundreds still missing after a dam collapsed two days ago, killing dozens and with scores more feared dead.

In addition to Israeli military search-and-rescue specialists and medical officers, who made up the most of the delegation, members of the Israeli Navy’s Yaltam scuba unit were also brought in to assist in the efforts as the military expected a significant number of underwater missions in the flooded region, army spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus says.

Malaysia stands by decision to bar Israeli athletes after being stripped of world para swim event

After his country was stripped of its right to host the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships for threatening to refuse to allow Israeli athletes to participate, Malaysia’s youth and sports minister stands by the policy.

If hosting an international sports event was more important than the country’s support for the Palestinian cause, “(it) means Malaysia has truly loss its moral compass,” says Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman.

“Malaysia stands firm with our decision on the ground of humanity and compassion for the Palestinian plight. We will not compromise,” the minister adds.

— AFP

Bahraini FM goes after Hezbollah’s Nasrallah in latest tweet storm

Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa lambastes  Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in a tweet, saying “The peace, prosperity, international status and civilization of Lebanon does not concern the terrorist Nasrallah.”

“Iranian money and weapons and praising the [Iranian supreme leader] concern him,” he adds in a reference to the interview Nasrallah gave yesterday in which he declared that the terror group was as strong as ever.

with Adam Rasgon

Rivlins and Ramons welcome bereaved families of Columbia Space Shuttle crew

President Reuven Rivlin, his wife Nechama and the family of the late Ilan and Rona Ramon welcome the bereaved families of Columbia Space Shuttle crew, who are in Israel at the invitation of Rona Ramon, who passed away last month.

“This house is your home, and I hope that every time you visit, you will feel like you have come home,” Rivlin says during a ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

“Every Israeli knows where they were 16 years ago when they heard the terrible news. The stories of the brave astronauts on the space shuttle have become part of the story of the State of Israel.”

Syria air defenses target suspected drones over Russia base

Syria state media is reporting that the country’s air defense systems have destroyed three “hostile” targets in the country’s coastal region over a Russian air base.

The Britain-based monitoring Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says explosions heard earlier today resulted from the air defense systems intercepting suspected attacking drones, which had previously targeted the Russian air base in Latakia province.

Militants in nearby Idlib province last launched an armed drone toward the base in November violating a ceasefire in place two months earlier.

But the Russian-Turkey sponsored ceasefire has in recent days has seen increasing violations after radical al-Qaeda-linked militants pushed out other armed groups, effectively seizing control of the area home to nearly 3 million civilians. Russia complained last week al-Qaeda-linked group’s hold increasingly threatened its air base.

— AP

Foundation of rig for Leviathan gas field arrives in Israel

Israel’s Delek Drilling and its US partner, Noble Energy, says the foundation of their rig for the Leviathan gas field has arrived, in the first stage of an ambitious project they say will wean Israel off coal and revolutionize its economy by turning it into an energy exporter.

The foundation, known as the platform jacket, is being placed around 10 kilometers (6 miles) off Israel’s Mediterranean coast. It arrived on a 180-meter (590-foot) long barge that sailed for a month from Texas across the Atlantic Ocean. The platform’s jacket, which took 18 months to build, is nearly 100 meters (330 feet) high and weighs 15,500 tons.

The topside of the platform is expected to arrive in the coming months and natural gas from the field is supposed to pump into Israel and its neighboring countries by the end of the year. Israel already has export deals signed with Jordan and Egypt, and it aims to build a pipeline with Greece and Cyprus to carry the gas to Europe.

— AP

Police summon members of outpost security squad accused of shooting Palestinian

Police have summoned for questioning over 20 members of the Adei Ad outpost’s security squad accused of shooting dead a Palestinian man in a central West Bank clash yesterday.

Simultaneously, hundreds of residents of al-Mughayyir participate in the funeral procession for 38-year-old Hamdi Na’asan.

There were conflicting claims as to how the deadly incident unfolded: Palestinians said settlers from Adei Ad arrived at an olive tree grove outside Al-Mughayyir and attacked villagers, shooting and injuring several of them. They said Na’asan had been shot in the back. According to Hebrew media reports Na’asan had previously spent seven years in an Israeli prison, with some reports saying his term was for terror offenses including planting explosives and shooting at Israelis.

Meanwhile, settlers claimed that a youth was set upon by a Palestinian mob and had been stabbed in the hand, leading to the clashes and resulting in some settlers firing shots in the air after “they felt their lives were in danger.”

 

Israel recognizes Venezuela opposition leader as country’s interim president

“Israel joins the United States, Canada, most of the countries of Latin America and countries in Europe in recognizing the new leadership in Venezuela,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says in a short statement, siding with opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s interim leader over socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

Eight civilians killed in Yemen displaced center bombing

Eight civilians were killed and 30 others wounded in a “shocking” bomb attack against a center for displaced people in Yemen, the UN says.

The bombing hit the center in the Haradh district in the northwestern province of Hajja on Saturday, according to the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Lisa Grande. She did not name the party behind the attack.

“Any attack on a civilian site is unconscionable and a clear violation of international humanitarian law,” Grande says in a statement.

“An attack like this cannot be justified — ever.”

The center is in an area under government control in Hajja, but the Houthi rebels control other parts of the province.

— AFP

Four police dead in back-to-back bomb blasts in Iraq

Four Iraqi policemen have been killed in two back-to-back bomb blasts north of the capital, officials say, in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.

“At around 8:00 am, the police officers were taking up their post at the southern entrance of Al-Sharqat,” the town’s mayor, Ali Dodah, tells AFP.

“One bomb went off, killing two police officers and wounding eight. An hour and a half later, as reinforcements arrived, a second bomb went off,” Dodah says.

A police officer speaking on condition of anonymity confirms the first blast’s toll to AFP and says the second explosion killed two officers and wounded three.

A medical source at Al-Sharqat’s hospital confirms a total of four officers were killed.

IS’s propaganda agency, Amaq, has released a statement claiming the attack.

Al-Sharqat, around 250 kilometers (150 miles) north of Baghdad, was held by IS until autumn 2017.

It was one of the last areas recaptured by the government, which announced several months later that it had ousted IS from Iraq.

— AFP

BDS activists said to be intimidating France’s Eurovision rep to stay away from Israel-hosted event

Bilal Hassani, France’s representative in the 2019 Eurovision song contest, is reportedly receiving death threats and other messages of intimidation from BDS activists warning him against participating in the May event that will be hosted by Israel in Tel Aviv, Hadashot news reports.

PM’s attorneys call on AG to investigate leaks from corruption probes

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s legal team is calling on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to investigate over 100 leaks that have taken place throughout the police’s criminal investigations into the premier’s conduct.

The attorneys submitted 122 cases in which police had allegedly leaked information from the probes to members of the press, in what they argue was gross and illegal misconduct on the part of the investigators.

PM meets with Holocaust survivors to mark international remembrance day

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with three Holocaust survivors in his Jerusalem office to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Netanyahu listens to the personal stories of Moshe Haelyon, Mordecai (Motka) Weisel and Malka Steinmetz from World War II and their immigration to Israel, and tells them that their stories are the stories of the State of Israel and its survival.

The three also join the prime minister at the weekly cabinet meeting.

Bashir accuses media of exaggerating Sudan protests

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is accusing the media of exaggerating the size of the problem he is facing at home, where he has faced weeks of protests against his rule.

His remarks come during a news conference in Cairo following a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Bashir’s visit to Egypt is his second trip abroad since the demonstrations erupted in Sudan last month against worsening economic hardships before mushrooming into calls for an end to his three decades in power.

“There is a problem (in Sudan), we are not claiming that there is not. But it’s not of the size or extent raised in some media,” says Bashir.

The protests were “an attempt to clone the so-called Arab Spring in Sudan,” he says, referring to similarities between slogans and use of social media in uprisings that hit the region in 2010-2011.

Angry crowds of Sudanese protesters have been seen in videos posted online chanting “The people want the downfall of the regime,” a signature slogan of the Arab Spring.

Meanwhile, people flocked to the streets of Khartoum and Omdurman on Sunday to hold sit-ins in several squares, responding to a call by the Sudanese Professionals Association which is leading the protest campaign.

— AFP

PM urges AG not to bow to ‘leftist’ pressure to indict him

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urges Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit not to cave to “leftist” pressure to indict him.

“For three years now, the left has been protesting every week in front of the attorney general’s home… harass (him) at his synagogue and the grocery store. Now one is also suspected of having desecrated his father’s grave,” he tweets.

“It’s (part of) thuggish pressure to get him to file an indictment against me at all costs. One can only hope that the AG will not succumb to this tremendous pressure.”

Polish PM says Hitler’s Germany responsible for Holocaust, not Nazis

Hitler’s Germany was responsible for the Holocaust, not the Nazis, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki says, as Poland marked 74 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

“Hitler’s Germany fed on fascist ideology… But all the evil came from this (German) state and we cannot forget that, because otherwise we relativize evil,” says Morawiecki at an official ceremony at Auschwitz.

“The Polish state acts as the guardian of the truth, which must not be relativized in any way,” he says.

“I want to make a promise here to (preserve) the complete truth about that era,” he adds, in a speech in the southern city of Oswiecim to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

Today’s ceremony at Auschwitz was attended by a number of former prisoners at the camp.

Morawiecki’s speech comes after last year’s row over a Polish law that made it illegal to accuse the Polish nation or state of complicity in Nazi German crimes.

— AFP

Palestinian seriously injured by Israeli gunfire in Gaza border clash

Israeli troops clashed with Palestinians along the southern Gaza border, the army says.

One Palestinian was seriously injured by Israeli gunfire, according to local media reports.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, Palestinians threw stones and an explosive device at Israeli troops along the Gaza security fence. In response, the Israeli troops used tear gas and, in some cases, live fire, the army says.

“It was a pretty violent riot,” an IDF spokesperson says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Former IDF chief rejects Nasrallah claims that more tunnels remain

Former IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot flatly denies a threat made by Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah that there are additional attack tunnels dug by the Lebanese terror group into northern Israel.

“We assessed that there was a project like this, and beginning in 2014 we had knowledge of the program, and at the time that we decided to act, we acted. And in six weeks, we destroyed all the attack tunnels into northern Israel,” the former general says.

“[Nasrallah’s] claim that there are things we don’t know about is baseless,” Eisenkot says.

The former IDF chief, whose tenure ended earlier this month, makes his remarks at the opening event of the three-day annual conference organized by Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies.

“We have clear knowledge that this project was foiled,” he says.

On December 4, Israel launched Operation Northern Shield to find and destroy these Hezbollah attack tunnels. On January 13, the military announced that it had found all of the passages and was working to demolish them all.

— Judah Ari Gross

Police question, release left-wing activists suspected of vandalizing grave of AG’s father

Police question two left-wing activists suspected of vandalizing the grave of Avichai Mandlelblit’s father last month in what has been part of the growing pressure against the attorney general as he prepares to make a decision on whether to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The activists were unconditionally released shortly thereafter and they both assert that they had nothing to do with the crime.

Former police chief: I have a hard time believing PM won’t be indicted

Former police chief Roni Alsheich says he has “a hard time believing that there won’t be an indictment for bribery” against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Alsheich says at the Insitute for National Security Studies annual conference that he read every detail of the testimony given by Netanyahu throughout the investigation and that the police is not trying to frame the prime minister.

Defense officials warned PM against recognizing Venezuelan opposition leader

Defense officials initially warned against Israel recognizing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president over fears of the possible repercussions the country’s Jewish community might face at the hands of President Nicolas Maduro, Channel 13 reports.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office denied the report and asserted that the decision to back Guaido was made with the support of the defense establishment.

Pope in Holocaust remembrance day message: World must remember ‘black pages of history’

Pope Francis says the world needs to remember “the black pages of history,” as he marked international Holocaust Remembrance Day during his visit to Panama.

“We need to keep alive memories of past tragedies and learn from the black pages of history to never again commit the same mistakes,” Francis says during his weekly Angelus message.

He says that “cultivating justice, increasing harmony and sustaining integration” were “instruments of peace and builders of a better world.”

Francis delivers his weekly Angelus address in Panama, as he winds up a global gathering of young people at World Youth Day festivities.

— AFP

10,000 march in Paris against ‘yellow vest’ violence

More than 10,000 people march through Paris in protest at “yellow vest” violence during the anti-government demos that have have drawn tens of thousands of people to the streets over the past 11 weeks.

Since mid-November President Emmanuel Macron has offered concessions and debates seeking to quell the weekly rallies that often end in violent clashes with police in the most serious challenge yet to his government.

In today’s rival protest, the crowds march in rain from the Place de la Nation square to the Bastille monument, some chanting “Yes to democracy, no to revolution,” as they waved French and European Union flags.

Dubbed the “red scarf” movement, the centrist initiative is the brainchild of an engineer from Toulouse, who was horrified by the violence seen among more extremist “yellow vest” demonstrators.

Many protesters joining the rally say they were not against “yellow vest” demands for greater help for France’s poor, but were sick of the clashes and destruction that have marked protests.

— AFP

US warns against threats to opposition in Venezuela

US national security advisor John Bolton warns of a “significant response” if US diplomats or the opposition leader seeking the ouster of Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro are threatened or intimidated.

“Any violence and intimidation against US diplomatic personnel, Venezuela’s democratic leader, Juan Guaido, or the National Assembly itself would represent a grave assault on the rule of law and will be met with a significant response,” he posts on Twitter.

The warning does not address specific groups or individuals, but Bolton notes in a linked tweet that Cuba’s “support and control over Maduro’s security and paramilitary forces” was well known.

— AFP

Merkel: We are working to ensure Iranian forces don’t approach Golan Heights

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Berlin “is working (to ensure) that Iranian forces do not get too close to the Golan Heights.”

“I believe that it is important and reasonable for Israel to represent its security interests. It is true that (current) Iranian policy (in Syria) is a threat to Israel,” Merkel says in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster.

Remembering is about striving to prevent atrocities from recurring — White House in Holocaust remembrance day message

In its International Holocaust Remembrance Day message, US President Donald Trump’s White House says in a statement that to remember the atrocity “is to strive to prevent such suffering from happening again.”

“Any denial or indifference to the horror of this chapter in the history of humankind diminishes all men and women everywhere and invites repetition of this great evil,” says the president, who has come under fire throughout his term for not speaking out against neo-Nazis in the US.

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