The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.
Labor activists gathering signatures to oust party chief
Activists in Labor have begun gathering signatures from party members in order to oust leader Avi Gabbay, according to Hebrew media reports.
The effort comes amid growing discontent in the opposition party over Gabbay’s leadership and in the wake of his surprise decision to disband the Zionist Union alliance with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua.
With polls indicating Labor could plummet to as low as seven seats in April’s Knesset elections, a pair of lawmakers from the party called earlier today for Gabbay to consider resigning.
Gabbay, a former CEO of the Bezeq telecoms giant and environmental protection minister, won the primaries for Labor leader in 2017.
2 far-right teens arrested in protest outside Lod court
Police arrest two teenage far-right activists for disturbing the peace during a demonstration outside the Lod District Court.
The boys were among dozens protesting the court’s refusal to scrap a police order barring three Jewish suspects in a major, gagged security probe from meeting with their attorneys.
Police have closed the main road outside the courthouse as officers work to disperse the demonstration.
— Jacob Magid
US officials discuss Turkey’s request for return of wanted cleric
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s state-run news agency says a US delegation is meeting Turkish officials to discuss a longstanding Turkish request for the extradition of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen who is accused of being behind the failed coup in 2016.
Anadolu Agency says Thursday that the delegation, which includes FBI officials, will meet with officials from Turkey’s foreign, justice and interior ministries. Hurriyet newspaper says the delegation is also expected to talk to a top suspect accused of leading the coup from an air base in Ankara.
Turkey has demanded the extradition of Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. Gulen denies involvement in the coup attempt that killed more than 250 people.
Since the coup, Turkey has arrested or dismissed tens of thousands of people with links to Gulen’s movement.
Saudi prosecutor seeks death penalty as Khashoggi murder trial begins
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia’s attorney general is seeking the death penalty for five of 11 defendants charged with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as their high-profile trial opens in Riyadh on Thursday.
All 11 accused are present with their lawyers at the opening hearing in the capital, according to a statement by the attorney general carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.
The attorney general says Saudi Arabia had twice submitted formal requests for evidence from Turkey — where Khashoggi was murdered inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate — but had received no response.
The names of the defendants have not been officially released. Five top officials in Saudi Arabia — including royal court insider Saud al-Qahtani — were sacked over the Khashoggi murder, but there is no proof that they are among those charged.
Khashoggi, a contributor to the Washington Post, was murdered on October 2 in what Riyadh called a “rogue” operation.
The 59-year-old Saudi insider-turned-critic was strangled and his body cut into pieces by a team of 15 Saudis sent to Istanbul for the killing, according to Turkish officials.
Rights activist, UK citizen imprisoned by Iran plan hunger strike
LONDON — Prominent Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi and British-Iranian detainee Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe announce Thursday plans to go on hunger strike in Tehran’s Evin Prison to protest against the denial of medical treatment.
“We are urging for an immediate action to be taken,” they say in a joint letter.
Initially arrested in 2015, Mohammadi was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “forming and managing an illegal group,” among other charges.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in 2016 and is serving a five-year jail sentence for alleged sedition.
“Nazanin is currently having medical treatment blocked for lumps in her breasts, for neurological care over her neck pains and numbness in her arms and legs, and seeing an outside psychiatrist has been banned,” her husband Richard Ratcliffe tells AFP.
“These are all being personally blocked by the head of Evin clinic, Mr Khani, despite having been approved by the prison doctor.”
Mohammadi was the spokeswoman for the now-outlawed Defenders of Human Rights Center, which was co-founded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi.
“We are severely disturbed and concerned by this prevention of specialist care approved by the prison doctor and strongly protest against it,” Mohammadi and Zaghari-Ratcliffe say, according to the joint letter, originally published on Ebadi’s website.
“In protest to this illegal, inhuman and unlawful behavior, and to express our concerns for our health and survival at this denial of specialist treatment, despite taking daily medicines, we will go on hunger strike from January 14 to 16.
“The authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran are to be held responsible for the potential consequences.”
Neo-Nazi party launches ‘street patrol’ in German town after migrant violence
BERLIN — A German neo-Nazi party has launched a vigilante street patrol in a Bavarian town where four Afghan and Iranian asylum seekers allegedly attacked passers-by last weekend, local authorities say Thursday.
The mayor of Amberg, Michael Cerny, says he was “shocked” after the National Democratic Party posted photos online of four people wearing red protective vests to create “safe spaces,” including outside a refugee center.
“I can understand the insecurity seen in some of the reactions of some Ambergers, but the hatred and the threats of violence from all over the country go way too far,” Cerny tells the local daily Mittelbayerische Zeitung.
Police say they are investigating the reports, which included a group calling itself “Kraut/pol” accusing town authorities in an email of failing to protect the citizens of Amberg.
Police last Saturday detained four men from Afghanistan and Iran, aged 17 to 19, who had allegedly drunkenly attacked passers-by at random.
Twelve people aged 16 to 42 suffered mostly minor injuries, and a 17-year-old was treated for head wounds in hospital.
The case revived a simmering debate over immigration, integration and crime that has flared since the mass influx of over one million asylum seekers from 2015.
Wenn wir sagen "Schafft #Schutzzonen in #Amberg", dann meinen wir das auch so. Ein Video folgt in den nächsten Tagen.
Pelosi won’t rule out impeachment proceedings against Trump
WASHINGTON — Representative Nancy Pelosi isn’t ruling out impeachment proceedings against US President Donald Trump, depending on findings by the special counsel investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
Pelosi is set to become House speaker Thursday and tells NBC’s “Today” show, “we’ll have to wait and see what comes” from Robert Mueller’s probe of contacts between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.
Democrats are assuming the majority in the House, where the Constitution says impeachment proceedings must begin. Pelosi previously called impeachment a “divisive activity,” and Democrats were cautious about mentioning the “I” word during the 2018 midterms for fear it would backfire politically.
But Pelosi does not shy away from it Thursday. She says, “We shouldn’t be impeaching for a political reason, and we shouldn’t avoid impeachment for a political reason.”
It’s unclear that a sitting president can be indicted. Justice Department guidelines suggest he can’t. Pelosi calls it “an open discussion.” She adds, “Everything indicates that a president can be indicted after he is no longer president.”
Trump has denied any wrongdoing in the campaign or with his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance violations.
Rivlin chides Likud MK for calling Ethiopian lawmaker a ‘token immigrant’
President Reuven Rivlin criticizes Likud MK Oren Hazan for calling a lawmaker of Ethiopian descent a “token immigrant” during a Knesset committee meeting last week.
“I just want to apologize on behalf of all us,” Rivlin, a former Likud lawmaker, tells Yesh Atid MK Pnina Tamano-Shata during an event at his residence on ending violence against women.
Hazan swiftly fires back at Rivlin in a post on the Telegram messaging app.
“Friends, Rubi has lost it,” writes Hazan, using Rivlin’s nickname.
He accuses the president of “dealing in lies, slanders and fake news in order to change the results of the elections.”
Pompeo says US ‘won’t stand by’ as Iran tests missile technology
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Iran is gearing up to test a launch vehicle that will advance the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile program.
#Iran plans to fire off Space Launch Vehicles with virtually same technology as ICBMs. The launch will advance its missile program. US, France, UK & Germany have already stated this is in defiance of UNSCR 2231. We won't stand by while the regime threatens international security.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 3, 2019
Croatia gives Israel deadline on F-16 sale being held up by US
ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Croatia on Thursday urges Israel to overcome a rare disagreement with the US and confirm whether it can carry through on a deal to sell 12 used F-16 fighter jets, adding that otherwise the purchase will be annulled.
Croatia’s Defense Ministry says it needs an answer from Israel by January 11.
The tentative $500 million deal to buy the upgraded F-16 Barak fighter jets from Israel was made in March last year pending US approval allowing Israel to sell the American-made jets to a third party. The deal ran into trouble after the US State Department hinted that Israel needs to strip off the upgrades that were added after Israel bought the planes from the US some 30 years ago.
Israel has upgraded the jets with sophisticated electronic and radar systems, which was crucial in Croatia’s decision to buy the planes from Israel rather than from the US.
“If the planes are not in accordance with what we have agreed, the deal will not be carried out and we will have another purchase bid,” Croatia’s parliament speaker Gordan Jandrokovic says.
Relations between the Trump administration and Israel have been very close, particularly on defense issues. But the sale of the jets to Croatia appear to be one of the rare disagreements between the two countries. They were not overcome even after a meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday in Brazil, according to the Israeli media.
UN envoy condemns stoning of PA premier’s convoy
United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov expresses concern over the stoning of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s convoy last week.
“The stoning attack on Palestinian Prime Minister Hamdallah’s convoy on Christmas is a very worrying incident,” Mladenov says in a statement. “It is absolutely unacceptable and the perpetrators must be brought to justice. Stones can kill — it was at the same spot that, Aisha al-Rabi, lost her life in October. Such violence must stop immediately.”
Hamdallah’s convoy was stoned in the early morning of December 25 in the northern West Bank near the Tapuach junction, leaving two in his entourage wounded, according to Yousef Mahmoud, a PA government spokesman.
An Israeli Defense official confirmed Hamdallah’s convoy was stoned, but said only one person was injured in the incident.
Aisha al-Rabi was killed in October after a stone blew threw the windshield of a car she was traveling in near the Tapuach junction and hit her.
— Adam Rasgon
In rare comments, Gantz says some settlements ‘will forever remain’ part of Israel
In a rare public statement on issues of the day, former IDF chief of staff and chairman of the new Israel Resilience Party Benny Gantz offers a taste of what his version of an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement might look like, saying in an interview that settlements like the Etzion Bloc, Ariel, Ofra and Elkana “will forever remain” part of Israel.
The comments are made in a preview of a Hadashot TV news interview to be aired in full this evening. The short clip includes highlights from a one-on-one conversation in which Gantz says despite some of the criticism he has faced, he does not feel that he is threatening anyone.
“Though it’s possible that people are feeling threatened,” he says.
The former IDF chief says that what most concerns him about the current state of Israeli society “is its fragmentation, its radicalization.”
“Not necessarily (between) right-left, which is not our big story here, but more (of a radicalization) one against the other,” he explains in the interview, which was filmed in February 2018.
— Jacob Magid
Netanyahu fetes Israel-US efforts to counter Iran
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hails the Israel-US tag team he says is working to counter Iranian efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and back proxy groups in Middle East countries.
“President Trump is acting against Iran on the economic front and we here in Israel are acting against Iran on the military front,” he says in a speech at Bar-Ilan University.
The comments come a day after Trump said Iran “can do what they want” in Syria following his decision to withdraw US troops operating there, a move that has sparked consternation in Israel.
Speaking to cadets in the IDF’s officers course, Netanyahu says Israel is “surrounded by enemies on a couple of fronts.”
“We’re acting determinedly against anyone seeking to endanger us,” he says, pointing to Israeli campaigns against Iran’s military efforts in Syria and against cross-border attack tunnels being dug by Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Gaza’s Hamas.
New Pentagon chief talks Syria with Bolton, Pompeo
WASHINGTON — Top advisers to US President Donald Trump met at the Pentagon on Thursday to discuss Syria and other topics, a defense official says.
The meeting is the first of its kind for Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who started his new job January 1 following the resignation of his predecessor Jim Mattis.
According to a senior defense official, Shanahan met with National Security Adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and General Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
They “discussed a wide variety of topics to include Syria,” the official says.
Mattis quit last month after Trump ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, even though the Islamic State jihadist group still has thousands of fighters in the country and a US pull out would leave Kurdish fighters vulnerable to attack by Turkey.
Shanahan must oversee how the US pulls more than 2,000 troops out of Syria.
Various timelines have been floated, but Trump on Wednesday seemed vague, saying only that it would happen “over a period of time.”
Court allows minors arrested in Jewish terror probe to see their lawyers
The Lod District Court rules that a police order preventing three Jewish suspects in a major, gagged security probe from meeting with their attorneys will not be extended past Saturday evening.
Currently, the order is set to expire Friday, but security forces are free to extend it an additional two days. The order has been in effect since the three minors were arrested Sunday morning.
The court also rejects the appeal of the suspects’ attorneys against the court’s decision to extend the teens’ remand until Sunday.
The investigation is being conducted jointly by the Shin Bet security service and the police’s nationalistic crime unit, which are probing the incident as a possible Jewish terror plot.
— Jacob Magid
Status of women at Italian soccer game in Saudi Arabia criticized
ROME — Facing increasing criticism by government members over the decision to play the Italian Super Cup in Saudi Arabia, Serie A’s president is hailing the match as a “historic” opportunity for Saudi women to attend an international soccer game.
After tickets for the January 16 game between Juventus and AC Milan went on sale with specified sectors for “singles” and “families” to separate men and women, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini says it was “a shame” for the game to be played in a country where women can’t go to the stadium unless they are accompanied by men.
“I won’t watch that match,” adds Salvini, an outspoken Milan fan who recently criticized the choices of coach Gennaro Gattuso. “Soccer is a slave to business and television.”
Numerous other Italian politicians also expressed outrage.
Serie A president Gaetano Micciche responds by pointing out that women can go to the match unaccompanied by men.
“Our Super Cup will go down in history as the first official international competition that Saudi women can attend,” Micciche says Thursday in a long statement.
Women were allowed into Saudi sports stadiums a year ago for the first time to watch soccer matches, although they were segregated in the stands, sticking to the “family section” away from all-male crowds elsewhere.
New US Congress gavels in with nod to history, warning to Trump
WASHINGTON — The House and Senate have convened for the 116th Congress with the most the most diverse class of lawmakers in history.
The House is returning the first woman to the speaker’s office as Democrats take the majority with a large class of freshman lawmakers. They’re ready to confront US President Donald Trump in a new era of divided government, with Republicans still controlling the Senate.
It’s also the first new Congress to convene during a partial government shutdown, now in its 13th day over Trump’s demands for money for a southern border wall.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, is pledging broadly to make Congress work for all Americans. But her party is also ready to challenge Trump with investigations that threaten the White House agenda.
Supreme Court head denounces efforts to ‘drag’ courts into politics
Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut decries what she labels attempts to pull the judicial branch into Israel’s political battles.
“The efforts to drag the court system and its judges into politics and the efforts by officials to appropriate judges for themselves undermines the basic principles of the judiciary,” she says at a conference in Haifa.
Hayut also says “there are no left-wing judges or right-wing judges” in Israel and that judges are required to cut the “umbilical cord” connecting to them to those who supported their candidacy.
Mandelblit rejects criticism by Netanyahu ally
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit rejects criticism by a political ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding his handling of a series of corruption investigations involving the premier.
“Baseless claims have been heard recently about allegedly unprofessional conduct by law enforcement authorities, alongside remarks that ‘millions of people’ won’t accept one decision or another,” Mandelblit says at a conference in Haifa.
“These remarks are meant to undermine the public’s trust that are our decision are professional,” he adds.
Mandelblit was referring to comments by Likud MK David Amsalem that a decision by Mandelblit to indict Netanyahu would be rejected by millions of Israelis.
PM’s military secretary didn’t relay order to halt Amona clearance on time — report
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s military secretary did not relay an order in time to call off this morning’s removal of mobile homes illegally installed on a West Bank hilltop, Hadashot TV news reports.
According to the report, Col. Avi Blot did not inform military brass of the order to halt the operation until security forces were already on their way to Amona and about to start the operation.
Netanyahu instructed Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot to summon Blot for a clarification, the network reports.
Netanyahu: Attorney general under ‘thuggish and inhumane pressure’ to indict me
Prime Minister Netanyahu says Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit shouldn’t summon him to a hearing ahead of a possible indictment if the process can’t be wrapped up before Knesset elections in April.
“It is unacceptable that the public will only hear the claims of one side and not the other,” Netanyahu says in a statement.
The prime minister, who police have recommended be tried in three separate corruption cases, also accuses the media and the left of asserting “thuggish and inhumane pressure” on Mandelblit to indict him.
Lapid: PM should demand AG release findings of graft probes if he has nothing to hide
Yesh Atid chair Yair Lapid responds to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call for the attorney general not to announce an indictment against him before the April election.
“A prime minister who is sure that there won’t be anything because there was nothing should demand that the attorney general publish his conclusions as quickly as possible,” Lapid says.
— Raoul Wootliff
Regev slams AG for ‘trying to join the chorus aimed at toppling Netanyahu’
Culture Minister Miri Regev fires back after reports that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will decide whether to indict the prime minister next month, ahead of the April elections, saying it appears the country’s top lawyer is “trying to join the chorus that aims to topple Netanyahu.”
Speaking at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Regev stresses that the prime minister must be given the opportunity to publicly defend himself.
“Mandelblit cannot publish his recommendations without letting the prime minister respond,” Regev says, according to the Kan public broadcaster. “It is impossible for the public to hear only one side. The prime minister also has the presumption of innocence and right to defend himself and to express his position.”