The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they unfolded.
IDF says Gaza rocket fired at Israel fell short of border
The IDF says a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel fell short, landing inside the Palestinian territory.
The launch did not set off warning sirens in Israel, since defense systems projected that the rocket would land inside Gaza.
The IDF says there are no special instructions for residents of southern Israel following the launch.
Tensions have spiked due to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s visit to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount earlier in the day.
The Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group has warned against the far-right lawmaker visiting the holy site.
Ben Gvir and his party have brushed aside those warnings, saying Hamas will not dictate their activities.
US State Department warns Ben Gvir’s Temple Mount visit could ‘provoke violence’
US State Department Spokesman Ned Price says the US is “deeply concerned” by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount earlier today.
When asked about the visit during a press briefing, Price says the US believes the visit has “the potential to exacerbate tensions and to provoke violence.”
The White House also speaks out against the move, expressing its support for preserving the sensitive status quo at the site.
“The United States stands firmly… for the preservation of the status quo with respect to holy sites in Jerusalem,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre says when asked whether the Biden administration views the visit as constructive.
“Any unilateral action that jeopardizes the status quo is unacceptable,” she says.
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides offered similar remarks earlier today.
Military investigating reports of rocket fired from Gaza at south
The IDF is investigating reports of a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel.
Palestinian media reports say one projectile was launched from central Gaza.
It is unclear if the rocket landed in Israeli territory or fell short and landed inside Gaza.
No incoming rocket sirens have sounded in Israel.
Tensions have spiked between Israel and the Palestinians due to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s visit to the flashpoint Temple Mount this morning.
The Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group had warned beforehand that a visit by Ben Gvir to the site would be a “detonator” and vowed resistance.
Ben Gvir and his party have repeatedly dismissed Hamas threats.
Germany urges caution to maintain ‘fragile peace’ at Temple Mount
Germany urges “everyone to avoid actions that could increase tensions” after National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visited the Temple Mount early this morning.
The status quo at the sensitive holy site “has long helped maintain the fragile peace and security around the holy sites. Germany urges everyone to avoid actions that could increase tensions,” Steffen Seibert, Berlin’s ambassador to Israel, writes on Twitter.
UAE to call for emergency UN Security Council hearing over Ben Gvir’s Temple Mount visit
The United Arab Emirates is expected to submit a request to convene an emergency hearing of the UN Security Council regarding alleged Israeli violations of the status quo at the Temple Mount following National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s visit to the flashpoint holy site this morning, a diplomat on the top body tells The Times of Israel.
The request will be made on behalf of the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, who lambasted Israel for Ben Gvir’s visit, as did the UAE.
Japan currently holds the presidency on the council and will decide whether to hold a session, though such requests are not typically rejected.
Ben Gvir dodges questions over plans to allow Jewish prayer at Temple Mount
Hours after paying a controversial visit to the flashpoint Temple Mount, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir dodges questions about whether he will work to change the status quo and allow Jewish prayer at the holy site.
“Don’t put words in my mouth,” he says during an interview on Channel 12 news when asked if he plans to change the current ban on Jewish prayer. “I’ll fight against racism [on the Temple Mount]… Jewish prayer does take place on Temple Mount. [Naftali] Bennett permitted it. [Yair] Lapid permitted it. Omer Barlev permitted it. That’s not the story. The story on Temple Mount is the racism. That Jews can’t go up. That Jews are treated as though they’re impure. That Jews are not allowed to drink from the water tap.”
Asked repeatedly on any potential plans to allow prayer at the site, Ben Gvir says: “You know that I give clear answers. If I don’t want to answer, I don’t answer.”
Ben Gvir also confirms that he received a green light to visit the Temple Mount from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.
Germany rejects Poland’s request for $1.4t in WWII reparations, says Warsaw
The Polish Foreign Ministry says it has received an official note from Germany rejecting Poland’s World War II reparations claim.
“According to the German government, the issue of reparations and compensation for wartime losses remains closed and it does not intend to enter into negotiations,” the ministry says in a statement.
It adds that Poland “will further continue to seek compensation for German aggression and occupation in 1939-1945.”
In September, Poland estimated the financial cost of World War II losses to be 1.3 trillion euros ($1.4 trillion) and sent a formal diplomatic note to Berlin demanding compensation.
The Times of Israel reported at the time that Poland included in its list of atrocities villages that were the sites of Polish pogroms against Jews — perhaps most infamously the village of Jedwabne, where over 300 Jews were burned alive by ethnic Poles — as well as other Jewish deaths that can be tied to Polish citizens.
Nasrallah denies rumors of poor health, decries new Israeli government
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah gives a live speech on the anniversary of the assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Nasrallah begins by shutting down rumors about his poor health, noting that despite reports in Israeli media that he had a stroke or was near death, “I would like to reassure you that there is no need to worry at all.”
The Hezbollah chief also addressed the new Israeli government, as well as the controversial visit to the Temple Mount this morning by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.
“The new Israeli government is a government of corrupt criminals and extremists,” Nasrallah says according to a translation by the Lebanese Naharnet site.
He also says that any “harm against al-Aqsa might blow up the entire region,” and issues a message to the international community to “rein in those crazy officials in Israel” in order to prevent war.
Eurovision organizer warns Netanyahu against threats to public broadcaster
The European Broadcasting Union, the body responsible for the Eurovision Song Contest, issues a warning against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government over its threats to shut down the Kan public broadcaster.
EBU director general Noel Curran sends a letter to Netanyahu against such a move, stating that “we trust the new government will also safeguard the independence of KAN and enable it to continue to fulfill its mission in democratic society.”
Curran cites as particularly concerning comments by new Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi calling for an end to public broadcasting in Israel.
“Independent news and information form an integral component of public service media organizations and make a key contribution to media pluralism in well-functioning democracies,” Curran writes in the letter.
“The EBU’s responsibility is to ensure that it supports all our Members in their mission to serve the interests of the general public in the best possible manner. These developments risk undermining KAN’s capability to meet its commitments as a member of our international alliance of public service media organizations.”
In order to be a member of the EBU and therefore compete at the Eurovision, countries must have a public broadcaster that airs both news as well as other programming.
Israel most recently hosted the Eurovision in 2019 in Tel Aviv after Netta Barzilai won the 2018 competition. Popstar Noa Kirel is slated to represent Israel at this year’s contest in Liverpool.
Kan first hit the airwaves in 2017 after a long legislative battle to replace Israel’s former public broadcaster, the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
Netanyahu sought to split the news division off from the rest of Kan due to complaints about its purported bias.
But after Israel won the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest, the prime minister gave up that plan, since splitting them up would make Israel ineligible to be a member of the European Broadcasting Union and therefore to host the 2019 contest.
At Saudi press conference, Ronaldo vows to keep breaking records
Cristiano Ronaldo says he is a “unique” player for moving to Saudi Arabia and that he is hungry for more success, after arriving at Riyadh club Al Nassr.
“I’m a unique player. It’s good to come here, I broke all the records there [in Europe] and I want to break a few records here,” the 37-year-old tells media at Al Nassr’s Mrsool Park stadium.
Border Police to investigate after officer filmed walking alone in Palestinian town
A Border Police spokesman says an investigation has been launched after an officer was seen operating alone in the Palestinian town of al-Ram, on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
According to police, Border Police officers were operating in the area to arrest three suspects who allegedly hurled stones at forces earlier.
In a video circulated on social media, one officer can be seen walking down a street by herself, in an apparent violation of a police protocol, which stipulates that forces must operate at minimum in pairs.
تغطية صحفية: "قوات الاحتــ ـلال تترك مجندة إسرائيلية ببلدة الرام بعد اعــ ـتقال عدد من الشبان". pic.twitter.com/QIy8FuKcdx
— المركز الفلسطيني للإعلام (@PalinfoAr) January 3, 2023
The spokesman says an initial investigation found that additional forces were “within eyeshot” of the officer.
Border Police chief Amir Cohen instructs the commander of the gendarmerie’s West Bank division to carry out a “comprehensive investigation immediately.”
On 3rd anniversary, Iran’s president vows to avenge Soleimani’s death
Iran’s president vows to avenge the killing of the country’s top general on the third anniversary of his death, as the government rallied its supporters in mourning amid months of anti-government protests.
Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s regional military activities, was killed in a US drone strike in neighboring Iraq. He is hailed as a national icon among supporters of Iran’s theocracy, while the protesters have torn down billboards and defaced other images of him.
Addressing a ceremony marking the general’s death, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi says those behind it “should know that retaliation is obvious,” adding that “there will be no relief for murderers and accomplices.”
He says Soleimani had defeated “US hegemony” and praises him for his role in leading Iran-backed forces against the Islamic State extremist group.
Soleimani is also mourned in neighboring Iraq alongside Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi militia leader killed in the same strike. Iranian-backed militias make up the bulk of Iraq’s state-supported Popular Mobilization Forces.
Ukraine’s envoy criticizes new Israeli FM for calling Russia’s Lavrov
Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk tells The Times of Israel that Foreign Minister Eli Cohen’s call today with Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s top diplomat, represents a change in Israeli policy.
“Israel’s minister of foreign affairs hasn’t spoken to Lavrov since the war started,” he says, indicating that Kyiv is displeased that Cohen went ahead with the conversation.
As foreign minister, Yair Lapid did not speak with Lavrov.
An Israeli official told The Times of Israel shortly after the Cohen-Lavrov conversation that “there is no change in Israel’s policy.”
Korniychuk adds that Israel’s position on the Russian invasion is “unclear.”
“Unfortunately, we are getting no condemnation of the mass shelling of our civilians in recent months. Israel is unique in terms of our partners. It remains silent,” he says.
Ukraine’s envoy emphasizes that neither Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba nor Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have asked to speak with Cohen.
Gravestones vandalized at Christian cemetery in Jerusalem
Multiple gravestones have been vandalized at the Christian Mount Zion Cemetery in Jerusalem, say police.
According to police, the vandalism was reported earlier this afternoon. Police officers arrived at the site to inspect the damage and have opened an investigation.
הנזקים למצבות pic.twitter.com/8hZM9pQ4EB
— Haim Goldich | חיים גולדיטש (@HGoldich) January 3, 2023
Netanyahu tells High Court it has no authority to prevent Deri being a minister
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asks the High Court of Justice to reject petitions against the appointment of Shas leader Aryeh Deri as interior and health minister ahead of a court hearing on Thursday.
In his response to the court, filed by independent counsel since the attorney general refused to defend the government’s position in court, Netanyahu argues the court has no grounds to intervene in the appointment of government ministers and that legislation passed to enable the appointments was legitimate.
Several organizations submitted petitions against Deri’s appointment as a cabinet minister, arguing that his past criminal convictions make his appointment unreasonable and legislation passed to circumvent legal problems with his appointment was illegitimate.
Netanyahu’s independent legal counsel argues that the legislation passed before the government was sworn in to amend Israel’s Basic Law: The Government that changed ministerial fitness standards in Deri’s favor could not be challenged by the court since the law was passed by the Knesset in its role as constituent authority.
“The honorable court lacks authority to annul any aspect of a Basic Law,” argues Netanyahu’s counsel, adding: “The issue before us is not justiciable,” that is, not subject to the court’s oversight.
Netanyahu’s counsel also argues that the court is not entitled to exercise judicial review over Netanyahu’s decisions as prime minister or over the Knesset’s decision to express confidence in the new government and its ministers.
Rise in suicides, total deaths, seen among IDF soldiers in 2022, says military
The Israel Defense Forces saw an increase in the number of soldiers killed in uniform over the past year — 44 compared to the previous year’s 31 — as well as a rise in the number of suicides, according to fresh statistics released by the military.
Suicide remains the leading cause of death, with at least 14 soldiers believed to have taken their own lives in 2022, compared to 11 in 2021.
Three soldiers were killed in combat over the past year: Maj. Bar Falah, Staff Sgt. Ido Baruch and Sgt. Noa Lazar.
Six soldiers were killed in car crashes while on leave and 10 soldiers died of illnesses in 2022. Six soldiers were killed in work or training accidents, and one in a car crash while on duty, according to the data.
Modeling agent arrives in Israel to face sex crimes charges after extradition
Shai Avital lands in Israel to face a slew of sexual assault and rape allegations following his extradition from the Netherlands, 18 months after Israeli police first sought to investigate the modeling agent.
Avital flew from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv accompanied by Tel Aviv Police representatives, following the decision of a Dutch court in November to extradite him to Israel.
Hebrew-language media outlets publish footage of Avital sitting at the back of a commercial flight, alongside two security guards. Avital, who was uncuffed, can be seen smiling in response to reporters’ questions.
White House official: Netanyahu must maintain Temple Mount status quo
A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council warns against any steps that would jeopardize the status quo of holy sites in Jerusalem, following new National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount earlier today.
“The United States stands firmly for preservation of the status quo with respect to the holy sites in Jerusalem,” says the NSC spokesperson in a statement. “Any unilateral action that jeopardizes the status quo is unacceptable,” the spokesperson says, adding that the US hopes and expects Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will preserve his commitment to maintaining the status quo of the Temple Mount and other holy sites.
Comptroller slams unclear role of negotiator for release of Israelis held in Gaza
The authority of Israel’s chief negotiator on behalf of Israelis held by the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group has never been formally established, warns the state comptroller in a new report.
State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman says such official negotiators have operated over the years without the Prime Minister’s Office ever actually establishing the responsibilities, authority, or any detailed framework for the job.
The last top negotiator, Yaron Blum, announced in October that he was resigning after nearly five years in the post. Before him, Lior Lotan served in the position between 2014 and 2017.
According to Englman’s report, the government never implemented recommendations made by the 2012 Shamgar Commission, which set out to determine principles for prisoner releases. One security cabinet meeting in June 2014 discussed the recommendations.
The report says information the PMO has about the negotiator’s work was not handled in an orderly fashion, and the negotiator himself was given “minimal” information about his predecessor’s work.
Chief rabbi slams Ben Gvir for violating rabbinic guidelines by visiting Temple Mount
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef criticizes National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir for visiting the Temple Mount as a government minister.
“As a minister representing the government of Israel you should be acting according to Chief Rabbinate instructions, which have long forbidden visiting the Temple Mount,” Yosef writes in a letter to Ben Gvir.
Yosef calls on Ben Gvir — who regularly visited the site before becoming a minister — to stop doing so moving forward “in order not to mislead the public.”
The Chief Rabbinate’s official position is that the site is too holy for Jews to set foot on, though many rabbis in the national-religious community support visits.
PM’s office: Ben Gvir’s Temple Mount visit does not represent ‘change in status quo’
After criticism from Western and Arab allies over National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount this morning, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office declares that Benjamin Netanyahu is committed to “strictly protect the status quo on the Temple Mount without any change.”
The official adds that Israel “will not surrender to Hamas directives,” and notes that as part of the status quo, ministers have visited the Temple Mount in the past, including former public security minister Gilad Erdan.
“The claim that there is a change in the status quo is baseless,” adds the official.
AG says she can’t defend Deri’s appointment as minister in front of High Court
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara announces that she will not defend the appointment of Aryeh Deri as minister of health and the interior against petitions to the High Court of Justice demanding these appointments be canceled.
In a filing to the High Court, the State Attorney’s Office says that after having spoken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the issue, “the attorney general decided that she cannot defend his position regarding the appointment of MK Deri to the position of interior minister, health minister and deputy prime minister.”
The State Attorney’s Office notes that the attorney general has, however, allowed Netanyahu and Deri to employ external counsel to defend Deri’s appointment in the High Court.
The attorney general is the government’s chief legal adviser and usually represents the state and its ministries in legal proceedings against government action, although instances have occurred in the past when the attorney general has refused to do so.
Several NGOs submitted petitions against Deri’s appointment as a cabinet minister, arguing that his 2022 conviction on tax fraud charges, as well as his conviction in 1999 on bribery charges, make his appointment “unreasonable.”
The petitions also argue that the legislation recently passed by the new government amending one of the Basic Laws to allow Deri to be appointed was illegitimate since the law was passed due to the political considerations of an individual politician and the new government.
Visiting IDF Central Command, Gallant vows ‘no compromise’ on fighting terrorism
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant orders troops to prepare for a potential escalation, following a visit to the military’s Central Command headquarters in Jerusalem.
“Gallant directed the commanders to act aggressively and uncompromisingly in the war on terrorism in general and its perpetrators in particular… and to prepare for an escalation in the various arenas,” his office says.
The new minister receives a briefing from commanders regarding the military’s West Bank operations.
“There will be no compromise in the fight against Palestinian terrorism. We will act in every way in order to thwart terror attacks and threats against the citizens of Israel, while using all the means at our disposal,” Gallant says in remarks provided by his office.
New Foreign Minister Eli Cohen speaks with Russian counterpart Lavrov
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov calls his Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen to congratulate him taking his new post, and to discuss “bilateral and regional issues,” according to the Israeli readout.
Cohen speaks about the Jewish community in Russia and the importance of Russian-speaking Jews in Israel to ties between the countries.
Cohen and Lavrov also discuss the ongoing war in Ukraine, an Israeli official tells The Times of Israel. There is no change in Israel’s policy around the Ukraine-Russia conflict, the official adds.
According to an Israeli diplomat, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked Cohen yesterday to pass messages on to Lavrov, but did not say what they were.
Kyiv made no request to Cohen about speaking with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, but an official said that it would be reasonable for the foreign minister to postpone his call with Lavrov until after he had spoke with Kuleba, at the very least.
Now that Cohen did not, there is a possibility Kuleba will refuse to speak to the new foreign minister for the foreseeable future.
IDF foils attempt to smuggle 40 kilos of hashish from Egypt
Troops foil an attempt to smuggle drugs into Israel from Egypt this morning, the Israel Defense Forces says.
According to the IDF, soldiers seized some 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of hashish, estimated to be worth NIS 1.65 million ($470,000) near the border.
No arrests are made, as the suspects who apparently hurled the packages over the border fled back to Egypt. The drugs are seized by police for investigation.
After Ben Gvir Temple Mount visit, US says disturbances to status quo ‘unacceptable’
The US Embassy in Israel issues a statement in the wake of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount warning against any disturbance at the flashpoint site.
“Ambassador [Tom] Nides has been very clear in conversations with the Israeli government on the issue of preserving the status quo in Jerusalem’s holy sites,” says a spokesperson for the embassy. “Actions that prevent that are unacceptable.”
Saudis, UAE join wave of condemnations against Ben Gvir’s Temple Mount visit
The Saudi Foreign Ministry condemns Israel over the visit this morning by new National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir to the Temple Mount.
Saudi Arabia expresses “condemnation” over “the provocative action by an Israeli official who stormed” the flashpoint site, the ministry says in a statement.
The United Arab Emirates, where new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was slated to visit next week, also condemns Ben Gvir’s visit, issuing a statement denouncing his “storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard” and calling for an end to “serious and provocative violations.”
The US, French and EU embassies in Israel also issue statements opposing Ben Gvir’s visit and urging calm at the site.
UK reportedly set to label Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as terrorist organization
The United Kingdom is reportedly expected to officially designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, following several alleged plots to kidnap or murder UK citizens.
The case against the IRGC in the UK has been in the works since last year, which saw 10 attempts to target people on British soil, the Telegraph reports.
Adding the group to the country’s terror list will be officially announced within weeks, the report claims, citing political and security sources.
If the report is true, the IRGC would effectively be banned in the UK, meaning that attending the group’s meetings or carrying its flag and logo in public would be a criminal offense. The UK has reportedly seen a surge of support for the IRGC in recent years.
Police: Palestinian woman arrested with knife at Hebron checkpoint
A Palestinian woman armed with a knife has been arrested by officers in the West Bank city of Hebron, police say.
According to a Border Police spokesperson, the woman, a resident of Hebron, was stopped as she approached a checkpoint at an entrance to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, known to Muslims as the al-Ibrahimi Mosque.
“The suspect was arrested by the troops after she took out a knife from the bag she was carrying,” the spokesman says.
Police say she has been taken for questioning.
Netanyahu: New government will ‘openly’ oppose any attempts to revive Iran nuclear deal
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he plans to change Israel’s strategy on countering Iranian nuclear ambitions, promising to return the fight to the court of public opinion.
Speaking at a meeting of his new government’s ministers, Netanyahu says it is still a “possibility” that Western powers will resuscitate efforts to sign a nuclear deal with Iran — and that unlike the last government’s behind-the-scenes approach, he intends to apply public pressure.
“Our government is different and will act differently,” he says. “We will work openly, from a position of strength, in the international arena against a return to the nuclear agreement, not only in talks with leaders behind closed doors but strongly and openly in the sphere of global opinion, which is now aware of the true dangers posed by Iran – the Iranian regime that is killing innocent citizens in and outside Iran.”
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