The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they unfolded.
Islamic State behind Jakarta blast, source says
The Aamaq news agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic State group, is quoting an unnamed source as saying the group carried out a “Paris-style” suicide strike on the Indonesian capital Jakarta.
The news agency has been used as a source for the IS militants in the past. However, according to SITE, which tracks militant websites, the Islamic Group has not yet issued a communique claiming responsibility for the attack.
The report in Arabic says that a source told Aamaq that “fighters from the Islamic State carried out this morning an armed attack that targeted foreigners and the security forces tasked with protecting them in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.”
Rivlin calls Peres after latter’s heart attack
President Reuven Rivlin calls his predecessor Shimon Peres to wish him a speedy recovery after his heart attack earlier today.
Rivlin also asks Peres to take the opportunity to rest, but says he knows the chances are slim.
Maariv says the two “talked and laughed.”
Army Radio reports that Peres’s son, Chemi, says his father feels good and is in excellent condition after what was a relatively minor incident. He says the family hopes he will be released from the hospital soon.
Bennett: Extremists on left, right trying to destroy Israel
Education Minister Naftali Bennett says extremists on the left and the right are want to “burn our house over our heads.”
The Jewish Home leader says the political map in Israel has undergone changes and there is now a desperate form of extremism amongst optimistic Zionism.
“Why did they do the Duma [firebomb attack]? The goal was not murder, that’s just the means. They do not recognize the State of Israel, and have despaired of convincing the people of Israel of their position,” Bennett says. “So they are trying to burn our house over our heads.”
English soccer club Arsenal signs Egyptian player
England’s Arsenal soccer club says it has signed Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Elneny from Swiss side Basel for an undisclosed fee.
“Arsenal have signed Mohamed Elneny from FC Basel,” the club announces on its website. “Everyone at Arsenal would like to welcome Mohamed to the club.”
The club discloses neither the length of Elneny’s contract nor the transfer fee, but British media reports suggest they had paid around £5 million ($7.2 million, 6.6 million euros) for the 23-year-old.
Turkey rejects Israel, picks new greatest threat
Israel is no longer Turkey’s greatest threat, for the first time since 2011, according to a new poll in the country.
The row between Moscow and Ankara over the downed Russian warplane leads most Turks to believe that Russia is the greatest threat to their country, while terrorism is seen as the greatest problem, Maariv says.
Erdogan’s plans for an executive-style presidency are also being met with skepticism, the poll finds.
Police seek rape prosecution for prison warden
The police are calling for a warden at the Ayalon prison in central Israel stand trial for alleged rape, Channel 2 reports.
Shoham Yosef is accused of raping and sexually abusing an Israel Prison Service female employee who was his subordinate.
The police recommendation comes after an investigation into the allegations.
British actor, director Alan Rickman dies at 69
British actor and director Alan Rickman has died at the age of 69, his family says.
Rickman is best known for his roles as Hans Gruber in Die Hard and Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series.
He also directed the controversial stage play “My Name is Rachel Corrie,” based on the emails of the young American pro-Palestinian activist who died in Gaza in 2003.
Davutoglu: Turkey shells IS positions after Istanbul attack
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says Turkish artillery have attacked Islamic State group positions in Iraq and in Syria in retaliation to the suicide bombing in Istanbul which killed 10 tourists.
Davutoglu says the Turkish military targeted 500 extremist positions along the border with Syria and near a Turkish camp in northern Iraq. The attacks took place in the past 48 hours and he says 200 Islamic State members were killed, he says.
Israel is cornerstone of our Mideast policy, US deputy defense secretary says
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon meets with US Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, who is currently visiting Israel.
Work says: “Israel is a cornerstone in our policy and strategy in the Middle East…. My being here is just another indicator of our relationship. The US has always stood with Israel and always will.”
This relationship is especially vital in the face the “generational changes” and new threats in the Middle East, he says.
Ya’alon tells the deputy secretary: “We benefit from this relationship very much, and we thank you very much. We consider the relationship with the United States as the cornerstone of our national security.”
This is Work’s first visit to Israel, which he says is a beautiful country.
— Judah Ari Gross
Man shot in Lod; police investigating
Police are investigating the circumstances of a shooting in the central city of Lod, in which a man is wounded.
Magen David Adim rescue personnel treated the man at the scene of the shooting, Maariv says.
Deri seeks to revoke citizenship of Israelis who join IS
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri is seeking a change to the nationality law, allowing the state to revoke the citizenship of Israelis who join Islamic State.
Maariv quotes Deri as saying that enlisting in the extremist group is an “act that constitutes a breach of loyalty to the State of Israel.”
Israel shuts border crossing with Gaza
Israel closes its border crossing into the Gaza Strip at Kerem Shalom, through which goods are transported into the Hamas-run coastal enclave.
The crossing has been closed due to “operational considerations,” the Ynet website says.
‘Son of Saul’ gets Oscar nod for Best Foreign Film
Hungarian Holocaust movie “Son of Saul” is nominated for Best Foreign Film in the 2016 Academy Awards.
The movie, winner of the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and a Golden Globe, features Saul Auslander as a member of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz-Birkenau, forced to cremate the bodies of fellow prisoners gassed by the Waffen SS.
Army says closing Gaza crossing just a precaution
The IDF says closing the Kerem Shalom Crossing between Israel and Gaza is a precautionary measure, and there is no imminent security threat in the area.
The measure is due to ongoing violence in Sinai between Islamic State and Egyptian forces, the military says.
— Judah Ari Gross
New aid convoy heads to starving Syrian town under siege
A convoy carrying desperately needed food and medicine heads to the hunger-stricken Syrian town of Madaya, the second delivery of aid this week after months of government siege.
Dozens of trucks carrying flour and other essentials leave Damascus early this morning for Madaya, where the United Nations says suffering is the worst seen in the nearly five-year-old war.
The town’s 40,000 residents are enduring a crippling siege by pro-government forces that has drawn sharp condemnation from the UN and world powers.
More than two dozen people have reportedly starved to death there since December, sparking a global outcry.
13 die in Egyptian army operation on Gaza border
Thirteen people are killed in a ground operation by the Egyptian military in the area of the divided town of Rafah, which straddles the Gaza-Egypt border, and the nearby Sinai towns of Sheikh Zuweid and al-Arish.
Military operations of this nature have been carried out almost daily in recent weeks, the Walla website says.
The report comes on the heels of an IDF announcement that the Israel-Gaza crossing of Kerem Shalom, some seven kilometers from Rafah, has been closed for “operational considerations.”
Kerry: IS attacks will lead to its own demise
US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday condemns Islamic State-linked attacks in Jakarta, saying the group is merely inviting “its own destruction.”
“There is nothing in any act of terror that offers anything but death,” Kerry tells journalists in London following a meeting with Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubair.
The top diplomat stresses that terror attacks will not “intimidate nation-states from protecting their citizens and continuing to provide real opportunity, education, jobs, possibilities of a future,” and only strengthens resolve to defeat the group.
IS “have proven that they offer nothing, no alternative but their own destruction,” he says.
“If that’s the choice they leave us, we’re going to do what’s necessary,” he adds.
Immigration to Israel from Western Europe hits record high
Jewish immigration to Israel from Western Europe has reached an all-time high as a result of a rise in anti-Semitic attacks, the Jewish Agency says.
According to the agency, 9,880 western European Jews immigrated to Israel in 2015 — the highest annual number ever.
The vast majority, close to 8,000, comes from France where a rise in anti-Semitic attacks has shattered the sense of security of the world’s third-largest Jewish population.
Close to 800 Jews emigrate from Britain in this latest exodus. Italy and Belgium are next on the list.
“That a record number of European Jews feel that Europe is no longer their home should alarm European leaders and serve as a wake-up call for all who are concerned about the future of Europe,” says Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.
“At the same time, the fact that Israel has become the number one destination for European Jews seeking to build a better future elsewhere is a tribute to the appeal of life in Israel and the values the Jewish state represents.”
Peres is ‘feeling great,’ says doctor
Shlomi Matetzky, the head of emergency medicine at Sheba Hospital in Tel Hashomer, says Shimon Peres is doing well, hours after he was admitted suffering a minor heart attack.
“Mr. Peres has brought to Sheba after a heart attack. Soon after his admission, he was taken to the catheterization room. One of the arteries in his heart was blocked and has been opened correctly, [and] we have seen an improvement in his condition. I am pleased to inform you that Mr. Peres has been feeling great in the last few hours,” Prof. Mazetsky says, according to the Walla website.
The former president will remain under observation at the hospital for a few more days, Mazetsky adds.
Swedish MP: EU must demand end to PA incitement as condition for aid
Swedish parliamentarian Lars Adaktusson says the EU should demand that the Palestinian Authority stop all incitement as a condition for financial assistance, and blasts PA President Abbas for his support for violence.
“Politically responsible for the Palestinian propaganda and today’s serious developments is the Palestinian leadership and notably, President Mahmoud Abbas. The president’s direct support for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians is as obvious as unacceptable. And let’s face it; the image of Mahmoud Abbas as a reliable partner for peace, a representative of democracy and non-violence, is incorrect and false,” Adaktusson tells the Europe Israel Public Affairs (EIPA) lobby group, a day after Swedish FM Wallstrom calls on Israel to investigate the “extrajudicial killings” of Palestinians carrying out attacks.
“For peace to become a reality, President Abbas needs to put an end to Palestinian violence – and the personal propaganda visits to the families of Palestinian terrorists. Furthermore the president needs, once and for all, to take action against corruption. The system with salaries, paid from the PA budget, to jailed Palestinian terrorists, has to be abolished. Money transfers to NGOs campaigning for hatred against Israel have to stop,” he continues.
“I believe the EU should stop sneaking around this issue by continuing to make large wire transfers to PA bank accounts. We need to be firm. Much of this aid is counterproductive – just as counterproductive as the labeling of products from settlements.”
Jordanian film nominated for foreign film Oscar
The Jordanian film, “Theeb,” is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, the first time that the country’s movie industry has earned such an accolade.
“Theeb” is the WWI-era story of young Bedouin boy who leads a British army officer across the desert in the Hijaz region of what is now Saudi Arabia.
Naji Abu Nowar won the Best Director award for the film at the Venice International Film Festival.
Egypt to spend $32M upgrading security at tourist resorts
Egypt’s Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou says Cairo will spend $32 million on upgrading security in two Red Sea resorts popular with foreign tourists, following recent attacks on hotels and the suspected terror bombing of a Russian airliner.
Zaazou says the plan is to expand the use of security cameras, scanning and detection equipment and sniffer dogs in the towns of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada.
Additional security personnel will also be deployed there, he says.
“The security of visitors to Egypt remains our highest priority,” Zaazou says in a statement. “I believe that these new measures will further add to the security of our resorts while not being intrusive to tourists so they can get on with enjoying their holidays.”
Israel issues shark warning for Hadera coast
Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority warns divers of the presence of sharks in the waters off the Hadera coast.
“Every year at this time, many sharks arrive in the area of the power station in Hadera, which emits warm water into the sea. The sharks appear in groups and gather in the shallow water,” says the authority, according to the Maariv website.
Dana International makes a splash at GPO bash
Israeli singer Dana International performs five songs at the Government Press Office’s annual New Year’s event in Jerusalem, where Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to address several hundred foreign journalists.
Between songs — including her 1998 hit “Viva La Diva,” with which she won the Eurovision Song Contest — the singer thanks the audience and praises Israel for its openness to the LBGT community.
— Raphael Ahren
German art experts defend slow progress on Nazi-era hoard
A German task force investigating the provenance of a spectacular Nazi-era art hoard says that only five out of 500 works had been proved to be looted thus far, and defends its slow progress.
The government-appointed panel presents a report on the pieces of suspect origin among the more than 1,200 artworks in the secret collection discovered in Cornelius Gurlitt’s cluttered Munich apartment four years ago.
But the 14-member task force, which wrapped up its work in late December, says that only one percent could be shown without doubt to have been stolen from Jewish families under the Third Reich or sold under duress.
The 14-member international task force was established in 2013 to sort through the spectacular trove hidden for decades by Cornelius Gurlitt, son of a powerful art dealer during the Third Reich. It included experts from France, Israel, Austria, Poland, Hungary, the United States and Germany, and victims’ groups such as the Jewish Claims Conference.
PM to foreign reporters: PA does not want any Jewish state
Benjamin Netanyahu takes aim at the PA, saying that the Palestinians were not willing to accept any Jewish state.
“The Palestinians rejected Jewish state throughout history. Jews accepted partition, they rejected,” the PM continues. “They deigned to negotiate with me for six hours in seven years… They refuse to negotiate what they claim they want. The core of the conflict is rejection of the nation state of the Jewish people within any borders.”
He also slams the UN, calling it biased against Israel and willing to turn a blind eye to Iranian infractions.
“The infamous Zionism is racism resolution was repealed,” the PM tells foreign reporters at a New Year’s party in Jerusalem, “but bias in the UN lives on.”
“There have been 20 resolutions against Israel for every one against Iran,” he says.
— Raphael Ahren
PM: Wallstrom remarks on ‘extrajudicial killings’ are outrageous
Netanyahu blasts Swedish FM Margot Wallstrom for saying that Israel should investigate “extrajudicial killings” of Palestinian attackers, calls her comments “outrageous, unjust and just wrong.”
The PM, however, refuses to call Wallstrom anti-Semitic, saying he has not explored her motives for making the remarks yesterday.
“It’s an absurdity, and it’s just stupid,” he tells foreign reporters at a gathering in Jerusalem.
— Raphael Ahren
IDF arrests 2 Gaza fishermen for violating maritime restrictions
Israel arrests two Palestinian fisherman for entering a restricted area while fishing in the Mediterranean, the Walla news website reports.
“Warning shots were fired and when the fishermen did not stop, it was decided to carry out the arrests,” a spokesman for the IDF says.
PM: We’re in full coordination with Russia on Syria
Netanyahu says Israel “will continue to take action against threats,” when it comes to Syria.
“We coordinate with Russia and have carried out deconfliction,” the PM continues.
“We both respect the fact that we have our special interest and we want to make sure our coordination, or lack of conflict continues,” he says. “We have not changed our goals in any way.”
Deri bans Islamic Movement head from leaving country
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri signs off on an order preventing Sheikh Raed Salah, the head of the outlawed Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, from leaving Israel.
The order also extends to other members of the organization, Army Radio says.
US: Sailors mistakenly entered Iranian waters before detention
The US defense secretary says that the US sailors briefly detained by Iran had entered into Iranian territorial waters by mistake.
“The information that they have given us, and through their commanders is that they did stray accidentally into Iranian waters due to a navigation error,” Ash Carter tells the Univision TV network.
“So that seems to be the original cause of this, according to the interviews that we have done.”
Olmert’s lawyer meets state prosecutor on Talansky case
The lawyer for disgraced former PM Ehud Olmert meets with State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan to discuss a plea deal in the so-called Talansky case. Olmert is set to appeal his bribery conviction in the affair, which earned him an eight-month prison sentence.
The Ynet news website says that Olmert’s lawyer Eyal Rosovsky sought the meeting in an effort to reach some kind of arrangement that will close all remaining legal avenues against the former PM, and minimize his jail time.
Olmert is one of eight former officials and businessmen convicted in March 2014 in a real estate corruption case known as the Holyland affair, which officials have characterized as the largest in Israel’s history. He is to serve an 18-month jail sentence for that conviction.
EU Parliament head: Labeling products will harm Palestinian workers
The head of the European Parliament Martin Schulz tells Knesset Speaker Yuli Eldestein that the EU guidelines calling for all Israeli products made in settlements will have a detrimental effect mainly on Palestinian workers.
“Germany and Israel have good relations, as opposed to Sweden-Israel relations, as we can see today,” he says. “Surging anti-Semitism is a problem for the whole of Europe. I am opposed to labeling settlement products. It primarily affects Palestinians who make an honorable living.”
Edelstein says in response that, “Countries and people in Europe cannot say that they oppose anti-Semitism and in the same breath be anti-Israelis. Israel will survive the product labeling. Those who cannot survive are the thousands of Palestinian families who work shoulder to shoulder with their Jewish colleagues and who build shared lives.”
— Raoul Wootliff
EU extends Iran sanctions freeze by extra two weeks
The EU extends a freeze on sanctions against Iran for another two weeks, clearing the way for their complete end once the UN certifies Tehran is complying with the terms of a historic nuclear deal.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is expected to announce shortly, possibly as early as tomorrow, that Iran can no longer acquire nuclear weapons — as agreed with world powers in July.
“The (European) Council extended until 28 January 2016 the suspension of certain EU restrictive measures against Iran specified in the Joint Plan of Action of November 2013,” the EU’s foreign affairs service says in a statement.
The EU says the suspension would allow for “continuous preparations” for the implementation of the July deal and lifting of the sanctions.
“As soon as the IAEA confirms that Iran has taken the nuclear measures… (the EU) will give effect to the lifting of all EU economic financial sanctions taken in connection with the Iranian nuclear program, which will supersede the limited sanctions relief extended today.”
PM’s revisions to NGO bill
Netanyahu says he will advance the justice minister’s controversial NGO, but with several revisions.
He says he would remove a clause requiring representatives of organizations who receive the majority of their funding from foreign governments to wear special tags in the Knesset.
However, rather than only mandating groups that receive over 50 percent of their funding from foreign governments to label all documents as such, Netanyahu proposes requiring funding reports from “the first shekel or dollar from foreign governments.
“I do not understand how a requirement for transparency is anti-democratic; the opposite is true,” he says, addressing the controversy over the bill. “In a democratic regime, we need to know who is financing such NGOs, from the right, the left, up or down; financing by governments is certainly something the public should know about — it has a right to know.”
In proposing the changes, Netanyahu likens it to a House of Representatives resolution from January 2015 that requires witnesses that appear before committees to disclose their foreign government funding.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked says in response that she will weigh the prime minister’s proposal.