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Security chiefs said to reassure ministers Iran unlikely to strike Israel

US embassy sends out security warning, telling citizens in Israel and West Bank to stay vigilant, after US drone strike kills top Iranian general last week

Protesters demonstrate over the US airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Tehran, Iran, January 4, 2020. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)
Protesters demonstrate over the US airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Tehran, Iran, January 4, 2020. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s developments as they unfolded.

Knesset legal adviser will recuse himself from Netanyahu immunity over conflict

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon won’t offer his opinion on the parliamentary immunity proceedings for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after reports emerge that his wife, who works for the state prosecution, was involved in formulating the criminal indictments against the premier.

Yinon had previously offered a legal opinion saying the interim Knesset could convene the House Committee that would debate the prime minister’s request for immunity. Netanyahu had sought to delay the immunity proceedings until after the March elections, as a majority of lawmakers in the current Knesset oppose his bid.

But after the suspected conflict of interest emerges in a report by Channel 12, Yinon announces he’ll step aside and won’t offer guidance on issues relating to Netanyahu.

Top IDF officer says Soleimani killing part of Iran-US fight over Iraq

A senior Israeli military officer distances Israel from the US drone strike that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani over the weekend.

“Soleimani hurt American interests and represented a significant danger to Americans in the region. We must look at the assassination as part of a fight between Iran and the United States over Iraq’s character,” says IDF Southern Command head Herzi Halevi.

“The assassination also has ramifications for us, and we must follow it closely, but we aren’t the main story here — and it’s good that it happened far away,” he says, according to the Ynet news site.

Top EU diplomat ‘deeply regrets’ Iran nuke deal decision

The EU’s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell voices regret at Tehran’s latest decision to reduce its commitments to the beleaguered 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

“Deeply regret Iran’s latest announcement on #JCPOA. As ever we will rely on @iaeaorg verification,” Borrell tweets, using an abbreviation for the deal’s formal name.

“Full implementation of #NuclearDeal by all is now more important than ever, for regional stability & global security. I will continue working with all participants on way forward.”

AFP

Merkel and Putin to meet over Mideast tensions after Soleimani killing

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Moscow Saturday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid escalating tensions following a US drone strike that killed an Iranian general, a German government spokesman said.

Merkel, who will be accompanied by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, will discuss “the current conflict troublespots” with Putin, including the Iran and Iraq crisis following the US assassination in Baghdad, as well as the conflict in Syria and unrest in Libya, Steffen Seibert says Monday.

AFP

US Congress demands answers from Trump about Soleimani killing

US President Donald Trump insists that Iranian cultural sites are fair game for the US military, dismissing concerns within his own administration that doing so could constitute a war crime under international law. He also warned Iraq that he would levy punishing sanctions if it expelled American troops in retaliation for a US airstrike in Baghdad that killed a top Iranian official.

But Congress is pushing back, in what’s expected to be a pivotal week as lawmakers return from a holiday recess. On Monday, two top Senate Democrats call on Trump to immediately declassify the administration’s reasoning for the strike on the Iranian official, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, saying there is “no legitimate justification” for keeping the information from the public.

And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said late Sunday the House would introduce and vote this week on a war powers resolution to limit the president’s military actions regarding Iran. In a letter to House Democrats, Pelosi called the airstrike “provocative and disproportionate” and said it had “endangered our servicemembers, diplomats and others by risking a serious escalation of tensions with Iran.” A similar resolution was introduced in the Senate.

Congress, which has the sole power to declare war, has complained that Trump did not provide advance notice of his decision to strike in Iraq. Trump did meet the 48-hour deadline required by the War Powers Act to notify Congress after the deadly drone strike, though the document was classified and no public version was released.

The administration is expected to brief lawmakers on its actions this week.

AP

Knesset legal adviser denies he’ll recuse himself over alleged conflict

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon denies he intends to recuse himself on parliamentary issues related to Netanyahu due to his wife’s role in drafting the prime minister’s criminal charges.

Yinon denies any conflict of interest and rejects media reports that said he would step aside on procedural issues relating to the premier’s immunity. He also appears to accuse Netanyahu’s Likud allies of leaking to the media a document that suggested such a conflict.

“Raising the claim of ‘a conflict of interest’ simply because of a conclusion of a legal opinion yesterday, which likely is unfavorable to one of the sides affected by the matter, is a cynical and artificial ploy that was designed to intimidate the Knesset legal adviser,” he says in a statement.

Senior prisons official suspected of bribery

A senior Israel Prisons Service official is grilled by police on suspicion of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, Hebrew media reports.

The Walla site identifies him as the prison service’s chief rabbi.

State’s witness suing PM’s son for gag order-busting Twitter posts

State’s witness Nir Hefetz, a former spokesman for the Netanyahu family, is suing Yair Netanyahu for violating a gag order and revealing private details about him on Twitter.

Hefetz, a witness in the so-called Case 4000 in which the prime minister faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, is seeking NIS 500,000 ($143,000) in damages for the alleged violation of his privacy.

Iran’s FM challenges Trump with tweet of crowds of Soleimani mourners

Iran’s foreign minister has challenged US President Donald Trump in a tweet, sharing photos from the massive crowds in Tehran mourning an Iranian commander killed by a recent US drone.

Mohammad Javad Zarif asks: “Have you EVER seen such a sea of humanity in your life, @realdonaldtrump?”

He urges Trump to distance himself from his advisers who seek confrontation with Iran: “Do you still want to listen to the clowns advising you on our region? And do you still imagine you can break the will of this great nation?”

Sunday’s tweet also reiterates Iran’s stance that the US military should be expelled from the Middle East.

The huge processions for the slain Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani mark the first time Iran has honored a single man with a multi-city ceremony. He will be buried in his hometown of Kerman on Tuesday.

AP

Lapid, Liberman warn Knesset speaker of possible ouster if PM immunity not raised

Blue and White MK Yair Lapid and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman warn they are willing to “fight” Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein if he blocks the creation of a panel that would address Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for immunity from prosecution.

“There will be consequences” if Edelstein uses his parliamentary powers to prevent the House Committee from being formed, says Lapid, according to the Ynet news site.

Blue and White officials have threatened to unseat Edelstein if he obstructs the immunity proceedings. Netanyahu wants to delay the formation of the House Committee that would consider his request until after the March elections. The prime minister currently doe not have a parliamentary majority to back his bid to shield himself from prosecution in three corruption cases. The committee is current;y unstaffed due to the year-long political stalemate.

Liberman — who has announced he’ll oppose immunity for the Likud leader — says he hopes to avoid a clash with Edelstein, but will fight if necessary.

“Netanyahu asked the 22nd Knesset for immunity, therefore this Knesset must address this request,” says Liberman. “The last thing I want is a fight with the speaker, but if there is no choice, we’ll fight the Knesset speaker. I hope we don’t get to a [situation of ] replacement.”

 

Harvey Weinstein arrives at court ahead of sex assault trial

Harvey Weinstein’s lawyers and a judge are handling the final preparations for his trial on charges of rape and sexual assault.

After more than two years since the allegations first came to widespread public attention and catalyzed the #MeToo movement, jury selection is scheduled to start this week.

Weinstein, using a walker following a recent back surgery, arrives at a New York court sporting a dark suit and disheveled hair. When asked how his back was outside the courtroom, Weinstein responds with a thin smile and a so-so gesture with his hand.

The disgraced movie mogul faces allegations that he raped one woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and performed a forcible sex act on a different woman in 2006.

The 67-year-old has pleaded not guilty and says any sexual activity was consensual. If he’s convicted of the most serious charges against him, two counts of predatory sexual assault, Weinstein faces a mandatory life sentence.

AP

German police doubt terror link in knifeman attack

German police on Monday say they have found no indication yet that a knife-wielding Turkish man shot dead after trying to attack officers had a terrorist motive, adding that he had psychological problems.

The 37-year-old struck a parked patrol car with a bat in the city of Gelsenkirchen on Sunday and threatened two officers standing by the vehicle with a knife, local police say in a statement.

One of the officers fired his gun four times, killing the assailant. Investigators are still looking into reports that the man shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greater) during the assault.

While police so far cannot definitively rule out an extremist link, a search of the man’s home has “not confirmed initial suspicions of a terrorist motive.”

Investigators also have evidence that the attacker suffered from “a psychological illness” and was known to police for previous acts of violence including against law enforcement officials.

The inquiry is ongoing, the statement adds.

AFP

Trump: Iran will never have a nuclear weapon

US president Donald Trump continues his Twitter barrage against Iran, vowing Tehran will never obtain nuclear weapons.

As Iran abandons limits, Russia says nuke deal still ‘global asset’

Russia’s Foreign Ministry is urging all parties “not to create additional tension and uncertainty” regarding Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

Tehran has abandoned the remaining limits of the agreement in response to a recent US airstrike that killed its top military commander.

Monday’s statement from Moscow says the 2015 deal “remains a global asset.” Russia is among the countries that signed the agreement.

Russia’s statement adds that Iran’s refusal of the deal’s restrictions on uranium enrichment “does not in itself pose any threat from the point of view of the proliferation of nuclear weapons.”

It says Iran “is carrying out all its activities in close cooperation and under the constant supervision” of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

AP

UN atomic watchdog still verifying Iran activity

The United Nations’ atomic watchdog agency says its inspectors are continuing to monitor and verify Iran’s nuclear activities.

That’s even after Tehran announced it would no longer abide by the limits of a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, in response to the US killing of its top military commander.

The International Atomic Energy Agency tells The Associated Press that Iran’s statement a day earlier says cooperation with the agency “will continue as before.”

AP

British teen in Cyprus rape claim case to be pardoned — reports

The British teenager recently convicted in Cyprus of fabricating a gang-rape claim against 12 young Israeli tourists will receive a presidential pardon, British and Cypriot media outlets say.

The woman, 19, who has not been named, is suffering from PTSD and hallucinations, her mother says.

The young woman had urged UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to intervene and bring her home, according to The Sun newspaper on Friday. “I am 19 and all I want to do is clear my name and come home to my family,” she was quoted as saying by the daily. “Time is running out for me. Please, please help.”

A British teenager (C) accused of falsely claiming she was raped by Israeli tourists covers her face as she arrives for her trial at the Famagusta District Court in Paralimni in eastern Cyprus, on December 30, 2019. (Iakovos Hatzistavrou/AFP)

Hamas chief pays condolence visit to family of slain Iran general

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh visited the home of powerful Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in an American strike on Friday, and expressed his condolences to his family, the terror group reports on its website.

A picture of Haniyeh visiting Soleimani’s family shows that Islamic Jihad secretary-general Ziad al-Nakhalah also attended.

Soleimani was the commander of the elite Quds Force in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the body responsible for Tehran’s military campaigns and expeditions abroad.

In a speech at a funeral for Soleimani in Tehran today, Haniyeh branded Soleimani “the martyr of Jerusalem.”

Adam Rasgon

UNESCO warns US not to bomb Iranian cultural sites

The United Nations’ cultural agency is calling on governments to remember that cultural sites are not targets.

US President Donald Trump has recently tweeted that the United States would bomb Iranian cultural sites if Tehran retaliates for the America’s recent killing of a top Iranian general.

UNESCO’s director-general, Audrey Azoulay, says both the US and Iran have ratified treaties protecting cultural sites during war. She meets with the Iranian ambassador to the Paris-based organization on Monday.

Targeting cultural sites is a war crime under the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of cultural sites.

Iran is home to two dozen UNESCO World Heritage Sites. They include including the ancient ruins of Persepolis, the grand mosque of Isfahan, and the Golestan Palace in Tehran, where the last shah to rule Iran was crowned in 1967.

AP

US embassy in Israel releases security alert after Soleimani strike

The United States Embassy in Israel releases a travel advisory to its nationals in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the Embassy strongly encourages US citizens to remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness, as security incidents, including rocket fire, often take place without warning,” it says.

The alert comes as Iran is expected to target US sites in retaliation for a drone strike on Friday that killed a top Iranian general.

NATO: Iran must avoid ‘further violence and provocations’

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warns Monday that Iran must avoid “further violence and provocations,” after the alliance held emergency talks on the growing crisis in the Middle East.

“At our meeting today, Allies called for restraint and de-escalation. A new conflict would be in no-one’s interest, so Iran must refrain from further violence and provocations,” Stoltenberg says, as tensions rose following the US killing of a top Iranian general in Iraq.

AFP

Ancient wine measuring table unearthed in Jerusalem

Israeli archaeologists unveils an ancient table Monday used to measure wine and olive oil, which they said helps prove a market once stood at the Jerusalem site.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) says the 2,000-year-old table was unearthed in the City of David National Park, between the Old City and the flashpoint Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan.

Only the third artifact of its kind to be found so far in Jerusalem, the table could be filled with liquid to give a unified measure, according to the IAA.

“When shopkeepers wanted to make sure they were working with the same standard, they used to see… the manager of the market” who owned the table, archaeologist Ari Levy says.

The find provides evidence of trade in the area, which lies south of Jerusalem’s Old City, the archaeologist tells AFP.

AFP

UK protesters rally against teen’s conviction in Cyprus rape-claim case

Dozens of people demonstrate in London on Monday to call on the government to help a young British woman convicted in Cyprus of fabricating rape charges against Israeli tourists.

The 19-year-old was convicted by a court in Cyprus in late December of lying about being attacked by 12 young Israeli tourists at a hotel in the resort town of Ayia Napa in July.

She is due to be sentenced on Tuesday, amid concern about whether she was forced to retract her allegations under police pressure and the fairness of her trial.

“She is being punished for something awful that happened to her,” says Lucy Nevitt, rally organizer and co-founder of The Gemini Project, which supports victims of sexual assault.

“We have seen this happen too often, it happened to other people in Cyprus,” she tells AFP. “This is why we are calling on the government to intervene.”

AFP

54-year-old woman dies of flu complications

A woman, 54, has died of complications of the flu in the northern city of Haifa.

Over a dozen people have died and more than 100 have been hospitalized in serious condition with the particularly virulent and aggressive strain of the virus this season. Numbers were expected to grow, with the height of the flu season expected around the end of January.

Likud assails Knesset legal adviser over alleged conflict of interest

Netanyahu’s Likud party openly attacks Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon, after information emerges that his wife was involved in drafting criminal charges against the prime minister in the state attorney’s office.

“Eyal Yinon has a serious conflict of interest, which could be criminal,” the party claims. “He committed not to deal with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s matters, directly or indirectly, and he actively deals with them. It cannot be that while his partner decides on a criminal indictment against Netanyahu, he takes unprecedented steps to thwart his [Netanyahu’s] immunity request. He must suspend himself immediately from his position.”

On Sunday, Yinon authored a legal opinion saying the interim Knesset could convene the House Committee that would debate the prime minister’s request for immunity. Netanyahu had sought to delay the immunity proceedings until after the March elections, as a majority of lawmakers in the current Knesset oppose his bid.

Hebrew-language media reported earlier that Yinon’s wife Amit Merari, who works for the state prosecution, was involved in formulating the criminal indictments against the premier. She and Yinon both signed a conflict of interest document in 2017 declaring that he would not deal with issues related to cases she has worked on, according to Channel 12.

Following the reports, Likud MK Miki Zohar, the faction whip, contacted Yinon’s office urging him to recuse himself.

UN panel to hear Palestinian race case against Israel

A UN committee will hear a Palestinian complaint accusing Israel of racial discrimination, in a decision criticized by Washington on Monday.

The committee of independent experts, which has the power to name and shame members of the UN convention on racial discrimination who break the rules, decides it could handle a complaint filed by the Palestinians in 2018 — details of which have not been released.

But the United States expresses “profound disappointment,” arguing that Israel did not recognize Palestine as a state or as a party to the convention — as a result, the committee had no jurisdiction.

The Palestinians signed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 2014 as the State of Palestine.

“The Committee’s disregard for treaty law raises serious questions about the legitimacy of this process,” says Andrew Bremberg, US envoy to international organizations.

“The United States will continue to advocate for fair treatment for Israel in this and other international fora.”

Five of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s 18 experts made the unusual move of publicly disagreeing with the committee’s decision.

They published a statement arguing that Israel’s objection to entering treaty relations with the State of Palestine meant the committee had no jurisdiction.

The committee had engaged in a drawn-out debate over jurisdiction before deciding last month that it could hear the case — a decision not made public at the time.

Their conclusions, sent to AFP on Monday, shows that 10 experts voted in favor, three opposed and the others abstained or were absent.

AFP

Security chiefs said to reassure ministers that Iran unlikely to strike Israel

Iran is unlikely to attack Israel in retaliation for the US drone strike last week that killed top general Qassem Soleimani in Iraq, security officials tell the high-level security cabinet, according to Hebrew media reports.

The reports quote ministers who attended Monday’s briefing.

Tehran has vowed to avenge the death of Soleimani.

British soccer player investigated for Rothschilds conspiracy tweet

The English Football Association asked a professional soccer player Monday to explain why he tweeted comments that could be construed as anti-Semitic.

Fourth-tier club Port Vale also launched an internal investigation into Tom Pope’s early Sunday post about the Rothschilds after he scored a goal at Manchester City in the third round of the FA Cup.

Pope had been asked on Twitter to “predict the WWIII result,” a reference to American tensions with Iran.

“We invade Iran then Cuba then North Korea then the Rothchilds (sic) are crowned champions of every bank on the planet,” the striker replies.

The Rothschilds, a French Jewish family whose banking connections date to the 18th century, are a frequent target of offensive global conspiracy theories.

Port Vale said it had been asked by the FA for Pope’s “observations” on the tweet. The club issues a statement on Monday from the player distancing himself from anti-Semitism.

“Following the reaction to my response on Twitter about the Rothschilds, I was unaware of any link between the Rothschild family and the Jewish community,” Pope says. “If I have caused offense to anyone, I’d like to apologize enormously as this was never my intention.”

But in response to criticism on Sunday, Pope reiterates the offensive comments.

“Racist??” he tweets, saying again the Rothchilds “own” the banks.

Pope scored his team’s only goal in a 4-1 loss to Manchester City.

AP

‘Never threaten Iran,’ Rouhani tells Trump

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Monday warns his American counterpart Donald Trump to “never threaten the Iranian nation,” after he issued a US strike list of 52 targets in the Islamic Republic.

“Those who refer to the number 52 should also remember the number 290. #IR655 Never threaten the Iranian nation,” he tweets, referring to the 290 lives lost in July 1988 when a US warship shot down passenger plane Iran Air 655 in the Gulf.

AFP

France says Iran must not retaliate after general’s killing

France’s foreign minister says Monday that Tehran must not retaliate over the killing of top general Qassem Soleimani in a US airstrike, amid an escalating war of words between Iranian officials and President Donald Trump.

“It is essential that Iran renounce any reprisals or retaliations,” Jean-Yves Le Drian tells BFM television, adding that “there is still a place for diplomacy, fortunately.”

AFP

Woman in serious condition from fire in Kiryat Malachi building

A woman, 34, is hospitalized in serious condition, after suffering smoke inhalation in Kiryat Malachi.

The incident was due to a grill that was lit inside a home, reports say.

Another man, said to be in his 80s, is lightly hurt.

Harvey Weinstein indicted on new sex crimes charges in Los Angeles

Harvey Weinstein has been indicted on new sex crime charges in Los Angeles, just as his trial on separate rape and sexual assault charges in New York was poised to get underway, prosecutors announce Monday.

Prosecutors in L.A. recently said they are reviewing eight cases accusing Weinstein of sexual assault.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey says in a news release that Weinstein has been charged with raping one woman and sexually assaulting another in separate incidents over a two-day period in 2013.

“We believe the evidence will show that the defendant used his power and influence to gain access to his victims and then commit violent crimes against them,” Lacey says in a statement. “I want to commend the victims who have come forward and bravely recounted what happened to them. It is my hope that all victims of sexual violence find strength and healing as they move forward.”

The news came the same day that Harvey Weinstein and several of the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct converged Monday at the New York City courthouse where a judge and his lawyers handled the final preparations for his high-stakes trial on charges of rape and assault.

AP

In apparent warning to Iran, UN chief warns of risks of miscalculation

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is warning of the risk of any miscalculation amid global tensions “at their highest level this century.”

The UN chief says these tensions are “leading more and more countries to take unpredicted decisions with unpredictable consequences.”

Guterres tells reporters Monday that his message is simple: “Stop escalation. Exercise maximum restraint. Re-start dialogue. Renew international cooperation,” and avoid a new war.

He does not mention any countries by name. But his comments follow the US killing of top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad. The US has threatened airstrikes inside Iran if Tehran retaliates for the killing.

If the US were to directly bomb Iran, it could spark a war and lead to region-wide violence, potentially drawing other countries into a global conflict.

AP

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