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Security cabinet holding ‘significant’ meetings on threats along northern border

Details of meetings barred for publication by IDF censor, but reports suggest high-level forum focused on activities of Iran-backed terror group Hezbollah

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

  • A power plant in Gaza City is pictured from behind a fence on April 16, 2017. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
    A power plant in Gaza City is pictured from behind a fence on April 16, 2017. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
  • Graffiti sprayed on a roadblock in the West Bank city of Hebron reads 'Boycott Israel' (AFP Photo/Hazem Bader)
    Graffiti sprayed on a roadblock in the West Bank city of Hebron reads 'Boycott Israel' (AFP Photo/Hazem Bader)
  • Shoppers walk past piles of garbage left by striking city workers, at Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda Market, on January 7, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Shoppers walk past piles of garbage left by striking city workers, at Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda Market, on January 7, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • An 'AM PM' convenience store, which open on Shabbat, in Tel Aviv on January 7, 2016. (Mendy Hechtman/Flash90)
    An 'AM PM' convenience store, which open on Shabbat, in Tel Aviv on January 7, 2016. (Mendy Hechtman/Flash90)

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

Iran’s Guard claims victory against anti-government protests

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard says that the nation and its security forces have ended the wave of unrest linked to anti-government protests that erupted last month.

In a statement on its website, the Guard blamed the unrest on the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as an exiled opposition group known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, and supporters of the monarchy that was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Price hikes sparked protests in a number of cities and towns late last month, and at least 21 people were killed in scattered clashes. The protests, which vented anger at high unemployment and official corruption, were the largest seen in Iran since the disputed 2009 presidential election, and some demonstrators called for the overthrow of the government.

The Guard is a powerful paramilitary force loyal to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Many of the demonstrators protested against the Guard’s massive budget, its costly interventions across the region, and against the supreme leader himself.

Hundreds of people have been detained since the protests began. They include around 90 university students, reformist lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency.

In recent days, government supporters have held several mass rallies across the country to protest the unrest.

The United States and Israel have expressed support for the protests, which began on December 28 in Iran’s second largest city, Mashhad, but deny allegations of fomenting them.

— AP

NGO: Only 1 in 10 Jewish-on-Arab hate crimes in West Bank end in indictments

An Israeli rights group says authorities only bring indictments in about one in 10 ideologically motivated attacks by Israelis against Palestinians in the occupied territories.

In an annual report, Yesh Din says it has monitored 225 investigation files since 2014. Of the 185 files processed, it says just 21 have resulted in indictments — an 11.4 percent rate. Though the figures mark an increase over previous years, the group says its findings still show that Israel “fails to fulfil its duty to guarantee the safety of the Palestinian public in the occupied territories.”

As a result, it says Palestinians have been increasingly refraining from turning to police.

Yesh Din is often critical of Israeli authorities and government policies in the West Bank. Police had no immediate comment.

— AP

France marks three years since Charlie Hebdo attack

French President Emmanuel Macron laid a wreath in front of the former offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Sunday to mark three years since the massacre of its staff in an Islamist attack

At a low-key ceremony, in line with requests from the families of the victims for a sober commemoration, Macron was joined by journalists from the magazine, members of his government and the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo.

Two French jihadists who had sworn allegiance to al-Qaeda killed 11 people at Charlie Hebdo’s offices in 2015 over the staunchly atheist magazine’s satirical coverage of Islam and the prophet Mohammed.

The assault, which saw a policeman executed at pointblank range nearby, profoundly shocked France.

It also marked the beginning of a series of jihadist attacks that have claimed 241 lives in total according to an AFP toll.


Jerusalem municipal workers call off strike as layoffs rescinded

Jerusalem’s municipal employees agree to end their strike, which resulted in piles of garbage strewn throughout the city as officials from the city and the finance and interior ministries launched talks on resolving the capital’s budget woes.

Jerusalem’s municipal services were shut down much of the day as city employees began an open-ended strike to protest the firing of some 2,150 workers amid a budget dispute with the Finance Ministry.

Mayor Nir Barkat ordered the layoffs due to the budget showdown with the Finance Ministry, which he said was withholding hundreds of millions of shekels in needed funds for Israel’s poorest city.

2 people injured in explosion outside Stockholm subway

Swedish police say two people have been injured outside a Stockholm subway station after an unidentified explosive device detonated, apparently after someone picked it up from the ground to take a look at it.

Stockholm police told Swedish news agency TT the injured were a 60-year old man and a 45-year-old woman, with the man in serious condition. The explosion took place Sunday just outside the Varby Gard subway station in Huddinge, a residential district that is part of greater Stockholm.

Officials say the blast is not believed to be terror-related.

Rescue offical Lars-Ake Stevelind told Swedish broadcaster SVT that “someone has used some type of explosive material” for the object and that police is investigating it.

— AP

Israel names blacklisted BDS-linked groups

The Strategic Affairs Ministry releases a full list of the organizations whose members are barred from entering Israel over their efforts to boycott the Jewish state.

• AFPS (The Association France Palestine Solidarité)
• BDS France
• BDS Italy
• ECCP (The European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine)
• FOA (Friends of al-Aqsa)
• IPSC (Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign)
• Norgeׂׂ Palestinakomitee (The Palestine Committee of Norway)
• PGS Palestinagrupperna i Sverige (Palestine Solidarity Association in Sweden)
• PSC (Palestine Solidarity Campaign)
• War on Want
• BDS Kampagne

United States:
• AFSC (American Friends Service Committee)
• AMP (American Muslims for Palestine)
• Code pink
• JVP (Jewish Voice for Peace)
• NSJP (National Students for Justice in Palestine)
• USCPR (US Campaign for Palestinian Rights)

Latin America
• BDS Chile

South Africa
• BDS South Africa

• BNC (BDS National Committee)

Man stabbed at Dead Sea beach, in serious condition

A 64-year-old man was seriously injured in a stabbing attack at a Dead Sea beach.

Police say the incident at the Hamei Zohar beach is not terror-related.

The man was taken in a helicopter to the Soroka Hospital in Beersheba for treatment.

Iran parliament holds special meeting on protests

The Iranian parliament is holding a closed-door meeting to discuss the deadly protests that hit the country last week, while more pro-regime rallies were held in several cities.

Lawmakers interrogated Interior Minister Abdolrahmani Rahmani Fazli, Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi and secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani, parliament’s ICANA website reports.

Some voice concern over the internet controls put in place during the unrest, including a ban on Iran’s most popular messaging app, Telegram, which officials said had been used to incite violence.

“The parliament is not in favour of keeping Telegram filtering in place, but it must pledge that it will not be used as a tool by the enemies of the Iranian people,” Behrouz Nemati, spokesman for the parliament’s presiding board, writes on Instagram, which was also temporarily blocked during the unrest.

Many Iranians use Telegram as their main source of news and a way of bypassing the highly restrictive state media, with almost a third of Iran’s 80 million people using the app daily.


President urges visiting Norwegian FM to fight BDS, anti-Semitism

President Reuven Rivlin urges visiting Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide to continue work against anti-Semitism and efforts to boycott Israel.

“I believe that BDS leads to increasing hatred, and does not work against it, and it symbolizes all that stands in the way of dialogue, debate, and progress,” Rivlin tells Søreide at his residence in Jerusalem.

“It is against all our cooperation, and against our lives together here. You must work against it no less than we, because it is stands in the way of progress.”

Rivlin thanks Søreide for her government’s work against anti-Semitism and the BDS movement so far.

“In the last few years there has been a significant improvement, a testament to the ability to overcome hatred and to educate understanding,” Rivlin says. “We still have a long and important way to go, and we must continue down this path in order to combat this terrible phenomenon.”

Coalition said to exempt gas station convenience stores from ‘Shabbat bill’

Coalition leaders have reportedly agreed to exclude gas station convenience stores from the so-called Shabbat bill that would force stores to close on the Jewish day of rest.

The bill sponsored by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party was to be voted on in the Knesset tomorrow, although changes to the text would mean the bill would have to be re-approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation before a plenum vote.

Man dies in explosion outside Stockholm subway

Swedish national broadcaster SVT says a man has died after he picked up an unidentified object from the ground near a subway station in Stockholm that detonated in his hand.

Swedish police could not immediately confirm the death.

Stockholm region police spokesman Sven-Erik Olsson says the explosion took place Sunday morning just outside the Varby Gard subway station in Huddinge — a residential district in greater Stockholm. He says a woman with the man received minor wounds to her face and both legs from the blast.

Police are examining the object.

— AP

UK’s May says she has no concerns about Trump’s mental state

British Prime Minister Theresa May dismisses concerns about Donald Trump’s mental fitness, saying the US president acts in what he sees as the best interests of his country.

A new book by journalist Michael Wolff quotes prominent Trump advisers as questioning the president’s competence.

Asked in an interview whether she thought concerns about Trump’s mental state were serious, May says: “No.”

She says that “when I deal with President Trump what I see is somebody who is committed to ensuring that he is taking decisions in the best interests of the United States.”

In the BBC interview, May reaffirms that Trump would visit Britain, but does not give a date, or say whether it would be a full state visit or a lower-key working trip.

— AP

Syria says government troops retake key town in rebel province

Syrian television says the country’s military has recaptured a strategically important town in the northwestern province of Idlib in its latest advance into rebel-held territory this year.

The state-affiliated Al-Ikhbariya TV says government forces took Sinjar today.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group says the gain “opens the road” for the government troops to march on the rebel-held Abu Zuhour air base about 19 kilometers, or 12 miles, to the north.

The military has assigned one of its top commanders to lead the offensive into Idlib, the last major stronghold for rebels in northern Syria. The UN says more than 2.5 million people are currently living in Idlib, including more than 1 million displaced by fighting from other parts the Syria.

— AP

Trump aide Stephen Miller says critical book is ‘pile of trash’

US President Donald Trump’s chief policy adviser is blasting an unflattering new book that has raised new questions about his boss’s fitness for office.

Aide Stephen Miller tells CNN’s “State of the Union” that the book is — in Miller’s words — “nothing but a pile of trash through and though.”

And Miller says it’s “tragic and unfortunate” that former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, who’s quoted at length in the book, would make what Miller calls “grotesque comments” that are out of step with reality.

The CNN interview quickly grew heated. Miller criticized CNN’s coverage, and CNN host Jake Tapper pressed Miller to answer his questions.

Tapper abruptly ended the interview, calling Miller “obsequious” and accusing Miller of wasting his viewers’ time.

— AP

Jordan okays one-time crane drop of aid for displaced Syrians

Jordan says it will permit a one-time crane drop of UN aid to tens of thousands of displaced Syrians stranded in harsh conditions on its border.

The kingdom sealed its border with Syria in 2016, after Islamic State extremists killed seven Jordanian border guards. The closure ended regular UN aid shipments from Jordan to displaced Syrians struggling for survival in a remote stretch of desert.

Jordan alleges that the Rukban border camp has been infiltrated by IS and that cross-border traffic endangers the kingdom. It insists that the UN deliver aid from war-ravaged Syria.

Jordan’s Foreign Ministry today says it would permit a one-time crane drop from its soil after the UN submitted a plan for aid delivery from Syria.

UN refugee agency officials were not available for comment.

— AP

Jewish terrorist requests furlough to attend son’s circumcision

A Jewish, American-Israeli man serving out a life sentence on terrorism charges has reportedly requested a prison furlough to attend his son’s circumcision.

A right-wing legal organization representing Yaakov “Jack” Tytell says it has petitioned the Israel Prisons Service with the request, citing the “very unique” circumstances.

“Thousands of other terrorists have been released to their homes in recent years and I’m only asking to be present in my son’s circumcision,” Tytell is quoted as telling his attorneys earlier today. “After that, I’ll go back to jail. I expect to be granted that minimal request.”

Tytell in 2012 confessed to murdering two Palestinians in 1997 during a visit to Israel. He has also confessed to planning and committing other violent hate crimes against Palestinians, gay people, left-wingers, Christians, and police officers.

He is currently serving two life sentences for the murders at a prison in central Israel.

Israel increases electricity to Gaza at PA’s request

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz instructs the Israel Electric Corporation to restore full electricity to Gaza, after more than half a year of a 35% reduction after the Palestinian Authority intentionally decreased payments to Israel.

Israel’s ten power lines into Gaza, which can provide up to 120 megawatts, will be “fully operational” by tomorrow night at the request of the PA, the Defense Ministry says.

The PA has led a high-stakes campaign to weaken Gaza’s Hamas rulers by gradually reducing the flow of electricity to the territory it lost to the terrorist group in 2007.

— Dov Lieber

Egypt ex-PM Shafiq says he won’t run for president in 2018

Former Egyptian premier Ahmed Shafiq announces he will not run in the 2018 presidential elections, reversing a pledge to challenge at polls likely to be dominated by leader Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

“I have decided to not run in the upcoming 2018 presidential elections,” Shafiq says in a statement, adding that “I saw that I will not be the best person.”


Israeli, Palestinian rights groups denounce ban on BDS groups

Prominent Israeli and Palestinian rights groups denounce the banning of 20 foreign NGOs from Israel over their efforts to boycott the Jewish state.

The Haifa-based advocacy group Adalah in a statement condemns the anti-boycott measure as “reminiscent of apartheid.”

“This ban is an overt violation of the constitutional rights of Israeli citizens and the rights guaranteed to Palestinian residents of the OPT under international humanitarian and human rights law,” the organization says in a statement. “This move is reminiscent of South Africa’s apartheid regime which also prepared blacklists in order to punish people and prevent the entry of those opposed to its racist policies.”

The left-wing New Israel Fund also criticizes the ban as undemocratic.

In a statement, NIF says that while it does not support the BDS movement, it says that “banning political opposition is the policy of autocracies, not democracies.”

“The Netanyahu government’s Entry Law, which is a travel ban that uses blacklists and litmus tests to bar visitors from entering Israel based on their beliefs, flies in the face of the democratic principles enshrined in Israel’s declaration of independence,” CEO Daniel Sokatch says.

“We know that it’s profoundly anti-democratic to discriminate against those who advocate for nonviolent strategies just because the government doesn’t agree with their views,” the statement says. “Our position is principled: We do not support the BDS movement. We oppose the government’s travel ban and all its actions to punish those with whom it disagrees.”

Parents of fallen IDF soldiers held by Hamas denounce reversal of Gaza power cut

Parents of late Israeli soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin criticize Israel’s move to reverse the power cut to Gaza as a win for the terrorist group that has been holding their sons’ bodies since the 2014.

“The Israeli government, under Netanyahu and the cabinet ministers, chose to give in to Hamas and not condition the renewal of electricity supply to Gaza on the return of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin,” the families say in a statement.

They urged that all future humanitarian efforts in Gaza, whether on behalf of Israel or the international community, be conditioned on the release of the soldiers’ bodies.

Earlier, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz ordered the power supply to the Strip be restored tomorrow. The move came at the request of the Palestinian Authority, which has led a high-stakes campaign to weaken Gaza’s Hamas rulers by gradually reducing the flow of electricity to the territory it lost to the terrorist group in 2007.

Bannon praises Trump’s son in statement

Steve Bannon is trying to make amends.

US President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist has issued a statement to the news site “Axios” reaffirming his support for the president and praising Trump’s eldest son.

Bannon says Donald Trump Jr. “is both a patriot and a good man,” and has been “relentless in his advocacy for his father.”

Bannon infuriated Trump with comments he made to author Michael Wolff describing a meeting between Trump Jr., senior campaign aides and a Russian lawyer as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”

But Bannon says his description was aimed at former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, not Trump’s son.

Bannon says he regrets that his “delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr. has diverted attention” from Trump’s achievement.

And he says his support for the president is “unwavering.”

— AP

Saudi fighter jet crashes, Yemen rebels claim downing it

Saudi Arabia’s Royal Air Force says two of its pilots, whose fighter jet crashed during an operation in Yemen, have been rescued.

An official statement blames the crash on a “technical failure,” but the Yemeni rebel-run al-Masirah television says the British-made Tornado fighter jet was hit while flying in Yemeni airspace over the northern province of Saada, which borders Saudi Arabia. The rebel Houthis say the jet crashed on Saudi soil.

A statement by the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen says the pilots were not injured and were evacuated to Saudi Arabia by ground and air forces. The coalition did not say where the crash occurred.

Multiple Saudi and Emirati fighter jets have crashed over Yemen since the coalition launched air strikes nearly three years ago against the rebels.

— AP

Security cabinet holding ‘significant’ meetings on threats along northern border

The security cabinet has reportedly convened several times in recent days to discuss the situation and threats along Israel’s northern borders.

Channel 10 journalist Barak Ravid says the details of the meetings have been barred for publication by the IDF censor, but speculates the the high-level forum held “very significant” discussions.

Last week, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said the most serious threat to Israel is posed by the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon, followed by other jihadist groups supported by Tehran positioned on Israel’s border with Syria.

Netanyahu reportedly yelled at Bennett over ‘Ariel University law’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett yell at each other at a cabinet meeting earlier today, over a bill that would require Israeli universities in the Wast Bank to be granted the same academic standing as other higher education institutions.

Bennett, whose pro-settlement party proposed the legislation, warns Netanyahu that he might leave his coalition of the legislation is not advanced, according to Hadashot news.

“Why are you working this way?” Netanyahu asks Bennett. “It damages discipline within the coalition!

“This is not how things work, this is unacceptable,” Netanyahu adds. “If you want to quit, then just quit.”

Bennett responds by defending his party to the prime minister, saying Jewish Home MKs were among the best behaved lawmakers who rarely missed plenum votes.

He also says it is a shame that Netanyahu’s coalition has not put the same effort into passing the Ariel University law as it did the Recommendations law.

CIA chief denies agency role in Iran unrest, predicts new violence

The head of the CIA denies his agency had any role in fomenting the recent anti-government protests in Iran, but predicted the violent unrest “is not behind us.”

Mike Pompeo, named a year ago by US President Donald Trump to head the intelligence agency, tells Fox News that economic conditions in Iran “are not good.”

“That’s what caused the people to take to the streets,” he says. He blamed what he called Tehran’s “backward-looking” regime for turning a deaf ear to the voices of the people.

Asked about a claim by Iran’s prosecutor general, Mohammad Javad Montazeri, that a CIA official had coordinated with Israel and Saudi Arabia — Iran’s regional rivals — to work with exiled Iranian groups to stir dissent in Iran, Pompeo replied simply: “It’s false.”

“This was the Iranian people — started by them, created by them, continued by them, demanding a better set of living conditions and a break from the theocratic regime.”


Barkat hosted Likud MKs in bid to shore up support against Kahlon, in budget spat

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat last week hosted several Likud MKs at his home to discuss his spat with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon over the city’s budget.

According to Channel 10 news, the lawmakers agreed to press Netanyahu to intervene in the budget crisis on behalf of the city, and to abstain or vote against legislation proposed by Kahlon.

Attending last Wednesday’s dinner were Miki Zohar, Oren Hazan, Yoav Kisch, Sharren Haskel, Nava Boker, Amir Ohana and Jacky Levi.

Car bomb kills 18 in Syrian rebel-held city

Syrian activists and a war monitoring group say that at least 18 people have been killed in a car bomb blast in the country’s largest rebel-held city of Idlib.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says a car bomb was detonated in Idlib, the capital of a province with the same name.

Photos and video from the activist-run Thiqa News Agency and Baladi News Agency show heavy damage along what appears to be a major avenue in the city, with several buildings damaged and vehicles overturned.

First responders, ambulances, fire brigades are seen arriving at the scene.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing. The city and the province are controlled by several rebel factions and insurgents vying for dominance, the most powerful being an al-Qaida-linked group.

— AP

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