The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they unfolded.
Netanyahu, in Haifa, announces multinational firefighting force
In a special cabinet meeting in fire-ravaged Haifa, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces the establishment of a multinational firefighting force that he says “will also coordinate the purchasing of planes.”
Adds Netanyahu, “We’re active on all fronts, and we’ll act forcefully against anyone who starts fires.”
According to Netanyahu, the fire in Haifa is “in many respects worse than the Carmel fire” of 2010, which killed 44 people.
Arson worse than terrorism, Netanyahu says
Netanyahu adds that the fires, many of which officials blame on Arab arsonists, are worse than “other terror attacks.”
“The severity of these cases isn’t equal in severity to other terror attacks, because it is so powerful and it draws on the forces of nature to sow death and destruction,” he says.
Government says it’ll cancel fee for calling firefighters
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan reiterates he’s been promoting new regulations so that citizens who called in firefighters in recent days will be exempt from paying the usual fee.
“The State of Israel is facing the complicated challenge of fires and arson throughout the country,” he says in a statement. “Already with the coming [annual state] budget I worked to secure a budget to cancel the firefighting fee.
“We must make things as easy as possible for people whose houses are burning down, and not mount more difficulty by requiring them to pay for ordering firefighting services.”
4 Islamic activists accused of fomenting Temple Mount unrest
Security forces arrested and interrogated in recent months 10 Islamic activists, including four “senior members” of Israel’s Islamic Movement who allegedly fomented unrest at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the Shin Bet announces.
In a statement, the security agency says four of the activists sought to keep up the activity of the Murabitun and Murabitat — groups of men and women, respectively, that were known to harass Jewish visitors at the Mount — which Israel outlawed in 2015.
The four allegedly “maintained a prodigious, organized network for fundraising and paying Murabitun activists, including a system that provided rides from all over the country to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount,” the Shin Bet says.
They are indicted in the Nazareth District Court on charges of illegal assembly and money laundering.
Hezbollah lauds ‘historic symbol’ Fidel Castro
The Lebanese Hezbollah terror group praises Fidel Castro, the late Cuban leader, as a “historic symbol,” according to the Naharnet news site.
Castro is “a historic symbol whose life was a lighthouse to all revolutionaries around the world,” a spokesman for the group says.
Castro, along with Che Guevara, pioneered the kind of guerrilla warfare that Hezbollah, among other terror groups, has relied on.
Abbas’s Fatah in rare congress as succession talk builds
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party will hold its first congress since 2009 on Tuesday as the 81-year-old leader seeks to close ranks and fend off a key rival.
While Abbas’s advisers insist the congress is being held because it is overdue, some analysts see it as an opportunity for him to sideline allies of his exiled longtime rival Mohammed Dahlan.
Talk of who will eventually succeed Abbas as PA president has intensified, with the ageing leader not having publicly designated a successor.
The congress, to last up to five days in the West Bank city of Ramallah, is expected to be key for the future of the secular Fatah party and the PA, which it controls.
It is to include elections for Fatah’s 23-member central committee — in which Abbas serves as president — and its 132-member revolutionary council, considered Fatah’s parliament.
The 1,400 Fatah officials invited to attend the congress are to vote for 18 members of the central committee and 80 seats on the revolutionary council, while the rest are to be nominated.
Observers see the reduced number of officials to vote — down from more than 2,000 in 2009 — as part of a move to exclude Dahlan supporters.
Now in exile in the United Arab Emirates, Dahlan was expelled from Fatah in 2011 and has faced a series of legal cases since.
2 Arab Israelis said to confess to arson
Police representatives taking part in the cabinet’s meeting in Haifa announce that two Israeli Arabs arrested in connection with the massive wildfires there have confessed.
They two, residents of Deir Hanna and Umm Al-Fahm, are reportedly the first suspects to confess to their part in the fires, many of which officials blame on Arab arsonists.
Spain arrests Palestinian for trying to join IS
Spanish police arrest a Palestinian man at Madrid’s Barajas airport who was allegedly attempting to join the Islamic State extremist group in war-torn Syria.
Spain’s Interior Ministry says the suspect was detained by authorities in Jordan, where he was attempting to cross into Syria, and then handed over to Spain’s Civil Guard for arrest.
The suspect is a Spanish citizen of Palestinian origin who lives on Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands archipelago.
The suspect had been under police surveillance since 2014 when police detected that he was “in the process of jihadist radicalization” after having “consumed propaganda from the (IS) terrorist group which had led him to be willing to travel and join their ranks.”
The suspect had already tried to enter Syria via Turkey in July, when Turkish authorities apprehended him and sent him back to Spain, according to Spanish police. He then planned to make a second attempt to reach Syria by traveling to Jordan earlier this month.
Israeli arrested for urging arson against Arabs
A resident of Bikat Ono near Tel Aviv is arrested over Facebook for posts calling for retaliatory arson attacks against Arab Israelis.
Police say the man confessed and was granted conditional release.
“Just burn down Arabs’ villages,” the man, whose name was not released for publication, wrote in one post on November 24. “This is war.” He then urged attacks specifically on the Arab town of Umm al-Fahm.
A day later he wrote, “Thank God, we’re burning them too.”
Qatar says Gaza blockade aiding IS
The Qatari foreign minister warns that the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the Gaza Strip could turn the coastal territory into a “launching pad” for the Islamic State group.
“If we will leave them as they are, people from [IS] can recruit them easily. They can start operations from there easily,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani tells Reuters.
He says the blockade is turning Gaza into an “open-air prison.”
Hundreds flee to government-held districts in Aleppo
Hundreds of people in Syria’s Aleppo have fled to areas under government control, a monitoring group says, as pro-government forces press on with an assault that has laid waste to the city’s opposition neighborhoods.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says around 400 evacuees sought refuge in the Masaken Hanano neighborhood, captured by pro-government forces Saturday, and that an additional 30 families fled to Sheikh Maqsoud, which is under Kurdish control.
Syrian state media reports that hundreds of families have vacated areas under rebel control.
The Lebanese Al-Manar TV channel reports from the neighborhood, showing workers and soldiers clearing debris against a backdrop of bombed-out buildings on both sides of the street. Al-Manar is a media outlet affiliated with Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group aligned with the Syrian government.
Firefighters battle blaze near Rishpon
Police say that a fire that raged in a field outside Rishpon, north of Tel Aviv, is being put out by firefighters.
A spokeswoman says the fire “is under control” and will be doused soon.
She says police and firefighters have yet to establish the cause of the fire.
Fire breaks out in Karmiel
Firefighters are battling a fresh blaze in a park in the northern town of Karmiel.
Judge frees Bedouin man arrested for ‘sarcastic’ arson post
The Beersheba Magistrate’s Court grants conditional release to Anas Abu Dabas, 24, a Bedouin man who was arrested last week after appearing to support arson in a Facebook post.
Police say the file on Abu Dabas, who maintained that the post was satirical, and in fact ridiculed arsonists, has been transferred to the state prosecution for review.
The Joint (Arab) List says in a statement that he was released after police admitted in court that their translation of the post was lacking and did not convey its sarcastic tone.
Firefighters battle blazes in Jerusalem, West Bank
Additional fires are breaking out in Israel and the West Bank.
Several teams of firefighters, aided by American volunteers, are battling a blaze just north of Halamish in the central West Bank.
Meanwhile, firefighters are working to put out a brush fire near the Israel Police’s headquarters, next to Jerusalem’s French Hill neighborhood.
Police arrest 3 suspected arsonists
Police arrest three residents of Basmat Tab’un, a Bedouin town in northern Israel, on suspicion that they started a brush fire near the town yesterday.
Officers will seek to remand the three, who are also suspected of possessing a stolen vehicle, police say.
Trump adviser leery of Romney in administration role
President-elect Donald Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway says she has personal concerns with the prospect of Mitt Romney being selected as secretary of state.
Conway tells CNN’s “State of the Union” and NBC’s “Meet the Press” that many Trump loyalists feel betrayed by Romney’s opposition to Trump’s candidacy during the campaign. She says she’s not even sure whether Romney voted for Trump.
The comments represent an unusual airing of internal disagreement as Trump privately considers Romney for the job of the nation’s chief diplomat. Other candidates include former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker.
Conway says, “I’m all for party unity, but I’m not sure we have to pay for that with the secretary of state position.”
She notes that she will support Romney’s selection if Trump ultimately picks him to serve as the nation’s chief diplomat.
In call, Rivlin thanks Erdogan for firefighting aid
President Reuven Rivlin calls his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to thank him for Ankara’s assistance in battling the blazes that have been raging throughout Israel.
Erdogan responds, “As soon as I found out that the fire was spreading I requested we send our helicopters and teams to help, and I hope and pray that the mission will end with the best outcome possible.”
According to a transcript of the conversation, the Turkish leader adds that the recently rebooted relations between the two countries are rapidly warming, and notes that a new Turkish ambassador will soon be installed in Tel Aviv.
“The normalization of the relations between Turkey and Israel is of utmost importance for the whole region,” he says. “I know that we can keep working together in the domain of natural gas and that the conversations between our energy ministries will bear fruit.”
Erdogan also objects to a bill moving through Israel’s Knesset that would muffle the call to prayer in the country’s mosques, and Rivlin says the matter will be “considered with sensitivity, as any matter of freedom of speech and religion should be.”
Israel to buy 17 more F-35 jets
The security cabinet, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s inner circle of senior ministers, votes to purchase 17 additional F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin, which would bring to 50 the total number of such jets to be bought for the IAF.
In a statement, the Prime Minister’s Office says the vote was unanimous.
Delta sorry it didn’t boot pro-Trump passenger from plane
Delta Air Lines is apologizing for not removing a passenger from a flight to Pennsylvania who rudely professed his support for President-elect Donald Trump and insulted those who didn’t.
The (Allentown) Morning Call first reported on a video posted on Facebook by a fellow passenger on the Tuesday flight from Atlanta to Allentown. The video shows the man standing in the aisle, yelling and insulting Hillary Clinton supporters.
In the video, the man asks loudly: “We got some Hillary bitches on here?”
Referring to Trump’s victory, he says: “If you don’t like it, too bad.”
Delta says on its website that it is “sorry this disruption happened” and says the airline is responsible for “ensuring all customers feel safe and comfortable.”
Police say 30 suspected arsonists arrested so far
A senior police source says that so far, officers have arrested 30 suspected arsonists in connection to the fires that have been raging throughout Israel for the past week.
The source says that of the 23 who have been remanded, 20 are Arab Israelis, and two have confessed.
The suspects have been tied to 15 fires — out of more than 90, the source says.
Police have yet to establish whether the most massive of those fires — the one that destroyed some 500 homes in Haifa on Thursday — was the result of arson.
Trump steps up criticism of vote recount
President-elect Donald Trump and his top aides double down on their criticism of Hillary Clinton’s camp for joining a vote recount in Wisconsin, terming the decision “ridiculous” and “a waste of time.”
With the recount threatening to revive debate about the legitimacy of Trump’s victory — Clinton won far more popular votes, while he carried the all-important Electoral College count — Trump aides push back hard, even while continuing to wage an extraordinarily public battle over the makeup of the future cabinet.
In his latest early-morning Twitter storm, Trump quotes Clinton about the need to respect the electoral process, calling the presidential vote recount “sad.” It is time for people to accept the November 8 result and move ahead, he says.
Trump’s top aide Kellyanne Conway appears at least to hint that if the Clinton team pushes too hard on the recount, the president-elect might rethink his vow not to seek Clinton’s prosecution for using a private email server when she was secretary of state.
While Trump is being “magnanimous” toward Clinton, “I guess her attitude toward that is to have her counsel go and join this ridiculous recount,” Conway says on ABC.
And Reince Priebus, Trump’s chief of staff, says that while the president-elect is not “seeking methods and ways to persecute and prosecute Hillary Clinton,” Trump will probably be “open to listening,” should any new findings against her emerge from future investigations.
Culture minister blasts Holocaust-themed ice dance
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev rebukes Tatiana Navka — the wife of Valdimir Putin’s chief spokesman — and her skating partner, who donned striped concentration camp uniforms complete with yellow stars of David to compete for top honors on a celebrity TV competition Saturday night.
Regev tells Army Radio that “Holocaust themes are not for parties, they are not for dancing, and they are not reality shows. Any attempt to present the Holocaust in that way is inappropriate.”
Navka is a former Olympic figure skating medalist.
— Stuart Winer
Six minors suspected of starting fire in north
Police say officers have arrested six minors suspected of starting a fire at Ahihud Forest, near the coastal city of Acre, north of Haifa.
The six, all 17-year-olds from the village of Jadeidi-Makr, were in a car fleeing from the scene of the blaze, police say.
Firefighters doused the flames.
Fillon takes lead in French presidential primary
Francois Fillon has taken a strong lead in the French conservative presidential primary, according to early results.
Fillon, who wants to focus on fighting Islamic extremism, has enjoyed a strong boost in popularity in recent weeks.
He promotes traditional family values and has said he plans to reduce immigration to France “to a minimum.”