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Israel and Turkey outline plan to renormalize diplomatic ties

Netanyahu passes controversial gas deal, says move is ‘essential’ for Israel’s security; 7 women claim interior minister sexually harassed them

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting with top military officials in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
    Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting with top military officials in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
  • An aerial view of an Israeli offshore gas rig (Albatross Aerial photography/Noble Energy/Flash90/File)
    An aerial view of an Israeli offshore gas rig (Albatross Aerial photography/Noble Energy/Flash90/File)
  • Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli in Cannes in 2011. (Shutterstock)
    Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli in Cannes in 2011. (Shutterstock)
  • Police, security guards and paramedics arrive on the scene of a stabbing attack on the light rail in the Pisgat Zeev neighborhood of Jerusalem on Nov. 10, 2015. (Magen David Adom)
    Police, security guards and paramedics arrive on the scene of a stabbing attack on the light rail in the Pisgat Zeev neighborhood of Jerusalem on Nov. 10, 2015. (Magen David Adom)
  • 13-year-old Naor Ben-Ezra carrying a torah scroll as he celebrates his Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, December 17, 2015 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
    13-year-old Naor Ben-Ezra carrying a torah scroll as he celebrates his Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, December 17, 2015 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

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

Netanyahu signs controversial gas deal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signs a deal on Israel’s newly found gas fields in the Mediterranean, utilizing a controversial clause allowing him to bypass antitrust authorities.

“I’ve decided to approve the gas deal,” Netanyahu says at an event at the Eco-Industrial Park in Ramat Hovav. “It is essential to our security, because we do not want to have only a single power plant which [can be] shot at.”

Netanyahu’s move comes after a year of performing political cartwheels to override Knesset and public opposition to the deal, which critics claim will create a monopoly in the gas market and lead to higher prices for Israeli consumers.

Illustrative photo of a natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)
Illustrative photo of a natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

“There is no chance of developing additional gas fields without the gas deal. It’s the only way,” he says.

The deal is signed despite a Monday vote in the Knesset Economics Committee rejecting Clause 52 of the Restrictive Trade Practices (antitrust) Law which allows the economy minister — currently Netanyahu — to bypass the Antitrust Authority if security or foreign policy considerations justify it. The authority had ruled that the consortium developing the Leviathan field may constitute a monopoly.

Netanyahu has said the move will pump hundreds of billions into Israeli coffers, though activists say the deal with the US-Israeli consortium is too favorable toward business interests.

Bar Refaeli named as supermodel being investigated for tax fraud

Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli is named as the celebrity who is being investigated for potential tax offenses.

Refaeli, whose name was initially kept under wraps by a gag order, reportedly spent 12 hours being questioned at the Tax Authority offices in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, during which time the entrance to the floor she was on was blocked to the general public.

Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli in Cannes in 2011. (Shutterstock)
Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli in Cannes in 2011. (Shutterstock)

Putin backs joint fight against terror

President Vladimir Putin says that Russia doesn’t see a new anti-terror coalition led by Saudi Arabia as hostile to its interests, but he called for pooling global efforts to fight against terrorism.

Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting with top military officials in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting with top military officials in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Speaking at a news conference, Putin said that he doesn’t quite understand the purpose of creating the new coalition, because many of its members are part of the US-led coalition.

At the same time, he adds that Russia has cooperated with Saudi Arabia despite their differences on the Syrian crisis.

— AP

UK: Membership in Muslim Brotherhood ‘indicator of extremism’

A review conducted by the British government concludes that being a member of the international Muslim Brotherhood organization may be considered a possible indicator of extremism, Reuters reports.

The review adds, however, that the group’s activities should not be banned from taking place in the UK.

“Parts of the Muslim Brotherhood have a highly ambiguous relationship with violent extremism. Both as an ideology and as a network it has been a rite of passage for some individuals and groups who have gone on to engage in violence and terrorism,” Prime Minister David Cameron says in a statement.

Egyptian men chant anti-Israeli slogans during a Muslim Brotherhood-staged anti-Israel rally in Cairo in May. (photo credit: Khalil Hamra/AP)
Egyptian men chant anti-Israeli slogans during a Muslim Brotherhood-staged anti-Israel rally in Cairo in May. (photo credit: Khalil Hamra/AP)

“Aspects of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology and activities therefore run counter to British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, equality and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs,” he adds.

Cameron says the UK will refuse visas to members of the group who have made extremist comments, Reuters reports.

Austrian Nobel’s doctorate revoked for Nazi past

Austria’s prestigious Salzburg University posthumously revokes the honorary doctorate of Nobel-winning ethnologist and zoologist Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989) because of his Nazi past.

The university cites the Austrian’s 1938 application to join the Nazi party in which he says that he had “of course always been a National Socialist as a scientist” and that “my life’s work… has been in the service of National Socialist thinking.”

Nobel Prize winner Konrad Lorenz (Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0/ Eurobas)
Nobel Prize winner Konrad Lorenz (Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0/ Eurobas)

Lorenz won the Nobel prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1973 together with German Karl von Frisch and the British Nikolaas Tinbergen. Salzburg’s honorary doctorate came in 1983 but his Nazi past was kept quiet at the time, the university says.

He became well known for his research into the process of imprinting in birds, whereby chicks bond with the first moving thing they see after leaving the nest — even, as he showed, goslings with Lorenz himself.

Salzburg University, which last year began looking into the past awarding of degrees, also strips German jurist and former SS member Wolfgang Hefermehl (1906-2001) of his honorary doctorate.

— AFP

11-year-old stabber will remain in Social Services hostel

An 11-year-old Palestinian boy involved in an attack on security guards on the Jerusalem light rail on November 10 will remain in a hostel operated by the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, a Jerusalem youth court rules.

The child was transferred to the hostel upon being released from a hospital where he was treated after he was shot and injured by a guard during the attack.

The boy, whose name remained unpublished, says he regrets taking part in the attack.

Iran registers candidates for powerful clerical body

Iran begins registering candidates for an influential clerical body that has the power to choose or dismiss the country’s supreme leader.

Elections for the 88-seat Experts Assembly will be held simultaneously with parliamentary elections on February 26, with both open to all eligible voters.

The assembly monitors Iran’s supreme leader and picks a successor after his death, making it potentially one of the most powerful institutions in Iran, although it does not involve itself in daily affairs of state.

Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said this week that an assembly committee has already begun compiling a list of potential candidates to succeed current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, breaking a taboo on speaking openly about the top leader’s successor.

— AP

Putin calls Trump an ‘outstanding, talented’ man

Russian President Vladimir Putin describes US Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump as a talented and outstanding man, welcoming his stance on Russia.

“He is a very outstanding man, unquestionably talented,” Putin tells journalists after his annual press conference in Moscow.

In this Dec. 3, 2015, photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Forum in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
In this Dec. 3, 2015, photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Forum in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

“It’s not up to us to judge his virtue, that is up to US voters, but he is the absolute leader of the presidential race,” Putin adds.

Putin says Russia is ready to work with the United States no matter who is elected president next year. “We are ready to work with any president chosen by the American people.”

— AFP

State suing Israeli accused of staging own ‘kidnapping’

Niv Asraf, an Israeli suspected of staging his own disappearance in the West Bank, setting into motion a massive house-to-house manhunt, is being sued by the state for a sum of NIS 625,000 (about $160,460).

Asraf along with his accomplice Eran Nagaoker, was indicted in June for submitting false information to the police.

Asraf’s April 2 disappearance near the area of the West Bank where three Israeli teenagers were abducted and killed a year ago sent hundreds of soldiers, police and agents of the Shin Bet security agency searching for him in villages surrounding the Palestinian city of Hebron.

Niv Asraf (C) and his friend Eran Negauker (L), 22-year-olds from Beersheba, are seen at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court for remand extension on April 3, 2015, a morning after Asraf was found in Kiryat Arba after being falsely reported as missing (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Niv Asraf (C) and his friend Eran Negauker (L), 22-year-olds from Beersheba, are seen at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court for remand extension on April 3, 2015, a morning after Asraf was found in Kiryat Arba after being falsely reported as missing (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Hours later, after a search that police say cost the state millions of shekels, Asraf was found safe and sound in a nearby valley with a sleeping bag and some canned food.

Meretz files petition over PM gas deal signing

The Meretz party files a petition with the High Court against Netanyahu over his use of Clause 52 of the Restrictive Trade Practices (antitrust) Law to pass a controversial deal which paves the way for a consortium of Noble Energy and the Delek Group to begin work on extracting gas from the massive Leviathan gas field off Israel’s coast.

“One can argue about the deal itself, the environmental and economic implications and the protections it guarantees or does not guarantee the public in face of the huge monopoly of [Yitzhak] Tshuva [the owner of Delek Group], and Noble Energy,” a post on the party’s Facebook page reads. “But you cannot argue about the bizarre and despicable behavior, anti-democratic and doubtfully legal actions of the prime minister, who promoted this deal as if he were possessed.”

During a ceremony at the Ne’ot Hovav industrial zone near Beersheba, Netanyahu called the gas “a gift from God” and said the deal would pave the way to energy independence.

“Unfortunately, this issue has become a political and populist discussion,” he said. “This plan is vital to our security, because we don’t want to be left with one power plant that’s under fire; we need multiple gas fields.”

2 more women claim Silvan Shalom sexually harassed them

Two more women come forward to claim Interior Minister Silvan Shalom sexually harassed them.

In total, seven woman have raised claims against Shalom.

Allegations of sexual misconduct have dogged Shalom in the past and were apparently what prompted him to drop out of the 2014 race to become president. (The allegations against Shalom were not substantiated and a police investigation was subsequently closed.)

13-year-old critically injured in stabbing celebrates bar mitzvah

Naor Ben-Ezra, who was critically injured when two Palestinian teenagers stabbed him as he rode his bike in Jerusalem’s Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood in October, celebrates his bar mitzvah at the Western Wall.

The celebration is attended by members of the medical team who treated him at the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital’s pediatric wing.

13-year-old Naor Ben-Ezra carrying a torah scroll as he celebrates his Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, December 17, 2015 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
13-year-old Naor Ben-Ezra carrying a torah scroll as he celebrates his Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, December 17, 2015 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Naor tells Ynet that he had been “preparing for this moment for a long time,” and that “from a health perspective, I feel 90-95 percent [healthy].”

Netanyahu to undergo medical examination

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will undergo a routine medical examination tomorrow morning. The colonoscopy will be performed while Netanyahu is sedated, the Prime Minister’s Office says.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon will serve as acting prime minister during Netanyahu’s examination.

Jose Mourinho leaves Chelsea for 2nd time

Only seven months after winning the Premier League title, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is leaves the club, which is languishing only one point above the relegation zone.

Chelsea says “both Jose and the board agreed results have not been good enough this season and believe it is in the best interests of both parties to go our separate ways.”

Chelsea's Portuguese head coach Jose Mourinho oversees a training session at the Sammy Ofer Stadium in the Israeli coastal city of Haifa on November 23, 2015, on the eve of their UEFA Champions League group G football match against Maccabi Tel Aviv. (AFP/ JACK GUEZ)
Chelsea’s Portuguese head coach Jose Mourinho oversees a training session at the Sammy Ofer Stadium in the Israeli coastal city of Haifa on November 23, 2015, on the eve of their UEFA Champions League group G football match against Maccabi Tel Aviv. (AFP/ JACK GUEZ)

Chelsea has lost nine of its 16 league games, with Mourinho’s last match a 2-1 loss to Leicester on Monday. After easing to the league title in May, Mourinho was awarded a new four-year contract.

First hired by Chelsea in 2004, Mourinho won the league twice before a fallout led to his firing three years later. He was brought back in 2013 by owner Roman Abramovich.

Earlier this year, Mourinho said none of his players were concerned about coming to Israel for a European Champions League game against Maccabi Tel Aviv, despite British Home Office warnings about a surge in Palestinian terror attacks. Everybody “just wanted to come” and nobody had any fears, Mourinho told a pre-match press conference at the time.

“I had even a player who maybe tomorrow or after tomorrow, his wife is having a baby. And he’s here to play, because he knows how important it is for us.”

— AP and Times of Israel staff

US lawmakers slam European call to label West Bank products

A group of US congresspeople introduced a resolution expressing opposition to European Commission guidelines which call for labeling imported Israeli products made in the West Bank.

“New European Commission guidelines to single out Israeli products manufactured in the West Bank and other areas only encourage and prompt consumers to boycott all Israeli goods,” reads the resolution by Nita Lowey (D-NY), Peter Roskam (R-IL), Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Ed Royce (R-CA).

“This is counterproductive to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, harmful to US national security interests, and contributes to the deeply misguided anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.”

“Boycotts chip away at economic integration, which negatively affects Israelis and Palestinians alike. The establishment of the European Economic Community was predicated on the notion that peace and security are achieved through trade, economic cooperation, and job creation – not boycotts and isolation. The same is true for Israelis and Palestinians.”

UK chief rabbi supports teaching Islam in Jewish schools

British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis recommends that Jewish schools teach Islam.

In an interview with the London-based Jewish Chronicle published Wednesday, Mirvis’s spokesperson says that teaching Islam will give children the opportunity to learn about a “poorly understood” religion.

“It is more important than ever that our children have a better understanding of Islam and that we build strong relationships with British Muslims,” a spokesman for Mirvis tells the newspaper.

Ephraim Mirvis will serve as the UK's next chief rabbi. (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)
UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis (YouTube screenshot)

“As such, the Chief Rabbi has recommended that schools take this opportunity to teach students Islam, a faith which is widely discussed but often poorly understood in public discourse,” the spokesman says.

Beginning in September, British schools will be required to teach two faiths as part of their curriculum in order to receive a General Certificate of Secondary Education certification in religious studies. Religious groups had lobbied against the new requirement.

Mirvis has not issued any formal guidelines on the subject.

The requirement to teach two religions was implemented by the British government as part of efforts to counter religious extremism and promote tolerance.

— JTA

Rocket sirens heard in Israeli territory near Gaza Strip

Rocket sirens go off in Israeli territory near the Gaza Strip.

Details to come.

Ben Carson cancels trip to Israel

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson cancels a trip to Israel and 3 African countries scheduled for the end of this month, a spokesman tells reporters.

“The trip has been canceled due to significant security concerns,” spokesman Doug Watts says.

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at a news conference, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015 (AP Photo/John Locher)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at a news conference, Nov. 16, 2015 (AP/John Locher)

Carson was scheduled to depart for Israel on December 27, and from there to travel to Kenya, Zambia and Nigeria.

IDF investigating rocket alert sirens in south

The army is investigating the rocket alert sirens heard in southern Israel, an IDF spokeswoman tells The Times of Israel.

Rocket lands in Shaar Hanegev open field

A rocket lands in an open field outside of a kibbutz in the Shaar Hanegev region near the Gaza Strip.

No damage or injuries are reported.

Residents heard the rocket alert siren followed by a loud boom, according to Shaar HaNegev Regional Council spokeswoman Michal Shaban-Kotzer.

Shin Bet says right wing groups attempting to discredit agency

The Shin Bet security service says that since the arrests of several Jewish extremists who allegedly firebombed a Palestinian home in July, there has been an ongoing effort by right wing groups to discredit the security service and its members.

In a statement, the Shin Bet adds that while these attempts must be condemned, they will not have any bearings on the agency’s future operations.

Israel has come under heavy internal and external pressure to try those responsible for the deadly arson, which killed eighteen-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsha and his parents, with rights groups questioning the delay in the case and contrasting it to the swift reaction often following Palestinian terror attacks. Israel introduced the use of administrative detention — holding suspects without trial for extended periods — against Jews for the first time in the wake of the Duma killings.

Inside the Dawabsha home in Duma. A doll wrapped in a Palestinian flag rests in a stroller to honor Ali. (Eric Cortellessa/Times of Israel)
Inside the Dawabsha home in Duma. A doll wrapped in a Palestinian flag rests in a stroller to honor Ali. (Eric Cortellessa/Times of Israel)

On December 3, Israeli authorities said they had arrested a number of alleged Jewish extremists over the firebombing. They have not yet been publicly identified and there has been no indication they have been charged.

Israel’s high court on Sunday continued to deny lawyers’ access to three suspects.

The Shin Bet can request a denial of access by lawyers for up to 21 days.

Czech parliament passes resolution against West Bank labels

The Czech parliament adopts a resolution against labeling products manufactured in the West Bank, Ynet reports.

The resolution, while not binding, comes in response to new European Commission guidelines which call to label imported Israeli products made in the West Bank.

Hezbollah slams Saudi-led anti-terror alliance

Lebanon’s Hezbollah denounces the new Saudi-led “Islamic military alliance” and the Lebanese prime minister’s decision to join the coalition.

The Shiite terrorist group says the coalition was a “US project,” and accused Saudi Arabia of supporting “terrorist groups in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.” Hezbollah also says the kingdom is “responsible for spreading extreme terrorist ideology all over the world.”

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia announced the 34-member coalition, saying it will have a joint operations center based in the kingdom’s capital, Riyadh.

Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam welcomed the Saudi move and said it is only “natural” for Lebanon to be part of such an alliance against terror.

Hezbollah says Salam’s remarks “represent his personal opinion.”

— AP

US poised to lift sanctions on Iran under nuclear deal

The US appears poised to lift at least some sanctions against Iran — possibly as early as January.

Secretary of State John Kerry says in a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Iran is fulfilling its obligations under the agreement in what Kerry calls a “transparent” and “verifiable” way, and that “suspension of sanctions … is appropriate.”

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter.

The letter also says Iran hasn’t engaged in covert activities that could significantly advance its nuclear weapons program.

The committee’s top Democrat, Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, says at a hearing that it appears that sanctions relief could start as early as January, not in the spring as first expected.

— AP

In secret meeting, Israel and Turkey agree to revive ties

During a secret meeting held yesterday in Switzerland representatives of Israel and Turkey formulated a memorandum of understanding that would allow for the revival of close diplomatic relations between the two countries, Channel 10 reports.

The meeting comes after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s talk of improved ties between the two governments.

Relations between the former allies have grown strained in recent years with the rise of Erdogan’s Islamic-oriented Justice and Development party to national leadership, and broke down almost completely after the 2010 Israeli naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that killed 10 Turkish citizens aboard the ship Mavi Marmara. Turkey has become one of the most vociferous critics of Israeli policies toward Gaza, and reconciliation efforts between the two — including an apology by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2013 — have repeatedly failed to end the standoff.

2 Palestinians cross Gaza Strip security fence

Two Palestinians cross the security fence from the northern Gaza Strip.

They are caught by IDF soldiers and transferred to a nearby security facility for questioning.

Details of Turkey-Israel agreement published

Under a newly decided upon memorandum of understanding that would allow for the revival of close diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey, the two countries’ ambassadors will be reinstated, a pipeline will be installed through Turkey, and negotiations over the sale and purchase of natural gas will be launched.

The agreement also states that Israel will compensate the families of 10 Turkish citizens killed in an IDF raid on the ship Mavi Marmara. Turkey, on its part, will drop all legal proceedings against IDF soldiers who took part in the raid.

Turkey further agreed to crack down on terrorist organizations operating within its borders, and deny access to the country for Hamas member Salah Arouri, who allegedly planned the kidnapping and murder of three teenagers in the West Bank’s Etzion Bloc last year.

Israeli professor elected vice-president of CERN

Physics professor Eliezer Rabinovici of the Hebrew University is elected vice-president of the European nuclear research organization CERN.

Israel joined CERN as a full member in January 2014.

Rocket fell in Gaza Strip, army says

A preliminary review suggests that a rocket launched earlier today at Israeli territory, fell short in the Gaza Strip.

No damage or injuries were reported.

Before the rocket fell, residents in southern Israel heard a rocket alert siren followed by a loud boom, according to Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council spokeswoman Michal Shaban-Kotzer.

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2 more women claim Silvan Shalom sexually harassed them

Two more women come forward to claim Interior Minister Silvan Shalom sexually harassed them.

In total, seven woman have raised claims against Shalom.

Allegations of sexual misconduct have dogged Shalom in the past and were apparently what prompted him to drop out of the 2014 race to become president. (The allegations against Shalom were not substantiated and a police investigation was subsequently closed.)