The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.
Hamas: No prisoner exchange talks underway for bodies of fallen IDF soldiers
A Hamas spokesman says no negotiations with Israel over a prisoner exchange can take place until Israel “fulfills its commitments” under the 2011 Shalit prisoner deal.
In the years since that deal, some of the over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners released under its terms in an exchange for Hamas’s release of IDF corporal Gilad Shalit, have been re-arrested by Israeli security forces.
According to spokesman Moussa Abu Marzouk, in comments carried Thursday by Army Radio, Hamas demands the re-release of these prisoners before any talks can begin for the return to Israel of the bodies of two IDF soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were killed in action during the 2014 Israel-Hamas war, as well as three Israeli civilians who entered Gaza in recent years.
Ahead of intense storm, Haifa Port closed to incoming ships
With an unusually intense storm expected to hit Israel’s shores Thursday evening, the Haifa Port announces it is shutting down all its piers and won’t allow ships to dock out of fear for their safety.
Ships may still set sail in a case-by-case basis to be determined by weather conditions.
The storm is expected to begin Thursday evening, with wind gusts hitting up to 100 kph and heavy rains spreading from the Galilee to the south over Friday.
As unusually stormy weather nears, Israel braces for flooding, road closures
Israel’s cities are gearing up for unusually intense stormy weather expected to hit the country’s shores Thursday evening.
Tel Aviv deployed extra sand barriers along its Mediterranean beaches to prevent flooding from waves expected to reach as high as eight meters.
Park officials urge Israelis not to visit the nation’s national parks over the weekend, as flooding is expected in many riverbeds and low-lying areas in the Galilee and the northern Negev.
Police are also deploying in large numbers in areas that have proven prone to storm damage in the past. The national traffic police will be announcing in real time in the media any road closures due to downed power lines, flooding, or other damage. Those who plan on traveling on Thursday night, on Friday and Saturday can also dial 110 for up-to-date road conditions.
Outrage in Turkey over ‘child marriage green light’
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s religious affairs state agency comes under heavy criticism on Thursday from the main opposition party after it reportedly said girls as young as nine could marry under Islamic law.
The Diyanet religious affairs directorate said on Tuesday the minimum age for girls to marry was nine, while for boys it was 12, according to Turkish media including Hurriyet daily quoting the agency’s official website.
The post, which took the form of an explanatory statement on Islamic law, has since been taken down after a backlash from the opposition and women’s rights groups.
The head of the High Commission of Religious Affairs Ekrem Keles on Thursday tells Hurriyet that the earliest age for a girl to marry is 17 and 18 for a boy.
“Forget a nine- or a 10-year-old child marrying, a child at 15 should not marry and should not be married,” he said.
The legal age to get married in Turkey is 18.
Russia warns US not to get involved in Iran
MOSCOW, Russia — Moscow warns Washington against interfering in Iran’s “internal affairs” after US President Donald Trump pledged to help Iranians “take back” their government following protests.
The White House says it is weighing sanctions against those involved in a crackdown against the unrest, which has left 21 dead over five days.
“We warn the US against any attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov says in an interview with state news agency TASS.
“Despite the many attempts to distort what is really going on (in Iran), I am sure that our neighbor, our friend, will overcome its current difficulties,” Ryabkov says.
He also criticized a call by US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley for an emergency UN Security Council meeting to discuss the violence.
Protests over economic problems broke out in Iran’s second-largest city Mashhad on December 28 and quickly spread across the country, turning against the regime as a whole. Tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets in several cities on Wednesday for pro-regime rallies.
Egypt detains female singer for video inciting debauchery
CAIRO — Egyptian prosecutors order the detention of a little-known female singer over a racy video posted online, the second female singer to face legal action within a month.
The prosecutors charge Laila Amer with violating public decency and inciting debauchery in the video, titled “Bos Omak,” or “Look at Your Mother” a pun on a popular Arabic profanity. She was arrested Wednesday.
Amer appears in the three-minute clip belly dancing and making provocative gestures. It shows her playing a downtrodden housewife complaining to her husband about his bossy mother.
Lawyer Ahmed Mahran, who filed a complaint with authorities over the video, said the clip contributed to “destroying morality and disseminating vice.”
Egypt’s musicians union cancels Amer’s membership and says in a statement that her video is “an insult to the Egyptian people,” according to the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper.
Three French tourists lightly hurt in violent attack in Eilat
The Israel Police launches an investigation into the apparent stabbing of three French tourists in the southern coastal city of Eilat.
All three victims were lightly hurt in the incident.
According to early reports, the attackers were Israelis who fled the scene after the incident.
Body that authorizes settlement construction to meet after 3-month hiatus
The Defense Ministry announces that its committee responsible for authorizing construction in the West Bank will be convening next Wednesday to advance new housing plans for Israeli settlements.
The Civil Administration High Planning Committee last met in October, when it advanced 2,646 Israeli housing units and gave final approval for construction for 1,323 of them.
Israel told the Trump administration last year that the planning committee would meet once every three months instead of once each month. In addition, Israel can add an unlimited number of housing units to any settlement in the West Bank as long as it does not meaningfully expand the community’s existing territorial “footprint.”
The specific housing plans set to be green-lighted next Wednesday have yet to be released and the Defense Ministry declined to comment further.
— Jacob Magid
Palestinian pedestrian killed in collision in southern West Bank
A Palestinian pedestrian is killed when he is hit by an Israeli Egged bus south of Bethlehem on Route 60, the main north-south highway in the West Bank.
Medics were forced to pronounce the man’s death at the scene.
Traffic investigators launch a probe into the circumstances of the accident.
Hezbollah chief claims he only earns $1,300 per month
In a three-hour interview broadcast by the pro-Hezbollah al-Mayadeen television network, the Lebanese terror organization’s chief Hassan Nasrallah says he only earns $1,300 per month.
When the interviewer seems surprised, Nasrallah smiles and adds that money is taken out of his salary for “contributions to the resistance.”
The footage is aired in Israel by Hadashot television news on Thursday evening, leading the Israeli network’s top Arab affairs analyst Ehud Yaari to quip, “all power to you if you believe that.”
Liberman: Israel will do ‘anything we have to’ to stop Gaza rocket fire
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman accuses the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group — by name — of carrying out a recent mortar shelling of southern Israel, warning that Israel will do “anything we have to” in order to prevent future attacks.
“Friday’s shelling was conducted by the [Palestinian] Islamic Jihad, and we know exactly who was behind it,” Liberman says in an Arabic-subtitled video for the Facebook page of Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians.
“We will do anything we have to to stop this. We will not accept ‘drizzles,'” he says, using a slang term for occasional rocket and mortar fire.
Liberman also warns the Hamas terrorist group, which rules that Gaza Strip, that it should “come to its senses” and prevent Islamic Jihad from carrying out attacks.
“But we well know who’s responsible for the launches,” the defense minister adds.
— Judah Ari Gross
French jihadist wives ‘should face trial in Syria’
PARIS, France — Female French jihadists arrested in Kurdish-held parts of Syria should face justice there so long as they can be guaranteed a fair trial, the French government says on Thursday.
Debate has been swirling in France over the fate of women who went to Syria to marry Islamist fighters and now find themselves in custody following heavy defeats for the Islamic State group.
This week Emilie Konig, a 33-year-old Muslim convert from Brittany who became a notorious jihadist recruiter, became the latest of a string of European women to plead publicly for repatriation.
But French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux indicates there are no plans to bring her home. If “there are legal institutions capable of guaranteeing a fair trial assuring their right to a defense,” women arrested in Kurdish-held Syria should be “judged there,” Griveaux tells RMC radio.
“Whatever crime may have been committed — even the most despicable — French citizens abroad must have a guaranteed right to a defense,” he adds. “We must have confirmation of that.”
US accuses Pakistan over violations of religious freedom
The Trump administration is accusing Pakistan of severe violations of religious freedom in a further sign of deteriorating relations.
The State Department announces that it’s placing the South Asian nation on a special watch list, pursuant to 2016 legislation.
The step is not thought to carry serious consequences, but it comes in the wake of stiff criticism from US President Donald Trump this week.
On Monday, Trump reiterated US concerns that Pakistan provides safe havens for militants, saying it had played US leaders for “fools.” The administration is currently holding up $255 million in military assistance for Pakistan until it cracks down on extremists threatening Afghanistan.
Bannon insists he backs ‘great man’ Trump
WASHINGTON — Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is heaping new praise on US President Donald Trump, after the president scathingly dismissed him as insane and irrelevant for disparaging his family in published remarks.
“The president of the United States is a great man,” the executive chairman of right-wing news website Breitbart tells SiriusXM.
“You know I support him day in and day out, whether going through the country giving the Trump Miracle speech or on the show or on the website.”
Trump reacted with outrage after the release of explosive excerpts from a new book in which Bannon described Trump’s eldest son’s meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind,” the Republican president said in a statement.
Iranian minister: No more than 42,000 took part in protests
Iran’s interior minister is saying at most some 42,000 people took part in the week of protests that roiled the Islamic Republic.
Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli says in a statement Thursday that the figure was “based on precise statistics we have.”
Fazli says the continuation of the protests during the past week was because of the “leniency, restrain, tolerance and interaction” of the government. He does not elaborate.
This is the first time authorities have given a figure for the total number of participants in the protests.
Gazans take to the streets to protest economic conditions
Thousands are reportedly taking part in protests in Gaza’s Jabaliya refugee camp over the Strip’s economic conditions, according to local journalist Hazem Balousha.
— Hazem Balousha (@iHaZeMi) January 4, 2018
Netanyahu said to implore Trump administration not to cut funds to UNRWA
An Israeli Foreign Ministry official says Israel is opposed to the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the UN’s aid agency for the Palestinians, saying the cuts could lead to a humanitarian disaster in Gaza, the Hadashot television news network reports Thursday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who oversees the Foreign Ministry, has publicly supported US President Donald Trump’s statements on the issue, but Netanyahu has reportedly been in quiet contact with the Trump administration to urge the US not to carry out such a cut, especially while tensions rise in the Gaza Strip.
The Foreign Ministry does not respond to requests for comment.
Trump tries to block release of ‘libelous ‘ book
WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump tries to counter one-two blows of betrayal and scandal Thursday, punching back at a bare-knuckle book that portrays his White House as a fetid stew of backbiting, incompetence and dysfunction.
Trump’s lawyers move to prevent the release of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” — an exposé by author and political muck spreader Michael Wolff — which quotes key Trump aides raising questions about his fitness for office.
The book — which paints Trump as craven, unstable and far out of his depth in the Oval Office — extensively quotes his former ally and chief strategist Steve Bannon, who also received a “cease and desist” order from Trump’s attorneys.
“Your publication of the false/baseless statements about Mr. Trump gives rise to, among other claims, defamation by libel, defamation by libel per se, false light invasion of privacy, tortious interference with contractual relations, and inducement of breach of contract,” Trump’s lawyers say in the letter to Wolff.
In the book, Bannon is quoted accusing Trump’s eldest son Don Jr of “treasonous” contacts with a Kremlin-linked lawyer, and saying the president’s daughter Ivanka is “dumb as a brick.”
But it is the US president himself that is cast in the most unfavorable light — by a series of his top aides. The book claims that for “Steve Mnuchin and Reince Priebus, the president was an ‘idiot.’ For Gary Cohn, he was ‘dumb as shit.’ For H.R. McMaster, he was a ‘dope.’ The list went on.”
Macron: Change in Iran must come at home, not from abroad
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron says change in Iran must come from the Iranian people, not from abroad.
Macron says in a speech to foreign diplomats on Thursday that “today there is a crisis in Iran. This crisis (comes from) the free expression of the Iranian people.”
Macron says that “our role is to be on the lookout, demanding, scrupulous” to ensure that protesters’ rights are not abused.
He appeared to distance himself from US President Donald Trump’s encouragement of protesters. Iran’s UN ambassador has said Washington was intervening “in a grotesque way.”
The deadly unrest in Iran began one week ago. Hundreds have been arrested, and pro-government rallies have followed.
German man sentenced to prison for making fun of Holocaust
BERLIN — A 32-year-old German neo-Nazi is sentenced to 18 months in prison for incitement after posting a picture of a miniature of the Auschwitz death camp on Facebook with an offensive caption.
Judge Manfred Weber at the district court in Hohenstein-Ernstthal in eastern Germany tells the man Thursday “you made fun of Auschwitz survivors — that’s very bad.”
The German news agency dpa reports that the sentence of the previously convicted neo-Nazi also took into consideration his earlier charge for criminal assault and the posting of a photo montage of Adolf Hitler in combination with a swastika and firecrackers. The display of Nazi emblems is illegal in Germany.
The man from Glauchau in Saxony, whose name was not given in line with German privacy rules, can appeal the conviction.