The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s developments as they unfolded.
PM vows ‘forceful response’ to any attack on Israel
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at a Mossad event, says “we are working against those who rise up to kill us, and our enemies should know that we will respond forcefully to any attack against us.”
The prime minister’s comments came days after Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi threatened Israel, and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah vowed retaliation for the assassination of terrorist Samir Kuntar last week, which has been attributed to Israel.
Livni praises verdict of former boss Olmert
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni hails the verdict for former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
“The justice system has shown today that there is no man who is above the law, and that every case will be dealt with on its merits, and impartially,” the two-time justice minister says. “This is an important day that represents the process of cleaning up the government from its corruption, and is an important message to all public officials.”
Livni, formerly of the Kadima party, had served as foreign minister under Olmert, and endorsed him in 2006 for the premiership.
Turkey releases opposition journalists pending trial
A Turkish court on Tuesday frees pending trial two opposition journalists charged with plotting a coup over a magazine cover criticizing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s November election win, local media reports.
Nokta magazine’s editor-in-chief Cevheri Guven and managing editor Murat Capan, who face jail terms of up to 20 years each on charges of provoking armed rebellion against the Turkish Republic, were released pending trial, the private Dogan news agency reports.
The pair were arrested after Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) swept to an unexpected victory in legislative elections on November 1.
Police then raided the Istanbul offices of Nokta and detained the two editors over the cover that read: “The start of civil war in Turkey.”
An Istanbul court later ordered that the magazine’s latest edition be withdrawn from the shelves, accusing it of inciting the public to commit a crime.
Olmert to spend most of his term at gym, brother says
Olmert’s brother says the former premier will spend the bulk of his 18-month jail term bulking up at the gym.
“I’m saying that I’m certain, that if in the end it happens and he ends up in prison, I’m sure he will do what is required of him,” Yirmi Olmert tells the Maariv daily. “I imagine that he will dedicate most of his time to the gym, maybe he’ll also sit down and write something.”
PM to oppose women’s Torah scrolls at Western Wall
Netanyahu is set to side with the ultra-Orthodox parties and oppose the use of Torah scrolls in the women’s section at the Western Wall, Army Radio reports.
The prime minister will support the status quo at the holy site in the state response to a High Court of Justice appeal.
The Prime Minister’s Office tells the radio that Netanyahu backs the status quo and respects all the denominations of Judaism.
The Women of the Wall prayer group has long advocated for permission to being Torah scrolls into the women’s section as part of their services, which is prohibited under the rules of the site.
Police say 2 wedding-goers questioned for hate video
Two people have thus far been brought in for questioning in connection with the now infamous “wedding of hate,” police say.
Reports of the first suspect being detained broke earlier today, but a police spokesperson now says that a second person was also picked up for involvement in the event, in which wedding-goers danced with guns, knives and a mock-Molotov cocktail.
During the celebration, one person also stabbed a photograph of 18-month-old Ali Dawabsha, who was killed when Jewish extremists allegedly threw a firebomb into his family’s home, killing him and his parents.
The investigation is ongoing, police say.
— Judah Ari Gross
Rivlin slams ‘hate speech’ against justice minister
President Reuven Rivlin slams a Hebrew University political science professor for calling Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked a “filthy neo-Nazi.”
“The hate speech directed at this time at Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is obscene, violent, and contemptible, and has no place in Israeli society and the State of Israel,” the president says on Twitter.
Rejecting state appeal, court orders Duma suspect released
The Lod District Court rejects a state appeal and orders the release of one of the suspects held in connection with the fatal Duma firebombing, Channel 2 reports.
The suspect is set to be indicted for an assault two years ago on a Palestinian youth.
The Jewish detainee was in Shin Bet custody for 30 days.
Iran says days away from nuke deal implementation
Iran says Tuesday it had entered the final days of completing its commitments under a landmark international deal to curb its atomic program after it shipped low-enriched uranium to Russia.
Iran’s atomic energy agency says 11 tons of uranium materials were sent to Russia on Monday, a move US Secretary of State John Kerry said was “significant progress” under the July 14 nuclear agreement between Iran and six major powers.
Monday’s shipment was part of an exchange under which Iran received natural uranium from Russia and Kazakhstan to be used in nuclear reactors for future energy production.
Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran’s atomic energy agency, says on Tuesday that Iran had received around 200 tons of yellow cake, a powder obtained in an intermediate step in the processing of natural uranium ore.
The exchange was one of three major measures Iran had to take to fulfill its end of the nuclear deal, after the International Atomic Energy Agency earlier this month closed its file on possible past military dimensions of Tehran’s nuclear program.
The other two steps are ensuring a dramatic cut to Tehran’s number of functional centrifuges — fast-spinning machines used to enrich uranium — and replacing the core of a reactor at its Arak nuclear facility.
Kamalvandi says “Implementation Day” when almost a decade of nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be lifted is now near.
“We can say that everything is set for the final step, which is removing the core part (of the Arak reactor)” and replacing it with a new one, he says.
“An agreement has been signed and preparations have been done. If we can finish the few minor things in the coming days, everything will be completed.”
Ehud Barak won’t be investigated for bombshell recordings
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein says former prime minister Ehud Barak won’t be investigated for revealing classified information to his biographers.
In recordings of the interviews, aired by Channel 2 in August, Barak detailed ostensibly aborted plans to strike at Iran in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Barak, in the tapes, said he, Netanyahu and Liberman wanted to strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities, but were thwarted by domestic opposition.
Deri to return to Interior Ministry next week — report
Periphery Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) is set to receive the Interior Ministry portfolio next week, Channel 2’s Amit Segal reports on Twitter.
The position was vacated last week, after former interior minister Silvan Shalom resigned over more than a dozen sexual harassment complaints. (The allegations against Shalom were not substantiated and a police investigation was subsequently closed.)
Deri was the head of the Shas party until he was convicted in 1999 of accepting $155,000 in bribes while running the Interior Ministry, and served 22 months in prison.
Norway says 60 tons of raw uranium sent to Iran
Norway says it has helped verify a shipment of 60 tons of raw uranium to Iran as part of an international deal on Tehran’s nuclear program.
The Foreign Ministry says Tuesday that experts from the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority “verified and controlled the transportation” of the uranium from Kazakhstan to Iran on December 27.
Iran is receiving raw uranium in exchange for sending most of its low-enriched uranium to Russia under the July 14 nuclear agreement.
The deal aims to reduce Iran’s ability to make nuclear weapons — something Tehran says it has no interest in doing.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Boerge Brende says Norway was supporting the deal by helping “ensure Iran’s excess enriched uranium is replaced by natural uranium, so that the commitments in the agreement can be met.”
China detains 2 men for spreading terrorist rumor
Two men are detained for spreading a rumor that hundreds of terrorists have arrived in a southern Chinese city, police say, just days before a new ban on falsifying terror information takes effect.
Police in the Shenzhen city district of Guangming say Monday that two executives of an unspecified local company were detained after they posted the rumor-containing notice at their firm.
A photo posted by the police shows the notice warning company employees that 300 people from the far northwestern region of Xinjiang who were trained by the Islamic State group had arrived in Guangming.
Xinjiang is home to members of the Muslim minority Uighur community. Uighurs (pronounced (WEE-gurs) have been involved in several violent attacks denounced as part of global terrorism by Chinese authorities, although critics say it is more likely to be homegrown under Beijing’s repressive ethnic and religious policies and practices in Xinjiang.
The violence, which has left hundreds of people dead in and outside Xinjiang in recent years, has prompted China’s government to launch an anti-terror campaign in Xinjiang and, most recently, to approve the country’s first anti-terrorism law.
The law, which takes effect Friday, bans fabrication of terror information. The law says that in times of possible terror attacks, only China’s anti-terrorism leadership agencies can release information on how the attacks occurred, developed and are dealt with.
Syrian troops retake southern base from rebels
The Syrian government and opposition activists say pro-government forces have managed to retake a key southern military base after heavy fighting with rebels and an al-Qaeda affiliate.
They say Tuesday that the base of Brigade 82 in the town of Sheikh al-Maskeen in Deraa province has fallen, and that the northern part of the town is also now in government hands.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the fighting began a day earlier and that among the rebels were fighters from al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, as well as other Islamic factions.
State news agency SANA says the army inflicted heavy losses on the militants, but did not give a death toll, while the Observatory said 40 were killed from both sides.
Iraqi PM visits newly liberated Ramadi
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Tuesday visits Ramadi, a day after federal forces announced the liberation of the city from the Islamic State group, clinching a landmark victory.
Abadi arrives by helicopter in the battle-scarred city, which lies around 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of Baghdad and is the capital of the province of Anbar, an AFP correspondent reports.
The premier vowed Monday, after counter-terrorism forces raised the flag above the key government complex in Ramadi, to rid the whole country of IS by the end of 2016.
It is customary for the premier to visit newly reconquered cities but he was likely to feel particularly vindicated by the victory in Ramadi, which government forces had lost in May.
Erdogan accuses Kurdish leader of ‘treason’ over autonomy call
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday accuses the leader of the main Kurdish party Selahattin Demirtas of “treason” over his call for autonomy for the country’s Kurdish minority.
In a speech at the weekend, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chairman Demirtas says that Turkey’s largest ethnic minority had to decide whether to live in autonomy or “under one man’s tyranny.”
On Monday, prosecutors opened a criminal investigation against him for crimes against the constitutional order over the remarks.
“What the co-leader has done is clearly provocation, treason,” Erdogan tells reporters Tuesday at Istanbul airport before leaving for Saudi Arabia.
“This is the time when the masks have been taken off and the real faces exposed,” he says.
“How dare you talk about establishing a state in the southeast and in the east within Turkey’s existing unitary structure,” he says, addressing Demirtas.
“You cannot take such a step. Neither the national will, nor our security forces, armed forces, police, village guards will allow such a thing.”
IDF to hold drill in Haifa
The IDF will hold a drill in the Haifa area tomorrow morning.
A siren will be heard in the areas of Haifa, Nesher and Tirat HaCarmel, the IDF says in a statement.
Residents may also receive a text message on their phones and the army will also briefly take over the Radio Haifa station.
This drill was planned long ago and has no direct connection with current events, the army says.
— Judah Ari Gross
Erdogan slams Russia for supporting Assad
Hours before arriving in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses Syria’s president of “mercilessly” killing hundreds of thousands of people and criticized Russia for backing him.
Erdogan was speaking to reporters before departing for Saudi Arabia, where he will meet King Salman for talks focused on the Syrian civil war. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are strong backers of the rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad, who in turn is supported by Russia and Iran.
Erdogan says his government and Saudi Arabia are working “in solidarity and consultation” to find a political solution for Syria, as both countries push for an agreement that would remove Assad from power.
In comments apparently directed at Russia’s military intervention in Syria, Erdogan said: “You cannot go anywhere by supporting a regime that has mercilessly killed 400,000 innocent people with conventional and chemical weapons.”
Father of freed Jewish detainee hails ‘justice’
The father of the Jewish detainee originally held in connection to the Duma firebombing and freed today hails the decision.
“We are happy that justice is coming to light,” he tells the Ynet news website. “My son is a good boy, honest and sensitive. He loves the land of Israel and nation of Israel and he was in the middle of enlisting to the army. He asked to give back to Israel, and unfortunately, they associated him with the [Duma] case, which we knew he was not connected to.”
The teenager is set to be indicted for an assault on an Arab two years ago.
Israeli tourists held for flying drone over Vatican
Two Israeli tourists, 33, are arrested in Rome for flying a drone over the Vatican and violating the no-fly zone.
According to The Daily Mail, the two men were taking pictures of St Peter’s Square and the Tiber River and are expected to face criminal charges.
The skies over Rome were closed to drones from December 8 to prevent terror attacks.
— Daily Mail Online (@MailOnline) December 29, 2015
110 journalists killed in 2015
A total of 110 journalists were killed around the world in 2015, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says on Tuesday, noting that while many died in war zones the majority were killed in supposedly peaceful countries.
Sixty-seven journalists were killed in the line of duty, the watchdog group said in its annual roundup, listing war-torn Iraq and Syria as most dangerous places for journalists with 11 and 10 fatalities respectively, followed by France, where eight journalists were killed in a jihadist assault on a satirical magazine.
A further 43 journalists around the world died in circumstances that were unclear and 27 non-professional “citizen-journalists” and seven other media workers were also killed, RSF said.
The high toll is “largely attributable to deliberate violence against journalists” and demonstrates the failure of initiatives to protect media personnel, the report said, calling for the United Nations to take action.
The 67 deaths bring to 787 the total number of journalists who were murdered, knowingly targeted or killed in the course of their work since 2005, the Paris-based organization said. In 2014, there were 66 such fatalities.
Turkey said to detain 3 IS militants, including Briton
Turkish media reports say authorities in Istanbul have arrested a Briton and two Pakistanis suspected of being members of the Islamic State group.
Anadolu Agency says late Monday the Pakistanis were detained on December 24 in a raid on a home in Istanbul. The information they provided led to the arrest of the Briton at a bus stop a day later.
The agency said all three appeared in court and were ordered held until trial or deportation.
Anadolu says the suspects are believed to have links to another Briton, Aine Leslie Davis, who was arrested in Istanbul last month. Authorities say Davis was an associate of Mohammed Emwazi, the Islamic State militant known as “Jihadi John.”
A Turkish official could not be reached on Tuesday for confirmation.
Pentagon says IS leader linked to Paris attacker killed
An Islamic State leader with “direct” links to the alleged ringleader of the Paris attacks was killed in an airstrike in Syria as he was plotting additional attacks, the Pentagon says.
Baghdad-based US military spokesman Colonel Steve Warren tells reporters that Charaffe al Mouadan had been killed on December 24.
“He was a Syrian-based ISIL member with a direct link to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Paris attacks cell leader,” Warren says, adding that he “was actively planning additional attacks against the West.”
Sara Netanyahu is ‘dangerous,’ ex-employee says
A former employee at the Prime Minister’s Residence tells Army Radio that Sara Netanyahu is “dangerous” and “drinks until she is drunk.”
The former worker also alleges violence by the prime minister’s wife.
“There [in the Netanyahu residence], I was nothing. You could insult me, put me down, humiliate me, and bully me all you wanted, I wasn’t considered a person,” the former employee says. “I carry this pain with me until today, even years after I finished working there.
In terms of abuse, she says “certainly there was violence: physical violence, verbal violence, real violence.”
“This woman is dangerous. I’m happy that she was summoned for investigation, and we’re praying someone stops this abuse.”
The woman also accused Sara Netanyahu of drinking heavily.
“Sara drinks far more than a normal amount, drinks until she’s drunk. I saw her staggering around the house,” she says.
A source close to the Netanyahu family tells the radio that the woman was seeking to extort the family for money. “She also made her false claims in the Labor Court, and they were refuted,” the source says.
Sara Netanyahu will be questioned under caution on Thursday amid an ongoing investigation into spending irregularities.
PM says he supports both status quo and compromise at Western Wall
Following reports that Netanyahu was set to oppose the use of Torah scrolls in the women’s section of the Western Wall, his office says the premier is committed to both finding a solution and upholding the status quo.
“The prime minister is committed to preserving the status quo at the Western Wall. The prime minister is also committed to the process led by the cabinet secretary to formulate an agreed-upon plan for prayer at the Western Wall, for all the streams of Judaism,” a statement from his office says.
— Raphael Ahren contributed
‘Ex-housing minister made unauthorized E1building plans’
PMO officials say that as housing minister, Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) made construction plans in the E1 area of the West Bank that were unauthorized.
“While he was serving as minister of housing in the previous government, Uri Ariel commissioned some theoretical plans for development in E1. He did so of his own initiative and without the required authorization. The Housing Ministry has no authority either to plan or to build beyond the Green Line. These plans therefore have no standing and are not binding on anyone,” the officials say.
— Raphael Ahren contributed
Groom in ‘hate video’ arrested
The groom whose wedding was made famous by a clip showing dozens of far-right guests celebrating the deadly Duma attack has been arrested.
Yakir Ashbal had previously said he was unaware of the revelers’ behavior at the event.
Three other wedding-goers have also been arrested.
Last week, Ashbal told Channel 10: “I didn’t even see it. At my wedding I was in the clouds, not on the ground at all.”
He called the footage “shocking,” but insisted that “there were about 600 people at my wedding, and this wasn’t something I agreed to. There were a million people. I don’t control what happens at my wedding. I’m just the groom; I didn’t even pay for the photographer or the singer.”
Couple found guilty of planning London terror attack
A British court on Tuesday convicts a husband and wife of planning a terror attack on the 10th anniversary of the London suicide bombings earlier this year.
Mohammed Rehman, 25, used the Twitter name “Silent Bomber” and asked users whether he should bomb a shopping center or the London Underground train network.
Rehman used as his profile picture an image of the Islamic State group militant known as “Jihadi John,” believed killed earlier this year, and was said by prosecutors to have had a “keen interest” in IS.
He was arrested in May after posting a tweet saying: “Westfield shopping center or London underground? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.”
That was accompanied by a link to an Al-Qaeda press release about the July 2005 bombings in which four suicide bombers targeted London’s transport system. Fifty-two people were killed.
Convicted murderer of Baltimore Jewish girl dies in prison
The convicted murderer of an 11-year-old Jewish girl in 1969 in Baltimore has died in prison.
Wayne Stephen Young, who had been sentenced to life for the murder of Esther Lebowitz, a fifth-grader at a Jewish school, was awaiting a retrial in the case over a technicality. He was denied parole 12 times.
Young, 69, died in prison on December 23, the Northwest Citizens Patrol says in a statement posted Monday on the website of Baltimore Jewish Life, a news website of the Baltimore Orthodox Jewish community, citing the state’s attorney in the case.
Attorneys for Young had requested the new trial based on a 2012 ruling by the Court of Appeals of Maryland, the state’s highest court, which found that many convictions before 1980 are invalid because jurors were given unconstitutional instructions.
Lebowitz, who attended the Bais Yaakov School for Girls, was missing for two days before her body was found about a half-mile from her Baltimore home. She died from 17 blows to the head.
Key aide to 2 Boston mayors and a Jewish leader dies
Howard Leibowitz, an influential behind-the-scenes aide to two Boston mayors and a leader in Jewish causes, has died.
Leibowitz died suddenly of a heart attack on Sunday. He was 63.
Leibowitz, a Brandeis University graduate, was recalled as a passionate strategist and advocate for the homeless, fair housing and racial justice. He brought a tireless and innovative advocacy to Jewish and universal causes.
He was a board member of the Jewish Alliance for Social Justice, which had planned to honor him on January 24 for a lifetime of service.
“Although he wasn’t religious, he devoted his life to tikkun olam,” or repairing the world, his lifelong friend Peter Dreier, a professor at Occidental College, wrote in the Huffington Post. “There are millions of Americans — around the country and in Boston — whose lives were improved by Howard’s work, even though they didn’t know him or don’t even know his name.”
Chechen sought in murder of Russian opposition leader
A panel probing the murder in February of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov identifies a Russian of Chechen origin, Ruslan Mukhudinov, as being a lead figure in the killing.
In a statement, the Committee of Inquiry into Nemtsov’s death says Mukhudinov “is one of the sponsors and organizers of this crime.”
“He has been the subject of an international wanted persons notice since November 2015,” the panel says. “A separate inquiry will be opened against him and other as-yet unidentified individuals.”
An opposition group, Open Russia, said Mukhudinov had served in a Chechen unit called Sever, which supported Kremlin loyalist Ramzan Kadyrov in charge of Russia’s restive north Caucasus republic.
Nemtsov, a 55-year-old former deputy prime minister who had become a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin, was gunned down on a bridge just steps from the Kremlin on February 27. The Jewish opposition leader was shot four times in the back.
— AFP, Times of Israel staff
Hamas to release more details on Shalit capture
The Hamas terror group says it will release more information Tuesday on the 2006 capture of IDF soldier Gilad Shalid, according to Arabic reports.
Shalit was held by the Gaza terrorists until 2011, when Israel released 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the captive Israeli soldier.
Rivlin meets families of Ezra Schwartz, Ofer Ben-Ari
President Reuven Rivlin meets with the families of slain American student Ezra Schwartz, who was gunned down in a West Bank terror attack in November, and Ofer Ben-Ari, mistakenly killed by police fire during the Jaffa Gate stabbing attack last week.
“Ezra was like a soldier, he was there to help look after the soldiers, and I have heard was one of the best volunteers. He is one of our sons, and we will always remember him,” the president tells the Schwartz family, who are on a visit to Israel.
“I and all the Israeli people are with you, and we hope and pray that you will only know happier times.”
Later Tuesday, the president visits the bereaved Ben-Ari family.
Ofer “did not hesitate for a moment in coming to help, he did not stand by when others were being attacked. Ofer showed tremendous bravery. The strength of the whole nation is drawn from special people such as Ofer, and of course from his dear family,” Rivlin says.
Egypt court upholds jail for TV host
An Egyptian court confirms a prison term for a former TV host who was convicted of “defaming religious symbols” and Muslim scholars after he called for removal of what he called extremist material in texts of religious interpretation and heritage.
A court of appeals reduces Islam Behery’s prison term to one year from a five-year sentence issued by the initial court. Behery’s lawyer, Gamil Said, tells The Associated Press on Tuesday that he plans to challenge the verdict, which was issued Monday night.
Behery, a researcher on Islamic heritage, had hosted a TV program on a private channel discussing religious texts and he was a vocal advocate for religious reforms. He argued often that some texts of interpretation by historic Islamic scholars — including ones upheld and revered by Al-Azhar, the pre-eminent seat of Sunni scholarship — contain passages that promote extremism. He said such texts need to be reviewed and that in some cases, passages from historic texts need to be discarded.
His comments, as well as criticisms of Al-Azhar, raised heavy controversy, and individuals filed complaints to the state prosecutors, who pursued the charges against him. The station took his show off the air in April.
Mothers of Duma detainees appeal to security chiefs’ wives
Mothers of Jewish detainees arrested in connection with the fatal Duma firebombing attack have written an appeal to the wives of police chief Roni Alsheich and Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen.
“In the past few weeks, our dear sons, some of them minors, have been tortured mercilessly by the Shin Bet,” they write, according to the Kipa website. “For a long time they were prevented from meeting their attorneys. The interrogation methods, the violence, and the torture that our children have described in the court and to their attorneys, keeps us awake at night. Three teenagers have not yet met with their attorneys, and it’s difficult to say what they are feeling at this time.”
“It’s not clear to us if we will get back the same children that were taken away from us by the police and Shin Bet, or whether the cruel actions against them will damage their bodies and souls forever.”
The Shin Bet security agency has denied the Jewish suspects held over the July 31 attack, in which three members of the Dawabshe family were killed, have been tortured. They did acknowledge, however, that the suspects were being treated as “ticking bombs,” which allows them to “manhandle” the detainees to prevent future attacks.
Border Patrol unit comes under fire, none injured
A Border Patrol unit comes under fire on Route 443, near the West Bank settlement of Beit Horon.
No injuries are reported in the drive-by shooting.
The Border Patrol unit returns fire at the vehicle, and begins searching the area for the perpetrators of the attack.