The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s developments as they unfolded.
NY Jewish mother, kids killed in menorah fire buried in Israel
A Jewish woman and her three children killed in a Brooklyn house fire — touched off by the family’s menorah — are buried in Israel on Wednesday.
Earlier this week, Aliza “Luza” Azan was found dead on the second floor of the single-family home near the children who perished: 11-year-old Moshe, 7-year-old Yitzhak and 3-year-old Henrietta. The children’s father and two teenagers were hospitalized in critical condition.
The four victims are buried in the Holon municipal cemetery in the central coastal strip of the country.
Although Israel’s municipal cemeteries are usually reserved for residents of the city, Religious Services Minister David Azoulay makes a special request that their burial be permitted as the Jewish family once lived in the country, the Ynetnews website reports.
Both parents were Israeli-born and raised.
— with Stuart Winer
Tragedy in Flatbush …… A Facebook photo posted By their father Yossi in 2015 , shows the Azan Family on their way to…
Police minister uneasy with Netanyahu speech on graft probes
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) expresses his disapproval of a speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a day earlier that roundly dismissed a likely police recommendation to the attorney general that charges be pressed against him.
“If there will be recommendations [to indict] — so what?” Netanyahu told a rally of Likud members on Tuesday. “Here’s a fact I doubt the public knows: The vast majority of police recommendations end with nothing. More than 60 percent of police recommendations are thrown out.”
“I am not satisfied with all of his statements, and I am not satisfied with the style or the interpretation that can emerge from these statements,” says Erdan, whose office oversees the Israel Police, in the Knesset plenum.
“I say from this podium that I think police are doing their job and I do not question their role,” he says, adding that Netanyahu’s remarks demand a more “in-depth explanation.”
Other ministers from the Likud and Jewish Home coalition parties line up in support of the prime minister in a series of morning radio interviews.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the coalition Jewish Home party, dismisses criticism that the style of the prime minister’s address — which also saw Netanyahu slam the media and claim Tel Aviv anti-corruption protests were funded by the New Israel Fund — was unbefitting and brash.
“Leave me out of the style — I’m not Hannah Bavli,” Bennett tells Israel Radio on Wednesday morning, referring to the late Israeli advice columnist and decorum expert.
Housing Ministry official arrested on suspicion of bribery
A senior official at the central region department of the Housing Ministry is arrested on suspicion of bribery, breach of trust and money laundering.
The official is arrested, according to the police, following a development in a probe conducted by the Lahav 433 anti-corruption police unit.
A covert investigation was initiated several months ago. The investigation was made public two weeks ago when several suspects were taken into custody and interrogated.
— Stuart Winer
Turkish FM will travel to UN to vote on Jerusalem resolution
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says he will travel to New York with his Palestinian counterpart to attend the UN General Assembly vote seeking to reject US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Cavusoglu tells reporters in Baku, Azerbaijan, that Turkey wants the United States to reverse its “wrong and unacceptable” decision.
Cavusoglu says he and Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki will depart from Istanbul later in the day for the vote on a non-binding resolution on Jerusalem, which is due on Thursday.
The General Assembly session was called after the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have required the Trump administration to rescind its Jerusalem decision.
Ankara has been among the most vocal critics of Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem.
Vatican envoy: Unilateral moves on Jerusalem threaten peace
The top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land says the status of Jerusalem should not be altered by “unilateral decisions,” amid protests over the US recognition of the city as Israel’s capital.
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa says in a statement that “unilateral decisions will not bring peace, but rather will distance it. Jerusalem is a treasure of all humanity. Any exclusive claim — be it political or religious — is contrary to the city’s own logic.”
Turkey slams UAE over ‘forefathers’ jab
Turkey’s president is railing against the United Arab Emirates’ foreign minister, who retweeted a post that accused the Turkish leader’s Ottoman “forefathers” of mistreating Arabs and stealing manuscripts from the holy city of Medina.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday calls on UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan to “know (his) place!” without naming him directly.
Erdogan says the Ottoman pasha who governed Medina between 1916 and 1919 was protecting the holy city and its treasures, adding: “O you poor (man) who is slandering us, where were your ancestors at the time?”
The squabble comes at a time when Turkey has sided with Qatar in a diplomatic dispute with the UAE and other Gulf nations over Doha’s alleged support for extremists and overly warm ties to Iran.
Ahmadinejad’s VP sentenced to 63 years in prison
Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency says a former vice president has been sentenced to 63 years in prison over misuse of public funds while in office.
The sentence against Hamid Baghaei is the longest for a former official in Iran in decades. Tehran’s Justice Department says the verdict was reached on Tuesday.
Baghaei was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s vice president in charge of executive affairs. He was briefly detained in 2015, and his trial on corruption charges began later that year but he wasn’t in custody.
In May, Baghaei applied to run for president but was rejected. He has 20 days to appeal.
The verdict comes against the backdrop of frequent criticism by Ahmadinejad and his allies against the judiciary.
Ahmadinejad on Tuesday called Iran’s chief justice, Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani, “incompetent.”
Abbas meets Saudi king in Riyadh over Jerusalem
Palestinian Authority President meets with the Saudi King Salman in Riyadh to discuss the recent decision by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“During their meeting, the president briefed [Salman] on the latest developments and contacts being made by [Abbas] to protect Jerusalem from the dangers posed by the announcement by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” the PA’s official news site Wafa says of the meeting.
After the private summit, a luncheon meeting was held between Saudi and Palestinian delegations, the report says.
Abbas was also slated to meet with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman later, according to Wafa.
— Dov Lieber
Egyptian forces clash with jihadists near Sinai airport
Egyptian officials say security forces have clashed with jihadists near the airport of the northern Sinai city of el-Arish, killing five of them a day after a missile hit the facility during a visit by the defense and interior ministers.
The officials say an army captain was killed in Wednesday’s fighting in olive orchards near the airport. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
The clashes came a day after a missile hit the airport during a previously unannounced visit to el-Arish by Defense Minister Sedki Sobhy and Interior Minister Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar, who is in charge of police.
800 Palestinians riot in West Bank over Jerusalem
Some 800 Palestinians are taking part in violent demonstrations across the West Bank, following calls by Palestinian leadership for another “day of rage” in response to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“Over the past few hours, riots have erupted across Judea and Samaria,” an army spokesperson says, using the biblical name for the West Bank.
The largest demonstration is taking place at the Qalandiya Crossing, outside Jerusalem, where hundreds of the Palestinians are clashing with Israeli troops.
In the riots, protesters are throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks at troops and set tires on fire. The soldiers are responding with less-lethal riot dispersal weapons, like tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets. The army spokesperson says soldiers have not fired live rounds at protesters.
As a result of the Qalandiya clashes, the crossing — the West Bank’s largest — has been shut down, the army says.
— Judah Ari Gross
Hamas terror cell sought to kidnap Likud MK Glick
A Hamas terror cell had planned to kidnap Likud MK Yehudah Glick and the IDF’s Arabic-language spokesperson during the Hanukkah holiday, but later scrapped the plot, according to media reports.
The Nablus-area cell was busted by the Shin Bet security agency and its three members are indicted on Wednesday.
According to reports, before their arrest, the three Palestinian suspects backtracked on their original plans to abduct Glick and the IDF’s Avichai Adraee and were plotting to kidnap an Israeli soldier or settler instead.
Glick, a former Temple Mount activist, was shot several times in 2014 by a Palestinian terrorist in a failed assassination attempt. After recovering, he went on to become a Likud lawmaker in the Knesset.
27 Palestinians injured in West Bank riots
A Red Crescent spokesperson tells The Times of Israel its crews have treated 27 Palestinians injured in clashes across the West Bank.
The majority of the injured are hurt in clashes at the Qalandiya Crossing between Ramallah and Jerusalem. One is injured by live fire, four by rubber bullets, 16 from choking on tear gas, one from falling and another from a direct hit by a tear gas canister, the medical service says.
In Bethlehem and Hebron, another three protesters are treated after being exposed to tear gas.
Additionally, another Palestinian is injured by live fire at a protest in Beit Ummar, a Palestinian village located near Hebron.
— Dov Lieber
Bitan to step down as coalition whip amid probes
Likud MK David Bitan says he will quit his position as coalition chairman, amid ongoing criminal investigations into his affairs.
In a statement, Bitan says he will continue to serve as a lawmaker in the Likud party and thanks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his support.
Bitan is suspected of having taken bribes from crime organizations in Rishon Lezion after he became the deputy mayor of the city in 2005, and of diverting a construction tender toward the son of an acquaintance in exchange for money, among other offenses.
He has been questioned three times by police at the Lahav 433 national crime unit headquarters in Lod, each session lasting several hours.
Catholic leader: US Jerusalem recognition spoiled Christmas plans
The Catholic Church’s top official in Jerusalem on Wednesday criticizes Donald Trump’s recognition of the city as Israel’s capital, saying it damaged Christmas celebrations and led to hundreds canceling trips.
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, says “dozens” of groups had pulled out of planned visits after being scared off by the announcement and subsequent clashes.
He adds that the heads of the Christian churches in Jerusalem would find it difficult to accept an official request by US Vice President Mike Pence to visit the city’s holy Christian sites in January, calling for him to “listen more” to other Christians.
“Of course this created a tension around Jerusalem and this diverted attention from Christmas,” Pizzaballa says of Trump’s December 6 decision.
“After this there are some tensions in Jerusalem, Bethlehem also. This scared many people, so we’ve had less people than expected.”
He stresses, though, that they would continue with planned Christmas celebrations.
Likud MKs Kisch, Amsalem seen as front-runners to replace Bitan
Likud lawmakers Yoav Kisch and David Amsalem are named as the most likely candidates to replace Bitan as coalition chairman.
Netanyahu has not yet announced a successor.
Kisch currently heads the Knesset’s House Committee and Amsalem chairs the Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee.
Likud MK Oren Hazan, who serves as substitute coalition chairman, says he should get the job, but doesn’t want it.
“As the substitute coalition chairman, I should be the one to fill the coalition chairman’s shoes,” the scandal-plagued lawmaker writes on Twitter.
“I give up the position and wish my friend, David Bitan, best wishes in clearing his name,” he adds.
Palestinian arrested with knife outside Tomb of the Patriarchs
A 20-year-old Palestinian carrying a knife is arrested outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the West Bank city of Hebron, police say.
He is arrested and handed over for questioning.
Police say it appeared he had planned to stab security forces outside the holy site.
Saudi king reassures Abbas on East Jerusalem
Saudi King Salman pledges the kingdom’s support for East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state during talks with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
The monarch stresses “the legitimate right of the Palestinian people in establishing their independent state with east Jerusalem as its capital,” the SPA official news agency reports.
The visit comes after US President Donald Trump earlier this month recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, sparking angry reactions by the Palestinians and Arabs.
Red Crescent: 81 Palestinians hurt in West Bank riots
The Red Crescent says it has treated a total of 81 injuries in West Bank protests in response to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The statement says three are injured by live fire, 23 by rubber bullets, 43 from choking on tear gas, and 12 from other injuries.
— Dov Lieber
UN experts to Iran: Halt execution of alleged Israel spy
Four UN rights experts on Wednesday call on Iran to “immediately” annul the death sentence against an academic accused of espionage during nuclear talks with world powers, warning his trial had been marred by violations.
Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian emergency medicine specialist resident in Sweden, was sentenced to death in the Islamic republic in October for spying for Israel.
The academic was a visiting professor at Belgium’s Vrije Universiteit Brussel when he was arrested during a trip to Iran in April 2016.
He was accused of passing information to Israel’s Mossad intelligence service during the negotiations that led to Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2015.
Djalali has said he is being punished for refusing to spy for Iran while working in Europe.
In a statement, the four independent experts working with the United Nations warn that “the procedure against him was marred by numerous reports of due process and fair trial violations.”
The UN expert on the human rights situation in Iran, alongside the experts on arbitrary detention, torture and summary executions, point to reports that Djalali had been held incommunicado, denied access to a lawyer, and forced to confess.
“The execution of Dr Djalali must be immediately halted and he must be released and accorded an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations,” the experts say.
“No formal charges were brought against him for nearly 10 months and he was effectively prevented from exercising his right to challenge the legality of detention,” they say.
Palestinian minister slams US ‘threats’ ahead of UN vote over Jerusalem
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki accuses the US of “threatening” member countries of the UN General Assembly ahead of a vote on rejecting the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Al-Malki says the US is “committing another mistake when they have distributed this famous letter trying to threaten countries, (and) threaten their sovereign decision to choose how to vote,” at a press conference with his Turkish counterpart in Istanbul.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley on Tuesday warned countries that she will report back to US President Donald Trump with the names of those who support a draft resolution rejecting the US recognition.
Greenblatt, US ambassador talk peace with Netanyahu
US special envoy Jason Greenblatt meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem to discuss peace efforts.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attends the meeting, described by Greenblatt as “a check-in as the Administration continues with its peace efforts which will benefit both Israelis and Palestinians.”
— Jason D. Greenblatt (@jdgreenblatt45) December 20, 2017
Greenblatt will not meet with Palestinians during this trip amid ongoing tensions over the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, according to the PA. Following the December 6 recognition, the Palestinians declared the US could no longer be an honest broker in peace negotiations.
Islamic State claims Sinai airport missile attack
An Islamic State affiliate on Wednesday claims responsibility for a missile attack the previous day that targeted an airport in Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula during an unpublicized visit to the facility by the defense and interior ministers.
In a brief statement circulated on jihadi websites, the group says the intended target of the “guided” missile it fired at the el-Arish airport on Tuesday was the two ministers, and that the projectile struck an Apache helicopter that was part of their entourage.
The statement, carried by the IS-run Aamaq news agency, could not be independently verified but resembled previous claims by the group that were widely seen as credible.
IDF chief tours attack tunnels on Gaza border
DF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot visits the army’s Gaza Division, including two attack tunnels dug by Palestinian terrorist groups, which the military uncovered inside Israeli territory.
Eisenkot’s visit comes amid lingering tensions around the coastal enclave, following a two-week period of near-daily rocket attacks from the Strip.
During his trip, Eisenkot met with the head of the IDF’s Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir; Israel’s chief military liaison to the Palestinians, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai; the head of the Gaza Division, Brig. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs; and the commander of the Northern (Gaza) Brigade, Col. Avi Rosenfeld, the army says.
Outside the two tunnels — one of which was destroyed on October 30 and the other on December 10 — the army chief inspects some of the military hardware used to locate and map them.
“The chief of staff expressed his great appreciation of the Southern Command’s officers for their operational methods and preventive activity, which combines intelligence, operational and technological capabilities in dealing with the underground threat from the Gaza Strip, which has led to the recent achievements,” the army says.
— Judah Ari Gross
Trump hints he’ll cut funding to countries that support UN Jerusalem vote
US President Donald Trump says he’ll be watching how countries vote in the UN General Assembly Thursday on a non-binding resolution to annul the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
The US president hints at future funding cuts for nations that back the resolution.
“They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us. Well, we’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care,” Trump says at the White House, according to Reuters.
He praises US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley, who on Tuesday wrote in a letter that Washington will be “taking names” of countries that support the measure.
PM: New coalition whip’s first task will be passing Jewish state bill
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Likud MK David Amsalem’s first task as coalition chairman will be to secure the passage of the so-called Jewish state law.
The bill would enshrine Israel’s status as a Jewish state in its quasi-constitutional Basic Laws for the first time.
In a Twitter post, Netanyahu calls the bill “one of the most important laws to enter the history pages of the State of Israel.”
The first reading of the bill was expected to take place in the coming weeks.
Amsalem was appointed coalition whip earlier in the day, after Likud MK David Bitan stepped down amid police investigations into his affairs.
GOP tax bill clears Congress in triumph for Trump
Republicans in Congress deliver an epic overhaul of US tax laws to President Donald Trump, bringing generous tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, and billions to be added to the national debt.
The $1.5 trillion package, billed as a huge boon for the middle class and a spark to economic growth, provides smaller tax cuts for middle- and low-income families.
The GOP-dominated House voted — a second time — along party lines on Wednesday to approve the complex legislation, following a narrow vote after midnight in the Senate.
The measure slashes the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. The tax cuts for business are permanent, but reductions for individuals and families expire after a decade. The standard deduction used by around two-thirds of Americans will nearly double to $24,000 for married couples.
Bitan’s attorney says he’ll be grilled 3 times next week
The attorney for former coalition chairman David Bitan tells Hadashot news the Likud MK will be questioned three times next week by investigators.
Bitan is suspected of having taken bribes from organized crime figures in Rishon Lezion after he became deputy mayor of the city in 2005, of allegedly rigging a municipal construction tender in favor of the son of an acquaintance in exchange for money, and other alleged offenses.
German man arrested for planning car-ramming attack for IS
German police arrested a 29-year-old man on suspicion of being a member of the Islamic State group and planning an attack with a vehicle, federal prosecutors say Wednesday.
The man, a German citizen identified by prosecutors only as Dasbar W., is arrested by a police tactical response unit in the southwest German city of Karlsruhe.
Prosecutors say that W. began distributing IS propaganda material online between April and July 2015, and trained others to hide their Internet address and use so-called messenger services. He allegedly traveled to Iraq in June 2015, where he joined IS, received firearms training and scouted targets for an attack in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil.
Prosecutors say in a statement that W. returned to Germany in July 2017, where he considered using a vehicle to carry out an attack on a site in Karlsruhe.
“For this purpose he scouted sites around the Karlsruhe Palace from the end of August 2017 and from September 2017 onwards he applied for various jobs as a driver with parcel courier companies, albeit without success,” prosecutors say.