Deadly crash caused by bus hitting concrete bus stop
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Four dead in bus crash near Ben Gurion Airport

Emergency medical services treating one other passenger with serious injuries and 10 others mildly injured after bus hits concrete wall on Highway 40

Emergency services at the site of a deadly bus crash on Highway 40 near Ben Gurion Airport, December 22, 2019. (Magen David Adom)
Emergency services at the site of a deadly bus crash on Highway 40 near Ben Gurion Airport, December 22, 2019. (Magen David Adom)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they happened.

Government to classify discussions on ICC war crimes probe — report

The government has decided to classify its discussions on the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor saying there were grounds to investigate alleged Israeli and Palestinian war crimes, according to several Hebrew media outlets.

The talks, which will take place in the high-level security cabinet, will reportedly be placed under provisions outlined in Article 35 of the Basic Law: The Government, which states that “certain discussions and decisions of the government and the ministerial committees can be classified and their disclosure and publication prohibited.”

The ICC’s top prosecutor, Fatouh Bensouda, announced over the weekend that there was a “basis” to probe Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank, the 2014 Gaza war, the Israeli response to violent protests on the Gaza border, and the targeting of civilians by Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups.

Netanyahu on Sunday called it an “absurd” decision that showed the court was being weaponized against Israel.

Syria regime widens control over Idlib in violent clashes

Syria regime forces have seized dozens of towns and villages in northwest Syria from their jihadist rivals following days of violent clashes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

The fresh advances in Idlib province bring regime loyalists closer to capturing one of the largest urban centres in Syria’s last major opposition bastion, the war monitor says.

The jihadist-dominated Idlib region hosts some three million people including many displaced by years of violence in other parts of Syria. The Damascus regime has repeatedly vowed to take back the area and bombardment has continued despite a ceasefire announced in August.


As protests swell, Modi denies India’s Muslims being sent to ‘concentration centers’

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking to reassure India’s Muslims as a wave of deadly protests against a new citizenship law puts his Hindu nationalist government under pressure like never before.

At least 25 people have died in 10 days of demonstrations and violence after Modi’s government passed the law criticized as anti-Muslim. More protests are taking place today.

Addressing party supporters in New Delhi — who cried “Modi! Modi!” at the mention of the law — Modi says Muslims “don’t need to worry at all” — provided they are genuine Indians.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during a rally in New Delhi on December 22, 2019. (Prakash Singh/AFP)

“Muslims who are sons of the soil and whose ancestors are the children of mother India need not to worry” about the law and his plans to carry out a national register of citizens, Modi tells the crowd of thousands.

Accusing the main opposition Congress party of condoning the recent violence by not condemning it, Modi said opponents were “spreading rumors that all Muslims will be sent to detention camps.”

“There are no detention centers. All these stories about detention centers are lies, lies and lies,” he says.


Iran rejects ‘conditional release’ for Iranian-British woman

The lawyer of an Iranian-British woman convicted on spying charges in Iran has asked that she be released after serving half of her sentence, a request that was immediately rejected by the Tehran prosecutors’office, the state IRNA news agency reports.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was sentenced to five years for allegedly planning the “soft toppling” of Iran’s government while traveling with her young daughter in Iran at the time. She was was arrested in April 2016. Her sentence has been widely criticized and her family has denied all the allegations against her.

The report by IRNA quotes her lawyer, Mahmoud Behzadi Rad, as saying that he had submitted a request for what Iran’s judiciary calls “conditional release” — when a convict has served half his or her sentence, the person can apply for such a release and the courts have the power to grant it for “good behavior.”

“According to the law, she is entitled to apply for a conditional release,” the lawyer says.


Netanyahu’s lawyer to AG: We reject decision not to investigate leaks from probes

A criminal defense lawyer representing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, “Your decision not to conduct a criminal investigation into leaking investigative material from the prime minister’s cases is unacceptable.”

In November, Mandelblit rejected a request to investigate leaks to the media related to the corruption investigations, stressing that he views such leaks “severely,” but nevertheless “there is no room to check or investigate the incidents.”

Adv. Yossi Cohen, writing to Mandelblit, insists, “There are ways to expose the leaks.”

“The difficulty you describe in investigating the leaks is exaggerated and fundamentally disproportionate,” Cohen charges. “Apart from a polygraph test, there are many other means of revealing the identity of leakers, such as seizing mobile phones (legally of course) or examining computers of public servants.”

— Raoul Wootliff

‘Eretz Nehederet’ returning for third election season

Israel’s top satire show “Eretz Nehederet” releases the promo for a new season covering the latest election campaign, the third in a year.

The clip features the show’s cast playing Israel’s top politicians frolicking amid polling slips snowing down from the sky as the Christmas song “Let it Snow” plays.

“The elections are coming back again? Don’t worry, so are we,” the clip concludes as the politicians call to the show’s host, Eyal Kitzis, to shake them again as they are revealed to be inside a snow globe.

High Court to debate whether Netanyahu can form government while facing charges

The top court will debate whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can form a new government after being charged in a series of graft cases, setting up a potentially vicious clash between the judicial and legislative branches.

Accepting a petition filed with the High Court of Justice on whether a Knesset member facing criminal charges can be tasked with assembling a government, justices said a debate should be held “as early as possible,” and ordered Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to present a legal opinion on the question within 48 hours.

On Friday, Mandelblit declined to rule on the issue, informing the court that he would only issue a legal opinion if it hears the matter.

Any ruling on whether Netanyahu can form a government while facing charges could dramatically shake up the campaign for elections on March 2, the third to be held in less than a year after the first two failed to produce a ruling coalition.

— Raoul Wootliff

Netanyahu joins petition to cancel Likud primaries for party slate

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls on the Likud’s internal court to rule out primaries for the party’s Knesset roster ahead of the March general election, after the court deemed unconstitutional a decision by the Likud Central Committee to cancel them.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu has joined the petition to revoke the Likud primaries,” his spokesperson says.

The ruling, if upheld, would force the party to hold snap primaries in the coming weeks, in addition to the leadership battle that it has scheduled for Thursday.

— Raoul Wootliff

Smotrich: Israel must annex Jordan Valley in response to possible ICC probe

National Home chair Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich urges Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to approve Israeli annexation of the West Bank’s Jordan Valley in response to the International Criminal Court chief prosecutor readying a probe into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories.

“There is no doubt in my mind that it is time to take significant steps to bring to the government a decision on the Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, a decision that, above all, will make it clear to the Palestinian Authority, the [ICC] prosecutor and the court that the territories of historic Israel are an integral part of the sovereign State of Israel,” Smotrich says in a letter to Netanyahu denouncing the decision.

Yesterday Smotrich called on Netanyahu to give the Palestinian Authority a 48-hour ultimatum to pull its petition or see the Ramallah-based political authority “torn down.”

Smotrich slammed the ICC as “anti-Semitic” and said Netanyahu should have issued the ultimatum to the PA years ago when it filed the request to open the probe in 2015.

— Raoul Wootliff

Sudan opens Darfur war crimes investigation — prosecutor

Sudan has opened an investigation into war crimes committed in the Darfur region by members of the regime of ousted former president Omar al-Bashir, the state prosecutor confirms.

“We have launched an investigation into the crimes committed in Darfur from 2003,” prosecutor Tagelsir al-Heber says on his arrival in Khartoum after a trip to the United Arab Emirates.

He adds that these are “cases against former regime officials” tied to Bashir, who is sought on war crimes and other charges by the International Criminal Court for his role in the Darfur conflict.


Boeing capsule returns to Earth after aborted space mission

Boeing safely lands its crew capsule in the New Mexico desert after an aborted flight to the International Space Station that threatens to set back the company’s effort to launch astronauts for NASA next year.

The Starliner descended into the Army’s White Sands Missile Range in the frigid predawn darkness, ending a two-day demo that should have lasted more than a week. All three main parachutes popped open and airbags also inflated around the spacecraft to ease the impact.

“Congratulations, Starliner,” says Mission Control, calling it a successful touchdown.

— AP

Netanyahu lights Hanukkah candles at Western Wall with US ambassador

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are about to light the first candle of Hanukkah at the Western Wall.

The US Embassy is providing a live video stream of the event here:

Trump: ‘Happy Hanukkah everyone’

Chief justice set to head High Court hearing on whether Netanyahu can form government

The High Court of Justice says it will hold a hearing next week, on December 31 at 9 a.m., on a petition arguing that it is against the law for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next government.

The petition will be heard before a three-judge panel led by Chief Justice Esther Hayut and including Deputy Chief Justice Hanan Melcer and Justice Uzi Vogelman.

The court earlier asked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to produce a legal opinion on the question of Netanyahu’s eligibility to return to the prime minister’s chair, and to hand it to the court at least 48 hours before the hearing.

WATCH: Rivlin lights Hanukkah candles with Israel Police

President Reuven Rivlin lights the first candle of Hanukkah with officers of the David Sector of the Israel Police in the Old City of Jerusalem.

“You are our guards, and we look to you, who are responsible for ensuring the safety of the holiest place in the world. The security you provide here allows us to celebrate Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, with joy,” Rivlin says at the ceremony along side Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Acting Police Commissioner Moti Cohen.

Erdan says: “Each generation of our people has those who guard its walls, and you – the men and women of the David Sector – our our generation’s guards. I am a great believer in the words of Uri Zvi Ginsberg, ‘He who controls the Temple Mount controls Jerusalem, and he who controls Jerusalem controls the land.’ You are leading the triumph of the spirit of our people here.”

Afghan president appears to win new term in initial results

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani appears to have narrowly won a second term, according to preliminary results from September’s balloting. If the outcome stands despite the complaints of ballot fraud, it could give Ghani the authority he has sought to demand a leading role in peace talks with the Taliban in the country devastated by decades of war.

In a nationally televised address from the presidential palace, Ghani claims victory over his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who serves as Afghanistan’s chief executive in a fragile national unity government..

“We will connect and unite all Afghans,” Ghani says. “We will end the crisis and all divisions by building a responsible government.”

Ghani won 923,868 votes, or 50.64 percent in the September 28 balloting, according to the long overdue preliminary results announced by Hawa Alam Nuristani, head of the Independent Election Commission. She says Abdullah won 720,990 votes, 39.52%. The results have been repeatedly delayed amid accusations of misconduct and technical problems, and Nuristani did not say when final results would be announced.

— AP

AG praises justice minister’s interim state prosecutor pick for withdrawing candidacy

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit praises prosecutor Orly Ginsberg Ben-Ari for her decision to turn down her appointment as acting state attorney.

“Your decision on Friday, to withdraw from serving in the post, is admirable and brave,” Mandelblit tells Ginsberg Ben-Ari in a letter.

Orly Ginsberg Ben-Ari attends a farewell ceremony held for outgoing Israeli state attorney Shai Nitzan in Jerusalem, on December 18, 2019 (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

He says he appreciates her “enormous contribution” to law enforcement over nearly three decades as a prosecutor, as well as her professionalism, personal integrity, and earnest intention to fulfill her duties as acting state attorney. He says he looked forward to productive cooperation in the future.

Ben-Ari Ginsberg reportedly thanked Mandelblit and said her decision to decline the appointment was meant to prevent it from undermining public trust in the state prosecution.

Netanyahu denies High Court’s authority to rule if he can form government

Responding to the High Court decision to take on a petition arguing that it is against the law for Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next government after being charged in a series of graft cases, the prime minister says that the court does not have the authority to make such a decision.

“Something simple for democracy: in a democracy, those who decide who will lead the people are the people, no one else. Otherwise, its simply not democracy,” Netanyahu says in a video released on his social media channels.

The High Court will hold a hearing on the petition next week, on December 31 at 9 a.m., before a three-judge panel led by Chief Justice Esther Hayut and including Deputy Chief Justice Hanan Melcer and Justice Uzi Vogelman.

— Raoul Wootliff

Netanyahu: ICC decision to ready war crimes probe ‘pure anti-Semtism’

Speaking at a Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that the International Criminal Court’s readying of a probe into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories is “just as anti-Semitic as the decrees of the Seleucid Greeks.”

During the original Hanukkah story, the Jews fought and overcame anti-Semitic decrees aimed “to drive us out of our land, to say we have no right to exist,” Netanyahu says.

“And yet we find ourselves now, in the beginning of the 21st century, in the year 2019, where the International Criminal Court, that should know otherwise, has set forth decrees that are just as anti-Semitic as the decrees of the Seleucid Greeks,” he says.

“They say the Jews do not have a right to settle in the Jewish homeland. They say the Jews do not have a right to live in the land of the Jews, in the Land of Israel. Well, we say, shame on you. The light of truth lights here and we will overcome you, just as we overcame other anti-Semites in history.”

“Pure anti-Semitism, that’s what the ICC has done, and we will not bow our heads.”

World leaders send Jewish people Hanukkah greetings


Thousands protest in Iraq as deadline for new PM looms

Thousands take to the streets in Iraq’s capital and across the south to protest against Iran’s kingmaking influence as the latest deadline for choosing a new prime minister looms.

Anti-government rallies have rocked Baghdad and the Shiite-majority south since October 1, with demonstrators calling for a complete overhaul of a regime they deem corrupt, inefficient and overly beholden to Tehran.

Protesters are blocking off public buildings one by one in the southern Iraqi city, and putting up banners reading “The country is under construction — please excuse the disruption.”

Protesters gather during an anti-government sit-in outside the gate of Kufa University in the central Iraqi city of Kufa, adjacent to the holy shrine city of Najaf, on December 22, 2019. (Haidar HAMDANI/AFP)

Sunday marks the latest deadline — already pushed back twice by President Barham Saleh — for parliament to choose a new premier to replace Adel Abdel Mahdi, who tendered his administration’s resignation last month.

Officials say Iran wants to install Qusay al-Suhail, who served as higher education minister in the government of Abdel Mahdi.


3 dead in bus crash near airport

The deaths of three people have been confirmed after a bus hit a concrete wall on Highway 40 near Ben Gurion Airport.

Medical services are treating two other seriously injured passengers and 10 others with mild injuries.

Police say they have launched an investigation into the circumstances of the accident.

Greece says EastMed pipeline deal to be signed Jan 2

The Greek government says it will sign an agreement for a huge pipeline project with Cyprus and Israel next month that is designed to ship gas from the eastern Mediterraneean to Europe.

The move comes amid tensions with Turkey over its own activities in the area and a contentious maritime deal with Libya expanding Ankara’s claims over a large gas-rich area of the sea.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s office says the agreement for the EastMed pipeline would be signed in Athens on January 2 with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.

The 2,000-kilometer (1,200-mile) pipeline will be able to transfer between nine and 12 billion cubic meters a year from offshore gas reserves between Israel and Cyprus to Greece, and then on to Italy and other southeastern European countries.


Death toll in bus crash near airport rises to four

Emergency medical services have confirmed a fourth death in the bus crash of Highway 40 near Ben Gurion Airport.

They are currently treating one other passenger with serious injuries and 10 others with mild injuries.

Exit polls show leftist candidate leading in Croatia presidential vote

A leftist former prime minister is leading in the first round of Croatia’s president election, according to an exit poll that puts the conservative incumbent in a close second.

Zoran Milanovic has 29.58 percent of the vote followed by 26.38 for incumbent Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, and 24.1% for Miroslav Skoro, a right-wing folk singer running as an independent, an exit poll on national TV shows.


Deadly crash caused by bus hitting concrete bus stop

Police say that the deadly bus crash on Highway 40 was caused by the 947 bus route, on its way from Jerusalem to Haifa, hitting a concrete bus stop on the side of the road.

Emergency services at the site of a deadly bus crash on Highway 40 near Ben Gurion Airport, December 22, 2019. (Magen David Adom)

Four people have been declared dead in the crash and at least 12 people are being treated for varying injuries.

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Live updates (closed)

Deadly crash caused by bus hitting concrete bus stop

Police say that the deadly bus crash on Highway 40 was caused by the 947 bus route, on its way from Jerusalem to Haifa, hitting a concrete bus stop on the side of the road.

Emergency services at the site of a deadly bus crash on Highway 40 near Ben Gurion Airport, December 22, 2019. (Magen David Adom)

Four people have been declared dead in the crash and at least 12 people are being treated for varying injuries.