Elections on a Monday? Likud, Blue and White discuss possibility
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Gideon Sa’ar booed at party conference; Likud scraps primaries for slate

Right-wing party won’t call leadership race — which would pit Netanyahu against rival Sa’ar — until another round of elections officially called

Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar seen with Likud supporters during an Event in Hod Hasharon, November 25, 2019. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar seen with Likud supporters during an Event in Hod Hasharon, November 25, 2019. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s developments as they unfolded.

Netanyahu warns Hamas: No ceasefire deal if rockets continue

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns that Israel won’t agree to a ceasefire agreement with Gaza’s rulers Hamas — which has reportedly been in the works for months — if rocket fire at Israel from the Palestinian enclave persists.

“There will be no ceasefire if the fire continues,” says Netanyahu at the start of a weekly cabinet meeting.

He speaks a day after three rockets are fired at the south, drawing retaliatory Israeli strikes.

The prime minister warns that if terror groups don’t hold their fire, the November flareup in which an Islamic Jihad commander was killed by Israel would be “just a preview” of what would come.

He also says he instructed the army and defense minister to prepare accordingly, without elaborating.

President meets with Lebanese businessman who donated Hitler’s hat

President Reuven Rivlin meets with the Lebanese businessman who bought Adolf Hitler’s hat and donated it to a Jewish group to keep the items out of the hands of neo-Nazis.

Rivlin tells Abdallah Chatila: “What you did was seemingly so simple, but this act of grace shows the whole world how to fight the glorification of hatred and incitement against other people. It was a truly human act. I know you have been thanked many times, but it was important for me to say it loud and clear here at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem – we appreciate it and thank you for it very much.”

Chatila paid 50,000 euros ($55,300) for the item and also purchased other Nazi memorabilia, which will also be donated.

“When I read about the artifacts being for sale, I immediately thought I have to buy them and destroy them. Then I thought I have no right to decide what to do with the items, and am so glad they are now at Yad Vashem. I feel a shiver when I understand how important this is for the Jewish people, but I think there is a wider message for the whole world, that ‘never again’ is not a meaningless slogan. Through acts such as this, we can ensure that these things never happen again,” he says.

British PM Johnson says impact of UK vote to be ‘felt for decades’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says that the impact of Thursday’s general election will be “felt for decades” as campaigning enters the final stages.

The prime minister is hoping to regain the majority that his Conservative Party lost in 2019, with a slew of polls released on Saturday suggesting he was narrowly on course to achieve his goal.

The stakes could barely be higher, with the fate of Brexit still to be settled.

“We’re fighting for every vote and… this is a critical moment for this country, the choice on Thursday is unbelievably stark,” he tells Sky News.

He compares the election to other “historic elections” such as 1906, 1945 and 1979.

“The impact of this election will be felt for decades to come,” he writes in an open letter.

AFP

Labour member: Party has done ‘everything’ possible to make amends with Jews

UK Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell says his party has done everything in its power to make amends with the Jewish community following the anti-Semitism scandal in the party.

“I worry this has had its effect,” he tells BBC, referring to the allegations of anti-Jewish hatred plaguing the opposition party. “We have done everything I think we can possibly do. We have apologized to the Jewish community and I repeat that. We have always got to learn lessons. I want us to be a shining model.

“I apologize to the Jewish community for the suffering we have inflicted on them. I say to them we are doing everything possible. We are going to learn more lessons and we want to be the shining example of anti-racism that the Labour party should be. Having gone through this horrible, horrible period, we come out of it now actually showing respect to the Jewish community and tackling this issue, and enabling the Labour party to tackle anti-Semitism in our wider society.”

Netanyahu orders ministers to remain in country

Netanyahu is ordering his Likud ministers to immediately return to the country and remain in Israel until Wednesday, when the Knesset is expected to dissolve and new elections called, Channel 12 reports without providing an explanation.

At least two ministers — Miri Regev and Ofir Akunis — cancel their travel plans.

Strike targeted Iran-controlled warehouse on Saturday, killing 4

A Syrian opposition news site reports that unidentified aircraft bombed Iranian-controlled weapons storehouses last night, killing at least four members of Tehran-supported militias.

According to the Syrian Step News agency, the airstrike occurred around 10 p.m. on Saturday, targeting munitions depots in the Boulkamal region of Syria, near the Iraqi border, an area that has reportedly been hit by many Israeli raids in the past year.

The outlet cites “well-placed sources” as saying that the four people killed were guards at the storehouses who were members of militias backed by Iran.

Judah Ari Gross

Egyptian officials say policeman, jihadist killed in Sinai

Egyptian officials say a jihadist attack has killed a police conscript in the restive northern part of the Sinai Peninsula.

The officials say that the terrorists attacked a police checkpoint in the town of Rafah early on Sunday, also wounding two conscripts who were taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.

Authorities say that security forces killed a fighter, and wounded others, in clashes that followed the assault.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to talk to reporters.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, which bares the hallmarks of an Islamic State affiliate based in northern Sinai.

Egypt is battling an Islamic State-led insurgency in the Sinai that intensified after the military overthrew an Islamist president in 2013.

agencies

US watchdog expected to find Russia probe valid but flawed

The US Justice Department’s internal watchdog will release a highly anticipated report Monday that is expected to reject US President Donald Trump’s claims that the Russia investigation was illegitimate and tainted by political bias from FBI leaders. But it is also expected to document errors during the investigation that may animate Trump supporters.

The report, as described by people familiar with its findings, is expected to conclude there was an adequate basis for opening one of the most politically sensitive investigations in FBI history and one that Trump has denounced as a witch hunt. It began in secret during Trump’s 2016 presidential run and was ultimately taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The report comes as Trump faces an impeachment inquiry in Congress centered on his efforts to press Ukraine to investigate a political rival, Democrat Joe Biden. Trump also claims the impeachment investigation is politically biased.

The release of Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s review is unlikely to quell the partisan battles that have surrounded the Russia investigation. It’s also not the last word on that investigation. A separate internal investigation continues, overseen by Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, and led by a US attorney, John Durham.

AP

Palestinian worker said attacked outside settlement’s ritual bath

A Palestinian worker is assaulted outside a ritual bath in the West Bank settlement-city Modiin Illit, reports say.

He is said to have been attacked and lightly injured by four men, after refusing them entry into the building.

Police are looking for the suspects.

Bus disruptions expected in Jerusalem on Monday

A labor dispute in the Egged bus company could cause transportation disruptions on Monday morning, between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m.

Barring changes, drivers in Jerusalem will hold a meeting at that time over their work conditions.

Thousands of Iraqis return to streets despite spiraling death toll

Thousands of Iraqi protesters stream into streets and public squares in the capital and restive south on Sunday, saying they are not deterred by deadly violence meant to “scare” them.

In Baghdad, crowds of anti-government demonstrators throng Tahrir Square, the epicenter of their movement.

Late Friday, unidentified gunmen attacked a parking complex near Tahrir where demonstrators had been squatting for weeks, leaving 20 protesters and four police officers dead, medics tell AFP.

Protesters feared it signaled that their movement would be derailed but by Sunday, the numbers gathered under the sun in Tahrir are staggering.

“They’re trying to scare us in whatever ways they can, but we’re staying in the streets,” says Aisha, a 23-year-old protester.

At least 452 people — the vast majority of them protesters — have died and 20,000 have been wounded since the rallies erupted.

AFP

Shaked urges Netanyahu: Annex Jordan Valley now

New Right leader Ayelet Shaked calls on Netanyahu to disregard the limitations of a transitional government and annex the Jordan Valley immediately.

“Of course a transitional government has the ability to annex the Jordan Valley,” she tells a conference of the Makor Rishon newspaper in Jerusalem, claiming that Israel’s current government, which has been considered “transitional” since the April elections, should be able to act as any other government without additional limits.

Netanyahu in September vowed that if reelected he would immediately annex the Jordan Valley, a swath of land linking the West Bank to Jordan that Israel views as a vital security asset, in what was widely seen as a bid to attract support from right-wing voters.

Shaked says he needn’t and shouldn’t wait.

“I think that the Netanyahu government must annex the Jordan Valley right now. I hope it does. I want it to. It must,” she says.

Raoul Wootliff

Houthi defense minister threatens to attack Israel

The Iran-backed Houthis’ defense minister in Yemen’s Sanaa threatens to attack Israel.

Major General Mohammed Al-Atefi tells Al-Mayadeen that Israel has been involved in the Yemen conflict between the Iran-backed rebels and Saudi Arabia since it began in 2015.

Yememi armed forces “have completed all aspects of military preparation to qualify it to launch a strategic attack leading to the paralysis of the enemies’ abilities,” he says.

“There’s no doubt revenge is coming,” he says.

Police said to crack 10-year-old Ra’anana rape case

Police have resolved a February 2009 rape case in the central city of Raanana, recently arrested a key suspect, reports say.

The suspect is apprehended after questioning, with DNA samples linking him to the scene, according to Channel 12. He was arrested two weeks ago and is described as a 35-year-old Israeli citizen from Kfar Saba.

The victim of the attack was a woman in her 30s, who said a man she did not know had attacked her.

7 ultra-Orthodox protesters arrested in Jerusalem

Ultra-Orthodox protesters from the hard-line so-called Jerusalem Faction are clashing with police in the capital.

The demonstrators, who are protesting the arrest of a draft-dodger, are blocking Bar Ilan Street in Jerusalem.

Seven have been arrested.

Likud negotiator laments ‘entirely unnecessary’ elections

Likud negotiator Yariv Levin is set to meet with Blue and White’s Avi Nissenkorn, who chairs the Knesset’s Arrangements Committee.

“After all of our compromise offers were rejected by Blue and White, I find myself forced to discuss with him the date for the entirely unnecessary elections,” he laments, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Should no government be formed by Wednesday, Israel will go to its third election in under a year, likely in March.

Elections on a Monday? Likud, Blue and White discuss possibility

Likud and Blue and White are raising the possibility of holding the election on a Monday, rather than a Tuesday, in March, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

They are discussing the prospects of a March 2 or March 16 vote.

Elections are held in Israel on Tuesdays. But setting the date for the looming vote has been complicated by the Purim holiday (March 10), and Memorial Day for IDF soldiers whose places of burial are not known (March 3), both of which fall on Tuesdays.

Likud reportedly is seeking the latest possible date, while Blue and White wants the earliest.

Trump warns North Korea has ‘everything’ to lose through hostile acts

US President Donald Trump warns Sunday that North Korea has “everything” to lose through hostility toward the United States, after Pyongyang said it had carried out a major new weapons test.

“Kim Jong Un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way,” Trump tweets in response to the unspecified test at the Sohae space launch center.

“He signed a strong Denuclearization Agreement with me in Singapore,” Trump continues. “He does not want to void his special relationship with the President of the United States or interfere with the US Presidential Election in November.”

AFP

Jury would convict Trump ‘in 3 minutes flat,’ says key lawmaker

The chairman of the US House Judiciary Committee says Sunday that if the impeachment case against US President Donald Trump were put to a jury, there “would be a guilty verdict in three minutes flat.”

Representative Jerry Nadler, whose panel will begin drawing up articles of impeachment this week, tells CNN that the evidence that Trump put personal interests above those of his country in dealing with Ukraine is “rock solid.”

He did not rule out the possibility of a House vote on impeaching Trump by the end of the week.

That would put it on a fast track to a trial before the Republican-controlled Senate, where Trump is expected to prevail.

Nadler’s committee will meet Monday to begin weighing evidence compiled by the House Intelligence Committee on whether Trump linked military aid and a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky to a request that Kyiv investigate a potential 2020 rival, Democrat Joe Biden, and his son Hunter.

Nadler would not speculate on what might be included in the articles of impeachment.

But he describes the central allegation as being that Trump “sought foreign interference in our elections several times, both for 2016 and 2020, and that he sought to cover it up” thus posing “a real and present danger to the integrity of the election” coming in November.

AFP

Bennett: Israeli response to Gaza rocket fire to come, ‘served cold’

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett threatens Gaza terror groups, saying an Israeli response to recent rocket fire will come when they least expect it.

“Our enemies have grown accustomed to [a situation in which they may] fire at Israel,” says Bennett during a tour of Sderot. “We must change that.”

“We must shift from the defensive to the offensive,” he adds. “Our response will be at the right time, in the right way and will be powerful. We won’t be dragged into it. A good ruse is served cold, not when the blood is boiling and the other side is waiting, prepared.”

He speaks a day after three rockets are fired at Israel.

Lebanon Sunni leaders back Hariri to return as premier

Sunni Muslim leaders in protest-wracked Lebanon have thrown their support behind ex-premier Saad Hariri to return to his post a month after he stepped down, a sidelined candidate says Sunday.

Businessman Samir Khatib had been put forward as a likely contender to succeed Hariri, but he says a visit to the country’s highest Sunni Muslim authority had indicated otherwise.

Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdellatif Deryan informed Khatib that “a consensus had been reached to name Saad Hariri as prime minister to form the next government,” the 72-year-old businessman says.

Khatib then met Hariri, who has stayed on in the role of caretaker premier and has supported him in his bid, to inform him of his withdrawal from the race, he says in televised comments.

Lebanon has been gripped by unprecedented cross-sectarian protests since October 17, denouncing perceived official mismanagement and corruption.

Hariri stepped down less than two weeks into the nationwide movement, but a deeply divided political class has since failed to reach an agreement on a new premier.

The names of several potential candidates were circulated in the media, but protesters rejected Khatib as being too close to traditional circles of power.

AFP

Stabbing thwarted outside Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs

A Palestinian man brandished a knife at Israeli border police outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the West Bank city of Hebron, police say.

He is arrested by Israeli forces. There are no injuries.

Earlier in the day, a Palestinian woman drew a knife in the same location and was similarly detained.

Chief justice confirms: Neal Hendel to head Central Elections Committee

Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel will chair the Central Elections Committee, the top court’s president confirms.

The announcement by Chief Justice Esther Hayut comes hours after the appointment was leaked to the Israeli press.

He will replace Justice Hanan Melcer, who presided over the two inconclusive elections this year, in April and September.

State attorney censures attempts to ‘destroy’ legal system

Outgoing State Attorney Shai Nitzan says recent criticism of the justice system, namely by Netanyahu and Likud Justice Minister Amir Ohana, seeks to destroy the judiciary.

“The claims of a coup are ridiculous,” says Nitzan, referring to comments by Netanyahu. “I’ve dedicated over half my life to public service. Over the past decades, there has been no state attorney like me that represented the state’s position [so faithfully].”

Nitzan, speaking at a conference hosted by the right-wing Makor Rishon newspaper, says: “The criticism directed against us is designed to destroy the system at its foundations.”

“This isn’t constructive criticism, this is criticism that aims to destroy.”

Nitzan has come under fire by Netanyahu and his allies since criminal charges were announced against the prime minister last month in three corruption probes.

Gideon Sa’ar booed at Likud gathering

Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar, who is challenging Netanyahu for the leadership of the party, is booed at a Likud Central Committee gathering. Hecklers interrupt his speech with cries of “Bibi, Bibi,” using the prime minister’s nickname.

Others retort with chants of “Gideon, Gideon.”

Likud’s Central Committee is meeting to begin the process of planning and scheduling the party primary, officials said Wednesday, with Sa’ar expected to pose the first real challenge to the premier’s leadership in 14 years.

Likud panel scraps primaries for Knesset list

The Likud Central Committee votes to cancel primaries for the party list.

But the party will not be voting on whether to hold a leadership primary — which would pit Netanyahu against Sa’ar — until after third elections are formally announced.

19-year-old man seriously hurt in lightning strike in north

A 19-year-old man sustains serious injuries in a lightning strike in northern Israel.

He has been taken to the Rambam Medical Center in the northern city of Haifa for treatment.

FBI says it presumes Florida base shooting was act of terrorism

The FBI is working under the presumption that a fatal shooting at a Florida naval base carried out by an aviation student from Saudi Arabia was an act of terrorism, the agency says Sunday.

All international students at the Pensacola base have been accounted for, there have been no arrests, and the community is under no immediate threat, special agent Rachel L. Rojas says at a news conference. A Saudi commanding officer has ordered all students from the country to remain at one location at the base, officials also said at the news conference.

Additionally, authorities believe the gunman made social media posts in which he talked about US support for Israel and charged that Americans are anti-Muslim, a US official tells The Associated Press on Sunday. Investigators also believe the gunman visited New York City, including Rockefeller Center, days before the shooting and are working to determine the purpose of the trip, say the official, who is not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

The FBI and others had said they were trying to determine whether the gunman, 2nd Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, 21, of the Royal Saudi Air Force, acted alone. Alshamrani was a flight student at Pensacola, where members of foreign militaries are routinely trained by the US.

AP

Gantz tut-tuts Netanyahu’s ‘inappropriate’ use of security issues in campaign

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz chides Netanyahu for advancing the annexation of the West Bank’s Jordan Valley and a proposed mutual defense pact with the United States for political gain.

“I view with severity the attempt to drag strategic security issues into an election campaign — it’s inappropriate and wrong,” says Gantz. “I won’t let it happen.”

Blue and White has come out in favor of the annexation and against the defense treaty.

Gantz says he will do everything in his power to prevent a third round of elections in under a year. He speaks three days before the deadline for a candidate to form a government expires.

The centrist leader also says there can be no downplaying of the serious corruption allegations against Netanyahu, though he stresses that he harbors no “schadenfreude” against the prime minister.

“Recently, I’ve recognized that many believe corruption crimes can be forgiven, due to various political opportunities,” he says.

“We cannot agree to this.”

UK parties in final hunt for votes before Thursday election

Britain’s political parties embark Sunday on a final hunt for votes ahead of this week’s general election, making last-ditch appeals to shore up support and persuade their backers to go to the polls.

All 650 seats in the House of Commons are up for grabs Thursday when voters will pass judgement on a divisive election that will determine Britain’s future with European Union.

Although opinion polls have placed Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the lead in Thursday’s general election, analysts suggest the gap is not wide enough to guarantee a majority in Parliament. Johnson urges supporters at a London rally on Sunday to learn from the 2017 election, which saw former Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May fritter away a decisive lead in the polls and end up with a divided Parliament.

“We’re now in the final furlong of this race, and that is when of course the horses can still change places,” Johnson says before urging the group to ”drive for the line.”

“We’re going to get there, but only if we work really hard,” he says.

Johnson and members of his Cabinet also hit the phones in a bid to gain support, making calls from the Conservative Party headquarters in central London. In one comical moment, Johnson offers his name to one potential voter, but feels the need to add: “I’m the prime minister.”

AP

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Elections on a Monday? Likud, Blue and White discuss possibility

Likud and Blue and White are raising the possibility of holding the election on a Monday, rather than a Tuesday, in March, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

They are discussing the prospects of a March 2 or March 16 vote.

Elections are held in Israel on Tuesdays. But setting the date for the looming vote has been complicated by the Purim holiday (March 10), and Memorial Day for IDF soldiers whose places of burial are not known (March 3), both of which fall on Tuesdays.

Likud reportedly is seeking the latest possible date, while Blue and White wants the earliest.