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Netanyahu set to depart for US-led Mideast summit in Warsaw

Israeli premier to be the only head of state at regional conference seen as effort by White House to isolate Iran

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to journalists during a visit to inspect a naval Iron Dome defense system in the northern port of Haifa on February 12, 2019. (JACK GUEZ / POOL / AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to journalists during a visit to inspect a naval Iron Dome defense system in the northern port of Haifa on February 12, 2019. (JACK GUEZ / POOL / AFP)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they unfolded.

Smotrich says national religious parties to form joint ticket

National Union chairman Bezalel Smotrich says that right-wing religious parties would join forces ahead of the April elections.

Speaking at a conference in Jerusalem he says that “it’s time to make concessions so that we can can unite and run together,” including the Jewish Home, the far-right Otzma Yehudit and Eli Yishai’s faction.

“We don’t have the privilege of wasting time about our differences in approach,” he says.

Smotrich also slams former Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, saying he “has left religious Zionism.”

Detention extended for Eilat mother suspected of drowning 4-year-old in bathtub

The detention of the mother from Eilat who is suspected of drowning her 4-year-old son in the bathtub yesterday has been extended for five days, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.

The court orders psychological evaluation for the woman in that time.

Police suspect the mother is mentally unstable and has attempted to commit suicide recently.

Rivlin marks 70th anniversary of last Jewish camps in Cyprus

President Reuven Rivlin is visiting Cyprus to mark 70 years since the closure of British detention camps on the island for Jews trying to reach Palestine after World War II.

He is set to visit a monument in Nicosia dedicated to the 2,200 children of Holocaust survivors who were born in the British colonial camps between 1946 and 1949.

Rivlin will also hold talks with Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades.

Cyprus and Israel aim to upgrade relations, “especially on energy, security, economy, tourism, research and innovation,” tweeted Anastasiades.

— AFP

Rivlin: Mediterranean ‘much safer’ due to Israel-Cyprus cooperation

President Reuven Rivlin says cooperation between his country and Cyprus on intelligence, security and terror prevention has made the Mediterranean “much, much safer.”

After talks with his Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades, Rivlin says Israeli-Cypriot security ties “have never been better” with the two countries’ navies and commando units sharing “space, knowledge and experience.”

Rivlin says the focus of the neighbors’ strategic partnership that includes Greece is developing the East Med gas pipeline that “could be one of the greatest underwater projects in the world.”

The envisioned pipeline would carry natural gas from deposits in the east Mediterranean to Europe via Greece and Italy.

Rivlin says energy cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean could also benefit Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians. He adds the Israel-Cyprus-Greece partnership could be expanded.

— AP

In warning to Iran, Netanyahu says Israeli missiles can travel ‘very far’

Prime Minister Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, visits a naval base in Haifa, where he again warns Iran that Israel is prepared for a military confrontation.

“Our missiles can travel very far, and confront any enemy, including the Iranian proxies in our region,” he says according to reports.

“We are constantly acting in accordance with our need to prevent Iran and its proxies from entrenching along our northern border, and in the wider region,” the prime minister says.

Yesterday, a senior Revolutionary Guards commander said at a rally marking the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution that Iran would wipe out major Israeli cities if the US launches an attack on the Islamic Republic.

Netanyahu hit back hours later, saying that if Iran made the “terrible mistake” of attacking Israel, it “will be the last anniversary of their revolution they will ever celebrate.”

Venezuela’s Guaido says he is working with Israel to restore ties

Venezuela’s self-declared leader Juan Guaido says he is working with Israel to restore diplomatic relations between the countries that were severed in solidarity with Palestinians in the wake of the 2008 Gaza war.

“I am very happy to report that the process of stabilizing relations with Israel is at its height,” Guaido tells the Israel Hayom daily. “This is very important to us.”

He says the announcement of resumed ties would be announced “at the proper time.”

Last month, Israel joined the US in officially recognizing Guaido as interim leader of Venezuala as he challenges President Nicolas Maduro’s rule amid a growing humanitarian crisis fueled by falling oil prices and government mismanagement.

Israel Resilience rips Netanyahu security credentials in new campaign videos

The Israel Resilience party releases a series of campaign videos attacking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his dealings with Hamas and Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza Strip.

One of the videos is set against the backdrop of Israeli civilians in Gaza-adjacent communities rushing to bomb shelters with sirens blaring. “Netanyahu pays Hamas murders $15 million every month in cash,” the text on the screen says. “In return, southern residents have been targeted with hundreds of rockets, arson kites and firebombs that have burned tens of thousands of dunams of land.

“We will not abandon southern residents,” the video says.

Posted by ‎בני גנץ – Benny Gantz‎ on Tuesday, 15 January 2019

In another clip the party, led by former IDF chief Benny Gantz, rips into Netanyahu and other top Likud officials over their support for the 2005 disengagement.

“Israel Katz forcibly evicted Jews, Tzachi Hanegbi forcibly evicted Jews, Yuval Steinitz forcibly evicted Jews, Netanyahu forcibly evacuated Jews,” the video says. “That’s not how to make peace.”

In an accompanying Facebook post, the party publishes a list of phone numbers belonging to Netanyahu and other Likud ministers, and called on the public to forward them the campaign videos.

Convening new parliament, Lebanese PM says Hezbollah allowed to keep weapons

Members of Lebanon’s Parliament have begun discussing the new government’s policy statement, which focuses on improving the country’s economic conditions.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri begins the meeting by reading the statement, which calls for reforms in state finances, the economy and the crumbling electricity sector, which costs state coffers about $2 billion a year.

The statement also says that Lebanese citizens have the right to “resist Israeli occupation and repel its aggression.” This is in reference to the right of the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah to keep its weapons.

The new cabinet was announced late last month, breaking a nine-month deadlock that had deepened Lebanon’s economic woes. Hezbollah, along with allied parties, holds a majority in the parliament.

— Agencies

France vows firm response to wave of anti-Semitic vandalism

The French government is calling for a firm response to a series of anti-Semitic acts over the weekend including graffiti and vandalism which have raised fresh alarm.

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux urges police to pursue the culprits while suggesting the spate of attacks could be blamed on far-left and far-right activists who have infiltrated weekly “yellow vest” protests.

Demonstrators have gathered every Saturday in Paris since November to denounce the government of President Emmanuel Macron.

“We’re not talking about the protesters who are struggling to make ends meet,” Griveaux tells France 2 television.

“But those who are committing violent acts, openly anti-Semitic or racist acts, they must be charged and severely punished,” he says.

— AFP

Riots reported at weekly Gaza border protest

Palestinians begin rioting on the beach along the northern Gaza border, as part of weekly maritime protests against the naval blockade of the coastal enclave.

Israeli troops are responding by firing tear gas at the rioters, according to Palestinian media.

The Israeli military does not immediately comment on the protests.

Palestinians have rioted along the northern Gaza border, across from the Israeli community of Kibbutz Zikim, each week against the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, which Israel and Egypt say is necessary to prevent terror groups from importing weapons into the coastal enclave.

— Judah Ari Gross

Archaeologists discover ancient workshop in Egypt’s Sinai

Egypt says archaeologists have uncovered an ancient workshop used to build and repair ships that dates back to the Ptolemaic era (332 BCE-30 BCE) in the Sinai Peninsula.

The Antiquities Ministry says that excavations took place in the Tel Abu Saifi archaeological site in Northern Sinai. The site is said to have been the location of the Roman fortress of Silla.

Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, says the workshop includes two dry dockyards where ships were built or repaired.

The Greco-Roman period in Egypt spans from its fall to Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE to the Islamic conquest in the 7th century.

Egypt hopes such discoveries will spur tourism, which suffered a major setback during the unrest that followed the 2011 uprising.

— AP

In U-turn, Kahlon says he will back PM if indicted after reelection

Reversing his earlier stance, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon says he will back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bid to stay in power if he is indicted for corruption after his reelection.

Kahlon, who has repeatedly said he would not be part of a Netanyahu government if he is indicted, says he will recommend to President Reuven Rivlin to allow Netanyahu to form a government after the April 9 elections.

“We worked well together, I don’t see why we shouldn’t continue working together,” he says according to Channel 12. “Our bloc is very strong.”

Kahlon says Netanyahu would not be able to to remain prime minister without his recommendation.

Kahlon says Israel Resilience leader Benny Gantz, seen as the only threat to Netanyahu in the polls, is “not in the same league” as the prime minister.

Ex-astronaut Mark Kelly announces run for McCain Senate seat

Retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who became a prominent gun-control advocate after his wife, former US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in a failed assassination attempt, announces he will run to finish John McCain’s last term in the US Senate.

Kelly, 54, is a top Democratic recruit to take on Republican Martha McSally in one of the most closely contested Senate races of the 2020 election.

McSally is a former Republican congresswoman who was appointed to McCain’s seat last year after she narrowly lost to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. McSally leaned heavily on her record as the first woman to fly a combat mission as a fighter pilot, but she was hurt by her embrace of US President Donald Trump.

If Kelly is nominated, the race would pit a Navy veteran and astronaut against a trailblazing Air Force pilot in the contest to replace McCain, a legendary Navy flyer who was famously shot down and held captive.

The 2020 election will decide who finishes the last two years of McCain’s term. The winner would have to run again for a full six-year term in 2022.

— AP

Saudi king reaffirms support for Palestinian state ahead of Warsaw summit

Saudi King Salman says the kingdom is committed to an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, ahead of a US-led conference on Middle East peace and security.

The monarch was speaking during a meeting with visiting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Riyadh.

King Salman says his country “permanently stands by Palestine and its people’s right to an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital,” according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

The pledge comes as the United States is expected to offer hints of its proposals for peace between Israel and the Palestinians at a conference in Poland.

— AFP

Rambam emergency room at 210% capacity

The emergency room at Haifa’s Rambam Hospital is at 210% capacity, and all of its other departments are completely full, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.

Patients reported a significantly longer waiting time than usual.

The Kan public broadcaster says the hospital is resorting to use emergency stretchers to cope with the overcrowding.

Turkey detains over 700 over alleged links to coup bid

Turkish authorities detained 729 people in nationwide raids Tuesday over alleged links to a group blamed for a failed coup in 2016, the Ankara public prosecutor’s office said.

Officials had sent to authorities in 75 provinces the names of 1,112 people under investigation over suspected ties to US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen and his movement, it said.

Gulen is accused of ordering the attempted putsch, a claim he strongly denies.

— AFP

Acting Pentagon chief makes surprise Baghdad visit

Acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan makes an unannounced visit to the Iraqi capital for talks on the sensitive issue of a continued US troop presence after Washington withdraws from neighboring Syria.

Shanahan is keen to reassure Iraqi leaders after President Donald Trump angered many by saying he wanted to maintain some troops at the Al-Asad airbase, northwest of Baghdad, to keep an eye on Iran.

The acting defense secretary, who flew in from Afghanistan on his foreign tour since taking office last month, is due to hold talks with Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi and top military advisers, as well as Lieutenant General Paul LaCamera, the commander of anti-IS coalition forces.

“Our main partnership and military activity in Iraq is the de-ISIS (IS) mission,” a senior Pentagon official told journalists traveling with Shanahan, keeping the focus on the fight against Islamic State jihadists.

— AFP

Lavrov: Trump peace deal will undo all Israeli-Palestinian progress so far

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov tells visiting Palestinian officials the Trump administration’s Mideast proposal would destroy all progress made so far in reaching peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

“For more than 2 years US colleagues have been promising to offer a ‘deal of the century,’” Lavrov says, according to the Russian embassy in Israel. “However, the available information makes it possible to evaluate this future ‘deal’ as destroying everything that has been done so far.”

He says Moscow is “unhappy” with the current climate in the region, and sees US involvement as “worrying.”

“We see the greatest danger in the #US position aimed at promoting unilateral approaches, breaking the key international legal basis for resolving the Palestinian problem,” he says.

Lavrov adds that from “what we hear,” the Trump administration deal will not lead to the creation of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The Trump administration is putting the final touches on a “deal of the century” for the Middle East, but is not expected to publish the proposal until after Israel’s elections in April.

Pompeo says Putin threatening democracies worldwide

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warns that Russian President Vladimir Putin posed a threat to democracies worldwide, as he arrived in Slovakia, which is the latest stop on a Central European charm offensive aimed at curbing the growing influence of both Moscow and Beijing.

“Vladimir Putin is intent on undermining democracies throughout the world, make no mistake about it. We should be very candid about that,” Pompeo tells journalism students in the capital Bratislava.

He also warns about the “need to guard against China’s economic and other efforts to create dependence and manipulate your political system.”

Pompeo is seeking to highlight the US role in the fall of communism three decades ago at a time when Putin finds a widening audience in the former Eastern bloc.

— AFP

Likud hits back at Gantz after Netanyahu attack ad

The Likud party hits back after Israel Resilience released a series of campaign videos criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhu for supporting the 2005 Gaza disengagement and his policy regarding Hamas.

In a statement, the ruling party says Netanyahu did not support the Israeli withdrawal, and that he “quit Ariel Sharon’s government in protest.”

“[Israel Resilience chief] Benny Gantz wants second disengagement from [the West Bank], and [PA Prime Minister] Abbas is encouraged by what he says.”

“Netanyahu equals a string right and Gantz equals a weak left,” the statement says.

Trump calls Omar’s apology for Israel tweets ‘lame’

US President Donald Trump calls freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar’s apology for her controversial Israel tweets “lame,” and says that she should resign from Congress or at least not be allowed to serve on committees.

Speaking to reporters during a Cabinet meeting, Trump says that “anti-Semitism has no place in the United States Congress.”

“I think she should either resign from Congress or she should certainly resign from the foreign affairs committee,” he says.

Earlier, the Minnesota Democrat said she had no intention of offending anyone, including Jewish Americans, when she insinuated that lobbyists were paying lawmakers to support Israel. The remark drew bipartisan criticism and a rebuke from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me about my identity,” Omar tweeted. “This is why I unequivocally apologize.”

— Agencies

Mexican drug lord ‘El Chapo’ found guilty by NY jury

Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman, alias “El Chapo,” is found guilty by a New York jury after a three month drug trafficking trial and six days of deliberation.

This file photo taken on February 22, 2014 shows Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman being escorted by marines in Mexico City following his arrest at a resort in Mazatlan, northern Mexico. (AFP PHOTO/RONALDO SCHEMIDT)

The verdict could result in life behind bars for the 61-year-old former head of the Sinaloa cartel, who was accused of smuggling 155 tons of cocaine and other drugs into the United States over a 25-year-period.

— AFP

Gaza teen injured in Friday’s border clashes dies of injuries

A Gaza teenager succumbs to injuries sustained in border clashes with IDF troops last week.

Gaza’s health ministry says 17-year-old Hassan Nofal was hit in the head with a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during clashes east of the Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.

— Adam Rasgon

Netanyahu rejected secret Saudi peace plan after Gaza war — report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a secret proposal from Saudi Arabia to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal at the end of the 2014 Gaza war, according to a Channel 13 news report.

Israeli and Saudi sources familiar with the proposal told the TV station the plan was an “upgraded version of the Arab peace initiative.”

At a closed door meeting in September 2014, Saudi officials proposed to resume negotiations with Palestinians, and Riyadh would lead efforts to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip.

According to the report, the Saudi king’s special envoy, Bandar bin Sultan, and another top official met with Netanyahu in an unnamed third country, and proposed the two countries jointly announce the peace initiative at the UN general assembly later that month.

Netanyahu initially agreed, and presented the Saudi officials with a list of Israeli demands. The Saudis agreed to most of the Israeli document, but told Netanyahu’s negotiators they “also needed to show flexibility” on some of the points.

Sources close to the prime minister said Netanyahu refused, and the talks broke down.

Sources in Saudi Arabia told Channel 13 that Riyadh “went further than they have ever gone,” in the negotiations with Israel, and blamed Netanyahu for the initiative’s failure.

Netanyahu set to depart for US-led Mideast summit in Warsaw

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to depart for Warsaw later this evening to attend an international conference on the Middle East that is seen as a US-led effort to isolate Iran

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet US Vice President Mike Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as visit the city’s Jewish museum and lay a wreath at a memorial for 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

Also attending the conference are foreign ministers of several Arab states, which has led to speculation that Netanyahu might publicly meet or hold talks with some of them.

— Raphael Ahren

Opposition leader apologizes to Belgrade Jews

A Serbian opposition leader apologizes to Belgrade’s Jewish community and denies embracing supporters of a Nazi collaborator in the murder of thousands of Serbian Jews during World War II.

In a bid to bring together both the political left and right, “I certainly used too strong a comparison by saying that I do not care if someone keeps on the wall a picture of (Josip) Broz (Tito) or (Dimitrije) Ljotic,” political activist Sergej Trifunovic says in an open letter.

“If that was too far I apologize to everyone,” he says in response to backlash from local the Jewish community in recent days.

Ljotic was notorious for aiding the Nazi-allied Serbian puppet government that brutally sought to make the country “free of Jews,” killing more than 80 percent of the 33,000-strong community that existed before the war. Tito, on the other hand, was the leader of the anti-fascist movement during the war who went on to head communist Yugoslavia until his death in 1980.

Yesterday, the Serbian Jewish community accused Trifunovic of “heinously equaling those who fought against fascism and those who were helping occupiers in making Serbia a ‘Jewish free’ state.”

— AFP

Facebook removes Israel Resilience post listing phone numbers of Likud MKs

Facebook removes the Israel Resilience party’s earlier post that listed the personal phone numbers of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Likud MKs.

A spokesperson for Facebook Israel is quoted in Hebrew-language media outlets as saying “the post in question violates our community guidelines on privacy, and therefore it has been removed from the platform.

“We don’t allow the publication of personal or confidential information about others without their consent.

Earlier, the Israel Resilience party released a series of attack ads against Netanyahu, along with a WhatsApp link listing the phone numbers, and called on the public to forward them the campaign videos.

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Live updates (closed)

Facebook removes Israel Resilience post listing phone numbers of Likud MKs

Facebook removes the Israel Resilience party’s earlier post that listed the personal phone numbers of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Likud MKs.

A spokesperson for Facebook Israel is quoted in Hebrew-language media outlets as saying “the post in question violates our community guidelines on privacy, and therefore it has been removed from the platform.

“We don’t allow the publication of personal or confidential information about others without their consent.

Earlier, the Israel Resilience party released a series of attack ads against Netanyahu, along with a WhatsApp link listing the phone numbers, and called on the public to forward them the campaign videos.