Gantz’s faction releases videos branding leader as terror-crushing peace-seeker
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Amid rumors of failing health, Hezbollah leader to give TV interview

Hassan Nasrallah grants sit-down to channel affiliated with Lebanese terror group; is expected to address IDF destruction of northern border attack tunnels after months of silence

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah speaks on June 29, 2018. (YouTube screenshot)
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah speaks on June 29, 2018. (YouTube screenshot)

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

Syria says it thwarted rare daylight missile attack from Israel

Syrian state media reports Israel conducted a rare daylight missile attack in southern Syria.

The Israeli military refuses to comment on the reported strike.

The regime mouthpiece SANA says the country’s air defenses “effectively addressed” the incoming Israeli attack and “prevented it from achieving its objectives.”

Defense analysts often dismiss the Syrian military’s routine claims of successful interceptions.

— Judah Ari Gross

Police officers start using body cameras in Tel Aviv region

Israel Police inaugurate a new initiative in the Tel Aviv area in which thousands of officers are being issued body cameras.

Other regions will also start using the cameras in the coming months, police said.

At a ceremony officially introducing the cameras, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan says they will be particularly important in gaining the trust of Ethiopian Israelis, who have long protested what they see as unfair treatment by the police.

The launch comes days after Yehuda Entnech Biadja, a young man of Ethiopian descent, was shot dead by officers in Bat Yam after he ran toward them brandishing a knife, according to the police. Biadga’s family say police used excessive force and treated him with suspicion because of the color of his skin.

Liberman again presents himself as hardline hawk in new election campaign

Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman unveils his Yisrael Beytenu’s election campaign, launching at attack on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “confused and capitulating” leader and promising that he instead will “not be cowed” by threats others have given into.

Speaking at a press conference in Tel Aviv flanked by posters declaring he will stand up to the BDS movement, the rights group B’Tselem, the ultra-Orthodox, Hamas and Joint (Arab) List MK Ahmad Tibi alike, Liberman again tries to present himself as a tough-guy hawk who will keep the government “on the right path.”

“We are the only party acts according to right-wing values, and doesn’t just talk about them,” the Yisrael Beytenu chair says.

“We stick to our principles, not our seats,” he adds, referencing his November decision to resign from the government, which he said he did out of a principled stance in defense of the beleaguered residents of southern Israel after a ceasefire agreement that he opposed was reached with Hamas.

— Raoul Wootliff

‘Making inroads into Muslim world,’ PM lauds reestablishment of ties with Chad

N’DJAMENA, Chad — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Chadian President Idriss Déby announce the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, bringing the number of countries that Israel has formal ties with to a record of 161.

“Chad is a very important country, and very important for Israel,” Netanyahu says.

“There is a lot that we can do together. We talked about ways to deepen our cooperation in every field, beginning with security, but also agriculture, food, water, energy, health and many more.”

“I believe that this cooperation will build a better, safer and more prosperous future for both our peoples.

Deby responds, saying, “Chad will do everything it can to strengthen the ties between the two countries and the bilateral cooperation in various matters.”

Chad severed ties with Israel in 1972 due to pressure from Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

— Raphael Ahren

Iranian women protest US arrest of state TV journalist

Dozens of women stage a protest in Tehran calling for the release of an Iranian state TV journalist arrested in the United States.

The demonstrators waved pictures of Marzieh Hashemi at the rally in front of the Swiss Embassy, which handles US interests in the Islamic republic.

US-born Hashemi, who works for Iran’s English-language Press TV, was held on arrival at St Louis Lambert International Airport on January 13, according to family and friends cited by Press TV.

Hashemi, a Muslim convert who changed her name from Melanie Franklin, had reportedly been visiting her ill brother and other family members.

A US court on Friday confirmed the arrest, saying her testimony is required over an unspecified case but that she is not accused of a crime.

— AFP

IDF: Iron Dome intercepts rocket fired at Golan Heights

The Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted a rocket fired at the northern Golan Heights, the army says.

PM in Chad: We’re turning Israel into a rising world power

Speaking at a press conference at President Idriss Déby palace in N’Djamena, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel is “making inroads into the Muslim world.”

“We are being welcomed here respectfully, just as we welcomed President Deby with great respect in Israel. Israel is making inroads into the Muslim world. This is the result of a great effort made over the last few years. We’re making history, and we’re turning Israel into a rising world power.”

— Raphael Ahren

Prime suspect in murder of Palestinian woman has remand extended four more days

The Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court has extended the remand of the prime suspect in the killing of a Palestinian woman for an additional four days.

The court has accepted the police’s request for more time to complete their investigation into the death of Aisha Rabi, who was struck in the head with a large stone while driving with her husband and daughter in the northern West Bank on October 12.

On Tuesday, state prosecutors informed the court that they intend to indict the Jewish teen suspected of involvement in the killing of the 47-year-old mother of eight.

Police said then that the prosecution intends to file charges against the suspect “in the coming days.”

A Justice Ministry official told The Times of Israel that the state is planning to charge the suspect with manslaughter, a crime whose maximum sentence is 20 years behind bars.

The minor was arrested on December 30 along with two other students from the Pri Haaretz yeshiva high school in the northern West Bank settlement of Rehelim. A week later, two more boys from the same boarding school were arrested. The other four have since been released to house arrest.

Turkish employee of US Consulate indicted for espionage

Turkish prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for a local employee of the United States consulate in Istanbul accused of attempting to overthrow the government and espionage.

A 78-page indictment against Turkish national Metin Topuz, jailed since October 2017, said Topuz was in “very intense contact” with police officers who led a 2013 anti-corruption investigation that implicated top government officials.

The Turkish government is accusing US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen of attempting a coup with that investigation and labeled his network a terror group. Gulen is also blamed for the 2016 failed coup but he denies the accusations.

A judge will decide whether the case will proceed to trial.

Topuz’s arrest led to the suspension of bilateral visa services for more than two months.

— AP

Russian military asserts Israeli missiles did not succeed in damaging Damascus airport

The Russian military reiterates the Syrian government’s claims that Israel conducted an airstrike on targets near Damascus.

Syrian-operated Pantsir and Buk air defense systems destroyed seven Israeli missiles, the Kremlin-backed Sputnik news site reports.

“The airport’s infrastructure was not damaged. There are no victims, and no damage,” a military spokesman tells the news site.

According to the Russian Army, the attack was conducted by four Israeli F-16 fighter jets.

— Judah Ari Gross

Attack on UN base in Mali kills 8 peacekeepers

Gunmen killed at least eight Chadian UN peacekeepers in an attack Sunday on one of their bases in northern Mali, says a source close to the MINUSMA force.

“According to a new toll, still provisional, at least eight peacekeepers have been killed,” the source says.

The attacked happened early Sunday at the Aguelhok base 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Kidal, the source adds.

— AFP

Gantz’s faction releases videos branding leader as terror-crushing peace-seeker

The Israel Resilience party has released a series of campaign videos highlighting the accomplishments of its leader Benny Gantz during the 2014 Gaza war while also stressing the importance of pursing peace with the Palestinians.

The first ad points out that 1,364 terrorists were killed in Operation Cast Lead, which was followed by three and a half years of “quiet.” The video concludes with the statement, “only the strong are victorious.”

The second ad similarly highlights Israel’s 2014 military campaign against Hamas during which Gantz served as IDF chief of staff. “Parts of Gaza returned to the stone age,” the ad states, adding that 6,231 targets were destroyed by Israel

A third video shows footage of an Israeli airstrike that killed Ahmed Jabari, the acting head of Hamas’s military wing in 2012.

“Ahmed Jabari, the Hamas murder mastermind responsible for the abduction of Gilad Shalit, was feeling safe,” the video caption states before flashing to the explosion that killed the terror group leader. “[IDF] chief of staff Gantz thought differently.”

But despite the militaristic nature of the videos, Gantz also releases a separate video titled “I can’t accept that there will be a complete generation here with no hope,” He calls for “striving and working toward” peace and an end to the need to “send our children to fight.”

200 grapevines uprooted in alleged hate crime in Jordan Valley settlement

An Israeli farmer says he arrived at his fields in the Jordan Valley settlement of Tomer this morning to find some 200 grapevines destroyed.

The farmer is accusing neighboring Palestinians of carrying out an “agricultural terror attack” and called on police to investigate the incident.

PM suggests Israel behind daylight strike targeting Damascus airport

Speaking to reporters at the N’Djamena International Airport in Chad, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to suggest that Israel was responsible for the airstrikes earlier today that targeted Damascus International Airport.

“We have a permanent policy to damage Iranian entrenchment in Syria, and (to hurt) anyone who tries to hurt us,” Netanyahu says. “This policy doesn’t change, whether I am in Israel or on a historic visit in Chad.”

PM confirms he discussed issue of African migrants in Israel with Chad’s Deby

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells reporters that he discussed the issue of African migrants in Israel with Chad President Idriss Deby during his visit in N’Djamena.

Netanyahu said he did not ask Chad to serve as a “third country” to which Israel would expel asylum seekers, but the prime minister refused to elaborate on what exactly he did discuss with Deby.

Hundreds gather for funeral of Ethiopian Israeli shot dead by police

Hundreds gathered at a cemetery in Holon for the funeral of an Israeli of Ethiopian descent who was shot dead by police.

Authorities say 24-year-old Yehuda Biadga charged at officers with a knife, leading them to shoot him twice in the chest. However, relatives are accusing police of using excessive force and said Biadga had mental health issues.

6th soldier arrested for beating bound and blindfolded Palestinian suspects

The IDF has arrested a sixth soldier suspected of involvement in the brutal beating of two Palestinian detainees last month, Hebrew media reports.

Earlier today, the army announced that it plans to indict five soldiers, who it believes attacked the two suspects “when they were handcuffed and blindfolded.”

The two Palestinians had been arrested in a raid conducted as part of a search for a terrorist who had killed two of the servicemen’s comrades in a shooting attack outside the Givat Assaf outpost in the central West Bank.

Holocaust victims buried after remains found in UK museum

The remains of six unidentified Holocaust victims have been buried at a Jewish cemetery after spending years in storage at a British museum.

The Imperial War Museum found the ashes and bone fragments during a stock-taking last year. They had been given to the museum, along with other items from the Auschwitz concentration camp, by an anonymous donor in 1997.

Tests determined the remains belonged to five adults and a child. Hundreds of mourners watched as they were buried Sunday at a cemetery outside London, in a coffin with earth from Israel.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who delivered a eulogy, says the victims “were stripped of their dignity, both in life and in death. And we will now have an opportunity to accord them appropriate dignity with a funeral.”

— AP

Ridiculing new campaign, New Right says Gantz ‘fell asleep on duty’ during Protective Edge

Ridiculing the new video campaign released by Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party, which touts the ex-IDF chief’s accomplishments during the 2014 Gaza war, the New Right claims the top officer “fell asleep on duty” during Operation Protective Edge.

The New Right claims that its co-head Naftali Bennett fought to have the military address Hamas’s attack tunnels from Gaza into Israel while Gantz pushed back on the education minister’s calls.

“For 50 days he hesitated, showed no initiative, showed no creativity and failed to defeat Hamas,” the New Right says in a statement.

Lebanon uses Arab summit to call for return of Syria refugees

Lebanon is urging world powers to step up efforts for Syrian refugees to return home regardless of a political solution to the conflict in its war-wracked neighbor, as it hosted Sunday an Arab summit

It also proposed the creation of an Arab bank to finance reconstruction in Arab countries devastated by conflicts such as Syria and Yemen.

President Michel Aoun makes the calls at the opening of the fourth annual Arab Economic and Social Development Summit, which was marred by the glaring absence of most Arab heads of state.

“Lebanon calls on the international community to make all efforts possible and provide suitable conditions for a safe return of displaced Syrians… without linking that to a political solution,” Aoun says.

There are currently 5.6 million Syrian refugees living in the region, including around one million born into displacement, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

Lebanon hosts some 1.5 million Syrians who have fled the civil war raging across the border.

— AFP

Egypt says security forces killed 14 militants in Sinai

Egyptian security forces say they’ve killed 14 militants and seized a ton of explosives in an operation in the restive northern part of the Sinai Peninsula.

They say that their offensive involved clashes with Islamic militants in desert areas outside the city of el-Arish, adding that the extremists had intended to plant roadside bombs in areas between there and the cities of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweyid.

Other weapons caches including explosives were found in the more central Sinai Jabal al-Halal mountain area.

The officials speak anonymously as they weren’t authorized to brief reporters.

The army has been battling extremist insurgents led by Islamic State militants in north Sinai for years. The area is off limits for journalists, diplomats and other observers so information from there cannot be independently verified.

— AP

Rescue forces searching for man in Dead Sea

Rescue forces are currently searching for an unidentified man who entered the Dead Sea near the Avnat settlement and has yet to return, police say.

Police forces and volunteers from the police’s rescue unit, who were called to the site with the help of a rescue helicopter, are conducting searches to locate the man.

Bomb blast in a bus kills 3 civilians in Syria’s Afrin

A bomb blast in a bus has killed three civilians in the northern Syrian city of Afrin on the first anniversary of a Turkish attack on the Kurdish-majority region, a war monitor says.

Nine other people, including fighters, have been wounded in the explosion, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, tells AFP.

Turkish troops and allied rebel groups seized the Afrin region from Kurdish forces in March last year after a two-month air and ground offensive.

“The explosion is the result of a bomb that was placed in a bus in the center of Afrin,” Abdel Rahman says.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the blast, the second to rock Afrin since December 16, 2018, when a car bomb killed at least nine people, including five civilians, near a pro-Turkey rebel post in the city.

— AFP

UN agency says not aware of plan to close East Jerusalem schools

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees says it is not aware of a reported plan by Israel to close its schools in East Jerusalem.

Hadashot news reported on Saturday night that the country’s national security council had made a decision to close the schools starting next academic year.

It said the students would be absorbed by schools run by Israeli authorities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office did not confirm the report to AFP.

The UN agency, known as UNRWA, says it “was not notified of any decision to close down schools it operates in East Jerusalem.”

“We deliver services and maintain facilities in East Jerusalem since 1950 under our General Assembly mandate,” it says in a statement.

“This mandate includes East Jerusalem as part of our operational area.”

It adds that Israel was party to commitments obligating it to protect the agency’s operations in areas under its authority.

— AFP

Amid claims of failing health, Hezbollah’s Nasrallah to give TV interview later this week

Amid reports of his failing health, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah will give an interview to the al-Mayadeen TV channel affiliated with the terror group at the end of the week.

Nasrallah has not made a public appearance in weeks, sparking reports that he was nearing death. However, officials in Iran and Lebanon have rebuffed the claims.

The interview will take place on Saturday evening. Nasrallah gives an interview to al-Mayadeen around this time each year.

Syria launched surface-to-surface rocket in response to Israeli raid — reports

In a highly irregular move, the rocket that was intercepted over the Golan on Sunday was fired from Syria deliberately, according to Israeli media, as a retaliatory attack in response to an airstrike earlier in the day, which was widely attributed to Israel.

In the past, most incoming projectiles following Israeli airstrikes were believed to be errant anti-aircraft missiles, rather than intentionally fired offensive surface-to-surface rocket attacks, as was the case on Sunday, army officials told a number of news outlets.

The rocket was shot down by the Israeli military’s Iron Dome missile defense system before it breached Israeli airspace, causing no damage.

It is not immediately clear how the IDF, and its new commander Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, would respond to the Syrian attack. Kohavi began his tenure last week and was visiting the IDF Northern Command at the time of the rocket attack.

The projectile was fired shortly after Syrian state media said Israel had conducted a rare daylight missile attack in and around Damascus.

— Judah Ari Gross

Responding to NYT op-ed criticizing Israel, US Ambassador says Arabs ‘can’t do better’ than living in Jewish state

US Ambassador David Friedman responds to an op-ed in The New York Times criticizing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, saying that an “Arab in the Middle East who is gay, a woman a Christian or seeking education and self improvement can’t do better than living in (the Jewish state).”

In her op-ed published on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, civil rights activists Michelle Alexander writes, “If we are to honor King’s message and not merely the man, we must condemn Israel’s actions: unrelenting violations of international law, continued occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, home demolitions and land confiscations. We must cry out at the treatment of Palestinians at checkpoints, the routine searches of their homes and restrictions on their movements, and the severely limited access to decent housing, schools, food, hospitals and water that many of them face.”

Egypt sentences TV host to jail over gay interview

An Egyptian court has sentenced a television host to one year in prison for interviewing a gay man last year, a judicial source says.

Mohamed al-Gheiti, who has expressed his stance against homosexuality on several occasions, was accused of promoting homosexuality and contempt of religion.

The misdemeanors court in Giza also fined him 3,000 Egyptian pounds ($147), and ordered he be put under surveillance for one year after serving his sentence, said Samir Sabri, the lawyer who brought the case against him.

The verdict can be appealed, and it can be suspended if Gheiti pays bail of 1,000 pounds pending the outcome of the appeal, says Sabri.

In August 2018, Gheiti hosted a gay man on his talk show on the private LTC TV station and discussed homosexuality on air.

During the interview, the gay man, whose face was blurred to hide his identity, said he was a sex worker and openly talked about his relationship with another man.

After the interview was aired, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, Egypt’s top media body, suspended the channel for two weeks for “professional violations.”

— AFP

Third Qatari cash installment to Hamas to go through this week after delay, diplomat says

The latest $15 million installment from Qatar to Hamas in Gaza will be transferred later this week, a Qatari diplomat tells the Reuters agency.

On January 7, Israel reportedly asked Qatar to delay its monthly delivery to the strip after a rocket was fired from the coastal enclave at southern Israel.

“Due to the violence on the border, the Israeli government postponed it. The agreement is subject to there not being too much violence, so last Friday they (Israel) approved to do the third tranche,” Qatar’s Gaza Strip Reconstruction Committee head Mohammed Al-Emadi tells Reuters.

Police assert no evidence of stone throwing uncovered at site of crash that killed Israeli woman

Amid assertions by the relatives and community of an Israeli woman killed last week in a car accident that the crash had been caused by stone-throwing, police assert that there was no such evidence uncovered at the scene.

Moreover, police say that no incidents of stone-throwing were reported around the time of the crash outside the Ateret settlement in the central West Bank that killed Hadas Tapuchi.

Nonetheless, police say they are still probing the incident and looking into all possibilities that might have caused the crash.

The Ateret settlement’s security coordinator independently reached out to an IDF tracker last week, who said he found signs of white powder at the scene hours after the crash, which suggested “something had been thrown there” recently.

 

Iraqi prime minister visits Basra, months after unrest

Iraq’s new prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, has visited Basra, a city that last summer saw riots over acute water pollution and crippling power outages.

Demonstrators at the time set fire to nearly every government building in the unrest, as anger over failing services reached a boiling point.

Abdul-Madi, who was confirmed in his post in October, has made it a priority to restore services to Iraq’s second largest city and the country’s main hub for oil.

But local officials say Basra is being neglected by the central government and they are demanding a larger share of federal revenues in Parliament.

Video published by the Prime Minister’s Office shows surprised residents kissing the premier and handing him business cards, on an unannounced walk through the Ghadir neighborhood.

— AP

Mayor of Arab town chastises Israeli government’s silence to resident’s murder in Australia

The hometown mayor of an Israeli student murdered in Australia last week chastised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin for their silence over the incident.

“In less than 48 hours, Australian police and security forces were able to locate and arrest the suspect of the brutal murder. Coverage of the unfortunate incident, from the very first day after the murder, made headlines all over the world,” writes Baqa al-Gharbiya Mayor Morsi Abu Mouk.

“But we have been disappointed to see that until now, days after the abominable murder and the extensive coverage of the tragic incident, we have not heard a single word or statement from any senior Israeli official,” he adds, pointing out that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison quickly condemned the incident and paid a visit to the crime scene.

EU slaps sanctions on Syrians, Russians over attacks

The European Union is imposing sanctions on Russians blamed for a nerve agent attack in Britain and a Syrian research center as the bloc steps up its action against the use of chemical weapons.

EU foreign ministers on Monday slapped travel bans and asset freezes on nine people and on Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center.

Five of those targeted are linked to the Syrian center’s activities. The four Russians on the list are the two men accused of planting the nerve agent in Salisbury last March and their superiors, the head and deputy head of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence unit.

The ministers said in a statement that the sanctions move “contributes to the EU’s efforts to counter the proliferation and use of chemical weapons, which poses a serious threat to international security.”\

— AP

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Gantz’s faction releases videos branding leader as terror-crushing peace-seeker

The Israel Resilience party has released a series of campaign videos highlighting the accomplishments of its leader Benny Gantz during the 2014 Gaza war while also stressing the importance of pursing peace with the Palestinians.

The first ad points out that 1,364 terrorists were killed in Operation Cast Lead, which was followed by three and a half years of “quiet.” The video concludes with the statement, “only the strong are victorious.”

The second ad similarly highlights Israel’s 2014 military campaign against Hamas during which Gantz served as IDF chief of staff. “Parts of Gaza returned to the stone age,” the ad states, adding that 6,231 targets were destroyed by Israel

A third video shows footage of an Israeli airstrike that killed Ahmed Jabari, the acting head of Hamas’s military wing in 2012.

“Ahmed Jabari, the Hamas murder mastermind responsible for the abduction of Gilad Shalit, was feeling safe,” the video caption states before flashing to the explosion that killed the terror group leader. “[IDF] chief of staff Gantz thought differently.”

But despite the militaristic nature of the videos, Gantz also releases a separate video titled “I can’t accept that there will be a complete generation here with no hope,” He calls for “striving and working toward” peace and an end to the need to “send our children to fight.”