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EU backs Iran trading system but notes ‘serious concerns’ over missile program

While restating ‘unwavering’ commitment to saving 2015 nuclear deal, Europe warns Tehran over development of ballistic weapons and interference in Syria

Hoveizeh, Iran's new cruise missile, is seen during an exhibition in the capital Tehran on February 2, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
Hoveizeh, Iran's new cruise missile, is seen during an exhibition in the capital Tehran on February 2, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

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

Austria shares responsibility for Holocaust, vising president tells Rivlin

Visiting Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen tells President Reuven Rivlin that his nation shares responsibility for the Holocaust, and that his country is striving to ensure that Jews everywhere can live in safety.

“Austria bears shared responsibility for the Holocaust. Many Austrian citizens took part, and we bow our heads in memory of the victims in humility and respect,” Van der Bellen says at a welcoming ceremony at the presidential compound in Jerusalem. “We admitted our shared responsibility too late and that caused problems in our relations at the beginning.”

“Our aim is to ensure that Jews everywhere feel safe. It is our responsibility as Austrians to the victims of the Holocaust to ensure that we live in peace and agreement with Israel,” he says according to a statement released by Rivlin’s office.

At the ceremony, Rivlin thanks his Austrian counterpart for being a “true friend of the State of Israel and of the Jewish people.” The president also tells Van der Bellen that Israel views the Iranian regime as an “enemy that wishes to destroy Israel,” and says that Hezbollah’s “aggression” in the region must be stopped.

The two leaders are scheduled to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum later this afternoon.

France backs Guaido to lead Venezuela

French President Emmanuel Macron says he recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president of Venezuela and urges him to hold a new presidential election shortly.

Macron also declares that Venezuelans “have the right to express themselves freely and democratically.”

Moments after Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian said France is recognizing Guaido, Macron posts a message on Twitter to express his support for the head of the Venezuelan congress.

At least eight other European nations have done the same after current Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro defied their call to resign and hold a new vote. Sweden said the vote that brought Maduro to power was not free or fair.

— AP

Germany recognizes Venezuela opposition chief as acting president

Germany is joining several other European countries in recognizing Venezuela’s opposition chief Juan Guaido as interim leader after President Nicolas Maduro rejected their ultimatum to announce new presidential elections.

“As of yesterday, no presidential election had been called,” Chancellor Angela Merkel says during a visit to Tokyo. “Therefore, Guaido is the person we are talking to and we expect him to begin an election process as soon as possible.

“He is the legitimate interim president for this task from Germany’s point of view and from the point of view of several European countries,” she adds. “We hope that this process can be carried out as quickly and peacefully as possible.”

— AFP

Body found in plane wreckage of soccer player Sala

British investigators say they spotted a body in underwater images of the wreckage of the plane carrying footballer Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson that disappeared in the Channel two weeks ago.

“Tragically, in video footage from the ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle), one occupant is visible amidst the wreckage,” the Air Accident Investigation Branch says in a statement.

— AFP

Israel asks Facebook to roll out anti-election meddling measures earlier than planned

The Central Elections Committee is asking Facebook roll out its anti-meddling measures in Israel ahead of the April 9 elections earlier than planned.

A month after it was revealed that the Shin Bet security agency had intelligence proving that a foreign country intends to influence the upcoming election via online meddling, committee chair Justice Hanan Melcer is requesting the social media giant “re-examine the possibility of bring forward, as much as possible, its preparations on the subject,” in order to “preserve the integrity of elections and reduce unfair influence on voters.”

Last month, Facebook announced it would introduce rules that require all Israeli ads dealing with national or political issues to verify the source and identify who paid for the ad. A spokesperson for Facebook on Monday declined to say if the company would accede to Melcer’s request and introduce the tools early, saying only that it would provide an answer directly to the Central Elections Committee “in the near future.”

— Raoul Wootliff

2 injured in bus, car crash in northern Jordan Valley

Two people are injured in a head on collision between a bus and a private vehicle in the Jordan Valley area of the northern West Bank.

Magen David Adom paramedics evacuate the injured passengers — a man in his 20s and a man in his 30s — to the Rambam hospital in Haifa with moderate to severe injuries.

The crash occurred on Route 578, just off Route 90, at the entrance of the settlement of Ro’i.

Canada to aid countries hit by Venezuela crisis

A senior Canadian official says the country will announce new humanitarian assistance for countries most affected by the Venezuelan refugee crisis.

The official says the announcement will come later today at a meeting of nations that have recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president of his crisis-torn country.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland are hosting the meeting of the Lima Group, a regional bloc of 13 countries that have been vocal in denouncing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The official says Venezuela will need substantive international support because the economic and social reconstruction effort in the country will be monumental.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity for lack of authorization to discuss it before an official announcement.

— AP

EU says social media giants now better at removing hate speech

The European Union says major social media firms have stepped up their efforts to remove hate speech online.

EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said that the 2016 code of conduct “works well,” with companies like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter reacting within 24 hours in an average 89 percent of the cases pointed out to them.

The companies remove the content, on average, in 72 percent of the cases. Jourova said she would never require that all flagged content be removed since the fundamental right of freedom of expression needs to be respected too.

EU statistics show that YouTube removed 85.4 percent of the contested content, Facebook 82.4 percent and Twitter 43.5 percent.

Jourova says that, together with the companies, “we found the right approach.”

Despite the progress on hate speech, the EU still wants big tech companies to work harder to combat fake news online, particularly ahead of EU parliament elections in May.

— AP

Deri bars senior Hamas member from leaving Israel

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri signs an order barring a senior Hamas member Oweis Hamada from leaving Israel for at least a month.

A statement from Deri’s office says that Hamada is a “key Hamas activist… who maintains regular contact with terrorist operatives abroad.” The order was signed after Deri become “convinced that Hamada’s departure from the country is liable to damage national security and increase the risk of terrorist activity in Israel.”

Deri’s order is set to expire in a month, at which time the minister can either extend it or let it lapse.

According to the Hamas website, Hamada is a resident of the Sur Baher neighborhood of Jerusalem. He was imprisoned by Israel in 2002 for his activities in the terrorist group, and released in 2012.

2 injured in Jordan Valley car crash are soldiers — IDF

The two men injured in the Jordan Valley car crash this afternoon are soldiers, the IDF says.

An officer was moderately wounded and a soldier was lightly injured in the crash between a private vehicle and a bus outside the settlement of Ro’i on Route 578. The army says the crash happened during “routine activities” in the area.

— Judah Ari Gross

French Eurovision contestant a ‘punching bag’ after old tweets on Israel, terror attacks resurface

France’s Eurovision Song Contest hopeful Bilal Hassani is complaining of becoming a “punching bag” after the Moroccan-origin singer drew criticism over postings online about Israel and terror attacks in France.

Hassani, 19, who was born in France to Moroccan parents, became an inspiration to LGBT teenagers last month after being picked to represent France at the Eurovision contest in May.

The youngster was accused by online critics of trivializing terrorism and making controversial remarks about Israel while he was in his early teens.

“Leave me alone, leave me in peace… I’m a human being like anyone and they take me for a punching bag,” he tells the Parisien newspaper.

A video from 2018 has surfaced in which Hassani and two friends declare “France suffered a lot, attacks here, attacks there. Oooh!” to hoots of laughter. A tweet from August 2014 in which he accused Israel — which will host the Eurovision — of a “crime against humanity” during a ground offensive in Gaza has also been shared online.

In another tweet earlier that year, which has also been resurrected, then 14-year-old Hassani appeared to defend controversial comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, a convicted anti-Semite.

Hassani tells Le Parisien that at the time of the tweets he was “young and stupid” and that other people might have posted the messages under his name.

IDF issues demolition order for homes of Palestinian terror suspects

The Israel Defense Forces announces its intention to demolish the homes of two Palestinian terrorists who allegedly conducted two shooting attacks within a week in December.

The brothers Salih and Asem Barghouti are believed to have carried out the December 9 terrorist attack outside the Ofra settlement in which seven Israelis were injured, among them a seven-months pregnant woman, who was seriously wounded. The woman’s baby was delivered in an emergency operation, but died days later.

Salih Barghouti was shot dead on December 12 in Kobar as he attacked Israeli security forces in an attempt to evade arrest, the army said. A day later, Asem Barghouti opened fire at a bus stop outside the Givat Assaf outpost near Ramallah, killing two soldiers stationed there and seriously injuring a third serviceman and a civilian woman, according to the IDF.

Asem Barghouti was arrested in the home of an alleged accomplice in the village of Abu Shukheidim on January 8.

On January 20, the military notified the family of Asem Barghouti of its plans to destroy his home in the West Bank village of Kobar. The families appealed the decision, but the court upheld the IDF’s plan to demolish the home.

Today, the head of the Central Command Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan, who has authority over the West Bank, signed the official demolition order for his home, which means the structure will likely be razed in the coming days .

In addition, the IDF today informed the Barghouti family of its intention to demolish the apartment where Salih lived. The family has three days to appeal this decision.

— Judah Ari Gross

US-backed Syrian fighters capture German IS jihadist

US-backed Syrian fighters say they have captured three foreign members of the Islamic State group, including a German jihadi.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces announce in a statement they had detained a German citizen, who has adopted a jihadi alias, on February 1.

The SDF says it also detained a Saudi Arabian and an Egyptian.

Alleged Islamic State (IS) group fighters who fled the Syrian village of Baghuz, near the Iraqi border, sit blindfolded in the back of a pickup truck after being taken into custody by SDF forces on January 30, 2019. (Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)

The SDF has captured, with US military support, wide areas in eastern Syria from the Islamic State group.

The Kurdish-led force is holding more than 700 non-Syrian IS fighters from more than 40 countries. Few of them have been returned to their home nations.

— AP

Argentinian security forces hold large-scale drill at Israeli embassy

Argentinian security forces held a large-scale drill at the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aries yesterday.

According to local media reports, the exercise involved over 400 members of Argentina’s police and military, and simulated a hostage-taking scenario inside the embassy.

Footage of the drill aired on local TV showed commandos rappelling from a helicopter onto the roof of the building.

Israeli officials did not take part in the exercise, though several embassy employees played the part of the hostages.

The drill as held as a surprise, alarming neighbors and Israelis who arrived at the embassy yesterday afternoon. As soon as it began, the military and the Israeli embassy issued alerts to calm fears.

Visiting UAE, pope urges equal citizenship rights in Middle East

Pope Francis calls for equal citizenship rights and religious freedom in the Middle East during the first visit by the head of the Catholic church to the Arabian Peninsula.

“I look forward to societies where people of different beliefs have the same right of citizenship and where only in the case of violence in any of its forms is that right removed,” he tells an inter-faith meeting in Abu Dhabi.

Supreme Court orders tax increase on rolling tobacco

The High Court has ordered Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to raise the tax on rolling tobacco to equal the rate of taxes on cigarettes.

In their decision, Jusices Dafna Barak-Erez, George Kara, and Alex Stein say that rolling tobacco is “the same functional product” as cigarettes and the tax discrepancy was “aimed at directing behaviors that have an impact on health.”

The decision comes in response to a High Court petition filed by several anti-smoking groups.

Lapid says Netanyahu will ‘end up in jail’ if not re-elected

Chairman of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid says that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is focusing his re-election campaign on the alleged mishandling of the criminal cases against him in an effort to stay out of jail.

“These elections can’t be about Netanyahu’s investigations. That’s what he wants,” Lapid says in an English-language statement released by the opposition party. “We can’t let him have his way. These elections are about our lives.”

“He wants elections on investigations because if he wins he believes he’ll have a mandate to shut down the investigations,” Lapid says. “He wants power because power gives him the ability to save himself. From his perspective if he won’t be in power, he’ll end up in jail.”

“Netanyahu tried to intimidate the police, the police recommended indicting him. He tried to intimidate the prosecutors, they said there is evidence and that the evidence says he broke the law. He’s trying to intimidate the press. A direct attack on freedom of speech,” Lapid adds.

“There’s another reason that Netanyahu wants these elections to be about the investigations: If they’ll be about anything else, he’ll lose.”

Witness points to lead suspect Nemmouche as Jewish museum gunman

A young Frenchwoman on Monday pointed to Mehdi Nemmouche as the gunman at the Jewish museum in Brussels on May 24, 2014, the first witness at his trial to do so.

Nemmouche, a 33-year-old Frenchman, faces life in prison if convicted of the four museum murders. Nacer Bendrer, 30, accused of supplying the weapons, also faces a life term.

“Does one of the two defendants remind you of the man you saw?” the trial’s presiding judge asked the witness in the Brussels criminal court.

A court sketch made on January 10, 2019 shows Mehdi Nemmouche (C), accused of the terrorist attack at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in 2014, during his trial at the Brussels Justice Palace. (Benoit PEYRUCQ / AFP)

“That one,” the woman said, nodding her head and pointing to Nemmouche.

“You said you recognized one of the defendants. To be very clear, is it the one between the two police officers in balaclavas (Nemmouche) or the other one?” the judge asked.

“Between the two men in balaclavas,” the woman stuttered.

The young woman said she had a look at the gunman on the day of the shooting after approaching the museum upon hearing the first gunshots.

— AFP

Domino’s CEO publicly apologizes after rats spotted in kitchen of Haifa restaurant

The CEO of Domino’s Pizza in Israel is publicly apologizing after rats were spotted the kitchen of one of its restaurants last week.

Footage of at least four of the rodents feasting on dough or flour inside and around a pizza tray last Thursday forced the temporary shuttering of the Domino’s in Merkaz Hacarmel, an upscale neighborhood of Haifa, according to reports.

“I started making pizzas for Domino’s 22 years ago,” Yossi Elbaz says in the video posted on Facebook. “Like you, I was shocked by the video showing pests at the Merkaz Hacarmel branch in Haifa. I would like to apologize for that from the bottom of my heart.”

Rats seen eating pizza at a branch of Domino’s Pizza in Haifa on February 1, 2019 (Screencapture/Ynet)

“In a business selling food to clients, there is no place for such mishaps. I have closed the branch, and I promise we won’t open it until we ensure such a mishap won’t happen again,” he says.”

Yair Netanyahu accuses Rivlin of plotting to oust his father if re-elected

Yair Netanyahu accuses President Reuven Rivlin of planning to oust his father from power by refusing to approve his government if he is re-elected prime minister in April.

In a series of tweets, the prime minister’s son claims that Rivlin will instead task longtime Likud member Gideon Sa’ar of forming a governing coalition.

“Ruby Rivlin is just waiting until after elections to refuse to give my father the task of forming a government, even in Likud wins, and instead giving it to his good friend, Gideon Sa’ar,” he says.

Yair Netanyahu accuses the Israel’s main TV news broadcasts, Channels 12 and 13, along with “the rest of the left-wing media” of favoring Sa’ar.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long had a rocky relationship with the media and accuses it, along with police and prosecutors, of being part of a witch hunt to force him from office.

Yesterday, he launched a new weekly webcast to “get rid of the fake from the news,” ahead of national elections in April. In a Facebook video, Netanyahu said the webcast would “only cover the reality, and I will continue to ensure that it will be positive.”

Nasrallah: Netanyahu inciting against Lebanon for slamming Hezbollah inclusion in government

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah says Netanyahu is inciting Western powers against Lebanon a day after after the prime minister blasted the country for including the Iran-backed terrorist group in its newly-formed Lebanese government.

“The new Lebanese government is not controlled by Hezbollah,” Nasrallah says in a speech broadcast by its al-Manar TV channel.

“The new Lebanese Health Minister is close to Hezbollah, but not a member of the party,” he says.

“The Zionist PM is inciting US, European countries, and the Gulf states against the Lebanese government, claiming it is controlled by Hezbollah,” Nasrallah says.

PM Netanyahu speaking to visiting UN ambassadors outside his Jerusalem office, February 3, 2019 (Haim Tzach/GPO)

Yesterday, Netanyahu told a group of 40 UN ambassadors that Iran was in control of the Lebanese government via its proxy Hezbollah.

“Iran has proxies. One of them is Hezbollah. Hezbollah just joined the government of Lebanon. That’s a misnomer; they actually control the government of Lebanon,” Netanyahu said. It means that Iran controls the government of Lebanon.”

US asks nations to repatriate, prosecute jihadists from Syria

The United States is urging countries to repatriate and prosecute at home Islamic State sympathizers captured in Syria, a delicate issue for allies such as France, as Washington withdraws troops.

“The United States calls upon other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens” detained by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, State Department spokesman Robert Palladino says in a statement.

— AFP

Poll shows surge in support for Gantz has staying power

A new poll has found that the popularity of the Israel Resilience party is holding steady a week after it surged in opinion polls following the maiden speech by party leader Benny Gantz last week.

But despite the leap in the number of seats Gantz’s party is expected to win in the April 9 general election, Netanyahu still remains the best placed to form a governing coalition.

Gantz’s party, which he formed just last month, could win between 21-24 seats in the 120-member Knesset, according to opinion polls conducted by Israel’s three main television stations, following his speech last Tuesday. Before last week, Israel Resilience was slated to win between 12-15 seats.

According to a Haaretz-Dialog poll published today, Gantz’s party has kept up the support over the last week, showing that Israel Resilience is on track to win 22 seats in April.

Netanyahu’s ruling right-wing Likud party, which currently holds a quarter of the Knesset seats, has been projected to win 30 or 31 seats in recent opinion polls. Today’s Haaretz-Dialog poll shows Likud maintaining its voter base, projecting the ruling party to take 30 seats in the upcoming elections.

Palestinian killed after attacking IDF troops in northern West Bank — reports

Two Palestinian men were shot as they attacked a group of IDF soldiers at an army post in the northern West Bank, according to reports in Palestinian media.

One of the men was killed, the second was wounded, according to the reports.

Reports conflicted over the nature of the attack on the Israeli troops. Some outlets say the Palestinian men opened fire at the servicemen, while others say they threw an explosive device at the soldiers.

A third Palestinian man was also said to have been involved in the attack.

The military says it is aware of the reports, but refuses to comment further.

— Judah Ari Gross

IDF confirms Palestinian shot dead near Jenin while carrying out attack

The IDF confirms reports of a clash between Palestinians and Israeli troops in the northern West Bank.

According to the military, two Palestinian men threw an explosive device at soldiers guarding the Jalameh Crossing near Jenin.

In response, the servicemen opened fire at the assailants, killing one of them and injuring the second.

No IDF soldiers were injured in the altercation, the army says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Likud’s Sa’ar hits back after Yair Netanyahu’s putsch claim

Gideon Sa’ar hits back at Yair Netanyahu, who claimed earlier today that the former Likud minister was plotting to oust his father from power even if he wins the April election.

Sa’ar tells Channel 13 that “even the prime minister hasn’t repeated this nonsense.”

“It was ridiculous from the beginning,” he says. “I don’t have a problem with the prime minister’s son… but I don’t take seriously what he says.”

Yesterday, Netanyahu claimed that Sa’ar was maneuvering behind his back to be tasked with cobbling together the next government if the Likud party wins the upcoming April elections.

Netanyahu’s comments, made on a newly launched Likud internet media channel, came ahead of the party’s primaries, in which the prime minister is expected to secure his position as party leader and Sa’ar is also predicted to place high.

This afternoon, Yair Netanyahu repeated his father’s claim, and accused President Reuven Rivlin on social media of being part of the putsch plot, along with Sa’ar.

EU backs Iran trading system, but notes ‘serious concern’ over Syria, missiles

The EU is warning Tehran over its ballistic missile program and interference in the Syria conflict, while at the same time welcoming a new mechanism to trade with the Islamic Republic designed to bypass US sanctions.

In a long-awaited statement on Iran, the EU criticizes Tehran’s “provision of military, financial and political support to non-state actors in countries such as Syria and Lebanon.”

“The (EU) Council has serious concerns regarding Iran’s military involvement and continuous presence of Iranian forces in Syria,” the statement says.

“Iran continues to undertake efforts to increase the range and precision of its missiles, together with increasing the number of tests and operational launches. These activities deepen mistrust and contribute to regional instability,” the statement said.

— AFP

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IDF confirms Palestinian shot dead near Jenin while carrying out attack

The IDF confirms reports of a clash between Palestinians and Israeli troops in the northern West Bank.

According to the military, two Palestinian men threw an explosive device at soldiers guarding the Jalameh Crossing near Jenin.

In response, the servicemen opened fire at the assailants, killing one of them and injuring the second.

No IDF soldiers were injured in the altercation, the army says.

— Judah Ari Gross