In parting message to ministers, Eisenkot says it is in Israel’s interest to strengthen PA security forces
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Ministers irked by PM’s decision to go public with Syria strikes — report

Several security cabinet members say Netanyahu’s decision to break with policy of not commenting on such attacks is ‘dangerous’ and could unnecessarily provoke Russia and Syria

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tours northern Israel on January 13, 2019. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tours northern Israel on January 13, 2019. (Haim Zach/GPO)

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

Government extends tenure of interim police chief through elections

The cabinet has approved the request of Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to extend the term of interim Police Commissioner Motti Cohen by four months, until after the national elections in April.

Cohen will now serve in the post until May 17.

Erdan appointed Cohen interim police chief in early December after his candidate for the post, Moshe Edri, withdrew his candidacy amid a public scandal over his conduct.

Cohen was only given the post for a 45-day period as the government sought to bring forward a new candidate. But the Knesset’s dissolution on December 24 stymied those plans, as nominations for senior posts are legally questionable during an election period.

Former Kadima MK Shlomo Molla announces he’s joined Meretz

Shlomo Molla, the former Kadima party MK and deputy Knesset speaker, announces that he has joined the Meretz party.

“While the crazy, fascist right is sowing hatred… I’ve decided to join Meretz,” says Molla in a statement.

Molla served as a Kadima MK from 2008 to 2012. In 2013, he ran on Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua slate, but the party did not win enough votes to allow him to return to the Knesset.

MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima) wants his party to abandon the coalition immediately. (photo credit: Nati Shohat/FLASH90)
MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima) (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)

Energy minister in Cairo for Middle East natural gas summit

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz arrives in Cairo to participate in a meeting about the region’s natural gas, a spokeswoman for the minister says.

In addition to Steinitz, Egyptian Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister Tarek al-Molla, energy ministers from Jordan, Cyprus, and Greece and representatives of the PA and Italy will participate in the meeting, the spokeswoman adds.

— Adam Rasgon

Woman pronounced dead after West Bank car crash

Emergency medics pronounce the death of a woman in her mid-twenties after her vehicle was struck by a truck in the central West Bank.

The woman and another man were driving on Route 60 near the Kochav Yaakov settlement when they collided with the truck.

The man, in his 30s according to Magen David Adom medics, has been rushed to the Hadassah Medical Center in serious condition.

The cause of the accident was not immediately clear.

Ministers approve appointment of current, former Kulanu MKs to security cabinet

Ministers have approved the appointment of Economy Minister Eli Cohen and Immigration Minister Yoav Gallant to the security cabinet.

Cohen will fill the spot in the cabinet reserved for the Kulanu party that was vacated when Gallant joined the Likud party last week.

Tear gas canister explodes outside Foreign Ministry, lightly injuring guards

Police say they have responded to a report of a tear-gas canister that exploded outside the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, lightly injuring a number of security guards at the scene.

The cause of the small blast was not immediately clear.

Egyptian, Jordanian premiers discuss revamping peace process

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi meets with Jordanian King Abdullah in Amman where the two discuss revamping the Middle East peace process.

The two leaders stress the importance of working to resume negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians on the basis of a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as the future capital of the Palestinian state.

Environmental Protection Ministry warns of air pollution increase through nighttime

The Environmental Protection Ministry warns of unusually high air pollution levels to last through the nighttime hours.

Dust storms in Egypt that are traveling north to Israel are expected to impact the entire country.

The pollution levels are expected to return to normal by tomorrow morning, the ministry says.

Man and woman in their 70s found stabbed to death in Jerusalem apartment

A man and a woman in their 70s have been found stabbed to death in their apartment in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Authorities are investigating the circumstances of the deaths.

Lapid, Livni in merger talks to form center-left bloc — report

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and Hatnua chairwoman Tzipi Livni are in serious talks to merge their two parties into a broad center-left bloc ahead of the elections.

The two have met several times over the past week after Labor chair Avi Gabbay ended his partnership with Livni on live television and broke up the Zionist Union.

According to the Haaretz daily, Livni has agreed to cede the number one spot on such a merger list with Lapid.

The Yesh Atid chairman is reportedly seeking to unite with Livni after failing to bring in voters from the center-right over the past three years.

Lapid hopes that if enough voters are attracted to a Lapid-Livni list, he will be able to court former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, Haaretz reports.

Palestinians say settlers destroyed 1,000 seedlings in northern West Bank

Dozens of settlers wrecked some one thousand young plants in Burqa, a northern West Bank village, on Sunday, a Palestinian Authority official says.

“Fifty settlers from Homesh came and destroyed approximately one thousand young plants,” Ghassan Daghlas, a PA official who monitors settlements in the northern West Bank, tells The Times of Israel.

Homesh is a settlement that was cleared in 2006 as part of the disengagement from Gaza. While the IDF placed a closed military zone order on it, a yeshiva has continued to operate on the site on a near-daily basis.

An IDF spokeswoman refers questions to the police, but a police spokesman does not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The official PA news site Wafa first reported settlers destroyed the plants in Burqa.

Daghlas adds the PA Agriculture Ministry and the Burqa Municipality recently brought the plants to the area as a part of a project to turn it into a nature reserve.

He says the plants had yet to be planted into the ground when the settlers destroyed them.

— Adam Rasgon

Iran denies report that Nasrallah undergoing cancer treatment

Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani has denied reports that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is currently receiving treatment for cancer.

“The recent claims by the Zionists that Nasrallah is sick are the biggest lie of the year,” he states.

Leading national religious rabbi condemns murder of Aisha Rabi

A prominent national religious rabbi has condemned the deadly October stoning of a Palestinian vehicle in the northern West Bank.

Har Etzion yeshiva co-head Rabbi Yaakov Meidan addressed the murder of Aisha Rabi during a lesson earlier today at the religious seminary.

Meidan told his students he was approached by a local TV channel to be interviewed on whether he thought it was permissible for far-right activists to drive on the Sabbath in order to coach the suspects in Rabi’s murder how to withstand Shin Bet interrogations. A number of prominent national religious rabbis signed off on the move, saying the security agency’s tactics could be life-threatening.

“Everyone is talking about whether what the Shin Bet did is okay or not. I do not hear any such shouts regarding the Arab woman, a mother of (eight) children, who was killed by a stone thrown, also on the Sabbath,” Meidan tells his students, according to the Kipa news site.

“What happened to this woman, at the hands of our camp, should have caused a greater outcry. You cannot take the mother of (eight) children and smash her skull,” he declares.

Nuclear chief says Iran exploring new uranium enrichment

The head of Iran’s nuclear program said the Islamic Republic has begun “preliminary activities for designing” a modern process for 20-percent uranium enrichment for its 50-year-old research reactor in Tehran, signaling new danger for the nuclear deal.

The comment on state television from Ali Akbar Salehi increases the pressure on the international community as 20-percent enrichment would mean Iran has abandoned the terms of the 2015 atomic accord.

US President Donald Trump already pulled America out of the accord in May and resumed sanctions on Tehran. So far, United Nations inspectors say Iran continues to comply with the deal’s terms, which limits enrichment to 3.5 percent.

Salehi said “we are at the verge” of being ready, without elaborating in his remarks.

The US donated the reactor to Iran in 1967.

— AP

Nurse planned to assassinate Likud bad-boy Likud MK — report

Israeli authorities have foiled an attempt to assassinate Likud lawmaker Oren Hazan.

Hebrew media reports that a nurse working at the medical center where Hazan was hospitalized last year had planned to kill the Likud MK.

However, the nurse’s mother discovered her son’s plans and reported the matter to police.

The Nazareth resident has since been arrested.

Hazan has responded to the news with a statement declaring that “no terrorist will shut him up.”

Iran foreign minister in Baghdad for talks

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meets with his Iraqi counterpart in Baghdad for wide-ranging talks, including on US sanctions against Tehran.

The visit comes just days after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a surprise stop on his regional tour to urge Iraq to stop relying on Iran for gas and electricity imports.

Washington has granted Baghdad a waiver until late March to keep buying Iranian gas and power, despite reimposing tough sanctions on Tehran in November.

— AFP

Police suspect Jerusalem couple were murdered in Armon Hanatziv apartment

While initial reports deemed the two dead bodies found in an apartment in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood to have been the result of a murder-suicide, police now suspect that the man and woman were murdered.

After strikes in Syria, Netanyahu threatens to hit Iranian targets even harder

After confirming that Israel bombed an Iranian weapons depot in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns that the Jewish state will hit even harder, if that is what is necessary to prevent Iran from gaining a military foothold in Syria.

Netanyahu makes the remarks as he tours areas in the northern Galilee to review the end of a Israel Defense Forces operation aimed at locating and destroying tunnels dug under the border from Lebanon, which Israel says the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group intended to use for a massive assault on the country.

The prime minister repeats his open admission, made earlier in the day at a cabinet meeting, that Israel was behind the attack on a weapons depot at Damascus International Airport, carried out on Friday night.

“This reflects our consistent policy and firm determination to prevent Iran’s military build-up in Syria, and if necessary we will also intensify these attacks,” Netanyahu says. “We will continue to monitor all the activities of Hezbollah and Iran and its proxies, and we will do what is necessary to ensure Israel’s security.”

Palestinian wounded by Israeli fire dies, Gaza health ministry says

A Palestinian wounded by Israeli fire during Gaza border protests and clashes three weeks ago has died from his wounds, the Hamas-run health ministry in the enclave says

Anwar Quday, 33, was wounded in the neck east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, said ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra.

At least 242 Palestinians have been killed since protests and clashes with Israeli forces erupted along the Gaza border on March 30.

— AFP

Abbas to chair bloc of developing countries at UN

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will assume the chairmanship of the largest bloc of developing countries at the United Nations on Tuesday in New York City, Nabil Abu Rudeinah, Abbas’s spokesman, says in comments published on the official news site Wafa.

In July, the bloc, known as the Group of 77, chose the “State of Palestine” to serve as its next leader.

Abbas spokesman adds the PA president will deliver a speech upon receiving the chairmanship of the group, in which he will “express our people’s appreciation for the election of the State of Palestine to chair this important bloc.”

The Group of 77 is a consortium of 134 developing countries that often works together in the UN General Assembly. The body was originally founded in 1964 with 77 countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Thailand and India. Over the years it has grown to include countries such as South Africa, Qatar, Cuba, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Singapore, and Angola, and currently represents some 80 percent of the world’s population.

Abu Rudeinah also says the Palestinians taking over the chairmanship of the Group of 77 constitutes “a historic and important event.”

In October 2018, the General Assembly voted by an overwhelming majority to temporarily grant Palestine additional rights and privileges, allowing it to head the Group of 77.

While it serves as the leader of the body, Palestine will be able to cosponsor proposals and amendments, make statements, and raise procedural motions.

In October, both Israel and the US expressed strong opposition to granting the Palestinians extra rights at the UN.

— Adam Rasgon

Far-right Le Pen launches European elections campaign

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has launched her party’s campaign for the European elections, pledging to beat President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party in the vote.

Le Pen, leader of the National Rally (RN), formerly the National Front, presented the first 12 candidates on her list before a crowd of some 2,000 supporters in Paris.

“If Emmanuel Macron does not have the wisdom to change policies, if he does not have the wisdom to return to the people” by dissolving parliament for fresh elections, voters will express their discontent at the European elections, Le Pen says.

The European Parliament elections will be held May 23 to 26.

At the campaign launch, Le Pen slamms Macron over the “yellow vests” protests, which have seen hundreds of thousands of people protest since November, against the president’s policies and leadership.

She accused Macron of “blindness” and “intransigence.”

Macron scored an easy victory over Le Pen in the second round of France’s May 2017 presidential election.

— AFP

Iraq says it supports Syria’s return to Arab League

Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohamed Alhakim says his country supports efforts to restore Syria’s membership in the Arab League eight years after it was expelled from the regional body.

Iraq is one of three countries in the Arab world that never cut ties with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government after its crackdown against anti-government demonstrations in 2011 led to civil war. Syria was cast out of the Arab League the same year.

Alhakim received Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif in Baghdad today. Iran has remained a steadfast backer of Assad throughout Syria’s conflict.

The two ministers discussed Syria and other regional issues, Alhakim says at a press conference after their meeting. They also discussed economic ties between their two countries in light of recent US sanctions against Iran.

— AP

Top Republicans oppose border ’emergency’ as shutdown drags on

Top Republican lawmakers are warning against Donald Trump declaring a national emergency to secure funds for a border wall, signaling doubts within the president’s party as a government shutdown was set to enter a fourth workweek.

Senator Ron Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, tells CNN that he would “hate” to see Trump invoke emergency powers for a wall.

“If we do that, it’s going to go to court and the wall won’t get built,” he says.

And Representative Steve Scalise, the number two House Republican, tells ABC, “We don’t want it to come down to a national emergency declaration,” even if he believes Trump has the authority to do so.

Trump only recently backed away from talk of an emergency declaration, after pressing it for days as a way out of the continuing budget standoff.

— AFP

Ministers irked by PM’s decision to go public with Syria strikes — report

Several members of the security cabinet are reportedly frustrated with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to publicly announce that Israel was responsible for airstrikes targeting Syria over the weekend.

Anonymous officials tell the Kan public broadcaster that Netanyahu’s decision to break with traditional Israeli policy of not commenting publicly on such strikes was “dangerous” and could unnecessarily provoke both Russia and Syria.

In farewell speech to Eisenkot, Rivlin says outgoing IDF chief was ‘our number one soldier’

Bidding farewell to Gadi Eisenkot, President Reuven Rivlin referred to the outgoing IDF chief of staff as “our number one soldier”

“You are our number one soldier for standing up for your principles and not just on the battlefield,” says Rivlin at a farewell ceremony honoring Eisenkot.

“You were stately, modest, a top-notch strategist, and a ‘people person.’ You designed the IDF as a quality and groundbreaking army.”

In parting message to ministers, Eisenkot says it is in Israel’s interest to strengthen PA security forces

In his final appearance before the cabinet today, outgoing IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot tells ministers that it is in Israel’s interest to strengthen and work with the Palestinian Authority security forces.

Channel 10 reports that Eisenkot told the cabinet that even over the past few days, the PA security forces have thwarted Hamas terror attacks targeting Israelis.

While the IDF chief acknowledged that the PA has its own interest in going after Hamas, their efforts still play out in Israel’s favor.

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Live updates (closed)

In parting message to ministers, Eisenkot says it is in Israel’s interest to strengthen PA security forces

In his final appearance before the cabinet today, outgoing IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot tells ministers that it is in Israel’s interest to strengthen and work with the Palestinian Authority security forces.

Channel 10 reports that Eisenkot told the cabinet that even over the past few days, the PA security forces have thwarted Hamas terror attacks targeting Israelis.

While the IDF chief acknowledged that the PA has its own interest in going after Hamas, their efforts still play out in Israel’s favor.