Interior Committee approves Shabbat bill ahead of final votes
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Report: Foreign Ministry says Iran demos weaken regime, threaten its stability

Classified ministry document said to say increasingly critical tone adopted by protesters shows Iranians no longer afraid of demonstrating

University students attend a protest inside Tehran University while a smoke grenade is thrown by anti-riot Iranian police, in Tehran, Iran, December 30, 2017. (AP Photo)
University students attend a protest inside Tehran University while a smoke grenade is thrown by anti-riot Iranian police, in Tehran, Iran, December 30, 2017. (AP Photo)

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

Rouhani says Iran will respond to ‘rioters and lawbreakers’

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says Monday that the Iranian people will “respond to rioters and lawbreakers” protesting around the country in recent days.

“Our nation will deal with this minority who chant slogans against the law and people’s wishes, and insult the sanctities and values of the revolution,” he says in a statement on his official website.

“Criticism and protest are an opportunity not a threat. The nation will themselves respond to the rioters and lawbreakers.”


Shin Bet breaks up alleged Hamas cell planning West Bank attacks

Israeli security forces break up an alleged Hamas terrorist cell planning to carry out attacks in the West Bank, arresting five of its members in November, the Shin Bet security service reveals Monday.

The cell was led by Alaa Salim, a resident of the Palestinian West Bank town of Jaba, north of Jerusalem, but it received its directions from Abdallah Arar, a known Hamas terrorist living in the Gaza Strip, the Shin Bet says.

Arar, who was convicted for his involvement in the kidnapping and murder of Israeli man Sasson Nuriel in 2005, was released to the Gaza Strip from an Israeli prison six year later as part of a contentious prisoner exchange to secure the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was being held hostage by Hamas.

The service warns that the Gaza-based terrorist group was increasingly trying to carry out attacks in the West Bank and Israel.

— Judah Ari Gross

Interior Committee approves Shabbat bill ahead of final votes

The Knesset Interior Committee approves a bill that would shutter mini-markets on Shabbat, clearing its way for its final plenum votes.

Despite concerns the coalition may lack the necessary votes to pass the bill in its second and third readings, a vote on the draft legislation is expected later today.

The opposition and the coalition’s Yisrael Beytenu party are refusing to have one MK skip the votes to compensate for the absence of Likud MK Yehudah Glick, whose wife died this morning.

PA condemns Likud party vote to annex parts of West Bank

The Palestinian Authority condemns the Likud Central Committee’s unanimous vote calling on the party’s leaders to annex parts of the West Bank and allow unlimited settlement construction.

In a statement carried by the PA’s official Wafa new agency, government spokesman Yousef al-Mahmoud calls yesterday’s resolution “an outrageous violation of the resolutions of international legitimacy, especially the resolutions of the United Nations and the Security Council, as well as an irony and contempt for the entire UN system.”

“The Palestinian land that includes the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, foremost of which our eternal capital Jerusalem, is a land occupied by Israel along with other Arab territories, namely Sinai and the Golan, following the unfortunate aggression of 1967,” he says.

Mahmoud says “laws imposed by [Israeli] military force and domination” have no authority in the West Bank and Gaza.

Hamas calls Likud vote for partial West Bank annexation ‘an escalation’

Hamas calls a resolution passed by the Likud Central Committee calling for annexing parts of the West Bank and allowing for unlimited settlement building “an escalation” prompted by US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem last month as Israel’s capital.

“The #Likud extremist party decision of #annexing #West Bank to occupation sovereignty is an escalation related to #Trump’s decision in the absence of Arab reaction,” the terror group says on its Twitter account.

Abbas says Israel, US ‘not interested in a just and lasting peace’

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas vows to hold Israel “accountable” this year for “its grave and systematic violations of international law.”

“We shall make important decisions during 2018, including regarding legal venues, in order to hold Israel accountable for its grave and systematic violations of international law, and to revisit agreements signed with Israel,” says Abbas, according to the PA’s official Wafa news agency.

Responding to a Likud Central Committee vote yesterday calling for parts of the West Bank to be annexed, Abbas says the resolution “could not be taken without the full support of the US administration, who have refused to condemn Israeli colonial settlements as well as the systematic attacks and crimes of the Israeli occupation against the people of Palestine.”

He says the vote is “part of Israel’s plan to erase the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.”

“We hope that this vote serves as a reminder for the international community that the Israeli government, with the full support of the US administration, is not interested in a just and lasting peace. Rather its main goal is the consolidation of an Apartheid regime in all of historic Palestine,” he adds.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (C) looks on after laying wreath of flowers on the tomb of the late Yasser Arafat during a celebration marking the 53rd anniversary of the creation of the Fatah party in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 31, 2017. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)

Lapid says Yesh Atid prepared to fight Shabbat bill in court

Yair Lapid says his Yesh Atid party is prepared to go to court if a bill that would shutter mini-markets on Shabbat passes into law.

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, December 18, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Speaking at a Yesh Atid faction meeting, Lapid says ultra-Orthodox parties are backing the bill because they “want to show they can tell secular and traditional people how to live.”

“We’ll fight this law with all our strength here in the Knesset, in the court, in the streets and the [city] squares. This isn’t a war over religion, this is a war for freedom and for the right to vote, and so no one will tell us how to live,” he says.

Rouhani blames Saudis for Iran protests

Iranian President Rouhani says Saudi Arabia and other unnamed countries are behind the anti-regime protests sweeping Iran due to their anger over his country’s “success in the region.”

“These [accomplishments] have angered our enemy. Our unity was a bullet (arrow) in their eyes and our progress and success in the world of politics and against the US and the Zionist regime was not bearable to them,” the semi-official Fars news agency reports Rouhani as saying.

“They (the Saudis) have blatantly said that we will create problems in Tehran,” he says.

Blasting regime, Trump says ‘time for change’ in Iran

Reacting to ongoing anti-regime protests in Iran, US President Donald Trump tweets it’s “TIME FOR CHANGE!”

“Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration. The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!” says Trump.

Bennett warns failure to pass Shabbat bill could topple government

Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett warns coalition members that not passing a bill that would shutter mini-markets on Shabbat could lead to the government’s fall.

Education Minister and Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on December 11, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We have also voted for things we didn’t like,” says Bennett at a Jewish Home faction meeting, according to the Walla news site. “But to everyone there is something important.

“For us personally essential things are important and if they continue to play games this will dismantle the government and we’ll go to elections,” Bennett warns.

The coalition’s Yisrael Beytenu party is opposed to the bill.

Two Christians killed in New Year’s attack on Egypt liquor store

CAIRO — A gunman kills two Copts celebrating the New Year in an Egyptian alcohol shop today, judicial and security sources say, in the latest deadly violence against the Christian minority.

The shooting comes just three days after a gunman, identified as a wanted jihadist, killed nine people in an attack on a church south of the capital.

An assailant rode up in the back of a motorcycle taxi and opened fire on the liquor store in Cairo’s twin city Giza at around 1:30 a.m. local time, when the streets were still bustling with New Year’s revelers, the sources say.

The store’s Coptic owner survived but two of his friends who were celebrating with him were killed.

Police are still investigating the motive of the attack, the sources say.


Intelligence minister: Israel not behind Iran protests, but wants regime to fall

Intelligence Minister Israel Katz denies that Israel is responsible for the protests breaking out across Iran over the past week, though he says Israel does fully support them.

“Israel is not involved in the commotion in Iran, but other than that, we’re involved in everything else — we want to see this depressing regime get replaced by a democratic government,” Katz tells the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

“We wish the Iranian people tremendous luck in trying to get democracy,” he says.

Katz also reiterates an accusation he’s made in several forums, that Iran is actively assisting terrorist groups, like Hamas, in the Gaza Strip, as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“Over the past few days we’ve seen direct Iranian involvement in Gaza. Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas are working to upgrade the threat against Israel from Gaza,” he says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Bennett says Lapid ‘Meretz in a blue and white costume’

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett attacks Yair Lapid, accusing the Yesh Atid party leader of trying to use hawkish rhetoric to conceal left-wing views.

“Today Lapid attacked the application of [Israeli] law in Ofra, Tekoa and Eli as a ‘gift to BDS,'” tweets Bennett.

Bennett attacks Lapid’s “vision” for a Palestinian state, which the Jewish Home leader says will lead to a “Palestinian flag in ancient Jerusalem.”

Bennett says Lapid is “Meretz in a blue and white costume,” referring to the left-wing political party.

Shas head slams opposition as ‘irresponsible’ ahead of Shabbat bill votes

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri slams the “irresponsible behavior” of the opposition and the coalition’s Yisrael Beytenu party in the lead-up to the final votes later today on a bill that would shutter mini-markets on Shabbat.

InteriorMinister Aryeh Deri attends a memoral ceremony for Shas founder Ovadia Yosef in Jerusalem on October 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The behavior of the opposition is irresponsible and I also include within this Yisrael Beytenu,” says the head of the ultra-Orthodox party.

The opposition and Yisrael Beytenu are refusing to have one MK skip the votes on the bill to offset the absence of Likud’s Yehudah Glick, whose wife died earlier today.

Deri vows the bill will become law despite the coalition’s difficulties in mustering a majority.

Soldier-slapping Palestinian teen indicted for assault, incitement

A military court indicts 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi and her mother Nariman over an incident last month in which they were filmed slapping IDF soldiers in the West Bank village of Nebi Saleh.

Ahed is charged with assaulting soldiers over the December 15 episode, while Nariman is indicted for “her involvement in the attack.” The indictment against the 16-year-old cites a total of 12 counts, which took into account five other squabbles with IDF soldiers she was alleged to have taken part in over the past several years.

The Military Advocate General requests that both Ahed and Nariman be remanded until the end of proceedings against them.

— Jacob Magid

Netanyahu, Putin agree to meet soon to ‘discuss regional developments’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister’s Office says.

The PMO says the two leaders agreed to meet soon in order to “discuss regional developments.”

It doesn’t say what they are speaking about on their phone call.

Hundreds attend funeral of Likud MK’s wife

Hundreds of people attend the funeral of Likud MK Yehudah Glick’s wife Yaffa, who died earlier today.

Among those in attendance are government ministers and lawmakers from both the coalition and opposition.

Eulogizing his wife, Glick says, “You taught me to say ‘I love you.'”

Yaffa Glick’s death has pitted a number of coalition parties against the opposition and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, who are refusing to have one MK skip today’s final votes on a bill that would shutter mini-markets on Saturday to compensate for Glick’s absence.

Trump slams Pakistan for ‘lies & deceit’ in New Year’s tweet

ISLAMABAD — US President Donald Trump slams Pakistan for “lies & deceit” in a New Year’s Day tweet that said Islamabad had played US leaders for “fools.”

“No more,” Trump tweets.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has no official comment but Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif tweets that his government was preparing a response that “will let the world know the truth.”

The uneasy relationship between the United States and Pakistan has been on a downward spiral since the 2011 US operation that located and killed Osama bin Laden in the military garrison town of Abbottabad, about 118 kilometers (65 miles) from the capital Islamabad.

Trump ratcheted up the pressure last year when he announced his Afghan strategy that called out Pakistan for harboring Afghan Taliban insurgents, warning it would have to end.

— AP

California ushers in New Year with legal marijuana

LOS ANGELES — Some Californians are raising blunts instead of glasses as they usher in the new year.

A law allowing the state’s first legal retail pot sales went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

Johnny Hernandez, a tattoo artist from Modesto, was celebrating New Year’s Eve by smoking “Happy New Year blunts” with his cousins.

Hernandez, who is a medical marijuana user, says legalizing recreational pot is “something we’ve all been waiting for.”

The 29-year-old says he also hoped that the legalization of recreational, adult-use marijuana will help alleviate a stigma some believe still surrounds marijuana use.

About 90 businesses received state licenses to open on New Year’s Day. They are concentrated in San Diego, Santa Cruz, the San Francisco Bay Area and the Palm Springs area.

— AP

Liberman hits back at Bennett over election warning

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman responds to Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s warning that a failure to pass a bill that would prevent mini-markets from opening on Shabbat could bring early elections.

Liberman, whose Yisrael Beytenu party opposes the bill, accuses Bennett’s Jewish Home of having a history of bringing down right-wing governments.

“Since the good old days of the National Religious Party, the Jewish Home in all its variations has a long tradition of toppling right-wing governments,” Liberman tells Ynet.

Liberman describes Bennett and Shas leader Aryeh Deri, the bill’s main backer, as “messianic.” He accuses them of “trying to impose their authority on the residents of Israel,” which he says runs counter to the views of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the godfather of Israel’s right wing.

The defense minister also addresses criticism over Yisrael Beytenu and the opposition’s refusal to have one MK skip the final votes on the bill to compensate for the absence of Likud MK Yehudah Glick, whose wife died earlier today.

“I don’t understand why [the coalition] needs to insist on holding a vote on the mini-market bill in the Knesset when one of the Likud members is burying his wife,” he says.

Liberman criticizes the coalition for refusing to delay the second and third plenum readings for the bill, which are scheduled for this evening.

‘Significant improvement’ in health of security guard hurt in Jerusalem stabbing

Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center says there has been a “significant improvement” in the condition of a security guard who was seriously wounded in a stabbing attack at the city’s central bus station last month.

The hospital says Asher Elmaliach remains in intensive care but is no longer breathing through a ventilator and can “communicate with his surroundings.”

His attacker, Yasin Abu al-Qar’a, a 24-year-old Palestinian, was charged in a Jerusalem court last week with “a terrorist act of attempted murder” and entering Israel illegally.

Interrogation of Likud MK put off over Shabbat bill vote

Police delay an interrogation of David Bitan scheduled for Tuesday after the Likud lawmaker requested it be put off so he could attend the final plenum votes on a bill that prevents minimarkets from opening on Shabbat.

It would’ve been the fifth time police question Bitan. He is suspected of having taken loans from a crime family when he served as deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion and, when he was unable to repay them, offering favors in exchange for forgiveness of the loans.

Netanyahu denies Rouhani’s claim Israel behind Iran protests: ‘It’s laughable’

“I heard today Iran’s President Rouhani’s claim that Israel is behind the protests in Iran. It’s not only false, it’s laughable,” says Netanyahu in a video message in English.

“Unlike Rouhani, I will not insult the Iranian people. They deserve better.”

Netanyahu applauds the “brave” demonstrators and their calls for “freedom” and “justice.”

“Brave Iranians are pouring into the streets. They seek freedom. They seek justice. They seek the basic liberties that have been denied to them for decades,” he says.

The premier says “Iran’s cruel regime” has spent “billions of dollars spreading hate” rather than building schools and hospitals for its own citizens.

Netanyahu chides European governments for staying silent as “heroic young Iranians are beaten in the streets.”

He says “Iranians and Israelis will be great friends once again” after the Islamic Republic collapses, which “one day it will.”

Pence: US won’t repeat ‘shameful mistake’ of not backing Iranian protesters

US Vice President Mike Pence says the Trump administration will not repeat the “shameful mistake” of not expressing support for Iranian demonstrators.

“As long as @RealDonaldTrump is POTUS and I am VP, the United States of America will not repeat the shameful mistake of our past when others stood by and ignored the heroic resistance of the Iranian people as they fought against their brutal regime,” tweets Pence.

“The bold and growing resistance of the Iranian people today gives hope and faith to all who struggle for freedom and against tyranny. We must not and we will not let them down,” he adds.

Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama has been accused by critics of not speaking out forcefully enough in support of demonstrators during mass anti-regime protests in Iran in 2009.

Iranian media: Fresh protests break out in Tehran

TEHRAN, Iran — Fresh protests break out in Tehran as night falls, with images of burning cars on local media and online reports of heavy police presence.

The conservative-linked Fars news agency shows a burning car, while social media reports says relatively small groups are chanting anti-regime slogans in downtown parts of the capital.

“A troublemaker set fire to a taxi and immediately fled,” says the Mehr news agency in one of the few reports by local media.

Monday marks the fifth day of unrest in Iran that began with anger over the state of the economy and soon turned against the Islamic regime as a whole.

The intelligence ministry releases a statement saying that “rioters and instigators of recent unrest have been identified and some have been arrested.”


German FM says Iran must respect right to protest, calls for calm on ‘all sides’

Minutes after Prime Minister Netanyahu chides European leaders for not speaking out in support of Iranian protesters, Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel calls for calm in Iran and for the Islamic Republic to respect demonstrators right to protest, Reuters reports.

“We appeal to the Iranian government to respect the rights of the demonstrators to assemble and to peacefully raise their voices,” says Gabriel. “After the confrontations of recent days, it is all the more important that all sides refrain from violent actions.”

IDF: Palestinian arrested in West Bank for running at soldiers with knives

The IDF says it arrested a Palestinian who ran at soldiers while he was holding two knives, at the Beit Anoun Junction, near Hebron.

The Palestinian was tackled to the ground and subdued without shots being fired, the army says.

No Israeli soldiers are injured.

— Judah Ari Gross

A knife recovered by soldiers from a Palestinian man who ran at IDF troops while carrying the blade, at the Bein Anun junction in the West Bank, on January 1, 2018. (IDF)

Bahrain foreign ministry issues travel warning for Iran

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The Persian Gulf state of Bahrain calls on its citizens not to travel to Iran, “under any circumstances,” because of street protests there.

In a statement on Twitter, the Foreign Ministry also urges any Bahrainis in the Islamic Republic to leave immediately.

It cautions that Iran was seeing “large-scale disturbances and an unstable security situation,” as well as “grave acts of violence.”

Shiite Muslims, the majority in the small kingdom of Bahrain, generally travel to Iran for religious reasons.

Relations between the Sunni-ruled monarchy and Shiite Iran are strained over allegations by Manama that Tehran interferes in its internal affairs.

Bahrain is the first Arab state in the Gulf to issue a travel warning for Iran where 10 people were killed overnight, in the worst street violence so far since protests broke out on Thursday.


Syria’s Assad replaces defense minister with military chief of staff

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrian President Bashar Assad replaces his defense minister for the first time since 2012, as part of a government reshuffle, the state news agency SANA announces on Monday.

“President Assad issued a decree, the first of 2018, naming General Ali Abdullah Ayoub minister of defense,” the agency says, without providing any explanation for the surprise announcement.

The 65-year-old was until now the chief of general staff of the armed forces. He replaces Fahd Jassem al-Freij.

Freij took over in July 2012 after predecessor Daoud Rajha was killed in the bombing of a command centre in Damascus, together with his deputy Assef Shawkat, who was Assad’s brother-in-law.


Report: Foreign Ministry says Iran demos weaken regime, threaten its stability

A classified Foreign Ministry document on the anti-government demonstrations in Iran says the protests are weakening the Iranian regime and threaten its long-term stability, Channel 10 reports.

The TV channel reports the document — which was drawn up by the ministry’s intelligence wing and shared with Netanyahu, the security cabinet, and Israeli embassies around the world — says the regime was caught off guard by the protests, and, in response, is trying to use means such as arrests and blocking social media to quell the demonstrations.

While the protests initially focused on economic issues, they have since turned to Iran’s support for Syria, Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group, and Yemen’s Houthi rebels, the document says, according to the report.

It reportedly says that while the protests are not currently a threat to the regime’s stability, they sap its legitimacy, and could undermine it in the long term.

The document also says that Iran’s President Rouhani and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are on the same page regarding efforts to end the protests, and that the IRGC and Basij militia are exercising restraint and focusing on deterrence, according to Channel 10.

Iranian state TV: Cop shot to death by ‘troublemaker’

TEHRAN, Iran — A policeman was shot dead in Iran on Monday in the central town of Najafabad, state television reports, on a fifth day of violence sparked by protests over economic grievances.

“A troublemaker, taking advantage of the situation, shot with a hunting gun at law enforcement officers, killing a police officer and injuring three others,” the state television website reports, without elaborating.


Pence’s office denies delay in upcoming trip

US Vice President Mike Pence’s office denies reports that a planned trip to Israel had been indefinitely delayed beyond January.

Responding to a tweet from the Associated Press saying that “Pence visit to Israel postponed again,” the vice president’s press secretary Alyssa Farah writes, “This report is false. The VP is still going to Israel as planned.

In addition, Pence’s deputy chief of staff Jarrod Agen tweets: “As we’ve said, @VP Pence is traveling to Israel & Egypt later this month. Reports otherwise are wrong. There’s a false story circulating of a delay. It’s not true.”

— Raphael Ahren

PA envoy to US to return stateside ‘immediately’ after Jerusalem consultations

The Palestinian Authority’s envoy to the United States says he will return to Washington after being summoned to Ramallah on Sunday for consultations on Trump’s designation of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Husam Zomlot says he met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in a private meeting, before he was ordered to return stateside “immediately,” according to the BBC.

Army: Gaza rocket strikes field in southern Israel

A projectile fired from Gaza hits an open field in southern Israel, causing neither injury nor damage, the army says.

It is not immediately clear if a rocket or mortar shell was launched.

— Judah Ari Gross

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Interior Committee approves Shabbat bill ahead of final votes

The Knesset Interior Committee approves a bill that would shutter mini-markets on Shabbat, clearing its way for its final plenum votes.

Despite concerns the coalition may lack the necessary votes to pass the bill in its second and third readings, a vote on the draft legislation is expected later today.

The opposition and the coalition’s Yisrael Beytenu party are refusing to have one MK skip the votes to compensate for the absence of Likud MK Yehudah Glick, whose wife died this morning.