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Israel strikes Hezbollah position in eastern Lebanon — report

Outlets associated with terror group deny Al-Arabiya report, which locates the purported attack in the town of Baalbek

Illustrative: A Lebanese army soldier stands guard at the scene where a car bomb went off near a Hezbollah base near the village of Sbouba in the Baalbek region eastern Lebanon, early Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Illustrative: A Lebanese army soldier stands guard at the scene where a car bomb went off near a Hezbollah base near the village of Sbouba in the Baalbek region eastern Lebanon, early Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

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

Netanyahu lauds US law on Palestinian terrorist subsidies

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is praising the US government for passing a law that suspends some financial aid to the Palestinians over the Palestinian Authority’s stipends to terrorists and terror suspects jailed in Israel as well as families of Palestinian assailants killed during their attacks.

The Taylor Force Act, named after an American killed in Israel by a Palestinian terrorist in 2016, was folded into a $1.3 trillion spending bill signed by US President Donald Trump.

On Sunday, Netanyahu calls the law a “powerful signal by the US that changes the rules” by cutting “hundreds of millions of dollars for the Palestinian Authority that they invest in encouraging terrorism.”

— Agencies

German police arrest ex-Catalan leader Puigdemont

German police on Sunday arrest Catalonia’s former president Carles Puigdemont as he crosses over by car from Denmark.

Puigdemont “was arrested today at 11:19 am by the autobahn police force of Schleswig-Holstein,” a German police spokesman tells AFP, adding that the detention is based on a European warrant.

His party spokeswoman also separately confirms that he is detained on arrival from Denmark.


Syrian rebels exit second pocket of eastern Ghouta

Syrian rebels are evacuating a second pocket of the besieged eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, leaving several towns and villages to be handed over to government control.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says buses carrying hundreds of fighters belonging to the rebel group Faylaq al-Rahman, their family members and other civilians left eastern Ghouta late Saturday, bound for the rebel-held Idlib province in northern Syria.

Syria’s state-run SANA news agency says a second convoy of buses is being prepared to transport rebels and civilians from the towns of Jobar, Ein Terma, Zamalka, and Arbin.

The arrangement is modeled on others in which rebels have surrendered territory after years of siege and bombardment.

— AP

Iran MP slams return of soccer player who played Israeli club

A conservative lawmaker in Iran slams the country’s sports federation on Sunday for allowing star footballer Masoud Shojaei to return to the international squad despite appearing against an Israeli team last year.

Shojaei, the 33-year-old national team captain, and teammate Ehsan Haji Safi were criticized in Iran after they appeared for their Greek club Panionios last August in a Europa League qualifier against Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Deputy Sports Minister Mohammad Reza Davarzani said at the time that the pair would be banned for life.

Iran does not recognize the Jewish state and bars its athletes from appearing against Israelis.

Confusion has reigned over the matter, however, with Haji Safi never banned from the international squad, while Shojaei has missed all the international fixtures until Friday’s match against Tunisia, which Iran lost 1-0.

“Re-inviting Masoud Shojaei to be present in the national football team — after competing against the Zionist regime — shows that the football federation has not taken serious action on this issue,” hardline lawmaker Mohammad Ali Poormokhtar says in an interview with the conservative regime-linked Fars news agency.

He says the sports minister would be questioned by lawmakers after the current break for the Iranian new year.


France pays tribute to victims of jihadist attack

Mourners pack a church in a rural French town rocked by a deadly Islamist attack for a Sunday service in tribute to the victims, who included a policeman hailed as a hero for offering himself in place of a hostage.

Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, 44, was shot and stabbed after taking the place of a woman whom Radouane Lakdim had been using as a human shield during his attack Friday at a supermarket in the town of Trebes.

The sleepy town of 5,000, located on the picturesque Canal du Midi, is just eight kilometers (five miles) from the famed medieval walled city of Carcassone, where a silent march is planned next Saturday, the eve of Easter Day.

The bishop of Carcassonne and Narbonne celebrated the mass in Trebes’ Church of Saint-Etienne to honor the four killed and three wounded in the attacks claimed by the Islamic State group.


Iran is ‘bolder’ after nuclear deal, says IDF intel chief

The head of the Israeli army’s intelligence directorate warns Sunday that “ever since the signing of the [2015] nuclear deal, Iran has been bolder — both in missile [development] and support for terror.”

“Iran is using Syria’s territory [to operate] against Israel, openly and completely against Syria’s interests,” Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevy says at a conference in Jerusalem.

IDF intel chief warns of Palestinian ‘explosion’ ahead of independence day

Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi, head of the IDF’s intelligence directorate, tells a conference in Jerusalem that security forces are expecting a possible escalation in violence in May, which will see Israel’s 70th independence day and the Palestinian-observed “Nakba Day,” which marks Israel’s founding as a “catastrophe” for the Palestinians.

“The month of May, with the days of independence and nakba, signal that a possible explosion is coming, [driven on the Palestinian side by] growing frustration and hopelessness. This period will demand determined fighting against terrorism, and that we make a clear distinction between civilians and terror operatives.”

Ultra-Orthodox anti-draft protesters block Jerusalem road

Several dozen ultra-Orthodox anti-draft protesters are blocking Shivtei Israel Street in Jerusalem. Police are working to clear the road.

Amona residents to move into first new settlement in 25 years

Fourteen months after its razing, the evacuees of the illegal Amona outpost announce Sunday that they will be moving tomorrow into their new West Bank community, the first new state-planned Israeli settlement in over 25 years.

Since February 2017, the outpost’s 42 families have been living in a dormitory in nearby Ofra.

While many have been slowly moving their belongings to the new Amichai settlement for the past several weeks, an official ceremony will be held on Monday marking the move-in day of the first 25 families from Amona. The remaining families are slated to join them at the conclusion of the Passover holiday next month.

Monday’s arrival will come eight months after the June groundbreaking of the new hilltop community in the central West Bank and one month after the first mobile homes were installed.

— Jacob Magid

Three indicted for leaking identities of women seeking abortions

Prosecutors file an indictment Sunday against a secretary at a private women’s clinic and two activists in the religious NGO Hidavrut for allegedly leaking the private medical information of women considering carrying out the procedure.

The NGO works to convince women not to carry out the abortion.

According to prosecutors, the leak of legally protected private information allowed the NGO to “take advantage of the fragile condition and distress of the women.”

The indictment says the three women collected the identities over several months, calling large numbers of women before one filed a complaint with the Health Ministry.

A criminal investigation into the case is underway in the Justice Ministry’s Privacy Protection Authority.

Turkey to target town of Tal Rifaat in Syria operation, Erdogan says

Turkey says the northern Syrian town of Tal Rifaat would be the next target of its cross-border campaign after the capture of Afrin from a Syrian Kurdish militia.

“God willing, we will ensure this operation achieves its goal after taking control of Tal Rifaat in a short period of time,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says in the Black Sea city of Trabzon.


Court convicts Palestinian terrorists who murdered Reuven Schmerling

The Lod District Court convicts two residents of the northern West Bank town of Qabatiya of the murder of Rabbi Reuven Schmerling, 70, in October 2017.

Yousef Kamil and Mohammed Abu Alroub stabbed and murdered Schmerling in the Arab Israeli town of Kafr Kassem on October 4. They are also convicted of entering Israel illegally from the West Bank.

The two murdered Schmerling, who owned a coal warehouse where they worked, after deciding among themselves to carry out a terror attack against a Jewish victim.

Jewish Agency director general to step down at end of 2018

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky informs the organization’s board on Sunday that the organization’s director general, longtime senior official Alan Hoffmann, will be stepping down by the end of 2018.

Hoffmann has served as director general for eight years, and helped lead a major reorganization of the 89-year-old organization. Before that, he headed the organization’s education department.

Nigerian girls reunited with families after Boko Haram kidnapping

The schoolgirls kidnapped by the Boko Haram jihadist group in Dapchi, northeastern Nigeria, are reunited with their families on Sunday after spending nearly five weeks in captivity.

The 105 girls, covered head to toe in burkas, arrive aboard five buses in the town of Dapchi, in Yobe state, where they are greeted by their parents at the boarding school, where they had been snatched on February 19.

After their release on Wednesday, they spent three days in the national capital Abuja, where they were greeted by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Kachalla Bukar, the father of one of the girls who is spokesman for the parents, says they were flown to the major northern city of Maiduguri from Abuja, then transferred under military escort to Dapchi.


Iran: Naming John Bolton national security adviser shameful

Iran calls the appointment of America’s former UN ambassador John Bolton to the role of White House national security adviser “a matter of shame,” Iranian media reports on Sunday, citing his involvement with an opposition group once named a terrorist organization.

The report by the semi-official Fars news agency quotes Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the country’s Supreme National Security Council, as saying, for an “apparent superpower, it is a matter of shame that its national security adviser receives wages from a terrorist group,” referring to Bolton attending a gathering of the Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK) group in 2017.

The US removed MEK from its list of foreign terrorist organizations in 2012.

Shamkhani also says attempts by the US to weaken Iran have only “laid the groundwork for improving the power and influence” of Iran. Bolton advocates regime change in Iran and is opposed to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Also on Sunday, Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, spokesman for the influential parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, told the semi-official ISNA news agency that Bolton’s appointment, as well as that of former CIA chief Mike Pompeo to US Secretary of State, “proves that the final US purpose is overthrowing the Islamic Republic.” He adds that the US will use MEK to achieve that aim.

— AP

Two young kids critically hurt, 10-year-old leaps to safety in Beersheba fire

An apartment fire in Beersheba a short time ago left two young children critically hurt and saw the dramatic jump to safety of a 10-year-old girl.

The fire engulfed an eighth-story apartment in the southern city. Firefighters found the family’s three-year-old girl and four-year-old boy hiding under a bed. By the time they were rescued, both were in critical condition, according to paramedics.

Meanwhile, the family’s 10-year-old girl fled the fire to the apartment’s porch, where neighbors a few floors below saw her, held out a bedsheet, and called for her to leap into the sheet. The girl is seen on footage taken by medics at the scene hesitating before the roughly three-story jump, then leaping to safety. She emerged unscathed.

There is no immediate report on the mother’s condition.

Thousands in Barcelona decry Puigdemont capture

Thousands of Catalans are gathering in downtown Barcelona to protest the detention of fugitive former president Carles Puigdemont in Germany.

Protesters are rallying in front of the office of the European Commission in Barcelona and organizers plan to march to the German Consulate.

There was another similar protest in the northern city of Girona, where Puigdemont was mayor before he became regional president in 2016.

A grassroots group in favor of Catalonia staying a part of Spain called for another gathering at the same time in Barcelona to show their support for the Constitution in front of the office of the Spanish government’s representative in Catalonia.

Puigdemont was detained by German police Sunday who were executing an international warrant issued by Spain on Friday. He was returning from Finland to Belgium, where he fled following an illegal declaration of independence by the Spanish region in October.

— AP

Beersheba fire may have started from children playing with matches, mother says

The mother of two critically injured young children in a Beersheba apartment fire says she believes the fire may have been started by the children, who were playing with matches.

Firefighters tell Hebrew-language media that a fire investigator is currently in the apartment attempting to determine how it began.

The two children, ages 3 and 4, are hospitalized in life-threatening condition, and a third, age 10, emerged unscathed by jumping several stories from the apartment porch into a bedsheet held by neighbors.

Israel strikes Hezbollah position in eastern Lebanon — report

The Al-Arabiya news outlet is reporting that Israel attacked a Hezbollah position in eastern Lebanon, near the Syrian border.

The airstrike is said to have occurred in the town of Baalbek.

It has yet to be officially confirmed by either Hezbollah or Israel, which generally does not comment on such strikes.

Media outlets associated with the terror group deny the reports, saying no such strikes took place “in Baalbek or in Syria.”

— Judah Ari Gross

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Live updates (closed)

Iran is ‘bolder’ after nuclear deal, says IDF intel chief

The head of the Israeli army’s intelligence directorate warns Sunday that “ever since the signing of the [2015] nuclear deal, Iran has been bolder — both in missile [development] and support for terror.”

“Iran is using Syria’s territory [to operate] against Israel, openly and completely against Syria’s interests,” Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevy says at a conference in Jerusalem.