Israel announces it has found and destroyed another Hezbollah tunnel
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Syria protests Israeli strike in messages to United Nations

Damascus says attacks wouldn’t have been launched if not for ‘unlimited’ support for Israel from Washington

A screenshot from video on social media purporting to show a Syrian surface-to-air missile being fired near Damascus on December 25, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)
A screenshot from video on social media purporting to show a Syrian surface-to-air missile being fired near Damascus on December 25, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s news as it developed.

Russia: ‘Provocative’ Israeli strikes in Syria Tuesday endangered 2 civilian flights

Russia says Israeli strikes last night in Syria endangered two civilian flights that were landing at the time — one in Damascus and the other in Beirut.

The defense ministry in Moscow also says Syria’s air defenses downed 14 of 16 missiles fired by Israel.

“Provocative acts by the Israeli Air Force endangered two passenger jets when six of their F-16s carried out airstrikes on Syria from Lebanese airspace,” ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov tells reporters, according to Russia Today.

Israel Railways CEO to step down in 3 months

Israel Railways announces that the company’s CEO, Shahar Ayalon, will retire in three months.

Ayalon was expected to be shown the door amid a series of failures by the national railway company, including massive disruptions in the new fast line from Jerusalem to Ben Gurion airport.

Abbas: Palestinians ready to talk peace based on UN resolutions

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says that he is prepared to rekindle the peace process with Israel based on international law and United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.

Abbas made his comments yesterday, after Pope Francis said in a Christmas message that he hoped Israelis and Palestinians would “resume dialogue and undertake a journey of peace that can put an end to a conflict that for over 70 years has rent the land chosen by the Lord to show his face of love.”

Abbas has long said the Palestinians accept international law and want negotiations with Israel based on it.

— Adam Rasgon

Islamic State claims attack on Libya’s Foreign Ministry

The Islamic State group claims responsibility for a suicide bombing at Libya’s Foreign Ministry in Tripoli yesterday that killed at least three people and wounded 10.

In a statement carried by its Aamaq news agency, IS says three fighters infiltrated the area and fired on Foreign Ministry workers.

Libyan officials say a suicide bomber targeted the entrance to the ministry and another was shot dead by guards before he could detonate his explosives.

AP

Pair with fake guns spark panic at Paris airport

Two people holding replica guns sparked a panic at Paris’s main Charles de Gaulle airport this morning before they were quickly arrested, sources close to the investigation say.

Passengers were evacuated from Terminal 2 for around 45 minutes after the incident at 8:30 a.m.

A passenger had raised the alarm saying they had seen “two adults who did not speak French with weapons in a case,” one source says.

“There was a wave of panic in Terminal 2 when people saw the weapons.”

A police source says border police detained the pair.

A security perimeter was quickly set up, while a bomb squad had already been at the scene dealing with an abandoned bag.

The guns are believed to have been “airsoft” pistols, replica weapons used for sport.

French airport authorities consider those carrying them to be “armed,” an airport source says.

AFP

Palestinians say shepherd beaten by settlers

Residents of the Palestinian village Burqa in the northern West Bank report to the Yesh Din rights group that a group of Israeli settlers assaulted a shepherd from their town, who required hospitalization after being struck repeatedly in the head.

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

A Palestinian shepherd who was allegedly beaten by settlers, December 26, 2018 (Yesh Din)

— Jacob Magid

Russia: Syria didn’t engage air defenses fully to avoid hitting civilian planes

Konashenkov, the Russian defense ministry spokesman, says that during the Israeli airstrike yesterday, the Syrian military didn’t fully engage its air defense assets to avoid accidentally hitting the passenger jets.

He adds that Syrian air traffic controllers redirected the Damascus-bound plane to the Russian air base in Hemeimeem.

with AP

MKs Cabel, Rosenthal, Shai, Yona, Nahmias-Verbin mulling split from Zionist Union

The Zionist Union MKs considering a breakaway are Eitan Cabel, Mickey Rosenthal, Nachman Shai, Yossi Yona and Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin, a party official tells The Times of Israel.

Earlier reports today did not name the lawmakers who are eyeing a split as the leaders of the two parties that make up the Zionist Union — Labor and Hatnua — disagree over how best to defeat Netanyahu.

— Raoul Wootliff

Three of four suspects in Galilee girl’s murder released

Police release three of four suspects in the murder of a Galilee teenage girl whose death fueled a wave of women’s protests throughout the country.

Yara Ayoub, 16, was found dead in an alleyway in her hometown of Jish on November 26 after she had gone missing five days earlier.

The three suspects ordered released today are the mother, father and brother of the primary suspect in the murder, a 28-year-old man from Jish.

Attorney Basel Falah, who represents the three, praises the decision to release them, saying, “From the start I’ve said that there’s no evidence whatsoever against them.”

A police official, however, tells Channel 10 news that their release does not mean they will avoid indictments as accessories in the murder.

“The three suspects in the murder who are slated for release will still be charged and indicted going forward, even if they are not in custody, each according to their crimes,” the officer says.

Netanyahu says Israel will continue to attack Iranian interests in Syria

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doubles down on Israel’s policy of attacking Iranian-linked targets in Syria after Russia accuses the Jewish state of “provocative” actions yesterday in the war-torn country.

“We will not abide an Iranian entrenchment in Syria,” Netanyahu, who is also the defense minister, says at a graduation ceremony for fresh Israeli Air Force pilots at the Hatzerim air base in the south.

“We are taking action against it aggressively and powerfully, including in these very days.”

He says that US President Donald Trump’s recent decision to withdraw American troops from Syria “does not change our policy. We take action in Syria and anywhere else.”

Netanyahu praises Israeli missiles, brags they can hit ‘anywhere’ in the world

During his address to the fresh crop of IAF pilots, Netanyahu also hails Israel’s weapons industries, and says it is producing missiles that can strike “anywhere” in the world. He also brags of Israeli military activity in “very far” arenas, without elaborating.

“A few days ago, I visited the manufacturing facilities of Israel Aerospace Industries,” he says. “They’re developing unique capabilities possessed by no other country in the Middle East, and I can tell you that some of them aren’t possessed by any other country in the world.

“These include weapons systems, defense systems, offensive missiles that can strike anywhere and any target,” Netanyahu adds.

He says the extent of the Israeli Air Force’s recent activity is “unprecedented in the history of the Middle East.

“Aircraft are going up and down, taking off and landing, and going to nearby arenas as well as far away arena, very very away,” Netanyahu, who is also the defense minister, adds cryptically.

Hamas officials: Palestinian speaker barred from Ramallah

Palestinian police have barred the Hamas-affiliated speaker of the Palestinian parliament from entering the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Speaker Aziz Dweik had been set to hold a press conference in Ramallah to criticize PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to dissolve the Palestinian legislature, which is controlled by the rival Hamas movement.

Palestinian police turn Dweik away from the city, saying parliament’s dissolution “has come into effect” and “no one can say he is a speaker or member of the council.”

Abbas’s decision last week to disband the non-functioning parliament is mostly symbolic, signaling the deepening divide between his Fatah party and Hamas. The bitter split traces back to 2007, when Hamas wrested control of Gaza, relegating Fatah rule to parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

AP

Israel advances plans for more than 800 settlement homes

The Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction advances plans for over 800 West Bank homes, capping off a two-day session that sees the green-lighting of nearly 2,200 homes.

Of the 839 homes okayed by the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee in 25 different plans, 352 gain final approval for construction while 407 homes have their plans cleared through an earlier planning stage known as “deposit.”

Yesterday, 1,352 homes were okayed by the High Planning Subcommittee, with 807 gaining final approval for construction and 545 clearing the earlier planning stage.

In total 2,191 settlement homes are advanced this week, of which 1,038 gain final building approval for construction.

— Jacob Magid

US Justice Ginsburg leaves hospital after cancer surgery

A spokeswoman for the Supreme Court says Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been discharged from the hospital after cancer surgery.

Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg says Ginsburg left New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center yesterday and is now “recuperating at home.”

Ginsburg underwent surgery Friday to remove two malignant growths in her left lung. Doctors say there is no evidence of any remaining disease.

Now 85, the justice has been treated for cancer two other times. Last month she cracked three ribs in a fall at the court. Despite her health problems, Ginsburg has never missed arguments.

The court next meets on January 7.

AP

Israeli Arab man accused of planning stabbing attack in Jerusalem

A resident of the Arab town of Tira in central Israel is indicted for allegedly planning a terror attack some two weeks ago.

The man, Louis Aqel Sultan, came to the Damascus Gate to Jerusalem’s Old City some two weeks ago carrying a knife, the indictment says.

At one point, he aroused the suspicion of police, who told him to empty his pockets, which he allegedly did — save for the knife.

It was only when they searched his person that officers found the blade.

Before setting out for Jerusalem, the suspect allegedly watched videos about previous attacks in the city.

Mubarak says Gaza tunnels used by fighters to launch 2011 prison break in Egypt

Two former Egyptian presidents appear in the same Cairo courtroom, with Hosni Mubarak testifying in a retrial of Mohammed Morsi over charges related to prison breaks at the height of the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak.

Wednesday’s case is rooted in the 2011 escape of more than 20,000 inmates from Egyptian prisons — including Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood members — during the early days of the 18-day uprising against Mubarak. Morsi and the other Brotherhood leaders escaped two days after they were detained as Mubarak’s security forces tried to undercut the planned protests.

During his two-hour testimony, Mubarak says that former spy chief and vice president Omar Suleiman told him on January 29, 2011, that at least 800 armed people crossed into the norther part of Sinai Peninsula, through tunnels from the Gaza Strip with help from the Muslim Brotherhood group, and freed Morsi and others.

“They entered Egypt through Gaza and had weapons… They headed toward the prisons to release prisoners belonging to Hezbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood,” Mubarak says.

He also claims Egyptian authorities were unaware at the time of the existence of the smuggling tunnels from Gaza to Sinai, according to the Ynet news site.

— with agencies

Woman killed, husband arrested in suspected failed suicide pact

A Jerusalem man, 75, is arrested on suspicion that he killed his wife and tried to commit suicide, in what police say may have been an attempt by the couple to commit suicide together.

The suspect is lightly injured, while medics who arrive at the scene, in the Givat Masua neighborhood, declare the woman dead.

Israel announces it has found and destroyed another Hezbollah tunnel

The military announces that several days ago it found an additional cross-border tunnel from Lebanon, near the town of Ayta ash Shab on the other side of the border.

It says in a statement that the tunnel was “neutralized using an explosion.”

The statement says that UNIFIL, the UN force that has been charged with keeping the peace at the border since the end of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, has been informed about the tunnel, as have “other relevant authorities.”

It says it holds the Lebanese government responsible for the “blatant violation” of UN Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War.

The tunnel is apparently the fifth found by Israeli forces since the launch of Operation Northern Shield earlier this month.

The objective of the ongoing operation is to find and destroy tunnels that Israel alleges were dug into its territory by the Hezbollah terror group in order to carry out attacks in a future war.

Israel to allow medical marijuana exports

The Knesset has unanimously approved a law to permit exports of medical marijuana, allowing Israel to tap into the lucrative global market.

Israel will become the third country, after the Netherlands and Canada, to take its medical cannabis global.

The Israeli medical cannabis company iCAN predicts the global industry will reach $33 billion in the next five years, as stigma fades and demand grows for the few countries certified to export.

The law was approved late Tuesday, sending cannabis company shares rising by about 10 percent.

The law was stalled for years over fears from security officials that medical marijuana would leak into the black market. To assuage concerns, the law empowers police to supervise licensing.

The Israeli cabinet must give final approval — a step seen as a formality.

AP

MKs pass first reading of bill to dissolve parliament; final votes imminent

The Knesset passes the first reading of the bill to dissolve parliament and set elections for April 9 following a six-hour debate that likely included the final plenary speeches for at least some of the lawmakers present.

Voting by 104 to 0 in favor of the government bill, MKs take a decisive step toward concluding the work of the 20th Knesset and officially launching the three-month campaign leading up to the national ballot.

Several identical bills presented by the opposition parties also pass, with slightly reduced majorities.

The bills now return to the Knesset House Committee for deliberation, where they will be united into one proposal ahead of second and third readings expected to take place later tonight.

In the plenary’s second session, the bill will face two separate votes: the first on each of the two clauses in the bill, and the second on the bill as a whole. If the final vote passes with even a simple majority of 1-0, the Knesset will automatically disperse.

The first clause of the no-frills bill states the 20th Knesset will “dissolve itself ahead of elections,” and the second sets the date, agreed upon by coalition and opposition parties, for April 9, 2019.

Raoul Wootliff

Syria says Israeli airstrikes enabled by American support

In a statement, the Syrian Foreign Ministry accuses Israel of exacerbating the crisis in the country and standing in the way of the government’s war on terrorism.

In messages sent out to the UN secretary-general and the president of the UN Security Council, the ministry says that yesterday’s Israeli airstrike wouldn’t have been launched if it wasn’t for what it called “unlimited” US support for Israel.

AP

Memorial to Greek Jews deported by Nazis is vandalized

A memorial to the Jews of a Greek town who were sent to Auschwitz by the Nazis is vandalized.

The Memorial to the Jewish Martyrs of Kastoria, in the northern region of West Macedonia, was covered with black spray-paint yesterday, the state-run news agency ANA-MPA reports.

“In this place, on March 24 1944, the Nazis gathered the 1,000 Jews of Kastoria and transported them to death camps in Auschwitz. Only 35 survived,” the inscribed marble slab reads.

Local volunteers reportedly help to clean the memorial.

JTA

Lebanon to complain to UN over alleged Israeli overflights during Syria strikes

Lebanon will file a complaint to the United Nations Security Council over alleged Israeli overflights during airstrikes in Syria attributed to Israel, the country’s official news agency reports.

The decision is reached during a phone call between Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Transportation Minister Youssef Fenianos, according to the National News Agency.

Fenainos is quoted as telling Hariri a “real humanitarian catastrophe” was averted, referring to accusations made earlier by Russia that the strikes endangered two civilian airliners landing at the time — one in Damascus and the other in Beirut.

Lebanon’s foreign ministry also condemns the reported Israeli strikes and calls on the international community and Security Council to do likewise.

– with agencies

Palestinians to again seek full UN membership

The Palestinians are once again seeking to win full membership at the United Nations, a move that will certainly be blocked by a US veto.

Citing reports, Israel’s mission to the UN in New York says the Palestinians are asking the UN Security Council to vote on full membership for the “State of Palestine” on January 15, in the framework of the council’s regular discussion on the situation in the Middle East.

Since 2012, Palestine has non-member state observer status at the UN. Several attempts to get full membership status have been blocked by the US. A US veto would be required if nine or more of the council’s 15 members vote in favor of the Palestinian bid.

— Raphael Ahren

House Committee approves bill to dissolve Knesset

The Knesset House Committee approves the bill to dissolve the parliament, giving the green light for it to come to a vote in its second and third readings later tonight.

Gantz and Ya’alon in talks on unified Knesset slate — reports

Reports on Hadashot TV news and Channel 10 say that former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz is in talks with another former military chief, Moshe Ya’alon, on running together for Knesset on a single slate in the upcoming elections.

Ya’alon, a former defense minister for the Likud party, announced his intention to launch a party yesterday.

Gantz, a political neophyte, is considered a potential threat to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — but only if he succeeds in uniting broad swaths of the center-left under his leadership.

Knesset passes final vote to dissolve itself

The Knesset votes to dissolve itself and set elections for April 9, 2019.

The vote passes its final reading by 104-0.

Raoul Wootliff

Former IDF general Gal Hirsch announces Knesset run

The retired IDF general Gal Hirsch announces his intention to run for the Knesset in the coming elections.

Hirsch was dropped as a candidate for Israel Police commissioner in 2015 due to suspicions of criminal wrongdoing on his part, and is still under investigation due to his dealings in the country of Georgia.

According to media assessments, he will either join the Likud party, where his candidacy is being championed by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, or a new slate that has yet to be announced.

Trump: No plans to remove US troops from Iraq

US President Donald Trump, who is visiting Iraq, says he has “no plans at all” to remove American troops from the country.

Trump is making his first presidential trip to a troubled region in the wake of his recent decision to pull US forces from neighboring Syria.

He says he wants to get US soldiers home from Syria and that Iraq can still be used as a base to stage attacks on Islamic State militants if needed.

Trump tells reporters traveling with him that if needed, the US can attack IS “so fast and so hard” that they “won’t know what the hell happened.”

The president’s decision to exit Syria stunned national security advisers and allies, including Iraq, and prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

AP

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Israel announces it has found and destroyed another Hezbollah tunnel

The military announces that several days ago it found an additional cross-border tunnel from Lebanon, near the town of Ayta ash Shab on the other side of the border.

It says in a statement that the tunnel was “neutralized using an explosion.”

The statement says that UNIFIL, the UN force that has been charged with keeping the peace at the border since the end of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, has been informed about the tunnel, as have “other relevant authorities.”

It says it holds the Lebanese government responsible for the “blatant violation” of UN Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War.

The tunnel is apparently the fifth found by Israeli forces since the launch of Operation Northern Shield earlier this month.

The objective of the ongoing operation is to find and destroy tunnels that Israel alleges were dug into its territory by the Hezbollah terror group in order to carry out attacks in a future war.