The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.
Pope calls for peace in Jerusalem in Christmas address
Pope Francis calls for peace in Jerusalem in his traditional Christmas address and highlights the plight of children scarred by conflict, after urging the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics not to ignore migrants.
Addressing tens of thousands of worshipers gathered at the Vatican to hear the pontiff’s fifth “Urbi et Orbi” (To the City and The World) message, Francis calls for “peace for Jerusalem and for all the Holy Land.
“We see Jesus in the children of the Middle East who continue to suffer because of growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians,” he says.
“Let us pray that the will to resume dialogue may prevail between the parties and that a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful coexistence of two states within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders.
“May the Lord also sustain the efforts of all those in the international community inspired by good will to help that afflicted land to find, despite grave obstacles the harmony, justice and security that it has long awaited,” the pope says.
The pontiff also mentions other global flashpoints such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, South Sudan and Venezuela, after stressing that the “winds of war are blowing in our world.”
Prisons Service officer questioned on suspicion of harassing female prisoner
An Israel Prisons Service officer is questioned by investigators from the Lahav 433 national crime unit over suspicions he sexually harassed a female prisoner.
The officer is released by investigators following the interrogation.
Bahrain sentences 6 to death for plot to assassinate army head
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Bahrain’s top military court sentences six men to death on Monday after convicting them of charges including plotting to assassinate the Gulf state’s armed forces chief, state media reports.
It is the first official mention of any plot against the life of Field Marshal Sheikh Khalifa bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, who is a member of the ruling family, but the Bahrain News Agency gives no further details of when or where it was alleged to have taken place.
Tiny but strategic Bahrain has been gripped by unrest for years as its Sunni royal family has resisted demands from its Shiite majority for a constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister.
A judicial source tells AFP that all six of those sentenced to death on Monday were Shiites.
Lapid says police recommendations bill ‘an abomination’
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid says the so-called police recommendations law is “an abomination.”
He says the bill, up for its final votes later today, has turned the Knesset into an “embarrassing circus of corruption.”
“They’re good at being corrupt,” he says of the coalition, noting the government’s “efficiency” in passing the legislation.
“Suddenly, they’re effective,” he says of coalition lawmakers at the weekly Yesh Atid faction meeting. He accuses the government of being self-serving and focused solely on protecting itself.
— Marissa Newman
Labor chief warns coalition over Shabbat mini-market bill
Labor party chairman Avi Gabbay says a bill to shutter supermarkets on Saturdays will “blow up” in the government’s face.
He refers to a flurry of municipal efforts, namely in the central city of Givatayim, to relax restrictions on he Jewish day of rest in its local bylaws in response to the government legislation.
“I’m warning the coalition — the reality will explode in the face of the supermarkets bill,” he says.
Shabbat is “a special day, but we may leave synagogue and then go to the beach, or buy something in the supermarket. These are our lives, and no one may change it,” says Gabbay.
The Labor chairman also dodges a question about whether he supports the death penalty for terrorists, as the coalition Yisrael Beytenu party revives its proposal on the issue.
The proposal constitutes “coalition gift-giving” to Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, which the opposition party opposes, says Gabbay. He notes that military courts may now impose the death penalty, but choose not to, indicating that Israel’s security establishment finds the penalty ineffective.
— Marissa Newman
Liberman: Even in ‘liberal’ Boston, marathon bomber sentenced to death
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman doubles down on his pledge to advance legislation to extend the death penalty for terrorists.
At the weekly Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting, with representatives of bereaved Israeli parents present, Liberman says the preliminary vote on the bill will take place on Wednesday.
Responding to criticism by the Shin Bet internal security chief on the proposal, Liberman says he respects Nadav Argaman, but disagrees.
“Unfortunately, there is no other way,” says Liberman.
He also notes that Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death in “enlightened, liberal” Massachusetts in 2015.
There is no reason “we should not follow the lead of the best democracy in the world,” he adds.
Speaking at the faction meeting, Devorah Goren, whose son Danny was murdered in a 2015 West Bank terror attack, says the death penalty for terrorists is not meant to “punish,” but rather “to prevent the next murder.”
— Marissa Newman
Japan’s foreign minister visits Yad Vashem, meets with Rivlin
Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem.
“I wish to express my sincerest condolences to the victims of the Holocaust and and those who lost their loved ones. I pray from the bottom of my heart that such a tragedy will never be repeated,” Kono writes in the Yad Vashem guestbook.
The Japanese foreign minister also met today with President Reuven Rivlin. He is also set to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister.
Lod couple arrested on suspicion of beating their children
Police arrested a couple from the central city of Lod on suspicion of beating their children.
Their 12-year-old son was found half-naked in the street with bruises on his body.
Police say they are also suspected of beating their other children.
The Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court extends the mother’s remand for four days and the father’s for three.
Their children are transferred to welfare authorities for treatment, police say.
Netanyahu: ‘God bless’ Guatemala over embassy move, other countries to follow
Netanyahu hails Guatemala’s decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and says other countries will soon follow suit.
At the weekly Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu says: “God bless you, my friend President Jimmy Morales. God bless both our countries, Israel and Guatemala.”
“I told you recently there would be other countries that will recognize Jerusalem and move their embassies,” he says.
“I repeat: There will be more, this is just the beginning.”
— Marissa Newman
Bennett: Police shouldn’t be able to decide when there are elections
Addressing looming police recommendations in the two criminal probes into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett says his coalition party will decide how to proceed only when it has seen the police conclusions.
But, he adds at the weekly Jewish Home faction meeting, “police shouldn’t be able to decide when there are elections.” And he notes that as many as 80 percent of police recommendations for indictment don’t result in an indictment.
In his remarks, Bennett criticizes Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who has suggested the so-called police recommendations bill — up for its final votes later on Monday — will shield Netanyahu in Case 3000, a fraud probe on the purchase of submarines, in which the prime minister is not a suspect.
The education minister says he voted “wholeheartedly” to buy the submarines and does not believe Netanyahu was aware of the alleged fraud in the purchase. Moreover, the police recommendations law will not apply to existing cases, thus excluding the prime minister in the submarines probe even if he later becomes a suspect, Bennett adds.
The Jewish Home party leader says his party will support the police recommendations law though it isn’t “that important.”
In exchange, he says, the coalition has agreed to pass his Jerusalem law — which will make relinquishing portions of the capital only possible with the support of 80 MKs — into law next week.
— Marissa Newman
IDF launches manhunt in Negev after footprints found on Jordan border
The army launches a manhunt in the Negev desert after finding evidence that someone illegally crossed into Israel from Jordan.
“Earlier today, during a routine search along the Israeli-Jordanian border, footprints indicating an illegal crossing into Israel from Jordan were identified,” the army says.
“The IDF along with the Israel Police and the Shin Bet security service are continuing to search the area. The incident is being investigated,” the military says in a statement.
— Judah Ari Gross
Seven-month-old baby girl dies in Beit Shemesh, police investigate
A seven-month-old baby girl is declared dead at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem after being brought to the medical center unconscious.
Magen David Adom paramedics were called to an apartment in the city of Beit Shemesh where they found the girl. The medics took the baby to the hospital while trying to resuscitate her.
Police open an investigation and a person who was apparently taking care of the girl is detained for questioning.
Tunisia suspends Emirates flights after ban targets women
TUNIS, Tunisia — Tunisia suspends all flights by Emirates to and from Tunis after the Dubai-based airline barred Tunisian women from boarding its flights last week.
The Tunisian presidency says Monday the United Arab Emirates’ authorities explained that they made the decision following “serious security information” about alleged plans for attacks by Tunisian women, or women with Tunisian passports, from “tense hotbeds” in Syria and Iraq.
UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash writes on Twitter that the ban is temporary and due to security reasons.
The barring of Tunisian women has caused anger among rights groups and political parties in Tunisia. A protest is scheduled outside the UAE’s embassy in Tunis later in the day.
Firefighters battle blaze at West Bank Border Police base
Firefighting teams are working to extinguish a fire that broke out in a dormitory at a Border Police base near the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.
Firefighters are working to put out the blaze before it spreads to areas in the building where there is believed to be ammunition.
Red Cross blasts Likud MK for confronting Palestinian prisoners’ relatives
Red Cross spokesperson Suhair Zakkout slams Likud MK Oren Hazan for confronting a busload of Gazans visiting relatives in an Israeli prison earlier.
“The ICRC takes very seriously what happened today during the visit of Palestinian families to their relatives detained in Israel. Families have the right to visit their loved ones in a dignified manner,” she states.
“It is the responsibility of the competent authorities to ensure that the visits take place safely and without interference. The ICRC, as a humanitarian organization, remains committed to facilitating contacts between detained persons and their families,” she adds.
The Red Cross facilitates family visits for Palestinians in Israeli jails.
Hazan and a number of other individuals temporarily blocked the bus from entering Nafa Prison earlier today in protest against the Hamas terror group, which is believed to be holding the bodies of two IDF soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war, as well as a number of Israeli citizens who entered the Strip.
— Dov Lieber
— وكالة صفا (@SafaPs) December 25, 2017
Russian officials bar opposition leader from running for president
MOSCOW — Russian election officials formally bar Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny from running for president.
The Central Election Commission votes that the anti-corruption crusader isn’t eligible to run.
Navalny is implicitly barred from running for office because of a conviction in a fraud case which has been viewed as political retribution. He could have run if he was given a special dispensation or if his conviction was canceled.
Incumbent Vladimir Putin is running for a fourth term in office and is widely expected to win the March 18 election.
Navalny is the most serious challenger that Putin has faced in all of his years in power.
PA foreign minister slams Guatemala over Jerusalem embassy move
PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki slams the decision by Guatemala’s president to move his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“It is a step that reflects President [Jimmy] Morales’ insistence on dragging his country to the wrong side of history, in a blatant violation of international law, Security Council resolutions and General Assembly resolutions, including the most recent resolution [condemning the US move],” says Malki, in statements carried by the PA’s official news site Wafa.
— Dov Lieber
4 Israelis arrested during clashes at demolition of West Bank outpost home
Police arrest four Israelis during the razing of an illegally built home in a West Bank outpost that sparked violent clashes between security forces and settlers.
The demolition in the Yishuv Hada’at outpost east of Shiloh was sanctioned by the Civil Administration, a Defense Ministry body that authorizes construction in the West Bank.
A group of 60 to 90 Israelis throw large stones at police officers and attempt to physically block them from carrying out the razing, a spokeswoman for the Civil Administration tells The Times of Israel.
“The very violent actions of the protesters required the use of riot dispersal measures by the security forces,” the spokeswoman says.
Demonstrators accuse police officers of using excessive force while clearing the building ahead of its razing.
— Jacob Magid
הבוקר במהלך הפינוי במאחז יישוב הדעת. נער מושיט את ידיו לשוטר ששואל אותו אם הוא רוצה להיעצר – ונעצר pic.twitter.com/K5lgwT7x57
— Carmel Dangor (@carmeldangor) December 25, 2017
Sinwar: Iran wants Hamas, Islamic Jihad to go full-throttle over Jerusalem
Hamas Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar says his terror organization is in contact with a leading Iranian military official, who has told them to put all the group’s resources into “defending Jerusalem.”
Sinwar tells the Pro-Iranian Lebanese news outlet al-Mayadeen that Hamas, as well as the Gaza-based terror group Islamic Jihad, are in contact with Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ elite Quds Force.
The Hamas leader says Soleimani told the Palestinian terror groups to put all their capabilities into the fight over Jerusalem, according to the report.
— Dov Lieber
Knesset to hold final votes on police recommendations, Jerusalem bills
The Knesset is set to vote the so-called police recommendations bill into law, in what is expected to be a marathon session lasting all night.
The Jewish Home’s Jerusalem bill, originally set for a vote next week, is also on the schedule for its final readings.
That bill, an amendment to the Basic Law on Jerusalem, would make it harder for any government to divide the city by requiring 80 of the 120 MKs to support giving up any part of Jerusalem to the sovereignty of a foreign power.
— Marissa Newman
Knesset speaker says 2 other countries interested in moving their embassies
Following Guatemala’s announcement it will move its embassy to Jerusalem, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein tells Likud activists he spoke with the parliamentary speakers from two countries regarding moving their nations’ embassies to the city.
Edelstein doesn’t say which countries expressed interest in moving their embassies.
Court extends remand of Palestinian girl filmed slapping troops
A military court extends by 4 days the remand of Ahed Tamimi, who was arrested last week after video footage emerged of her slapping IDF troops in the West Bank in an apparent attempt to prove a violent response.
A police spokeswoman says the remands of Nour and Nariman Tamimi, Ahed’s cousin and mother, were also extended until Thursday. Both were arrested in connection with the incident.
ללא בושה: ח"כ טיבי הגיע לביהמ"ש לחזק את משפחת תמימי pic.twitter.com/NGyurMsCZK
— באזזנט (@newsbuzznet) December 25, 2017
Canadian JDL member charged with assaulting Arab teacher outside AIPAC confab
A Canadian member of the far-right Jewish Defense League is indicted by a grand jury in Washington, DC, on charges that include an assault on an Arab teacher outside the AIPAC conference there in March.
Yosef Steynovitz, 32, of Thornhill, Ontario, faces one count of assaulting a man with a dangerous weapon and one count of assaulting another man. The third count, assault with significant bodily injury, refers to the beating of Kamal Nayfeh, a 55-year-old Palestinian-American community college teacher who was reportedly walking to the conference when the attack happened, according to the Canadian Jewish News.
The third count includes a hate crime enhancement for “anti-Arab bias” that could lead to an increased penalty if Steynovitz is convicted.
Steynovitz will be arraigned in court in the District of Columbia on January 3.
Jordan’s FM calls Guatemala embassy move a ‘provocation’
Jordan’s foreign minister calls Guatemala’s decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem a “provocation” and violation of international law.
“We reject #Guatemala decision to move embassy to #Jerusalem & condemn it as absurd provocation, violation of international law. Occupied Jerusalem is capital of #Palestinian state which must be established on June 4 1967 lines on basis of 2-state solution as only path to peace,” tweets Ayman Safadi.
Jordan, which is the custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, has spoke out strongly against US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital earlier this month, as well as his decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the city.
We reject #Guatemala decision to move embassy to #Jerusalem & condemn it as absurd provocation, violation of international law. Occupied Jerusalem is capital of #Palestinian state which must be established on June 4 1967 lines on basis of 2-state solution as only path to peace
— Ayman Safadi (@AymanHsafadi) December 25, 2017
Honduras to be the next country to move its embassy to Jerusalem — report
Honduras is expected to be the next country to announce it’ll move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Channel 10 reports.
Israeli officials tell the TV channel that Israel is in touch with Tegucigalpa regarding the move, which they say Honduras will announce sometime after Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez is sworn in for a second term on Wednesday.
Along with Guatemala and the US, both of which have announced their intentions to move their embassies to Jerusalem, Honduras was one of nine countries to vote against a UN General Assembly resolution last week condemning Trump’s recognition of the holy city as Israel’s capital.
The Israeli officials tell Channel 10 the Foreign Ministry has a list of 15-20 countries that are expected to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or move their embassies to the city. The report names Togo and Paraguay as two countries that are likely to move their embassies.
Deputy FM says Israel talking with 10 nations about moving their embassies
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely tells Israel Radio that Israel is in talks with 10 other countries about moving their embassies to Jerusalem.
Hotovely declines to say which states Israel is speaking with concerning such a move.
But she tells the Haaretz daily that Israel is focusing on getting these countries to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as Trump did in his December 6 speech, and not necessarily on having them move their embassies.
Norway reportedly to cut funding for pro-BDS Palestinian NGOs
Norway will cut funding for Palestinian NGOs that support boycotts of Israel, Hadashot TV news reports.
Quoting a statement from the Norwegian government, the report says the decision reflects Oslo’s support for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and cooperation, as well as its opposition to boycotts of Israel.
“This is an additional and vital step for damaging boycott organizations,” Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan tells the TV channel. “We will continue to work consistently to expose European funding for Palestinian organizations that delegitimize [Israel].”
Norway’s decision comes just days after fellow Scandinavian country Denmark said it will revoke funding from several Palestinian NGOs and tighten aid criteria for others after they were found to be tied to anti-Israel activities.
Associate of Likud MK refuses to turn state’s witness in bribery case — report
An associate of Likud MK David Bitan is refusing to turn state’s witness in a case involving suspicions that the lawmaker accepted bribes in exchange for awarding construction tenders while he served as deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion, Hadashot TV news reports.
The TV channel says, however, that Moshe Yosef is nearing a plea deal with investigators in which he would confess to assisting Bitan accept bribes, under which he would serve 18 months in prison.
Yosef is suspected of acting as Bitan’s “bank” and facilitating bribes on behalf of the lawmaker. Reports have said police are in possession of recordings of Bitan and Yosef counting bribe money in the latter’s furniture store in Rishon Lezion.
Prosecutors said to reopen investigation into Breaking the Silence spokesman
Prosecutors reopen an investigation into the spokesman of the left-wing Breaking the Silence group, Dean Issacharoff, who claimed earlier this year that he had beaten a Palestinian man in the West Bank city of Hebron during his IDF service, Hadashot TV news reports.
Police in Hebron have called in the Palestinian man for questioning regarding Issacharoff’s claim, the report says.
Last month, the State Attorney’s Office closed an investigation into Issacharoff after concluding that his confessed assault of a Palestinian man had never taken place. The Breaking the Silence spokesman doubled down on his claim days later.
Breaking the Silence, which publishes the testimonies of former Israeli soldiers who report on alleged human rights abuses by the IDF in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, has raised the ire of Israeli officials and drawn criticism from those who question the authenticity of its mostly anonymous testimonies.
Israel, Cuba held secret talks on reestablishing diplomatic ties — report
Israel held secret talks with Cuba a year and a half ago regarding the possibility of reestablishing diplomatic ties, Channel 10 reports.
The report says the talks, which were held in Havana, were put on ice after Trump’s election as US president last November.
Israel and Cuba broke off diplomatic relations in 1973.
The plan to explore reestablishing ties was formulated by the Foreign Ministry in 2015 and was “green-lighted” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister, according to the report.
The report said Canada, whose embassy in Havana represents Israel’s interests on the Caribbean island nation, brokered the talks at Israel’s request.
During the talks, Israel requested Cuba stop backing anti-Israel initiatives at the UN, while Cuba asked Israel to stop supporting the US embargo on the communist regime, which was somewhat eased after diplomatic ties between Havana and Washington were reestablished in 2015 under then US president Barack Obama, according to the report.
PM wishes his ex-chief of staff accused of sexual misconduct a happy birthday
Benjamin Netanyahu wishes Natan Eshel, his former chief of staff who was forced to resign amid sexual misconduct claims, a happy 70th birthday.
In a video message, Netanyahu describes his friendship with Eshel as a “source of strength and a lot of happiness.”
In 2012, Eshel was forced to resign his position as the prime minister’s bureau chief amid allegations of sexual misconduct: specifically, that he had used a surreptitiously placed camera to film under the skirt of a female colleague. He was also accused of accessing her private emails.
Secret Service interviews suspect over manure sent to Mnuchin
LOS ANGELES — The US Secret Service says it has interviewed someone claiming responsibility for delivering a gift-wrapped package of horse manure addressed to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
The box was found Saturday at the home of Mnuchin’s neighbor in the wealthy Bel Air neighborhood in Los Angeles. The LAPD bomb squad responded to the package, which police say was marked as being from “the American people.”
Secret Service spokesman Cody Starken says that the agency was contacted by Los Angeles police and interviewed a person who claimed responsibility. He declines to identify the person.
Starken says the Secret Service takes all confirmed and alleged threats seriously. He says the agency typically does not comment on possible criminal investigations or interviewing practices.