Israeli officials surprised by Trump threat to cut off Palestinian aid — report
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EU slams ‘inhumane’ death penalty after MKs advance bill

Hours after lawmakers vote to advance legislation to execute terrorists, European embassy in Israel says capital punishment 'incompatible with human dignity'

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

  • The European Union flag  (Serge Attal/Flash 90)
    The European Union flag (Serge Attal/Flash 90)
  • This file photo taken on December 18, 2017 shows US President Donald Trump speaking about his administration's National Security Strategy at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC. ( AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB)
    This file photo taken on December 18, 2017 shows US President Donald Trump speaking about his administration's National Security Strategy at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC. ( AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB)
  • Illustrative. Palestinian terrorists fire a mortar shell during a graduation ceremony in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 29, 2015. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
    Illustrative. Palestinian terrorists fire a mortar shell during a graduation ceremony in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 29, 2015. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on January 3, 2018.  (AFP/Pool/Tsafrir Abayov)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on January 3, 2018. (AFP/Pool/Tsafrir Abayov)
  • Pro-government demonstrators hold posters of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, and Iran's founder of Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini during a march in Iran's holy city of Qom, 130 kilometres south of Tehran, January 3, 2018. (Mohammad ALI MARIZAD/AFP)
    Pro-government demonstrators hold posters of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, and Iran's founder of Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini during a march in Iran's holy city of Qom, 130 kilometres south of Tehran, January 3, 2018. (Mohammad ALI MARIZAD/AFP)
  • Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat talks during a press conference with Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi, not pictured, at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, October 2, 2011. (Amr Nabil/AP)
    Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat talks during a press conference with Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi, not pictured, at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, October 2, 2011. (Amr Nabil/AP)

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

Armed Palestinian teen said shot in central West Bank

A Palestinian teenager reportedly armed with a firearm is shot by Israeli security forces near a Palestinian village in the central West Bank, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.

The Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance service says the 16-year-old from Deir Nidham was critically injured by Israeli forces.

“He is critically injured. We are trying to save his life,” a spokesperson tells the Times of Israel.

The incident took place several kilometers from the Israeli settlement of Halamish, where three Israeli civilians were stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist in July 2017.

Missing Israeli man found dead in India

The body of an Israeli tourist who went missing in northern India last month has been found by local authorities earlier today.

Search and rescue teams found 35-year-old Matan Orgad in a river near a hiking trail in the Parvati Valley.

The Foreign Ministry is working with local authorities to return his body to Israel.

Orgad’s family has been informed of his death.

Rocket fired from Gaza hits open field in south

A rocket fired by terrorists in the Gaza Strip apparently strikes an empty field in Israel’s southern Eshkol region on Wednesday, in the second such attack in three days.

The army confirms that its systems spotted the launch of the projectile toward Israel, but the exact impact site had yet to be found.

There are no immediate reports of injuries or damage caused by the rocket.

— Judah Ari Gross

Top Palestinian official says Trump threat enables Israel’s ‘heinous crimes’

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says US President Donald Trump’s threat to cut millions of dollars of aid to the PA will enable Israel to continue committing “heinous crimes” against Palestinians.

“His statements against the Palestinian people have encouraged Israel to continue its heinous crimes and violations of International Law,” Erekat says in a statement.

Erekat says the US president is threatening to “starve Palestinian children in refugee camps and deny their natural rights to health and education if we don’t endorse his terms and dictations.”

He calls on the Trump administration to “stand on the right side of history” and to “stop encouraging international anarchy and violations of the basic requirements of peace.”

Yesterday Trump warned the Palestinians that he would cut $300 million in annual aid if the Palestinians refused to engage in peace negotiations with Israel.

Following the US president’s December 6 declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, PA President Mahmoud Abbas said US had relinquished its traditional role as the mediator of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and he has refused to meet with American officials regarding the peace process.

Knesset advances bill to strip Palestinian terrorists of Jerusalem residency

The Knesset advances a bill that would allow the interior minister to revoke the permanent residency for East Jerusalem residents over “breach of trust” to the State of Israel.

Likud MK Amir Ohana’s bill — cleared in a preliminary vote of 63 against 17, with one abstention — would give Interior Minister Aryeh Deri the authority to strip the residency of Palestinians with ties to terrorist groups, convicted terrorists, would-be attackers, or those convicted of treason, according to the proposed legal definition of the “breach of trust.”

That would also likely apply to East Jerusalem Palestinians who have attacked IDF soldiers, which Israeli law defines as a terror offense.

— Marissa Newman

IDF said to strike Hamas targets in Gaza after rocket fire

The IDF is carrying out retaliatory strikes against Hamas targets in Gaza, Hebrew-language media reports, in retaliation for a rocket fired at Israel from the Palestinian enclave earlier this afternoon.

According to reports, the army is targeting the terrorist group’s outposts near Khan Younis in the southern Strip.

The rocket fired into Israeli earlier landed in an open field in the Eshkol region, causing no injuries or damage.

Palestinian teen believed to be armed dies of injuries after being shot in West Bank riots

The Palestinian Health Ministry says a teenager who was shot by Israeli security forces earlier in the day in the central West Bank has died of his injuries.

The official Wafa news agency says 17-year-old Musab Firas al-Tamimi was shot in the head by Israeli security forces northwest of Ramallah, and died shortly after arriving at the city’s Istishari Hospital.

Reports in Hebrew-language media said the teen was involved in riots with Israeli security forces while armed with a pistol.

An Israeli army spokeswoman says dozens of Palestinians took part in a riot in the Palestinian village of Deir Nizam and soldiers spotted one with a gun before firing in his direction.

An investigation has begun into the incident, the spokeswoman says.

Palestinians ask Israel to restore regular power to Gaza

Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh says the PA will fully restore its provision of electricity to Gaza, after cutting power to the Strip by 35% for more than half a year.

Sheikh says he requested Israeli authorities to restore 50 megawatts of electricity lines to the southern areas of the Palestinian enclave.

The PA reduced its funding of Israeli-supplied electricity to the Strip by 35% in April, in a bid to force its rival, the Hamas terror group, to cede control of the enclave. The move left Gaza with an average of just 2-4 hours of electricity a day, worsening the already dire humanitarian situation in the territory.

— Dov Lieber

Germany says Iran protests ‘deserve our respect’

Germany’s government says protests against the economic and political situation in Iran “deserve our respect.”

A spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel says Berlin is closely watching developments in the country, which has seen growing economic ties with Germany in recent years.

Ulrike Demmer tells reporters in Berlin that “in the view of the German government it’s legitimate and deserves our respect when people have the courage to take to the streets with their economic and political concerns, as is currently the case in Iran.”

Demmer says Germany is calling on the government in Tehran to respect freedom of assembly and speech, and to show its willingness to engage in dialogue with protesters.

She says where there is violence, the state should react proportionately and within the rule of law.

— AP

Police request to extend remand of real estate tycoon arrested in probe of Likud MK

Police ask the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court to extend the remand of a major real estate developer implicated in the widening corruption investigation centering around Likud MK David Bitan and senior Rishon Lezion city officials.

Police want the suspect, a CEO of a construction company with numerous projects in the central Israeli city, to be held in custody another 9 days.

His identity and details about his company are under a gag order.

Earlier in the day, he was questioned at the Lod headquarters of the Israel Police’s national fraud and major crimes unit, Lahav 433.

Police said in a statement that he is suspected of bribery, money laundering and tax evasion.

Second rocket fired from Gaza lands in open field in southern Israel

A second projectile is reportedly launched at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip.

It appears to have hit an open field in the Eshkol region.

There was no warning siren, as the projectile was heading toward an unpopulated area.

— Judah Ari Gross

Saudi envoy approved in Lebanon, ending diplomatic tussle

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Lebanon assumes office after presenting his credentials to the president, ending a diplomatic tussle between the two countries.

Ambassador Walid al-Yaacoubi and his Lebanese counterpart in Saudi Arabia were caught in an apparent dispute over representation, with each country delaying accreditation of the other’s diplomat, though both were named months ago.

The delay highlighted lingering tensions between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon following the bizarre, now-reversed resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri from Riyadh. The resignation at the time was widely perceived as Saudi-orchestrated.

Al-Yaacoubi presented his credentials to President Michel Aoun Wednesday, after Lebanese Ambassador Fawzi Kabbara, a member of Hariri’s political party, was approved in Riyadh. He had been named to the post in July but remained unaccredited in Saudi Arabia.

— AP

Trump vows ‘great support’ for Iran protesters at ‘appropriate time’

US President Donald Trump says the anti-regime protesters in Iran will have the “great support” of the US government in the future.

In a tweet, the US leader declares “such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government,” adding that they “will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!”

Yesterday, Trump declared it was “time for change” in Iran, and other officials floated the possibility of additional sanctions.

At the United Nations, Ambassador Nikki Haley sought a Security Council meeting to show support for those protesting in the Islamic Republic.

Netanyahu backs death penalty for terrorists in ‘extreme cases’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is backing the death penalty for terrorists in “extreme cases.”

He says the security cabinet will hold a serious discussion about the issue after the preliminary reading on Wednesday, and before the first reading of the bill by the Yisrael Beytenu party.

Netanyahu says he visited the Salomon family in the West Bank settlement of Halamish after a Palestinian terrorist stabbed to death three members of their family in July 2017.

He said he was “dismayed” when the relatives “who survived the terrible attack, told me how the terrorist held the knife and slaughtered and laughed.”

“And I said there are extreme cases, when people carry out terrible attacks where they don’t deserve to live,” Netanyahu added.

The security cabinet will address all the criticism of capital punishment by Israel’s security establishment in the high-level security cabinet, said Netanyahu.

He spoke ahead of the preliminary reading of the death penalty for terrorists bill.

— Marissa Newman

The death penalty for terrorists bill clears initial Knesset vote

Legislation that would allow judges to impose the death penalty on convicted terrorists passes its preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum.

The legislation clears its first reading with 52 lawmakers in favor and 49 opposed.

Head of Iran Guards announces ‘end of the sedition’

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards says the unrest that had rocked Iran over several days was at an end, and that a maximum of 15,000 people had taken part nationwide.

“Today we can announce the end of the sedition,” Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Revolutionary Guards, says on its website.

“There were a maximum of 1,500 people in each place and the number of trouble-makers did not exceed 15,000 people nationwide,” he adds.

— AFP

Opposition MK warns death penalty bill will ‘turn terrorists into heroes’

An opposition lawmaker warns the legislation that would allow judges to impose the death penalty on convicted terrorists will only serve to glorify the assailants.

“The death penalty is not a deterrent. It will only turn terrorists into heroes,” Zionist Union’s Nachman Shai says following the vote.

Deputy foreign minister calls death penalty for terrorists bill ‘moral and just’

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely calls the legislation that would allow judges to impose the death penalty on convicted terrorists “moral and just.”

“The death penalty for terrorists is moral and just,” she says after the Knesset vote. “The murderers who destroyed the Fogel and Salomon families are not worthy of living.”

The Knesset approved the legislation earlier 52- 49.

Turkey: Netanyahu, Trump backing anti-regime protests in Iran

Turkey’s foreign minister is quoted as saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump are backing widespread protests in neighboring Iran.

Hurriyet newspaper and other media also quoted Mevlut Cavusoglu as telling a group of journalists that Turkey opposes foreign intervention in Iran and wants to see stability quickly restored in the country.

Cavusoglu says that “two people are supporting the protests in Iran: Netanyahu and Trump. We oppose such external interventions.”

The demonstrations are the largest seen in Iran since its disputed 2009 presidential election. At least 21 people have been killed.

Earlier, officials said the Turkish and Iranian presidents held a telephone conversation during which Iran’s Hassan Rouhani said he hoped the protests would end in a few days.

— AP

Third mortar shell fired at southern Israel from Gaza

For the third time this afternoon, terrorists fired a mortar shell at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, again hitting an open field in the Eshkol region.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage caused by the shell.

The army says the launch triggered warning sirens in the area. The previous two launches did not trip the sirens, apparently because the shells were fired at unpopulated areas.

Danya Cebus CEO named as suspect in Bitan probe

Ronen Ginsburg, the CEO of Israeli construction giant Danya Cebus, is named as a suspect in the widening corruption investigation into Likud MK David Bitan and senior Rishon Lezion city officials.

The Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s court earlier extended Ginsburg’s remand by six days at the request of police.

According to Hadashot TV news, police suspect that Bitan received NIS 300,000 ($86,000) from Danya Cebus, a subsidiary of Africa Israel Investments Ltd.

In response to the reports, Africa Israel released a statement earlier today, confirming that Danya Cebus was involved in the corruption investigation.

“The company is informing investors that, according to the best of our knowledge, police are investigating Rishon Lezion projects involving Danya Cebus,” the statement says.

Iran holds pro-government rallies amid unrest

Iranian state media are airing footage of pro-government demonstrations in cities across the country after a week of protests and unrest over the country’s poor economy.

The English-language broadcaster Press TV aired the rallies live, saying they were to “protest the violence that has taken place over the last few nights in cities.”

While the rallies showed support among Iran’s 80 million people for its clerically overseen government, the unrest which has swept through several cities appeared to be reaching smaller towns in the countryside, according to protesters’ online videos.

— AP

WH: No more aid for those ‘spreading falsehoods’ about US

A senior White House official says US President Donald Trump will cut aid to those who “spread falsehoods” about the US, hours after a top Palestinian official claimed that Trump’s threat to slash hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the PA would result in “starv[ing] Palestinian children in refugee camps.”

“The President is a master dealmaker and is as committed to trying to achieve the ultimate peace deal as ever but he will not tolerate falsehoods being spread about America and our positions—and he certainly will not spend taxpayer dollars to subsidize those who spread them,” an administration official tells The Times of Israel.

The official said Trump’s administration “remain[s] hard at work on our comprehensive peace plan which will benefit both Israelis and Palestinians and will be unveiled when it is ready and the time is right.”

Earlier, the longtime senior Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said Trump’s threat to cut aid to the Palestinians would lead to children starving in refugee camps and that the America leader was emboldening Israel to commit crimes against international law.

EU slams ‘inhumane’ death penalty after MKs advance bill

Hours after lawmakers voted to advance legislation that would allow military judges to impose the death penalty on convicted terrorists, the European Union’s embassy in Israel slammed capital punishment as “inhumane and degrading treatment.”

“The death penalty is incompatible with human dignity. It constitutes inhuman & degrading treatment, does not have any proven deterrent effect & allows judicial errors to become irreversible & fatal,” the embassy says in a tweet.

In a subsequent tweet, the EU mission says the bloc “welcomes the global trend towards the abolition of capital punishment, which has already resulted in more than two-thirds of all countries having abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.”

Earlier, the Knesset gave preliminary approval to a bill making it easier for convicted terrorists to be sentenced to death in a 52-49 vote.

Iran media says European ‘spy’ detained in protests

Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency says a European citizen has been detained on espionage allegations after leading rioters during anti-government protests.

The report quotes Hamid Reza Abolhasani, head of the justice department in the western city of Boroujerd, as saying the suspect was trained by European spy agencies, without elaborating.

There have been no reports of protests in Boroujerd in recent days.

Anti-government protests have erupted in several towns and cities in Iran over the past week. Clashes have broken out at some demonstrations, and at least 21 people have been killed. Hundreds have been arrested.

Iranian officials have long accused the United States, Israel and Britain of plotting to overthrow the government.

— AP

Jerusalem Municipality begins firing over 2,000 workers amid budget spat

The Jerusalem Municipality has begun to lay off 2,150 workers amid an ongoing budget spat with the Finance Ministry.

As of today, 600 dismissal notices have been sent to municipality employees, including 317 sanitation workers, 64 municipal police officers, 160 family health center workers, 18 employment assistants and 21 workers from the absorption authority.

In a statement, Mayor Nir Barak says Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is responsible for the “devastating blow,” and vows to “do everything possible to solve the crisis and prevent the city from shutting down.

Barkat reportedly claims that the capital has not been receiving the hundreds of millions of shekels in funding it deserves, with the reason being that Kahlon is getting back at him personally for supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the last elections and not him.

UN officials call on Iran to respect protesters’ rights

UN officials are calling on Iran to respect protesters’ rights and release any who have been arbitrarily arrested while demonstrating peacefully.

A spokesman says that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is urging respect for rights. He’s also stressing that demonstrations should be peaceful.

Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein pressed Iran to release anyone arbitrarily detained or penalized for peacefully expressing views.

Hussein also is calling on Iranian authorities to investigate all deaths and serious injuries during the protests that have roiled Iran over the last week.

At least 21 people have been killed and hundreds have been arrested amid anti-government protests fueled by economic grievances. Iranian state media reported Wednesday that tens of thousands of people took part in pro-government counter-demonstrations.

— AP

Bitan associate nearing deal to turn state’s witness against Likud MK — report

An associate of Likud MK David Bitan is reportedly on the cusp of turning state’s witness against the lawmaker in the widening corruption probe into the lawmaker.

According to Channel 10 news, real estate developer Dror Glazer is nearing a deal with prosecutors to testify against Bitan.

Glazer is suspected of transferring NIS 150,000 ($43,000) to Bitan via Rishon Lezion furniture store owner Moshe Yosef, exchange for the former coalition chairman attempting to advance legislation.

The TV report says Glazer’s testimony is expected to incriminate Bitan along with senior city officials from Tel Aviv and Rishon Lezion.

Iran state media says militants kill 3 security forces

Iranian state TV says three security forces have been killed during clashes with militants near the border with Iraq.

The state TV website reports the clashes took place near the Kurdish town of Piranshahr, some 730 kilometers (450 miles) northwest of the capital, Tehran.

The report says “armed counter-revolutionary bandits” are at large and Iranian forces are tracking them.

It did not elaborate on the affiliation of the militants. Kurdish separatists and Islamic extremists have carried out past attacks near the borders with Iraq and Turkey.

— AP

Trump denounces ex-aide Bannon, says he’s ‘lost his mind’

US President Donald Trump unleashes a spectacular denunciation of one of his closest political allies, describing his former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon as insane and irrelevant.

“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind,” Trump says in a statement that was notably abrasive, even for America’s combative 45th president.

Trump said Bannon — who engineered the New York real estate mogul’s link to the nationalist far right and helped create a pro-Trump media ecosystem — was “only in it for himself.”

— AFP

Fourth mortar shell said fired at southern Israel from Gaza

For the fourth time today, terrorists reportedly fired a mortar shell at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, again hitting an unpopulated area adjacent to the border.

Hadashot news says there were no injuries or damage caused by the shell, and that it did not trigger warning alerts in the area as it was headed for an open field.

Earlier today, three other mortars fired at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip hit open areas in the Eskhol region. No injuries or damages was caused by those shells.

Government said advancing plan to build artificial islands off coast

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has established a team to explore the possibility of building artificial islands off Israel’s Mediterranean coastline, Hadashot news reports.

The team, headed by National Economic Council head Prof. Avi Simhon, will explore the feasibility of transferring infrastructure facilities to the islands, freeing up in-demand real estate for housing development.

The Reading power station in northern Tel Aviv is among the facilities slated to be moved.

According to the report, the initiative will be debated by ministers at Sunday’s cabinet meeting.

Israeli officials surprised by Trump threat to cut off Palestinian aid — report

Israeli officials were reportedly surprised by US President Donald Trump’s threat to slash the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Palestinians unless the Palestinian Authority returned to peace negotiations with Israel.

According to Channel 10, Trump’s announcement on Twitter yesterday was not coordinated in advance with Israel.

An official told the TV station that Israel “does not necessarily” support a drop in US aid, because it is keeping the western-backed PA government afloat.

IDF denies report 4th mortar shell fired at Israel from Gaza

The IDF denies that terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a fourth mortar shell at southern Israel.

Hadashot news had earlier reported that a fourth projectile landed in Israeli territory for the fourth time today.

Three other mortars fired at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip earlier today hit open areas in the Eskhol region causing no injuries or damage.

Hamas: No prisoner exchange talks underway for bodies of fallen IDF soldiers

A Hamas spokesman says no negotiations with Israel over a prisoner exchange can take place until Israel “fulfills its commitments” under the 2011 Shalit prisoner deal.

In the years since that deal, some of the over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners released under its terms in an exchange for Hamas’s release of IDF corporal Gilad Shalit, have been re-arrested by Israeli security forces.

According to spokesman Moussa Abu Marzouk, in comments carried Thursday by Army Radio, Hamas demands the re-release of these prisoners before any talks can begin for the return to Israel of the bodies of two IDF soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were killed in action during the 2014 Israel-Hamas war, as well as three Israeli civilians who entered Gaza in recent years.

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Live updates (closed)

Israeli officials surprised by Trump threat to cut off Palestinian aid — report

Israeli officials were reportedly surprised by US President Donald Trump’s threat to slash the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Palestinians unless the Palestinian Authority returned to peace negotiations with Israel.

According to Channel 10, Trump’s announcement on Twitter yesterday was not coordinated in advance with Israel.

An official told the TV station that Israel “does not necessarily” support a drop in US aid, because it is keeping the western-backed PA government afloat.