The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s developments as they unfolded.
Israelis mourn Haim Gouri, ‘the national poet of our time’
The body of Haim Gouri is lying in state in various locations in Jerusalem Thursday, providing Israelis a final opportunity to pay their respects to the veteran poet, novelist, journalist, and filmmaker before he is laid to rest.
Gouri died Wednesday at the age of 94 and is survived by his wife, three children and six grandchildren.
His coffin was placed outside the Jerusalem Theater on Thursday morning before being driven through the streets of Jerusalem in a funeral procession that will conclude at the Givat Shaul cemetery.
Eulogizing the artist in front of the Jerusalem Theater, President Reuven Rivlin calls Gouri “the national poet of our time.”
“Not because of the seriousness with which you took your work as a poet, but because of the great respect with which you treated our people, our nation, the State of Israel and your role in it,” the president says.
— Jacob Magid
FBI in public fight with Trump over releasing Russia memo
In a remarkably public clash of wills with the White House, the FBI declares Wednesday it has “grave concerns” about the accuracy of a classified memo on the Russia election investigation that President Donald Trump wants released.
The FBI’s short and sharp statement, its first on the issue, lays bare a Trump administration conflict that had previously played out mostly behind closed doors in meetings between top Justice Department and White House officials.
“As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy,” the FBI says.
EU says asylum numbers dropped by almost half in 2017
The European Union’s asylum agency says the number people seeking international protection in Europe in 2017 dropped by almost half compared to the year before and that most applicants were Syrian.
EASO says Thursday that 706,913 people sought asylum in the 28 EU nations plus Norway and Switzerland in 2017, 43 percent lower than the year before.
It’s the second consecutive year that numbers have gone down, after more than one million people entered Europe, mostly Syrian refugees, in 2015.
More than 98,000 Syrians applied for asylum, twice anywhere else. Over 40,000 claims were made by nationals from Iraq, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
EASO says that around 40 percent of all asylum applications in 2017 were successful.
US envoy for North Korea says military option ‘not close’
The United States’ special envoy for North Korea says America is not close to taking military action against the North.
Joseph Yun says Thursday that US policy is to apply pressure and leave the door open for dialogue, while keeping all options open.
Yun says a military option is included, but “I don’t believe we are close to it.”
Yun makes the comments at a news conference in Tokyo after attending a meeting on North Korea held by a private think tank.
The two Koreas have resumed talks over the North’s participation in this month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, prompting the US and South Korea to postpone regular joint military exercises.
Poland hopes Holocaust bill won’t affect US ties
The Polish Foreign Ministry expresses hope relations between Warsaw and Washington would not be affected by the controversial passage of the Holocaust complicity bill, after the State Department condemned the measure on Wednesday.
“We believe that the legislative work … despite differences in the assessment of the introduced changes, will not affect the strategic partnership between Poland and the United States,” the statement says, according to Reuters.
Trump falsely claims most-watched State of the Union
US President Donald Trump says the ratings for his first State of the Union address this week are “the highest number in history,” but that is not true.
Nielsen reports that about 45.6 million tuned in to watch Trump Tuesday night. That’s below viewership for president Barack Obama’s first State of the Union, which was about 48 million, and Trump’s own joint address to Congress last year.
It also trails the 46.8 million viewers who tuned into president Bill Clinton’s first State of the Union speech, and the 51.7 million who watched president George W. Bush’s 2002 address.
Trump falsely argued last year that his inauguration was the most well-attended one ever.
Top career US diplomat to step down in blow to State Department
The top career US diplomat is stepping down, dealing a blow to the State Department as the Trump administration confronts numerous international challenges.
The State Department’s third-ranking official, Tom Shannon, tells agency staffers Thursday that he will retire as soon as a successor for his Senate-confirmed post is chosen and ready to assume the job.
Shannon is a 35-year veteran of the US Foreign Service and had been the most senior department official to remain in his job after the transition from the Obama to the Trump administration last year.
Shannon says he is retiring for personal and not political reasons, although his departure sends a shockwave through the department and the foreign policy community.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says he had asked Shannon to stay on.
Poland: Holocaust law designed to ‘protect historic truth’
Poland’s Foreign Ministry says the new legislation to regulate Holocaust speech is intended to “fight all forms of denying and distorting the truth about the Holocaust as well as belittling the responsibility of its actual perpetrators.”
In a statement, the ministry says the “main goal” of the legislation, which still needs the approval by the president, is to “protect historic truth” and expresses hope that it will not affect Poland’s strategic partnership with the US.
The US administration has asked Poland to rethink the proposed legislation saying it could “undermine free speech and academic discourse” and strain ties with the US and Israel.
Far-right Austrian politician quits over ties to ‘Nazi songbook’ fraternity
A far-right Freedom Party politician in Austria resigns over his ties to a fraternity that had printed song texts celebrating the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities.
Until recently Udo Landbauer, a candidate for the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) in local elections in Lower Austria state last Sunday, was the fraternity’s vice chairman.
Landbauer, 31, has said he was 11 years old when the book was printed and only found out about it last week.
But on Thursday Landbauer stepped down, according to Reuters.
Austria’s government said Wednesday that it plans to dissolve the fraternity.
The lyrics in the book produced in 1997 by the Germania zu Wiener Neustadt organization included “Step on the gas… we can make it to seven million,” media reports said.
— with AFP
Hamas, Fatah miss another reconciliation deadline as deal withers
The two leading Palestinian factions missed another deadline Thursday to implement a reconciliation deal, potentially burying the landmark accord aimed at ending their decade-long split.
Terror group Hamas was supposed to hand over power in the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority, led by secular movement Fatah, by December.
But the handover was missed and a February 1 deadline for solving the issue of two rival civil services passes Thursday with no progress appearing imminent.
While small changes have occurred since the deal was signed in October — notably the handing over of Gaza’s borders to the Palestinian Authority — Hamas remains firmly in charge in Gaza.
Hamas and Fatah trade blame for what could turn out to be a gradual abandoning of the accord.
Bassem Naim, a senior Hamas official, says the Fatah-led government had backed away from the deal “without clear reasons,” while Fayez Abu Eita, a Fatah official in Gaza, calls for Hamas to respect the agreement.
Egypt, which brokered the agreement, has elections coming up and the focus of its leaders appears elsewhere.
The head of the Egyptian intelligence services, Khaled Fawzy, was the chief broker of the deal but was replaced earlier this month.
Ukraine president ‘deeply concerned’ by Polish Holocaust law
Ukraine’s leader says he is “deeply concerned” by Poland’s adoption of a controversial Holocaust bill.
The Polish legislation stirred outrage in Israel as it sets penalties for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish or accuses Poland of complicity in the Third Reich’s crimes.
But a different passage of the bill allows for the prosecution of anyone who denies war crimes committed by Ukrainian nationalists in a move which has sparked an outcry in Kiev.
“I am deeply concerned by the decision of the Polish parliament,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko writes on Facebook.
“Historical truth calls for a frank conversation and dialogue and not prohibitions. The assessments which this decision contains are totally biased and completely unacceptable.”
Poroshenko says the legislation violated principles of “strategic partnership” between the two countries, saying Ukraine remembered “common victories and the fight against totalitarian regimes.”
Some historians say Ukraine’s UPA nationalists committed atrocities during World War II, notably against Poles in Ukraine.
Palestinians hurl firebomb at Israeli troops, are arrested
Two Palestinians are arrested after hurling a firebomb at Israeli troops near the West Bank village of Bidu, outside of Jerusalem, police say.
The pair, aged 16 and 17, threw the Molotov cocktail at border police officers and were attempting to light another when they were detained.
There are no injuries to Israeli forces.
Officers found the second firebomb on one of the suspects during a search, according to police.
Minister: Israel could take action against Poland law, US would follow
Likud Minister Israel Katz hints Israel could take action on Poland following the passage of the controversial Holocaust complicity law, prompting the United States to follow suit and forcing Warsaw to “account for” the legislation.
“If Israel takes action, then the US will take action. And as a result, the Polish government will be forced to account for [the legislation],” says Katz in an interview with Army Radio, without elaborating.
Israel has strongly condemned the law, which was passed by Senate early Thursday and must still be signed into law by Poland’s president. But the Israeli Foreign Ministry has not indicated it will seek further action.
The US State Department has also slammed the law. In a statement earlier Thursday, the Polish Foreign Ministry expressed hope the law would not affect Warsaw-Washington ties. The statement did not mention Israel.
Top Russian official meets Abbas, talks security with Israelis
Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Platonovich Patrushev meets with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah to discuss “Russian-Palestinian coordination,” according to the Russian Interfax agency.
Patrushev also talks “military-technical, security cooperation with his Israeli counterpart,” according to the agency.
A high-level Russian delegation is in Israel this week to discuss security coordination in Syria.
5 former Buchenwald guards face possible charges in Germany
German prosecutors are investigating whether to bring accessory to murder charges against five men who were guards at the Buchenwald concentration camp during World War II.
Jens Rommel, head of the federal prosecutors’ office that investigates Nazi war crimes, confirms a story in taz newspaper Thursday that his office had found sufficient evidence against the men to turn their cases over to Thuringia state prosecutors. His office can’t bring charges.
Some 56,000 people were killed at Buchenwald, which was near the German city of Weimar.
Rommel says the suspects are between ages 92 to 96 and all live in Germany. He says all but one served at Buchenwald during 1944-45.
They’re suspected as accessories to murder for helping the camp function, although there isn’t evidence of involvement in specific deaths.
UNRWA courts Arab states for donations after US cut
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees is asking Arab nations for funds after the Trump administration cut tens of millions of dollars of aid money.
UNRWA’s chief, Pierre Krähenbühl, speaks to an Arab League meeting of foreign ministers in Cairo, saying the US cut “is the most severe crisis” in the agency’s history.
UNRWA, which serves some 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants, had a budget of over $1 billion last year, with the US being the largest donor, giving a third of the total budget. The Trump administration withheld half of the first installment of payments this year, demanding reforms as a condition for future aid.
Last week, Krähenbühl suggested politics — notably the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital — were at play.
Israel targeted IS positions in Syria — reports
Syrian media reports that Israel targeted several positions belonging to the Islamic State group affiliate in southern Syrian.
The Israeli military does not comment on reports of its alleged activities in Syria.
The alleged airstrikes are said to have taken place during an offensive by rebel groups against the Islamic State-affiliated group, known as the Khalid ibn al-Walid Army, in the area around the city of Daraa.
Zaman Al Wasl, a pro-rebel outlet, quotes local activists as saying the “Israeli Air Force has been pounding [Islamic State] bastions” during the attack.
Additional Syrian opposition outlets specify that four surface-to-surface missiles were launched at Khalid ibn al-Walid Army positions.
This could not be immediately verified.
— Judah Ari Gross
ADL: White supremacist propaganda spreading on US college campuses
White supremacist propaganda on American college campuses has seen a dramatic increase since the fall of 2016, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
In a report published Thursday, the ADL calls the reported growth “alarming.” ADL’s Center on Extremism records 346 incidents in which white supremacists have used fliers, stickers, banners, and posters to spread their message since September 1, 2016, the report says.
The incidents are recorded on 216 college campuses in 44 states and Washington, D.C.
During the fall semester of 2017 (September 1 through December 31), a total of 147 incidents involved what ADL considers white supremacist propaganda on campuses — a 250 percent leap over the corresponding period in 2016, when ADL recorded 41 such cases.
“White supremacists are targeting college campuses like never before,” ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt says in a statement. “They see campuses as a fertile recruiting ground, as evident by the unprecedented volume of propagandist activity designed to recruit young people to support their vile ideology.”
Among the most active white nationalist groups identified is the Identity Evropa, which accounted for 158 of the 346 incidents recorded by ADL. Other prominent groups included the Patriot Front and Vanguard America.
Campuses in Texas and California see the most incidents recorded last fall at 61 and 43, respectively.
29 Iranian women detained over anti-hijab protest
Iranian police say they have detained 29 women they described as “deceived” who removed their obligatory Islamic veils in protest.
The Thursday report by the private Tasnim news agency, which is close to the government, says the detainees were taking part in an anti-hijab campaign known as “White Wednesdays.”
Under the campaign advocated by foreign-based Farsi language satellite TV networks, participants should take their white-colored scarves off on Wednesdays.
The report did not elaborate on the time and place of the arrests.
In recent days, social media postings have shown several women protesting the obligatory Muslim headscarf by taking theirs off and waving them on sticks in locations around Tehran and other cities.
ADL: Not all Poles were innocent as Jews were being slaughtered
The Anti-Defamation League says it is “deeply disappointed” after Poland’s Senate passes the controversial Holocaust complicity bill, and urges the Polish president not to sign it into law.
“Despite assurances from the Polish government, concerns about this bill have not been adequately addressed. We are calling on President Duda to refrain from signing it into law until concerns from Holocaust survivors and others are appropriately accounted for,” says ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt in a statement.
“It is clear from this misguided attempt to silence certain forms of speech about the Holocaust that much work remains to be done in terms of Poland’s coming to grips with its history. There’s no doubt Poland was a victim of the Nazis and their brutal occupation, and any effort to confuse perpetrators with victims should be rejected. But not all Poles were innocent as the Jews were being slaughtered,” he adds.
The law could even see Holocaust survivors imprisoned over their testimony, he underlines.
“It raises the possibility that anyone offering Holocaust survivor testimony about actions by individual Poles could be charged with a crime. This is unacceptable and could silence the voices of survivors and their families,” says Greenblatt.
Gaza gas explosion believed intentional; 7 dead
At least seven Palestinians died in an explosion in Gaza City Thursday, in what officials say was an intentional act after a family quarrel.
“Seven people including children died, and around 30 others were injured in an explosion at a home” in Gaza City, a spokesman for the health ministry says.
A police statement says a member of the Abu Assi family deliberately set a gas canister on fire during a family quarrel, leading to the explosion.
It says police were investigating the circumstances of the incident.
Eyewitnesses say the explosion caused serious damage to the two-story building.
Israel seeks to delay visit by Polish national security adviser
As Israel fumes over the passage of Poland’s controversial law on Holocaust complicity, Jerusalem says it “asked to delay” the upcoming visit by Polish national security adviser Paweł Soloch, which was scheduled for next week.
Because of the Polish Senate's vote in favor of the controversial Holocaust law, Israel asked "to postpone" planned visit of Poland's national security advisor, Pawel Solosh. Solosh was scheduled to be in Israel between February 4-7
— Raphael Ahren (@RaphaelAhren) February 1, 2018
Education Ministry won’t halt Poland trips, vows to ‘tell the truth’
The Education Ministry’s director-general Shmuel Abuav says Israel will not be halting student trips to Poland as a result of the controversial Holocaust complicity legislation.
But Abuav, speaking to Hadashot news, defiantly stresses that “the guides will tell the truth as it happened.”
He points to new curricula drafted by the ministry in response to the Polish bill, which examines the murders of over 2,000 Jews by Poles before and after World War II.
“No law will silence the instructors and guides, or the story we must tell the younger generation,” says Abuav.
Some 40,000 Israeli students will visit Poland this year for purposes of Holocaust commemoration, he says.
US: Assad may be developing new, sophisticated chemical weapons
The Trump administration says Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government may be developing new, more sophisticated chemical weapons.
US officials say the characteristics of recent alleged attacks suggest Syria is producing chemical weapons despite a 2013 deal to destroy its program. The officials say it’s “highly likely” that Syria kept a stockpile of weapons.
The officials also say Syria may be making new kinds of weapons, either to improve their military capability or to escape international accountability.
The officials also say the Islamic State group keeps using chemical weapons such as sulfur mustard and chlorine. The officials say the militants are using shells or improvised explosive devices to deliver the chemicals.
The officials weren’t authorized to discuss the assessment on the record and briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
IDF arrests 4 Gazans who crossed border, one with grenade and knives
Israeli soldiers arrest four Palestinian suspects, one of them armed, who entered Israel from the southern Gaza Strip, the army says.
According to the military, one of the suspects was carrying a grenade and two knives when he was arrested.
“The suspects were apprehended and transferred to security forces for further questioning,” the army says.
The suspects’ intentions are not immediately clear. There have been cases of Gazans entering Israel with weapons not to carry out attacks, but in order to be arrested and sent to prison, rather than remain in the beleaguered coastal enclave, which is run by the Hamas terrorist group.
— Judah Ari Gross
Trump considers unveiling Israeli-Palestinian peace plan — report
US President Donald Trump is considering unveiling his plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace, despite simmering tensions with the Palestinians over the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6, Channel 10 reports.
The TV report, which cites senior officials in Washington, says a final decision has yet to be made.
It quotes a senior official as saying the peace plan has not yet been finalized and the administration is still deliberating how it should be presented.
Nonetheless, the TV report claims the administration is keen on making the plan public, as it would lay out for the international community, in detail, how the White House envisions a peace deal.
The Washington sources stress they will not impose the plan on either party.
The Palestinians have been boycotting the United States since the December 6 announcement and have said they will no longer accept Washington as the mediator for talks.
Jordan severs ties with North Korea
US ally Jordan has cut diplomatic ties with North Korea “in line with the policies of its allies,” a government source says on Thursday.
The decision comes months after similar moves by Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, who are also key regional allies of the United States.
In November, the US called on all countries to cut off trade and diplomatic ties with North Korea after it carried out a series of weapons test, including intercontinental ballistic missiles that brought the US mainland into range.
The Jordanian government source acknowledges that relations between Pyongyang and Amman were “never very strong” but said ties were cut “in line with the policies of Jordan’s allies.”
The decision was ratified by a royal decree, according to the government’s website.
CIA defends meeting with Russian spy officials
CIA Director Mike Pompeo says there was nothing “untoward” about his meeting with top Russian spy chiefs, saying that even though Moscow remains an adversary, ignoring chances to cooperate on security issues would endanger American lives.
Pompeo sends a letter on Thursday to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who had raised questions about the meeting. Schumer said it was suspicious because it came just days before the Trump administration decided not to issue new sanctions at this time against Russian politicians and oligarchs over Russian interference in the election.
Pompeo tells Schumer that US intelligence officials meet periodically with their Russian counterparts to discuss various topics, including counterterrorism, aviation security, and preventing foreign fighters from returning to both nations.
Pompeo does not identify the Russians he met with in Washington last week, but two US officials identify them as Sergei Naryshkin, head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, and Alexander Bortnikov, who directs the top KGB successor agency known as the Federal Security Service. The officials were not authorized to disclose the information and spoke on condition of anonymity.
London man found guilty of fatal mosque van attack
A man who rapidly became obsessed with Muslims is found guilty Thursday of murder, having deliberately driven a van into a group of worshippers near a London mosque.
Darren Osborne, 48, became radicalized over four weeks last year after watching a television program about a child sex ring scandal involving a gang of mainly Muslim men in northern England.
Osborne, from Cardiff, is convicted of murdering 51-year-old Makram Ali and trying to kill others in the Finsbury Park area of north London on June 19.
Prosecutors say they were “clear throughout that this was a terrorist attack.”
Unemployed “loner” Osborne had pleaded not guilty, telling London’s Woolwich Crown Court that a man called “Dave” was driving at the time.
But witnesses recalled Osborne saying: “I’ve done my job, you can kill me now” and “at least I had a proper go” to members of the public in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
The jury of eight women and four men take one hour to convict the father-of-four.