Jordan frets over possible Trump recognition of Israel’s capital
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A-G to close probe into Jewish Home MK accused of sex crimes

Nissan Slomiansky cleared amid lack of evidence against him; coalition chairman David Bitan said considering quitting after police interrogation

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Jewish Home MK Nissan Slomiansky during a party meeting at the Knesset, October 19, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Jewish Home MK Nissan Slomiansky during a party meeting at the Knesset, October 19, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s developments as they unfolded.

Bitan banned from voting on police bill in committee

The Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon says coalition whip David Bitan and other lawmakers currently under police investigation may not vote on the police recommendation bill in committee due to a conflict of interest.

Bitan, grilled by police on Sunday, is listed alongside Joint (Arab) List MKs Hanin Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka, and Juma Azbarga as barred from voting in committee. This directive, in practice, only applies to Bitan, who sits on both the Internal Affairs Committee — which will finalize the legislation on Monday — and the House Committee.

But Yinon allows politicians embroiled in police proceedings, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Welfare Minister Haim Katz, Bitan, and Joint List MKs to vote on the police recommendations bill in the plenum — if they declare they are the subject of a criminal investigation.

Yinon had previously said Netanyahu and Katz may not vote on the bill in the plenum.

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon at a meeting of the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, February 23, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

UAE denies Houthi targeted nuclear plant

The United Arab Emirates on Sunday denies a claim by Yemen’s Shiite rebels that a rebel missile had been fired toward the country’s under-construction nuclear plant.

The rebels, known as Houthis, earlier in the day claimed they had launched a missile toward the plant in Abu Dhabi in the first such strike toward the country.

“The National Emergency and Crisis and Disasters Management Authority denies the claim that the Houthis fired a missile toward the country,” the UAE’s state-run WAM news agency says. “The UAE possesses an air defense system capable of dealing with any threat of any type or kind.”

The statement adds that the nuclear power plant was well-protected.


At Netanyahu’s order, police bill won’t apply to himself — reports

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will instruct lawmakers to revise the police recommendations bill such that it won’t apply to the pair of corruption investigations into his affairs, according to reports by Hadashot news and Channel 10.

The bill would forbid police from issuing recommendations about indictments when they conclude an investigation into a high-profile personage.

Netanyahu confirms police bill to be revised to exclude his cases

Netanyahu confirms reports he instructed changes be inserted to the police bill such that the proposed legislation will not apply to his criminal cases.

“In order for the discussion on the law to be substantive and not be exploited for political propaganda, I asked MK Amsalem to ensure the law is phrased such that it will not apply to the investigation into my matters,” Netanyahu writes in a Facebook post, referring to the author of the bill, Likud MK David Amsalem.

“In any case, it’s clear to all that the police recommendations into my affairs are meaningless. It seems they were set from the start of the investigation, were leaked throughout, and have not changed despite the clear facts that were presented to them time and again — which prove there is nothing,” Netanyahu adds.

Livni declares ‘victory’ after Netanyahu about-face on police bill

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni declares “victory” after Netanyahu backs down on the police recommendations bill.

“Victory of the honest over the corrupt! A huge victory for the Israeli public that proved one must not lose hope,” says Livni in a statement.

Amsalem says he’ll revise bill in accordance with PM’s wishes

Likud’s Amsalem says he’ll revise the police recommendations bill to accommodate the prime minister’s request to exclude him from the controversial legislation.

In a Facebook post, Amsalem says he “respects the request of the prime minister,” and will consult with coalition chairman David Bitan and the heads of the coalition parties on the amendment.

Amsalem posts this on Facebook while chairing the Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee, which is voting on hundreds of opposition objections to the as-yet-unrevised police recommendations bill.

Trump denies asking FBI to drop Flynn probe

US President Donald Trump denies Sunday having asked then FBI director James Comey to drop an investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about discussions with Russia.

“I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn. Just more Fake News covering another Comey lie!” Trump says in a tweet.

On Saturday, Trump again insisted he and his campaign had not colluded with Moscow in last year’s election, and shifted blame on the Justice Department and his rival Hillary Clinton.


Jordanian kidnapped for ransom in southern Syria is freed

Jordan’s military says it has rescued a Jordanian civilian who was kidnapped for ransom by an armed group in southern Syria several days ago.

The military-linked Hala Akhbar site says Sunday that the Jordanian man had been living in southern Syria and owned a farm there. It says he was tortured by his captors.

The site says the man has returned to his family in northern Jordan.

It provides no further details.


US-backed Syria Kurdish force says east of Euphrates free of IS

Syria’s main Kurdish forces say it has successfully cleared areas east of the Euphrates river of Islamic State militants.

Noureddine Mahmoud, spokesman for the People’s Defense Units, known as the YPG, and the backbone of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, praises at a press conference Sunday US and Russian support for forces operating in the eastern Deir el-Zour province.

He says he hoped for more coordination with the two international powers to protect liberated areas. Mahmoud’s comments come a day after the US defense secretary said Washington will stop arming the YPG.

Russia is the main backer of Syrian government forces battling IS on the western side of the river. Russia and the US have been in contact to prevent clashes between them.


Netanyahu: When Iran regime falls, Israel will be first to restore ties

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says “one day the Iranian regime will fall” and “Israel will be the first in line to restore relations” with the country.

The prime minister is addressing the Saban Forum in Washington, DC, in a pre-recorded video message.

He urges US policymakers to rally behind the “opportunity” presented by US President Donald Trump to fix the “flaws” of the nuclear deal.

And Netanyahu says he’s optimistic about the future, predicting that in 50 to 100 years, Israel will be embraced openly by its Arab neighbors.

Palestinians appeal to world leaders to block US embassy move

Palestinian leaders are seeking Sunday to rally diplomatic support to persuade US President Donald Trump not to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital after suggestions that he planned to do so.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was holding a series of phone calls with world leaders to “explain the dangers of any decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem or recognize (Jerusalem) as Israel’s capital,” Abbas’s diplomatic adviser Majdi al-Khalidi tells AFP.

His calls so far have included those to Arab leaders, French President Emmanuel Macron and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan told Abbas that an independent Palestinian state must have East Jerusalem as its capital, Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Abbas was also said to be seeking an emergency summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League to discuss the issue.

Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Palestinian Authority intelligence head Majed Farraj were making contacts in Washington, Khalidi says.

He says Abbas was warning “of the consequences of taking such a decision that will threaten the political process and peacemaking efforts.

Trump is set to decide by Monday whether to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.


Israeli areas around Gaza closed due to IDF activity

Areas around the Gaza Strip are sealed off due to military activity.

Netanyahu’s full remarks at Saban forum

Watch Netanyahu’s full pre-recorded video message to the Saban Forum below.

IDF says no special instructions for Gaza-adjacent Israelis

The army says there are no special instructions for Israeli residents in the Gaza periphery, following reports the area had been declared a closed military zone.

Judah Ari Gross

Rishon Lezion mayor among detainees in graft probe

The mayor of the central city of Rishon Lezion is among the detainees in the corruption probe that has also seen coalition chairman David Bitan hauled in for questioning.

Dov Tzur is suspected of accepted bribes, according to reports.

He and Bitan are questioned today, along with 16 other officials.

Half of Yazidis kidnapped by IS still missing

Around half of the Yazidis kidnapped by the Islamic State group three years ago are still missing, Iraqi Kurdish officials say.

In 2014, IS jihadis killed thousands of Yazidis in Sinjar and kidnapped thousands of women and girls from the religious minority to abuse as sex slaves.

Kurdish fighters backed by the US-led coalition against IS captured Sinjar from the jihadis in November 2015 before Iraqi security forces took control of the region in October.

A top official with the ministry of religious affairs of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq says that some 6,417 Yazidis were abducted by the jihadists from August 3, 2014.

As of December 1, 2017, only 3,207 of them have been rescued or managed to flee their captors, says Khairi Bozani.

The remaining 3,210 Yazidis — including 1,507 women or girls — are still either held by the jihadis or considered missing, he tells AFP.

Yazidi women carrying their children on January 1, 2015 (Courtesy of Nareen Shammo)


Mortar from Syria fired at Golan Heights; no injuries

A mortar shell was launched from Syria toward the Golan Heights, causing neither injury nor damage, according to the army.

The military says it seems to be errant fire from fighting across the border.

Troops are searching the area for the impact site of the shell, according to an army spokesperson.

Incoming rocket alert sirens in the area were not activated as the shell was heading toward an open field.

Judah Ari Gross

Top US adviser ‘not sure’ what Trump will decide on Jerusalem embassy

US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster says he does not know if US President Donald Trump will relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“I’m not sure what decision he’ll make. We’ve given him options,” McMaster tells Fox News.

“There are options involving the move of an embassy at some point in the future, which I think, you know, could be used to gain momentum toward a — toward a peace agreement, and a solution that works both for Israelis and for Palestinians,” adds McMaster.

Police recommendations bill pulled from Knesset schedule

A Knesset Internal Affairs Committee meeting scheduled for Monday, in which lawmakers were expected to finalize the so-called police recommendations bill, is canceled.

The cancellation comes after Netanyahu asked Likud lawmakers to redraft the controversial bill so that it excludes the investigations against him.

Islamic Jihad says it has yet to retaliate for tunnel destruction

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group says it has yet to retaliate for Israel’s destruction of its cross-border tunnel from the Gaza Strip a month ago.

After the tunnel demolition on October 30, in which at least 14 terrorists were killed, including two of Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s top commanders, the group vowed revenge.

“The response will come at the appropriate time and place,” the terror group warns on Sunday, according to the Ynet news site.

On Thursday, the Islamic Jihad launched a dozen mortar shells at an army post northeast of the Strip, causing no injuries but damaging army equipment.

WATCH: Kushner set to address Saban Forum in rare appearance

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner is set to address the Brookings Institution’s annual Saban Forum in Washington, DC.

Kushner, 36, has been tasked by his father-in-law with leading the White House’s efforts toward forging an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.

He will discuss those efforts and the administration’s broader Middle East approach with Haim Saban, the Israeli-American media mogul who hosts the prestigious annual confab in collaboration with Brookings.

Eric Cortellessa

Kushner says Israeli-Palestinian deal necessary for regional stability

Kushner is being interviewed by Haim Saban.

“Let’s start right with it then. The president has a very long career of accomplishing things that a lot of people say were impossible,” Kushner says, giving the 2016 election as an example.

“We do think it’s achievable,” he says of a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

Kushner is listing issues contributing to Middle East turmoil, from Iran to the Islamic State to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“If were going to try and create more stability in the region as a whole, you have to solve this issue,” he says of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He acknowledges it is “not a conventional team” approaching the issue.

Kushner touts ‘no leaks’ on peace push

Kushner is praising the US team working toward Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“We don’t view a peace agreement as just signing a piece of paper and hoping everything works out,” he says, stressing long-term economic plans for the Palestinians.

“There’s been no leaks on the process,” he says.

Kushner says both Israeli and Palestinian leaders trust Trump

Kushner says both Israeli and Palestinian leaders trust Trump.

“I think there’s a lot of the instances of great trust between Israelis and Palestinians,” but “not a lot of trust” between the leadership, opines Kushner.

He says he has been “very overwhelmed” by Israeli-Palestinian relationships between individuals.

Regarding Israeli and Palestinian leaders, he says “both sides really trust the president.”

Trump has the “right intentions, and the right creativity, and the right desires to see it happen,” he says.

The US peace team — “three Orthodox Jews and a Coptic Egyptian” — have focused on listening to both sides, he says.

“The regional dynamics are very interesting right now,” he says.

Kushner says Arab states see Israel as ‘more natural ally’

Kushner says Arab states are warming up to Israel.

“The regional dynamics play a big role” in the process, he says.

Kushner says Arab states see Israel as a “much more natural ally” than they did 20 years ago, citing Iran and extremism as contributing factors to the shift.

But, he says, Israel must overcome the Palestinian issue to fully come together.

Kushner: Israeli-Palestinian peace a ‘big priority’ for Saudis

Kushner is touting a unified Arab front against Iran, led by Trump.

“They welcomed American leadership,” he says of the US president’s trip to Saudi Arabia and efforts to isolate Tehran.

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is something they care very much about,” Kushner says of the Saudis.

He says a peace deal is a “big priority” for the Saudi king and crown prince.

“It’s not just the Saudis,” he says, listing Egyptians, Qataris, Emiratis.

Kushner tight-lipped on peace specifics, embassy move

Kushner refrains from disclosing any information about the Trump-led peace efforts.

“We’ve solicited a lot of ideas from a lot of places,” says the White House adviser, without elaborating.

“I am optimistic there is a lot of hope to bring a conclusion,” he says.

He says the US team has been “deliberate” not to set time-frames to increase the chances of reaching a deal.

Kushner also won’t reveal Trump’s plan for the US embassy, with a decision set to be announced on Wednesday.

“The president is going to make a decision,” says Kushner, adding that Trump is “still looking at a lot of facts.”

A-G to close case into Jewish Home MK accused of sex crimes

The attorney general announces he will end an investigation into Jewish Home MK Nissan Slomiansky due to lack of evidence.

Slomiansky had been accused of sex crimes by activists who say they were representing his victims. Two women agreed to testify against the lawmaker, but one failed to appear to a police summons, according to reports.

Jewish Home MK Nissan Slomiansky chairs a meeting of the Knesset Law, Justice and Constitution Committee on November 22, 2016. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

Bitan considering quitting Knesset amid graft probe — report

Coalition chairman David Bitan is considering quitting the Knesset amid the ongoing police investigations into his affairs, according to Hadashot news, which features a transcript of a conversation between Bitan and unnamed confidants on Sunday.

Bitan — who is suspected of bribery, breach of trust, and money laundering — is still being questioned by police, some 11 hours after he was first detained along with over a dozen other suspects.

The TV report says he will likely be released in two hours, but was expected to be summoned back for police questioning early Monday.

IDF arrests Palestinian fishermen off Gaza

The IDF arrests several Palestinian fishermen who went beyond the approved fishing zone off the coast of the northern Gaza Strip.

Soldiers called on the boat to stop before firing shots in the air.

The fisherman were arrested without injury and their vessel was confiscated.

Judah Ari Gross

US lawmaker: Likelihood of ‘preemptive war’ with N. Korea grows

A top Republican lawmaker warns Sunday that the United States moves closer to preemptive war with North Korea every time Pyongyang carries out a missile or nuclear test.

North Korea’s test launch this week of an intercontinental ballistic missile has sent tensions soaring once again on the Korean peninsula, after a two month lull.

“If there’s an underground nuclear test, then you need to get ready for a very serious response by the United States,” Senator Lindsey Graham says on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

His remarks echoed those of National Security Advisor HR McMaster, who told a security forum in Washington on Saturday that the potential for war with North Korea “is increasing every day.”

Graham, a foreign policy hawk, says he has had extensive discussions with the Trump administration about the situation.

The administration’s policy, he says, is “to deny North Korea the capability to hit America with a nuclear-tipped missile. Not to contain it.”

“Denial means preemptive war as a last resort. That preemption is becoming more likely as their technology matures. Every missile test, every underground test of a nuclear weapon, means the marriage is more likely.”

“I think we’re really running out of time. The Chinese are trying, but ineffectively,” he says.


27 fragmented statues of lion goddess found in Egypt

An Egyptian-European mission has discovered 27 fragmented statues of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet across the Nile from Egypt’s southern city of Luxor, the antiquities ministry says on Sunday.

The statues of the goddess, known as The Lady of War, were found in the ground at the Colossi of Memnon area on the city’s west bank, which used to be a capital for ancient Egypt, the ministry says in a statement.

Sekhmet had the body of a woman and the head of a fierce lioness, with a headpiece featuring the sun disk and was one of the goddesses known as Eyes of Ra, the sun god.

The newly found statues were about two meters (six and a half feet) high and carved in black granite, the ministry says citing Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The statues had the goddess’s head “crowned by a sundisk” while a cobra “adorns her forehead,” Waziri is cited as saying.


Jordan frets over possible Trump recognition of Israel’s capital

Jordan plans to convene emergency sessions of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation should US President Donald Trump recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Reuters reports.

“It could ultimately hamper all efforts to get the peace process moving and would certainly be provocative to Arab and Muslim countries and Muslim communities across the West,” an unnamed senior Jordanian source tells Reuters. “No issue can move Arabs and Muslims in the same potent way as Jerusalem does.”

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Jordan frets over possible Trump recognition of Israel’s capital

Jordan plans to convene emergency sessions of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation should US President Donald Trump recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Reuters reports.

“It could ultimately hamper all efforts to get the peace process moving and would certainly be provocative to Arab and Muslim countries and Muslim communities across the West,” an unnamed senior Jordanian source tells Reuters. “No issue can move Arabs and Muslims in the same potent way as Jerusalem does.”