The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they happened.
‘Dramatic development’ reported in graft probe of senior Likud lawmaker
Sources close to the investigation into graft allegations against former coalition whip MK David Bitan say a “dramatic development” has occurred in the case.
Nothing further can be printed about the matter, as the investigation remains under a court-imposed gag order.
Bitan is suspected of accepting bribes from real estate developers in Rishon Lezion while he served as deputy mayor in exchange for intervening in tenders in favor of the developers.
A key question in the investigation revolves around the possibility of furniture store owner Moshe Yosef, suspected of taking part in the alleged bribery scheme, turning state’s witness.
The year-long undercover investigation became public last month when police arrested 17 people, including senior officials in the Rishon Lezion municipality, in connection with the case. Bitan was forced to resign his senior parliamentary position — though he kept his Knesset seat — in order to deal with the investigation.
El Salvador, last country to have had embassy in Jerusalem, will not return there
RIO DE JANEIRO — El Salvador, the last nation to have an open embassy in Jerusalem ending, announces it will not move back to the capital.
“We will not move our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem out of respect for the peace process in the Middle East and particularly Israel and Palestine,” Salvadoran Minister of Foreign Affairs Hugo Martinez says during an interview with a local TV channel, reports the Spanish-language Jewish news service Aurora.
“Each country makes its own decision regarding foreign policy and El Salvador does not judge the determination of other countries, so we hope that the Salvadoran government will not be judged either,” he adds.
In 2006, El Salvador was the last country to move its embassy from Jerusalem in a bid to please Arab nations. One week before, Costa Rica also announced it would pull its diplomatic mission out of Israel’s capital. Therefore, at least for a few days, El Salvador remained the only country in the world with an embassy in Jerusalem.
Suspect in Bitan graft probe being questioned by police
Rishon Lezion furniture store owner Moshe Yosef, a key suspect — and possible future state’s witness — in the graft probe against former coalition whip MK David Bitan (Likud) is at the Lod headquarters of the Israel Police’s national fraud and major crimes unit Lahav 433.
He is reportedly being questioned about the alleged bribery scheme that has ensnared Bitan, one of Likud’s most powerful lawmakers.
The questioning comes amid reports of a “dramatic development” in the case, though details of the development are under a court-imposed gag order.
Damascus labels Iran protests a ‘conspiracy,’ backs regime
Syria expresses solidarity with Iran where clashes between protesters and security forces over the past days have left several people dead and wounded.
Syria is Iran’s strongest ally in the Arab world and Tehran has been a main backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad since the country’s conflict began in 2011, pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the Syrian economy.
A Syrian Foreign Ministry statement Tuesday blasts the US administration and Israel for expressing support to Iran’s protesters. It blames the US and Israel for destabilizing the region.
The ministry says Iran’s sovereignty should be respected and no one should interfere in Tehran’s internal affairs.
“Syria is confident that Iran’s leadership, government and people will be able to defeat the conspiracy,” the Syrian ministry says.
Iran’s Khamenei says ‘enemies’ swaying protests
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s supreme leader says the country’s enemies have meddled in recent protest rallies by various means.
A Tuesday report on the website of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei quotes him as saying that “in recent days” enemies of Iran have utilized various means including money, weapons, politics and intelligence apparatuses “to create problems for the Islamic system.”
Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, does not name any country but says he would explain more in the near future.
This is the first time Khamenei has commented publicly since protests over inflation and economic corruption began Thursday in Mashhad and spread to other cities.
More than 20 people, including protesters and security forces, have reportedly died in clashes and hundreds have been arrested.
Trump denounces ‘brutal and corrupt’ Iranian regime
US President Donald Trump praises Iranian protesters on Tuesday for acting against Tehran’s “brutal and corrupt” regime after days of bloody unrest, while also lashing out at his predecessor Barack Obama.
“The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime,” Trump tweets, a day after calling for regime change in the Islamic republic.
“All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their ‘pockets.’ The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The US is watching!”
Abbas spokesman: New Israeli Jerusalem law pushes region ‘into the abyss’
A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says an Israeli law passed overnight between Monday and Tuesday was “pushing the region into the abyss.”
In comments carried by the official PA media outlet Wafa, Nabil Abu Rudeineh says US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 9 and the Knesset’s passage of a law making it more difficult for future lawmakers to surrender parts of Jerusalem to a Palestinian state were a “declaration of war,” in Wafa’s words, “against the Palestinian people and their political and religious identity.”
“This vote clearly indicates that Israel has officially declared the end of the so-called political process and has already begun to impose dictating and de facto policies,” he says.
“There is no legitimacy to the Trump decision, and there is no legitimacy to all the decisions of the Israeli Knesset. We will not allow in any way to allow [sic] such plans that are dangerous for the future of the region and the world to pass.”
He calls for Arab, Islamic and international action against “Israel’s uncontrolled behavior that is pushing the region into the abyss.”
Egypt executes 4 jihadists over 2015 attack
Egypt on Tuesday executes four Islamists following their conviction by a military tribunal of killing three military academy students in a 2015 bomb attack that wounded six others.
The attack took place outside a stadium in the Nile Delta city of Kafr el-Sheikh as the military cadets were waiting for a bus to take them to the academy.
Tuesday’s executions at a prison in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria bring to 19 the number of jihadists executed over the past week.
Authorities executed 15 jihadists on December 26 after a military court convicted and sentenced them to death over a 2013 attack on a military checkpoint in the Sinai Peninsula, home of a long running insurgency by Islamist groups. An officer and eight soldiers were killed in that attack.
Iran says Trump should focus on ‘millions of hungry’ people in US
TEHRAN, Iran – Iran’s foreign ministry responds Tuesday to US President Donald Trump’s latest Twitter attack, saying he should focus on “homeless and hungry people” in his own country rather than insulting Iranians.
“Instead of wasting his time sending useless and insulting tweets regarding other countries, he would be better off seeing to the domestic issues of his own country such as daily killings of dozens of people… and the existence of millions of homeless and hungry people,” says ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi.
In his latest tweet on the ongoing unrest in Iran, Trump praised the protesters for acting against Tehran’s “brutal and corrupt” regime.
“The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The US is watching!” Trump wrote.
Pakistan summons US ambassador over Trump tweet
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan summons the US ambassador in a rare public rebuke after US President Donald Trump threatened to cut aid to Islamabad over its “lies” about militancy.
David Hale was asked to attend the foreign ministry on Monday night, after Islamabad responded angrily to the president’s allegations that it provided safe havens for jihadists — the latest dispute to rock the alliance.
A US embassy spokesman confirms Tuesday Hale met officials but had no comment on what was said.
There was no immediate response from foreign ministry officials. But Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi convened a National Security Council meeting later Tuesday attended by the powerful military chief and other senior military and government officials, a foreign ministry spokesman says.
Trump used his first tweet of 2018 to tear into Islamabad. “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools,” he said.
“They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”
Pakistan hit back swiftly, saying it had done much for the United States, helping it to “decimate” Al-Qaeda, while getting only “invective & mistrust” in return. The angry comments came from its foreign and defense ministers.
Turkey urges Iran protesters not to succumb to ‘provocations’
Turkey voices concern over protests in neighboring Iran that have resulted in deaths and harmed public property, saying Ankara attaches great importance to the “preservation of social peace and stability” in the country.
In a statement Tuesday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry urges protesters to avoid violence and not to fall for “provocations.” It also welcomes a speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during which he backed the right to peaceful protests but warned against violating laws or harming public property.
The ministry says: “We hope that peace is ensured and common sense prevails so that the events do not escalate, and that rhetoric and foreign interventions that incite developments are avoided.”
The protests against the government’s handling of the economy, which began Thursday and have spread to several cities, are the largest seen in Iran since those that followed a disputed 2009 presidential election.
Moderate camp in Iranian ruling elite condemns violence – and US
TEHRAN, Iran — The more moderate branch of Iran’s ruling religious movement condemns the violence that has rocked the country in recent days, accusing the US of stirring unrest while still calling on the government to address economic grievances.
“Without doubt the Iranian people are confronted with difficulties in their daily lives, but the events of recent days have shown that opportunists and troublemakers have exploited the demonstrations to create problems,” says a statement from the Association of Religious Combatants, headed by the reformist ex-president and cleric Mohammad Khatami.
“The enemies of Iran, headed by the United States and their agents… have encouraged the troublemakers and the violent actions.”
German nationalist’s anti-Muslim tweet prompts complaint
BERLIN — A prominent lawmaker with the nationalist and anti-Islam Alternative for Germany party runs into trouble with police and Twitter over her response to a Cologne police tweet offering New Year greetings in Arabic.
Beatrix von Storch tweets her objections to Saturday’s tweet, saying: “Do they think they will calm the barbaric, Muslim, group-raping hordes of men this way?”
Von Storch’s Twitter account was blocked for several hours Monday over a suspected breach of rules on hate speech. Police say Tuesday they filed a criminal complaint to prosecutors over suspected incitement.
Von Storch is one of 92 lawmakers for Alternative for Germany, or AfD, in the national parliament and her immunity from prosecution would have to be lifted for any investigation to be launched.
New Year celebrations in Cologne were overshadowed two years ago when hundreds of women complained of being groped and robbed, mostly by groups of migrants.
Canada presses Iran to respect protesters’ rights
OTTAWA, Canada — Canada urges Iranian authorities to respect the rights of protesters after days of unrest have left at least 21 people dead and hundreds arrested.
“Canada is encouraged by the Iranian people who are exercising their basic right to protest peacefully,” the foreign ministry says in a statement.
“We call on the Iranian authorities to uphold and respect democratic and human rights.”
Canadian diplomatic authorities also vow that “Canada will continue to support the fundamental rights of Iranians, including the right to freedom of expression.”
Iranian officials have said online accounts in the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia are fomenting protests.
India buys Israeli missiles ahead of Netanyahu visit
NEW DELHI, India — India is to buy 131 surface-to-air missiles from Israel in a $70 million deal, the country’s defense ministry announces Tuesday ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Barak missiles made by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems are to be used for India’s first aircraft carrier which is under construction.
Netanyahu will lead a business delegation to India on a four day trip expected in mid-January. Israel has become a major defense supplier to India, selling an average of $1 billion of military equipment each year.
Last April the two countries signed a military deal worth nearly $2 billion which includes the supply over several years of medium-range surface-to-air missiles, launchers and communications technology.
It was unclear whether the deal announced Tuesday was part of that.
Winter’s first serious storm set to strike Friday
Israel is bracing for its first serious winter thunderstorm, which meteorologists say will hit the country by Friday morning.
Heavy rains are expected to begin on Thursday in the Galilee and spread south on Friday to Tel Aviv and the Negev, with flash floods expected in the riverbeds that crisscross the southern desert. Wind gusts will reach up to 100 kph (62 mph), and a snowstorm is expected to hit the country’s highest point on Mount Hermon on the Golan.
After public funding law, MKs must return primary race donations
The Knesset’s legal adviser says MKs who raised money for their next party primary run must return the funds to their donors following the passage of a new law on Monday that provides for public funding for all primary races.
The adviser, Eyal Yinon, says the donations must be returned within four months, and in cases where the donations cannot be returned, the funds must be turned over to the public treasury.
France expresses concern over Iran protests
TEHRAN, Iran — France is expressing concern over the “number of victims and arrests” in the protests roiling Iran, where demonstrators have taken to the streets in several cities.
The Foreign Ministry says Tuesday “the right to protest freely is a fundamental right.” It says human rights will be a top priority in France’s discussions with Iranian authorities in the coming weeks.
The ministry declines to confirm whether French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was still planning to visit Iran on Friday.
More than 20 people have been killed since the protests erupted last week. The demonstrations were sparked by economic grievances, but some protesters have chanted against the government and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Hundreds of people have been arrested.
Police probe Berlin knife attacker for Islamist motive
BERLIN, Germany — Berlin police say Tuesday they were unable to rule out an Islamist background after a “deranged” Syrian knifeman was arrested over an attack in one of the German capital’s underground stations.
Witnesses said the 23-year-old, identified as Ahmad Al-H., attacked several people with a knife “for no apparent reason” at the Bayerischer Platz station in southwestern Berlin on New Year’s Eve, according to a police report.
But the Tagesspiegel newspaper reported that he had asked one 50-year-old German man his nationality and called him an “infidel” before stabbing him. Other people attacked by the knife wielder including a mother with a young child who escaped unharmed, according to Tagesspiegel.
Police said only that the attacker — who the paper reported was known to officers after being involved in several brawls — “seemed deranged” when they arrested him in response to emergency calls.
Following the arrest, officers brought the knifeman to a clinic and had him examined by a psychiatrist.
Suicide was biggest cause of death for IDF soldiers in 2017
Some 16 IDF soldiers committed suicide in 2017, making it the leading cause of death among Israeli troops last year, the army says.
In second place are car accidents, which claimed the lives of 12 soldiers.
The suicide figures are similar to 2016 and 2015, when 15 soldiers committed suicide, but a significant decrease from the early 2000s when dozens of soldiers each year ended their own lives.
Car accident deaths were up from the seven dead in both 2015 and 2016, but down from preceding years.
In total, 55 Israeli soldiers, including conscripts, career officers and reservists, were killed in the past year in terror attacks, accidents, car crashes and from medical causes.
— Judah Ari Gross
US vice president to visit Israel on January 21 – report
US Vice President Mike Pence is tentatively set to visit Israel briefly on January 21, Channel 10 television news says.
The report, sourced to a senior Israeli official, says Pence was invited to speak in the Knesset on that day by the Prime Minister’s Office. Pence’s office did not confirm the report.
He is not expected to visit Ramallah after Palestinian Authority officials said they would refuse to meet with him.
Pence was slated to visit last month, but the visit was delayed over key Congressional votes on the Trump administration’s tax reform bill.
US calls on Iran to unblock social media sites amid protests
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is calling on Iran’s government to stop blocking Instagram and other popular social media sites as Iranians are demonstrating in the streets.
US Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein says the United States wants Iran to “open these sites.” He says Instagram, Telegram and other platforms are “legitimate avenues for communication.”
The United States is encouraging Iranians to use virtual private networks, known as VPNs. Those services create encrypted links between computers and can be used to access blocked websites.
Goldstein says the US is still communicating with Iranians in Farsi through State Department accounts on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. He says the US wants to “encourage the protesters to continue to fight for what’s right.”
Goldstein says the US has an “obligation not to stand by.”
US envoy Friedman to pay condolence visit to MK Yehudah Glick
US envoy David Friedman is planning to pay a condolence visit to Likud MK Yehudah Glick at his home in the Otniel settlement south of Hebron in the southern West Bank, Hadashot TV news reports.
Glick’s wife Yaffa passed away earlier this week.
The television report says the visit would mark the first official visit by an American diplomat in a West Bank settlement.
Graft probe into top MK widens as new suspicions uncovered
Police sources reveal Tuesday that the corruption investigation into former coalition whip MK David Bitan has expanded to include previously unreported suspicions of bribery while he served as a top official in the Rishon Lezion municipality.
The new suspicions, apparently first revealed in testimony Tuesday by a key witness in the case, Rishon Lezion developer and furniture store owner Moshe Yosef, mean Bitan is now suspected of accepting as much as NIS 5 million in alleged bribes, according to Channel 10 television news.
Pence spokesperson confirms Israel visit in January
A spokesperson for US Vice President Mike Pence does not confirm an Israeli report earlier today according to which the vice president will visit Israel on January 21, but insists he still plans to visit this month.
“As we’ve said all along, the Vice President is going to the Middle East in January. We’re finalizing details and will announce specifics of the full trip in the coming days,” Alyssa Farah, Pence’s press secretary, says in a statement.
The report, carried by Israel’s Channel 10 news and sourced to a senior Israeli officials, said Pence was invited by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit on January 21, and that the visit would last one day.
Pence was slated to visit Israel last month, but delayed the trip in order to help shepherd a key tax reform bill through Congress.
— Eric Cortellessa
In call with Macron, Iran’s Rouhani blames protests on France-based group
TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani phones his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday to demand action against a “terrorist” Iranian opposition group he is accusing of fomenting recent protests.
“We criticize the fact that a terrorist group has a base in France and acts against the Iranian people… and we await action from the French government against this terrorist group,” Rouhani tells Macron, according to a report on Iranian state television.
He is referring to an exiled Iranian opposition group based in Paris and called the Mujahideen e-Khalk.
UN chief following protests in Iran, ‘evaluating’ how to help
TEHRAN, Iran — The UN says Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is following news of the protests in Iran and assessing whether to make contact with the government or anyone else about them.
Deputy spokesman Farhan Haq says Tuesday that the UN is “evaluating the situation and trying to see what contacts would be most helpful.” He says the world body hopes further violence will be avoided and expects Iranians’ right to peaceful assembly and expression to be respected.
More than 20 people have been killed and hundreds have been arrested since the protests erupted in several Iranian cities last week.
The demonstrations were sparked by economic grievances, but some protesters have chanted against the government and the state’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
US envoy suggests Palestinians may lose aid if they don’t return to negotiations
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley seems to threaten the Palestinians with a cut-off of US aid if they continue refusing to come to the negotiating table.
In comments delivered at the UN, Haley tells reporters, “We very much still want to have a peace process. Nothing changes with that.”
But, she adds, “The Palestinians now have to show their will that they want to come to the table. As of now they’re not coming to the table but they ask for aid. We’re not giving the aid. We’re going to make sure that they come to the table. And we want to move forward with the peace process.”
Knesset committees discussing applying new laws to settlements
The Knesset House Committee has instructed other legislative committees to discuss the application of newly passed Israeli laws to West Bank settlements.
Coalition lawmakers, including Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, have sought to extend Israeli law regarding education, immigration absorption, and housing to West Bank settlements.
Currently, Israeli law is applied to the settlements by issuing individual military orders, a process that Shaked says discriminates against residents of West Bank settlements.
Critics say the effort is step toward expanding Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank.