Lapid said to offer former IDF chief Ashkenazi #2 spot in Yesh Atid
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TV report: Police agreed to PM’s request to confront witnesses, he demurred

Source close to investigation tells Hadashot that when investigators agreed to have Netanyahu meet accusers, he said he’d need to ask his lawyers — then never got back to them

  • In this photo from December 23, 2018, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool via AP, File)
    In this photo from December 23, 2018, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool via AP, File)
  • An illustrative image of hackers/cybersecurity (iStock by Getty Images)
    An illustrative image of hackers/cybersecurity (iStock by Getty Images)
  • The Pri Haaretz Yeshiva in the Rehelim settlement on January 8, 2019. (Ofer Meir/Flash90)
    The Pri Haaretz Yeshiva in the Rehelim settlement on January 8, 2019. (Ofer Meir/Flash90)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Yoav Gallant hold a joint press conference at the Knesset, January 9, 2019, as Gallant joins Netanyahu's Likud party (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Yoav Gallant hold a joint press conference at the Knesset, January 9, 2019, as Gallant joins Netanyahu's Likud party (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
  • M., an Israeli-American who was convicted of hoaxing JCCs and other targets around the world with thousands of bomb threats, arrives at the Tel Aviv District Court for his sentencing on November 22, 2018. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)
    M., an Israeli-American who was convicted of hoaxing JCCs and other targets around the world with thousands of bomb threats, arrives at the Tel Aviv District Court for his sentencing on November 22, 2018. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

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

Netanyahu announces former chief of staff pick Gallant joining Likud

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces that a former pick for IDF chief of staff, Yoav Gallant, will join the Likud party to run on its electoral list in the upcoming April elections.

The news is relayed at a joint press conference with Gallant, hours after the former Kulanu MK was sworn in an immigration minister.

Gallant, who began his military career in the elite Shayetet 13 naval commando unit, is a highly regarded military strategist and was former defense minister Ehud Barak’s choice for IDF chief of staff in 2010.

Initially approved by the government, his appointment was subsequently canceled when questions arose over his appropriation of public lands for the construction of his home in the rural village of Amikam, some 20 minutes’ drive south of Haifa.

He joined the newly created Kulanu party ahead of the 2015 elections.

Iran’s Supreme Leader indicates that US sanctions hurting

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says US sanctions are putting pressure on Iran and its people, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

US President Donald Trump pulled out of an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program in May and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.

“The sanctions do put pressure on the country and the people. The Americans happily say that these sanctions are unprecedented in history,” Khamenei says. “Yes, they’re unprecedented. And the defeat that the Americans will face will be unprecedented, God willing.”

Police raid Aisha Rabi murder suspects’ yeshiva, summoning students for questioning

Police are raiding the northern West Bank yeshiva attended by the five suspects in Aisha Rabi’s October murder, the Honenu legal aid organization representing the teens reports.

The officers are handing out summons to 30 students to appear for questioning immediately at the Ariel Police Station.

Honenu says the raid is illegal as it is taking place without a warrant.

Israeli woman says Palestinians blocked her car, smashed window with hammer

An Israeli woman said Wednesday that a group of Palestinians blocked her car close to the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Levonah before smashing her window with a hammer, leaving her lightly injured.

The victim said she remained in her vehicle and managed to drive away.

Police have opened an investigation into the incident.

The incident comes a few months after a judge on the Supreme Court said he escaped a violent assault by three men armed with hammers as he drove on a West Bank highway near his home in the settlement of Dolev.

Palestinian Authority cuts off Hamas lawmakers’ salaries

The Palestinian Authority has cut off the salaries of Hamas lawmakers in the West Bank, the latest in a series of recent measures that have escalated tensions between the rival factions.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the 132-member assembly last month.

Deputy Parliament Speaker Hassan Khreisheh says that all but 48 lawmakers — mostly Hamas members — received their salaries this week.

Palestinian officials aligned with Abbas’s Fatah movement have threatened further action against Hamas over its refusal to hand over power in the Gaza Strip, even as Israel has sought to preserve calm in and around the blockaded territory.

Last week, the Palestinian Authority withdrew from the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, which it had been operating as part of a 2017 reconciliation agreement with Hamas.

— AP

Husband admits to killing wife in Acre murder case, police say

The husband of a woman found murdered in Acre has admitted to the killing, police say.

Muhammad Labidi, 37, will be indicted for killing his wife next week, according to a report in Channel 10. Iman Ahmed Awad, 29, was found with her throat slit in her apartment early last month.

Police found evidence at the scene of the crime, including a bag containing a knife and bloody clothing, which pointed to Labidi as the perpetrator, police say.

After the murder, he reportedly told police that he came home with a friend to find his wife’s body and the apartment in disarray. His alibi did not hold up under investigation, according to police.

He was arrested immediately after the murder, police say, and his remand will be extended until next week, according to the report.

Saudi Arabia says six suspects killed in raid on Shiite stronghold

Six suspects wanted over unrest in Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority stronghold of Qatif were killed in a police raid this week, the kingdom’s secret service says.

One person was lightly wounded and arrested in the “preemptive” raid on “terrorists” holed up in a house in the eastern town of Jish on Monday, a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency says.

Five officers were wounded in the operation, which the statement says foiled a planned attack on infrastructure development in the Eastern Province, which includes Qatif.

Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province has seen bouts of unrest since 2011 when protesters emboldened by the Arab Spring took to the streets demanding an end to what they say is discrimination by the Sunni-dominated government.

The Shiite community is estimated to make up between 10 and 15 percent of the kingdom’s population of 32 million, but the government has released no official statistics.

The government denies discrimination against Shiites.

— AFP

JCC bomb hoaxer tries to snatch gun from guard, escape prison

A young Israeli man imprisoned for orchestrating a wave of bomb threats against Jewish centers in the United States and elsewhere in 2017 has attempted to escape for the second time, Hebrew-language media reports.

An American-Israeli Jewish teenager, accused of making dozens of anti-Semitic bomb threats in the United States and elsewhere, is escorted by police as he leaves a courtroom in Rishon Lezion on March 23, 2017. (AFP/Jack Guez)

The hacker, who was 18 when was arrested and charged in April 2017 and who has been sentenced to 10 years in prison, tried to snatch a gun from a prison guard while visiting a hospital for a medical check, the reports say.

He was brought to Asaf Harofeh hospital in central Israel with his hands and legs cuffed. When the cuffs were taken off for the examination, he tried to grab the gun of one of his accompanying guards.

After a struggle the prison guards subdued him and took him back to Nitzan prison in Ramle, the reports say.

The man previously tried to escape in June 2017 — when he was under arrest — by wearing four pairs of socks so the cuffs were loose, taking them off while in the back of an Israel Prisons Service vehicle and attempting to break its door mid-ride. In that case, too, he was caught and didn’t manage to escape.

Elections committee says is it developing a detailed plan to prevent meddling

The Central Elections Committee says it is devising a detailed plan of action to prevent attempts by foreign countries to meddle in the April 9 Knesset elections, following reports that such attempts are being made by a country that cannot be named by orders from the military censor.

“Together with security bodies, we studied what happened in other countries and we are devising a plan of action,” says a spokesperson for the committee in charge of organizing the election.

Part of those efforts, the spokesperson says, has been a meeting with senior officials in Facebook, the social media site where much of the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections took place.

The committee says that for security reasons it can’t detail what actions have been taken, but says that all bodies involved in the election process have been alerted.

The statement stresses that Israel is less vulnerable to online vote fraud than other countries since the ballots are counted manually.

Russian lawyer in Trump probe denies US charges against her

The Russian lawyer at the heart of the investigation into possible collusion between US President Donald Trump’s election campaign and Russia has rejected the US charges leveled against her.

In this April 22, 2018 file photo, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Moscow. (AP Photo/Dmitry Serebryakov, File)

Natalya Veselnitskaya, who attended the 2016 Trump Tower meeting that is a focus of the US investigation, was charged yesterday in the US with obstruction in an unrelated tax-fraud case. US prosecutors said she teamed up with a senior Russian prosecutor and submitted deceptive declarations in the civil case involving a Russian tax refund fraud scheme.

Veselnitskaya, who is in Russia, tells Russian state television the charges against her aim to hinder her “professional activities” including her lobbying efforts in the United States.

Donald Trump Jr. says he met with Veselnitskaya because he had been told she could offer damaging information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

— AP

Germany says citizen being held in Egypt; another missing

The German Foreign Ministry says a German citizen who went missing in Egypt in December is in custody there, and officials are still trying to determine the whereabouts of another who disappeared earlier in the month.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr says Mahmoud Abdel Aziz “is in the custody of Egyptian authorities,” but doesn’t elaborate for privacy reasons.

She says German officials haven’t visited him yet but are “trying very intensively to get access.”

German media reports the 23-year-old Goettingen resident was detained at Cairo airport December 27 en route to visit grandparents.

Ten days earlier, 18-year-old Isa El Sabbagh, from Giessen, disappeared after landing in Luxor on his way to visit his grandfather in Cairo.

Adebahr says the German embassy is still trying to determine his whereabouts.

— AP

Netanyahu says Israel ready to thwart election cyber meddling

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel leads the world in cyber-defense, following a report that an unnamed nation planned to meddle in the upcoming Knesset election.

“Israel is prepared to thwart a cyber intervention, we’re prepared for any scenario and there’s no country more prepared than we are,” he tells reporters.

Yesterday, Hadashot television news reported that the head of the Shin Bet internal security agency said Israel was bracing for a state driven cyber intervention in the April 9 poll.

“A foreign state is planning on intervening in the upcoming elections in Israel, and it will intervene,” Nadav Argaman was quoted as telling participants of a closed meeting.

Russia has been accused of seeking to influence various elections around Europe — and the US presidential poll in 2016 — through disinformation campaigns.

— with AFP

Syrian Kurds say 8 foreign jihadists captured, including US teen

Syria’s Kurds say they have captured eight alleged foreign jihadists, including an American teenager, in fighting against the Islamic State group.

Those captured on Sunday and Monday include a 16-year-old American and a 31-year-old German national, Lucas Glass, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units says in a statement.

— AFP

Stan Lee’s devoted fans can mourn him at Hollywood memorial

Stan Lee’s devoted fans will have a chance to mourn him alongside his friends and family at a memorial in Hollywood on January 30.

Stan Lee, creator of comic-book franchises such as ‘Spider-Man,’ ‘The Incredible Hulk’ and ‘X-Men,’ in his office in Santa Monica, California, April 16, 2002. (Reed Saxon/AP)

Lee’s company POW! Entertainment announces that it will honor the Marvel Comics mogul outside the TCL Chinese Theatre, where Lee’s hand and footprints are in cement.

Organizers include filmmaker and Lee superfan Kevin Smith, who will moderate a discussion of Lee that includes actors Mark Hamill and Vincent D’Onofrio, and rapper RZA.

The evening will include speakers, musical performances, and costumes and props from Lee’s creations and Marvel-movie cameos. Tickets for the public go on sale this evening, with proceeds going to a charity for struggling comic-book creators.

Lee died November 12 at age 95. A small, private funeral came immediately after.

— AP

Jewish rights group urges Croatia to ban Holocaust-denying book

A Jewish human rights group urges Croatian authorities to ban a book that denies crimes committed by Croatia’s World War II pro-Nazi regime.

Chief Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center says in a statement that a book titled “the Jasenovac Lie Revealed” is being promoted in a Catholic church in Zagreb on January 16. The book, published by the right-wing Society for Research of the Threefold Jasenovac Camp, has multiple authors.

Zuroff says the book “denies that mass murders of Serbs, Jews, Roma and Croatian anti-fascists were carried out frequently in the notorious Jasenovac concentration camp.”

“These crimes are corroborated by historical documents, testimonies of survivors and the scholarly research of numerous reputable historians,” Zuroff says, adding that works like this “would immediately be banned in Germany and Austria, and rightfully so.”

According to history books, the Croatian Ustasha regime killed more than 83,000 Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascists at the camp between 1941 and 1945. Croatia’s right-wing nationalists claim the death toll was much lower.

The book says that Jasenovac was a labor camp for enemies of the regime, and that the real death camp was established by the victorious Yugoslav Communists after the war where Ustashas were killed.

Croatia’s center-right authorities have faced criticism for their alleged lack of resolve in preventing the resurgence of pro-Nazi sentiments in the European Union country.

— AP

Suicide deaths among IDF soldiers in 5-year low, army says

The Israeli military publishes a summary of soldiers who died in service during 2018, saying 43 servicemen and servicewomen died during the year compared to 55 in 2017.

The most common death cause was road accidents, accounting for 14 of the deaths. Ten succumbed to health problems and two were killed in training accidents.

Eight soldiers were killed while taking part in military operations.

Ten soldiers committed suicide in 2018, the lowest number in five years according to a senior officer in the IDF’s Manpower Directorate.

Muslim group sues Maryland over anti-BDS order

A Muslim civil rights group is suing to block the state of Maryland from enforcing an executive order barring state agencies from contracting with businesses that boycott Israel.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations is suing Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and state Attorney General Brian Frosh on Wednesday on behalf of software engineer Syed Saqib Ali, a former state lawmaker.

The October 2017 executive order requires contractors to certify that they don’t boycott Israel. Ali’s federal lawsuit says the order bars him from bidding for government software contracts because he supports boycotts of businesses and organizations that “contribute to the oppression of Palestinians.”

CAIR says 26 states have enacted measures similar to Maryland’s. CAIR attorney Gadeir Abbas says other federal lawsuits have challenged measures in Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas and Texas.

— AP

Navy names new Israeli sub ‘the Dragon,’ in nod to vessel that sank in 1968

The Israeli Navy announces that its new submarine, which is due to be delivered next year, will be named the INS Dragon.

The Dragon (or Drakon in Hebrew) is meant to be a compromise between the military’s initial choice of naming the vessel the Dakar — after another Israeli submarine that sank in 1968 with its crew — and the families of the fallen sailors from the original Dakar who protested the proposal to recycle the name.

In its announcement, the Navy noted that, in Hebrew, Drakon contains the letters that make up Dakar.

Last year, the Navy said it would be reserving the name Dakar for the overall class of its new submarines.

“Submariners are preserving our security stability day and night, with unflappable professionalism, wisdom, dedication and consideration,” Navy chief Maj. Gen. Eli Sharvit says during the announcement ceremony.

— Judah Ari Gross

Leading Egypt activist sentenced to 15 years in prison

CAIRO — An Egyptian court has sentenced one of the leading activists behind the country’s 2011 uprising to 15 years in prison after convicting him of taking part in clashes between protesters and security forces later that year.

The Cairo Criminal Court also fined Ahmed Douma, a secular activist, 6 million Egyptian pounds, or $345,000, in his retrial on violence-related charges.

In an initial trail in 2015, Douma and 229 others were sentenced to life in prison. All were tried in absentia except Douma.

Douma appealed the life sentence and Egypt’s highest appeals court ordered his retrial, ultimately leading to the reduced sentence.

— AP

Mt. Hermon ski resort closed due to heavy snowfall

The ski resort on Mt. Hermon will be closed Thursday due to heavy snowfall, management announces.

The resort says it is working to move excess snow to allow the site to reopen as soon as possible.

Illustrative photo of the Mount Hermon ski resort, on the Golan Heights, February 3, 2016. (Mendy Hechtman/Flash90)

Pew survey: 62% of Israelis fear possibility of election being hacked

Amidst Shin Bet warnings of possible meddling by a foreign nation in the upcoming Israeli election, a new survey by the Pew Research Center shows that 62 percent of the public believes the country’s elections could be tampered with through hacking.

Conversely, 73% of Israeli believe the country is ready to handle a major cyberattack — the most of any other country polled. Meanwhile, 59% fear national security information could be accessed by hackers and 67% fear national infrastructure could be damaged in an attack.

The survey was conducted among residents of 26 nations. Israelis were questioned in June-July of 2018.

Coastal town of Eilat high on NY Times’ list of places to go in 2019

Israel’s small resort town of Eilat has come out near the top of the New York Times’ list of recommended travel destinations of 2019.

The southern city on the Red Sea coast is given the number six spot on the list, with the newspaper’s Debra Kamin highlighting its coral reef diving opportunities and luxury hotels.

“With the opening early this year of Ramon Airport, set in the dramatic Timna Valley…the world will finally get a direct route” to the enticing tourist spot, she says.

Aerial view of Eilat on October 21, 2015. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Iran says it is holding US Navy veteran Michael R. White

TEHRAN, Iran — A semi-official news agency close to the Revolutionary Guard has confirmed that Iran is holding US Navy veteran Michael R. White.

The Tasnim news agency reported the confirmation Wednesday night, quoting Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi.

The agency quoted Ghasemi as saying: “An American citizen was arrested in the city of Mashhad some time ago and his case was conveyed to the US administration on first days.”

The New York Times has quoted White’s mother saying she learned three weeks ago that her son is alive and being held at an Iranian prison.

–AP

Probe source: Police agreed to PM’s request for confrontation, he demurred

A senior source close to the investigation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells Hadashot TV News that it was the PM who stalled on holding a confrontation with witnesses, as opposed to his claim that he requested the meeting and was denied.

The source confirms that Netanyahu had twice requested to hold a confrontation with state witnesses. But he said that when police investigators told him that was possible, the premier demurred, saying he would need to confer with his lawyers and then never got back to them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, January 6, 2019 (Alex Kolomoisky/Yedioth Ahronoth/Pool)

“We understood that Netanyahu didn’t want a confrontation because he didn’t get back to us,” the source says. “To [now] say he wants one after the probe has ended is [due to] his desire to stop a decision he realizes will be made very soon.”

Netanyahu’s lawyers reject the claim, saying it is an attempt to pass the blame onto him. “The prime minister demanded twice to confront the state witnesses and the fact that now confrontation was held is a scandal that rests entirely on the shoulders of police,” they say.

Lapid said to offer former IDF chief Ashkenazi #2 spot in Yesh Atid

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid has offered former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi the number 2 spot in his party, Channel 10 news reports.

According to the TV station, Lapid met Ashkenazi on Friday, and promised him a senior ministerial position if Yesh Atid is part of the next government, as well as significant influence in party decision-making.

Ashkenazi did not give an answer, and sources close to him say he is considering offers from at least two parties, and is not planning to make a decision in the coming week.

Former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi in 2014 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Report: Shin Bet chief warns Chinese investment in Israel must be monitored

Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman has warned that China’s influence in Israel must be monitored, as its investments could potentially threaten national security, Channel 10 reports.

During a lecture at Tel Aviv University, Argaman said Chinese involvement in infrastructure projects, including Tel Aviv’s light rail and the Haifa port, as well as in large companies, must be subjected to oversight.

Head of the Shin Bet security service Nadav Argaman attends the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset on November 6, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

According to Haaretz, the Israeli government has been considering new legislation to do just that. Recently, plans to sell the Phoenix Insurance Company to a Chinese firm were scuttled — with Argaman reportedly involved.

Israeli security bodies have also reportedly recommended — and in some cases ordered — that employees not use Chinese phones, fearing they could be used for nefarious purposes.

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Lapid said to offer former IDF chief Ashkenazi #2 spot in Yesh Atid

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid has offered former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi the number 2 spot in his party, Channel 10 news reports.

According to the TV station, Lapid met Ashkenazi on Friday, and promised him a senior ministerial position if Yesh Atid is part of the next government, as well as significant influence in party decision-making.

Ashkenazi did not give an answer, and sources close to him say he is considering offers from at least two parties, and is not planning to make a decision in the coming week.

Former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi in 2014 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)