The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they unfolded.
Jordan pushes Pence to re-align with two-state solution
Jordan’s king has appealed to US Vice President Mike Pence to “rebuild trust and confidence” in the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, following fallout from the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“Today we have a major challenge to overcome, especially with some of the rising frustrations,” Abdullah says.
Pence, in turn, is trying to reassure the monarch that the Trump administration remains committed to restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and views Jordan as a central player.
The vice president says that “the United States of America remains committed, if the parties agree, to a two-state solution.” Such a caveat deviates from longstanding US support for a two-state solution as the only possible outcome of any peace deal.
Pence is expected in Israel this evening after leaving Jordan.
France asks for UN Security Council meet over Turkish fighting in Syria
France has called for a United Nations Security Council meeting over “humanitarian risks” as fighting escalates in Syria, its foreign minister said on Sunday in Algiers.
“France is very preoccupied by the situation in Syria and by the brutal degradation of the situation,” Jean-Yves Le Drian says.
“This is why we have called for a Security Council meeting to evaluate all the humanitarian risks, which are very serious,” he says on the sidelines of a meeting for western Mediterranean countries.
His comments came after Turkish forces on Saturday launched an operation to oust Kurdish militia from the northern Syrian enclave of Afrin.
Le Drian spoke to his Turkish counterpart in a telephone call on Sunday morning, his staff said.
At the same time, French Defense Minister Florence Parly is pressing Turkey to stop its offensive against Kurdish militia fighting in Syria, saying the militants were a key ally against terrorism in the war-torn country.
“This fighting… must stop,” Parly tells France 3 television, adding that the Turkish offensive could “deter Kurdish forces who are at the side” of the international coalition battling jihadists in Syria.
Man arrested after woman found dead in Tel Aviv
A suspect has been arrested in Tel Aviv after a woman, 26, was found dead in an apartment there.
The man was found in the apartment with the woman’s body and is being questioned over possible links to her death, the Ynet news website reports.
Police do not release any other details about the woman or the suspect.
Erdogan says anti-Kurdish Syria offensive to be over quickly
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he hopes his country’s offensive against a Kurdish militia in northern Syria will be completed in “a very short time.”
“God willing, this operation will be finished in a very short time,” Erdogan tells supporters in the northwestern Turkish province of Bursa after Turkey launched the campaign to remove the Syrian Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Ankara views as a terror group, from the region of Afrin.
New Orleans mayor reverses support for BDS-backed resolution
New Orleans Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell has walked back her support for a resolution she authored and supported that lends support to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
The resolution to boycott investments with human rights violators, which passed the New Orleans City Council on January 11 with all five members present voting in support, mentions neither Israel nor the Palestinian territories, but BDS and anti-Israel activists claimed the passage as a victory for their cause.
Cantrell was not present for the vote on the resolution, which she wrote and introduced as part of her Welcoming Cities initiative, reportedly in collaboration with the New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee.
In a statement issued on Saturday, Cantrell said she would support the council in its plans to reconsider and withdraw the resolution.
On Wednesday City Council President Jason Williams called for reconsideration of the resolution, saying he was not aware of the boycott movement or its mission when he and the council voted, the New Orleans Advocate reported. Other council members have told the local media that they will move to reconsider the resolution at their next council meeting.
Pence says he talked IS, Christians with Jordan’s Abdullah
US Vice President Mike Pence writes on Twitter that he discussed efforts to defeat the Islamic State and protections for Christians with Jordan’s King Abdullah.
The statement does not mention his talks with the leader over Jerusalem or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In Jordan for critical conversations with @KingAbdullahII on the progress we're making to defeat ISIS & how the United States is working to provide much needed resources to rebuild the communities of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq. #VPinJordan pic.twitter.com/g5alPc5gL5
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) January 21, 2018
Abdullah had told Pence he had “continuously voiced over the past year… my concerns regarding the US decision on Jerusalem that does not come as a result of a comprehensive settlement to the Palestinian Israeli conflict.”
“Jerusalem is key to Muslims and Christians as it is to Jews,” he added. “It is key to peace in the region. And key to enabling Muslims to effectively fight some of the root causes of radicalization.”
He also urged Pence to back the two-state solution, though Pence would only offer backing if “both sides agree” to it.
— with AFP
Assad slams Turkey offensive as ‘support for terrorism’
Syrian President Bashar Assad has slammed Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish militants in the Afrin region as “support for terrorism.”
Assad makes the comments in a meeting with Iranian official Kamal Kharazi, according to state-run news source SANA.
Assad says the “brutal Turkish aggression” is part of Turkey’s continuing policy of “support for terrorism.”
UN asks for $3 billion in aid for Yemen
The United Nations and its partners are appealing for nearly $3 billion in aid to Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is at war with Iran-allied rebels known as Houthis.
Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, tells reporters in Sanaa that it is the largest such appeal ever launched for Yemen, and is aimed at providing the “only lifeline for millions.”
He says the aid would be channeled to the most needy in Yemen, including communities where “the risk of famine, disease outbreak, and protracted displacement converge.” The UN hopes to reach some 13 million people.
Last year, donors covered 70 percent of a $2.34 billion appeal.
Since 2015, the fighting has killed some 10,000 people and pushed millions to the brink of famine.
Egged management asks court to stop drivers’ strike
Management for the Egged bus cooperative has filed an appeal to the national labor court to put the kibosh on a planned strike by drivers Monday.
The Histadrut labor union federation announced earlier Sunday it would hold a two-hour warning strike of all Egged bus drivers on Monday morning to protest violence against drivers.
The strike is scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon on Monday, and will see all Egged drivers nationwide, on both inter- and intracity bus routes, walk off the job for the duration.
In the appeal, the company’s management says the “strike is insanity and foolishness that will deal a disproportionate blow to riders, and was not coordinated with management.”
Pence visits base near Syrian border
Vice President Mike Pence, about to leave Jordan for Israel, is visiting a military base near the border with Syria, reporters with him write on Twitter.
The base is home to a US air force unit fighting the Islamic State. Pence is there to meet with troops.
Vice President Pence has arrived at a military facility near the Syrian border to meet with US troops. pic.twitter.com/7BmaEICtP4
— Tamara Keith (@tamarakeithNPR) January 21, 2018
Knesset readies for Pence speech with teleprompters, flags
The Knesset says it has finalized preparations for tomorrow’s speech by Vice President Mike Pence.
Pence is landing in Israel Sunday evening for a two-day visit that will include meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, a speech in the Knesset and a visit to Yad Vashem. He comes following visits in recent days to Egypt and Jordan.
His address to the Knesset, which will take place at 2 p.m. Israel time on Monday, will be preceded by a speeches by Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog, and attended by state officials.
As part of the preparation for the speech, the Knesset has installed teleprompters for Pence, only the third time the devices will be used. US president Bill Clinton used one in a 1994 address and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko also had one in 2015.
In a statement released ahead of the speech, Edelstein says Pence’s visit “is nothing less than a historic occasion and comes at a hugely significant time for Israel and the Middle East.”
“We will listen intently to his speech and we in the Knesset will do everything we can in order to host Vice President Pence in the most fitting and impressive way possible,” he adds, in likely reference to efforts he has made to stop MKs from interrupting the speech, as has been the case during several previous visits of foreign officials.
MK Ayman Odeh said last week that his Joint (Arab) List party plans to boycott Pence’s speech to the Knesset due to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
— Raoul Wootliff
Erdogan warns Turks against protesting Syria offensive
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is warning of a “heavy price” for protests against Turkey’s military operation against Syrian Kurdish militia, after the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) called on people to take to the streets.
“Some HDP representatives are calling on my Kurdish citizens to get out into the squares. Until now, not many people have come out,” Erdogan says in the northwestern province of Bursa.
“But let me say this here… Do not even think about it! There will be a heavy price to pay by those who respond to this call,” he adds.
“This is a national fight. We will crush whoever opposes us in this national fight and go on.”
His warnings come a day after Turkey launched an operation with Syrian rebels to oust the Syrian Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) militia from Afrin.
Israel rebuffing Jordanian demand to prosecute guard in embassy shooting
Israel won’t prosecute the security guard who killed two Jordanians in a scuffle in the Amman embassy last year, as had been demanded by Jordan, Reuters reports, citing two Israeli sources.
A diplomatic source says instead Jerusalem will study the incident and “share the results with the Jordanians,” a diplomatic source tells the agency. Another source says “no way” will Israel pursue criminal charges against guard Ziv Moyal.
The killings last year and Israel’s hero’s welcome for Moyal had led to a rift with Jordan which was only patched up last week, with Israel expressing regret over the killings and agreeing to pay compensation.
The kingdom had also demanded that Israel prosecute Moyal over the deaths. Israel has maintained he acted in self-defense.
The Israeli embassy in Amman has been unstaffed since the July 23 incident. Netanyahu signaled last week that he would soon name a new ambassador to the country.
Settler growth remains steady, new figures show
The growth rate of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank declined slightly, but remained above the national average, according to government statistics revealed to The Times of Israel on Sunday.
The number of Israelis living in the territory increased by 14,299 or 3.4 percent in 2017, demographics statistics gathered by the Interior Ministry’s Population Immigration and Border Authority showed.
In 2016, the population increased by 15,765 or 3.9%.
While the growth rate among Israeli settlers has not risen since 2012, the 3.4% figure from 2017 was still higher than the national average, which stood at 2% in the past year.
— Jacob Magid
Iran condemns Turkey push into Syrian region
Iran’s official IRNA news agency is reporting that the country’s Foreign Ministry has condemned the Turkish assault on the Syrian city of Afrin and expressed its concerns over this operation.
The Sunday report by IRNA quotes the ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi as saying Iran is concerned about ongoing developments in the city of Afrin and following them closely.
Ghasemi calls on Turkey to end this offensive operation immediately. “The continuing crisis in Afarin may boost terrorist groups again in the northern parts of Syria,” he says.
Turkey’s state-run news agency, Anadolu, said Turkey’s chief of staff, Gen. Hulusi Akar, discussed the operation with his Iranian counterpart in a telephone conversation on Sunday.
Kabul hotel attack death toll rises to 18, including 14 foreigners
An Afghan official says that at least 18 people, including 14 foreigners, have been killed when the Taliban attacked the Intercontinental Hotel in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul.
Spokesman for the Interior Ministry Najib Danish says that 11 of the 14 foreigners killed were employees of KamAir, a private Afghan airline.
He adds that 10 others were wounded, six security officers and four civilians.
KamAir put out an announcement saying some of its flights were disrupted because of the attack.
Ukraine says one of its citizens was killed in the attack. Vasyl Kyrylych, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, announced the death of the Ukrainian citizen in a brief statement on Twitter, without providing further details.
More than 150 people, including 41 foreigners, were rescued from the hotel, Danish said.
The Taliban claimed the attack, which began around 9 p.m. Saturday, saying five gunmen armed with suicide vests targeted foreigners and Afghan officials. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the insurgents initially planned to attack the hotel Thursday night but postponed the assault because there was a wedding underway and they wanted to avoid civilian casualties.
Macron thumps Trump over ‘shithole countries’ comment
French President Emmanuel Macron says he shares the outrage over US President Donald Trump’s disparaging comment about Africa, arguing that such language hurts efforts to bring peace and development to the continent.
Macron tells the BBC’s Andrew Marr program in an interview broadcast Sunday that the words attributed to Trump — “shithole countries” — were inappropriate.
“For sure,” Macron says. “It’s not a word you can use. And if we want, precisely, to build peace, development in these countries and a respectful relationship,” you can’t use those words “by definition.”
“And I think a lot of our issues in both the Middle East and Africa are due to a lot of frustrations, due to a lot of past humiliations and we have to understand that.” Macron adds. “And I do believe we have to respect all the countries. That’s what we owe them, and that’s much more efficient.”
Trump referred to African nations as “shithole countries” during a White House meeting on immigration this month, according to several participants. The president denied saying those words, though he acknowledged using tough language.
Eight killed in Turkish raids on northern Syria
Turkish air raids killed eight civilians on Sunday in the northern Syrian enclave of Afrin, according to a war monitor and a spokesman for the Kurdish forces that control the area.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the dead, who included at least one child, were killed in airstrikes on the village of Jalbara.
“Eight civilians were killed in missile strikes on a chicken farm where they were living,” says Birusk Hasakeh, a spokesman for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Afrin, blaming Turkish warplanes.
No sign of Liberman-Deri detente after Netanyahu calls for calm
After a call by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to calm tensions over the closing of mini-markets on Shabbat, both Shas leader Aryeh Deri and Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman seem no closer to kissing and making up.
Speaking at an air force drill, Liberman, who enraged Deri by backing protests against the closures and went to shop at a mini-market on Saturday, says he only wants the status quo to remain.
“We are not asking to open more stores on Shabbat, just to keep the situation we have had over the last several decades and allow the mini-markets to continue to operate,” the defense minister says, according to a statement from his bureau. “There’s no reason to close stores that have been operating for years.”
Meanwhile Deri says he’s already calm and it’s Liberman who needs to simmer down.
“What haven’t I done to calm things,” he says, according to Channel 10 news. “I even gave an interview where I said there would be no change, and was hit by my own public for it. You need to make the request of the one who isn’t here.”
Former PM Barak says minister Regev’s lauding of Netanyahu ’embarrassing’
Former prime minister Ehud Barak is slamming both Culture Minister Miri Regev and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the former’s fawning comments praising the prime minister for his recent trip to India.
“There nothing more embarassing than her comments,” Barak says.
At the start of the meeting, Regev delivered a long soliloquy exalting Netanyahu for being received ” as a king in India.”
“You are a great leader, even though some people in Israel don’t like to say it and don’t like to broadcast it,” she said. “But the truth must be spoken, and you deserve to be told: You’ve done us a great service, with much honor and pride.”
On Twitter, Barak says he has never seen anything like Regev’s display.
“I don’t know a single prime minister (and I have known all of them since Golda [Meir]) who would not have hushed the minister, or at least made a joke out of it. His willingness to listen to it seriously is testament to the flatteree not less than the flatterer.”
Pence says he and Jordan king ‘agreed to disagree’ on Jerusalem
US Vice President Mike Pence says he and Jordan’s King Abdullah “agreed to disagree” on the issue of Jerusalem, Reuters reports.
Pence is due to land in Israel in the coming minutes after spending the day in Jordan.
Abdullah, a key US ally, had told Pence he had “continuously voiced over the past year… my concerns regarding a US decision on Jerusalem that does not come as a result of a comprehensive settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”
“Jerusalem is key to Muslims and Christians as it is to Jews,” he added. “It is key to peace in the region. And key to enabling Muslims to effectively fight some of the root causes of radicalization.”
— with AFP
Pence landing in Israel imminent
The US Embassy in Tel Aviv has a live feed of Mike Pence’s arrival to Israel, which can be watched here.
Pence is scheduled to land at any minute before heading to Jerusalem, where he will spend the night. He does not have any public activities planned until a Monday morning welcoming ceremony at the Prime Minister’s Office.
Mike Pence lands in Israel, to be greeted by tourism minister
Mike Pence has landed at Ben-Gurion airport near Tel Aviv.
He is due to be welcomed by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin. Other dignitaries, including US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Israeli envoy to the US Ron Dermer, are also on hand.
Highways, roads closed off for Pence visit
Route 1, the main highway leading from Tel Aviv to the capital, will be closed off as Pence gets ready to make his way from the airport to the King David hotel in central Jerusalem, officials say.
Parts of Route 6 near the Ben-Shemen interchange are also closed off. Authorities recommend taking Route 443, which passes through the West Bank, as an alternative route.
Streets around the hotel have been closed off since the afternoon, creating traffic headaches for some.
Pence greeted by small group of dignitaries after disembarking plane
Mike Pence has disembarked from Air Force 2 with his wife, Karen Pence, and is working his way down the line of dignitaries.
The welcome is a much more modest affair than President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel last year, which saw all of Israel’s top officials trekking out to the airport to meet with him.
Minister says he thanked Pence for Jerusalem stance
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin says that he thanked Pence for the US recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, when the two exchanged brief greetings at an airport welcome ceremony moments ago.
“I praised him for coming to Israel and thanked him for his important part in the president’s statement on Jerusalem,” he tells reporters. “I expressed our deep appreciation for his friendship with the State of Israel.”
Pence asked Egypt, Jordan to coax Palestinians back to table — report
US Vice President Mike Pence has asked Egypt and Jordan to reach out to the Palestinians on behalf of the US, Bloomberg news reports.
Ramallah is currently boycotting the US administration over anger at President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Pence asked Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi and Jordanian King Abdullah to tell the Palestinians the US is interested in restarting peace negotiations, according to the report, citing a source familiar with the talks.
On Sunday, Pence said he had told Abdullah as much.
“The Palestinian Authority has been absent from direct negotiations since 2014. And I hope I impressed upon King Abdullah our earnest desire to restart the peace process,” Pence said.
He called his talks with the Jordanian leader “very frank.”
“Look, friends occasionally have disagreements and we agreed to disagree on the decision by the United States to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But what we agreed on was the need for all parties to come back to the table,” Pence said.
— with AP
Netanyahu says Abbas needs to meet with US on peace
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says talks with Pence will revolve around security and peace negotiations.
He once again chides Ramallah for refusing to meet with Pence and advance peace talks.
“I have a message for [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas: There is no alternative to American leadership in the diplomatic process. Whoever is not ready to talk with the Americans on peace does not want peace,” he says.
He also repeats his warning to European states to take Trump’s words on backing off the Iran deal seriously.
“If they want to keep the deal with Iran, they need to put forward fixes to the agreement, fixes which will prevent the country from going nuclear, which threatens themselves and the whole world,” he adds.
MK Hazan welcomes ‘Mike Penes,’ hopes nobody disturbs them with selfie
Knesset jester Oren Hazan has welcomed Pence to Israel with a baffling tweet, misspelling his name and apparently recalling his selfie with US President Donald Trump in broken English.
“Mr. Vice President Mike Penes, my friend, Welcome to our holy land,” he writes on Twitter. “I would like to apologize I was not able to welcome you at the airport. I’ll be waiting for you in Jerusalem, our eternal capital. I Hope nobody will disturb us with our selfie.”
Mr. Vice President Mike Penes, my friend, Welcome to our holy land.
I would like to apologize I was not able to welcome you at the airport. I'll be waiting for you in Jerusalem, our eternal capital.
I Hope nobody will disturb us with our selfie.
— אורן חזן (@oren_haz) January 21, 2018
US urges Turkey to limit Syria incursion
The United States is urging Turkey to exercise restraint and ensure that its military offensive into an enclave controlled by US-backed Syrian Kurdish militia is limited in scope and duration.
A statement by State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert also asks Turkey to be “scrupulous to avoid civilian casualties.”
Nauert also says Washington wants all parties to “remain focused on the central goal of defeating” the Islamic State group.
The US support to Syrian Kurdish militia whom Turkey considers to be terrorists has driven a wedge between the two NATO allies. The militia group is the main US ally against the IS in Syria.
Turkey’s military offensive into the northwestern enclave of Afrin launched Saturday, amid anger at a US decision to form a 30,000-strong border security force for Syria.
Nauert said the United States continues to support Turkey’s security concerns.
She adds however: “The United States is very concerned about the situation in northwest Syria, especially the plight of innocent civilians, who are now faced with an escalation in fighting.”
Slovenia about to recognize Palestinian state — report
Slovenia is likely to recognize a Palestinian state by the end of the month, Channel 10 reports.
Three other countries — Luxembourg, Ireland, Belgium — are considering following suit, the report adds, though it is unclear at what stage they would officially declare their move. In addition, France is looking at ways of upgrading the Palestinians’ status at the EU.
Slovenia, however, is in advanced stages to recognize Palestine, according to the channel’s diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid. The government has decided to make the move and is now waiting for the parliament’s foreign affairs council, and subsequently the full plenary, to affirm the step, he reports.
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem declines to comment on the report. The Slovenian Ambassador in Tel Aviv has no immediate reply to a query.
— Raphael Ahren
Probe launched after report on Polish neo-Nazis
An undercover television report that showed members of a Polish neo-Nazi group celebrating Adolf Hitler’s birthday and burning a swastika has prompted a criminal investigation.
Poland’s prime minister also denounced fascism in response to the report broadcast by Polish news channel TVN24 on Saturday.
The report featured members of a group called Pride and Modernity wearing Nazi uniforms. It said the same group was behind a November protest where pictures of centrist European Parliament lawmakers from Poland were hanged on mock gallows.
Poland’s prosecutor general opened an investigation Sunday for suspected “public propagation of fascism,” a crime punishable by up to two years in prison.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said propagating fascism tramples “the memory of our ancestors and their heroic fight for a Poland that is just and free from hatred.”
Jailed ex-minister Misezhnikov asks for pardon
Former tourism minister Stas Misezhnikov has appealed to President Reuven Rivlin for a pardon, after serving two months of his 15-month sentence on a graft conviction.
The request includes a letter from Misezhnikov’s significant other, in which she points out his public service, his immigration from Russia, and his work with youth, according to Channel 10 news.
Misezhnikov was sentenced to 15 months in November, after he was convicted for asking for kickbacks from organizers of a student festival in the southern port city of Eilat, after funneling ministry money to the endeavor.
The case is thought to be linked to a larger graft ring connected to Misezhnikov’s Yisrael Beytenu party.