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Exit poll has Netanyahu winning Likud leadership race with over 70% of vote

Sa’ar forecast to fall short of 30% threshold that his supporters were hoping for in uphill primary battle against longtime party chief

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara after casting votes at a polling station in Jerusalem during the Likud leadership primary on December 26, 2019. (Courtesy)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara after casting votes at a polling station in Jerusalem during the Likud leadership primary on December 26, 2019. (Courtesy)

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

Voter turnout in Likud leadership race stands at 15.2%

As of 2 p.m., 15.2% of 116,048 eligible voters have cast votes in the leadership primary, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman says.

The busiest polling stations are reported in major cities, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Rishon Lezion and Ashdod.

Casting Likud primary vote, PM says his spirit stronger than inclement weather

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu vote in the Likud leadership primary in which he is facing off against challenger Gidon Sa’ar.

“There is rain and wind but our spirit is stronger, so go out and vote for me. We are calling in everyone to vote for us. Take a raincoat but go and vote,” he says in a video posted on his social media accounts after voting in Jerusalem.

Amid the storm enveloping much of Israel, polls will be kept open until 11 p.m. Results are expected to trickle in from around 1 a.m.

— Raoul Wootliff

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) casts a vote with his wife Sara at a polling station in Jerusalem during the Likud leadership primary on December 26, 2019. (Courtesy)

 

Pace picks up at Tel Aviv stations for Likud primary after hours of quiet due to rain

After a quiet few hours as rain lashed much of central Israel, the pace has started to pick up at the central Tel Aviv polling station with a queue of some Likud members waiting to vote at the 10 ballot boxes inside.

“You see the enthusiasm here. This is what we have seen in the primary period and this is what we will see in the election,” Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis, at the polling station to vote, tells The Times of Israel.

— Raoul Wootliff

A Tel Aviv polling station during the Likud leadership primary on December 26, 2019. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)

One-time Netanyahu challenger quips about re-entering ring

Former Likud minister and one-time Netanyahu rival Silvan Shalom arrives to vote in the Likud leadership primary at the Central polling station in Tel Aviv.

“Where have you been? You are missing from the party. Maybe next time?” one Likud member asks him.

“Who knows?” he says in reply.

— Raoul Wootliff

Former Likud minister Silvan Shalom arrives at a Tel Aviv polling station during the Likud leadership primary on December 26, 2019. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)

Israelis scramble for flu vaccine as deaths from virus mount

Health organizations say they’ve seen a surge of people asking for a flu vaccine in the wake of four deaths within the past week and dozens of others who have recently been hospitalized with serious illness from the virus.

Eleven people have died since the beginning of the 2018-2019 flu season and 98 are hospitals in serious condition, according to Health Ministry figures.

The country’s three largest health organizations all report a jump in the number of people seeking a vaccine. The Clalit Health Services says some 18,000 people were vaccinated just on Wednesday, adding to the 900,000 who have already been vaccinated.

Maccabi Health Services reports that daily figures for vaccinations had jumped from around 2,200 to 10,000. Meuhedet said that 6,000 people were vaccinated Wednesday compared to average of just 1,600 on proceeding days.

Vaccine figures for November and December were lower than previous years, the report said, until the sudden rally.

Iraqi protesters torch buildings, block roads over PM pick

Iraqi anti-government protesters block roads and bridges in Baghdad and the country’s south after torching several buildings overnight.

The demonstrators oppose the entire political class and have vented their anger against leaders who are negotiating to nominate an establishment insider as the next prime minister.

“The government is hostage to corrupt parties and sectarian divisions,” says one activist, Sattar Jabbar, 25, in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

Iraq has been rocked by protests since October 1, prompting Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi to resign last month.

— AFP

As rain showers most of country, northern tip enjoys some snow

The Hermon Ski Resort reports that snow between 25 and 45 centimeters high has blanketed its grounds.

Voter turnout in Likud leadership race climbs to 18.5%

As of 3 p.m., 18.5% of 116,048 eligible voters have cast votes in the leadership primary, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman says.

This is a three percentage point bump from an hour ago.

17 civilians killed in 3rd attack on Yemen market

Seventeen civilians were killed in an attack in a market in Yemen’s northern Saada governorate, the United Nations says, the third deadly assault on the same location in just over a month.

The attacks come despite relative calm in Yemen, where large-scale combat between government troops — backed by a Saudi-led military coalition — and the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels has largely subsided.

The UN says 12 Ethiopian migrants were among the 17 civilians killed in the incident on Tuesday at the Al-Raqw market in Saada governorate, a Huthi rebel stronghold.

At least 12 people were wounded, it says, without saying who was responsible or what weaponry was used.

The Saudi-led coalition acknowledged on Thursday it had carried out an operation in Monabbih, a Saada district where the market is located.

The Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT) — which the coalition established but says operates independently — will investigate “the possibility of collateral damage,” coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki says in a statement.

— AFP

Turkey’s Erdogan paves the way for troop deployment in Libya

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan opens the way for direct military intervention in Libya, announcing a parliamentary vote in early January on sending troops to support the UN-backed Tripoli government against strongman Khalifa Haftar.

Sending Turkish troops will complicate the situation in an already fragile country torn by internal dissent since the ouster and killing of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

“We will present the motion to send troops (to Libya) as soon as parliament resumes” on January 7, Erdogan says in a speech in Ankara.

“God willing, we will pass it in parliament on January 8-9 and thus respond to an invitation” from the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), he says.

Erdogan’s comments come after the Turkish parliament on Saturday ratified a security and military cooperation deal with the GNA of Fayez al-Sarraj.

— AFP

Court orders driver who killed cyclists released to house arrest

The Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court orders that the driver who killed two cyclists in a traffic accident earlier this month be released to house arrest.

The judge granted the prosecution’s request for a stay in execution to provide time for an appeal against the release of 29-year-old Yonatan Fadida.

 

Iraq president won’t name Iran-backed bloc’s nominee as PM

Iraq’s president has refused to designate the Iran-backed parliamentary bloc’s nominee for the post of prime minister after he was rejected by anti-government protesters and said he was ready to submit his resignation to Parliament.

Barham Saleh says  in a statement issued by his office that he would not name the governor of the southern Basra province, Asaad al-Eidani, as the country’s next prime minister “to avoid more bloodshed and in order to safeguard civil peace.” Al-Eidani’s name was proposed Wednesday by the Fatah bloc, which includes leaders associated with the Iran-supported paramilitary Popular Mobilization Forces.

His name was promptly rejected by Iraqi protesters, who poured into the streets calling for an independent candidate.

According to Iraq’s constitution, the largest bloc in parliament is required to nominate the prime minister, who is then designated by the president. A deadline to name a new prime minister has been missed twice over disagreements on which is the largest bloc in the parliament following last year’s elections.

Saleh, in his statement, said his refusal to desginate al-Eidani could be construed as a violation of the constitution and therefore said he was putting his resignation at the disposal of Parliament. He stopped short of actually submitting his resignation.

— AP

Voter turnout in Likud leadership race climbs to 22.63%

As of 4 p.m., 22.63% of 116,048 eligible voters have cast votes in the leadership primary, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman says.

This is a five percentage point bump from an hour ago.

It is roughly on par with the turnout rate in the last Likud primary.

Doctors pronounce death of 27-year-old who drowned in flood in north

Doctors have pronounced the death of a 27-year-old who drowned in a flash flood near Karmiel.

The victim has been identifed as Majd Qassem Su’ad, a shepherd from the village of Wadi Salameh.

Trump calls for end to killing in Syria rebel bastion

US President Donald Trump calls for the governments of Moscow, Damascus and Tehran to stop the violence in Syria’s rebel-held province of Idlib.

“Russia, Syria, and Iran are killing, or on their way to killing, thousands” of civilians in the jihadist-dominated northwestern province, Trump tweets, adding: “Don’t do it!”

— AFP

Afghan war caused 100,000 civilian casualties in last decade

More than 100,000 Afghan civilians have been killed or injured over the past decade, the United Nations reports, as it renewed calls to end the bloody 18-year conflict.

The announcement comes as the Taliban and US continue to hold talks aimed at drawing a close to America’s longest war, after the negotiations were called off in September by US President Donald Trump due to insurgent attacks.

However, fighting continues to rage across the country, with ordinary Afghans frequently bearing the brunt of the violence.

“I recognize with extreme sadness that civilian casualties recently surpassed 100,000 in the past 10 years alone, from the time the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) began systematic documentation of civilian casualties,” Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN special representative in Afghanistan, says in a statement.

“The United Nations urges those participating in all peace efforts to consider the millions of ordinary Afghans, especially the victims of the conflict, who want a chance to live in peace so they can rebuild their lives.”

— AFP

Libya unity government may seek Turkish deployment

Libya’s UN-recognized unity government says it may officially seek Turkish military support in the face of a bid by the country’s eastern based strongman to seize Tripoli.

Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army launched an offensive in April to take the capital from the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), making rapid gains before becoming stalled on the edge of the capital.

Haftar has “provided foreign forces with military bases in Libya,” GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha tells journalists in Tunis.

“If this position continues we have the right to defend Tripoli and we will officially ask the Turkish government for its military support.”

Haftar has received support from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia, while Turkey has backed the GNA.

The Turkish parliament on Saturday ratified a security and military cooperation deal with the GNA, which Turkish officials say would allow Ankara to send military and security personnel to Libya for training purposes.

— AFP

Voter turnout in Likud leadership race up to 24.79%

As of 5 p.m., 24.47% of 116,048 eligible voters have cast votes in the leadership primary, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman says.

This is a two percentage point bump from an hour ago.

The city with the most voters is Jerusalem, where 1,539 Likud members have voted.

PM, Putin discuss Iranian presence in Syria during holiday phone call

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier today, the PMO says.

The two discussed Iran’s presence in Syria as well as other regional issues, according to a statement.

Netanyahu reiterated his request to Putin for the release of Naama Issachar, the statement says.

The Israeli-American backbacker, who has been held by Russia since some 10 grams of marijuana were found in her luggage during a layover in Moscow in April, lost an appeal last week against her 7.5-year prison sentence.

Netanyahu wished Putin a happy Novy God and Putin wished Netanyahu a happy Hanukkah.

Woman hospitalized in serious condition due to flu complications

A 26-year-old woman has been hospitalized at Tel Hashomer’s Sheba Medical Center in serious condition due to complications from the flu.

Voter turnout in Likud leadership race up to 28.6%

As of 6 p.m., 28.6% of 116,048 eligible voters have cast votes in the Likud leadership primary.

This is a four percentage point bump from an hour ago.

Morocco jails YouTuber, detains journalist

A Moroccan YouTuber has been sentenced to four years in prison for “insulting the king” in a video broadcast on social networks, his lawyer says.

In a separate case, a Moroccan journalist and activist was charged and detained over a tweet that had criticized a court decision, his defense council tells AFP.

The cases come after the Moroccan Human Rights Association had deplored in July an “escalation of violations of human rights and public and individual freedoms” in Morocco.

The YouTuber Mohamed Sekkaki, known as “Moul Kaskita,” was sentenced by a court in the western city of Settat to four years in prison, his lawyer Mohamed Ziane tells AFP.

Sekkaki, whose videos usually exceed 100,000 views, was arrested in early December after posting a video in which he insulted Moroccans as “donkeys” and criticised King Mohammed VI, whose is considered “inviolable” under the constitution.

Ziani says his client would appeal the verdict.

The conviction of the YouTuber came less than a month after a Moroccan rapper was sentenced to a year in prison for “insulting a public official.”

Also today, journalist Omar Radi, 33, has been detained in Casablanca and now faces trial, his lawyer Said Benhammani tells AFP.

He is being prosecuted for a tweet published nine months ago criticising the judge in charge of the case against the leaders of the Hirak protest movement, he says.

Morocco’s criminal code punishes “insulting magistrates” with imprisonment of between one month and one year.

The group Reporters Without Borders in its latest annual press freedom index ranked Morocco 135th out of 180 countries.

— AFP

Half as many migrants land in Italy this year

Half as many migrants landed on Italian shores in 2019 compared with the year before, the latest interior ministry figures show.

Italy has struggled to cope with a flood of immigrants in recent years and has called on other European Union members to shoulder a bigger share of the load.

So far this year however, 11,439 migrants have been recorded by Italian authorities, which is 50.72 percent fewer than the 2018 figure of 23,210 migrants, according to data that was released Wednesday.

The difference with 2017 is even more striking, as 118,914 migrants were registered as arriving that year in Italy, one of the closest EU countries to Africa.

In 2019, the largest number of official migrants came from Tunisia, with 2,654, followed by Pakistan and Ivory Coast with more than 1,100 each.

Unaccompanied minors accounted for 1,618 of all those registered this year.

Between June 2018 and August 2019, Italy was governed by a coalition comprised of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the far-right League, whose leader Matteo Salvini was interior minister.

He enacted measures to curb migration and levied fines on rescue boats run by charities that plucked migrants from the Mediterranean Sea.

In September, the current Italian coalition made up of the Five Star Movement and centre-left parties signed an agreement with EU partners, including France and Germany, to automatically share the number of migrants who landed in Italy or Malta.

— AFP

Voter turnout in Likud leadership race climbs to 34.67%

As of 7 p.m., 34.67% of 116,048 eligible voters have cast votes in the Likud leadership primary.

This is a six percentage point bump from an hour ago.

Report: Leading national religious rabbi scuttled Smotrich effort for open primaries

The Srugim news site reports that National Union chairman Bezalel Smotrich sought leading national religious rabbi Haim Druckman’s help in placing an ultimatum before Jewish Home chairman Rafi Peretz to hold open primaries for a united national religious party.

Druckman vetoed the idea, wary that the measure would be too drastic and hoping that a compromise could be reached instead.

As one of the national religious camp’s most popular lawmakers, Smotrich had been advocating for an open primary to be held in order to form a Knesset list for a united party to represent the sector. The less popular Peretz opposed the idea and went on to ink a merger with the far-right Otzma Yehudit party last week.

Peretz has since called on Smotrich to join the Jewish Home-Otzma Yehudit list and has saved the National Union the 2, 5 and 8 spots. Smotrich has gone on radio silence since the Otzma deal was announced on Friday.

Naama Issachar lights Hanukkah candles from Russian prison

Naama Issachar has been allowed to light Hanukkah candles from prison in Moscow for the first time this holiday, Hebrew media reports.

The Israeli-American backbacker, who has been held by Russia since some 10 grams of marijuana were found in her luggage during a layover in Moscow in April, lost an appeal last week against her 7.5-year prison sentence.

Issachar lit candles with Moscow’s Chabad rabbi, who tried bringing in a menorah during an earlier visit this week, but had been barred from doing so.

Two asylum seekers commit suicide in Greece

Two asylum seekers in their 30s who were living in a hotel packed with refugees in northern Greece hanged themselves over Christmas, a charity says.

The two men, an Afghan father of two aged 32 or 33 and an Iraqi aged about 30, were found in the village of Mouries near the border with North Macedonia.

“We have terrible news from Mouries… two young men committed suicide yesterday and today,” the Greek Forum of Refugees says in a statement.

It said they had been living in a hotel housing between 350 and 400 refugees in Mouries.

The Afghan national was found on Wednesday hanging near a bridge not far from the hotel, while the Iraqi man was discovered by his roommate in one of the hotel corridors.

According to Greek authorities, more than 40,000 migrants and refugees are being held often in desperate conditions in camps on several Greek islands.

Greece was overwhelmed by the migrant crisis which erupted in 2015 with tens of thousands of people arriving after making perilous crossings in barely seaworthy vessels via neighboring Turkey.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has drawn attention to the particular plight of children in the Greek camps, and voiced fears that some are suicide risks.

— AFP

Mossad head says Iran at top of organization’s priorities

Mossad head Yossi Cohen says that Iran is “at the top of it’s priorities.”

Speaking at a ceremony honoring outstanding agents, Cohen says, “Iran’s nuclear operation, its long-range and precise missiles, its regional expansion and support for terror organizations are challenging the security of the State of Israel.”

Final turnout in Likud primary expected to be 47%

Channel 12 pollsters speculate that the final turnout in today’s Likud leadership primary will be 47%.

The number is slightly lower than what Benjamin Netanyahu would have wanted, the network’s Amit Segal says, but it will likely lead to a result that was widely expected — a comfortable win for the incumbent, but not a total disastrous loss for Sa’ar either.

Gantz and Peretz meet, agree to coordinate, but not merge for upcoming election

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz met with Labor chairman Amir Peretz, Channel 12 reports.

While the two sides did not agree to merge, as some in Labor have been urging, there was an agreement to expand coordination between the parties ahead of the March vote.

Channel 12 also reports that the chance for a deal between Labor and Meretz is almost at zero, with Peretz certain that such a merger would only scare away more moderate voters.

Voter turnout in Likud leadership race climbs to 40%

As of 8 p.m., 39.68% of 116,048 eligible voters have cast votes in the Likud leadership primary.

This is a five percentage point bump from an hour ago.

Lamenting media’s attempts to ‘lull’ public, PM makes final push for Likud votes

In a video published on his social media accounts with just three hours remaining before polls close, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns supporters into falling for the media’s attempts to “lull them to sleep” instead of voting in the Likud leadership primary.

PM offers to send mother ‘Bibi-sitter’ so that she can leave her baby to go vote

Taking questions from the public over Facebook Live, Benjamin Netanyahu responds to one young mother who says she wants to vote for him but can’t leave her child at home alone to do so.

In a throw-back to a campaign ad ahead of the 2015 election, the prime minister offers to send the woman a driver as well as someone who will look after her baby while she goes to vote.

PM supporter reportedly tells Sa’ar English spokesman to ‘go back to Britain’

A supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told an English language spokesman for MK Gideon Sa’ar that he should “go back to Britain.”

Makor Rishon reporter Tzvika Klein tweets footage of an argument outside a Likud polling station in which Sa’ar spokesman Jason Pearlman — an immigrant from the UK — asks the Netanyhau supporter to repeat what he had said.

Klein says that Pearlman, who previously worked as a spokesman for President Reuven Rivlin, told him that the Netanyhau supporter had told him to “go back to Britain.”

With hour to go, voter turnout in Likud leadership race at 46%

Turnout among Likud party members in today’s leadership primary hits 46% as of 10 p.m.

Polls in the race between Netanyahu and Sa’ar close in an hour.

Likud comptroller says irregularities recorded at several polling stations

Shai Galili, the Likud comptroller, says voting irregularities were recorded at several polling stations during today’s leadership vote.

“It’s hard to say if it favors a particular side,” Galili is quoted saying by the Kan public broadcaster.

Supporters of MK Gideon Sa’ar, who is challenging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as party leader, complained earlier of irregularities in numerous cities that caused some Likud members to forgo voting.

“We also received complaints from Netanyahu that they didn’t manage to vote,” Galili says.

Polls close in Likud leadership race between Netanyahu, Sa’ar

After 14 hours and a whole lot of rain, polls have closed in the Likud party leadership primary between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and MK Gideon Sa’ar.

Results in the race are expected in the coming hours.

Exit poll has Netanyahu winning Likud leadership race with over 70% of vote

An unofficial exit poll is forecasting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won today’s Likud leadership primary against MK Gideon Sa’ar with 71.52 percent of the vote.

Direct Polls says Sa’ar finished with 28.48% of the vote. His backers said beforehand that finishing with over 30% would be an achievement in light of sky-high support in Likud for Netanyahu.

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Morocco jails YouTuber, detains journalist

A Moroccan YouTuber has been sentenced to four years in prison for “insulting the king” in a video broadcast on social networks, his lawyer says.

In a separate case, a Moroccan journalist and activist was charged and detained over a tweet that had criticized a court decision, his defense council tells AFP.

The cases come after the Moroccan Human Rights Association had deplored in July an “escalation of violations of human rights and public and individual freedoms” in Morocco.

The YouTuber Mohamed Sekkaki, known as “Moul Kaskita,” was sentenced by a court in the western city of Settat to four years in prison, his lawyer Mohamed Ziane tells AFP.

Sekkaki, whose videos usually exceed 100,000 views, was arrested in early December after posting a video in which he insulted Moroccans as “donkeys” and criticised King Mohammed VI, whose is considered “inviolable” under the constitution.

Ziani says his client would appeal the verdict.

The conviction of the YouTuber came less than a month after a Moroccan rapper was sentenced to a year in prison for “insulting a public official.”

Also today, journalist Omar Radi, 33, has been detained in Casablanca and now faces trial, his lawyer Said Benhammani tells AFP.

He is being prosecuted for a tweet published nine months ago criticising the judge in charge of the case against the leaders of the Hirak protest movement, he says.

Morocco’s criminal code punishes “insulting magistrates” with imprisonment of between one month and one year.

The group Reporters Without Borders in its latest annual press freedom index ranked Morocco 135th out of 180 countries.

— AFP