The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.
Turkey’s president meets Pope Francis for talks on Jerusalem, terrorism
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives at the Vatican for talks with Pope Francis expected to focus on the status of Jerusalem and the fight against terrorism.
Erdogan is the first Turkish president to visit the Vatican in nearly six decades. Francis met with him during his 2014 trip to Istanbul.
On the eve of his departure yesterday, Erdogan said he planned to discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria, the battle against terrorism, Islamophobia, and the status of the city of Jerusalem.
He said that the United States is “alone” in its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Erdogan is scheduled to meet Italy’s president and premier after the audience in the Apostolic Palace.
Paris attacks suspect refuses to stand at trial, says ‘I put my trust in Allah’
The only surviving suspect in the 2015 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, defies Belgian judges and says he put his “trust in Allah” on the opening day of his trial for a shootout that led to his capture.
The 28-year-old, who was transferred under heavy security from a jail near the French capital overnight for the trial, refuses to answer questions about the gunbattle in Brussels or stand for the court.
“I am not afraid of you, I am not afraid of your allies,” said a defiant Abdeslam, who has grown long hair and a beard during his nearly two years behind bars. “I put my trust in Allah and that’s all.”
The Belgian-born French national of Moroccan descent alleges that the court in Brussels was biased against Muslims as he explained why he would not cooperate despite having asked to attend the trial.
“My silence does not make me a criminal, it’s my defense,” Abdeslam says. “Muslims are judged and treated in the worst of ways, mercilessly. There is no presumption of innocence.”
He also refuses to allow photographs or video images to be taken of him.
Polish FM says Holocaust bill spat with Israel a ‘misunderstanding’
Poland’s foreign minister says the diplomatic dispute with Israel over a Holocaust bill adopted by the Polish parliament is rooted in misunderstanding but he does not rule out amending it, even after it is signed into law.
The legislation, which still needs the president’s signature to take effect, was introduced by Poland’s governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party to stop people from describing Nazi German death camps as Polish, simply due to their geographical location.
It would make it a crime to accuse the Polish state of complicity in the Holocaust.
Poland’s Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz rules out that possibility, saying under “Polish law and the legal system, this is impossible and we want to share this knowledge with our partners in Israel.”
According to Czaputowicz, critical comments made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the Polish bill are “due to a misunderstanding.”
“I think it’s a problem of interpretation, of over-interpretation on the Israeli side,” he says, adding that “we can also imagine some kind of amendment (of the legislation) if our explanations will not be convincing.”
Israel’s ambassador to Poland Anna Azari, however, tells the Polish PAP news agency that Israel believes the bill could open the door to prosecuting Holocaust survivors for their testimony should it concern the involvement of individual Poles allegedly killing or giving up Jews to the Germans.
Opposition leaders urge Netanyahu to resolve Gaza crisis
Opposition leaders are urging the Israeli government to resolve the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip and prevent another round of fighting between Israel and the Hamas-led enclave.
“The State of Israel cannot permit itself to continue to ignore this crisis,” says Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid at his weekly faction meeting in the Knesset. “Not on a humanitarian level, and not on a security level.”
“The State of Israel cannot stand by while children’s wards in hospitals are disconnected from electricity,” he says. “This is against everything we believe in.”
He says the Hamas terrorist group is still “deterred” by the 2014 Gaza war, “but if we don’t do something, we are on our way to another round of violence.”
Like IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, Lapid urges Israel to condition the full rehabilitation of the Strip on the return of the bodies of two IDF soldiers held in the enclave and the release of Israelis captive there. But Israel must take immediate rehabilitation steps to thwart another conflict, he adds.
Speaking at the Zionist Union faction meeting, party leader Avi Gabbay similarly implores Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to heed Eisenkot’s advice on Gaza, as well as that of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).
“They know what’s going on there and what must be done,” he says. “They don’t have political considerations and aren’t afraid of how things will look on the news.”
— Marissa Newman
Man stabbed, seriously injured in West Bank city of Ariel
Magen David Adom paramedics are trying to resuscitate a man who was seriously injured in a stabbing attack in the West Bank town of Ariel.
The ambulance service says the victim, a man in his 40s, sustained at least one stab wound to his upper body.
He is being transferred to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tivkah.
There is no word on whether the incident is terror-related.
Teen behind JCC hoax bomb threats briefly escapes custody
The Israeli-American teenager accused of waging an intimidation campaign of bomb hoaxes and threats against Jewish institutions and other targets around the world last year briefly escaped custody this afternoon after a hearing at the Jerusalem District Court.
The unnamed 18-year-old made a run for it after leaving the courthouse and before his return to the detention center where he is being held.
Israel Prisons Service guards nabbed the teen, who only manged to run “a few meters,” according to reports.
Last year, Israel filed a laundry list of charges against the teen, including accusations that he made thousands of bomb threat calls and other violent threats to institutions, schools hospitals and airlines in numerous countries.
Herzog on anti-deportation campaigns: It’s not George Soros, Bibi
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog rejects Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s accusation that Jewish billionaire George Soros is behind the campaign opposing the mass deportation of African migrants from Israel.
“It isn’t George Soros, Bibi,” says Herzog at the weekly Zionist Union faction meeting. “It is the natural sense of justice that pulsates in the hearts of many Israelis who believe in human dignity.”
Herzog says he held consultations with numerous experts on the issue. He says Israeli researchers who recently visited Uganda and Rwanda — the two countries where Israel is said to be sending the migrants, most of whom are from Eritrea and Sudan — “and their conclusion was that these states do not have the sufficient infrastructure to uphold the state commitments to the High Court of Justice.”
Herzog urges the government to halt the plan and closely study the issue before taking action.
— Marissa Newman
Manhunt reportedly underway for Ariel stabber
Israeli security forces have launched a manhunt for the assailant who stabbed and seriously injured a man in the West Bank town of Ariel.
According to reports, the Palestinian attacker was armed with two knives when he lunged at an Israeli passerby at the entrance to the settlement.
Paramedics said they are working to resuscitate the victim, a man in his 40s, on the way to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikvah.
MDA Medi-Cycle Rider Mordechai Yaakov: "When I arrived at the scene I joined the IDF Medical team and provided medical treatment to a 30 year old who was unconscious with a stab wound in his upper body. We performed CPR, gave drugs and stopped the bleeding." pic.twitter.com/CPWDFsjO6X
— Magen David Adom (@Mdais) February 5, 2018
Livni: Next war in north will be against Lebanon, not just Hezbollah
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni, who served as foreign minister during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, says the next war on Israel’s northern front will be against Lebanon — not merely the Hezbollah terrorist group.
“Today, Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government and therefore, if we will be forced to fight, the next war will be against the state of Lebanon, which will bear the diplomatic responsibility for Hezbollah’s actions,” says Livni.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, and other coalition leaders have said there will be no distinction made between Hezbollah and Lebanon should another round of conflict break out in the north.
— Marissa Newman
Study finds lower employment among ultra-Orthodox men in Israel
New statistics indicate that after years of growth the number of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in Israel’s workforce has begun to decline.
The Israel Democracy Institute, citing official figures, says that ultra-Orthodox male employment dropped from 51.7 percent in 2016 to 50.3% in 2017, halting a steady rise.
Gilad Malach, an institute researcher who specializes in the community, says the main cause is renewed subsidies to seminary students provided by a government that relies on the support of ultra-Orthodox parties.
For decades, the ultra-Orthodox have leveraged their significant political power into maintaining a segregated lifestyle. They run a separate network of schools, enjoy sweeping military draft exemptions and raise large families on taxpayer-funded handouts. But previous government programs, and a push from within, have led to increased integration.
Palestinians say IDF enters village in search of Ariel stabber
Reports in Palestinian media say Israeli soldiers have entered the West Bank village of Salfit in search of a man who earlier killed an Israeli man in the nearby settlement of Ariel.
The Palestinian Information Center says “large numbers” of army forces are searching the village.
Liberman: There is no humanitarian crisis in the Strip; Israel won’t spend a penny
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman says “there is no humanitarian crisis” in the Gaza Strip and Israel will not step in to improve the enclave’s deteriorating living conditions.
At the weekly Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting, the defense minister says there is “disinformation” on the enclave.
“The situation in Gaza is indeed difficult,” concedes Liberman, and the economic situation “must be dealt with.”
“But there is no humanitarian crisis,” he adds, noting he is speaking on behalf of the entire defense establishment, including COGAT and the Shin Bet security agency, which is unanimous on the issue.
“We will not spend a penny from the Israeli budget” toward Gaza, stresses Liberman. “There are enough wealthy Arab countries.”
He brands calls for immediate Israeli intervention “a mistake.”
Hamas is sure “Israel will blink first” and step in to aid the troubled enclave, says the defense minister.
“We cannot take responsibility for the Strip,” says Liberman.
The defense minister further says any talk of rehabilitation without progress on returning Israel’s captives in Gaza is “immoral.”
There will be no rehabilitation without the total disarmament of the Strip, says Liberman.
He says the Hamas terrorist group has invested $260 million for rocket-building and tunnel construction in the Gaza Strip in the past year. Of that, $100 million came from Iran and the remainder from Gaza taxes.
The Hamas leadership is unwilling to “divert even a shekel” to fix its water and electricity woes, says Liberman, while its leaders have electricity “24 hours a day.”
Liberman also rejects reports by Hamas that Israel is planning an imminent military incursion of the Strip. “We have no intention to initiate any military action in Gaza,” he says.
— Marissa Newman
Netanyahu vows to bring Ariel terrorist to justice
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vows to bring to justice the Palestinian terrorist who killed an Israeli man earlier this afternoon in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
I just spoke with the head of MADA who told me the man injured in the terrorist attack has died. We send condolences to the family. IDF forces and the Shin Bet are currently searching for the perpetrator,” Netanyahu says at the start of the Likud faction meeting.
“We will bring him to justice, as we always do,” he says. “I put my trust in the security forces who do the hardest work against these disgraceful attacks.”
— Raoul Wootliff
Syria strikes kill 23 civilians in rebel area near Damascus, monitor says
At least 23 civilians were killed today as Syrian government airstrikes pounded a rebel-held enclave near the capital Damascus, a monitor says.
The region of Eastern Ghouta is home to an estimated 400,000 people living under government siege and facing escalating bombardment in recent weeks.
“Dozens of airstrikes hit several areas in Eastern Ghouta, killing 23 civilians including four children,” says Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.
The deadliest raids hit a market in the town of Beit Sawa, killing nine civilians including two children.
Another six civilians, including a young girl, were killed in bombardment on the town of Hazzeh.
The remaining eight were killed in strikes across the rest of the besieged region, and more than 80 people were wounded, the Observatory says.
Dad of Jewish man held by North Korea to be Pence’s guest at Olympics
The father of the US college student who died after being jailed in North Korea will visit South Korea this week to attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympics as a guest of Vice President Mike Pence.
The Washington Post reports that Fred Warmbier’s trip coincides with Pence’s visit to fight North Korea’s propaganda efforts and keep up pressure to halt its nuclear ambitions.
Warmbier’s son, Otto, a University of Virginia student from Ohio, was held in North Korean custody for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster. Officials said Otto Warmbier mysteriously suffered brain damage before he was returned to the US last year and died days later.
North Korea has denied mistreating Warmbier.
His parents sat with the first lady at US President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address last month.
Netanyahu slams ‘campaign of lies’ against plan to deport Africans
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slams criticism of the government’s plan to deport African migrants and asylum-seekers as a “campaign of lies,” calling on his Likud colleagues to “help prevent this slander against Israel.”
Under the plan, any of the 40,000 or so migrants who voluntarily leave Israel by the end of March will receive $3,500 and a plane ticket to an unnamed country. On April 1, the immigration authority plans to begin imprisoning or forcibly expelling those who have not yet left.
Speaking at his weekly Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu defends the move, saying that it is in accordance with both Israeli and international law.
“International law places obligations on countries and it also gives them rights,” he says. “There is an obligation to accept refugees and we are accepting refugees… but international law also gives the right to a country to remove from its borders illegal migrants. We have no obligation to allow illegal labor migrants who are not refugees to remain here.”
Refugee advocates note that of some 15,000 African refugee status requests, only 11 have been approved, citing this as evidence that Israel is being disingenuous and not living up to international standards.
“This is a campaign of lies. It is based on empty slogans and on comparisons that have no place in the public discourse in Israel because they have no truth in them,” Netanyahu says.
Telling Likud MKs that he has prepared a fact sheet for them about the issue, he asks that they “help to prevent the slander being spread against Israel with the proper defense. And the proper defense in the truth.”
— Raoul Wootliff
Comptroller report reveals Jewish Home in debt NIS 28 million
A report released by the state comptroller reveals the Jewish Home party was NIS 28 million in debt at the end of the 2016 fiscal year.
The report by Yosef Shapira warns the party its financial state is “endangering its continued existence” as a political party, and fines the pro-settlement party NIS 180,000.
An earlier report by the comptroller found that seven other Knesset factions were jointly in debt NIS 20 million.
Hamas says Ariel stabbing proves intifada against Israel continues
The Hamas terrorist organization praises the deadly stabbing attack in Ariel this afternoon, saying it’s “proof that the al-Quds intifada continues.”
A Palestinian man stabbed and killed an Israeli man near the entrance to Ariel before fleeing the scene.
Security forces are searching the area for the attacker.
Ariel stabbing victim named as Rabbi Itamar Ben Gal
The Israeli man who was killed earlier by a Palestinian terrorist in the West Bank town of Ariel is identified as Rabbi Itamar Ben Gal, a father of four.
Gal, who is from a nearby settlement of Har Bracha, was mourned by his community as a “beloved friend” and “dedicated educator.”
— חדשות עשר (@news10) February 5, 2018
Ariel mayor calls for greater Israeli sovereignty in West Bank after terror attack
Ariel Mayor Eli Shaviro says Israel should impose sovereignty in the West Bank in the wake of the terrorist attack that killed an Israeli man near the settlement of Ariel.
“The answer to Palestinian terrorism is the immediate imposition of Israeli sovereignty over Jewish settlements in [the West Bank],” he says in a statement.
“I call on the prime minister and Knesset members to prevent the next attack,” Shaviro says. “Implement sovereignty!”
Israeli organ trafficking suspect to face Cyprus extradition hearing
Proceedings to extradite to Russia an Israeli suspected of being the brains behind an international organ-trafficking gang will begin in Cyprus later this month, a court rules.
The hearing will take place on February 21 after documents from Russia approved by the Cyprus justice minister were presented to the court.
Moshe Harel, a 70-year-old travel agent, was arrested at Larnaca airport on December 28 and will remain in custody until the hearing, Larnaca district court ruled.
He is accused of seeking out people needing kidney transplants and luring donors to Kosovo from Turkey and the former Soviet Union.
Both Russia and Kosovo, which Cyprus does not recognize, had issued international arrest warrants for him.
Cypriot authorities activated the Russian request, which was issued last year for offences committed in 2006.
Rivlin sends condolences to family of Ariel stabbing victim
President Reuven Rivlin sends his condolences to the family of Itamar Ben-Gal, who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist in the West Bank.
“With great sorrow I heard the news of the stabbing that took place today in Ariel,” Rivlin posts on Twitter. “We all send a hug of comfort and strength to the victim’s family.”
“I am proud of the IDF officer who pursued the terrorist and hit him with his car, and I’m confident that security forces will find him and his accomplices soon so they can face trial,” he adds.
Settlers berate IDF chief over West Bank security after terror attack
A group of settlers angrily confronts the head of the Central Command, Maj. Gen. Roni Numa, when he arrived at the scene of a deadly terror attack in the West Bank city of Ariel.
The handful of settlers blamed the general for what they claimed is lax security, citing three recent fatal terror attacks targeting Israelis in the West Bank.
“Three attacks, three murders and you guys do nothing! Go home!” one man was seen shouting at Numa.
Saudi says Yemen rebel ballistic missile shot down
Saudi air defenses intercepted a ballistic missile fired at the kingdom by Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels, state media reports.
The attack was launched from Yemen’s northern governorate of Saada, a Houthi stronghold, and “intercepted” at 7:23 local time (0423 GMT), Colonel Turki al-Maliki tells state news agency SPA.
Maliki, spokesman for the Saudi-led military coalition supporting the government in Yemen, says the missile was headed toward the city of Khamis Mushait — about 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of the border.
Riyadh had warned that “Iranian-manufactured ballistic weapons” threatened the kingdom’s security following an attack it said was intercepted near Riyadh airport in November.
Maliki on Monday accused the Houthis of “repeatedly targeting densely populated cities” and accused the kingdom’s regional rival Iran of delivering the weapons to the insurgents.
Liberman: Ariel attack a ‘direct result of Palestinian incitement’
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman says the deadly terror attack in Ariel earlier today is “the direct result of Palestinian incitement.
In an interview with Hadashot news, Liberman slams Palestinian media outlets for portraying the attacker as a hero, and says the Palestinian Authority’s practice of paying stipends to terrorists must end.
Liberman says the international community must pressure PA President Mahmoud Abbas to end the practice.
He adds that Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that rules the Gaza Strip, has invested $226 million in 2017 in tunnel infrastructure.
Israeli UN envoy calls on Security Council to ‘unequivocally condemn’ Ariel attack
Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, calls on the Security Council to “unequivocally condemn” the deadly terror attack in the West Bank town of Ariel earlier today, and pressure the PA to end its practice of paying stipends to the families of terrorists who target Israelis.
“The Palestinian leadership must be held accountable for today’s horrific murder in Israel,” Danon says in a statement. “This terror attack is the direct result of incitement and payments to terrorists by the Palestinian Authority.
“Instead of inviting Mahmoud Abbas to address the Security Council to disseminate lies and hate, the Council should unequivocally condemn this attack and demand that he stop paying stipends to terrorists,” he says.
Abbas will deliver a rare address to the UN Security Council on February 20 to address the US’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
Polish PM: Too late to change Holocaust bill, but taking Israeli concerns ‘seriously’
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki says it’s too late to amend his country’s controversial Holocaust law, but says the intention behind it is not to whitewash history.
“The law has already passed the Senate vote, and is now in the hands of President Duda,” Morawiecki says in an interview with Hadashot news.
“But the response from our friends in Israel is serious and so I take that seriously,” he says.
“The real intent of the law is not to prohibit statements about crimes committed by individuals or other things that happened during World War II,” Morawiecki says.
He goes on to say that he “supports research to identify all of the injustices committed during World War II.”
“I also want to invite our friends from Israel to truly understand what happened on Polish soil [at that time] because none of the Jewish families that were saved would be alive if it wasn’t for the help of their polish neighbors,” Morawiecki adds.
Ariel terrorist reportedly an Israeli citizen
The man who stabbed an Israeli man to death in a terrorist attack earlier this afternoon is reportedly an Israeli citizen.
According to reports in Hebrew-language media, the unnamed man’s father is a Palestinian from the West Bank city of Nablus and his mother is an Israeli from Haifa.
He is said to live in the Tel Aviv area.
Poland cancels Bennett visit after Holocaust bill criticism
Poland has cancelled an official visit by Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday.
Earlier today, Bennett announced he would visit Warsaw amid uproar over proposed legislation that would outlaw blaming Poland for crimes committed during the Holocaust.
“In Poland, I will make it clear: the past can’t be rewritten, the future should be written together,” Bennett said.
He noted that while thousands of Poles helped Jews during the war, many others participated in their persecution.
“I am going to speak truth, where the truth took place,” Bennett said.
But in light of those remarks, Polish government spokeswoman Joanna Kopcińska said “no such visit will take place.”
UN chief warns Gaza will be inhabitable by 2020 if infrastructure not upgraded
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the Gaza Strip will be inhabitable by 2020 unless major upgrades are made in the Palestinian enclave.
“A UN study showed this worrying warning. If the current situation persists, basic services and infrastructure in that territory will collapse,’ he says at the opening of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.
“Two million Palestinians are facing a ruined infrastructure, electricity crisis, lack of basic services, chronic unemployment and a stagnated economy every day,” Guterres says. “All that is happening amid a developing environmental disaster.”
He also expresses concern that the US cut in funding to the UN agency tasked with providing aid to Palestinians would exacerbate the situation.
Maldives declares emergency, soldiers reportedly storm Supreme Court
The Maldives government declared a 15-day state of emergency Monday as the political crisis deepened in the Indian Ocean nation amid an increasingly bitter standoff between the president and the Supreme Court.
Hours after the emergency was declared, soldiers forced their way into the Supreme Court building, where the judges were believed to be taking shelter, said Ahmed Maloof, an opposition member of Parliament.
A surprise Supreme Court ruling last week ordering the release of imprisoned opposition leaders has led to growing turmoil, with President Yameen Abdul Gayoom lashing out at the court, opposition protests spilling into the streets of the capital, Male, and soldiers in riot gear deployed to the parliament building to stop lawmakers from meeting.
The emergency decree gives the government sweeping powers to make arrests, search and seize property and restricts freedom of assembly, officials said.
Hours after it was declared, the soldiers forced their way into the court building, Maloof said.
The government did not immediately comment on soldiers going inside the building.