The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.
Netanyahu unveils memorial for Mumbai attack victims
MUMBAI, India — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits a Jewish center in Mumbai and unveils a memorial to 166 people who were killed by Islamist terrorists who rampaged through the Indian city in 2008.
Netanyahu meets with Moshe Holtzberg, a boy whose parents were among six people killed at the Chabad Center during the attack. Netanyahu pats Moshe’s shoulder and poses for photographs.
Netanyahu says light would spread from the memorial to make the world a better place.
Moshe was 2 at the time of the attack and was saved by his nanny, Sandra Samuel, who joins him on Thursday. He left for Israel after the attack and returned to India for the first time on Tuesday.
His parents were emissaries of the Chabad movement living in Mumbai at the time.
Trump pushes back against top aide over border wall
WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump is pushing back against his own chief of staff over his promised border wall with Mexico.
Trump tweets that “The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it.”
Some Democrats who met with Trump aide John Kelly on Wednesday say Kelly told them there are parts of the border where a wall isn’t needed and that Trump didn’t know that when making campaign promises.
Trump now tweets that some of the wall will be “see through and it was never intended to be built in areas where there is natural protection such as mountains, wastelands or tough rivers or water …”
He’s also saying the wall “will be paid for, directly or indirectly, or through longer term reimbursement, by Mexico, which has a ridiculous $71 billion dollar trade surplus with the US. The $20 billion dollar Wall is ‘peanuts’ compared to what Mexico makes from the US.”
Jerusalem braces for stormy weather
The Jerusalem municipality says it has completed preparations for expected stormy weather beginning Thursday night and stretching into Friday.
Heavy rainfall and powerful gusts of wind are expected in the capital, leading city officials to issue recommendations to residents to clear out yards and public spaces of objects that can fly in strong winds.
Mayor Nir Barkat orders heightened attention to vulnerable populations by the city’s welfare services, while vehicles to clear roads are being prepared.
Iran’s central bank claims billions from German stock exchange
FRANKFURT AM MAIN, Germany — German stock market operator Deutsche Boerse says Iran’s central bank has leveled claims for billions of dollars against its Luxembourg subsidiary Clearstream, which blocked the funds after the US accused Tehran of funding terrorism.
The Iranian central bank (Bank Markazi) demands some $4.9 billion of assets it says are held in Clearstream accounts belonging to it and to Italian bank UBAE, plus interest, Deutsche Boerse says in a statement.
If the assets themselves cannot be recovered, the Iranian institution wants damages in the same amount.
The long-running, complex case involves some $2 billion frozen in Clearstream accounts while court cases against Iran are heard in the US and Luxembourg, as well as some $1.9 billion Clearstream has already transferred to the US based on a 2013 court ruling.
That judgment saw Iran ordered to compensate around 1,000 American plaintiffs, including families of some 214 soldiers killed in a double suicide bombing in Lebanese capital Beirut in 1983 that claimed 299 lives.
Turkey ‘not satisfied’ with US assurance over Syria force
ISTANBUL, Turkey — Turkey describes as far from satisfactory US assurances playing down plans to create a border force in northern Syria made up of Kurdish militia forces deemed as “terrorists” by Ankara.
Washington says it is training a 30,000-strong border force on Syria’s northern frontier with Turkey, comprising the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, whom Ankara accuses of being a terror group.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted furiously to the announcement of the plan, denouncing the force as an “army of terror.”
But the Pentagon said late Wednesday it does not plan to create an “army” and the force is aimed at fighters from the Islamic State (IS) group and maintaining stability in areas recaptured from the jihadists.
Lebanon court sentences journalist for criticizing army
BEIRUT, Lebanon — A Lebanese military court hands down a six-month prison sentence to a journalist for presenting views critical of the army, a court official told AFP says.
Hanin Ghaddar, also a researcher known for her criticism of the powerful Hezbollah movement, was sentenced in absentia on January 10 over an expose at a conference in the United States, the source says.
Her sentence sparks outrage among fellow journalists and academics in Lebanon, where they say free speech and freedom of the press are once again being challenged.
The court official says the ruling found Ghaddar, a US resident, guilty of “defaming the Lebanese army, harming its reputation and accusing it of distinguishing between Lebanese citizens.”
During a conference session in Washington in 2014, a recording of which is available online, she described the situation in Lebanon as “Sunnis being clamped down by Hezbollah and the Lebanese army versus Hezbollah militia being the untouchables.”
Pope renews call to uphold Jerusalem status quo
Pope Francis again stresses the importance of preserving the status quo in Jerusalem and urges fresh talks between Israel and Palestinians on a two-state solution, the Vatican says.
The Argentine pontiff strongly opposed US President Donald Trump’s bitterly contested move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his plans to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.
Referring to “the unique nature of Jerusalem” in a letter to Egypt’s top Muslim cleric Ahmed al-Tayeb, Francis says that “only a special status, guaranteed by the international community, can preserve its identity, (and) unique vocation as a place of peace.”
Only that “would allow a future of reconciliation and hope for the entire region,” he says.
“The Holy See will not cease from urgently calling for dialogue to resume between Israelis and Palestinians for a negotiated solution aimed at the peaceful coexistence of two states,” the letter continues.
IS poses threat to Iraq one month after ‘liberation’
MOSUL, Iraq — Barely a month after Baghdad declared victory over the Islamic State group, the jihadists could still recapture areas of Iraq, especially near the border with Syria, experts and officials say.
Ali al-Bayati, a commander of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary units which fought alongside Iraqi security forces in a grueling battle against the group, says the Nimrud area of northern Iraq could “fall at any time because security there is fragile.”
Last July, the authorities in Baghdad announced with much fanfare the “liberation” of nearby Mosul, Iraq’s second city and capital of Nineveh province.
IS fighters who fled their former stronghold and took refuge to the west, in the vast desert towards the Syrian border, have since launched attacks on security forces and civilians, Bayati says.
Hiding out in valleys and gullies as well as trenches dug before their ouster from Mosul, the jihadists have built up stockpiles of arms, fuel, water and food and pose a persistent threat to populated districts along the Tigris valley, like the Nimrud area downstream from Mosul.
Senior minister: Abbas no longer a partner for peace
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, says Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas can no longer serve as a partner for peace talks, after Abbas’s firebrand speech earlier this week in Ramallah and another yesterday in Cairo in which he charged that the Oslo peace process was dead and that the Jewish presence in Israel was the product of European colonialism.
No diplomatic talks are possible “as long as Abu Mazen [Abbas] is the Palestinian leader, and as long as the moderate Palestinian leadership does not recognize the Jews’ right to a state of their own,” Steinitz tells the Ynet news site.
In TV interview, Woody Allen’s daughter describes alleged assault
NEW YORK — In her first televised interview, Dylan Farrow describes in detail Woody Allen’s alleged sexual assault of her, and calls actors who work in Woody Allen films “complicit” in perpetuating a “culture of silence.”
Farrow, the adopted daughter of Allen and Mia Farrow, appears in a taped interview Thursday on “CBS This Morning.” Farrow recounts the 1992 incident, when she was 7 years old, in which she says Allen molested her in her mother’s Connecticut home.
Allen was investigated but wasn’t charged, and he has long denied having inappropriately touched Farrow. In a statement Thursday, Allen reiterates his denial and says “the Farrow family is cynically using the opportunity afforded by the Time’s Up movement to repeat this discredited allegation.”
Farrow calls Allen’s version of events — that a distraught Mia Farrow coached her story — “crazy.”
Egyptian president sacks intel chief, appoints replacement
CAIRO — Egypt’s president fires the country’s chief spy and assigns a confidant and head of his office to run the General Intelligence Directorate Agency temporarily.
Thursday’s one-line statement from President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s office gives no reason why Khaled Fawzi was removed from office. The Egyptian president seldom explains decisions pertaining to national security or foreign relations.
The statement says the president’s confidant and office director Abbas Kamel, a retired army general who works behind the scenes, would run the agency until a new director is found.
Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate is the country’s equivalent of the US Central Intelligence Agency, but it has also taken on tasks that normally fall under the mandate of a domestic security agency.
India test-launches nuclear-capable long-range missile
NEW DELHI, India — The Indian defense ministry says India has successfully test-fired a long-range nuclear-capable missile from an island in the Bay of Bengal.
It says Thursday’s test, the fifth of an Agni-5 intercontinental ballistic missile, was made from a mobile launcher, and “further strengthens our credible deterrence.” India has been developing its nuclear and missile systems in recent years amid increasing strategic competition with China.
Tension flared last year between the two neighbors over a disputed section of their border high in the Himalayas.
Cyprus denies bail for Israeli organ trafficking suspect
LARNACA, Cyprus — A Cypriot court orders an Israeli national suspected of being the brains behind an international organ trafficking gang to remain in custody until an extradition process begins on February 5.
Moshe Harel’s defense lawyers had asked for the 70-year-old travel agent, who was arrested at Larnaca airport on January 5, to be released from custody on bail terms until the process starts.
Harel is accused of seeking out people in need of kidney transplants and of luring donors to Kosovo from Turkey and the ex-Soviet Union a decade ago.
Both Russia and Kosovo, which Cyprus does not recognize, have issued international arrest warrants for him.
“In view of the seriousness of the crimes, I judge that there is visible danger of him escaping before his extradition process begins… The bail terms proposed by the defense are not satisfactory,” judge Michalis Charalambous says.
New Orleans City Council to reconsider Israel boycott resolution
The New Orleans City Council wants to reconsider a controversial resolution it passed last week that lends support to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
The resolution to boycott investments with human rights violators, which on January 11 passed the council unanimously with all five members present voting in support, mentions neither Israel nor the Palestinians, but BDS and anti-Israel activists claimed the passage as a victory for their cause.
Since the vote, City Council President Jason Williams and other council members have told local media they will move to reconsider the resolution at their next council meeting.
Williams on Wednesday called for reconsideration of the resolution, saying that he was not aware of the boycott movement or its mission when he and the council voted, the New Orleans Advocate reports.
Williams also said it was a mistake for the council to introduce and vote on the unadvertised measure at the end of a nearly six-hour meeting, and acknowledged that the city council did not give people enough time to voice their opinions.
The adopted text “encourages the creation of a process to … avoid contracting with or investing in corporations whose practices consistently violate human rights.”
Five of seven city council members, including the mayor-elect, co-sponsored the resolution. The resolution was pushed by the New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee and the language used in the resolution reportedly was crafted by members of the committee. The resolution was written and introduced by Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell as part of her Welcoming Cities initiative, the local television station WWL-TV reports.
“Let me be very clear to citizens of New Orleans and citizens of the world — this City Council is not anti-Israel,” Williams says, according to the Advocate. “That sentiment is inconsistent with the council’s actions and certainly mine personally.”
Syria threatens to down Turkish jets over its Kurdish region
BEIRUT — Syria says its air defense would shoot down any Turkish jets that carry out attacks within Syria, a stark warning as tensions soar over apparent preparations by the Turkish military to invade a northern Syrian Kurdish enclave.
From Damascus, Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad says a military incursion into Syria’s Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin would be “no picnic” for Turkey.
Any such operation would be considered an “aggressive act,” Mekdad says.
The escalation comes after the United States disclosed plans to form a 30,000-strong border force in Syria led by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces in the wake of the victory over the Islamic State group. Turkey reacted angrily to the announcement.
German lawmakers vote to install anti-Semitism commissioner
BERLIN — German lawmakers vote to install a commissioner who would coordinate government activities against anti-Semitism.
The lower house approves by a wide majority Thursday a motion proposed by four of the six parliamentary groups to install the official, who would be chosen by independent experts. The center-left Social Democrats call for the commissioner to be installed at the chancellery.
The decision follows a recommendation by a panel of experts and comes amid concern over anti-Semitic incidents during recent pro-Palestinian protests in Berlin and elsewhere in the country.
Volker Kauder, the parliamentary leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Union bloc, tells lawmakers that far-right motives are behind the bulk of anti-Semitic crimes but there’s been a rising number of acts by migrants. He says “we must not allow either of these things.”
Liberman: Raziel Shevach’s killers tried but failed to carry out earlier attack
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tells the Walla news site that the terrorist cell arrested in Jenin earlier today for the murder of Rabbi Raziel Shevach last week had attempted to carry out a different terror attack in the past, but failed to carry it out.
He does not provide details of the previous attempted attack.
At Mumbai event with Netanyahu, Bollywood looks to film in Israel
Several high-powered Bollywood stars are attending a gala with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Indian city of Mumbai in a bid to Indian film production to Israel to boost tourism from the subcontinent.
“We are just waiting for an invitation, that’s all it takes,” says producer Abhishek Kapoor, envisioning a number of possible movies that could be filmed in Israel.
But he says Israel may need to offer some incentives to make the dream a reality.
— Joshua Davidovich
Brandeis U gets $8.4m from man who visited once
Brandeis University has received an $8.4 million bequest gift for social-justice initiatives from a man who visited the campus one time.
The university announced the gift from Seymour Bluestone on Tuesday. Bluestone, a former rehabilitation doctor who visited Brandeis just once, but felt a strong connection to its social-justice values, died in September at the age of 96.
Bluestone, who had lived in Clearwater, Florida, began making small gifts to Brandeis in the 1990s at the request of family friends. He visited the campus in 2000, where he learned about a number of Brandeis programs. Over lunch, he and Prof. Laurence Simon, the founding director of the Sustainable International Development program at the university’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management, began a discussion about poverty and other global issues which remained with him.
IDF says Hamas will soon understand ‘tunnels project doesn’t pay’
An IDF Southern Command official tells Hadashot television news that Hamas will soon understand “its tunnels project doesn’t pay.”
Advances in tunnel-detection are causing the strategic reassessment, the Israeli official says.
The subterranean wall Israel is building will deny Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other Gaza-based terrorist groups what is arguably the only strategic weapon they currently possess, a fact that he said is slowly dawning on them.
“It’s just a matter of them becoming aware of it,” the official says.
The group lost 23 operatives in Israeli detonations of tunnels found passing into Israeli territory in the past two months, “but hasn’t responded with rockets. [That shows] our deterrence is strong,” the official says.
— Judah Ari Gross and TOI Staff
Last three years hottest on record, UN says
GENEVA, Switzerland — The last three years were the hottest on record, the United Nations weather agency says, citing fresh global data underscoring the dramatic warming of the planet.
Consolidated data from five leading international weather agencies shows that “2015, 2016 and 2017 have been confirmed as the three warmest years on record,” the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says.
It adds that 2016 remains the hottest year ever measured due to the warming effect of El Nino, while 2017 was the warmest non-El Nino year, beating out 2015 by less than one hundredth of a degree.
“The long-term temperature trend is far more important than the ranking of individual years, and that trend is an upward one,” WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas says in a statement.
The 21st century has so far been a period of the hottest weather, accounting for 17 of the 18 warmest years on record.
Hamas chief thanks Iran for support to ‘resistance’ against Israel
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh sends a letter to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei thanking him for his “unflinching and valuable” support for the Palestinian position on Jerusalem, the official Iranian news outlet Press TV reports.
Haniyeh warns of the “‘big conspiracy’ by global hegemonic powers against al-Quds and the people of Palestine,” according to Press TV. He calls Hamas-ruled Gaza “the fortress of resistance.”
“The US and some defeated leaders are seeking to end the issue of Palestine and resistance against the occupying regime [of Israel] so that the [Arab] leaders that pine for gratifying the US and Israel could normalize their relations with the Zionist regime and make them public,” he is quoted as saying.
UN chief wants Syria gas attacks probe to be revived
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urges the Security Council to revive efforts to punish those responsible for chemical weapons use in Syria after Russia killed off a UN probe of the gas attacks.
Guterres says the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s nearly seven-year war “seriously challenges the global taboo against these weapons of mass destruction.”
“If the use of chemical weapons in Syria is once again determined, the international community needs to find an appropriate way to identify those responsible and hold them to account,” he tells a council meeting on non-proliferation.
Russia used its veto power twice in November to block the renewal of a UN investigative panel tasked with identifying those responsible for chemical attacks in Syria.
A month earlier, the panel had released a damning report that found the Syrian air force had dropped sarin on the rebel-held village of Khan Sheikhun in April, killing scores of people.
Russia at UN warns collapse of Iran deal would be ‘alarming’
Russia warns at the UN Security Council that the collapse of the Iranian nuclear deal would send an “alarming” message to the world and compromise efforts to persuade North Korea to scrap its nuclear arsenal.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov tells a council meeting on non-proliferation that the 2015 deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was a major diplomatic achievement.
“Clearly the failure of the JCPOA, especially as a result of one of the parties … would be an alarming message for the entire international community architecture, including the prospects for dealing with the nuclear problem on the Korean peninsula,” says Lavrov.
US President Donald Trump on Friday agreed to again waive US nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, but demanded that US lawmakers and European allies fix the “disastrous flaws” in the deal.
Washington is concerned that the deal, thrashed out over 12 years of talks, does nothing to punish Iran over its ballistic missile program, interference in regional conflicts or human rights abuses at home.
Jordan says Israel apologized for July shooting deaths at Amman embassy
A Jordanian official says that Israel has apologized for the shooting deaths of two Jordanians at the Israeli embassy in Amman last July.
According to Mohammed al-Momani, a top spokesperson for Amman, Israel’s Foreign Ministry sent Jordan a statement that fulfills Jordan’s conditions for restoring relations after Amman forced Israel to withdraw its ambassador following the incident.
According to Hadashot television news, Israel also agrees to pay restitution to the families of the two Jordanians.
There is no immediate confirmation from Israel.
Overnight storms to bring powerful winds, snow, 23-foot waves, flash floods
According to Israel’s meteorological service, stormy weather beginning late Thursday and into Friday is expected to bring gusts of 100 kph winds (about 60 mph), intense thunderstorms and hail in colder areas throughout the country.
Waves in the Mediterranean are expected to reach a height of seven meters (23 feet) on Friday.
Riverbeds in the Galilee and in the Negev desert are expected to experience intermittent flash floods, creating dangerous conditions for any brave enough to venture out to hike in such weather.
Snow is predicted on the Golan Heights and on hilltops in the Galilee.
The stormy weather will end by Friday afternoon, meteorologists say.