Rivlin tells Macron Hezbollah making rockets in Beirut, says Israel ‘likely’ to respond
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Rivlin: Hezbollah making rockets in Beirut, says Israel ‘likely’ to respond

During visit to Paris, president tells French counterpart military response to ‘threats’ by Iranian proxy group will ‘drag the entire region into an escalation’

President Reuven Rivlin (R) is accompanied by French President Emmanuel Macron after their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on January 23, 2019. (ludovic MARIN / AFP)
President Reuven Rivlin (R) is accompanied by French President Emmanuel Macron after their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on January 23, 2019. (ludovic MARIN / AFP)

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

Iranian general says another satellite launch coming ‘soon’

An Iranian general says the Tehran will attempt another satellite launch “soon,” saying the problems from the failed launch earlier this month had been addressed.

“One has been launched and the other one will soon be sent into orbit,” Brigadier General Amir Hatami says of the satellites at a cabinet meeting according to the Mehr news agency. “The technical problem is clear for us.”

Kurd-led forces overrun last Islamic State-held village in Syria

Kurdish-led fighters overrun the last village held by the Islamic State group in Syria, confining its once vast cross-border “caliphate” to two small hamlets, according to a war monitor.

It is the culmination of a broad offensive launched by the Syrian Democratic Forces last September with US-led coalition support in which they have reduced the jihadists’ last enclave on the north bank of the Euphrates valley near the Iraqi border to a tiny rump.

The capture of the village of Baghouz leaves the few remaining diehard IS fighters holed up in scattered farmhouses among the irrigated fields and orchards on the north bank of the Euphrates River.

— AFP

PM hits back after Iran general reportedly said Syria strikes will lead to his ouster

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hits back at Iranian General Qasem Soleimani who reportedly said a harsh retaliation against the Israeli raids would bring down the prime minister’s government.

“Instead of intervening in the elections, it would be better for Soleimani focus on the Iranian bases he is trying to establish in Syria,” Netanyahu says on Twitter. “As long as I am prime minister, we will not stop fighting against them.”

Earlier today, the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jarida reported that Soleimani made the remarks during a secret visit to southern Syria over the weekend. According to the report, Soleimani also said that Iran needed to fire three missiles at targets in central Israel for every one Israeli missile fired at its military targets in Syria.

The report said Soleimani visit is what promoted the Israeli raid on Iranian weapons storehouses near the Damascus airport overnight overnight Sunday.

German far-right lawmakers walk out of Holocaust tribute

More than a dozen lawmakers from the far-right Alternative for Germany walk out of the Bavarian state parliament during a tribute to Holocaust victims after a prominent Jewish leader accused their party of playing down the crimes of the Nazis.

The state lawmakers stood up and walked out after Charlotte Knobloch, a Holocaust survivor and former head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, called them out by name, saying “this so-called Alternative for Germany bases its politics on hate and marginalization.”

Knobloch called them a party that “has downplayed the crimes of the Nazis and has close connections to the extreme right.”

Lawmakers from other parties rose and gave her a standing ovation.

The AfD, which first entered the Bavarian parliament last year, had no immediate comment.

German FM heading to Washington in bid to improve ties

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is heading to the United States with the hope of improving relations between the two countries.

Maas tells reporters in Berlin before departing that he would meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and that “it’s about working less against each other with the US, but organizing more with each other.”

Since US President Donald Trump took office two years ago, relations between Germany and the US have soured over several issues, including tariff conflicts and different political views.

Maas said talks with Pompeo include engagements in Afghanistan and Syria, as well as arms control. He will also visit the United Nations, where Germany holds a rotating seat on the Security Council for the next two years.

— AP

DNA of main suspect found on stone that killed Palestinian woman

DNA from the main suspect in the killing of Aisha Rabi was found on the stone that struck the Palestinian woman in the head three months ago, the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s court reveals

The court accepts the prosecution’s request to extend the remand of the Jewish teen for an additional day, at the conclusion of which it is expected to file an indictment against him, the attorney for the suspect says.

— Jacob Magid

May: Corbyn willing to meet with Hamas, Hezbollah and IRA, but not me

British Prime Minister Theresa May attacks opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn for his refusal to meet with her over Brexit, asking the Labour party head why he met with members of Hamas, Hezbollah and the IRA, but not with her.

“He has been willing to sit down with Hamas, Hezbollah and the IRA without preconditions, but he will not meet with me to talk about Brexit,” May charges, during Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons.

In response, Corbyn says he offered to meet with the prime minister last fall, before quoting a line previously used by Hilary Benn MP: “While the door to her office may well be open, minds inside are completely closed.”

Police footage shows December capture of alleged Barkan terrorist

Police publish footage of a December raid in the West Bank in which Israeli forces found and killed a Palestinian man suspected of carrying out a terror attack in the West Bank, following a two month manhunt for the assailant.

According to the IDF, Ashraf Na’alowa opened fire at the Israeli security officers who came to arrest him at his home in the West Bank. The troops shot back, killing him.

On October 7, Na’alowa allegedly killed his Israeli coworkers Kim Levengrond Yehezkel and Ziv Hajbi, at a factory where all three worked in the Barkan Industrial Zone. Another Israeli woman was also injured in the attack.

Russia says Israel must halt ‘arbitrary’ airstrikes in Syria

Russia’s Foreign Ministry is calling on Israel to halt airstrikes on Iranian military targets on Syria, saying the attacks on Iranian military targets in the country violated international law.

“We did not change our stance related to this topic,” a ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova says at a briefing. “It is based on international law and the practice of delivering airstrikes against a sovereign state must be ruled out.”

An explosion, reportedly during Israeli airstrikes near Damascus, Syria, on January 21, 2019. (screen capture: YouTube)

“The escalation of hostilities in the region is not in line with the regional interests of the Middle East states including Israel,” she says.

Livni slams PM for breaking Syria ambiguity for ‘personal reasons’

Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni says Russia’s demand that Israel halt its strikes in Syria was the result of Netanyahu breaking Israel’s ambiguity on the raids.

“He breaks the policy of ambiguity out of personal and political reasons, limiting the IDF operations in the northern front,” she says in a tweet.

Under her leadership, Livni says her center-left party “will handle security and political affairs responsibly.”

Lapid: Netanyahu admitted to Syria strikes in bid to boost re-election campaign

Yesh Atid chair Yair Lapid says that Russia’s call for Israel to halt airstrikes on Iranian military targets in Syria is due to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s taking public responsibility for the recent strikes, which Lapid says is politically motivated.

“After years of quiet and efficient cooperation, Netanyahu’s election campaign has forced the Russians to come out against us in the Syrian arena,” Lapid says in a statement.

“The damage of one irresponsible message will take years to correct.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Likud mocks Lapid’s military record after Netanyahu criticism

Likud rejects Lapid’s claim that Netanyahu’s decision to take responsibility for strikes in Syria is politically motivated, mocking the Yesh Atid leader’s non-combat military service.

“Chief of Staff Eisenkot said in his resignation speech this month there were no political considerations in the prime minister’s decisions,” Likud says in a statement, quoting comments made about the decision to launch an operation to destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels from Lebanon.

“That’s all you need to know about the baseless misrepresentations of Yair Lapid, whose security experience amounts to several articles he published in the [IDF] B’Machane newspaper.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Egypt says archaeologists find ancient tombs in Nile Delta

Egypt says archaeologists have uncovered ancient tombs dating back to the Second Intermediate Period, 1782-1570 BCE, in the Nile Delta.

The Antiquities Ministry says that archaeologists also found 20 burial sites dating back to the Predynastic Period in Kom al-Kholgan archaeological site, about 140 kilometers (87 miles) north of Cairo.

Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, says the tombs contain ancient animal remains, stone artifacts and pottery fragments with drawings.

The ministry says the remains were not well-preserved.

In recent years, Egypt has heavily promoted new archaeological finds to international media and diplomats in the hope of attracting more visitors to the country. The vital tourism sector has suffered from years of political turmoil since the 2011 uprising.

— AP

IDF: Gazans breach border fence, return back to Strip

Two Palestinian suspects broke through the border fence and briefly entered Israeli territory before running back into the Gaza Strip, the army says.

The two men were part of a larger group that had “approached the security fence in the southern Gaza Strip and damaged it,” the IDF says in a statement.

— Judah Ari Gross

Four dead in Venezuela clashes ahead of Maduro protests

At least four people have died following overnight clashes ahead of today’s rival protests in Venezuela by supporters and opponents of President Nicolas Maduro, police and a non-governmental organization says.

A 16-year-old was among the dead, having suffered “a firearm injury during a demonstration” in the capital Caracas, the Social Conflict Observatory says.

Police say the other three deaths occurred during looting in Bolivar City in the southeastern Bolivar State that borders Brazil.

A statue of iconic socialist revolutionary leader Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s predecessor, was torched by dozens of protesters in the town of San Felix, Bolivar State.

Tensions have been running high in the country since Monday when a group of soldiers took over a command post in the north of the capital and rose up against Maduro, publishing a video calling on people to come out into the streets in support.

The mutineers were quickly overpowered by police and the armed forces, with 27 people arrested. But the brazen move sparked at least 30 small protests around Caracas, according to the Social Conflict Observatory, with the police firing tear gas to disperse demonstrators.

— AFP

Irish parliament debating bill banning trade with Israeli settlements

The Dail, the lower house of Ireland’s parliament, is debating a bill that would criminalize trade with Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Representing the government, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney says the bill may be well-intentioned but would only “provide temporary solace” to the Palestinians. Furthermore, there are legal and political problems with the bill, Coveney says.

The Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 has to take several additional legislative hurdles before it passes into law.

Israel has condemned the Irish parliament for advancing the bill, saying it distances prospects of peace.

— Raphael Ahren

Czech lawmakers approve tax on billions in compensation to churches, synagogues

Czech lawmakers on Wednesday approved a tax on the billions the state will pay houses of worship for assets seized by the Communists during their Cold War rule, aiming to claw back a portion of the compensation payments.

The country’s 17 religious Christian and Jewish denominations are currently entitled to recover assets seized by the atheist Communist regime after World War II and receive financial compensation for those that cannot be returned.

According to a 2012 law, the nation’s churches and synagogues are to receive some $3 billion over 30 years to compensate for property seized by the state.

— Agencies

Erdogan in Moscow for talks with Putin on Syria ‘safe zone’

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan are meeting for Syria talks in Moscow, with Turkey saying it would focus on Ankara’s so-called “security zone” in northern Syria.

Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria following US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement last month about pulling 2,000 American troops out of Syria.

At the start of their meeting in the Kremlin, Putin addresses Erdogan as “dear friend,” saying that their countries “work on issues of regional security and actively cooperate on Syria.”

Erdogan uses the same term for Putin in translated comments, saying “our solidarity makes a weighty contribution to the security of the region.”

The leaders are set to give a press conference after their talks.

— AFP

Court seizes Arafat property in East Jerusalem as collateral in suit against PA

An Israeli court seizes an East Jerusalem property partly owned by late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, holding it as collateral against a civil suit for damages against the Palestinian Authority.

A copy of the ruling by the Jerusalem district court made available to AFP names “the estate of the late Yasser Arafat” as respondent.

“A temporary lien is granted on property owned by the respondent,” said the judgement handed down yesterday.

Israeli NGO Shurat Hadin requested the lien so the Arafat asset in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem could serve as collateral for a pending civil claim for damages against the Palestinian Authority (PA), the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Arafat estate, by eight families of victims of Palestinian attacks.

— AFP

White supremacist pleads guilty to killing black man with a sword

A white supremacist pleads guilty to killing a black man with a sword, as part of an attack that authorities said was intended to incite a race war in the United States.

James Jackson admits to fatally stabbing 66-year-old Timothy Caughman in March 2017, after stalking a number of black men in New York City.

Jackson, who is white, told police he traveled from Baltimore to carry out the attack because New York is the media capital of the world. He said the slaying had been practice for further assaults on black people.

Jackson, 30, faces life in prison when he is sentenced February 13 after pleading guilty to six counts, including murder and a hate crime charge.

— AP

Rivlin tells Macron Hezbollah making rockets in Beirut, says Israel ‘likely’ to respond

President Reuven Rivlin warns French President Emmanuel Macron that Israel could take military action against Hezbollah in Lebanon, saying the Iranian proxy group was secretly producing weapons in the capital city.

“If there is a threat emanating from Lebanon, we will not idly stand by,” Rivlin says at the Elysee Palace in Paris according to reports in Hebrew language media. “Lebanon bears sovereign responsibility for all Hezbollah action.”

“Hezbollah is producing precision rockets in the heart of Beirut Iranian support under the auspices of civilian activity,” he says.

“This activity will likely force us to respond, and, in doing so, drag the entire region into an escalation, which will harm Lebanon.”

“France is an influential power in our region and its understanding that Hezbollah is part of the overall Lebanese system is essential,” the president adds.

Israel accuses EU funding groups of backing BDS

Israel is accusing the European Union of financing organizations that promote boycotts of Israel.

Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs says in a new report that certain non-governmental groups that support the Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel receive EU funding.

Although the EU opposes the boycott movement, the ministry says “insufficient oversight” by the EU has allowed some of these groups to use European funds for boycott activities. The ministry estimates the figure amounts to millions of euros per year.

The EU says claims that it supports “incitement or terror, or condoning anti-Semitism, are unfounded and unacceptable.” The EU says it rejects “any attempts to isolate Israel and (does) not support calls for boycott, nor fund actions that are related to boycott activities.”

— AP

Netanyahu lawyers ask attorney general to investigate leaks in PM’s cases

Netanyahu lawyers have asked attorney general’s office to investigate the leaks to the media about the details of the prime minister’s criminal

“We are appealing to the attorney general to immediately order an investigation into the matter by the appropriate body,” Netanyahu’s legal team say according to reports.

The attorneys say the leaks of “partial, distorted and biased” information are part of a “clear effort to spread negative opinions against the prime minister ahead of the upcoming elections and to exert pressure on the attorney general, who is currently deliberating these cases.”

Trump plans to deliver State of Union despite request to delay

US President Donald Trump says he is planning to deliver his State of the Union address next week in front of a joint session of Congress — despite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s request that he delay.

In a letter issued to Pelosi, Trump dismisses her suggestion the speech should be postponed or delivered in writing due to security issues related to the partial government shutdown. Declaring there are “no security concerns,” Trump says he will fulfill his “Constitutional duty.”

Trump adds that it would be “so very sad” for the country if the address is not given as planned on January 29.

Pelosi last week cited the impact of the ongoing shutdown on the Department of Homeland Security and the US Secret Service. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the agencies were prepared to support the speech.

— AP

Security cabinet releases Qatari aid money to Gaza frozen by Netanyahu

The security cabinet decides to allow the transfer of $15 million in Qatari aid money for Gazans that was frozen by Netanyahu in response to an uptick in violence along the border, the Ynet news site reports.

According to the report, the ministers have unanimously agreed to let the funds go through at the urging of top IDF, Shin Ben, and Mossad officials.

The funds will be transferred into Gaza in the next 24 hours, the report says.

Netanyahu blocked the Qatari money that was expected to arrive in Gaza earlier today after an Israeli soldier was shot on the border of the coastal enclave last night.

Trump recognizes Venezuela opposition leader Guaido as ‘interim president’

US President Donald Trump is recognizing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s interim president.

Trump describes hard-left President Nicolas Maduro as “illegitimate” and says the National Assembly, headed by Guaido, is “the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people.”

Trump’s support for Guaido comes shortly after the opposition leader declared himself “acting president” during a mass demonstration against Maduro.

Trump notes that the National Assembly had declared Maduro “illegitimate, and the office of the presidency therefore vacant.”

“The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law,” he says.

Trump urged other countries to follow his lead and promised to “use the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy.”

— AFP

Netanyahu slams TV news shows as ‘propaganda’ for publishing investigation leaks

Netanyahu lashes out at Israel’s primetime television news stations for publishing near-daily leaks by police investigators involved in corruption cases against him.

In a video uploaded to social media, Netanyahu says “propaganda Channels 12 and 13 are brainwashing you with false and incessant leaks from the investigations.”

He says leaking information from police investigations is illegal, and accuses the media of trying to “force a leftist government against the will of the people.”

Netanyahu calls on Israelis to thwart the media’s efforts by voting for him at in the April 9 elections.

Netanyahu offers condolences to father of Israeli student murdered in Australia

Netanyahu this evening spoke with the father of Aya Maasarwe, the Israeli Arab student who was brutally murdered in Australia last week.

A statement from Netanyahu’s office says the prime minister offered condolences to Saeed Maasarwe on behalf of all Israelis. Maasarwe thanked him for his condolences and his support.

Earlier today, thousands of mourners crammed outside the Maasarwe family home in Baqa al-Gharbiyye for Aya’s funeral. Friends and neighbors carried flowers and Arabic signs, reading “Your beautiful soul will not be forgotten.” They huddled and prayed as her family lowered her coffin into the ground.

Trump ex-lawyer Cohen delays testimony citing ‘threats’ by president

Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen has postponed testimony in Congress citing threats from Trump and the president’s current attorney, Rudy Giuliani, Cohen’s advocate says.

Cohen’s appearance before the House Oversight Committee, scheduled for February 7, is being pushed off “due to ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and Mr. Giuliani, as recently as this weekend,” Lanny Davis says in statement.

“This is a time where Mr. Cohen had to put his family and their safety first,” Davis adds.

US says ‘all options’ on table if Maduro uses force in Venezuela

The United States is warning that “all options” will be considered if Venezuela’s hard-left President Nicolas Maduro uses force in his stand-off with opposition leaders.

“If Maduro and his cronies choose to respond with violence, if they choose to harm any of the National Assembly members…, all options are on the table for the United States in regards to action to be taken,” a senior administration official tells journalists.

— AFP

Canada recognizes Venezuela’s Guaido as interim president

Canada says it is recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela.

Two officials familiar with the matter confirm the Canadian position, but spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The move comes shortly after the US also issued recognition of Guaido as president and called for President Nicolas Maduro to step down.

Guaido declared himself interim president on Wednesday.

Recognition of the opposition leader by the US and Canada increases international pressure on Maduro and could result in severe economic consequences for his government.

— AP

Brazil backs Guaido as Venezuela’s interim leader

Brazil throws its support behind Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s leader, after the head of the opposition-controlled parliament declared himself the interim president of his country in open defiance of President Nicolas Maduro.

“Brazil recognizes Mr Juan Guiado as Venezuela’s interim president,” Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tweets.

He sends the post from the Swiss ski resort of Davos, where he and other Latin American leaders were attending the World Economic Forum.

— AFP

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Rivlin tells Macron Hezbollah making rockets in Beirut, says Israel ‘likely’ to respond

President Reuven Rivlin warns French President Emmanuel Macron that Israel could take military action against Hezbollah in Lebanon, saying the Iranian proxy group was secretly producing weapons in the capital city.

“If there is a threat emanating from Lebanon, we will not idly stand by,” Rivlin says at the Elysee Palace in Paris according to reports in Hebrew language media. “Lebanon bears sovereign responsibility for all Hezbollah action.”

“Hezbollah is producing precision rockets in the heart of Beirut Iranian support under the auspices of civilian activity,” he says.

“This activity will likely force us to respond, and, in doing so, drag the entire region into an escalation, which will harm Lebanon.”

“France is an influential power in our region and its understanding that Hezbollah is part of the overall Lebanese system is essential,” the president adds.