The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they unfolded.
UNRWA head slams ‘political dimension’ of US aid freeze
GENEVA — The head of the UN agency for Palestinians criticizes Tuesday the “political dimension” of the US decision to dramatically slash funding to the organization over the PA’s refusal for peace talks, warning the cuts could lead to rising instability.
Pierre Krahenbuhl lamented that the US decision to reduce funding for UNRWA this year by $300 million “has a political dimension that I think should be avoided.”
Russia-sponsored Syria meeting starts in Sochi
MOSCOW — Russia’s foreign minister opens a Moscow-sponsored peace conference for Syria on Tuesday by saying that time is ripe to end the “painful” conflict in the war-torn Arab country. Key Syrian opposition and rebels groups, however, are boycott the gathering, which Moscow describes as an effort to speed up political settlement for Syria.
Sergey Lavrov’s comments are also in sharp contrast with the violence on the ground in Syria, where opposition activists report more airstrikes on the rebel-held province of Idlib. Also, Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition fighters are marching deeper into a Kurdish enclave in the country’s north.
The Russia-sponsored conference opens in the Black Sea resort of Sochi after a two-hour delay, after some members of rebel groups returned to the airport in protest.
Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, says it invited 1,600 representatives to the Syrian Congress of National Dialogue, but so far only the government and opposition representatives tolerated by Damascus have shown up. The main Syrian opposition body is boycotting the talks.
Russian delegation to visit Israel to talk Iran, Syria
A delegation of senior Russian security officials will arrive in Jerusalem tomorrow for talks on Iran and Syria to follow up on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow yesterday, Channel 10 reports.
The Prime Minister’s Office confirms the report. It says the delegation will be led by the head of Russia’s Security council, Nikolai Patrushev, and will also include the deputy foreign, justice and public security ministers, as well as generals and top military and intelligence officials.
The PMO tells the TV channel the talks will address “regional matters and other issues related to the common interests of Russia and Israel.”
Netanyahu’s meeting with Putin Monday focused on Iran, namely its establishment of missile factories in Lebanon and military entrenchment in Syria.
Saudi authorities net $106 billion in corruption settlements
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia says a wide-reaching anti-corruption campaign has netted more than $106 billion in financial settlements with 65 people who remain in custody.
Saudi Attorney General Saud al-Mojeb says on Tuesday that the settlements reached include seizure of real estate assets, commercial entities, securities and cash. His statement doesn’t disclose further details on the types of businesses or real estate that was acquired.
The attorney general says the remaining 65 still in custody have not reached a financial settlement “due to other pending criminal cases, or in order to continue the investigation process.”
Among those released over the weekend was billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who was among at least 11 princes and dozens of businessmen and officials detained in the sweep that began on November 4.
Palestinian protesters interrupt US-backed event in Bethlehem, damage SUV
Palestinian demonstrators interrupt a US-backed event in the West Bank city of Bethlehem in protest of US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Reuters reports.
The news agency says protesters pelted a SUV that had US diplomatic license plates, kicked one of its doors and damaged a side mirror as it left a digital marketing workshop at the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce under police escort.
Samir Hazboun, the head of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, tells Reuters five demonstrators interrupted the workshop.
“We hosted an American expert on this issue. Some people who have been trying to express their point of view and protest (against) the American decision regarding Jerusalem and the political situation … interrupted the workshop and we stopped the workshop,” he says.
Shin Bet chief says Israel thwarting cyber-attacks from ‘all over the world’
The head of the Shin Bet says his agency thwarted cyber-attacks targeting Israel from “all over the world” during the past year.
Speaking at the CyberTech conference in Tel Aviv, Nadav Argaman says “cyber is today a central tool in our daily work thwarting terror.”
“The ability of our enemies now to shorten the process of acquiring breakthrough technologies requires us to be better than before and to be at the front of global technology, and that is what we strive to do,” he says, according to the Ynet news site.
Egypt opposition coalition calls for boycott of March vote
CAIRO — A coalition of eight Egyptian opposition parties and some 150 pro-democracy public figures calls on voters to boycott the March presidential election, saying it amounts to a “farce” or “absurdity bordering on madness.”
The incumbent, general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, is virtually certain to win the March 26-28 vote, sweeping aside a face-saving would-be candidate whose last-minute participation spared the government the embarrassment of a one-candidate election.
Tuesday’s call for a boycott by the Civilian Democratic Movement comes just days after five opposition figures, including a 2012 presidential candidate and two top campaign aides for now-arrested presidential hopeful Sami Annan, called for a boycott of the vote and on Egyptians not to recognize the vote’s outcome if it goes ahead.
Rivlin attends cornerstone-laying ceremony for Greek Holocaust museum
THESSALONIKI, Greece — President Reuven Rivlin and Greece’s prime minister attend a cornerstone-laying ceremony for a Holocaust museum in the Greek city of Thessaloniki, which lost 97 percent of its Jewish community in German World War II death camps.
Rivlin and Alexis Tsipras symbolically planted two olive trees on the plot.
The scheduled six-story building will be built by 2020, next to the northern city’s old railway station, from which some 55,000 Thessaloniki Jews were forced into goods wagons for the camps. About 50,000 died there.
Tsipras says the museum will fulfill an old debt for the city, some 40 percent of whose pre-war population was Jewish.
Overall, some 90 percent of Greece’s Jewish population was murdered by Nazi forces during the war.
Louvre displays art looted by Nazis in bid to find rightful owners
PARIS — The Louvre Museum is putting 31 paintings on permanent display in an effort to find the rightful owners of works of art looted by Nazis during World War II.
The Paris museum says it’s opening two showrooms to display the paintings, which are among thousands of works of art looted by German forces in France between 1940 and 1945.
More than 45,000 objects have been handed back to their rightful owners after the war, but more than 2,000 remain unclaimed, including 296 paintings stored at the Louvre.
Sebastien Allard, the head of the paintings department at the Louvre, tells The Associated Press “these paintings don’t belong to us. Museums often looked like predators in the past, but our goal is to return them.”
Kahlon attends inauguration of new scanner at Allenby crossing alongside PA minister
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon inaugurates a new system for scanning shipping containers at the Allenby border crossing with Jordan alongside Palestinian Authority Economy Minister Abeer Odeh.
The new system will allow for a substantial increase in the flow of goods between Israel, Jordan and the PA, according to the Walla news site.
Kahlon’s attendance at the inauguration ceremony alongside Odeh comes after Hadashot TV news reported Monday he’ll meet next week with PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, in the first such meeting between senior Israeli and Palestinian officials since Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
While the Palestinians continue to give the US the silence treatment, Israeli finance minister @KahlonMoshe and Palestinian economy minister Abeer Odeh this morning inaugurated a new scanner system at the Allenby crossing pic.twitter.com/0PZLIRH7SA
— Tal Shalev (@talshalev1) January 30, 2018
Members of anti-Zionist Haredi group visit family of soldier-slapping teen
Members of the anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox sect Neturei Karta visit the family of Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi, who is awaiting trial at a West Bank military court after a video last month showed her slapping IDF soldiers in her West Bank village.
Photos of the visit, which was reported by the ultra-Orthodox Kikar Hashabbat news site, show members of the group holding Palestinian flags and signs calling for Ahed Tamimi’s release alongside her father, Bassem Tamimi.
The Neturei Karta members say tell Tamimi they condemn his daughter’s arrest by the IDF, Kikar Hashabbat reports.
בעד הנערה, נגד צה"ל | קיצוני נטורי קרתא חיבקו את משפחת הנערה עאהד תמימיhttps://t.co/srlSZwdSBT
בני משפחת תמימי זכו לביקור חיזוק מיוחד של קיצוני "נטורי קרתא", שבאו עם דגלי פלסטין, וחיזקו את מאבקם נגד מעצר הנערה עאהד שתקפה והתגרתה בחיילי צה"ל pic.twitter.com/3jlmDCKeGk
— ישראל כהן (@Israelcohen911) January 30, 2018
Opposition figure voices rare criticism of Iran’s top leader
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — An Iranian opposition figure under house arrest voices rare criticism of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, blaming him for the “disastrous results” of the Revolutionary Guard’s vast political and economic influence.
In a rare letter published Tuesday, Mahdi Karroubi says Khamenei violated the constitution, and calls on him to order the Guard to loosen its grip on the economy. The letter was published on a website affiliated with Karroubi.
Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi both lost in the 2009 presidential election, which sparked mass protests and allegations of vote-rigging. They were placed under house arrest two years later.
Under Iran’s political system, Khamenei is considered the representative of God on earth, with the final say on all major policies. Iranians can go to jail for publicly criticizing him.
‘World’s oldest man’ dies in Spain at age 113
MADRID — A Spanish village on Tuesday declares a day of mourning following the death of a retired farmer billed as “the world’s oldest man,” who passed away just over a month after turning 113.
Francisco Nunez Olivera, who was 10 years old when World War I broke out, died on Monday in the village of Bienvenida in southwestern Spain where he had lived throughout his life, village mayor Antonio Carmona tells AFP.
“It’s a very cold day and most of all a very sad day,” Carmona says.
Born on December 13, 1904, relatives credited Nunez Olivera’s long life to a diet based on vegetables he grew on his own land and a daily glass of red wine.
Every morning for breakfast, he would have sponge cake made with olive oil and a glass of milk. And until the age of 107, he went out for daily walks by himself, according to Spanish media reports published when he celebrated his last birthday
UN peace envoy says Gaza nearing ‘full collapse’
A senior United Nations official warns the the Gaza Strip is on the verge of “full collapse.”
UN Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov says a key to saving Gaza from disaster is restoring the government of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to power there, a decade after it was forced out by the Hamas terror group.
“Without that Gaza risks exploding in our face again, this time in a far more deadly and violent manner than in the past,” Mladenov says at the annual conference of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
“I often say publicly, in (UN) Security Council briefings and in other formats, that we are in the midst of a major humanitarian crisis,” Mladenov says.
“Let me be very clear today here, that we’re well beyond that,” he adds.
“We’re on the verge of a total systems failure in Gaza, with a full collapse of the economy, with social services, political, humanitarian and security implications stemming from that.”
Lawyer says another woman arrested in Iran for shedding headscarf
TEHRAN, Iran — An Iranian woman has been arrested and bail set at more than $100,000 after she protested against the mandatory headscarf, a lawyer says on Tuesday.
Narges Hosseini, whose age was not known, was jailed after posing in central Tehran on Monday without a headscarf, lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh says.
At least three other women did the same around the city on Monday, according to images shared on social media, mirroring a protest by a woman on December 27 whose images went viral across the globe.
Several more images of women protesting in Tehran are shared on social media on Tuesday, although their authenticity cannot be immediately verified.
— Golnaz Esfandiari (@GEsfandiari) January 30, 2018
Putin says US publication of ‘oligarchs’ list a ‘hostile step’
WASHINGTON — Russian President Vladimir Putin says the Trump administration’s list of top officials and businesspeople is a “hostile step” that harms relations between Russia and the United States.
Just 12 minutes before the deadline, the administration late on Monday released a long-awaited list of 114 Russian politicians and 96 “oligarchs” who have flourished under Putin, fulfilling a demand by Congress that the US punish Moscow for interfering in the 2016 US election.
The section on political leaders includes the entire Kremlin administration and the Cabinet as well as other top officials.
Speaking at a campaign event in Moscow on Tuesday, Putin, who is running for president at the March election, jokes that he felt “slighted” that he himself was not on the list.
Putin describes the list as a “hostile step” but says Moscow does not want to make the situation worse and is eager to “develop the relations as much as our American counterparts are willing to.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg to skip State of the Union to speak at university, visit synagogue
BRISTOL, Rhode Island — Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is skipping US President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address while she travels to Rhode Island to speak to a group of law students.
Ginsburg is scheduled to speak on Tuesday at Roger Williams University School of Law in Bristol.
The talk will only be open to students, faculty and staff, although members of the media are allowed.
During her trip to Rhode Island, Ginsburg also is set to make stops at a synagogue and at US District Court, both in Providence. Both stops are closed to the media.
The trailblazing 84-year-old justice is the subject of a new documentary called “RBG,” which just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
EU envoy says US ‘remains crucial’ to peace process
The EU’s ambassador to Israel says the US “remains crucial” to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Emanuele Giaufret makes the remark at a meeting attended by US peace envoy Jason Greenblatt and officials from a number of Western countries, ahead of a meeting of donor countries to the Palestinians in Brussels Wednesday.
Giaufret says the EU is working to achieve a two-state solution along with the US, the Middle East Quartet, Norway and unnamed Arab countries.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas said last month following Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital that the US was no longer an honest broker of peace talks.
On the eve of the AHLC in Brussels, it was a pleasure to host @jdgreenblatt45 at the EU Delegation. The EU is ready to do its part towards the two state solution together with the USA, whose role remains crucial, the Quartet, the Arab countries and Norway. pic.twitter.com/lRB6M9qXkB
— Emanuele Giaufret (@EGiaufretEU) January 30, 2018
Bennett: Millions of Jews being lost to assimilation
Education Minister says millions of Jews are disappearing due to assimilation.
“The Jewish people are losing millions of Jews to assimilation and this is a matter that [we] can’t five up on,” Walla news quotes Bennett as saying at an event marking the anniversary of the 1997 helicopter disaster, in which 73 soldiers died after two helicopters collided.
Bennett, who is also diaspora affairs minister, adds: “We have grown stronger. Now it is our turn to volunteer and guard world Jewry.”
Eisenkot says Hezbollah ‘growing stronger’
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot says Lebanon’s Hezbollah is “growing stronger in its military capabilities.”
Speaking at an event marking the anniversary of the 1997 helicopter disaster, Eisenkot accuses the terror group of “violating UN Security Council resolutions,” namely by maintaining an armed presence in southern Lebanon, according to the Ynet news site.
He also says the IDF is “working day and night to ensure preparedness and deterrence against these threats.”
Israel’s Holocaust memorial honors ‘righteous’ Poles amid row
Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial on Tuesday awards a posthumous medal for heroism to three Poles who risked their lives to protect Jewish neighbors during the Nazi Holocaust.
Piotr Kozlowski, charge d’affaires at Poland’s embassy in Israel, speaks at the Jerusalem ceremony without mentioning a diplomatic row over the Polish role in the mass murder of the country’s Jews.
Kozlowski was summoned by Israel’s foreign ministry Sunday after Poland’s right wing-dominated parliament adopted legislation setting fines or up to three years in jail for anyone who accuses the Polish nation or state of complicity with Nazi crimes or refers to Nazi death camps as Polish.
At Tuesday’s ceremony Jan Dziadosz, his wife Sabina and their son Aleksandr are honored as “Righteous Among the Nations,” the title Yad Vashem applies to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
The family sheltered two Jews on their farm near Modliborzyce, a village in southeastern Poland. Both later made their way out of the country, Yad Vashem said.
The family’s medal and certificate are accepted by the couple’s daughter Alicja Mularska.
VW suspends chief lobbyist over exhaust fume tests on humans, monkeys
BERLIN — Germany’s scandal-hit auto giant Volkswagen on Tuesday suspends its chief lobbyist Thomas Steg as outrage mounts over monkey and human experiments to study the effects of diesel exhaust fumes.
CEO Matthias Mueller says VW has “taken first consequences” from the tests on monkeys and put on leave Steg, the general representative for external relations and government affairs, who has “taken full responsibility.”
The New York Times reported last week that US researchers in 2014 locked 10 monkeys into airtight chambers and made them breathe in diesel exhaust from a VW Beetle while the animals were watching TV cartoons.
Separately, it emerged that a research group funded by VW, Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler and BMW had ordered a study in Germany measuring the effects of inhaling nitrogen dioxide on 25 human volunteers.
11 countries speed up funding for Palestinian refugees after US aid freeze
GENEVA — The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees says that Russia, Kuwait and nine European countries have agreed to speed up their contributions to help fill a shortfall left by the Trump administration’s decision to greatly reduce crucial US funding.
Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl of the UN Relief and Works Agency also says it has received no specifics about reforms sought by the United States, suggesting politics — notably surrounding the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital — were at play.
UNRWA, which serves some 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants, had a budget of over $1 billion last year. This covered long-running programs, including education, as well as emergency funds for crises such as the war in Syria.
The US has been the largest donor, giving one-third of the total budget. The Trump administration withheld half of the first installment of payments this year, demanding reforms as a condition for future aid.
Netanyahu condemns Irish bill outlawing settlement goods
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemns a bill set to be voted on by the Irish senate tonight outlawing goods from West Bank settlements.
In a statement, his office says the legislation’s “sole purpose is to support the BDS movement and harm the State of Israel.” It says the bill gives backing to calls for Israel to be boycotted and “stands in complete contrast to the guiding principles of free trade and justice.”
The PMO also says Netanyahu ordered the Foreign Ministry to summon the Irish ambassador in Israel.
IDF general slams Europeans for silence on fallen soldiers held by Hamas
Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians slams European Union member states for not helping to recover the bodies of two IDF soldiers being held by the Gaza-based terror group Hamas.
“I am astonished at your failure to resolve the humanitarian issue of the IDF’s fallen soldiers in the Gaza Strip,” Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai tells the group of EU ambassadors to Israel during a briefing.
“I sit in front of all those present in this distinguished forum and am amazed that for years no one in the European Union has spoken about or addressed this Israeli humanitarian issue,” he says.
“While we are working to help the Palestinian population on humanitarian issues, it is only natural that we expect the international community to add pressure to address these Israeli humanitarian issues,” Mordechai adds.
Hamas is holding the bodies of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were killed in Gaza during the 2014 war between Israel and the terror group.
"I am astonished at your failure to resolve the humanitarian issue of the IDF's fallen soldiers in the #Gaza_Strip" said…
Separatists advance on presidential palace in southern Yemen
SANAA, Yemen — Yemeni separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates seize the area around the presidential palace in the southern city of Aden on Tuesday after fierce battles with forces loyal to the internationally-backed government, security officials say.
The security officials say fighters loyal to the so-called Southern Transitional Council fought all way to the gates of the palace in central Aden, forcing troops loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to abandon their positions. The officials say Hadi’s prime minister and several Cabinet members would soon leave Yemen for Riyadh, where Hadi is already based, but by late Tuesday it was not yet clear if they had done so.
Saudi troops who have been guarding the palace for months stop the separatists at the gate, preventing them from entering. A senior government official tells The Associated Press that Prime Minister Ahmed Obaid Bin Daghar and several ministers remain inside. The official decline to say whether the prime minister was to leave Aden. All officials speak on condition of anonymity under regulations.
Prosecutors close preliminary probe into Olmert’s memoir leaks
Israel’s State Prosecution announces that it has closed a preliminary probe into suspicions that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert leaked classified material in the process of writing his memoirs.
“The State Prosecution has decided, based on the recommendation of the attorney general, not to open a criminal investigation into the incident,” a statement reads.
On May 18, one of Olmert’s attorneys was allegedly caught by prison officers with classified material belonging to the former prime minister after a visit to his jail cell. During a search of the cell, security officers found additional classified documents.
Consequently, law enforcement officials decided to open a preliminary probe into Olmert. The lawyer was allegedly carrying two chapters from Olmert’s memoirs, which he is writing while incarcerated. According to the report the chapters relate to the bombing of a Syrian nuclear reactor in September 2007.
Olmert is said to be the only person involved who did not sign a confidentiality agreement about the bombing, which foreign reports have attributed to Israel, because he was prime minister at the time.
State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan writes in his legal opinion that Olmert did indeed pass classified materials to his publisher that the military censor had barred from publication. But he concludes that nothing was done beyond the norms of writing a book and there is no reason to believe that Olmert was planning to publish the materials.
— Raoul Wootliff
Mnuchin: US to impose sanctions on Russia ‘in the near future’
WASHINGTON — The United States will impose new sanctions on Russia “in the near future,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says Tuesday.
“In the near future, you’ll see additional sanctions,” Mnuchin says during Senate testimony. “In the next several months, maybe a month, I want to be careful in making that commitment.”
Israel said to ask US to press Slovenia on Palestinian state recognition
Israel has asked the United States to press Slovenia not to recognize a Palestinian state, Channel 10 reports.
The US, however, is “dragging its feet” on the matter, the report says.
Slovenia’s foreign minister said last week his country will soon vote to recognize a Palestinian state.
US weighing declaring opposition to Palestinian refugee status — report
In a bid to return to the Palestinians to peace talks, the US is considering declaring its opposition to the UN’s definition of Palestinian refugees, Channel 2 reports.
Unlike displaced people from other countries, the descendants of Palestinian refugees also receive refugee status. Israel has long railed against this, saying the vast majority of Palestinian refugees weren’t born in what is now Israel and shouldn’t be allowed to move to Israel under a peace deal with the Palestinians.
Channel 2 reports that as a part of this threat, the US would also end all aid to UNRWA, the UN’s refugee agency for Palestinian refugees, and instead transfer it to other UN agencies that deal with Palestinians.
Ties between the US and the Palestinians hit a nadir following Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with PA President Abbas saying the US was no longer an honest broker in peace talks. Trump said last week the entirety of US aid to the Palestinians could be frozen if the Palestinians don’t return to negotiations.
Irish senate delays vote on bill banning settlement goods
Ireland’s senate delays voting on a bill outlawing goods from West Bank settlements.
During a two hour hearing on the legislation, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the government opposes the bill and that Ireland should strive to be fair to both Israel and the Palestinians, public broadcaster RTE Ireland reports.
Netanyahu earlier strongly condemned the bill, saying its “sole purpose” was to support boycotts of Israel and harm the Jewish state.
Activists: Bomb kills 2 Turkish troops in Syria
BEIRUT — Syrian activists say two Turkish soldiers were killed in a bomb blast targeting a large military convoy moving through a rebel stronghold in northwestern Syria.
Opposition activist Abdelkafi Alhamdo says an explosion, possibly a car bomb, destroyed the first vehicle in a Turkish convoy as it entered his town of Atareb, in Aleppo province, on Tuesday.
The activist-run Thiqa News Agency and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, report that two soldiers were killed.
There is no immediate confirmation of the attack from the Turkish military.
The convoy was accompanied by an escort from the al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee, which dominates a rebel stronghold spanning Idlib province and parts of Aleppo.
Turkish forces first deployed in Idlib in November as part of an agreement with Russia and Iran to define their respective zones of influence in war-torn Syria.