Stav Shaffir says she will start own party to run in March
Live updates (closed)

Israel, Russia hold ‘good’ meeting, but pall lingers over visitors, backpacker

As Netanyahu vows to help, Russian ambassador says politicians and media may be hurting case of Naama Issachar by putting claims out in the open

Russian Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov at the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv, November 2019. (Raphael Ahren/TOI)
Russian Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov at the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv, November 2019. (Raphael Ahren/TOI)

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

Backpacker gets day in court, claims confession was forged

An appeal by Naama Issachar, an Israeli-American backpacker held in Russia on drug smuggling charges, is being heard in a Moscow court.

Issachar, present in the courtroom in a glass box, tells the judge and gathered gobs of Israeli press that she was misled and made to sign a forged confession that she could not even read.

She says she does not know how the small amount of marijuana found in her bag got there and alleges that she was compelled by Russian border guards who had seen the drugs in her bag to go through passport control so they could accuse her of smuggling. She was passing through the airport on her way from India to Israel.

She was sentenced to 7.5 years earlier this year.

“The search was done not according to law with many serious issues. The papers she signed were in contravention of the Russian criminal code and so we request all the evidence in her file be purged,” her lawyer is quoted saying by Channel 12 news.

A decision is expected at the end of the hearing.



EU court rules airlines responsible for spilled coffee

Better secure that latte and luggage in case of turbulence. The European Union’s highest court has ruled that an airline can be held liable if a passenger is burned by hot coffee even if turbulence or other flight-related factor didn’t cause the spill.

The European Court of Justice says such injuries don’t have to be linked to issues typically associated with air travel to provide grounds for a passenger to seek damages.

The advisory ruling came in an Austrian case seeking financial compensation for a girl who had her father’s coffee spilled on her during a flight.

The insolvent Austrian airline Niki claimed that such mishaps needed to be linked to the flying of a plane for airlines to be held responsible.

— AP

Leaders eulogize right-wing lodestone Geula Cohen

Former MK and pre-state militia fighter Geula Cohen is being buried in Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives Cemetery. She died at age 94 on yesterday.

Many of the country’s top dignitaries are attending the funeral of Cohen, the mother of Likud minister Tzachi Hanegbi.

“We aren’t just saying goodbye to Geula but to an entire generation,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says in a eulogy.

In his own eulogy, President Reuven Rivlin says that even while jailed by the British as a member of the radical Lehi militia, her spirit remained strong.

“You saw the British flag lowered and the Israeli flag raised,” he says.

Cohen, who served in the Knesset from 1973 to 1992, was known for her vocal opposition to Israel giving up any of the lands it captured in the 1967 Six Day War and opposed the 1979 Camp David peace deal with Egypt that saw the Sinai returned, even though the deal was made by Menachem Begin of her Likud party.

Likud court says party must hold general primary ahead of national election

Likud’s internal court has issued a ruling demanding that the party hold a general primary to determine its full electoral slate.

The party is planning a leadership primary, but central committee executives have sought to cancel the general primary for everyone else, which was last held before April elections.

However, under Likud rules, a general primary must accompany a leadership primary, and the court noted that unless those rules are changed, the general primary needs to be held ahead of the March 2 vote for the 23rd Knesset.

The Walla news site reports that Knesset members are expected to appeal the decision.

Stav Shaffir says she will start own party to run in March

Democratic Camp MK Stav Shaffir tells Army Radio she will run as her own party in the March 2 election, after a nasty split with Meretz.

Stav Shaffir speaks during a press conference announcing the Democratic Camp in Tel Aviv on July 25, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The former Labor MK and protest leader says her yet-to-be-named party will “sit in any government that respects its values, include that of Likud,” she says, though she rejects teaming up with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“He has corrupted the system,” she says.

She does not say if former general Yair Golan will join her.

More Israelis detained in Russia — report

The Ynet and Kan news sites are reporting that some 15 Israelis are being detained at a Moscow airport, a day after over 40 were held up, causing a diplomatic spat.

Kan reports that the Israelis’ bags were searched and their passports confiscated, with no reason given.

The moves by Russia, which have been getting more press attention, come as diplomats from Jerusalem and the Kremlin are set to meet to solve the issue and that of Naama Issachar.

The Russians have complained of many visitors to Israel being turned away, and are thought to be attempting to send Israel a message or take revenge.


Two killed in fiery wreck in south

Two people were killed when their car caught fire after a crash in the southern Arava desert, according to Hebrew media reports.

Three other people were listed as moderately to seriously hurt in the crash.

The two-car collision occurred near the Shizafon junction on Route 40, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Eilat.

Israelis in Moscow freed after 5 hours

The group of Israelis held at the Moscow airport have been freed after some five hours, according to Ynet.

The group included some diplomats and their children, according to the news site.

There is no official word from Jerusalem.

Shas can’t wait for Likud primary to unveil campaign backing Netanyahu

Likud still has not held its primary to determine who its leader will be, but the Shas party is betting big on Bibi.

A Shas billboard reading “Aryeh needs a strong Bibi,” near the entrance to Jerusalem on December 19, 2019. (courtesy Shas)

A new billboard has gone up on a building near the entrance to Jerusalem showing Shas leader Aryeh Deri and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the slogan “Aryeh needs a strong Bibi.” (It sounds less childish in Hebrew.)

Shas says more billboards are going up around the country, to show “public support for Benjamin Netanyahu as the leader of the right-wing bloc and as a prime ministerial candidate.”

Not seen in the ad is late Shas spiritual leader Ovadiah Yosef, who has been a mainstay of past campaigns, urging voters to the polls from his place in Heaven.

Shas will know on December 26 whether it made the right choice or will need to get out the white-out.


Knife-wielding trio arrested after crossing Gaza fence

IDF soldiers have arrested three Palestinian suspects as they crossed the border from Gaza into Israel, the military says.

The troops found two knives in the their possession, the IDF says.

The three suspects have been handed over to the Shin Bet for questioning.

— Judah Ari Gross

Trump welcomes first day under impeachment with angry tweets

US President Donald Trump is lashing out at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after she threw uncertainty into the impeachment process by refusing to say, repeatedly, when or whether she would send two impeachment articles to the Republican-controlled Senate for a trial.

“Now the Do Nothing Party want to Do Nothing with the Articles & not deliver them to the Senate,” Trump tweets Thursday morning. He writes that if Democrats didn’t transmit the articles of impeachment “they would lose by Default!”


— with AP

French court rules Halimi killer was high, not anti-Semitic

A man accused of murdering his Jewish neighbor in Paris will stand not trial after a French court ruled Thursday he could not be held responsible for the killing because he was in a psychotic state from smoking marijuana.

Kobili Traore is alleged to have beaten his neighbor, 66-year-old Sarah Halimi, to death while calling her a demon and shouting about Allah, before throwing her body from the window of her third-story apartment.

The French Jewish community has long claimed Halimi, a physician and kindergarten teacher, was the victim of an anti-Semitic crime.

Israel calls on other countries to follow German Hezbollah blacklisting

Jerusalem is praising Germany for passing a measure outlawing Hezbollah earlier Thursday and “showing things as they are,” rather than distinguishing between the group’s armed and political wings, as most countries around the world do.

It calls such differentiation “fictitious.”

“We hope other European countries will take similar steps after the Bundestag decision,” the ministry says in a statement.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz calls the German decision “an important step in the joint international fight against terror and especially against Hezbollah as an Iranian proxy.”

Hezbollah has been a major player in Lebanese politics for the last several years. On Thursday, the country’s president was expected to nominate Hassan Diab as prime minister-designate after he won Hezbollah backing.

Sa’ar says more must be done against Hezbollah

Likud MK and leadership candidate Gideon Sa’ar is also praising Germany for outlawing Hezbollah.

But he also urges that more be done against the Lebanese terror group.

Sa’ar makes the statement in a rare English tweet.

Moscow hearing ends, judges expected to decide on backpacker in coming hours

Russian judges hearing the appeal of Naama Issachar have ended the hearing and retired to chambers for consultations.

US-Israeli backpacker Naama Issachar, center, sits inside a glass cage during appeal hearings in a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, December 19, 2019. (Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr./AP)

A decision on releasing the Israeli-American backpacker, accused of drug smuggling, is expected once they emerge in the coming hours.

Netanyahu, Sa’ar promise to build in settlements, block Palestinians

Both Likud leadership candidates Benjamin Netanyahu and Gideon Sa’ar are attempting to burnish their right-wing bona fides in campaign appearances Thursday.

Touring the settlement of Mitzpe Yeriho, Netanyahu repeats his promise to annex the Jordan Valley if given power again.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu points at a map of the Jordan Valley as he gives a statement, promising to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, in Ramat Gan on September 10, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Netanyahu’s plan envisions annexing most of the Jordan Valley, including Mitzpe Yeriho, which overlooks the valley but is not technically in it, while leaving a small rump territory for Palestinians surrounding Jericho.

“With God’s help, next year we will light Hanukkah candles at the Hasmonean palaces next to old Jericho… under full Israeli sovereignty,” he says.

The Winter Palaces, located at Tulul Abu Al-Ala’iq adjacent to Jericho, appeared to be part of the Palestinian island as part of a map he unveiled earlier this year.

In Jerusalem, Gideon Sa’ar visits the mostly barren Givat Hamatos hill and promises to build there and in the E1 area east of the city to block a Palestinian state.

Gideon Saar speaks with media at the Givat HaMatos hill in Jerusalem on December 19, 2019. (Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash90)

Trolling Netanyahu, Sa’ar calls for the lifting of the “construction freeze” over Givat Hamatos and says that “the future of Jerusalem will be decided through actions, not words,” suggesting that Netanyahu’s vows to build the controversial neighborhood have been empty ones.

“This location has strategic significance,” Sa’ar says during a tour led by far-right Jerusalem councilman Aryeh King. “Construction here will damage the territorial continuity that the Palestinians are striving for and will be a barrier to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

The US and international community have long opposed Israeli building on Givat Hamatos, which along with the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo sits between the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa and Bethlehem in the south of the city. The hill is today home to several caravan mobile homes and ruins of old Arab homes.

E1 is a parcel of land between the city’s Mount Scopus and the settlement of Maaleh Adumim.

Critics charge that building there will do just as Sa’ar says, block a Palestinian state.

Backpacker appeal rejected in Russia

A Russian court has decided against the appeal of Naama Isachar, Channel 12 news report.

Decision on Issachar met with tears

Naama Issachar’s mother and sister have broken down in tears after hearing that her appeal was rejected in a Moscow courtroom.

“Stay strong,” mother Yaffa Issachar calls out to her daughter after the judges announce the decision in a terse statement after deliberating for just 25 minutes, Channel 12 news reports.

Issachar lawyers mulling next steps, video shows decision

Lawyers for Naama Issachar are waiting to receive the full decision on rejecting her appeal before deciding on their next steps, Haaretz’s Bar Peleg reports.

Issachar can only still go to a court of cassation and the Russian supreme court, Peleg notes.

A video from Kan reporter Vered Pelman shows Issachar pacing nervously after her verdict is read out.

“It’s just a matter of a few days. This is ridiculous,” her mother is heard telling her in Hebrew and English.

Three dead in Moscow shooting near Kremlin

Elsewhere in Moscow, gunfire has broken out near an office of the FSB security service in the center of the city, with armed officers seen running through a busy shopping area, according to Russian media and footage on social media.

Three people have been killed, according to Russian media.

Several videos shot from different vantage points showed armed men running out of the office as gunfire rang out.

The area is some 10 minutes from Red Square.

— with AFP

Netanyahu tells mother of Naama Issachar he won’t give up case

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he told Yaffa Issachar, the mother of Naama Issachar, that “despite the disappointing court decision I am not giving up.”

He says he will continue to act however needed to bring her home.

Netanyahu on Tuesday told a rally he would bring her back, but on Wednesday, his spokesperson tried to tamp down on expectations, saying it would take time.

Yaffa Issachar told Israeli media earlier that she believed the prime minister.

The Walla news site quotes Yaffa saying that “there is no justice in Russia.”

Arab League warns Brazil on pro-Israel moves

The Arab League has condemned Brazil’s opening of a trade office in Jerusalem and warned against carrying out Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s pledge to move its embassy there.

The Arab League, after an emergency meeting called for by the Palestinians, says it sees Brazil’s “unilateral and illegitimate decision [to open the trade office] as biased towards the Israeli occupation and in support of its illegal policies.”

The regional bloc also warns in a statement that Brazil’s policy shifts “would seriously damage Arab-Brazilian relations and interests.”

PM Benjamin Netanyahu at an event opening the Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency in Jerusalem, December 15, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Latin American country opened its trade mission in Jerusalem Sunday, in the presence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo, who confirmed his father was determined to carry make good on his promise to move the embassy.


Lebanon taps Hezbollah-backed candidate to form government

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun says he is appointing Hezbollah-backed Hassan Diab as prime minister-designate.

Aoun names Diab after a day of consultations with lawmakers in which he gained a simple majority of the 128-member parliament.

Diab, 60, faces the daunting task of forming a government to tackle the country’s worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.

— Agencies

Israel: Diplomatic channel best hope for Issachar

An Israeli diplomatic official tells Channel 12 news that Jerusalem is not surprised at the Russian court’s rejection of Naama Issachar’s appeal.

The official says the best way for her to be freed is through a diplomatic channel.

Ynet reports that Israel’s acting ambassador in Russia Yacov Livne, who was at the hearing, notes that Russian President Vladimir Putin could free Issachar at any time.

“I think I’m disappointed, like everyone. Together with that, our ties with Russia are strong and important,” he says.

Israel’s last ambassador to Russia, Gary Koren, left in mid-September. His deputy, Keren Cohen Gat, headed the embassy until Livne, the director of the Foreign Ministry’s Eurasia department, arrived on November 8 and took over as temporary charge d’affaires.

Mother of jailed backpacker to PM: Give me hope

In a video, Yaffa Issachar is seen chiding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the phone as he promises to work for her daughter’s release from Russian incarceration.

“What’s this time? What’s this time? Tell me something, give me hope,” she’s heard telling him dejectedly in the video, apparently taken by a local Chabad rabbi.

She also says she told her daughter, Naama Issachar, that “The prime minister is getting you out of here. But I returned her to jail.”

In a statement after the call, Netanyahu said he told Yaffa Issachar he was doing everything he could to get her daughter out of jail.

Netanyahu on Tuesday promised to get her released but his spokesman sought to tamp expectations the next day and said it would take time.

Shaked to run as No. 2 on New Right, hoping to repeat April magic

Hebrew media outlets are reporting that Ayelet Shaked will run as the No. 2 on a New Right slate with Naftali Bennett.

Yamina party chairwoman Ayelet Shaked speaks at the Yamina party headquarters on elections night in Ramat Gan, on September 17, 2019. (Flash90)

Shaked had been rumored to be considering various options outside the party ahead of the March 2 vote.

Bennett and Shaked’s New Right failed to enter the Knesset in April’s vote, with many blaming the fact that Bennett insisted on leading the party. In September, they teamed up with their old partners Jewish Home and National Union, under Shaked as leader, and got seven seats, but the band split up quickly after.

A source close to Shaked told Zman Yisrael, the Times of Israel’s sister site, that she had been offered the No. 2 slot on Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu slate, but turned it down.

Cyprus arrests 3 Israelis amid probe into spy van

Cyprus police have arrested three employees of a high-tech surveillance equipment company owned by an Israeli former intelligence officer amid a probe of the firm’s business activities.

Police said the two men and one woman, ages 30, 35 and 41, were under investigation for suspected breaches of private communication and personal data laws.

An alleged ‘spy van’ owned by an Israeli ex-intelligence officer, as featured in a video by Forbes on September 4, 2019 (screenshot: YouTube)

They face 13 possible charges, including conspiracy to commit a criminal act and obtaining registration under false pretenses, Cyprus police say.

All three are due to appear in court on Friday for a custody hearing.

Police launched a probe of the company, Cyprus-registered WiSpear, following reports that alleged a van supposedly crammed with sophisticated surveillance technology was used to spy on people on the east Mediterranean island nation.

WiSpear has denied any wrongdoing, saying it neither sold nor rented “intelligence systems” to Cypriot authorities and doesn’t provide “intelligence services” for clients.

WiSpear was incorporated in 2013 and began operating four years later. It is run by Tal Dillian, an Israeli who an earlier Forbes video showed boasting about the vehicle’s surveillance capabilities.

— AP

Israel, Russia hold ‘good’ diplomatic meeting, but little progress announced

Israel says a consular meeting with Russian officials Thursday was held in “good spirits,” and the two sides agreed vaguely to work toward solving a spat that has seen dozens of Israelis detained or deported at Moscow airports in recent days.

“Both sides agreed to do everything so as not to harm the movement of tourists and business ties between the countries and decided on a number of steps to help enforce the bilateral visa-free agreement,” the ministry says in a statement.

The ministry does not detail what steps will be taken, but says Russia agreed to upgrade its “consular interface” vis-a-vis Israel.

The ministry says that the sides spoke about “Israelis being prevented entry in Moscow and the issue of illegal workers and asylum seekers entering Israel from Russia,” without detailing any solution beyond Russia confirming that Israelis entering for business talks would be handled under rules published by the Russian embassy in Israel.

The statement also says Israelis expressed hopes that Israeli-American Naama Issachar would be released from prison soon, and that relatives and Israeli representatives will be allowed to visit her in prison more often. It does not detail any Russian response.

There is no immediate word from Russia on the meeting.

Rocket sirens sound in south for second day

Rocket sirens have sounded in the community of Kfar Azza near the Gaza border.

There are no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Mortar shell fired from northern Gaza — report

Channel 12 news reports that it appears a mortar shell was fired from northern Gaza at Israel, landing in an open area.

There is no confirmation from Israeli or Gazan authorities.

Military confirms projectile launched from Gaza

A projectile was fired from the Gaza Strip toward southern Israel, the military confirms.

The projectile appears to have struck an open field.

There are no reports of injuries or damage.

— Judah Ari Gross

Russian ambassador: Politicians, media hurting backpacker’s case

In a preview of an interview with the Maariv newspaper, Russia’s ambassador to Israel says the decision of Israeli politicians to push Naama Issachar’s case have hurt her chances of being freed from prison.

“Turning this matter or others into a public one does not always contribute to an effective solution. A free press can discuss any issue or question, but not every step is a smart step. And I’m not just talking purely about the media, but also the meddling of politicians and their ilk who are setting the tone of the conversation, the general direction,” says Anatoly Viktorov.

He adds that he does not include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in this, but rather other “commentators and politicians.” According to Channel 12 news, however, officials believe that Netanyahu’s public statements have hurt Issachar’s case.

He, however, chafes over the fact that Israelis are trying to free her via diplomatic means and call into the question the Russian legal system when “she broke the laws of the Russian federation. Period.”

Impact site found after Gaza attack

The impact site of the projectile fired from the Gaza Strip has been found in an open field in the Sha’ar Hanegev region, a local government spokesperson says.

The projectile caused neither injury nor damage.

— Judah Ari Gross

Israel gives Russia ‘free Naama’ dossier — report

Israeli diplomats handed a packet of information to their Russian counterparts on reasons why Naama Issachar should be freed, according to Channel 13.

The packet, which the Israelis are hoping will be passed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, includes a letter pleading for a pardon from President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to the channel.

Earlier, Channel 13 reporter Barak Ravid tweeted that the sides did manage to make headway on the issue of travelers being held up, with Russia agreeing to stop detaining Israeli tourists for no reason, and Israel agreeing to quickly deal with cases of asylum seekers arriving from Russia.

Lebanese protest appointment of Hezbollah-backed PM

Protesters in Lebanon are gathering to demonstrate against the nomination of Hezbollah-backed Hassan Diab as prime minister.

In protest camps across the country, crowds swelled after the announcement, with many saying they reject Diab’s designation and casting him as part of the old class of politicians they are revolting against.

In central Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square, the epicenter of the protests, a banner is unfurled reading “We want a prime minister from outside the ruling class.”

Supporters of outgoing Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri rally in front Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab’s house in the capital Beirut, on December 19, 2019, to denounce his nomination. (ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

Dozens of men also gather outside Diab’s house, chanting slogans in support of former prime minister Hariri.

Most hailed from the mainly Sunni Tareeq al-Jadeedeh district, a stronghold of Hariri and his Future Movement.

“We are here to say that we reject Hassan Diab, because he was only endorsed by six Sunni lawmakers,” one man tells AFP, referring to parliamentarians outside the main Sunni bloc.

— Agencies


US says new evidence points to Iran as culprit of Saudi oil attack — report

A new US report indicates that an attack on Saudi oil facilities on September 14 likely originated in Iran, Reuters reports.

The analysis, to be presented to the UN, identifies a site some 200 kilometers north of Abqaiq where one of the unmanned attack vehicles passed, indicating a trajectory from the northwest.

An earlier report identified Ahvaz air base in southwest Iran, some 650 kilometers northwest of the Abqaiq facility as a likely origin point in the brazen attack, which shut down a chunk of the world’s oil supply.

The report also includes an analysis of the drones that show them to be nearly identical to an Iranian make.

However, the report adds as a caveat that the evidence is not definitive.

“At this time, the US Intelligence Community has not identified any information from the recovered weapon systems used in the 14 September attacks on Saudi Arabia that definitively reveals an attack origin,” it says.

read more:
Live updates (closed)

Stav Shaffir says she will start own party to run in March

Democratic Camp MK Stav Shaffir tells Army Radio she will run as her own party in the March 2 election, after a nasty split with Meretz.

Stav Shaffir speaks during a press conference announcing the Democratic Camp in Tel Aviv on July 25, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The former Labor MK and protest leader says her yet-to-be-named party will “sit in any government that respects its values, include that of Likud,” she says, though she rejects teaming up with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“He has corrupted the system,” she says.

She does not say if former general Yair Golan will join her.