Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday panned the international community for negotiating with Iran while taking no steps to curb its sponsorship of global terrorism, as top American and Iranian diplomats attempted to hammer out a deal in Geneva.
Meanwhile, the police commissioner said the evidence against the Netanyahus with regard to alleged financial impropriety was solid enough to warrant an investigation, and the attorney general was reviewing the accusations against the premier and his wife.
A separate housing report by the State Comptroller is slated to be released later this week, but ahead of its publication, Netanyahu’s rivals attacked him for the high cost of living.
The Likud party was ordered by the Central Elections Committee to pay compensation for their petition against the V15 group.
In Jerusalem, an 18-year-old Palestinian illegal stabbed a 27-year-old ultra-Orthodox man in the abdomen. The victim was lightly to moderately wounded, and the stabber was apprehended by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and his security detail. Barkat was praised for his involvement by Netanyahu, while the Likud party said that if a left-wing government was formed, it would bring “Hamas to the heart of Jerusalem.”
The Times of Israel liveblogged developments as they unfolded.
PM says next month ‘critical’ for Iran talks
Netanyahu says the coming month will be “critical” for preventing a nuclear deal with Iran.
He says that the US Congress may be the body that influences the emerging deal between the world powers and Iran. He says he will travel to Washington to explain why the deal is “dangerous to Israel, dangerous to the region and dangerous to the world.”
Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, the prime minister says that it’s “astonishing that even after the recent IAEA report determined that Iran is continuing to hide the military components of its nuclear program, the nuclear talks are proceeding.
“Not only are they continuing, there is an increased effort to reach a nuclear agreement in the coming days and weeks,” Netanyahu adds. The deadline for the six world powers and Iran to reach a political agreement about Tehran’s unsanctioned nuclear program is March 31.
— AP contributed to this report
Kerry, Zarif to meet for nuclear talks
US Secretary of State John Kerry is set to begin renewed talks in Geneva with his Iranian counterpart on Tehran’s nuclear program, after warning “significant gaps” remain ahead of a key deadline.
Kerry was set to arrive in the Swiss city on Sunday morning for two days of talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose country denies its nuclear program has military objectives.
“There are still significant gaps; there is still a distance to travel,” Kerry says in London on Saturday.
Israel to purchase 14 more F-35 fighter jets
Israel says it will purchase 14 additional next-generation F-35 fighter jets for approximately $3 billion.
Israel’s defense ministry says the deal adds to the fleet of 19 US-made jets it already purchased in 2010. The recent signing with Lockheed Martin Corp. includes an option for 17 more in the future. The first such planes are to arrive in Israel in late 2016.
The F-35 is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program, with an estimated cost of nearly $400 billion. The program aims to replace a wide range of existing aircraft for the US and several partner countries.
Israel plans for the stealth jet, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, to replace its fleet of F-16 warplanes and maintain its aerial dominance in the region.
Blast damages home of Iran envoy in Libya
A security official in Libya says an explosion outside the house of the Iranian ambassador in the capital Tripoli causes minimum damage to the empty building.
The official says the explosion on Sunday was caused by an improvised explosive device placed among garbage bags outside the house of the ambassador in central Tripoli. The official says there were no casualties from the blast, which rocked the capital. The ambassador is not in Libya. The official spoke anonymously because he wasn’t authorized to brief reporters.
Syria dubs Turkish incursion ‘flagrant aggression’
Syria says that an overnight incursion by Turkish troops to evacuate an historic tomb and the soldiers guarding it was a “flagrant aggression.”
“Turkey is not satisfied with merely giving all kinds of support to its puppets Daesh (the Islamic State group), (Al-Qaeda affiliate) the Al-Nusra Front and other terrorist groups,” says a foreign ministry statement carried by the official SANA news agency.
“It even carried out… a flagrant aggression against Syrian territory.”
The foreign ministry says its consulate in Istanbul had been informed by Ankara on Saturday evening of its plans to mount the operation deep inside Syria to evacuate soldiers guarding the tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the Ottoman empire’s founder, Osman I.
“But as usual (Turkey) did not wait for Syria’s consent.”
The ministry says the operation, in territory controlled by IS jihadists, was proof of “the close ties between the Turkish government and the terrorists.”
Separately, the main opposition Syrian National Coalition, which is strongly backed by Ankara, says it had been told in advance of the incursion.
“The Turkish government officially informed the coalition that its troops would enter Syrian territory,” it says.
PM’s rivals bash him for housing prices
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid and Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog denounce Netanyahu for the housing crisis in Israel, as the State Comptroller was slated to release an extensive housing report later this week, which will likely critique Netanyahu for the spike in apartment prices during his past two terms. Meanwhile, Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon blames Lapid, who served as finance minister, for the crisis.
Herzog says the housing crisis “is not a decree of fate, but rather the result of the ongoing unsuccessful policy of Netanyahu’s failed government.”
The report will only confirm “what Israeli citizens already know and suffer from — that the housing prices climbed by 90 percent in the past seven years,” Herzog adds.
Lapid welcomes the report, and says: “The report must be published, and Netanyahu knows very well why he wants to bar it from publication.”
“The public must know what we had to deal with in the past year and eight months, and who is responsible for the crazy increased prices. For a year and eight months we fought the housing crisis, against a prime minister who always tried to trip us up,” Lapid says.
Kahlon lashes out Lapid, and says “Lapid is the main culprit [responsible for] the rise in housing prices in the past two years — him and no other.”
“Lapid read a draft of the report was alarmed,” Kahlon writes on Facebook. “Right now, he’s trying to cast the blame for his resounding failure to resolve the housing crisis on Netanyahu alone. This reflects a serious lack of self-awareness and misunderstanding of the economic reality.”
New IS video shows Kurds in cages
The Islamic State jihadist group releases a new video purporting to show captured Kurdish peshmerga fighters paraded through Iraqi streets in cages.
The video shows 21 captives presented as 16 peshmerga fighters, two Iraqi army officers and three policemen from Kirkuk, a city about 240 kilometers (150 miles) north of Baghdad.
The captives, in orange jumpsuits with their heads lowered, are led to cages in a square surrounded by concrete walls and masked IS fighters carrying pistols. A bearded man in a white turban warns the peshmerga against fighting IS. Then the caged captives are shown being paraded through the streets on the back of pick-up trucks, as dozens of residents and armed men look on.
The date and location is not specified in the video, but Kurdish sources told AFP it was filmed a week earlier in the main market of Hawija, an IS-held town some 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Kirkuk.
The video does not contain any explicit threats to the captives but they are shown at the end kneeling before masked men holding automatic weapons or pistols. The video also features images from previous IS videos, including of the killing of Jordanian pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh, who was burned alive in a cage, and the beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians, mainly from Egypt, in Libya.
Likud to pay damages to V15 group
The Central Elections Committee rejects a petition by the Likud party against the V15 group, several days after the ruling party backtracked on the accusations in a similar petition lodged with a Jerusalem court.
Likud had charged that the V15 group, which is campaigning against Netanyahu, was linked to Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union. Herzog rejected the allegations, as did V15.
On Thursday, the Likud party withdrew its petition with the Jerusalem District Court, after party lawmakers admitted there was insufficient evidence, but the petition with the elections committee still stood, until was rejected on Sunday.
The committee says the accusations are “patently false,” and orders the party to pay NIS 48,000 ($12,500) in compensation, according to the Ynet news website.
Ukrainian Jewish soldier buried in Kiev
A Ukrainian Jewish soldier who died last month amid Russian-backed separatist fighting is buried in Kiev.
Yevgeni Yatsina, who was almost 26, is brought to burial in the capital on Friday following the discovery of his body, which was covered by debris since he died in an explosion last month in the country’s east, the news website newsru.co.il reported.
Yatsina is Jewish according to religious Jewish law, the Jewish Community of Dnepropetrovsk wrote Friday in a eulogy which it posted on its website, which refers to Yatsina as a hero.
He died at Donetsk’s airport on January 19, the report says.
Yatsina’s former classmates at the economics faculty of Kyiv National Linguistic University describe him as a cheerful, witty and upbeat person, a Ukrainian Jewish news website reports.
His body is buried at Kiev’s Berkovetskaya Cemetery following a ceremony at one of the capital’s synagogues.
Sydney rabbi booted over remarks on child abuse
A senior Chabad rabbi is delisted as an emissary from the New York-based organization as the fallout continues from Australia’s Royal Commission into the child sex abuse scandal.
Rabbi Yosef Feldman, a former director of Sydney’s Yeshivah Center, which houses the headquarters of Chabad there, was delisted last week after his controversial comments to the Royal Commission, including his suggestion that pedophiles who had not committed sex crimes for two decades should be treated with leniency.
Feldman, a son of Chabad’s chief rabbi in Sydney, sparked a storm of protest by Orthodox rabbis and mainstream Jewish leaders.
His delisting came as Rabbi Avrohom Glick, who had resigned from all posts at Yeshivah College in Melbourne, where he was principal during the time of the abuse in the 1980s and 1990s, also tendered his resignation from the spiritual committee of the Yeshivah Center.
Victims were furious that he had clung to this post, which he had described as “his calling” during the hearings at the Royal Commission.
The resignations come in the wake of the two-week hearing into the child sex abuse scandals at Chabad headquarters in Sydney and Melbourne.
A third rabbi, Shlomo Kluwgant, resigned as president of the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia, after it was revealed at the hearing he had sent a text message describing Zephaniah Waks, one of the whistleblowers, as a “lunatic” who was “killing us.” His son, Manny Waks, the only Jewish victim in Australia to go public, is still demanding more resignations.
“Every rabbi and every leader of peak Jewish bodies should publicly acknowledge what happened and apologize for their silence about intimidation shown towards myself, my family and other victims. And the Yeshivah Center boards in Melbourne and Sydney need to apologize and resign, along with other leaders who’ve been implicated,” he tells Fairfax Media.
Norway ‘peace ring’ organizer has history of anti-Semitic remarks
Several hundred people gather at a Norwegian synagogue to support Jews at an event which draws praise but also criticism because of an organizer’s anti-Israel and anti-Jewish statements.
Ervin Kohn, head of the Jewish community of Oslo, tells JTA he thought the initiative was “extremely positive” and said it could change the dynamics of minority relations in Scandinavia.
But some members of his community say the event was tainted because of anti-Semitic statements that one of its eight organizers made in 2008, and because he said this week that he dislikes people who support Israel.
Ali Chishti confirmed on Saturday in an interview with Verdens Gang, a highbrow Norwegian newspaper, that he delivered on March 22, 2008, in Oslo a speech on the alleged involvement of Jews in planning the 9/11 Twin Towers bombings in New York. The speech’s title was: “Therefore I Hate Jews and Gays,” the paper reported, though Chishti says he was not the one who came up with the title.
“There were several thousand Jews away from work in the World Trade Center, and why there were more Jews in Mumbai when Pakistani terrorists attacked than usual?” he said then, repeating the conspiracy theory that Jews knew in advance of the attack that killed thousands. “Jews are a small group, but everyone knows that they have a lot of power,” he said.
In Saturday interviews, he retracts his words. In an interview with the daily Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet, he says they were “anti-Semitic” and “unacceptable.”
“I was angry,” he tells Verdens Gang. “I have since changed my views.” But he also says he “dislikes” people who support “an occupying force that has been condemned in several United Nations resolutions.”
“I think it is important to distinguish between being critical of Israel and anti-Semitism,” he also tells Verdens Gang.
Eric Argaman, a pro-Israel activist and member of Norway’s Jewish community, says Chishti’s involvement “stained the event, which now feels more like a spin, on our backs, than a gesture of good will.”
Polish ministry rejects request to renovate synagogue
The Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage turns down a request to support the renovation of a historic synagogue in Przysucha in southern Poland.
The titleholder of the synagogue, the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, rejects the decision, and is working to convince federal officials to change their minds.
Between 2012 and 2014, the Foundation obtained from the Ministry of Culture financial assistance that allowed it to perform necessary rescue work on the Przysucha synagogue, including securing the foundation and roof restoration to protect the synagogue from building catastrophe. The synagogue’s poor condition is the result of of post-World War II decades of neglect.
The total estimated cost to renovate the synagogue is $52,000. The Foundation requested $43,000 from the Ministry of Culture.
The synagogue in Przysucha is a monument to late Baroque architecture, the only such facility in the Mazovia region and one of the most important in Poland. At the end of the 18th century, Przysucha was one of the most important centers of Hasidism in Poland. Among the famous rabbis that lived in the town were: Jacob Isaac Ben Asher (1766-1813), known as the holy Jew of Przysucha; and his student, Simcha Bunim (1784-1827), a teacher of the first tzaddik of Ger, Yitzhak Mair Rothenburg Alter. After World War II, the building was used as a stables and to store fertilizers. The synagogue was returned to the Jewish community in the beginning of this century.
The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland began revitalizing the synagogue with support of the World Monuments Fund, the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture, and the Cahnman Foundation.
“We do not understand why it is not in the interest of the Polish state to assist in caring for Jewish monuments,” Monika Krawczyk, director general of Foundation tells JTA. “It seems that, when fully exploited, squeezed like lemon, it was given back to the Polish Jewish community: ‘You wanted it, now you have it.’”
Krawczyk continues: “And now the worst are those assurances coming from high public officials that they care about the historical Jewish heritage. In fact, a pat on the back is free. Przysucha Synagogue after restoration will be a beautiful monument of the Golden Age of Polish Jews. Now it is a testament to more or less successful attempts at equal treatment.”
Zionist Union wins big in high school mock election
A mock election held at a high school famous for successfully predicting surprising changes in the government foresees the Zionist Union joint list winning 38 seats, and the Likud party becoming only the third largest party in parliament.
Some 1,000 11th and 12th graders take part in the traditional Blich High School election in Ramat Gan. According to the results, the Yesh Atid party, led by Yair Lapid, came in second place with 34 seats.
The Likud party trailed behind in third place with just 17 seats and the national-religious Jewish Home party snagged just 12.
The left-wing Meretz party gained 11 seats and the newly formed Kulanu, led by ex-Likud member Moshe Kahlon, won six mandates.
Foreign Minister Avidgor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party scraped up just two seats, while none of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties or the Joint List of Arab parties won enough votes to cross the threshold.
— Stuart Winer
Ex-Likud MK throws support behind former party
Former Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar, who retired last year from politics, condemns the left-wing parties for their willingness to make territorial concessions to the Palestinians, and urges voters to reelect Likud.
“We cannot allow the left renew the efforts to make concessions on the heart of the land of Israel — Judea and Samaria,” he writes on Facebook, using the biblical term for the West Bank. “Concessions that will harm the security of Israel, and will threaten the population concentrated in central Israel — in the coastal region and Jerusalem.”
When Likud came to power, “the dangerous process of withdrawals and concessions stopped,” Sa’ar says.
Shas spiritual leader says anthem is ‘dumb’
The spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party says the “Hatikva” national anthem is “a dumb song,” the Walla news website reports.
At an event in Netivot in southern Israel, Rabbi Shalom Cohen recalls that once he was sitting at an event with the late Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, the former leader of the Shas party. When the participants at the event began to sing “Hatikva,” Yosef stood up, and Cohen remained seated, he says. Afterwards, Cohen asked Yosef why he stood during the anthem, and the rabbi replied that he had mumbled a prayer to himself while the audience sang “Hatikva.”
“A genuine man, he didn’t want that dumb song to influence him,” Cohen says.
Palestinians threaten to end security ties with Israel
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to stop security coordination with Israel if the country continues to withhold millions of dollars of Palestinian tax revenue.
Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian official, says Abbas warned European leaders that Palestinian officials would discuss the matter in a council meeting next week.
Shaath urges the US to pressure Israel to give the Palestinians the tax revenue it collects on their behalf.
Palestinians and Israelis cooperate on arrests in the West Bank and other security matters.
Israel has withheld tax revenue from the Palestinians since they joined the International Criminal Court last month.
Secretary of State John Kerry says the US fears that without a cash injection, the Palestinian Authority could collapse — entailing serious security implications for both Palestinians and Israelis.
Israel trying to topple PA, Erekat charges
A top Palestinian official accuses Israel of trying to topple the Palestinian Authority by continuing its freeze on millions of dollars in crucial tax monies.
Speaking to Voice of Palestine radio, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat demands world action to pressure Israel into releasing monies owed to the Palestinian Authority which were frozen as a punitive measure nearly two months ago.
“Israel is aiming to collapse the Palestinian Authority with all its institutions, so the international community should do much more than stating what the results of such move might be,” Erekat says.
“This money is not Israeli money nor donors’ money, this is an unprecedented act of piracy,” he rails.
“Israel has been doing its best to lead to the PA collapse for years, Netanyahu wants a PA without any authority and now he withholds the funds in order to make it collapse,” Erakat says, demanding the international community do “much more” than merely issuing statements of condemnation.
Arab party angry ballots to be printed in settlement
The Joint List is outraged that the ballot slips for the upcoming March 17 election will be printed in Karnei Shomron, a settlement in the West Bank, the Maariv daily reports.
“It’s clear that Netanyahu’s government is a settlements government,” a statement from the Arab party says. “Are there no printing businesses within the Green Line?”
The Central Elections Committee says in response: “They’re Israeli. There’s an Israeli flag there.”
Jews should come to Israel, envoy to Germany says
Israel’s ambassador to Germany reiterates that Jews who feel unsafe in Europe due to recent anti-Semitic attacks should “come to [Israel] at any time” – an approach recently rejected by the head of Germany’s Jewish community.
In an interview published Sunday in the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman echoes last week’s invitation from Netanyahu that Jews in Europe “consider Israel your home.”
Hadas-Handelsman says he “really does not envy any Jew living in Europe today.”
Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, had responded on Feb. 17 to Netanyahu’s invitation by noting that threats against Jews and Jewish institutions were a “worldwide phenomenon” and that “life in Israel as a Jew is not any more secure.”
While Schuster said he recognized that it is only natural for Israel to encourage aliyah, he personally saw no special reason for Jews to consider emigrating now, even with the increased risk of attacks by home-grown jihadists.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week that her government would do everything possible to ensure the safety of Jews and their institutions in the country. “We want to continue living together well with the Jews who are in Germany today,” she said.
In Sunday’s interview, Hadas-Handelsman commends Merkel for making it clear that “it is not normal for synagogues and Jewish schools to need police protection.”
Initial reports of stabbing in Jerusalem
Unconfirmed reports say that a man was stabbed in Jerusalem. Details to come.
Stabber reportedly detained in capital
A man was stabbed in the abdomen near City Hall in Jerusalem, Channel 2 reports.
The culprit is in custody, the report says.
Stabbing victim in light-moderate condition
The victim of the stabbing in Jerusalem was an ultra-Orthodox man in his 20’s, and he was lightly-to-moderately wounded in the attack, Hebrew media reports say.
Attacker said to be Palestinian illegal
The assailant in a stabbing in Jerusalem was a Palestinian who was residing illegally in Israel, Israel Radio reports. He is apprehended by police and transferred for questioning.
The victim of the attack is conscious and receiving medical treatment at the scene.
Attacker is 18-years-old, victim is 27
The Ynet news website reports that the stabber is an 18-year-old Palestinian residing illegally in Israel, and the victim is a 27-year-old ultra-Orthodox man.
JERUSALEM – TERROR: Yeshiva student stabbed by Arab terrorist at Safra Square, seriously wounded, terrorist caught. pic.twitter.com/Ut3gW4Pw15
— Israel News Feed (@IsraelHatzolah) February 22, 2015
Mayor, security guard took down stabber
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barket and his security guard disarmed the stabber, Channel 2 reports.
Barkat tells Channel 2 he was on the way to the municipality headquarters for a meeting when he saw the attack unfold. His security guard and Barkat jumped the stabber and got him to drop the knife, he says.
Security beefed up after stabbing attack
A police spokesman writes on Twitter that additional police forces have been deployed to patrol central Jerusalem after the stabbing.
Police units at scene of stabbing attack. Investigation into attack continues. Extra security patrols in and around the center of Jerusalem
— Micky Rosenfeld (@MickyRosenfeld) February 22, 2015
WATCH: Mayor, security guards apprehend stabber
A video surfaces of Mayor Nir Barkat and his security guards wrestling with the attacker.
Victim said to fend off assailant with wedding gift
A reporter for Army Radio writes on Twitter that the stabbing victim was on his way to a wedding when he was attacked.
The man fought off the assailant with the wedding gift he was holding, she reports.
The knife got stuck in the present and the attacker dropped it shortly after.
20% of voters still undecided — poll
A Channel 10 poll shows that one-fifth of Israelis have not yet decided who to vote for in the coming election.
Of those undecided, about half say they will choose a party close to the election date, and one-third say they have a general idea of the political camp they will vote for, but haven’t selected a particular party.
According to the poll, if elections were held today, the Zionist Union would receive 25 seats, and the Likud party would receive 23. The Jewish Home party would get 14 seats, while Yesh Atid would snag 11 mandates, the Kulanu party would receive eight slots, the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party gets seven, and the left-wing Meretz party gets six.
The Shas party and Eli Yishai’s Yachad party are tied at five seats, and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu barely passed the electoral threshold with four mandates.
Statement from the mayor on the attack
Mayor Nir Barkat describes his role in the stabbing attack in a statement.
He writes: “I was driving my car near Tzahal Square when suddenly my team saw the terrorist near us with a knife. Both myself and my bodyguard immediately jumped out of my car, my guard drew his weapon and we held the terrorist until police arrived, and immediately took care of the casualty who fortunately was lightly injured.”
Barkat was scheduled to give a press conference at 7 p.m.
More footage of stabbing
A security camera captures the stabbing attack in Jerusalem and the assailant’s arrest.
Netanyahu praises Barkat for disarming stabber
Netanyahu phones Barkat to discuss the stabbing attack in Jerusalem.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu praised him and his security guard for their determined action against the terrorist who carried out the stabbing in Jerusalem, and wished the injured a full recovery,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office says.
‘If stabber had pressed on, we would have killed him’
Barkat describes the attack to Channel 2, and says that “If he had continued stabbing, we would have killed him.”
“He didn’t try to attack me,” he says.
Barkat says there is a “dramatic” decrease in attacks in Jerusalem, and urges residents to be vigilant.
Man hurt in stabbing attack named
The stabbing victim, who is moderately injured, is named by Channel 2 as Avraham Goldstein, 27.
Goldstein tells the TV station that after he was attacked, he screamed that he had been stabbed so that those around him would scatter.
Yair Lapid’s evolution gaffe
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid made a blunder on his Facebook page, calling evolution the accepted scientific theory for “the creation of the world.”
Lapid was responding to comments by Yesh Atid MK Yaakov Peri, who told Haaretz that he was not opposed to teaching evolution in schools as part of the curriculum, “but not evolution alone.”
In response, a disappointed voter wrote a post on Lapid’s Facebook profile, saying he had supported the party, but was disillusioned by Peri’s response.
Lapid wrote: “Yesh Atid supports teaching evolution in schools because this is the only valid scientific theory on the creation of the world. The issue does not even require any sort of deliberation.”
Likud says left will bring Hamas to capital
In a statement on the Jerusalem stabbing, the Likud party criticizes the Zionist Union.
“The attack tonight in Jerusalem came a few weeks after Tzipi Livni, the hidden candidate of the Labor party for the premiership, said again that she is willing to consider dividing Jerusalem,” the statement says. “If Tzipi and Boujie [Herzog] establish a left-wing government, Hamas will be in the heart of Jerusalem.”
Egypt calls for joint Arab force to fight IS
Egypt’s president says that the need for a joint Arab military force is growing every day as the region faces the threat of Islamic militancy.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi also says in a recorded address aired by state television that Egypt’s military has no interest in invading or attacking other nations, but will defend Egypt as well as the region “if required and in coordination with our Arab brothers.”
The Egyptian leader says both Jordan and the United Arab Emirates have offered to dispatch military forces to aid Egypt following last week’s beheading in Libya of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by Islamic State militants.
“The need for a unified Arab force is growing and becoming more pressing every day,” says el-Sissi, who took office in June.
El-Sissi’s assertion that a joint Arab military force was needed is the first public confirmation by an Arab leader that the creation of such a force was a possibility. Last November, The Associated Press reported that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait were discussing the creation of a military pact to take on Islamic militants, with the possibility of a joint force to intervene around the Middle East.
Last week, security and military officials said discussions of the plan were back on track after a hiatus, with Jordan, France, Italy and Algeria now viewed as possible additional partners.
El-Sissi lavishly praises Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates for their multibillion dollar aid to Egypt following Morsi’s ouster.
Their aid, he says, was “the main reason that Egypt continued to stand fast against all the challenges and difficulties it faced.” He also sought to assure his oil-rich Gulf Arab allies over audio leaks purporting to show that he and members of his inner circle wanted to milk them for every dollar.
“We must be alert to all the attempts that are designed to drive a wedge between us and our brothers,” he says, addressing his Gulf allies. “Know well that we can never insult you. We are with you in the face of all the challenges that you confront,” he says.
Somalia jihadists urge attacks on US malls
A video purported to be by Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked rebel group al-Shabab urges Muslims to attack shopping malls in the US, Canada, Britain and other Western countries.
In the video, released late Saturday, the extremist group again says its September 2013 attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, was in reprisal for Kenyan military involvement in Somalia. Sixty-seven people died in the attack. The video, using footage from major news organizations, showed the assault on the mall.
The masked narrator of the 76-minute video warns of more attacks in Kenya and concludes by calling on Muslims to attack shopping malls, specifically mentioning the Mall of America in Minnesota, the West Edmonton Mall in Canada and the Westfield mall in Stratford, England.
The authenticity of the video could not be immediately verified by The Associated Press.
The narrator, his face wrapped in a black-and-white kaffiyeh-type scarf and wearing a camouflage jacket, speaks with a British accent and appears to be of Somali origin. He accused Kenyan troops in Somalia of committing abuses against Somali Muslims.
He ends the video by calling on Muslim men to attack other shopping malls in Western countries.
“What if such an attack were to occur in the Mall of America in Minnesota? Or the West Edmonton Mall in Canada? Or in London’s Oxford Street?” the masked man says, then calls for Britain’s Westfield mall to be targeted.
Speaking on morning talks shows in the US, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, calls the video “the new phase” of the global terrorist threat and says the US takes such threats seriously.
“These groups are relying more and more on independent actors to become inspired, drawn to the cause and they’ll attack on their own,” Johnson says, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“I am very concerned about serious potential threats of independent actors here in the United States. We’ve seen this now in Europe, we’ve seen this in Canada.”
Asked specifically about the Mall of America, Johnson says: “Any time a terrorist organization calls for an attack on a specific place we’ve got to take that seriously. What we’re telling the public is you’ve got to be vigilant. … There will be enhanced security there that will be apparent … but public vigilance, public awareness and public caution in situations like this is particularly important. It’s the environment we’re in.”
The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, and the Edmonton Mall both issued statements saying they have increased security.
Palestinian shot in the leg in Bethlehem
A Palestinian man is shot in the leg in Bethlehem, amid clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces, the Ynet news website reports.
The Israeli troops had most likely arrived in the area to arrest a terror suspect, it reports.
Stabbing victim fought attacker with phylacteries
Avraham Goldstein, the man who was stabbed in Jerusalem earlier today, says he fought off his attacker with his phylacteries.
“I felt a strong blow to my stomach,” he tells Ynet. “I yelled to everyone ‘stabbing’ so that they would run away, and then he came to stab me again and I hit him with my phylacteries.”
Earlier reports had erroneously said that Goldstein fended off the stabber with a wedding present.
Slain IS hostage’s father slams US ransom policy
The father of American hostage Kayla Mueller, who died while held by the Islamic State group, accuses the Obama administration of putting its policy of not paying ransoms “in front of American lives.”
IS fighters claim Mueller, who was seized in the Syrian city of Aleppo in August 2013, was killed in a February 6 coalition air strike that buried her in rubble. US officials have pushed back, saying the circumstances of the 26-year-old aid worker’s death remain unclear.
The girl’s father expresses strong reservations about the longstanding US policy of refusing to negotiate with or pay ransom to foreign groups that have kidnapped Americans, as the Mueller family breaks its media silence.
“We understand the policy about not paying ransom,” Carl Mueller tells NBC television’s “Meet the Press.”
“But on the other hand, any parents out there would understand that you would want anything and everything done to bring your child home. And we tried. And we asked. But they put policy in front of American citizens’ lives.”
Other Western countries, in contrast, are known to have paid large ransoms to free hostages.
The interview with Mueller, his wife Marsha and his son Eric is conducted Saturday. Excerpts aired Sunday, with the full interview set for broadcast Monday on other NBC programs.
Asked whether President Barack Obama’s administration did enough to free her daughter, Marsha Mueller says: “I think they wanted to. But I think again, it’s the policy. And I don’t think anyone had any idea this group would be as powerful as they were.”