TV: Erdan and Edelstein may not endorse candidate in Likud primary
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Likud support for Sa’ar leadership picks up, as 4th MK announces endorsement

But most of right-wing party stands behind Netanyahu; top lawmakers Yuli Edelstein and Gilad Erdan may refrain from backing candidate in December 26 race

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and then education minister Gideon Sa'ar light candles to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah during the Bible Quiz at the International Conference Center in Jerusalem, on December 12, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and then education minister Gideon Sa'ar light candles to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah during the Bible Quiz at the International Conference Center in Jerusalem, on December 12, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s developments as they unfolded.

Lebanon protesters torch ruling parties’ offices

Attackers in northern Lebanon set fire to the offices of two major political parties on Sunday, the state-run National News Agency says.

The assaults come just hours after the capital Beirut is rocked by the most violent government crackdown on protesters since nationwide demonstrations began two months ago. Lebanese security forces fire rubber bullets, tear gas and use water cannons throughout the night to disperse anti-government protesters from the city center — the epicenter of the protest movement in Beirut — and around parliament.

The overnight confrontations in Beirut leaves more than 130 people injured, according to the Red Cross and the Lebanese Civil Defense.

In the northern Akkar district on Sunday, attackers break the windows and torch the local office for resigned Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s political party in the town of Kharibet al-Jindi.

In a separate attack in Akkar district, assailants storm the local office of the largest party in parliament, affiliated with President Michel Aoun and headed by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. Their party says the contents of the office in Jedidat al-Juma town had also been smashed and burned.

Lebanon is facing one of its worst economic crises in decades, and the protesters accuse the ruling political class in place for three decades of mismanagement and corruption.


Lawmakers spar in Knesset over panel to weigh Netanyahu immunity

Mayhem takes over the Knesset’s Arrangements Committee Sunday as right-wing lawmakers walk out of a discussion on whether the parliament will be able to accept or reject a potential request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for immunity from prosecution in three corruption cases.

The heated debate surrounded the question of whether a House Committee can be formed during a transitional government, and which body will decide whether that committee is formed before the March elections.

The Knesset House Committee, which weighs immunity requests, has been nonfunctional amid the political impasse resulting from two inconclusive elections. With third elections scheduled for March, the committee — unless revived — will remain inactive for months to come.

The Blue and White party is demanding that the Arrangements Committee, headed by its member Avi Nissenkorn, decide whether a House Committee will be created. But Netanyahu’s party, Likud, has furiously pushed for the decision to be made by a new Agreements Committee jointly headed by Nissenkorn and Likud MK Miki Zohar.

The discussion quickly becomes heated, with Nissenkorn saying: “I don’t know if Netanyahu will file a request for immunity, but we won’t leave the cat to guard the cream. The body qualified to determine whether a House Committee will be formed is the Arrangements Committee, which represents the makeup of the Knesset. I will not agree to a situation in which we can’t form a House Committee if needed.”

MK Zohar accuses Nissenkorn of “shameful conduct,” with the discussion devolving into a shouting match. He and most members of the right-wing parties supporting Netanyahu walked out of the discussion in protest.

Though criminal charges against Netanyahu were announced last month, an indictment cannot be lodged in court until the premier is given a chance to request immunity.

Michael Bachner


Likud’s Haim Katz may support Sa’ar in primary — report

Likud lawmaker Haim Katz will likely support Gideon Sa’ar for party leader in next week’s primary, Channel 12 reports.

Katz, a former welfare minister, retired as minister in the summer after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced that he plans to indict him on fraud and breach of trust charges.

The veteran Likud MK had also been a criminal suspect in a second separate corruption investigation relating to his time as head of the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) workers’ union, but Mandelblit notified Katz’s legal team that he has decided to close that case against the minister.

According to the TV report, the IAI union will also back Sa’ar in the Likud leadership race.

The labor union at IAI, which employs some 16,000 people and is Israel’s largest state-owned company, is known as a Likud stronghold.

Longest UN climate talks end with no deal on carbon markets

Marathon international climate talks close Sunday in Madrid with negotiators postponing until next year a key decision on global carbon markets.

After two weeks of negotiations on tackling global warming, delegates from almost 200 nations pass declarations calling for greater ambition in cutting planet-heating greenhouse gases and in helping poor countries suffering the effects of climate change. But despite holding the longest climate talks ever in 25 nearly annual editions they leave one of the thorniest issues for the next summit in Glasgow, in a year’s time.

Environmental groups and activists accuse the world’s richer countries of showing little commitment to seriously tackling climate change.


Brazil opens trade office in Jerusalem

The Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, known as Apex-Brasil, which operates under the auspices of the country’s foreign ministry, officially opens a trade office in Jerusalem’s Har Hotzvim tech park.

Eduardo Bolsonaro, the son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, is in attendance at the opening.

He tells the crowd his father will eventually relocate the country’s embassy to the capital, describing it as a “normal” step.

The trade office does not hold diplomatic status, an official told The Times of Israel earlier this month.

with Raphael Ahren

Knesset panel votes to give itself power to debate Netanyahu immunity

The Blue and White-controlled Knesset’s Arrangements Committee approves a decision to allow it to debate an immunity request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, should he submit one.

But the decision is subject to approval by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, of the Likud party. And the panel will await a legal opinion from the Knesset legal adviser on whether it can grant itself the powers normally held by the House Committee, which has been inactive for months due to the political deadlock.

Lebanon interior minister orders probe after protest violence

Lebanon’s Interior Minister Raya El-Hassan on Sunday orders the country’s security forces to open a “rapid and transparent” inquiry, after dozens of people in Beirut were wounded in clashes the night before.

Security forces in the capital used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators, who had gathered Saturday evening to demand an independent technocrat government ahead of talks due to begin Monday to appoint a new premier.

Hassan demands the identification of those responsible for the most violent episode since the largely peaceful anti-government protests began on October 17.

She warns against “infiltrators” seeking to use protests to provoke “confrontations.”

Amnesty International’s Diala Haidar decries the “excessive use of force” in response to “overwhelmingly peaceful protest.”

“The intention was clearly to prevent protesters gathering,” she says, denouncing the presence of masked men in civilian clothes joining security forces in “violently attacking protesters.”


UN chief ‘disappointed’ by climate talks outcome

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says Sunday he is “disappointed” by the results of a major UN climate summit in Madrid, calling it a missed opportunity to tackle the global warming crisis.

Guterres issues the statement as the COP25 concludes its marathon meeting voicing “the urgent need” for new carbon cutting commitments but falling well short of what was needed.

“I am disappointed with the results of COP25,” Guterres says. “The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis.”


Labor and Gesher to stick to joint ticket for March vote

The Labor and Gesher parties announce they’ll run again on a joint ticket in the March 2 elections.

The alliance picked up six of the Knesset’s 120 seats in the September vote.

Libya closes Egypt embassy, citing ‘security’ reasons

Libya’s embassy in Egypt was closed indefinitely from Sunday, the mission says on its Facebook page, citing security concerns.

“The embassy of Libya in Cairo… suspended its work due to security reasons starting Sunday and until further notice,” a statement says without giving further details.

It however flatly denies in a separate statement reports suggesting that some embassy staff had broken ranks with the UN-recognized Government of National Accord based in Tripoli.

The GNA’s foreign ministry confirms that the embassy had been closed indefinitely, in a statement on Facebook.

It says the work at the mission was suspended in order to protect staff after a series of recent “violations” targeting the embassy, including attempts by some to “blackmail” employees in order to obtain money.

The foreign ministry gives no further details but said “work is underway with the Egyptian authorities to put an end to these violations and secure the embassy as required.”

The embassy would resume its operations when it is secured, it adds.


US Marine to be buried in Kentucky, 76 years after death in WWII

A US Marine who died in the battle for the Pacific Ocean island of Tarawa during World War II is scheduled to be buried Monday in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency says the remains of Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. John R. Bayens were officially accounted for in September though analysis of dental evidence and other methods.

Bayens’ remains arrived Friday in Louisville. The burial is scheduled for Monday at Evergreen Cemetery.

In honor of Bayens, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has directed flags at all state office buildings be lowered to half-staff Monday.

The 20-year old Bayens was part of a battalion attached to the 6th Marine Regiment that landed in an amphibious assault on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands in November 1943, officials said.

More than 990 US Marines and 30 US sailors were killed in the battle for Tarawa, located island about 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) southwest of Honolulu. Marines and sailors quickly encountered Japanese machine gunfire when their boats got stuck on the reef at low tide. Americans who made it to the beach faced brutal hand-to-hand combat.

Bayens was killed on the third day of battle, and his remains were reportedly buried in Cemetery 33 on Betio Island, officials say.

American remains found on Tarawa were centralized at Lone Palm Cemetery in 1946 for later repatriation, but almost half of the known casualties were never found, officials say.

Bayens’ remains were declared nonrecoverable in 1949.

About 65 years later, the nonprofit History Flight identified Cemetery 33, and excavations of the site revealed multiple sets of remains. Remains were given to the POW/MIA agency, and Bayens was identified.


Report: Livni considering political comeback, joining Blue and White

Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni is reportedly considering joining the Blue and White party and running in the March election, Israel Hayom reports.

Sources close to Livni tell the paper she is putting out feelers on the possibility of a political comeback with the centrist party.

US secretly expelled two Chinese diplomats, report says

The United States secretly expelled two Chinese embassy officials in September after they drove onto a sensitive military base in Virginia, The New York Times reports Sunday.

The newspaper, which cites people with knowledge of the episode, says it appeared to be the first time in more than 30 years that the US has expelled Chinese diplomats on suspicion of espionage.

At least one of the diplomats was believed to be an intelligence officer operating under cover, the Times says.

The Times says the diplomats, accompanied by their wives, drove up to the checkpoint at the entrance to a sensitive installation near Norfolk, Virginia, that includes special operations forces.


Smog forces schools shut in Iran

Air pollution forces schools to close on Sunday in parts of Iran including Tehran, as the capital lay under a thick cloud of smog considered hazardous to health.

The pollution level in the capital is “unhealthy for sensitive groups” and officials warn the young, elderly and people with respiratory illnesses to stay indoors, with sporting activities suspended.

The decision to shut schools in the capital was announced late Saturday by deputy governor Mohammad Taghizadeh, after a meeting of an emergency committee on air pollution.

“All of (Tehran) province’s schools except for Firuzkuh and Damavand counties are closed for Sunday,” he said, quoted by state news agency IRNA.

Schools in the capital will close on Monday, the third day of the Iranian working week, he added later in a state TV interview.


No letup for UK lawmakers: Johnson presses ahead with Brexit

There will be no letup for UK lawmakers worn out after Britain’s bruising election campaign. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to begin “before Christmas” the push to secure Parliamentary approval for his Brexit deal.

Buoyed by its landslide victory in Thursday’s election, Johnson’s Conservative government plans to move fast to make good on his campaign mantra to “get Brexit done.” That means ensuring legislation known as the Brexit withdrawal agreement bill is passed in time for the UK to complete its historic departure from the European Union by the current deadline of January 31.

Conservative Party lawmaker Rishi Sunak on Sunday tells the BBC that Brexit-enabling legislation will be “back to Parliament before Christmas.”

The Conservatives won 365 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons. Labour took 203 seats, its worst total since 1935. With a Conservative majority of 80, the tortured wrangling that has been a hallmark of Brexit debates since Britain’s 2016 referendum on its EU status should be consigned to history.

But once the Brexit legislation has passed, negotiations between London and Brussels will begin on a new deal covering their economic and strategic relationship. A transition period built into Johnson’s Brexit deal means that trade between Britain and the bloc will remain smooth until the end of 2020. But if no pact is ready then, the United Kingdom could still face an economically damaging departure from the EU, its main trading partner.


Central Elections Committee rejects Sa’ar bid to shelve TV reports on Netanyahu

The Central Elections Committee rejects a petition by Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar to block the airing of a four-part TV report on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s career.

The series, “The Days of Benjamin,” will be broadcast by Channel 12 on Sunday through Wednesday.

Sa’ar is challenging Netanyahu for the Likud leadership in a vote set for late next week. He had sought to block the airing of the show, arguing that it was a form of political campaigning for Netanyahu that gave the incumbent premier an unfair advantage.

Unarmed Palestinian arrested after entering Israel from Gaza

IDF soldiers arrest an unarmed Palestinian man who crossed into Israel from the northern Gaza Strip, the army says.

The suspect is handed over to the Shin Bet security service for questioning.

Judah Ari Gross

Netanyahu speaks to Bolsonaro after Brazilian trade office opens in Jerusalem

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a video call with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, following the inauguration of a Brazilian trade office in Jerusalem.

Bolsonaro reiterates his vow to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem during the call, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

New Jersey pawnshop owner arrested in connection with Jersey City shooting

A New Jersey pawnshop owner is arrested after his phone number is found scrawled on a piece of paper in the pocket of one of the Jersey City gunmen, David N. Anderson, who killed three in a kosher supermarket last week.

The arrest of Ahmed A-Hady of Keyport, New Jersey, is reported by US media.

A-Hady, a convicted felon, faces charges of firearm possession, reports say.

His connection with the Jersey City shooters, who were killed, remains unclear.

Thousands return to protest near parliament after crackdown in Beirut

Thousands of Lebanese protesters defiantly return Sunday to rally outside parliament in Beirut, hours after security forces chased them out, using tear gas and rubber bullets and injuring dozens.

Saturday night into Sunday saw one of the most violent crackdowns on protesters since nationwide anti-government demonstrations began two months ago, leading to the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri on October 29.

The protesters in Beirut on Sunday chant against the security crackdown and call for an independent new head of government unaffiliated with established political parties.

The crowd, many raising Lebanese flags, say: “We won’t leave, We won’t leave. Just arrest all the protesters!”

Others raise posters saying the tear gas won’t keep them away. “We are crying already,” says one, in a jab at the deep economic crisis Lebanese are facing. The streets leading to parliament are filled with men, women and even children. Some huddle in smaller groups while others are lifted on shoulders chanting in megaphones.

The overnight confrontations in Beirut left more than 130 people injured, according to the Red Cross and the Lebanese Civil Defense. The Red Cross said none of the injured was in serious condition and most of them were treated on the spot.


Netanyahu said to summon Likud MK Haskel over fears she’ll back Sa’ar

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has summoned Likud MK Sharren Haskel for a meeting over concerns she may endorse Gideon Sa’ar for Likud leader, the Knesset Channel reports.

At least three Likud lawmakers have backed Sa’ar in the December 26 primary — Yoav Kisch, Etty Atia and Michal Shir — with former welfare minister Haim Katz expected to follow suit.

Felix Rohatyn, financial force and former US envoy, dies at 91

Felix Rohatyn, a towering figure on Wall Street credited with saving New York from insolvency and who later served as US ambassador to France, has died at age 91.

He died at his home in Manhattan of unspecified causes, his son Nicolas confirms to The New York Times.

Rohatyn was born in 1928 into a well-to-do Jewish family in Vienna — his grandfather was a banker — but the family was forced to flee to France amid the rise of the Nazis. After German troops entered the country, he and his mother — his parents had since divorced — left on a circuitous journey to the United States in 1942.

Rohatyn quickly learned English — at one point he even tutored a young Edith Piaf while the singer was working in New York, the Times reports — and then plunged into the world of finance, making a mark as a skilled deal-maker and sought-after merger specialist.

Mentored by Andre Meyer, the French financier who controlled the powerful Lazard Brothers investment bank (now Lazard), he did so well that Meyer would eventually say the student had surpassed the teacher. Rohatyn was made a partner in 1960.

He became a valued confidant and adviser of political and business leaders, earning a reputation as someone who could find an acceptable solution to any problem — hence his nickname, “Felix the Fixer.”

In the 1970s, when New York City was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, crushed under its debt, city fathers turned to Rohatyn.

The job of restoring the metropolis to financial health proved more daunting than expected — Rohatyn stayed with the task for years, even after the city finally balanced its budget in 1980.


Washington bracing for impeachment as battle lines harden

As Washington braces for this week’s expected vote to impeach US President Donald Trump, partisan battle lines harden on Sunday, with Democrats defending impeachment, even if Trump is not removed from office and Republicans denouncing the integrity of the constitutional process.

The Democratic-controlled House planned to vote Wednesday on two articles of impeachment against the Republican president, and the decision whether to make Trump the third US president in history to be impeached was expected to play out along party lines. There is some debate between the White House and GOP-run Senate about the contours of the Senate trial anticipated in January, but there seems little doubt the Senate would acquit Trump.

But a seemingly predetermined result has not convinced Democrats that their impeachment effort, which was prompted by Trump’s push to have Ukraine investigate a Trump political foe, was in vain. Framing the matter as a national security issue, the chairman of the House committee that led the investigation insists it is “not a failure in the sense of our constitutional duty in the House.”

“This misconduct goes on, the threat to our election integrity coming up goes on,” says Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who heads the House Intelligence Committee. “It’s a clear and present danger, I think, to our democracy, and not something that we can turn away from simply because the Republicans in the House refuse to do their duty, and continuing to put the person of the president above their personal obligation.”

Democrats expect support for impeachment from all but a few of their members; no Republicans are expected to join them. From the beginning of the inquiry, Trump has tried to cast it as a purely political effort by Democrats to undo the result of the 2016 election.


TV: Erdan and Edelstein may not endorse candidate in Likud primary

Senior Likud members Gilad Erdan and Yuli Edelstein may refrain from endorsing a candidate in next week’s leadership primary, Channels 12 and 13 report.

Most Likud members are backing Benjamin Netanyahu for party leader, with former welfare minister Haim Katz and three other lawmakers endorsing Gideon Sa’ar.

Driver in fatal crash that killed mother, baby arrested again

The 18-year-old driver who collided with a car earlier this month, killing a mother and baby daughter, was driving at over 170 kilometers an hour (105 mph) when the crash took place, according to Channel 12.

The suspect, Tareq Kurd from East Jerusalem, is arrested again on Sunday, as new findings in the crash emerge. He had previously been released, after his blood test from came back without traces of alcohol or drugs.

Kurd’s car struck the vehicle in which the Rimel family was traveling on Route 443 near the Givat Ze’ev settlement on December 1.

Tzippi Rimel, 34, was killed along with her infant daughter Noam. Her husband Ephraim and 12-year-old son Itay were critically injured and remain hospitalized at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Both are in life-threatening condition, with doctors fearing that Ephraim could be facing paralysis in much of his body and Itay still unconscious and hooked up to a respirator.

Tzippi Rimel (R) with her husband Ephraim and 3-week-old daughter, Noam. (Courtesy)

Morocco says jihadist who planned suicide attack arrested

Moroccan anti-terror police announce Sunday the arrest of an alleged jihadist who “planned a suicide attack.”

The 41-year-old extremist tried to “build expertise in the use of arms,” Morocco’s central office for judicial investigations says in a statement.

He was imbued in the “ideological propaganda” of the Islamic State group, it adds.

“Electronic devices and documents… on the making of explosives” were seized, the office says.

Long spared jihadist violence, Morocco was last year hit by the gruesome murder of two Scandinavian tourists in the High Atlas mountains, committed in the name of IS.

The perpetrators were sentenced to death, a penalty not carried out in Morocco since 1993.


Poll: Sa’ar-led Likud would emerge weaker, but bolster right-wing bloc

A Kan public broadcaster poll suggests Likud led by Gideon Sa’ar would emerge weaker after the March elections, but the right-wing bloc would be stronger.

Under Netanyahu, Likud would win 31 seats, compared to 35 for Benny Gantz’s Blue and White. Overall, the bloc of religious and right-wing parties would pick up 53 seats, compared to 59 seats for the center-left and Arab parties. Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman would again emerge as kingmaker, with eight seats.

Under Sa’ar’s leadership, Likud would shrink to 27 seats, compared to 34 for Blue and White. But the right-wing bloc would number 56 seats, while the center-left would pick up 57, with Liberman winning seven seats.

Likud MK Haskel endorses Sa’ar for party leader

Likud MK Sharren Haskel becomes the fourth party member to publicly endorse Gideon Sa’ar for party leader, ahead of the December 26 Likud primary.

Former welfare minister Haim Katz is also expected to back Sa’ar for Likud leader.

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TV: Erdan and Edelstein may not endorse candidate in Likud primary

Senior Likud members Gilad Erdan and Yuli Edelstein may refrain from endorsing a candidate in next week’s leadership primary, Channels 12 and 13 report.

Most Likud members are backing Benjamin Netanyahu for party leader, with former welfare minister Haim Katz and three other lawmakers endorsing Gideon Sa’ar.