Zionist Union preps for Knesset elections
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IDF post comes under fire in West Bank

No injuries or damage at site; Hezbollah leader says there’s ‘no doubt’ Israel killed Kuntar, praises Palestinian teens who attack the Jewish state

Elie Leshem is deputy editor of The Times of Israel.

  • Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah discusses the death of terrorist Samir Kuntar, allegedly at the hands of Israel, in a televised speech from Beirut on December 21, 2015. (screen capture: YouTube)
    Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah discusses the death of terrorist Samir Kuntar, allegedly at the hands of Israel, in a televised speech from Beirut on December 21, 2015. (screen capture: YouTube)
  • PA President Mahmoud Abbas pays tribute during a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in central Athens, on Monday, December 21, 2015 (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
    PA President Mahmoud Abbas pays tribute during a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in central Athens, on Monday, December 21, 2015 (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
  • Members of Lebanon's Shiite militia Hezbollah carry the coffin of Samir Kuntar during his funeral outside Beirut on Monday, December 21, 2015 (AFP PHOTO/ANWAR AMRO)
    Members of Lebanon's Shiite militia Hezbollah carry the coffin of Samir Kuntar during his funeral outside Beirut on Monday, December 21, 2015 (AFP PHOTO/ANWAR AMRO)
  • Illustrative: Palestinians chant slogans against Israel during a demonstration in support of late Lebanese terrorist Samir Kantar (portrait) in the West Bank city of Nablus on December 21, 2015. (AFP/JAAFAR ASHTIYEH)
    Illustrative: Palestinians chant slogans against Israel during a demonstration in support of late Lebanese terrorist Samir Kantar (portrait) in the West Bank city of Nablus on December 21, 2015. (AFP/JAAFAR ASHTIYEH)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu poses for a picture with his Albanian counterpart, Edi Rama, ahead of a meeting in Jerusalem in 2015. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu poses for a picture with his Albanian counterpart, Edi Rama, ahead of a meeting in Jerusalem in 2015. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
  • Silvan Shalom, May 17, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
    Silvan Shalom, May 17, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
  • Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during the Munich Security Conference in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, October 17, 2015. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during the Munich Security Conference in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, October 17, 2015. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)
  • Arab MK Hanin Zoabi at a hearing on her case at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, December 9, 2014 (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)
    Arab MK Hanin Zoabi at a hearing on her case at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, December 9, 2014 (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)
  • US President Barack Obama speaking to 31 new US residents during the naturalization ceremony at the National Archive in Washington DC, on December 15 2015. (Screen capture)
    US President Barack Obama speaking to 31 new US residents during the naturalization ceremony at the National Archive in Washington DC, on December 15 2015. (Screen capture)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s news as it happened.

Iran blames Israel for exclusion from US visa waiver

Iran claims that Israel is to blame for a recent US Congress decision that excludes Iranians and people who have visited Iran from the country’s visa waiver program.

According to a Reuters report, Hossein Jaberi Ansari, a spokesman for the foreign ministry in Tehran, says that the American decision was enacted “under pressure from the Zionist lobby” and other “currents” opposed to the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

The decision, signed into law on Friday, is a security measure that was first introduced in the wake of terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

It also applies to Syria, Iraq and Sudan.

Belgium nabs 5 in raids linked to Paris attacks

Belgian authorities have detained 5 people, including two brothers, after two days of raids related to Paris attacks.

The federal prosecutor’s office says two people were detained following a house search Monday in the Laeken district of Brussels. On Sunday evening, another Brussels house was searched on orders from an investigating judge specializing in terrorism. Two brothers found there were taken in for questioning, as well as a friend.

The prosecutor’s office says an analysis of phone records led to Sunday’s search. Authorities say they found no weapons or explosives at either residence, and did not identify those detained.

The investigating judge will decide later on whether to keep the five in custody.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, which left 130 people dead.

— AP

5 Jerusalem Arabs indicted for ‘grassroots terror’

The Shin Bet security service announces that it has uncovered an “infrastructure” of Israeli citizens in Jerusalem’s Ras al-Amud neighborhood who were involved in “grassroots terrorism.”

In all, five have been arrested and linked to the group, which the Shin Bet alleges was involved in rock- and Molotov cocktail-throwing attacks at Israeli civilians and security forces.

Two of the arrestees are minors, the Shin Bet says in a statement.

In one case, on September 17, two minors from the group torched a bus in Ras al-Amud.

“The interrogations also revealed that during riots in the neighborhood, the activists would block the road with garbage cans and cut off the power, in order to draw in police forces and then attack them with Molotov cocktails,” the statement says.

The five have been indicted for a string of alleged offenses, the statement says, noting that further indictments are in the offing for additional alleged members of the group.

Netanyahu meets Albanian PM in Jerusalem

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with his Albanian counterpart, Edi Rama, in Jerusalem.

The two men sign “a joint declaration of friendship to mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, a medical research cooperation agreement between hospitals and an agreement on the employment of diplomats’ spouses,” according to a press release from the Government Press Office.

The press release says Rama expressed interest in further cooperation with Israel “in security, cyber, water, energy and innovation.”

In his comments to the press before the meeting, Netanyahu recalls the fact that Albania protected its Jews during the Holocaust.

“We know that he people of Albania are not merely good friends today of the people of Israel but in the crucial period of the Holocaust they stood shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish people persecuted in Europe,” he says.

“I think Albania is the only country whose Jewish population during the Holocaust actually grew because of the refuge and the sanctuary and the friendship and courage showed by the people of Albania,” Netanyahu adds.

“We never forget our friends, and we appreciate that display of humanity, civility and courage in our darkest hours.”

Zionist Union preps for Knesset elections

Isaac Herzog, leader of the opposition Zionist Union, announces that his party has begun preparing for the next Knesset vote and has established an elections headquarters to coordinate its activities.

Addressing his party’s weekly faction meeting, Herzog predicts that, seeing as how Prime Minister Netanyahu is “tired and susceptible to [political] extortion,” the elections will take place sometime in 2016, less than two years after the previous vote.

“In recent months, and more so in recent days, it’s become clear to everyone that the time has come for change,” says Herzog, who is reportedly seeking to postpone his party’s leadership primary until 2017 in order to retain his role.

French-Jewish MP threatens Israel over academic degrees

The French-Jewish lawmaker Meyer Habib says that if Israel doesn’t move to fully recognize French academic degrees, he will call on French Jews to freeze their plans to immigrate to the country.

The French parliamentarian gives Jerusalem a three-month deadline to enact a reform that would enable French doctors, dentists, nurses and lawyers to immediately start working in Israel, without having to pass difficult tests.

Habib, a longtime friend of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, tells The Times of Israel in an interview that he believes Netanyahu is on his side but that the professional elite in the country places stumbling blocks in the way of a reform since they fear an influx in French professionals will lead to a decrease in the wages of native Israelis.

Raphael Ahren

Shalom’s voting record wasn’t supportive of sex abuse sufferers

The Knesset Social Guard, which tracks lawmakers’ records on social issues, notes that outgoing Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, who stepped down yesterday amid a pileup of sexual harassment allegations, had a consistent record when it came to votes on bills pertaining to sexual abuse – he avoided them.

Shalom, who the Social Guard notes in a Facebook post was generally active on social issues, shirked a vote on a bill to enlarge the compensation to victims of abuse in the workplace, as well as one extending the application of the law against sexual harassment in the workplace.

He was also absent from several votes on a bill that sought to recognize sexual harassment victims as survivors of accidents in the workplace. When he did attend a vote on the bill, it was to vote against it after the coalition decided to shoot it down, the post says.

(The allegations against Shalom were not substantiated and a police investigation was subsequently closed.)

Shalom was right to quit over abuse claims — Netanyahu

Prime Minister Netanyahu says Silvan Shalom, dogged by over 10 claims of sexual harassment, made the right decision when he chose to step down this week.

“Shalom informed me of his decision to retire under very saddening circumstances,” Netanyahu says at his Likud party’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, “and I thank him for many years” of service.

(The allegations against Shalom were not substantiated and a police investigation was subsequently closed.)

Police arrest woman suspected of planning stabbing in Old City of Jerusalem

Police say they have arrested a young Arab woman who was carrying a knife on her person in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.

They say that she is suspected of having planned to carry out a stabbing attack.

She is being interrogated.

At Kuntar funeral, Hezbollah vows revenge

Thousands of people gather in a Hezbollah stronghold south of Beirut for the funeral of Samir Kuntar, a high-profile terrorist who the group says was killed by an Israeli airstrike near the Syrian capital.

During the funeral, Hezbollah leaders vow to exact revenge on Israel, with one senior official, Omar al-Mussawi, asserting that the Jewish state will come to “regret the assassination.”

According to a Ynetnews translation, another senior official, Hashim Safi Al Din, says: “Samir Kuntar was made for Palestine and he died a martyr for it.”

Palestinians chant slogans against Israel during a demonstration in support of late Lebanese terrorist Samir Kantar (portrait) in the West Bank city of Nablus on December 21, 2015 (AFP / JAAFAR ASHTIYEH)
Palestinians chant slogans against Israel during a demonstration in support of late Lebanese terrorist Samir Kantar (portrait) in the West Bank city of Nablus on December 21, 2015 (AFP / JAAFAR ASHTIYEH)

He adds, “If the Israeli thinks he settled the score with Kuntar’s assassination, then he is wrong. He knows he only set new scores.”

Al Din says the assassination of Kuntar was a “stupid” act, warning that “only days separate us from the Israeli enemy.”

In the immediate wake of the strike that killed Kuntar along with some eight other members of a cell he led, Hezbollah pledged vengeance, sparking fears of escalation.

At the funeral, supporters of the group walk behind Kuntar’s coffin, which is draped in a yellow Hezbollah flag.

“Death to Israel,” the men shout as women throw rice and rose petals at the casket.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is due to speak later Monday about his killing.

— Agencies contributed

WATCH: Lindsey Graham ends 2016 presidential campaign

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham has ended his 2016 presidential campaign.

The South Carolina senator posts a video Monday, saying he is suspending his campaign.

He says he ran “a campaign we can be proud of” that was focused on the nation’s security.

AP

Zoabi apologizes for calling Arab cops traitors

Firebrand Knesset member Hanin Zoabi of the Joint (Arab) List apologizes for calling Arab policemen traitors during a demonstration in Nazareth last year.

“My remarks came against a backdrop of harsh arrests,” she says in a statement, adding that she was “upset” at the time and that the things she said “are not representative of my style or my way.”

Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi (Balad) in the Knesset. (photo credit: Flash90)
Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi (Balad) in the Knesset. (photo credit: Flash90)

Zoabi adds, “I had no intention of insulting anyone. I’m sorry I said those things and apologize to anyone who was hurt by them.”

The apology was part of a plea bargain with the State Attorney’s Office by which Zoabi also agreed to admit to insulting a public official and pay a NIS 3,000 fine.

Thus, she avoided more serious incitement charges over the July 2014 incident, during which she accused an Arab police officer of treason against his people, a statement interpreted by officials as a call for violence against Arab-Israeli police officers.

The incident took place outside the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court, during the trial of Arabs who had been arrested at riots sparked by the murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir by Jewish terrorists.

— Tamar Pileggi contributed

Trump demands apology from Clinton on debate quip

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump says he wants an apology from Hillary Clinton for saying that the Islamic State group used videos of his comments about Muslims to recruit militants.

Trump tells NBC’s “Today Show” that “she lies about everything.”

He says, “You’re talking about people dying. You’re talking about making up tapes and videos which don’t exist.”

During the Democratic debate Saturday, Clinton said that Trump had become the Islamic State’s “best recruiter” and that “they are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists.”

There was no evidence to back the claim, and a spokeswoman later said “she didn’t have a particular video in mind.”

AP

Iran urges Turkey to drop detente with Israel

Iran warns Turkey against rekindling its ties with Israel amid reports that Ankara and Jerusalem may be headed for a détente after years of chilly relations.

“The Muslim governments should adopt policies which meet their and the Islamic Ummah’s interests as well as the rights of the Palestinian nation,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari tells reporters in Tehran, according to the FARS news agency, referring to the world community of Muslims.

Obama calls criticism of US strategy against IS legitimate

US President Barack Obama says criticism of his strategy to combat the Islamic State group is legitimate and failure to keep the public informed has contributed to fears that not enough is being done.

In a year-end interview with NPR News, Obama says the most damage the group can do to the US is to force Americans to change how they live or what they believe in.

“I think that there is a legitimate criticism of what I’ve been doing and our administration has been doing in the sense that we haven’t, you know, on a regular basis I think described all the work that we’ve been doing for more than a year now to defeat ISIL,” the president says in the interview released Monday, referring to IS by one of its acronyms.

Obama says that if people don’t know about the thousands of airstrikes that have been launched against IS targets since August 2014, or aren’t aware that towns in Iraq once controlled by the group have been retaken, “then they might feel as if there’s not enough of a response.”

“And so part of our goal here is to make sure that people are informed about all the actions that we’re taking,” he says.

The full interview is here:

— AP

Histadrut calls general strike for Wednesday

The Histadrut national workers union declares a general strike among Israeli public sector workers starting Wednesday morning.

The strike comes as the union negotiates with the Finance Ministry for wage hikes, and will encompass a plethora of government offices as well as schools and public transportation in many cities.

“The Histadrut will not be complicit in an attempt to turn workers’ groups against one another,” says Histadrut chief Avi Nissankoren. “The strike isn’t the goal but rather the means with which to sound the voices of some one million workers who can’t make ends meet. It’s high time the country cared for the weak and the middle class.”

Iran court annuls spiritual leader’s death sentence

Iran’s Supreme Court annuls the death penalty for spiritual leader Mohammad Ali Taheri and refers his case back to the court that handed down the sentence, his lawyer says.

“I went to court today and was told that the verdict has been canceled,” Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabayi says, quoted by Fars news agency.

The Revolutionary Court “has to examine the case again and issue a new verdict.”

Taheri, who has no religious training, founded a spiritual movement and practiced alternative medicine, following what he presented as spiritual messages.

After a brief arrest in 2010, he was rearrested in May 2011 and held in solitary confinement. He was sentenced to death in June for “insulting Islamic sanctities” and “corruption on earth.”

In August, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, called for the immediate release of Taheri.

— AFP

Netanyahu dismisses Shin Bet torture claims

Prime Minister Netanyahu defends the Shin Bet from accusations that, in an effort to extract confessions, the security agency has been torturing the Jewish suspects in a firebombing attack that killed three members of a Palestinian family in July.

Responding to a query on the matter from Knesset Member Miki Zohar at the weekly Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu asserts that “all of the interrogations are conducted lawfully, and with the oversight of the attorney general and the court,” according to Haaretz.

“Contrary to the claims, no one is diverging from the rules,” he says.

The prime minister goes on to say that the law is “the same for Jews, Arabs, Christians and Circassians.”

As officials indicated they would be moving toward indictments in the case in the coming days, the detainees held in connection with the firebombing of the Dawabsha home in Duma have alleged abuse at the hands of their interrogators.

One detainee reportedly alleged that he had tried to slit his wrists in despair over harsh interrogation methods, a claim swiftly denied by the Shin Bet security service.

Some of them have also been denied meetings with an attorney.

The arrests of the suspects, which have come amid a general crackdown on Jewish extremists in the wake of the attack, have angered many right-wing Jewish activists.

On Sunday, some night 300 people blocked a road at the entrance to Jerusalem in protest, and clashed with police.

Times of Israel staff contributed

Teen Palestinian arrested today was planning attack — police

The Israel Police sends out an update regarding a 15-year-old Palestinian girl who was arrested earlier today with a knife on her person in Jerusalem’s Old City on suspicion that she intended to carry out an attack.

Police say that the knife was stashed away in a hidden pocket in the girl’s sleeve.

After arresting her, police realized that she had already been picked up by officers two weeks ago with knives that she claimed she had bought for her home.

She was released a few days later, police say.

She is currently undergoing interrogation.

Abbas says new passports will refer to Palestinian state

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says his national authority proposes to change its name on passports it issues to State of Palestine.

Abbas says this will happen in about a year at the most, replacing the name Palestinian Authority.

He speaks after talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Abbas arrived in Greece on Sunday, and is due to address the country’s Parliament on Tuesday.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas pays tribute during a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in central Athens, on Monday, December 21, 2015 (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas pays tribute during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in central Athens, December 21, 2015. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

— AP

Navy seizes two Palestinian fishing boats near Gaza

The Israel Navy seizes two boats from Gaza fisherman who ventured beyond the waters where Israel allows Palestinians to fish, according to reports.

The fishermen are taken to the Ashdod port for questioning.

Rivlin hosts terror victims for their bar and bat mitzvahs

President Reuven Rivlin throws a bar and bat mitzvah party at his official residence for 58 survivors of terror attacks.

“You young people, who make up the family of the victims of terrorism, have had to handle some of these pressures too soon and too quickly,” the president tells the children.

“From an early age you handled loss, pain, responsibility, changes and physical and mental difficulties,” he says.

“You have had to grow up prematurely and often abruptly. There are those of you who were born into bereavement. They know the father, mother, sister or brother who was taken away in a disaster, only from stories and pictures.”

President Reuven Rivlin celebrates the bar and bat mitzvahs of child terror victims at his Jerusalem residence on Monday, December 21, 2015 (Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin celebrates the bar and bat mitzvahs of child terror victims at his Jerusalem residence, December 21, 2015. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

Nasrallah blames Israel for Kuntar’s killing

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is delivering an address in the wake of the assassination — allegedly at Israel’s hands — of the terrorist Samir Kuntar on Saturday night.

During his televised speech, he accuses Israel of firing guided missiles at the building that houses Kuntar.

“We have no doubt that the Israeli enemy was behind the assassination in a blatant military operation,” he says, according to the Naharnet news site.

He also condemns Syrian reports to the effect that it wasn’t Israel, but rather rebels, who killed Kuntar.

He refuses to comment on reports that the Israeli jets fired their missiles from within Israeli territory.

Nasrallah says Kuntar was ready to ‘return to Palestine’

Nasrallah says Kuntar was prepared to “return to Palestine” to wage war on Israel.

Nasrallah praises young Palestinians who attack Israel

Nasrallah says the fight against Israel is “eternal” and will continue “no matter what.”

He also discusses the Palestinian youths who have been carrying out attacks against Israel, and notes that Kuntar was only a teenager himself when he carried out his notorious attack, in which four Israelis, including three members of a single family, were killed.

He waxes poetic in his description of one female teenager, whom he reportedly describes as a “flower.”

Nasrallah vows revenge for Kuntar’s death

He’s now vowing to avenge Kuntar’s death, as expected.

https://twitter.com/Hoda_Elsayed1/status/679013508323942401

Nasrallah dismisses US ‘lies’ about Hezbollah

Moving on, Nasrallah is now discussing recent American sanctions against Hezbollah, which he dismisses as “lies” stemming from a “political game” being played by Washington.

https://www.facebook.com/srh313/posts/1119801338037506

US President Barack Obama had signed into law Friday legislation designed to tighten sanctions against Nasrallah’s group.

The legislation, formally titled the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015, will impose tougher sanctions on banks that knowingly do business with the organization.

— Rebecca Shimoni Stoil contributed

UN warns Islamic State on the rise in Afghanistan

The UN Security Council extends sanctions against the Taliban for 18 months in a resolution that warns of the increasing presence and potential growth of Islamic State affiliates in Afghanistan.

The council expresses serious concern about “the ongoing violent and terrorist activities” by the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other violent extremist groups in Afghanistan. The resolution is passed unanimously.

Nicholas Haysom, the UN envoy for Afghanistan, tells the council that the country is grappling with an intensified conflict “with much reduced international military support” but has made it through the first year of political transition — “an achievement in itself.”

Afghanistan’s UN Ambassador Mahmoud Saikal says the country “will not be defeated by extremist elements.”

— AP

IDF post comes under fire in West Bank

 

An IDF post comes under fire in the Hebron Hills area of the southern West Bank.

There are no injuries or damage caused. The shooting is the second attack on the site in 24 hours, NRG says.

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Zionist Union preps for Knesset elections

Isaac Herzog, leader of the opposition Zionist Union, announces that his party has begun preparing for the next Knesset vote and has established an elections headquarters to coordinate its activities.

Addressing his party’s weekly faction meeting, Herzog predicts that, seeing as how Prime Minister Netanyahu is “tired and susceptible to [political] extortion,” the elections will take place sometime in 2016, less than two years after the previous vote.

“In recent months, and more so in recent days, it’s become clear to everyone that the time has come for change,” says Herzog, who is reportedly seeking to postpone his party’s leadership primary until 2017 in order to retain his role.