Netanyahu will advance controversial NGO bill, with revisions

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Bennett, Foreign Ministry make up

The Foreign Ministry has canceled a boycott of Education Minister Naftali Bennett after a meeting.

The education minister apologized for his comment questioning the “DNA of the Foreign Ministry,” and says he did not intend to offend the diplomatic employees. The Foreign Ministry then calls off its protest.

Pope welcomes 5,000 migrants in Rome prayers

Pope Francis on Sunday welcomes 5,000 migrant worshipers at a special mass at St. Peter’s to mark the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, urging them to treasure their “culture and precious values.

“Your presence here at this square is a sign of hope in God. Don’t let yourselves be stripped of this hope and joy of living,” he says at the close of his weekly Angelus prayer.

Francis has repeatedly called on European states to welcome people fleeing war and misery amid the Continent’s worst migrant crisis since World War II.

After the prayer, the pope hails “with great affection the ethnic communities present” in the Vatican City and “the people who help and welcome” the migrants.

“Dear migrants and refugees, each of you carries a story, a culture and precious values,” Francis says.

“Alas, many of you have experienced misery, oppression and fear.”

 AFP

Migrants gather in St Peter's Square at the Vatican to follow Pope Francis Sunday Angelus prayer part of the International Migrants Day on January 17, 2016. (AFP / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE)

Migrants gather in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican to follow Pope Francis’s Angelus prayer, part of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees on January 17, 2016.
(AFP/Filippo Monteforte)

Czech leader says Muslims ‘impossible to integrate’ into Europe

Czech President Milos Zeman, known for his fiery anti-migrant comments, says on Sunday that it is almost impossible to integrate the Muslim community into European society.

“The experience of Western European countries which have ghettos and excluded localities shows that the integration of the Muslim community is practically impossible,” Zeman says in a televised interview.

“Let them have their culture in their countries and not take it to Europe, otherwise it will end up like Cologne,” he adds, referring to the mass New Year’s Eve assaults on women in Germany and elsewhere.

“Integration is possible with cultures that are similar, and the similarities may vary,” pointing out that the Vietnamese and Ukrainian communities had been able to integrate into Czech society.

Zeman, a 71-year-old left-winger and the first-ever directly elected president of the Czech Republic, has repeatedly spoken out against the surge of migrant and refugee arrivals in Europe.

— AFP

Academic body reaffirms opposition to Israel boycotts

Days after the American Historical Association decisively rejected a resolution denouncing Israel, the Washington, DC-based Association of American Universities reaffirms its opposition to boycotts against Israeli academic institutions.

In a statement issued Thursday, the AHA says it is reissuing its executive committee’s 2013 statement on boycotts because the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association recently approved a resolution in support of a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

The full membership of the anthropologists’ group — more than 10,000 scholars — is to vote on the resolution later this year. The American Studies Association and the Asian-American Studies Association have passed similar resolutions.

 JTA

Ex-Marine freed in Iran exchange, family says

Amir Hekmati, a former US Marine who was facing a death sentence in Iran as an alleged spy, has been released by Tehran, his family says Sunday, adding they were told he was on a plane leaving the country.

“Today, our brother, son and friend Amir Hekmati has been released from Iran. We have now been officially told that he is on a plane leaving the country,” the family says in a statement. “It is hard to put into words what our family feels right now. But we remain in hopeful anticipation until Amir is in our arms.”

— AFP

Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine held in Iran over the past two years on accusations of spying for the CIA. (photo credit: Hekmati family/FreeAmir.org)

Amir Hekmati, a former US Marine held in Iran over the past two years on accusations of spying for the CIA. (Hekmati family/FreeAmir.org)

Rouhani says skeptics of Iran deal ‘proven wrong’

President Hassan Rouhani says Sunday that skeptics who said a nuclear deal with world powers would not bring benefits to Iran “were all proven wrong.

“Within a few hours” of the nuclear deal being implemented and sanctions lifted, “1,000 lines of credit were opened by various banks,” Rouhani tells reporters in Tehran.

“This showed that those who used to say, ‘Do not believe’ were mistaken.”

— AFP

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (C) arrives to parliament ahead of presenting the proposed annual budget in the capital Tehran, on January 17, 2016, after sanctions were lifted under Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers. (AFP / ATTA KENARE)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (center) arrives at parliament to present the proposed annual budget in Tehran, on January 17, 2016, after sanctions were lifted under Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers. (AFP/Atta Kenare)

UN chief hails Iran-US prisoner swap

UN chief Ban Ki-moon says he welcomes the news that a number of Americans detained in Iran, including a Washington Post journalist, have been released along with a number of Iranians held by the United States.

On Sunday he commends “moves by the governments of both countries to improve ties.”

He adds that he is “heartened by the lifting of sanctions against Iran” as part of a landmark nuclear deal reached last year.

He says “now is the moment to push the cooperation on other pressing challenges through dialogue, which should continue to guide the way toward a safer future.”

Ban is speaking in Dubai at the opening of an event about improving the delivery of international humanitarian aid.

— AP

Kuwait Air to end NY-UK run over refusal to carry Israelis

Kuwait Air is ending its New York to London service after the Department of Transportation did not relent in its requirement that the airline carry Israeli passengers.

“The US Department of Transportation will not tolerate unlawful discrimination, and has mandated that the airline immediately cease that practice and allow Israeli passengers to travel between the US and London,” Anthony Foxx, the transportation secretary, says in a statement on Friday. “In light of our demands, Kuwait Airways has chosen to cease passenger service from New York JFK airport to London Heathrow by January 18.”

The department had informed Kuwait Air last September that its policies were in violation of US law. The determination came after a complaint by Eldad Gatt, an Israeli citizen who in 2013 wanted to travel on an Israeli passport from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport to Heathrow Airport in London.

Kuwait Air in an October response to the department said that Kuwait law banned the transport of Israeli citizens/passport holders, and argued that implementing this policy in the United States did not violate US law.

— JTA

Freed Washington Post reporter leaves Iran — report

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian has been released from Evin Prison in Tehran and has left Iran, his newspaper says in a statement Sunday.

The Post also says it is “pleased to see that Iran released four other Americans,” but gives no further details.

“We are relieved that this 545-day nightmare for Jason and his family is finally over,” says the statement signed by Post publisher Frederick Ryan. Rezaian leaves Iran on a plane with his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, the statement says, without saying if any of the other Americans freed are also on board.

Iranian TV reports that four of the Iranian-Americans released by the US as part of the prisoner exchange are en route to Switzerland.

— AFP, Times of Israel staff

Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American correspondent for The Washington Post, smiles as he attends a presidential campaign of President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran, Iran, April 11, 2013. (AP/Vahid Salemi, File)

Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American correspondent for The Washington Post, smiles as he attends a presidential campaign of President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran, Iran, April 11, 2013. (AP/Vahid Salemi, File)

Air force drills in central Israel

The Israeli military is carrying out an aerial exercise over Sde Dov Airport and northern Tel Aviv.

— Judah Ari Gross

Airstrikes on Syria’s Raqqa said to kill 40 civilians

Airstrikes on the Islamic State group’s Syrian bastion of Raqqa on Saturday killed 40 civilians, including children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor says on Sunday.

The Britain-based group says it is unclear if the strikes were carried out by regime or Russian planes, adding that eight children were among those killed.

— AFP

Tight security as pope set to visit Rome synagogue

Hundreds of armed police and security personnel are deployed in Rome Sunday as Pope Francis prepares to visit the city’s main synagogue, where he will meet members of the Italian capital’s Jewish community.

Rome’s Great Synagogue is located just across the River Tiber from the Vatican, in an area still known as the Ghetto where under the orders of some of Francis’s predecessors, Jews were confined for more than three centuries until their emancipation at the end of the 19th Century.

Some 1,500 invited guests and 300 journalists are expected to witness the visit, due around 4:00pm (1500 GMT) on Sunday.

Francis is the third pope to visit the synagogue, after John-Paul II in 1986 and Benedict XVI in 2010, underlining greatly improved relations between the two faiths.

Ties have become warmer still under Francis, who has a long-standing friendship with Argentinian rabbi Abraham Skorka, with whom he jointly published a book of conversations about issues of ethics, morality and faith.

As part of his visit, the pope will view two commemorative plaques in the synagogue’s gardens, one marking an incident in 1943 when more than 1,000 Jews were rounded up and deported to the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz and the other a 1983 attack on the building that left 37 injured and one dead.

— AFP

FILE - A March 26, 1986 photo from files showing an interior view of the Great Synagogue of Rome. (AP Photo/File)

An interior view of the Great Synagogue of Rome, March 26, 1986. (AP/File)

17 Syrians face charges over Istanbul bombing — report

Turkey’s state-run news agency says 17 Syrians with suspected links to the suicide bomber who killed 10 Germans are being questioned by officials at an Istanbul court where they could face charges of membership in a terror group.

The Anadolu Agency says the 17 were referred to court Sunday following police questioning. It says separate proceedings against an 18th suspect — a minor — are still ongoing.

The suicide bomber set off an explosion Tuesday near German tourists just steps away from Istanbul’s landmark Blue Mosque, killing 10 of them. Turkish officials say the bomber, a Syrian, was affiliated with the Islamic State group. No group has claimed the attack.

There is no information on the suspects or on their alleged links to the bomber.

— AP

Turkish police stand guard next to ambulances as they block access to the Blue Mosque area after a suicide bombing in Istanbul's tourist hub of Sultanahmet on January 12, 2016, in which 10 German tourists were killed. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

Turkish police stand guard next to ambulances as they block access to the Blue Mosque area after a suicide bombing in Istanbul’s tourist hub of Sultanahmet on January 12, 2016, in which 10 German tourists were killed. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

IDF confirms Palestinian would-be attacker’s death

The army confirms that the Palestinian would-be stabber has died of his wounds.

It says the assailant tried to stab Israeli soldiers at the scene, who proceeded to open fire and shoot him.

Germany says reviving Iran ties will take time

Germany’s economy minister says that reviving economic and financial ties with Iran will take time.

Western sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program were lifted after the UN nuclear agency certified Saturday that Tehran had met all of its commitments under last year’s landmark agreement with world powers.

Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who is also Germany’s vice chancellor, says in a statement Sunday that the move offers “the chance to open a new chapter in German-Iranian economic relations.”

But he adds that “the revival of German-Iranian economic, and especially financial, relations is a long-term process.”

Gabriel plans to chair a meeting of a German-Iranian economic commission in Tehran in May.

— AP

Would-be stabber reportedly dies of wounds

The Palestinian who attempted to stab Israelis near Nablus reportedly dies of his wounds.

Attempted stabbing near Nablus

A Palestinian attempts to stab Israelis near the West Bank city of Nablus. Soldiers on the scene shoot and disarm the would-be attacker. His condition was not immediately known.

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