Tel Aviv, Nov 19 (AP/UNB) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he would take on the defense minister portfolio, rejecting calls to dissolve his government even as early elections appeared increasingly likely.
Netanyahu said heading to elections now, amid repeated violent confrontations with Gaza militants, was "irresponsible" of his coalition partners, who have been pushing for early polls since the resignation last week of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman over a Gaza cease-fire.
"Today, I take on for the first time the position of defense minister," said Netanyahu, speaking from Israel's defense headquarters in Tel Aviv in a statement broadcast live at the top of the evening newscasts.
"We are in one of the most complex security situations and during a period like this, you don't topple a government. During a period like this you don't go to elections," he said.
The sudden coalition crisis was sparked by the resignation of the hawkish Lieberman, who had demanded a far stronger response last week to the most massive wave of rocket attacks on Israel since the 2014 Israel-Hamas war. He alleges the cease-fire agreement reached with Gaza's Hamas rulers will put southern Israel under a growing threat from the group, similar to that posed to northern Israel by Lebanon's heavily armed Hezbollah group.
The departure of Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu party leaves the coalition with a one-seat majority in the 120-member parliament. Netanyahu's other partners say that makes governing untenable and would leave the coalition susceptible to the extortion of any single lawmaker until elections scheduled for November 2019.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, has already threatened to bring down the government if he is not appointed defense minister. He and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, also of Jewish Home, are set to deliver a statement to the media Monday. If the party leaves the coalition, it would strip Netanyahu of his parliamentary majority.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, another senior partner, says another year of such instability will harm the economy. A meeting between him and Netanyahu Sunday meant to convince Kahlon to stay ended with no results.
Netanyahu's Likud allies are already preparing to pin the blame on coalition partners if the effort to salvage the government fails.
"I think that there is no reason to shorten the term of a national government, not even for one day, and at this moment it's in the hands of the education minister and the finance minister," said Gilad Erdan, the minister of public security.
No Israeli government has served out its full term since 1988. Since then, elections have almost always been moved up because of a coalition crisis or a strategic move by the prime minister to maximize his chances of re-election.
Though Netanyahu has been reportedly flirting with the idea of moving up elections himself in recent months, the current timing is not ideal for him.
He has come under heavy criticism for agreeing to the Gaza cease-fire, especially from within his own political base and in the working-class, rocket-battered towns in southern Israel that are typically strongholds of his Likud Party. But with Lieberman forcing his hand and the other coalition partners appearing eager to head to the polls he may not have a choice.
Most opinion polls show Netanyahu easily securing re-election, which would secure him a place in Israeli history as the country's longest serving leader. But several factors could trip him up, including a potential corruption indictment that could knock him out of contention.
Police have recommended he be indicted on bribery and breach of trust charges in two cases and have questioned him at length on another. The country has long been eagerly awaiting the attorney general's decision on whether to press charges.
Netanyahu has angrily dismissed the accusations against him, characterizing them as part of a media-driven witch-hunt that is obsessed with removing him from office.
Chico, Nov 19 (AP/UNB) — Volunteers in white coveralls, hard hats and masks poked through ash and debris Sunday, searching for the remains of victims of the devastating Northern California wildfire before rains forecast this week complicate their efforts.
While the predicted downpours could help tamp down blazes that have killed 77 people so far, they also could wash away telltale fragments of bone, or turn loose, dry ash into a thick paste that would frustrate the search.
A team of 10 volunteers went from burned house to burned house Sunday in the devastated town of Paradise, accompanied by a cadaver dog with a bell on its collar that jingled in the grim landscape.
The members of the team scrutinized the rubble in five-minute sweeps, using sticks to move aside debris and focused on vehicles, bathtubs and what was left of mattresses. When no remains were found, they spray-painted a large, orange "0'' near the house.
Up to 400 people were involved in the overall search and recovery effort. Robert Panak, a volunteer on a different team from Napa County, spent the morning searching homes, but didn't find any remains.
Asked whether the job was tough, the 50-year-old volunteer said, "I just think about the positives, bringing relief to the families, closure."
He said his approach was to try to picture the house before it burned and think where people might have hidden.
Nearly 1,300 names are on a list of people unaccounted for more than a week after the fire began in Butte County, authorities said late Saturday. They stressed that the long roster does not mean they believe all those on the list are missing.
Sheriff Kory Honea pleaded with evacuees to review the list of those reported as unreachable by family and friends and to call the department if those people are known to be safe.
Deputies have located hundreds of people to date, but the overall number keeps growing because they are adding more names, including those from the chaotic early hours of the disaster, Honea said.
"As much as I wish that we could get through all of this before the rains come, I don't know if that's possible," he said.
Honea said it was within the "realm of possibility" that officials would never know the exact death toll from the blaze.
On Sunday afternoon, more than 50 people gathered at a memorial for the victims at First Christian Church in Chico, where a banner on the altar read, "We will rise from the ashes."
People hugged and shed tears as Pastor Jesse Kearns recited a prayer for first responders: "We ask for continued strength as they are growing weary right now."
Hundreds of search and recovery personnel are involved in the effort, going to homes when they receive tips that someone might have died there.
But they are also doing a more comprehensive, "door-to-door" and "car-to-car" search of areas, said Joe Moses, a commander with the Monterey County Sheriff's Office, who is helping oversee the search and rescue effort.
The search area is huge, Moses said, with many structures that need to be checked.
The fire also burned many places to the ground, creating a landscape unique to many search-and- rescue personnel, he said.
"Here we're looking for very small parts and pieces, and so we have to be very diligent and systematic in how we do your searches," he said Friday.
The remains of five more people were found Saturday, including four in Paradise and one in nearby Concow, bringing the number of dead to 77.
Among them was Lolene Rios, 56, whose son, Jed, tearfully told KXTV in Sacramento that his mother had an "endless amount of love" for him.
President Donald Trump toured the area Saturday, joined by California's outgoing and incoming governors, both Democrats who have traded sharp barbs with the Republican administration. Trump also visited Southern California, where firefighters were making progress on a wildfire that tore through communities west of Los Angeles from Thousand Oaks to Malibu, killing three people.
"We've never seen anything like this in California; we've never seen anything like this yet. It's like total devastation," Trump said as he stood amid the ruins of Paradise and pledged the full support of the federal government.
Soon after the fire began, Trump blamed state officials for poor forest management and threatened to cut off federal funding.
"He's got our back," outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"There have been some back and forth between California leaders and the president," Brown said. "But in the face of tragedy, people tend to rise above some of their lesser propensities. So I think we're on a good path."
He also suggested California's severe wildfires will make believers of even the most ardent climate change skeptics "in less than five years," and that those living near forests might need to build underground shelters to protect them from fires.
Rain was forecast for midweek in the Paradise area. The National Weather Service said the area could get 20 mph (32 kph) sustained winds and 40 mph (64 kph) gusts, which could make it hard for crews to keep making progress against the blaze.
Northern California's Camp Fire has destroyed about 10,500 homes and torched 233 square miles (603 square kilometers). It was 65 percent contained.
Honea expressed hope that Trump's visit would help with recovery, saying the tour by the Republican president and California's Democratic leaders "signals a spirit of cooperation here that ultimately benefit this community and get us on a path toward recovery."
Washington, Nov 19 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump said there is no reason for him to listen to a recording of the "very violent, very vicious" killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which has put him in a diplomatic bind: how to admonish Riyadh for the slaying yet maintain strong ties with a close ally.
Trump, in an interview that aired Sunday, made clear that the audio recording, supplied by the Turkish government, would not affect his response to the Oct. 2 killing of Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post who had been critical of the Saudi royal family.
"It's a suffering tape, it's a terrible tape. I've been fully briefed on it, there's no reason for me to hear it," Trump said in the interview with "Fox News Sunday." ''I know everything that went on in the tape without having to hear it."
On Saturday, Trump said his administration will "be having a very full report over the next two days, probably Monday or Tuesday." He said the report will include "who did it." It was unclear if the report would be made public.
American intelligence agencies have concluded that the crown prince ordered the killing in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey, according to a U.S. official familiar with the assessment. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Others familiar with the case caution that while it's likely the crown prince was involved in the death, there continue to be questions about what role he played.
Trump noted to "Fox News Sunday" that the crown prince has repeatedly denied being involved in the killing inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
"Will anybody really know?" Trump asked. "At the same time, we do have an ally, and I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good."
A Republican member of the Senate intelligence committee said that so far, there is no "smoking gun" linking the crown prince to the killing. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who has received a confidential intelligence briefing on the matter, told ABC that "it's hard to imagine" that the crown prince didn't know about the killing, but he said, "I don't know that we absolutely know that yet."
He said that Congress will await the Trump administration's report in the next two days and that the U.S. will need to be clear about the ramifications of sanctions, given Saudi Arabia's strategic role in the Middle East.
For his part, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said the crown prince has been a "wrecking ball" in the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
"I hate to say that because I had a lot of hope for him being the reformer that Saudi Arabia needs, but that ship has sailed as far as Lindsey Graham's concerned," the South Carolina Republican told NBC's "Meet the Press."
"I have no intention of working with him ever again," said Graham, who is in line to be the next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Intelligence officials have been providing information to Trump for weeks about the death, and he was briefed again by phone Saturday by CIA Director Gina Haspel and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as he flew to California. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders provided no details of his call but said the president has confidence in the CIA.
"The United States government is determined to hold all those responsible for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi accountable," the State Department said in a statement. "Recent reports indicating that the U.S. government has made a final conclusion are inaccurate. There remain numerous unanswered questions with respect to the murder of Mr. Khashoggi."
The statement added: "The U.S. government has taken decisive measures against the individuals responsible, including visa and sanctions actions. We will continue to explore additional measures to hold those accountable who planned, led and were connected to the murder. And, we will do that while maintaining the important strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia."
Before his call on Air Force One, Trump told reporters that when it came to the crown prince, "as of this moment we were told that he did not play a role. We're going to have to find out what they have to say." That echoed remarks by national security adviser John Bolton, who said earlier this week that people who have listened to an audio recording of the killing do not think it implicates the crown prince.
Trump has called the killing a botched operation that was carried out very poorly and has said "the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups."
But he has resisted calls to cut off arms sales to the kingdom and has been reluctant to antagonize the Saudi rulers. Trump considers the Saudis vital allies in his Mideast agenda.
But members of Congress are pushing Trump for a tougher response to the killing. The administration this past week penalized 17 Saudi officials for their alleged role in the killing, but American lawmakers have called on the administration to curtail arms sales to Saudi Arabia or take other harsher punitive measures.
Turkish and Saudi authorities say Khashoggi, a Saudi who lived in the United States, was killed inside the consulate by a team from the kingdom after he went there to get marriage documents.
New York, Nov 19 (AP/UNB) — Even before they announce their White House intentions, New Hampshire's ambitious neighbors are in the midst of a shadow campaign to shape the nation's first presidential primary election of the 2020 season.
Democrats on the ground expect a rush of presidential announcements soon after New Year's. That could include as many as five high-profile candidates from neighboring states, a historically large contingent of New Englanders led by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Both have quietly begun courting potential staff, top activists and elected officials.
At the same time, outsiders like New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker are fighting for a foothold in the state, which will hold tremendous power in the selection of the next Democratic presidential nominee.
He has not publicly declared his intention to run, but Booker already has the backing of former President Barack Obama's New Hampshire co-chairman Jim Demers, who raised concerns about the home-turf advantage for several prospective Democratic contenders already jockeying for position from neighboring states.
"I do think that it is an obstacle for other candidates," Demers said. "History is on the side of the neighbors."
Leading New Hampshire Democrats have already raised the possibility of dual winners emerging in the all-important expectations game over the coming year — one for the New Englanders and another for the many outsiders in what is expected to be a massive group of Democrats running for the chance to deny President Donald Trump a second term.
Historically, no state has played a more important role in culling the presidential field than New Hampshire, which traditionally holds the nation's first primary contest following the Iowa caucuses. Typically, a candidate must win — or, just as important, exceed expectations — to earn the necessary political support and fundraising to sustain the grueling state-by-state primary trek ahead.
"This may break into two primaries: the fight between the next-door neighbors and the others," said Terry Shumaker, a prominent backer of Bill and Hillary Clinton's New Hampshire campaigns.
History suggests that geography matters.
Virtually every time a New Englander has run in a New Hampshire Democratic primary dating back to John F. Kennedy in 1960, a New Englander has won. All but two have gone on to win the party's presidential nomination.
The primary winners include Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis; Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas, who beat Bill Clinton in 1992; Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry; and Sanders, who defeated Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire's 2016 contest. Only Tsongas and Sanders failed to win the party nomination.
Kerry, who served as secretary of state in the Obama administration, has not ruled out a 2020 run. Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Massachusetts congressman Seth Moulton are more actively considering bids.
Aides to all five prospects, speaking on condition of anonymity to share internal discussions, conceded that presidential runs were possible, if not likely.
Sanders, 77, is considering a 2020 bid, a senior aide said. He is expected to make a final decision before Christmas, though an announcement is not expected until after New Year's.
Sanders' team has been in regular contact with former staff and its broad base of supporters in New Hampshire and elsewhere, in addition to reaching out to some former Clinton backers. Should he run, the team sees Sanders with the biggest head start in New Hampshire of any candidate.
Warren did not visit New Hampshire ahead of the midterms, but she quietly dispatched staff to help Democrats there while hosting at least one private fundraiser for the New Hampshire Democratic Party in Boston. She made close to 150 calls to top Democratic candidates in recent days, both midterm winners and losers, including several in New Hampshire.
Like other 2020 prospects in the Senate, Warren, 69, is unlikely to make any announcements before Congress passes a new spending bill to avoid a government shutdown in early December. And while she hasn't made any formal staffing moves yet, former chief of staff Dan Geldon and former Massachusetts state director Roger Lau, who is well-versed in New Hampshire, are expected to be part of her presidential team should she run.
Patrick, who served as Massachusetts' governor from 2007 to 2015, has few formal political connections to New Hampshire, but he enjoys greater name recognition than most because New Hampshire's most populous regions share the Boston television market.
Former Obama aides including Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod have encouraged a Patrick 2020 bid from afar. The 62-year-old African-American former governor ramped up political travel in the final weeks of the midterm elections, making appearances in South Carolina, Florida and Mississippi.
Two former Patrick aides have independently launched the "Reason to Believe" political action committee and begun courting prospective staff in early voting states.
Two-term Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, whose district borders New Hampshire, is also seriously contemplating a run. While he may lack the renown of some of his rivals, the 40-year-old former Marine captain has shown little deference to his political elders, emerging as a leading critic of top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi.
Closing out the list, Kerry has repeatedly refused to rule out a second bid when asked publicly. He is wrapping up a national book tour, but there is no sign he is taking steps to lay the groundwork for a serious run.
New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley issued a warning, as New Hampshire officials often do, for any candidate who may be thinking about skipping New Hampshire and focusing on other early-voting states. Top Democrats in the state have noticed, for example, that California Sen. Kamala Harris has been active in Iowa and South Carolina, but has largely ignored New Hampshire so far.
"People have tried that before and it's never worked," Buckley said.
Liz Purdy, who led Clinton's New Hampshire efforts, offered a simple solution for non-New Englanders concerned about their competitors' geographic advantage.
"One thing that New Hampshire rewards is that hard work of meeting people, listening to them, answering questions, and anyone can do that," she said. "As long as they're willing to put in the work, anyone can win here."
Guatemala City, Nov 19 (AP/UNB) — Disaster coordination authorities have asked eight communities in Guatemala to evacuate and go to safe areas after an increased eruption of the Volcano of Fire.
The volcano is located between the departments of Escuintla, Chimaltenango and Sacatepéquez in the south-central part of the country.
David de León, spokesman for the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction, told The Associated Press that at least eight communities should leave.
De León said monitoring of the volcano's activity during the day showed the intensity of the eruption was being maintained, so the evacuation was called for to protect people.
An eruption of the volcano in June killed 194 people and left at least 234 missing, although organizations supporting the communities have insisted there are thousands of missing persons.