Jerusalem, Jan 7 (AP/UNB) — Moshe Arens, a former Israeli defense minister, foreign minister and an early political mentor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, died Monday. He was 93.
An engineer by training, the American-raised Arens was instrumental in developing Israel's military and aircraft industries and served three stints as the country's defense minister. He was a longtime stalwart in the hawkish Likud party.
In the early 1980s, Arens was the first to recognize the skills of a young Benjamin Netanyahu, who then was running an anti-terror institute and working in marketing. Arens took Netanyahu under his wing and brought him into Israeli politics.
"There was no greater patriot. Moshe Arens' great contribution to our people and our state will be remembered forever," Netanyahu said in a statement.
Addressing Arens by his nickname Misha, Netanyahu concluded: "I loved you as a son loved his father."
Arens was born in Lithuania in 1925 but grew up in the United States, where he was active in the Beitar youth movement of Likud's precursor, the Herut party of Menachem Begin. He served in the American military during World War II before immigrating to Israel in 1948.
After completing his engineering degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology, Arens settled in Israel permanently. He worked as a professor of aeronautics at the Technion — the Israel Institute of Technology — and as an executive at Israel Aircraft Industries before going into politics. Arens was first elected to parliament in 1973.
In 1982, he was appointed Israeli ambassador to the United States and named his young protégé Netanyahu as his deputy. The position gave Netanyahu great exposure, led to his posting as ambassador to the United Nations and launched his political career.
Arens later became a columnist for the liberal Haaretz newspaper and won numerous awards in Israel and overseas.
President Reuven Rivlin remembered Arens as a pillar of the Likud's ideological wing, and "a man of honor who never flinched from the fight."
"Misha was one of the most important ministers of defense the state of Israel ever had. He was not a commander or a general, but a devoted man of learning who toiled day and night for the security of Israel and its citizens," Rivlin said.
Arens is survived by his wife Muriel, four children and numerous grandchildren.
London, Jan 6 (AP/UNB) — British Prime Minister Theresa May said Sunday that a delayed vote in Parliament on her Brexit deal will "definitely" go ahead later this month, as she promised to set out measures to win over skeptical lawmakers.
May told the BBC that in the coming days she will give more details about measures addressing Northern Ireland and concern over the Irish "backstop." She also promised a greater role for Parliament in negotiations over future trade relations with the European Union as a sweetener, and added that "we are still working on" getting extra assurances from Brussels to secure domestic support for her deal.
May struck a withdrawal agreement with the EU in November, but that deal needs Parliament's approval. In December, May decided to postpone a parliamentary vote intended to ratify the agreement at the last minute after it became clear that it would be overwhelmingly defeated in the House of Commons.
Lawmakers are resuming debate on the deal Wednesday, before a vote expected to be held around Jan. 15.
If the deal is voted down, Britain risks crashing out of the EU on March 29 with no agreement in place, a messy outcome that could plunge the country into its worst recession for decades.
May's Brexit deal is unpopular with British lawmakers across the spectrum, and the main sticking point is the insurance policy known as the backstop — a measure that would keep the U.K. tied to EU customs rules in order to guarantee there is no hard border between the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, and the U.K.'s Northern Ireland, which won't belong to the bloc after Brexit.
EU officials have insisted that the withdrawal agreement can't be renegotiated, although they also stressed that the backstop was meant only as a temporary measure of last resort.
As part of her efforts to win support for her deal, May on Sunday reiterated that the agreement she negotiated was the only one that respects the 2016 referendum result, protects jobs and provides certainty to people and businesses.
She warned in the Mail on Sunday newspaper that critics of her Brexit deal risk damaging Britain's democracy and its economy by opposing her plan.
Tehran, Jan 6 (Xinhua/UNB) -- Iran and Russia are planning to hold naval drills in the Caspian Sea, the commander of the Iranian navy said on Sunday.
"Tactical, rescue and anti-piracy war games between Iranian and Russian naval forces are being planned and will be implemented in the near future," Iranian news agency Mehr quoted Navy Commander Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi as saying.
Khanzadi said the joint exercise is part of an expansion of bilateral cooperation between the two countries and will "lead us eventually to strategic and tactical cooperation at a very high level at sea."
"We have established a very good and lasting relationship with the countries in the Caspian Sea region, which today has taken a traditional form, and the countries in the region understand each other well. The Caspian Sea is entirely enclosed by land and its security is provided by the countries bordering the region," Khanzadi added.
It is not the first time for the two countries to hold naval drills in the Caspian Sea together. They have held two joint naval exercises in 2015 and 2017.
Serbia, Jan 6 (AP/UNB) — Thousands of people have braved snow and freezing temperatures in Serbia's capital to turn up for the fifth week of street protests against populist President Aleksandar Vucic.
The demonstrators marched through downtown Belgrade blowing whistles and booing and jeering loudly as they passed the Serbian presidency building on Saturday. Some carried Serbian flags and banners reading "We are the people" or "Down with the thieves."
The demonstrations started after thugs beat up an opposition leader in November, putting pressure on Vucic.
Critics accuse the president of imposing an autocracy through strict control over the media and promoting hate speech against opponents.
Vucic rejects being labeled as domineering and has suggested he might call an early election this year. A former extreme nationalist, he has held office saying he favors Serbia joining the European Union.
Poland, Jan 6(AP/UNB) — A faulty heating system appeared to have caused a fire at a house in northern Poland where five teenage girls died while locked inside a recreational escape room that was installed in the rented dwelling, investigators said Saturday.
Firefighters in the city of Koszalin found the bodies of the 15-year-old victims Friday after they extinguished a fire in a room adjacent to the one the girls had entered while celebrating a birthday.
Autopsies showed the girls died of carbon monoxide asphyxiation, prosecutors said, using a technical term for smoke inhalation.
A 26-year-old man employed at the location was hospitalized with burns.
Players in escape room games are locked inside a room or building and must solve puzzles and find clues that lead them to the key that will unlock the door. Regarded as an intellectual challenge, the games are highly popular among teenagers in Poland.
Koszalin prosecutor Ryszard Gasiorowski said a leak in a bottled gas heating system was a probable cause of the fire. Earlier, firefighters blamed faulty electric wiring and substandard security procedures.
"Preliminary findings suggest that the fire was caused by an unsealed gas container inside a heater," Gasiorowski said.
The fire broke out in a part of the detached house that was being used as a reception room for the entertainment venue and blocked the employee's way to the girls, he said.
Firefighters and other witnesses were questioned, but the injured employee's condition prevented investigators from interviewing him immediately, Gasiorowski said.
Earlier Saturday, national firefighters' chief Leszek Suski said there was evidence of "a lot of negligence" at the venue, including makeshift electrical wiring too close to flammable materials and the absence of a proper evacuation route.
"Security was not ensured, and that led to the tragedy," Suski said.
A spokesman for local firefighters, Tomasz Kubiak, said the units responding to the blaze had to use specialized equipment and force their way into the locked escape room of some 7 square meters (75 square feet.)
Poland's interior minister has ordered fire safety inspections at more than 1,000 escape room locations across the country. The first inspections were being held Saturday, the Interior Ministry said. Previously, there was no official requirement for fire safety certificates at such locations.
Teachers, psychologists and local education authorities met Saturday to discuss ways of helping students at the school the five girls attended deal with the trauma.
Students, teachers, city authorities and residents attended a memorial Catholic Mass at noon at the local church. Local residents placed flowers and lights in front of the location, a two-story house with a huge "Escape Room" sign in front.
Koszalin Mayor Piotr Jedlinski declared Sunday a day of mourning and appealed to residents to hold no entertainment gatherings or parties. The annual Epiphany procession was canceled.
"The families want peace and quiet as they face their great tragedy," Jedlinski said.