Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly ordered the Foreign Ministry to suspend relations with 12 nations that voted at the UN Security Council in favor of criticizing the Jewish state’s settlement activities in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. It’s unclear if the actions against the countries—Britain, France, Russia, China, Japan, Ukraine, Angola, Egypt, Uruguay, Spain, Senegal, and New Zealand—are different from that reported Sunday by Israeli media, which said: “The Foreign Ministry was instructed to suspend its work relations with the 12 countries’ embassies in Israel, and their ambassadors will not be received at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.” Four of the nations mentioned—Britain, China, France, and Russia—are permanent members of the UN Security Council. The U.S., the fifth veto-wielding member of the body, abstained from last week’s vote, a historic break from traditional U.S. policy that has protected Israel at the world body. The Obama administration’s action has incensed Netanyahu. The Israeli leader and his allies have accused President Obama of personally orchestrating the UN resolution; they have added they will present their evidence to President-elect Trump when he takes office.
—Tributes pour in for George Michael, the singer who died Sunday at age 53.
—Russian authorities continue the search for the bodies of 92 people aboard a military transport plane that crashed in the Black Sea.
—We’re live-blogging the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).
Israel to Reportedly Suspend Ties With 12 Nations That Voted Against It at UN
Russia Says Mass Graves Have Been Found in Aleppo
The Russian Defense Ministry says mass graves of people who had been tortured were left behind in eastern Aleppo by rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Assad, on whose behalf Russia is intervening in Syria, reclaimed eastern Aleppo last week. Assad’s forces already controlled the western portion before they began a massive—and ultimately successful—military offensive to retake the eastern part. Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the civil war began more than five years ago, had been divided since 2012. A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman added that the rebels, who had been allowed to leave the city along with civilians, had also booby-trapped portions of eastern Aleppo. There is no independent verification of these claims as few—if any Western journalists—have entered the city.
Obama Says His Message Could Have Won Again
President Obama says he is confident he “could’ve mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind” his message of progressive change again if he were eligible to run for a third term. The comments were made to David Axelrod, his former senior adviser who now hosts The Axe Files, a podcast produced by the University of Chicago and CNN. In the interview, which comes after Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in the presidential election, Obama also reiterated criticism that the Democratic Party was unable to articulate its message to beyond its core voters: “We’re not there on the ground communicating not only the dry policy aspects of this, but that we care about these communities, that we’re bleeding for these communities. It means caring about local races, state boards or school boards, and city councils and state legislative races, and not thinking that somehow, just a great set of progressive policies that we present to The New York Times editorial board will win the day.” Full interview here.
Terrorism Unlikely to Have Caused Deadly Crash, Russia Says
Russian authorities have all but eliminated terrorism as a cause of the crash Sunday of a military transport plane in the Black Sea that is believed to have killed all 92 people on board. Maksim Sokolov, the Russian transport minister, said the crash was likely caused by either “technical problems or a piloting error,” but he added “only an investigation … will tell us for sure.” Dozens of members of the Alexandrov military music ensemble, a famed Russian choir, were among the 92 people on board the Tu-154 military transport plane that crashed en route to Latakia, Syria; the choir was set to perform a concert in the city. The plane had taken off from Moscow, had stopped in Sochi for refueling, and disappeared from radar shortly after takeoff from the Russian Black Sea resort. Russian authorities expanded the search operation in the Black Sea for the bodies of those on board the plane, as well as for the aircraft’s flight recorders.
Tributes Pour In for George Michael
Fans set up makeshift memorials, left bouquets, and notes to George Michael outside the London home of the singer who died Sunday at age 53. His publicist said that Michael “passed away peacefully” in his sleep on Christmas Day. A statement from the police said the singer’s death was “unexplained but not suspicious.” Andrew Ridgeley, Michael’s former bandmate in Wham!, the ’80s-era band with which the late singer shot to musical stardom, said on Twitter that he was “heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend.” Michael, who sold more than 100 million records in a career spanning thee decades, is perhaps best known for “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Last Christmas,” and “Careless Whisper,” all hits with Wham!, as well as for Faith, the massive solo hit record from 1987. Among the tributes was this from Elton John: