Malaysia not to host any events involving Israel: FM

By Zehra Ulucak

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (AA) – Malaysia will not host any events involving Israel in the future, the country’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.

"The Cabinet decision is reflective of the firm stand of the Malaysian government," Saifuddin Abdullah told a news conference following a meeting on Palestine, according to local daily Malay Mail.

The cabinet affirmed last week that no Israeli delegates will be allowed to enter Malaysia for sports or any other events, Abdullah said.

The government also maintains its decision to ban Israeli athletes from competing at the 2019 World Para-Swimming Championships to be held in the eastern state of Sarawak in July, he added.

Malaysia, a majority-Muslim country and a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause — do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

Last month, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad slammed Australia’s decision to recognize West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, saying countries had “no rights” to do so.

Thousands of Malaysians also took to the streets last December to protest Washington’s move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

More than 600 athletes from 70 countries are set to compete at the championships to be held from July 29 to Aug. 4.

The competition will serve as one of the qualifying events for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.

UPDATE- New Israeli chief of staff vows to make ‘deadly’ army

UPDATES WITH MORE STATEMENTS, CHANGES HEADLINE

JERUSALEM (AA) – Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi took office on Tuesday as Israel’s new army Chief of Staff, replacing Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.

Speaking at his swearing-in ceremony, Kochavi vowed to strengthen the army’s capabilities and turn it into a “deadly, efficient” force.

"Now, as it is my turn, and I have received the responsibility of leading the army, I commit to dedicating all my energy, with a critical and demanding approach, to strengthening our defensive wall, to training for present and future threats – which focuses upon strengthening our attack capabilities towards our enemies, and presenting an army that is deadly, efficient and modern, that preserves its mission and its uniqueness," he said.

"Like every soldier who enlists, I also vow to dedicate all my efforts to the defense of the homeland,” he said.

Tuesday’s ceremony was attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a host of ministers and officials.

Kochavi, 55, served in the Paratroopers Brigade and was promoted to several positions until he became commander of the Northern Brigade.

He was the commander of the firepower unit, the commander of the Gaza Brigade, the head of the Operations Division in the Israeli Military Intelligence Service, before chairing the same body.

He also served as the deputy chief of staff.

Kochafi holds a master's degree in public administration from Harvard University.

Israeli PM urges Iran to ‘get out of Syria fast’

JERUSALEM (AA) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday called for a speedy Iranian troop pullout from war-torn Syria.

"In the past four years, we have faced great challenges and changing fronts, but there has been one crucial factor against us, Iran and its terrorist branches,” Netanyahu said during a swearing-in ceremony of new Israeli army chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi.

“I advise you, get out of Syria fast, we will continue our resolute policy with no fear,” he addressed Iran. “We won’t stop attacking you.”

“If we have to enter a full-scale war, our army and our citizens will take up this challenge and we will work to ensure the eternity for Israel,” he said.

Iran and Hezbollah are strong allies of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime, the forces of which have been fighting opposition groups in a deadly civil war since 2011.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people are believed to have been killed and millions more displaced by the conflict.

On Sunday, the Israeli premier admitted attacking positions of Iran and Lebanese group Hezbollah in Damascus.

Netanyahu accused Tehran of lying about the failure of launching a satellite into space.

“Tehran was not saying the truth about the test,” he said. “Iran is launching an innocent satellite, but was actually the first stage in its effort to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.”

Iranian authorities on Tuesday said that the satellite failed to reach orbit.

New Israeli army chief takes office

By Abdel Raouf Arnaout

JERUSALEM (AA) – Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi took office on Tuesday as Israel’s new army Chief of Staff, replacing Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.

Kochavi’s swearing-in ceremony was attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a host of ministers and officials.

Kochavi, 55, served in the Paratroopers Brigade and was promoted to several positions until he became commander of the Northern Brigade.

He was the commander of the firepower unit, the commander of the Gaza Brigade, the head of the Operations Division in the Israeli Military Intelligence Service, before chairing the same body.

He also served as the deputy chief of staff.

Kochafi holds a master's degree in public administration from Harvard University.

Gaza situation ‘very explosive’: Israeli army chief

By Abdelraouf Arnaout

JERUSALEM (AA) – Israeli Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General, Gadi Eisenkot has described the situation in the Gaza Strip as "very explosive".

"The situation there [Gaza Strip] is very explosive,” Eisenkot told the Israeli Broadcast Authority.

“Israel is also ready for the possibility of escalation, but it has done everything possible to prevent it [the escalation]," he added.

The army chief said the military destroyed 18 tunnels that posed a threat to Israeli communities in the outskirts of Gaza Strip.

Speaking about the situation in war-torn Syria, Eisenkot said that 400 rockets "were fired at Israeli warplanes in Syria, during the past two years and downed one Israeli aircraft."

Regarding the situation in Syria, he said 400 rockets were fired at Israeli warplanes in Syria during the past two years.

"Unfortunately, in one case, an F-16 was hit but the pilots landed safely," he said.

Eisenkot pointed out that freedom of operating in Syria "became more complicated after the Syrian regime took over most of the country's territory."

"We have intensified our efforts to thwart Hezbollah's attempts to achieve its objectives, which means that the party is now unable to target sites in Israel," he said.

Gazan teen dies of wounds from Israeli fire

By Nour Abu Aisha

GAZA CITY, Palestine (AA) – A Palestinian teenager on Monday succumbed to wounds he sustained from Israeli army gunfire during demonstrations in the northern Gaza Strip, according to the Health Ministry.

Abdelr-Raouf Saleha, 14, was martyred due to wounds he sustained on Friday in eastern Jabalia city, ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said in a statement.

Since March, more than 250 Palestinians have been martyred and thousands more injured by Israeli army fire during protests near the Gaza-Israel buffer zone.

Protesters demand the right to return to their homes and villages in historical Palestine, from which they were driven in 1948 to make way for the new state of Israel.

They also demand an end to Israel’s 12-year blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has gutted the coastal enclave’s economy and deprived its more than two million inhabitants of many basic commodities.

Hamas blames Israel for Gaza escalation

By Nour Abu Aisha

GAZA CITY, Palestine (AA) – Palestinian resistance group Hamas has held Israel responsible for the ongoing escalation in the blockaded Gaza Strip.

"The Israeli occupation bears the consequences of continuing commit its ‘follies’ against peaceful protesters and deliberately killing them in cold blood as well as bombing sites of resistance," spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement.

The spokesman asserted that the escalation "will not secure the occupation or its people."

Israeli warplanes struck three targets, including a Hamas military site, in the Gaza Strip late Saturday.

The Israeli military said the attacks followed rocket fire from the Palestinian territory.

No injuries were reported.

Since March, more than 250 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more injured by Israeli army fire during protests near the Gaza-Israel buffer zone.

Protesters demand the right to return to their homes and villages in historical Palestine, from which they were driven in 1948 to make way for the new state of Israel.

They also demand an end to Israel’s 12-year blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has gutted the coastal enclave’s economy and deprived its more than two million inhabitants of many basic commodities.

Hamas seizes Israeli equipment, technical devices

By Mohamed Majed

GAZA (AA) – The Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, seized "great secrets" during the failed Israeli security operation in the Gaza Strip on Nov., its spokesman said on Saturday.

"We seized equipment and technical devices that contain great secrets. The enemy [Israel] thought that made tools and equipment unusable and the equipment became evaporated," Abu Ubayda said at a news conference in Gaza.

Ubayda said Israel should be concerned, adding: "This mine of information that we seized will provide us strategic supremacy in the mind war we conduct against Israel."

On Nov. 11, the Qassam Brigades announced that they had discovered an Israeli forces’ infiltrating into Khan Younis, east of the Gaza Strip. Seven Palestinians and an Israeli soldier were killed in the undercover Israeli infiltration. The incident was followed by an Israeli military escalation against Gaza.

Ubayda said the aim of Israel's operation was to install bugs to listen to the network of the Palestinian resistance. He added Israeli's efforts went down in the drain despite the country used all of its opportunities.

He also called on people, who spy on behalf of Israel, to swear off.

The Gaza-based Palestinian Interior Ministry announced on Tuesday the arrest of some 45 Palestinians accused of collaboration with Israel’s operation to infiltrate Khan Younis.

US: Pro-Israel senator opposes anti-BDS legislation

            By Umar Farooq

WASHINGTON (AA) – Prominent Republican Senator Rand Paul expressed his opposition Thursday to a legislation that would punish those who choose to support a campaign to boycott Israel in defense of Palestinian rights.

In an opinion piece for The American Conservative magazine, Paul criticized the Combating BDS Act, which has been brought up in the Senate.

"I am not in favor of boycotting Israel. Israel has been a good ally," Rand wrote in the article.

"At the same time, I am concerned about what the role of Congress can and should be in this situation. I strongly oppose any legislation that attempts to ban boycotts or ban people who support boycotts from participating in our government or working for our government.

"America is distinguished by dissent and dissenters. It was founded amidst a boycott of English tea. Abolitionists boycotted slave goods. Rosa Parks led the boycott against segregated busing," Paul added.

The Combating BDS Act, introduced by Senator Marco Rubio, urges state and local governments to deny business contracts to individuals and companies that boycott Israel in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The act is part of a wider Middle East policy bill, the first to be introduced by Senate Republicans in the new Congress which began on Jan. 3.

It has been blocked, however, due to a focus on ending a partial government shutdown over funding for U.S. President Donald Trump’s border wall.

Currently, 26 states across the U.S. have imposed similar anti-BDS measures.

The BDS movement was formed in 2005 by 170 Palestinian civil society and rights groups and calls for a boycott of Israeli companies involved in violating Palestinian human rights and for institutions to withdraw their investments in those companies as a form of non-violent pressure on Israel. It also calls for sanctions campaigns to pressure governments to fulfill their legal obligation to hold Israel to account.

Multiple lawsuits have been filed against the anti-BDS legislation by rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Council of American Islamic Relations.

Paul argued in the opinion piece that the measure to curb any boycotts against the state of Israel violates Americans’ right to free speech, which is guaranteed under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

"The First Amendment is about speech you like and speech you don’t like. If anything, it is more about protecting unpopular speech or the speech of minorities, whether they be a minority by the color of their skin or the shade of their ideology," he said.

Israel opens highway separating Palestinians, settlers

            JERUSALEM (AA) – The Palestinian Foreign Ministry has condemned a decision by the Israeli authorities to open a road that separates Palestinian communities from a Jewish-only settlement northeast of Jerusalem. <br>  </p>  <p>“The opening of this road comes within the framework of Israel’s ongoing efforts to undermine any chance of reaching a political solution,” the ministry said in a Thursday statement. <br>  </p>  <p>It added: &quot;Israel continues to impose an apartheid regime in occupied Palestine.” <br>  </p>  <p>According to Israeli daily Haaretz, the Israeli authorities recently reopened the controversial highway in a formal inauguration ceremony. </p>    <p>Dubbed &quot;Apartheid Road&quot;, Route 4370 links the Jewish-only Geva Binyamin Settlement to the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway. <br>  </p>  <p>“The road is divided in the middle by a high wall,” Haaretz explained. “The western side serves Palestinians who cannot enter Jerusalem, while the eastern side is reserved for Israeli settlers.” <br>  </p>  <p>The opening ceremony was reportedly attended by Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon, Transport Minister Yisrael Katz and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. <br>  </p>  <p>Katz later described the move as “an important step towards linking Binyamin Council residents [i.e., settlers] to Jerusalem”. <br>  </p>  <p>According to Haaretz, the road was built over a decade ago. It had remained closed, however, due to a long-running dispute between the Israeli army and police over who should man checkpoints along the highway.