ROTTERDAM, July 31 -- Malaysia denied Thursday that it is providing training for Hamas fighters in Gaza.
Deputy Home Affairs Minister Wan Junaidi Jaafar said the government has never allowed the country to be used as a training ground for Hamas fighters, even if Malaysia supports the Palestinians.
"It does not matter what kind of freedom-fighting group they belong to, even those against Israel, we have never given permission to have such trainings here," he told the Astro Awani television station. "The report is incorrect."
The Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday that members of a Hamas cell trained in Malaysia to carry out cross-border attacks against Israel using powered parachutes. The newspaper said that a Hamas commander captured in the ongoing fighting told the Israeli security agency Shin Bet that he and nine other Hamas members travelled to Malaysia in 2012, where he learned how to fly a powered parachute.
Malaysian leaders both from the opposition and the government have criticized the Israeli government for its attacks on Palestinians in Gaza that have killed hundreds of people.
ROTTERDAM, July 31 -- After the confusion surrounding the news that all foreigners in Thailand are required to carry their passport with them at all times, Thaivisa.com has today obtained official clarification on this matter.
Earlier this afternoon, Thaivisa.com spoke to Deputy Commander and Police Colonel Voravat Amornvivat, a senior official at Immigration headquarters in Bangkok. Deputy Commander Voravat wanted to reassure the expat community in Thailand about the current situation.
He told us that information in an article published by The Nation on 31 July 2014, was incorrect.
Deputy Commander Voravat confirmed that foreign tourists and expats do not need to carry their passports with them at all times. He said that tourists can of course leave their passports locked in their hotel safe and enjoy their holiday in Thailand without worrying about the need to carry their original passport.
Deputy Commander Voravat also said that for expats living here, a Thai driving license or photocopy of your passport can be used as a form of identification.
However, if Immigration Police suspect an individual to be overstaying in Thailand or being involved in illegal activity, then the individual would be required to produce their original passport promptly.
Deputy Commander Voravat referred to Section 58, which reads as follows:
Any alien who has no lawful document for entering the Kingdom under section 12(1);....under this Act; and has no identification in accordance with the Law on Alien registration, is considered to have entered the Kingdom in violation of the Act.
Entering or staying in Thailand without holding a valid passport and visa/extension is subject a fine and possible prison sentence.
“Making all foreigners in Thailand carry their original passports with them would be very difficult.” “It’s about being reasonable and using common sense” “But if we think a foreigner is involved in illegal activity then we will of course need to see their original passport, this is normal”, said Deputy Commander Voravat.
Deputy Commander Voravat is eager to avoid further misunderstandings and miscommunication regarding immigration matters and is happy to work with Thaivisa.com in the future in order to provide correct information to foreign tourists and the wider expat community in Thailand.
We thanks Deputy Commander Voravat for his interview and taking time to clarify the situation.
The idea of foreigners being able to get a copy of their passport officially stamped by Immigration is currently not an option. However, it is always a good idea to have a copy of your passport with you at all times while in Thailand.
ROTTERDAM, July 31 -- Nato is poorly prepared for an attack on a member state from Russia, an influential group of MPs has warned.
The Commons Defence Committee said the recent Ukraine conflict showed "serious deficiencies" in Nato's preparedness to counter threats - and "radical reform" was needed. The MPs said the risk of a conventional assault remained low - but warned over methods such as cyber-attacks and the use of irregular militias. Nato said it would study the findings.
The committee called for changes including:
The MPs also warned Nato "may not have the collective political will to take concerted action to deter attack". And they said public opinion may not support the use of military force to honour Article 5 commitments in a confrontation with Russia.
"Nato is currently not well-prepared for a Russian threat against a Nato member state," the report said. "A Russian unconventional attack, using asymmetric tactics - the latest term for this is 'ambiguous warfare' - designed to slip below Nato's response threshold, would be particularly difficult to counter."
'Too complacent'Tory MP Rory Stewart, who was elected chairman of the committee in May, said: "The risk of attack by Russia on a Nato member state, whilst still small, is significant. We are not convinced that Nato is ready for this threat.
"Nato has been too complacent about the threat from Russia, and it is not well-prepared. "Even worse, the nature of Russian tactics is changing fast - including cyber-attacks, information warfare, and the backing of irregular 'separatist groups', combining armed civilians with Russian Special Forces operating without insignia," said Mr Stewart, a former soldier and diplomat who has worked in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq. "We have already seen how these tactics have been deployed by Russia and its proxies in Ukraine to destabilise a Nato partner state, annex part of its territory and paralyse its ability to respond."
The report said that while Nato had not seen Russia as a territorial threat for 20 years, recent events meant it was "forced to do so".
"Events in Ukraine this year, following on from the cyber attack on Estonia in 2007 and the invasion of Georgia by Russia in 2008, are a 'wake-up call' for Nato", it read. "They have revealed alarming deficiencies in the state of Nato preparedness, which will be tough to fix."
The committee also called on the government to show leadership when it hosts a Nato summit in Wales in September. The report added: "The UK government should take the lead in ensuring that the Nato summit addresses these threats in the most concrete and systematic fashion."
Source: BBC news
ROTTERDAM, July 31 -- Pentagon says Israel allowed to tap local US arms stockpile in past week to resupply it with grenades and mortar rounds.
The United States has allowed Israel, waging an offensive in the Gaza Strip, to tap a local US arms stockpile in the past week to resupply it with grenades and mortar rounds, Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon's press secretary, has said.
The munitions were located inside Israel as part of a programme managed by the US military and called War Reserves Stock Allies-Israel (WRSA-I), which stores munitions locally for US use that Israel can also access in emergency situations. Israel, however, did not cite an emergency when it made its latest request about 10 days ago, a defence official said on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
On Sunday, Barack Obama, the US president, called for an immediate and sustainable ceasefire in Gaza.
Washington allowed Israel to access the strategic stockpile to resupply itself with 40mm grenades and 120mm mortar rounds to deplete older stocks that would eventually need to be refreshed. In a statement, Kirby said: "Both munitions had been in WRSA-I stock for a few years, well before the current crisis.
"All stocks in WRSA-I, as required by law, are 'in excess to US requirements.' "Issuing munitions from the WRSA-I stockpile was strictly a sourcing decision and White House approval was not required.
"The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to US national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability. "This defence sale is consistent with those objectives."
Additional Israeli requests for US-manufactured ammunition were also being processed in the US, the anonymous defence official said.
Israel's embassy in Washington declined comment about the resupply request, including whether it asked for the ammunition because of its operations in Gaza, the Reuters news agency reported.
'Iron Dome' funding
Separately, US politicians were working in Congress to provide millions of dollars in additional funding for Israel's "Iron Dome" missile shield. The US Senate Appropriations Committee added $225m for Iron Dome to a spending bill intended mainly to provide money to handle an influx of thousands of Central American children across the US-Mexico border. The Gaza Health Ministry said 1,361 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed since Israel began its offensive on July 8.
On the Israeli side, 56 soldiers and three civilians have been killed.
ROTTERDAM, July 30 -- International monitors once again turned away from MH17 crash site as fighting in the area continues.
Ukraine's army has said it has retaken a town on the outskirts of the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk, and intercepted another convoy of vehicles crossing over from Russia. Government forces said in a statement on Wednesday that they had seized control of Avdiyivka, a town of about 40,000 about a dozen kilometres north of Donetsk, as Ukraine tightened its grip around the key rebel bastion.
The Ukrainian government said on its website that 19 people had died in the fighting in the past 24 hours, with 31 people injured. Elsewhere, clashes continued around the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, with government forces saying they were conducting a "mopping up" operation in the town of Ilovaysk, about 40km west of the site.
International observers announced they had turned back from another attempt to reach crash site after discussions with rebels, the AP news agency reported. Safety concerns and hindrance from the separatists who control the area have kept the OSCE investigation team away from the scene, causing foreign governments whose citizens died in the July 17 crash to complain the site is not secured and some human remains have not been recovered.
Government security spokesman Andriy Lysenko added to those concerns on Wednesday by saying separatists "have mined the approaches to this area," AP reported.
ROTTERDAM, July 30 -- Six fighters killed during raid in Kandahar's Spin Boldak district, a day after massacre of Shia Hazaras in Ghor.
Taliban fighter have killed a civilian and a border policeman before being shot dead by police during an attack on the home of a well-known provincial police chief in southern Afghanistan, according to officials.
The six attackers, all of whom were wearing suicide vests, launched Sunday's attack from a school building near General Abdul Razeq's house in the Spin Boldak district of Kandahar province, but were shot before they could enter the residence, Zia Durani, provincial police spokesman, said.
"General Abdul Razeq was in his house at the time of the attack" but was unharmed, Durani said.
Qari Yousef Ahmadi, Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement sent to the media. The Taliban frequently carries out suicide bombings and other attacks against Afghan and NATO forces. Abdul Razeq is a well-known police chief and prominent anti-Taliban figure in Kandahar province, and has survived several attacks. In the capital Kabul, meanwhile, hundreds of protesters took to the streets on Sunday in an anti-Taliban demonstration organised by activists and civil society groups, with similar protests held in the northern Balkh and western Herat provinces. The protesters chanted against the recent killing of civilians in Taliban attacks.
On Friday Taliban fighters halted three minibuses in the western Ghor province and shot 14 passengers on the side of the road, including three women, after identifying them as Hazara Shias. The Taliban, like other Sunni-led groups, view the country's minority Shia community as apostates, and have targeted Hazaras in the past with suicide bombings and other attacks.
In another development on Friday, the Taliban's reclusive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar gave warning against signing the agreement in a message released in honour of the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
"We believe the war in Afghanistan will come to an end when all foreign invaders pull out of Afghanistan and a holy Islamic and independent regime prevails here," the message said. It further said that the presence of even a limited number of foreign troops would mean a "continuation of occupation and the war".
Toppled from power by the 2001 US-led invasion, the Taliban soon regrouped as an insurgency battling NATO troops and Afghan security forces.
The US has pressed Afghanistan to agree to a bilateral security pact that would allow thousands of American troops to remain past the end of the year to train Afghan security forces and assist with counterterrorism operations.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the agreement. The two candidates in last month's disputed presidential run-off have said they will sign the pact, but the final results in the election have been delayed amid allegations of fraud.
ROTTERDAM, July 30 -- Theodore Van Kirk said dropping the atomic bomb on Japan had saved lives but he also thought they should be abolished.
The last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay, the US bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan in 1945, hastening the end of World War II and moving the world into the atomic age, has died at age 93. Theodore "Dutch" Van Kirk died of natural causes on Monday at a retirement community in the US state of Georgia, his son Tom Van Kirk said.
Van Kirk navigated the flight that dropped "Little Boy" on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. The bomb instantly killed about 78,000 people. By the end of 1945, the number of dead had reached about 140,000 out of an estimated population of 350,000.
Three days later, the United States dropped an atomic bomb nicknamed "Fat Man" on Nagasaki. Japan surrendered on August 15,1945, bringing World War II to an end.
The Pennsylvania-born Van Kirk flew missions in Europe during the war and visited Nagasaki in the aftermath of the atomic blast there. He studied chemical engineering after the war and became an executive with DuPont.
He said the Hiroshima mission was relatively easy, with no anti-aircraft fire coming from the ground. The big worry was whether the plane would blow up after the bomb detonated, he told Georgia Public Broadcasting.
He said that 43 seconds after the bomb was dropped, he saw a flash from the blast. A shockwave then came and shook the aircraft. Whether the United States should have used the atomic bomb has been debated ever since. Van Kirk told the Associated Press news agency that he thought it was necessary because it shortened the war and eliminated the need for an Allied land invasion that could have cost more lives on both sides.
"I honestly believe the use of the atomic bomb saved lives in the long run. There were a lot of lives saved. Most of the lives saved were Japanese,'' Van Kirk said
ROTTERDAM, July 29 -- Children among 22 killed in eastern Horlivka town as troops try to encircle separatists in area where airliner crashed.
Intense fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine has killed at least 22 civilians, local officials say, as Ukraine presses an offensive to close in on the separatists.
Ukrainian forces have been pushing rebel units back towards their two main urban strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk and have sought to encircle them in several places, including in the wider area where a Malaysian airliner crashed on July 17.
Officials said 17 people, including five children, were killed in fighting on Monday evening in the town of Horlivka, one of several spots that have seen fierce battles between the rival forces in the last few days.
In the city of Luhansk, officials said five civilians were killed when shelling hit a retirement home.
"The enemy is throwing everything it has into the battle to complete encirclement of the DNR," Igor Strelkov, rebel commander, told Reuters news agency in Donetsk on Monday evening, referring to the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic".
"We were astonished by how much armour they threw into this battle," said Strelkov, a Russian national, sporting a camouflage T-shirt and trousers.
A rebel source in Donetsk said reinforcements including military equipment and fighters had crossed the nearby border with Russia into Ukraine. Rebel leaders insist publicly that Russia is not supplying them. Russia also denies Western accusations that it is supporting the rebellion with arms and troops.
A rebel source in Donetsk said reinforcements including military equipment and fighters had crossed the nearby border with Russia into Ukraine.
Rebel leaders insist publicly that Russia is not supplying them. Russia also denies Western accusations that it is supporting the rebellion with arms and troops. Leaders of the US and major European powers agreed in a teleconference on Monday to impose wider sanctions on Russia's banking, technology and arms sectors over its alleged backing for the separatists.
The rebels say 7,400 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed or injured since Kiev launched what it calls its "anti-terrorist" operation against separatists in the east in early May. Ukraine puts the toll at fewer than 1,500.
A humanitarian corridor was due to open in Luhansk for six hours on Tuesday to allow residents to flee the fighting, but officials said they could not guarantee full safety. The UN says more than 100,000 people have already fled Ukraine's tumultuous east. A team of international experts including 38 Dutch and 12 Australian police abandoned plans to get to the plane crash site for a third day on Tuesday after fighting in the rebel-held area forced them to turn back on Sunday and Monday. Fighting has impeded recovery of some of the remains from flight MH17 and undermined a probe that will be crucial as Ukraine and the West trade recriminations with Russia over the destruction of the Boeing airliner. All 298 people on board were killed.
The international experts said if and when they get to the crash site, spread over a large area of fields, their first priority would be to recover any remaining body parts and then remove personal belongings from the area.
Source: Several agencies
ROTTERDAM, July 29 -- At least 100 Gazans have been killed in Israeli bombardment on Tuesday, Gaza officials have said, hours after shells hit the enclave's only power station.A thick column of black smoke was seen rising from the power station on Tuesday, mingling with other plumes sent into the air by Israeli shelling.
Gaza officials were saying the death toll from the invasion had now reached 1,178, with at least 100 killed since midnight on Tuesday. More than 6,800 Gazans had been injured. The AFP news agency reported that one air raid alone in northern Gaza had killed 10 people on Tuesday.
Bombs hit the power station's generator.
Jamal Dardasawi, a spokesman for the electricity distribution company, warned that Gaza would be engulfed in "a humanitarian crisis within hours" if no immediate action was taken to secure power supplies. "This will affect hospitals and water. All aspects of life are endangered," Dardasawi said.
Rafiq Maliha, the director of the power station, told Al Jazeera that two turbines were directly hit, adding that the plant would not be operational for up to a year. At full capacity, the station provided Gaza with 80mw of electricity but had been generating only 50-60mw before it was bombed. The lines to outside power sources provided an additional 120mw of electricity, Dardawasi said.
"This amount of power can't be distributed technically into other parts of Gaza and it's not even enough for Rafah city," he said. "Today, all Gaza Strip is without power, we can't talk about percentages."
Gaza also relies on power lines from Israel and Egypt to meet its energy needs. Dardasawi said eight of the 10 lines from Israel had been damaged since Israel invaded Gaza.
With the facility now shut down and most power lines from Israel severed, Palestinians in Gaza will be forced to depend on electricity bought from neighbouring Egypt.
Said al-Soudi, head of Gaza's civil defence ministry, said technical crews had succeeded in putting out a fire at the station.
He told Al Jazeera that he received an emergency call about the shelling at 5.30am, but only reached the facility three hours later, after securing safe passage to the site through the Red Cross.
"Despite the coordination, shells were still landing," he said.
Source: Al Jazeera
ROTTERDAM, July 29 -- China is holding some of its most extensive military exercises this week off its eastern seaboard, and although rival Japan is unperturbed, they are causing massive disruptions in civilian air traffic in Shanghai and other cities.
Live-fire drills will be held for the next five days off China's coast in the East China Sea opposite Japan starting on Tuesday, the Ministry of National Defence said. Civil aviation authorities have issued a red alert, resulting in a near shutdown of 19 airports in eastern and southern China between 2-6 p.m. (0500-1000 GMT), at least on Tuesday. Those affected include Shanghai's two main airports, which cater to tens of thousands of passengers each day.
The military is also holding live fire drills in the Gulf of Tonkin, which borders both China and Vietnam. Seven days of drills are also scheduled in the Bohai Strait and Yellow Sea, near the Korean peninsula, state media reported. The military exercises, which analysts say are larger in scope and duration than in years past, come amid an increase in tensions with Japan and other Asian nations. The government has said the drills in the East China Sea are annual and routine but Beijing's Public Security Bureau has said they could affect flights until mid-August.
"The drills have been going on for a long time, but in the past they were isolated - just in the Bohai Strait or the Yellow Sea for instance," said Jin Canrong, associate dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University in Beijing. "But conducting many drills at the same time in the Bohai Strait, the Gulf of Tonkin and the Yellow Sea, is something new. This has been made necessary by China's military modernisation campaign."
The exercises come as Chinese strategists bristle at the United States’ traditional military dominance in Asia, with Washington’s Japanese bases sitting at the core of that superiority. They also fear a new U.S. military concept to better co-ordinate operational forces known as the “Air Sea Battle” is designed to counter China’s growing regional presence.
Japan however has played down any significance of the exercises. "For any country, conducting drills in nearby seas is what they routinely do," Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters.
"We ourselves carry out exercises in a solid manner. We take this as China's routine exercise. It is our understanding that this is not the kind of exercise aimed at a particular country or a particular situation."
President Xi Jinping has placed great emphasis on expanding China's military might, analysts said, and the expanded drills are key to testing combat readiness and capability. This year's exercises are unique in that they stretch over a longer period of time and are more comprehensive, focusing on coordination between military branches to test the armed forces' preparation for actual combat, the analysts said.
Beijing's ties with Tokyo have soured over competing claims to a string of uninhabited islets, known as the Diaoyu in China and the Senkaku in Japan, in the East China Sea.
In the potentially oil-rich South China Sea, China has overlapping claims with the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and