Questions arise as WFP says it owned shipment seized in Yemen

Updated 17 February 2016
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Questions arise as WFP says it owned shipment seized in Yemen

RIYADH: The World Food Programme (WFP) on Tuesday said communications equipment that Coalition forces have stopped from entering Yemen on one of its chartered ships belonged to the United Nations.
The UN humanitarian organization said the Mainport Cedar, which was diverted to the Saudi port of Jazan on Feb. 11, was carrying a cargo of humanitarian relief supplies bound for the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeida.
But the WFP’s revelation only raised questions. Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asseri, the coalition’s spokesman, said the communications equipment discovered on the ship during an inspection were similar to that used by the Houthis.
Moreover, the equipment were not declared by the WFP.
“It sustains the militias in their combat. Why did they not declare it?” Asseri said by phone.
The vessel was carrying a container of medical supplies from the Netherlands and two containers of food from Iran, and had originated its journey in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, Asseri said.
Saudi Arabia is leading an Arab coalition in a war against the Houthis and army forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh last March in an effort to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power.
It has imposed a naval blockade to stop weapons being imported.
The equipment included computers, satellite dishes, solar panels, encryption systems, individual communication devices and other material often used for military purposes and found by Coalition forces in Houthi bases on the Saudi border, Asseri said.
Coalition forces, who had imposed a blockade on Yemeni ports as part of its campaign, accuses Iran of supplying the Houthis with weapons. Iran denies involvement in the conflict.
In September, the coalition said it had seized an Iranian fishing boat carrying 18 anti-armored Concourse shells, 54 anti-tank shells, shell-battery kits, firing guidance systems, launchers and batteries for binoculars destined for the Houthis.
In view of the incident, Asseri said the coalition has asked the WFP to ‘review your procedures, review your personnel’ to make sure this does not happen again.
Abeer Etefa, senior spokesman for the WFP, confirmed that the agency had received a request by the colaition.
“WFP has been asked by the coalition forces to resubmit the paperwork regarding the humanitarian IT equipment,” she said in an e-mail.
Nearly 6,000 people have been killed in Yemen since coalition forces intervened in March last year to stop Houthis and Saleh’s forces from ousting the UN-recognized government of Hadi.

(Reporting By Angus McDowall and Sami Aboudi)


Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

Updated 9 min 43 sec ago
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Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

  • Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place
  • The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions

BEIRUT: Retired Lebanese soldiers on Friday came close to clashing with the country’s army when weeks of protests over planned benefit cuts reached boiling point in the capital Beirut.
Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place.
A military source told Arab News that the Lebanese army leadership had decided to block access to Najma Square, in Beirut’s Central District, where Parliament members were sitting.
But former soldiers, joined by the parents of army martyrs and activists from the Sabaa and Communist parties, surrounded the building in nearby streets before attempting to push through barbed wire, concrete and metal barriers erected by the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Forces.
The protesters, waving Lebanese and army flags, got as far as the entrance to Maarad Street, on which Parliament is located, putting them in direct confrontation with the Lebanese troops.
Ten brigades of reinforcements were drafted in to help push back the veterans before protest leaders eased tensions by calling for a retreat to a nearby square to avoid any further clashes.
The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions. Before entering the parliamentary session, Lebanese Minister of Defense Elias Bou Saab said that “misleading the retired soldiers” would be “harmful to the image and demands of the protesters” and called on them to carry out “peaceful demonstrations.” He added that there had been mixed and confused messages regarding benefit cuts.
However, retired Brig. Gen. Georges Nader had vowed that protesters would not back off until the vote on their benefits was dropped.
Discussing the protests in Parliament, Samy Gemayel, president of the Phalange party, objected to the reduction in the army budget, to which Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said: “This has been concluded on the bases of an understanding with the army and the military establishment.”
MP Paula Yacoubian said that “retired soldiers are trying to storm Parliament,” to which Berri said: “Those who want to storm Parliament have not yet been born.”
The row had centered on a controversial article concerning amendments to the country’s income tax act, and Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil insisted on defending it. He said: “It does not cost the retired soldiers, for instance, more than 3,000 Lebanese pounds ($2) per month. This amount rises to 400,000 pounds for brigadiers.” He added: “Which country in the world gives a retiree 85 percent of his salary?”
After a meeting between the minister and Nader in Parliament, the retired brigadier general went out to reassure the veterans that cuts from their salaries in respect of medicine and income tax would be reduced. Less intense protests continued for more than three hours before Parliament approved the relevant article in the budget.
Meanwhile, Berri had started the Parliament session by reading a resignation submitted by Hezbollah MP Nawaf Musawi.