26 killed as Hadi forces push Houthis back

Yemeni pro-government forces patrol during clashes against Shiite rebels in Yemen's western Dhubab district, about 30 kms north of the strategic Bab al-Mandab Strait, in this January 11, 2017 photo. (AFP)
Updated 15 January 2017
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26 killed as Hadi forces push Houthis back

ADEN: At least 26 Yemeni fighters died in fresh clashes and an air strike as government forces advanced against Shiite Houthi rebels near a key shipping strait, medics and officials said Saturday.
A week-long assault by government forces and their allies aims to expel the Iran-backed Houthis from Dhubab region, close to the Bab Al-Mandab strait linking the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.
Twelve bodies of Houthi insurgents were taken early Saturday to a hospital in rebel-held Hodeida, a medical official said, adding that the facility received 23 others wounded.
He said the casualties were from clashes on Friday night in Dhubab.
An overnight air strike by a pro-government Arab coalition on a rebel assembly in Zaydiya, in Hodeida province, left another nine Houthis dead, a security official said.
The Red Sea port city of Hodeida lies some 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Dhubab.
A medical official at a hospital in the southern city of Aden said five pro-government fighters were killed in overnight clashes around Dhubab and 14 others wounded.
Forces loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and allied fighters from the Popular Resistance have entered the town of Dhubab and seized its local government headquarters.
Popular Resistance commander Abdelrahman Al-Muharami said the loyalists had also recaptured large parts of Al-Omeri military base in mountains overlooking the coast.
“There are still some rebel pockets” in the base, he said.
The government and its allies in the Saudi-led coalition recaptured Bab Al-Mandab strait in October 2015, pushing the rebels further north.
But the rebels still control nearly all of Yemen’s Red Sea coast to the north, posing what the coalition says is a threat to international shipping.
Yemen’s conflict has killed more than 7,400 people and wounded nearly 40,000 since it escalated with the coalition intervention in March 2015 after the Houthis seized large swathes of the country, according to the United Nations.
In another bid to reassert government authority, Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher said Saturday that his administration will start transferring salaries to state employees in rebel-held areas.
Public sector employees in rebel-controlled areas have struggled since Hadi moved the central bank from Sanaa to the temporary capital of Aden in June, after accusing the insurgents of running down Yemen’s foreign reserves.
Dagher said government employees “across all provinces” will receive their salaries at post offices and exchange outlets, state news agency Saba reported.


Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

The worshippers forced their way into the area ahead of Friday prayer. (Reuters)
Updated 29 min 22 sec ago
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Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

  • The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area

AMMAN: For the first time since 2003, Muslim worshippers broke an Israeli ban and offered Friday prayers in the Bab Al-Rahmeh prayer hall, which is part of the Haram Al-Sharif/Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Hundreds of Palestinian worshippers entered the Bab Al-Rahmeh area inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday for the first time since the area was closed to Muslim worship by Israeli authorities.

The worshippers, led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein and other religious leaders, forced their way into the area ahead of the weekly Friday prayer, defying the Israeli ban.

The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area, which has only been open during the past 16 years to Jewish fanatics during provocative visits to the Muslim holy place, the third holiest site in Islam, according to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the former mufti and now a member of the newly constituted Islamic Waqf Council in Jerusalem, delivered a short sermon in which he reiterated that “the Haram Al-Sharif is all 144 dunums of land, including the mosques, prayer halls, courtyard musuems and schools within it.” Sabri said that Muslims will not allow anyone to diminish Muslim rights in the entire mosque area.

The Friday prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh went off peacefully in part because of an Israeli decision late on Thursday not to make any further escalations, a reliable source in Jerusalem told Arab News.

Khaleel Assali, a member of the new council who participated in the prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh, told Arab News that the mood was peaceful and upbeat. “It was a beautiful thing to be able to reclaim part of our religious site that we were barred from using for so many years.”

The deputy head of the PLO’s Fatah movement, Mahmoud Alloul, praised the unprecedented action by the popular movement in Jerusalem. 

In a statement published on the Wafa website, Alloul called on Palestinians to stay steadfast in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa and Bab Al-Rahmeh and to “continue to stand up to the occupiers and their repeated incursions in Al-Aqsa courtyards.”

Mohammad Ishtieh, a senior Fatah leader who is expected to be the next Palestinian prime minister, issued a statement saying that what happened in Jerusalem today proves beyond a shadow of doubt that all actions and decisions aimed at Judaization of Jerusalem have failed as a result of the steadfastness of our people in our eternal capital. Ishtieh praised the defenders of Jerusalem who screamed for justice and who again forced the Israeli occupiers to back down.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) and a new member of the Jordanian-appointed Waqf Council, told Arab News that all parties participated and share this success. “Everyone participated and every party should get credit for this success. Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa unite us.”

The popular protests that led to the breakup of the 16-year-old Israeli ban began on Feb. 13 when the newly constituted empowered and expanded 18-member Waqf Council decided to hold a symbolic prayer at the barred Bab Al-Rahmeh site. The Israelis responded by placing heavy chains at the gate and making arrests. 

After four days of arrests, Israel allowed the removal of the chains but would not go as far as allowing Muslim worshippers to enter. On Wednesday the Waqf Council called on worshippers to pray at the Bab Al-Rahmeh site. All five daily prayers were held outside the barred prayer hall. A confrontation was expected Friday, but the insistence of the worshippers on reclaiming their site led to the Israelis backing down, Jerusalem sources told Arab News.