UN humanitarian aid workers return to Yemen as Sanaa airport reopens

Above, the international airport in the Yemeni capital Sanaa. The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said it would reopen a key Red Sea port and Sanaa airport to aid, after a more than two-week blockade following a missile attack on Riyadh. (AFP)
Updated 25 November 2017
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UN humanitarian aid workers return to Yemen as Sanaa airport reopens

GENEVA: Humanitarian aid workers arrived in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa on Saturday, after a nearly three-week blockade by the Saudi-led military coalition, an official at the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said.
“First plane landed in Sanaa this morning with humanitarian aid workers,” WFP’s regional spokeswoman Abeer Etefa said in an email on Saturday.
Officials at Sanaa airport said two other UN flights had arrived on Saturday.
The coalition fighting the armed Houthi movement in Yemen said on Wednesday it would allow aid in through the Red Sea ports of Hodeidah and Salif, as well as UN flights to Sanaa, but there has been no confirmation of any aid deliveries yet.
International aid groups have welcomed the decision to let humanitarian aid in, but said aid flights are not enough to avert a humanitarian crisis. About 7 million people face famine in Yemen and their survival depends on international assistance.
A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition was quoted on Friday as saying that 42 permits have been issued for international aid flights to Sanaa and naval shipments to Hodeidah.
Officials at the port said on Saturday that no ships have arrived yet and they were not expecting any to dock soon.
The US-backed coalition closed air, land and sea access on November 6, in a move it said was to stop the flow of arms to the Houthis, who control much of northern Yemen, from Iran.
The action came after Saudi Arabia intercepted a missile fired toward Riyadh. Iran has denied supplying weapons.


Work underway to clear land mines from Jesus baptism site

Updated 55 min 38 sec ago
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Work underway to clear land mines from Jesus baptism site

  • Work at the site just north of the Dead Sea is being overseen by Israel’s Defense Ministry
  • Mines and other ordnance have been cleared from Ethiopian and Greek Orthodox monastery sites, organizers said

QASR AL-YAHUD, Palestinian Territories: Efforts to clear thousands of land mines and other ordnance around the site where many believe Jesus was baptized have reached a milestone and officials allowed a rare glimpse Sunday of abandoned churches there.

The church grounds around the site in the occupied West Bank have sat empty and decaying for around 50 years, though pilgrims have been able to visit a nearby restricted area at the traditional baptismal spot on the banks of the River Jordan.

Work at the site just north of the Dead Sea is being overseen by Israel’s Defense Ministry, de-mining charity Halo Trust and Israeli firm 4CI.

According to the ministry, the project covers around 1 square kilometer (250 acres) as well as some 3,000 mines and other explosive remnants.

It is expected to cost 20 million shekels ($5.3 million, €4.7 million).

The work began in March and would require another eight months to a year to complete, said Moshe Hilman of Israel’s Defense Ministry.

Mines and other ordnance have been cleared from Ethiopian and Greek Orthodox monastery sites as well as a Franciscan chapel, organizers said.

Other grounds belonging to Russian, Syrian, Romanian and Coptic Orthodox churches are yet to be cleared.

The plan once complete is to return the plots to the various church denominations and allow visits. At the crumbling, brick-and-concrete Ethiopian monastery on Sunday, a fading fresco of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist could still be seen inside.

Signs hung on the walls with notifications that the location had been cleared of explosives.

A collection of pieces of mortars and other explosive remnants sat alongside a nearby roadside as a demonstration of some of what had been found.

“The Halo Trust has reached a pivotal point in our work to clear the baptism site of land mines and other remnants of war,” the charity’s CEO James Cowan said in a statement.

He added that “we have completed clearance of the Ethiopian, Greek and Franciscan churches.”

The majority of the mines were laid by Israeli forces after the country seized control of the West Bank in 1967 from Jordanian troops. Other unexploded ordnance from both Israel and Jordan has remained lodged in the ground, including around the churches, which were evacuated by Israel in the 1970s.

Israel’s control of the West Bank has never been recognized by the international community, which considers the land occupied Palestinian territory.