Houthi ‘abuses’ stir Human Rights Watch concerns

Houthi militants react as they ride on a truck after Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed, in Sanaa, Yemen, on December 4, 2017. (REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)
Updated 08 December 2017
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Houthi ‘abuses’ stir Human Rights Watch concerns

DUBAI: Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Thursday it was concerned that Yemen’s Houthi militias were carrying out “abusive practices” against former allies — loyalists of slain ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh — and civilians.
The Houthis gunned down Saleh on Monday, and the Iran-backed insurgents have since consolidated their grip on the capital.
“The Houthis should remember that the killing of Ali Abdullah Saleh does not negate their obligations under international law, nor to civilians in areas under their control,” HRW’s Yemen researcher Kristine Beckerle told AFP.
Beckerle said the actions of the Houthis fit a pattern — documented by HRW since the group took over Sanaa in 2014 — of arbitrary detentions and forcible disappearances against critical voices, notably activists and journalists.
“Troubling reports from Sanaa over the last few days indicate the Houthis are again engaging in these abusive practices,” she said.
Members of Saleh’s political party said the Houthis have rounded up hundreds of suspected loyalists, including his family members. Reports of summary executions could not immediately be confirmed.
Tribal chiefs in at least four provinces have been summoned to pledge allegiance to the Houthis, and the crackdown has also targeted local journalists.
Saleh’s body remained at a military hospital in Sanaa while the Houthis and members of his party sparred over burial plans, sources close to the family said.
The sources said the Houthis had demanded that Saleh’s body be buried in a family ceremony at his home village of Sanhan, south of Sanaa, while the family was insisting that the Houthis hand over the body without any conditions.
On Wednesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists as well as Reporters Without Borders urged the Houthis to immediately release 41 staff of Yemen Today, a pro-Saleh television station.
Meanwhile, the Saudi-led coalition scored its first major gains in Yemen since Saleh was killed when local fighters captured an area on the Red Sea coast from Houthi militias, residents said on Thursday.
Residents said southern Yemeni fighters and allied local forces captured Al-Khoukha district located some 350 km southwest of Sanaa after heavy fighting over Wednesday night which also involved coalition forces. At least 25 people were killed.
Residents said fighters known as the Southern Resistance, together with other local forces and backed by coalition advisers from the UAE, launched attacks on Al-Khoukha on Wednesday.


US downgrades Palestinian mission, places it under embassy in Israel

Updated 19 October 2018
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US downgrades Palestinian mission, places it under embassy in Israel

  • The move will make the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, the main interlocutor with the Palestinian leadership
  • Pro-Israel advocates hailed the decision, saying it confirmed the US recognized the whole of Jerusalem as part of Israel

WASHINGTON: The United States downgraded its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians on Thursday, placing it under the authority of the US embassy to Israel.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the consulate general, a separate office which handled dealings with the Palestinians, would be replaced by a new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside the controversial new US embassy in Jerusalem.
The move will make the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who is reviled by Palestinians over his support for Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the main interlocutor with the Palestinian leadership.
The change, quickly condemned by the Palestinians, follows a series of setbacks for them at the hands of President Donald Trump, who has turned US policy sharply toward Israel.
Pro-Israel advocates hailed the decision, saying it confirmed the US recognized the whole of Jerusalem as part of Israel.
“This decision is driven by our global efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations. It does not signal a change of US policy,” Pompeo said in a statement.
He said the United States “continues to take no position” on how any peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians would take shape.
The Palestinian leadership rejected Pompeo’s “efficiency” explanation.
The decision has “a lot to do with pleasing an ideological US team that is willing to disband the foundations of American foreign policy, and of the international system, in order to reward Israeli violations and crimes,” the Palestinians’ chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said.
“The Trump administration is part of the problem, not part of the solution,” he added.
International powers have for decades maintained separate and autonomous representations to Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of supporting the eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state.
They have insisted that the status of Jerusalem, which both the Israelis and Palestinians see as their capital, should be negotiated between the parties as part of any end deal.
Last December, Trump reversed longstanding US policy and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, prompting Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to boycott his administration.
The embassy was officially transferred on May 14.
Since then, the Trump administration has forced the Palestinians to shutter their Washington mission and has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, in a bid to force them to the negotiating table.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, alongside Friedman and peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, has been working for months on a still-secret peace proposal, which Palestinians fear will be overly one-sided toward Israel.
The move Thursday nearly closes off all direct diplomatic contacts between the United States and the Palestinians, analysts said.
Ofer Zalzberg of the International Crisis Group think-tank said the US would be the only major power without a separate, independent representative office for the Palestinians.
“Other countries have gone to great lengths to avoid having the same representatives to Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” he told AFP.
Robert Danin, a former senior US government official dealing with Israeli-Palestinian issues, said the move was a victory for “hard right partisans” who have sought to eliminate the Palestinian-focused consulate general “for decades.”
The consulate general “is THE eyes and ears into Palestinian politics and society. Its independence from US Embassy Israel provided Washington w/solid, unvarnished reporting and analysis,” he said on Twitter.
But Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor with the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum and advocate for the embassy move, said the decision was more evidence the US considered Jerusalem to be fully part of Israel.
“This step confirms that the US recognizes the entire city as Israel’s capital,” he said.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert defended the move, saying the new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside the embassy would maintain contacts with Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem at the same level as before the change.
“We value our relationship with the Palestinian people. We look forward to continued partnership and dialogue with them and, we hope in future, with the Palestinian leadership,” she said via Twitter.