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
0

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.


Gutted Syrian town begins modest reconstruction, street by street

Updated 19 July 2018
0

Gutted Syrian town begins modest reconstruction, street by street

  • Mountains of rubble still block many of the main thoroughfares in Harasta, a town outside Damascus
  • After a blistering weeks-long assault, Syria’s government recaptured it in March

HARASTA, Syria: Khaled’s delicate hands were accustomed to cutting and styling hair in his Syrian hometown Harasta. Now, they’re hauling concrete and sweeping floors to repair homes ravaged by years of fighting.
Mountains of rubble still block many of the main thoroughfares in Harasta, a town outside Damascus held for nearly five years by armed rebels.
After a blistering weeks-long assault, Syria’s government recaptured it in March, and displaced families have been trickling back to check if their homes survived.
Khaled, 35, watches them cross a security checkpoint and approaches to pitch his services: knocking down walls, clearing rubble, and sweeping up debris.
“I used to be a barber, but now I’m a laborer. I wait for families to enter and offer them my services in cleaning and restoration,” he says.
Khaled fled Harasta in 2012 to the nearby town of Al-Tal, where he still lives with his family. Every day, the father of three commutes to Harasta to find work.
His own house still stands, but he cannot return yet: temporary security measures dictate that people who live outside the town cannot stay past nightfall.
“I work with three other people. We use hammers, brooms, and buckets of water. Work is on and off,” he says.
“Clients pay us whatever they can afford.”
Harasta lies in Eastern Ghouta, recaptured this spring by Syrian troops with a deal that saw thousands of rebels and civilians bussed to opposition territory elsewhere.
Others, like 45-year-old Hassan, chose not to leave.
The former petrol station worker remained in Harasta throughout the rebel reign and decided to stay in its aftermath, too.
Hassan now works with Khaled, transporting rocks and other materials in his pick-up truck to construction sites.
“This is the only work in Harasta that pays right now,” says Hassan, wearing a dirty wool sweater despite the heat.
Harasta was once home to 250,000 people, most of them Syrians from elsewhere in the country who worked in the capital but sought cheap rent.
Now, just 15,000 people remain, town officials estimate, unable to leave until security forces clear their names.
With the use of personal cars banned, boys get around on bicycles while women and toddlers shuffle along on foot.
Many of Harasta’s large residential blocks or industrial complexes have been pulverized by strikes, artillery, and mortars.
They stand like massive grey honeycombs overlooking dusty streets still stripped of signs of life, months after fighting has stopped.
Mohammad Naaman, 50, was terrified his home would be among those gutted by fighting — and can hardly contain himself when he finds it still standing.
“I was shocked to see most buildings collapsed. It’s true my house is devastated compared to before, but I’m happy it’s still there at all,” says Naaman.
He, too, fled to Al-Tal in 2012 and still lives there.
The doors and windows of his Harasta home have been blown out and cracks run up the walls, threatening collapse.
But in the living room, a layer of dust blankets plastic flowers still standing in their vases.
“Whatever happens, it’s still my house, and my house is so dear to me,” Naaman says.
Like his neighbors, Naaman’s first step was removing the rubble and debris from his home, dumping them into the main street nearby according to instructions by local authorities.
Vehicles provided by the public works ministry transport the rubble to a local dump, separating metal out so that concrete can be turned back to cement and reused.
“We removed 110,000 cubic meters of rubble from the streets, but there’s still more than 600,000 to go,” says Adnan Wezze, who heads the town council running Harasta since the regime’s recapture.
As he speaks, a demolition digger works on a two-story building. Its metal arm reaches up to the roof and picks off slabs of concrete precariously perched there.
Authorities are working fast to demolish buildings “at risk of collapse, because they present a public safety threat,” says Wezze.
Many urban hubs across Syria, particularly around Damascus, have been hard-hit by hostilities, and President Bashar Assad said this month rebuilding would be his “top priority.”
But Law 10, a recent decree which allows for the expropriation of property to redevelop an area, sparked fears that millions of displaced Syrians would not get the opportunity to make a claim to their land.
Wezze insists that Harasta’s modest efforts were fair.
“We only demolish after getting permission from the owners,” he says.
If they are not present, Wezze adds, “their rights are still protected. We’ve requested proof of property even before areas are designated as development projects.”
“No resident of Harasta will lose his rights — whether they’re here or in exile.”