Uneasy calm returns to Aden’s streets

A southern Yemeni separatist fighter checks cars at a checkpoint in the city of Aden, as calm descends on Aden streets. (Reuters)
Updated 09 February 2018

Uneasy calm returns to Aden’s streets

ADEN: A fragile calm has descended on Aden a week after heavy fighting saw southern Yemeni separatists take control of the city in a move that threatened to mark a volatile new phase in the conflict.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE helped broker a truce between warring factions in the area after heavily armed militiamen seized a local military barracks sparking clashes that killed 38 and injured more than 200.
The assault by the rebels of the Southern Transitional Council targeted government soldiers loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and left the two sides, who are both part of the Saudi-led coalition in the wider war against Iranian-backed Houthis, facing off against each other on the city’s streets.
After several days of intense combat, the fighters appeared to be on the verge of capturing the presidential palace.
But as a new round of clashes seemed set to erupt this week, the main countries of the coalition intervened to broker a cease-fire and prevented further bloodshed, Yemeni soldiers and civilians told the Arab News.
An uneasy truce now exists in Aden, bringing a semblance of normality back to a city that has long been central to the fluctuating conflict.
Mohammed Khalil, a 22-year-old university student, described how the fighting had damaged buildings and sent terrified families running from their homes. Just as he was also about to join the exodus from his neighborhood, however, the violence stopped.
“Last week was horrible. I had decided to to flee the city for a safer area but the Saudi-led coalition intervened just in time to stop the clashes,” he said.
As the de-facto center of government for President Hadi, Aden has played a key role in the civil war that has torn Yemen apart since 2015. The conflict began when the Houthi-led militiamen and forces loyal to the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, took control of the national capital Sanaa and tried to remove Hadi from power.
When the fighting spread to Aden, Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened in an effort to protect the Hadi government and the Houthis were pushed back in the summer of 2015.
The situation in Aden remained volatile and the coalition and their Yemeni allies have had to confront a series of attacks and assassinations in the city carried out by extremist groups taking advantage of the conflict.
The city has also traditionally been the center of support for the Southern Movement, which calls for a separate state in Yemen’s south. The recent fighting was sparked when government forces tried to prevent a rally calling for the restoration of South Yemen, which was an independent country until 1990.
Yemen’s Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher appealed on Wednesday for reconciliation with the separatists, whose fighters still control much of the city and large areas of nearby provinces.
“The mission today is to bridge the gap, heal the wounds and abandon political escalation,” Dagher told a Cabinet meeting.
Aden was already heavily damaged when the Houthi militias attacked the city in 2015 and residents are desperate not to see similar scenes again.
Saeed Bamashmoos, 34, who works at the Al-Shorooq Exchange Company in Al-Muallah district, said things had improved this week in the city after the fighting.
“By dialogue, people can discuss and solve their disagreements and not by force. Force is not a solution at all, so I hope that the sides use dialogue instead of arms,” he told Arab News.
Fighters on either side also said they did not want to clash again with each other while they are meant to be fighting against the Houthis.
Mohammed Al-Qirbi, 26, a captain with the forces of the Southern Transitional Council said when they arrived at the presidential palace in Aden, they received orders that forbid them from storming the building.
Al-Qirbi said many fighter’s from Hadi’s presidential forces surrendered rather than fighting.
“I am very sad about our colleagues who were killed in these clashes,” Al-Qirbi said, adding that he hoped fighting in Aden would not resume. Sergeant Salem Al-Lawdari, 33, a sergeant in Hadi’s presidential forces was arrested amid clashes in the Crater area but released the next day. He told Arab News that they did not want to kill any of the southern separatist fighters.
“We were shooting in the air to avoid killing our colleagues, and then the president Hadi and the Saudi-led coalition directed us to stop fighting so fighters withdrew from battles and returned their barracks,” Al-Lawdari said.
Abdurrahman Al-Naqeeb, a spokesman for Aden’s police, said: “The coalition called on all sides in Aden to calm and all sides welcomed this plea.”
The casualties add to the more than 10,000 people killed in nearly three years of war in Yemen.

Iran scrambles for European lifeline

A special meeting of the Joint Commission of parties to the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) on Iran’s nuclear deal is in progress in Vienna. (Reuters)
Updated 26 min 21 sec ago

Iran scrambles for European lifeline

  • ‘Noose is tightening on Tehran’ in face of US sanctions, expert tells Arab News
  • US President Donald Trump has long criticized the deal with Iran saying it failed to do enough to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

JEDDAH: Signatories of the Iran nuclear deal met in Vienna on Friday in a bid to save the agreement after Washington’s dramatic withdrawal earlier this month.

For the first time since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) came into force in 2015, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany gathered — at Iran’s request — without the US, which pulled out of the agreement on May 8 and said it would reinstate sanctions.

US President Donald Trump has long criticized the deal with Iran — concluded under his predecessor Barack Obama — saying it failed to do enough to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Speaking to AFP after Friday’s meeting, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araghchi, said: “We are negotiating... to see if they can provide us with a package that can give Iran the benefits of sanctions lifting.” 

“Practical solutions” were required to address Iran’s concerns over its oil exports, banking flows and foreign investment in the country, he said.

Russian delegate Mikhail Ulyanov struck an upbeat note after the meeting, saying: “We have all the chances to succeed, provided we have the political will.

Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Majid Rafizadeh told Arab News that it would be against Europe’s interests to stay in the deal.

“The European nations should be cognizant of the fact that the beneficiary of the nuclear deal is Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and its militias,” he said. “Staying in the deal or submitting to the Iranian regime’s new demands will inflict damage on the EU’s geopolitical and national security interest in the short and long term.”

The EU could not thwart or skirt US primary and secondary sanctions against Iran, he said. Rafizadeh said Iran’s hard-liners were attempting to obtain concessions from the EU by threatening to pull out of the JCPOA.

“But from the perspective of the Iranian leaders, giving concessions means weakness. And although Iran is playing tough, it needs the deal to support Bashar Assad and its proxies.

“The European governments should be aware that the Iranian leaders — moderates and hard-liners — are playing a shrewd tactical game.

“The regime is playing a classic ‘good cop, bad cop’ game. The moderates set the tone on the international stage through their shrewd diplomatic skills and softer tone, while the hard-liners take a tougher stance to help the moderates win more concessions,” said Rafizadeh.

Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, said the noose was tightening on Tehran.

“European firms simply cannot afford the penalties imposed by US secondary sanctions on Iran. The Iranian plan to press Europe to compensate for President Trump’s policy decision to restart a crippling sanctions regime is unlikely to prove fruitful,” he told Arab News.

Recent revelations of a covert Iranian facility designed to develop long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles that can be fitted with nuclear warheads will only complicate matters for Tehran as it scrambles for a European lifeline, Shahbandar said.

“The collapse of the JCPOA is likely to prove a major shock to the Iranian economy in the long run,” he said.