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
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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.


Gaza massacre probe: Human rights advocates accuse Israeli military of whitewash

Israeli airtrikes in areas such as Rafah in 2014 caused massive damage. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 August 2018
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Gaza massacre probe: Human rights advocates accuse Israeli military of whitewash

  • The Israeli investigation identified over 110 dead — including 42 militants and up to 72 civilians who were "unintentionally killed"
  • The 2014 war was the third and most devastating round of fighting between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said its investigation into one of the bloodiest incidents of the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip found no criminal wrongdoing by Israeli forces and there were no grounds to prosecute any troops.
The announcement drew condemnations from Palestinians and human rights advocates, who accused the military of a whitewash.
The investigation focused on an Aug. 1, 2014, battle in the southern Gaza town of Rafah that erupted after an Israeli military officer was feared abducted by Palestinian militants during a cease-fire. Over 110 Palestinians were killed in daylong fighting, and Palestinian witnesses had complained of heavy and indiscriminate shelling by Israeli forces.
Following what it called a comprehensive investigation, the army said its military advocate general (MAG) determined "a criminal investigation is not warranted into the incidents that occurred during the fighting."
Fearing a soldier had fallen into enemy hands, Israel invoked its "Hannibal" procedure — a protocol that allowed the heavy use of force to prevent the capture of a comrade. Israeli forces attacked the area with artillery fire, tanks shells and airstrikes.
At the time, Palestinian residents described a terrifying ordeal as they fled their homes and searched for cover amid heavy shelling of their neighborhood, located on the outskirts of the city. Human rights groups identified 121 people killed and accused Israel of committing war crimes by allegedly using disproportionate or indiscriminate force and failing to distinguish between civilians and combatants.
The Israeli investigation identified over 110 dead — including 42 militants and up to 72 civilians who were "unintentionally killed." In one instance, it said 16 civilians were killed in an airstrike on a family home that was targeted due to faulty intelligence.
But it said all of its actions had "clear and legitimate military purposes" and found no evidence that attacks were indiscriminate, aimed at civilians or motivated by revenge.
"The MAG did not find that the actions of the IDF forces that were examined raised grounds for a reasonable suspicion of criminal misconduct," it said.
"The MAG found that the IDF's policy with respect to the use of firepower during the fighting — whether by tanks, by artillery and mortars, or from the air — accorded with Israeli domestic law and international law requirements."
The "Hannibal" directive was canceled by the military in 2016 following heavy criticism. Last year, the military introduced a revised version.
Human rights groups have accused the Israeli military of ignoring or covering up wrongdoing in its investigations over the years. B'Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights group, condemned the latest findings.
"The military advocate general proves again that no matter how high the number of Palestinians killed is, nor how arbitrary the circumstances of their killing by the military was, the Israeli whitewash mechanism he heads will find a way to bury the facts," it said.
Wael Al-Namla, who lost three family members that day, said the army's findings were "crazy." Al-Namla, as well as his toddler son, both lost legs in the shelling as well.
"They were bombing us from the ground and air randomly. They did not just violate the human rights, they forgot that there were humans in Rafah," he said.
"I want an independent international investigation that can guarantee my rights."
The 2014 war was the third and most devastating round of fighting between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers. Over 2,200 Palestinians were killed, including hundreds of civilians, and widespread damage was inflicted on Gaza's infrastructure. During the 50-day war, 73 people were killed on the Israeli side and continued rocket fire on Israeli cities disrupted life throughout large parts of the country.
The Palestinians are seeking to press war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The court's prosecutor has opened a preliminary investigation, but not made a decision on whether to move ahead with a case.
A key factor in that decision could be whether the prosecutor believes Israel's own investigations into actions by its troops are credible.