Saudi-led coalition reaches outskirts of Yemen’s Hodeidah airport

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The “Golden Victory” operation began after the passing of a deadline set by the United Arab Emirates for the Houthis (AFP)
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Coalition warplanes and warships carried out strikes on Houthi fortifications to support ground operations by Yemeni troops. (AFP)
Updated 15 June 2018
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Saudi-led coalition reaches outskirts of Yemen’s Hodeidah airport

  • Hodeidah is the lifeline for the majority of Yemen's population, who live in Houthi territory
  • Riyadh says the Houthis use the port to smuggle Iranian-made weapons

ADEN: Troops backed by the Saudi-led coalition reached the outskirts of Yemen’s main port city of Hodeidah’s airport on Wednesday.
The coalition launched an assault on Hodeidah earlier, in the biggest battle of the three-year war between the alliance of Arab states and the Iran-aligned Houthis.
Coalition warplanes and warships were carrying out strikes on Houthi fortifications to support ground operations by Yemeni troops massed south of the Red Sea port, the internationally recognized Yemeni government said in a statement.
The “Golden Victory” operation began after the passing of a deadline set by the United Arab Emirates for the Houthis, who hold the capital Sanaa, to quit the sole port under their control.
Hodeidah is the lifeline for the majority of Yemen’s population, who live in Houthi territory.
Houthi leader Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, who has threatened attacks on oil tankers along the strategic Red Sea shipping lane, warned the Western-backed alliance not to attack the port and said on Twitter his forces had targeted a coalition barge.
Houthi-run Al Masirah TV said two missiles struck the barge, but there was no immediate confirmation from the coalition.
The United Nations had been trying to get the parties to reach a deal that would avert an attack on Hodeidah, which it fears would further impede Yemenis’ access to food, fuel and medicine, exacerbating the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis in the impoverished Arab state.
It estimates that 600,000 people live in the area, and in a worst-case scenario, a battle could cost up to 250,000 lives, as well as cutting off aid and other supplies to millions of people facing starvation and disease.
The assault on Hodeidah is the first time the Saudi-led Arab coalition Western-backed coalition have attempted to capture such a well-defended major city, with the aim of boxing in the Iran backed Houthis in Sanaa and cutting their supply lines to force them to the negotiating table.
Turning point
The alliance intervened in Yemen to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and thwart what Riyadh and Abu Dhabi see as the expansionist aims of their Shiite foe, Iran.
“The liberation of Hodeidah port is a turning point in our struggle to recapture Yemen from the militias that hijacked it to serve foreign agendas,” the Yemeni government said in a statement carried by state-run media.
“The liberation of the port is the start of the fall of the Houthi militia and will secure marine shipping in Bab Al-Mandab strait and cut off the hands of Iran, which has long drowned Yemen in weapons that shed precious Yemeni blood.”
The Houthis deny they are Iranian pawns and say their revolt aims to target corruption and defend Yemen from invaders.
Yemen lies beside the southern mouth of the Red Sea, one of the most important trade routes in the world for oil tankers, which navigate near Yemen’s shores while heading from the Middle East through the Suez Canal to Europe.
Reactions to the ‘Golden Victory’ operation to re-take Hodeidah have been muted, apart from the UN. Lise Grande, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, speaking by telephone from the capital Sanaa, said that her office was drawing up options to ensure aid delivery to millions of Yemenis “in case of a possible siege of Hodeidah,” including a humanitarian airlift.
“We are distributing food, hygiene, nutritional supplies and shelter materials. We have a ship offloading food even as shelling and bombing is happening,” Grande said. “The UN is already taking steps in case of a possible siege including airlift capability.”
Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has called Wednesday for a speedy liberation of Hodeidah to spare its people from catastrophe. Hadi added that the Yemeni government offered numerous concessions trying to persuade the Houthi militia to withdraw from Hodeidah to prevent a military show down there, but the militia refused.
Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, said on his Twitter account that “operations to liberate the city of Hodeidah are a continuation of the support delivered by the Saudi-led Arab coalition to the Yemeni people, and a way to support their freedom against the militia supported by Iran bent on sowing chaos and destruction in the country.
Yemeni forces on Wednesday got closer to Hodeidah after taking control of the suburb of Nekheila south of the town and the port of Hodeidah.
The Saudi ambassador to Washington added in a separate tweet that the Saudi-led coalition’s operations to re-take Hodeidah are important in the light of the increased threat the militias controlling the port have been posing for maritime security in the Red Sea.
Reem Al-Hashimy, the UAE minister of state for international cooperation, has said if the port is wrested from the Houthis, the coalition could ease controls aimed at denying the group arms and ease the flow of goods and aid into Yemen, where millions face starvation and disease.
Riyadh says the Houthis use the port to smuggle Iranian-made weapons, including missiles that have targeted Saudi cities — accusations denied by the group and Iran.


Pastor talks of breakdown in Turkey, but also of forgiveness

Trump was insistent on Brunson’s release without conditions. (AP)
Updated 21 October 2018
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Pastor talks of breakdown in Turkey, but also of forgiveness

  • Brunson was accused of links to Kurdish militants and a US-based Muslim cleric whom Turkey blames for a failed coup in 2016

VIRGINIA BEACH: The American pastor recently released after two years of confinement in Turkey said on Friday that he suffered a breakdown during his time in prison and was put on anti-anxiety medication.
Andrew Brunson said he was deprived of books — even a Bible — for long stretches of time. For eight months, he spent 24 hours a day with more than 20 men in a cell designed for eight.
But the worst of it, he said, was the uncertainty. The pastor who had led a small congregation faced the possibility of life in a Turkish prison if convicted on charges of terrorism and related counts, accusations he still calls “ridiculous.”
“I didn’t do very well,” Brunson said of living in the crowded prison cell. “It was very high stress, and I was sleeping three to four hours maximum a day. And I was really struggling a great deal. I didn’t know how long this would continue. I didn’t know why I was in prison.”
He added: “I really had a breakdown emotionally. And I received medication for anxiety because I was just a basket case.”
Sitting next to his wife, Norine, Brunson spoke inside the Virginia Beach headquarters of the Christian Broadcasting Network after an interview on “The 700 Club,” among other CBN shows. The network closely followed his ordeal, which became a cause celebre for evangelical Christians as well as President Donald Trump.
Earlier this month, Brunson was convicted in Turkey and sentenced to more than three years in prison. But he was freed and allowed to leave for the two years he had already spent in custody. For the past few months, he had been on house arrest.
Brunson was accused of links to Kurdish militants and a US-based Muslim cleric whom Turkey blames for a failed coup in 2016.
Upon his return, Brunson, 50, visited the White House and placed his hand on Trump’s shoulder in prayer before asking God to provide the president “supernatural wisdom to accomplish all the plans you have for this country and for him.”
Trump was insistent on Brunson’s release without conditions. And the president maintained there was no deal for Brunson’s freedom.
Brunson said on Friday that he was unaware of any deals. And he pointed out that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had previously suggested trading Brunson for Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Turkey of engineering a failed coup in 2016. The swap was never made.
The Brunsons, who spent 25 years in Turkey, said they still love the country but cannot return any time soon. They said they do not know what is next, but they view their ordeal as part of God’s plan.
“We haven’t done anything great,” Brunson said. “But for so many people in so many countries to be praying for us, this is something that God did. It was not just to bless me. He’s using that to bless Turkey.”
In the meantime, the couple is still recovering from the past two years, which included Norine Brunson’s arrest with her husband and the two weeks she spent with him in prison.
She was released and allowed to stay in the country while he was shipped around to various prisons. Their children, then ages 15, 18 and 21, were in the US and have remained there.
The Brunsons said they still do not know why the Turkish government made its accusations. Their missionary work was legal and out in the open for more than two decades.
But they said they were American Christians, who are viewed with suspicion in Turkey. And they were there after the failed coup.
Brunson said Turkish authorities never offered any proof to support the charges — no emails, no social media postings or recordings.
But people the Brunsons had known testified against him. It is something the pastor is still processing.
“It’s not an option not to forgive; we are required to as Christians,” Brunson said. “Is it easy? No. But God forgave me. As I get emotions that come back, I say, ‘I forgive.’”