Sweden says it could host Yemen’s warring sides for talks

Soldiers loyal to Saudi-led coalition forces are seen in the southern Yemeni port of Aden on October 29, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 31 October 2018
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Sweden says it could host Yemen’s warring sides for talks

  • Wallstrom said the United Nations has asked her country if it “could be a place for the UN envoy to gather the parties in this conflict”
  • She told Swedish news agency TT that her country would be “happy about it,” but that nothing is definite

COPENHAGEN: Sweden on Wednesday offered to host talks between Yemen’s warring parties as Washington called for an urgent halt to hostilities and the UN special envoy ramped up efforts to revive discussions that failed nearly two months ago.
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said the United Nations has asked her country if it “could be a place for the UN envoy to gather the parties in this conflict” — the internationally recognized government, supported by a Saudi-led coalition, and Yemen’s Iran-backed Shiite rebels known as Houthis.
Wallstrom told Swedish news agency TT that her country would be “happy about it,” but that nothing is definite.
The possible venue comes as UN envoy Martin Griffiths called on the opposing sides in the 3 1/2-year conflict to heed “recent calls” for a quick resumption of the political process and efforts to win a halt to fighting in Yemen.
The Trump administration late Tuesday called for an urgent halt to the war and a start to negotiations aimed at a political settlement. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked all parties to support Griffiths in what Pompeo said must be “substantive consultations” in November in a third country.
In separate remarks, also Tuesday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called for a cease-fire within 30 days.
Nigel Tricks of the Norwegian Refugee Council welcomed the cease-fire call, saying it could be “the political breakthrough that we have long requested from parties to this brutal war” that has been “four years of hell for Yemeni women, men and children.”
Griffiths urged the concerned parties to “seize this opportunity” and singled out support for “confidence-building measures” such as Yemen’s central bank, a prisoner exchange and the re-opening of the airport in the rebel-held Yemeni capital, Sanaa.
“Dialogue remains the only path to reach an inclusive agreement,” Griffiths said in a statement.
Wallstrom reiterated Sweden’s support for Griffiths, whose efforts to host talks between the government and rebels in Geneva in September ran aground when Houthi representatives didn’t show up, insisting they had not been guaranteed safe return after the discussions.
The conflict in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, began with the 2014 takeover of Sanaa by the Houthis who toppled the internationally recognized government. A Saudi-led coalition allied with the government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.
The war has killed over 10,000 people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine. The UN says Yemen is facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
At the beginning of 2017, the UN and its partners provided aid to 3 million hungry Yemenis. Since then, assistance has been scaled up, reaching 8 million people last month because of generous funding from donors, but far below the 14 million people — or half Yemen’s population — who may need it.
Earlier this month, Mark Lowcock, the UN humanitarian chief, warned of “an imminent and great big famine engulfing Yemen.”


Palestinians in financial crisis after Israel, US moves

Updated 32 min 37 sec ago
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Palestinians in financial crisis after Israel, US moves

  • A Ramallah-based economics professor said the Palestinian economy more generally, remain totally controlled by and reliant on Israel
  • Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since 2014

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The Palestinian Authority faces a suffocating financial crisis after deep US aid cuts and an Israeli move to withhold tax transfers, sparking fears for the stability of the West Bank.
The authority, headed by President Mahmud Abbas, announced a package of emergency measures on March 10, including halving the salaries of many civil servants.
The United States has cut more than $500 million in Palestinian aid in the last year, though only a fraction of that went directly to the PA.
The PA has decided to refuse what little US aid remains on offer for fear of civil suits under new legislation passed by Congress.
Israel has also announced it intends to deduct around $10 million a month in taxes it collects for the PA in a dispute over payments to the families of prisoners in Israeli jails.
In response, Abbas has refused to receive any funds at all, labelling the Israeli reductions theft.
That will leave his government with a monthly shortfall of around $190 million for the length of the crisis.
The money makes up more than 50 percent of the PA’s monthly revenues, with other funds coming from local taxes and foreign aid.

While the impact of the cuts is still being assessed, analysts fear it could affect the stability of the occupied West Bank.
“If the economic situation remains so difficult and the PA is unable to pay salaries and provide services, in addition to continuing (Israeli) settlement expansion it will lead to an explosion,” political analyst Jihad Harb said.
Abbas cut off relations with the US administration after President Donald Trump declared the disputed city of Jerusalem Israel’s capital in December 2017.
The right-wing Israeli government, strongly backed by the US, has since sought to squeeze Abbas.
After a deadly anti-Israeli attack last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would withhold $138 million (123 million euros) in Palestinian revenues over the course of a year.
Israel collects around $190 million a month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through its ports, and then transfers the money to the PA.
Israel said the amount it intended to withhold was equal to what is paid by the PA to the families of prisoners, or prisoners themselves, jailed for attacks on Israelis last year.
Many Palestinians view prisoners and those killed while carrying out attacks as heroes of the fight against Israeli occupation.
Israel says the payments encourage further violence.
Abbas recently accused Netanyahu’s government of causing a “crippling economic crisis in the Palestinian Authority.”
The PA also said in January it would refuse all further US government aid for fear of lawsuits under new US legislation targeting alleged support for “terrorism.”

Finance Minister Shukri Bishara announced earlier this month he had been forced to “adopt an emergency budget that includes restricted austerity measures.”
Government employees paid over 2,000 shekels ($555) will receive only half their salaries until further notice.
Prisoner payments would continue in full, Bishara added.
Nasser Abdel Karim, a Ramallah-based economics professor, told AFP the PA, and the Palestinian economy more generally, remain totally controlled by and reliant on Israel.
The PA undertook similar financial measures in 2012 when Israel withheld taxes over Palestinian efforts to gain international recognition at the United Nations.
Abdel Karim said such crises are “repeated and disappear according to the development of the relationship between the Palestinian Authority and Israel or the countries that support (the PA).”
Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including now annexed east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and Abbas’s government has only limited autonomy in West Bank towns and cities.
“The problem is the lack of cash,” economic journalist Jafar Sadaqa told AFP.
He said that while the PA had faced financial crises before, “this time is different because it comes as a cumulative result of political decisions taken by the United States.”
Abbas appointed longtime ally Mohammad Shtayyeh as prime minister on March 10 to head a new government to oversee the crisis.
Abdel Karim believes the crisis could worsen after an Israeli general election next month “if a more right-wing Israeli government wins.”
Netanyahu’s outgoing government is already regarded as the most right-wing in Israel’s history but on April 9 parties even further to the right have a realistic chance of winning seats in parliament for the first time.
Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since 2014, when a drive for a deal by the administration of President Barack Obama collapsed in the face of persistent Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.