Yemen military offensive ‘still open if Houthis reject Hodeidah pullout’

A government offensive on Yemen’s Hodeida remains an option if Houthi militias refuse to withdraw from the port city, a minister said on Friday, as the negotiators met for UN-brokered talks. ( AFP)
Updated 08 December 2018
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Yemen military offensive ‘still open if Houthis reject Hodeidah pullout’

  • Talks between Yemen’s government and Houthis, linked to Iran, opened on Thursday in Sweden
  • Agriculture Minister Othman Al-Mujalli said military decisiveness may be an option if the Houthis are not responsive

STOCKHOLM: A government offensive on Yemen’s Hodeidah remains an option if Houthi militias refuse to withdraw from the port city, a minister said on Friday, as the negotiators met for UN-brokered talks.
“We are now in negotiations in response to calls by the international community, the UN and the UN envoy. We are still looking into means toward peace,” said Agriculture Minister Othman Al-Mujalli.
“But if they (the Houthis) are not responsive, we have many options, including that of military decisiveness,” he told reporters in response to a question on the Houthi-occupied city. “And we are ready.”
Talks between Yemen’s government and Houthis, linked to Iran, opened on Thursday in Sweden.
While the days leading up to the gathering saw the government and Houthis agreeing on a prisoner swap deal and the evacuation of wounded insurgents for medical treatment in Oman, both parties traded threats as the talks began. The two sides have not yet met face-to-face.
Talks are expected to focus the fate of Hodeidah, a city on Yemen’s western coastline that houses the country’s most valuable port.
The government accuses the Houthis of arms smuggling through Hodeidah —  also a conduit for 90 percent of food imports — and has demanded the militias withdraw from the port.
Al-Mujalli said the government was not open to negotiations on control of the port. The UN, he said, could play a “supervisory” role, but he rejected the idea of placing management of the port in the hands of a third party.
UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths urged both parties to spare Hodeidah.
“It’s the humanitarian pipeline to the rest of the country,” he said.
Negotiations also cover a prisoner swap between the two sides and the potential reopening of Sanaa airport, located in the Houthi-occupied capital and largely shut down for three years. 
The government is demanding planes be searched in one of two government-controlled areas — Aden or Sayoun — en route to or from Sanaa.
“We are keen on the opening of Sanaa airport, and we demand the opening of Sanaa airport and we know that the Yemeni citizen should have the right to reach any country in the world through Sanaa airport,” said Abdulaziz Jabari, a presidential adviser and member of a Yemeni government delegation at the talks.
“But... we are looking into who will supervise Sanaa airport,” Jabari said, adding that the airport could serve as a hub for domestic flights.
But Houthis on Friday turned down the government demand.”Sanaa airport is an international airport,” said Houthi representative Abdulmalik Al-Ajri.


Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

Updated 19 July 2019
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Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

  • Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place
  • The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions

BEIRUT: Retired Lebanese soldiers on Friday came close to clashing with the country’s army when weeks of protests over planned benefit cuts reached boiling point in the capital Beirut.
Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place.
A military source told Arab News that the Lebanese army leadership had decided to block access to Najma Square, in Beirut’s Central District, where Parliament members were sitting.
But former soldiers, joined by the parents of army martyrs and activists from the Sabaa and Communist parties, surrounded the building in nearby streets before attempting to push through barbed wire, concrete and metal barriers erected by the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Forces.
The protesters, waving Lebanese and army flags, got as far as the entrance to Maarad Street, on which Parliament is located, putting them in direct confrontation with the Lebanese troops.
Ten brigades of reinforcements were drafted in to help push back the veterans before protest leaders eased tensions by calling for a retreat to a nearby square to avoid any further clashes.
The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions. Before entering the parliamentary session, Lebanese Minister of Defense Elias Bou Saab said that “misleading the retired soldiers” would be “harmful to the image and demands of the protesters” and called on them to carry out “peaceful demonstrations.” He added that there had been mixed and confused messages regarding benefit cuts.
However, retired Brig. Gen. Georges Nader had vowed that protesters would not back off until the vote on their benefits was dropped.
Discussing the protests in Parliament, Samy Gemayel, president of the Phalange party, objected to the reduction in the army budget, to which Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said: “This has been concluded on the bases of an understanding with the army and the military establishment.”
MP Paula Yacoubian said that “retired soldiers are trying to storm Parliament,” to which Berri said: “Those who want to storm Parliament have not yet been born.”
The row had centered on a controversial article concerning amendments to the country’s income tax act, and Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil insisted on defending it. He said: “It does not cost the retired soldiers, for instance, more than 3,000 Lebanese pounds ($2) per month. This amount rises to 400,000 pounds for brigadiers.” He added: “Which country in the world gives a retiree 85 percent of his salary?”
After a meeting between the minister and Nader in Parliament, the retired brigadier general went out to reassure the veterans that cuts from their salaries in respect of medicine and income tax would be reduced. Less intense protests continued for more than three hours before Parliament approved the relevant article in the budget.
Meanwhile, Berri had started the Parliament session by reading a resignation submitted by Hezbollah MP Nawaf Musawi.