Yemen talks go down to the wire

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Houthi delegate Abdelqader Mourtada, left, and the Yemeni government delegate Brig. Gen. Asker Zaeel, shake hands during the peace talks near Stockholm. (AFP)
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Representatives of the Houthi militia delegation (L) and representatives of the Yemeni government’s delegation (R) pose for a picture with representatives from the office of the UN Special Envoy for Yemen and the International Red Cross Committee (ICRC) during the ongoing peace talks on Yemen held at Johannesberg Castle in Rimbo, north of Stockholm, Sweden, December 11, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 13 December 2018
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Yemen talks go down to the wire

  • The two parties agreed that international flights would stop at a government-held airport for inspections before flying in or out of Sanaa

JEDDAH: Both sides in the Yemen conflict agreed on Wednesday to reopen Sanaa airport and resume oil and gas exports.

But agreement on the Red Sea port of Hodeidah and a cooperation deal on the crumbling economy remained elusive as the clock ticked down to the last day of talks.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is due in Rimbo, Sweden, for Thursday’s closing round of consultations. Another round of talks has been tentatively scheduled for January.

A UN spokeswoman said both sides had received a “final package” of agreements on the status of Hodeidah, a political framework and shoring up the economy. “We hope to receive positive responses,” she said.

The two parties agreed that international flights would stop at a government-held airport for inspections before flying in or out of Sanaa. They have yet to agree on whether those inspections will be in Aden airport or Sayun.

Yemen’s Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed said there may not be enough time for full agreement on Hodeidah before the talks, the first in over two years, conclude on Thursday.

“We talked about it a lot but with the limited time we have, we can’t talk about all the points in this round. The important thing is to build confidence and then go into the details of the Hodeidah file,” he said.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths is trying to avert a full-scale assault on Hodeidah by Yemen government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition, and is asking both sides to withdraw from the city.

His proposal is for an interim entity to run the city and port and for the deployment of international monitors.

Both sides have agreed to a UN role in the port, but differ on who should run the city. The Iran-backed Houthi miitias want Hodeidah declared a neutral zone, but Yemen’s government argues it is a matter of sovereignty.

“The devil is in the details — withdraw how far from Hodeidah, the sequence, who governs and delivers services,” said one diplomat.


Jumblatt expresses concern over torture of Syrian refugees

Syrian children are pictured at a refugee camp in the village of Mhammara in the northern Lebanese Akkar region on March 9, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 26 min 45 sec ago
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Jumblatt expresses concern over torture of Syrian refugees

  • Walid Jumblatt has expressed concern about Syrian refugees returning to their country from Lebanon
  • Jan Kubis: “The UN and the humanitarian community will continue to facilitate these returns as much as possible

BEIRUT: Lebanese Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt has expressed concern about reports that Syrian refugees returning to their country from Lebanon face torture and murder.

This coincides with a debate in Lebanon about whether Syrian refugees should return without waiting for a political solution to the conflict in their country. 

UN Special Coordinator Jan Kubis stressed after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday the “urgent need to ensure the safe, voluntary and dignified return of Syrian refugees home, according to international humanitarian norms.” 

Kubis added: “The UN and the humanitarian community will continue to facilitate these returns as much as possible. Another very important message was also to support the host communities here in Lebanon.”

Mireille Girard, representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), on Monday said: “The reconstruction process in Syria may not be enough to attract refugees to return. We are working to identify the reasons that will help them to return.”

She added: “The arrival of aid to the refugees is an element of trust that helps them to return. Their dignity and peaceful living must be ensured.”

Social Affairs Minister Richard Kouyoumdjian said the Lebanese General Security “issued lists containing the names of refugees wishing to return to their homes, but the Syrian regime accepted only about 20 percent of them.”

He added: “The solution is to call on the international community to put pressure on Russia, so that Moscow can exert pressure on (Syrian President) Bashar Assad’s regime to show goodwill and invite Syrian refugees to return to their land without conditions, procedures, obstacles and laws that steal property and land from them.”

Lebanese Education Minister Akram Chehayeb said: “The problem is not reconstruction and infrastructure, nor the economic and social situation. The main obstacle is the climate of fear and injustice in Syria.”

He added: “There are 215,000 Syrian students enrolled in public education in Lebanon, 60,000 in private education, and there are informal education programs for those who have not yet attended school to accommodate all children under the age of 18.” 

Chehayeb said: “As long as the displacement crisis continues, and as long as the (Assad) regime’s decision to prevent the (refugees’) return stands … work must continue to absorb the children of displaced Syrians who are outside education to protect Lebanon today and Syria in the future.”