Air strikes, clashes hit Yemen port city despite cease-fire

Under the deal, international monitors would be deployed in Hodeidah and all armed forces would pull back completely within 21 days of the start of the cease-fire. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 December 2018

Air strikes, clashes hit Yemen port city despite cease-fire

  • The UN is working closely with both sides to ensure the provisions of the Hodeidah agreement are implemented timely and properly
  • Residents reported continued skirmishes, mostly at night, on the outskirts of Hodeidah, where thousands of coalition-backed Yemeni troops have massed

DUBAI: The UN’s envoy to Yemen called on Sunday for pro-government forces and rebels to respect a cease-fire in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, after repeated clashes between the two sides threatened to unravel a hard-won accord hammered out in Sweden last week.
“The special envoy expects the two parties to respect their obligations as per the text and spirit of the Stockholm Agreement and to engage in the immediate implementation of its provisions,” envoy Martin Griffiths tweeted.
He said the UN was working with Yemen’s internationally recognized government and the Iran-backed Houthi militia to ensure the accord on Hodeidah reached on Thursday was “implemented timely and properly.”

Clashes shook Hodeidah Sunday after air strikes and deadly fighting on the outskirts overnight, residents said.
UN chief Antonio Guterres warned that “much worse” lay in store for the impoverished country in 2019 unless its warring parties strike a peace deal and head off a humanitarian crisis.
A resident of the city reached by telephone said that the clashes were “fierce” and the sounds of jets could be heard throughout the night until about 5 am (0200 GMT) on Sunday.
Another resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also reported ongoing fighting in the city, home to a lifeline port.
“There are sounds of jets and air strikes, but we don’t know what they are targeting,” he told AFP by telephone.
At least 29 fighters, including 22 Houthi rebels and seven pro-government troops, were killed on Saturday night in clashes and air strikes in Hodeidah province, a pro-government military source told AFP.
No other sources could confirm the death toll.
The pro-government source added that seven rebels were captured during a Houthi attack on Al-Durayhimi district, which lies about 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Hodeidah city.

The truce between Yemeni government forces, backed by an Arab coalition and the Houthi militia was due to be followed by the withdrawal of fighters from Hodeidah within days on both sides.
Under the deal, international monitors would be deployed in Hodeidah and all armed forces would pull back completely within 21 days of the start of the cease-fire.
Thursday’s cease-fire accord has been seen as the most significant step toward ending the devastating conflict in Yemen, where more than 14 million people are on the brink of famine.
The United States commended on Sunday the two sides that took part in the Sweden negotiations for “making progress on key initiatives,” calling for a de-escalation of tensions.
“Moving forward, all must continue to engage, de-escalate tensions, and cease ongoing hostilities,” the US embassy in Riyadh tweeted.

A prisoner swap involving some 15,000 detainees is planned and a “mutual understanding” has been reached to facilitate aid deliveries to Yemen’s third city Taiz — under the control of loyalists but besieged by the terrorist rebels.
The two sides also agreed to meet again in late January for more talks to define the framework for negotiations on a comprehensive peace settlement.
Severe food shortages mean that a high number of Yemenis have been dying in “very dramatic circumstances,” Guterres told a news conference in Doha.
“The fact that famine was not yet declared does not in any way diminish our huge concern with a very high level of hunger that exists in Yemen” and “people dying in very dramatic circumstances,” the UN chief said.
“Without peace, we will be facing in 2019 a much worse situation than today.”
On Friday, UN special envoy Martin Griffiths called for the urgent creation of a strong monitoring mechanism in the war-torn country.
“A robust and competent monitoring regime is not just essential. It is also urgently needed,” Griffiths told the UN Security Council.
He added that “allowing the UN the lead role in the ports is the vital first step.”
Diplomats said Guterres may propose a surveillance mechanism comprising 30 to 40 observers.
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock has for months been warning of a worsening situation in Yemen and says the UN is asking for $4 billion to help suffering Yemenis next year.
“Millions of Yemenis still desperately need assistance and protection,” he said.

Israel holds largest military drill amid US-Iran tensions

Updated 3 min 5 sec ago

Israel holds largest military drill amid US-Iran tensions

  • The Israeli military said the four-day exercise had been planned long in advance

JERUSALEM: Israel wrapped up its largest military drill in years on Wednesday, with thousands of troops from the army, navy and air force simulating a future war with the militant Lebanese Hezbollah group amid fears that Iran would draw its Shiite proxy into the recent growing tensions in the Arabian Gulf.

The Israeli military said the four-day exercise had been planned long in advance and focused on the immersion of all branches against threats emanating from Israel’s north. It included a large deployment of unmanned aircraft and the first use of the F-35 stealth fighter planes to prepare for scenarios of missile attacks and underground infiltrations from Lebanon.

But rising tensions between Iran and the US clearly served as a backdrop.

Iran recently announced it was breaking its compliance with the nuclear deal with world powers amid the renewal of crippling American sanctions. The Trump administration has ordered 1,000 more troops to the Middle East amid accusations that Iran was behind a series of strikes against oil tankers near the Arabian Gulf.

Israeli officials fear Iran may try to mobilize Hezbollah as its most potent tool against Israel in a confrontation. Israel has long identified Iran as its greatest threat, citing its suspect nuclear program, development of long-range missiles and hostile rhetoric.

The Lebanese militant group battled Israel to a stalemate in a month-long war in 2006 and has since gained valuable battle experience in the Syrian civil war. Over the past 13 years, Israel has carried out dozens of airstrikes against suspected weapons shipments from Iran through Syria to Lebanon and has engaged in several dust ups. But its field training has been primarily aimed toward delivering a far more decisive victory in its next full-scale war with Hezbollah.

Though the military would not mention it by name, Hezbollah was clearly the central focus of the drill.

“I am very impressed by the improvement in readiness, by the fighting spirit of the soldiers and commanders, and mainly by the destructive power,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said as he attended part of the drill. “I say to our enemies: The (military) has very great destructive power. Don’t test us.”

Netanyahu, who has been a vocal critic of Iran over the years, has been uncharacteristically quiet throughout the latest escalation in the Arabian Gulf.

Speaking Tuesday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin was far more specific in identifying the threat.

“We caution Hezbollah not to subordinate Lebanon to Iran’s agenda, and we caution Lebanon not to be used as a launching pad for attacks against Israel,” Rivlin said. “We are not happy to go to war, but the military is fully prepared to respond to any threat and any scenario.”

The drill in northern Israel featured the country’s ever-growing arsenal of unmanned aircraft, already deployed continuously in reconnaissance missions along Israel’s borders.

Though never confirmed by Israel, the drones are also suspected of being able to carry out surgical aerial strikes that have lightened the load of Israel’s fleet of fighter jets. Able to carry out missions that would be more challenging and perilous to manned flight, the drones look to play a major role in any future war with Hezbollah, said Capt. M, the deputy commander of the Black Snake Drone Squadron, who could only be identified by his first initial according to military protocol.

“The north is a more complex fighting arena,” he said. “We are preparing for a prolonged round of fighting and the drones are an integral part of it.”

Israel’s multi-layer aerial defense systems were also being integrated into the drill, with the assumption that a war would entail massive missile fire toward all parts of the country. The Arrow rocket system is designed to intercept the longest-range missiles, including outside the atmosphere.

“Arrow was certainly developed to defend from the Iranian threat,” said Maj. Rimon Weiss, an Arrow missile commander.