UAE blasts Houthis for disregarding Hodeidah ceasefire and blocking Yemen aid access

Houthi militants patrolling a street in Hodeidah in December. The militia is blocking access to crucial food supplies in the city. (Reuters)
Updated 09 February 2019

UAE blasts Houthis for disregarding Hodeidah ceasefire and blocking Yemen aid access

  • UAE minister says Houthi’s are the real impediment to peace in Yemen
  • Red Sea Mills in Hodeidah contains enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month

DUBAI: The UAE has accused the Houthis of disregarding a Yemen ceasefire agreement after the UN slammed the militants for blocking access to vast food supplies.

The Red Sea Mills in Hodeidah contains enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month, but aid officials have been unable to access the stores since September, despite Yemen’s desperate food shortages.

Houthi militants have  blocked the UN from reaching the food and last month destroyed some of the stores with shelling.

Mark Lowcock, under-secretary of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), on Thursday implored the Iran—backed Houthis to allow access to the stores.

Anwar Garagsh, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, said on Friday that the UN’s plea for access to the stores showed that “the Houthi’s are the real impediment to peace in Yemen.” 

“This will be clearer with their every move to derail the political process,” Gargash said on Twitter.

“The Stockholm Agreement offers us a unique opportunity to end the war in Yemen. 

“Nonetheless the Houthis are working hard to undermine this opportunity by their obstinate disregard to their commitments.”

Gargash said the way forward for the Houthis is to withdraw from “the ports and Hodaidah city” as per the agreement signed in December. 

“The militia is dragging its feet & threatening the overall prospects for peace,” he added.

Talks were held this week in Hodeidah in an attempt to find a breakthrough in implementing the agreement. Mediators said Friday that talks in Jordan on a prisoner swap deal had made "important progress."
The huge prisoner exchange is seen as a crucial confidence-building measure in the UN-led push for peace.

The city of Hodeidah became the main front in the war, which was sparked when the Houthis seized the capital Sanaa in 2014.

Pro-government forces supported by an Arab coalition, which includes Saudi Arabia and the UAE, had surrounded the city and prepared to retake it last summer. 

Hodeidah serves as the country’s main port for aid supplies but the UN and the coalition accuse the Houthis of blocking those supplies from reaching those desperately in need.

“Access to the mills grows ever more urgent as time passes and the risk of spoilage to the remaining grain increases,” Lowcock said in his statement.

“I implore all parties, in particular Ansar Allah affiliated groups, to finalize an agreement and facilitate access to the mills in the coming days,” he said, referring to the Houthi’s political wing.

The UN has described Yemen as the world's worst humanitarian emergency, with 10 million people on the brink of famine.

Egypt votes on extending El-Sisi’s rule, country awaits result

Updated 20 April 2019

Egypt votes on extending El-Sisi’s rule, country awaits result

  • El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital
  • Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms.

CAIRO: Egyptians were voting on Saturday in a referendum that aims to cement the rule of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the former coup leader who presents himself as a rock of stability in a turbulent region.

Voters were being asked to back amendments to the constitution to allow El-Sisi, 64, to run for another six-year term while boosting his control over the judiciary and giving the military even greater influence in political life.

At a polling station in Manyal, a Cairo suburb overlooking the Nile, Mohamed Abdel Salam, 45, told AFP he was voting enthusiastically in support of the changes.

"I don't care about the presidential terms," he said.

"Sisi could stay forever as long as he's doing his job... and he has already done a lot"

The three-day referendum bucks the trend of North Africa's renewed uprisings, in which mass pro-democracy protests this month swept away veteran presidents in Algeria and Sudan.

Sisi himself was among the first to vote when polls opened, casting his ballot in the upmarket Cairo suburb of Heliopolis.

In Shubra, a working-class neighbourhood of the capital, dozens of voters, mostly women carrying their children, queued outside a polling station in the local high school.

In Cairo, troops and police were deployed in numbers although the interior ministry declined to give any nationwide figures.

Egypt is still battling a hardened Islamic insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula that has seen attacks in Cairo and other cities.

Sisi has argued that he needs longer to complete the job of restoring security and stability after the turmoil that followed the overthrow of veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak in the Arab Spring of 2011.

Out on the streets, Sisi's supporters waved flags bearing their campaign motto: "Do the Right" thing, as they pressed passers-by to turn out and vote 'Yes'.

The Egyptian leader won his first term as president in 2014, a year after he led the army in overthrowing elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi following mass protests against his single turbulent year in power.

Standing virtually unopposed after the disqualification or withdrawal of all realistic challengers, he was re-elected in March 2018 with more than 97 percent.

Both elections drew heavy criticism from human rights groups as they were accompanied by swingeing crackdowns on dissent -- both Islamist and secular.

Human Rights Watch also took issue with the referendum on extending Sisi's rule, saying the "constitutional amendments" would "entrench repression".

In a statement Saturday, the New York-based watchdog criticised the "grossly unfree, rights-abusive environment" of the vote.

For the past few weeks, Egypt's streets have been awash with banners and billboards urging citizens to vote for Sisi, while popular folk singers have exhorted voters to go to the polls.

Pro-Sisi campaign volunteers handed out boxed meals at four different polling stations in Cairo to voters after they had cast their ballots, AFP reporters said.

A parliamentarian greeted voters and volunteers gave out vouchers for the meals in the Shubra district.

In Manyal, a DJ blared loud patriotic songs extolling the virtues of Egypt under Sisi's leadership, including a new song by iconic Lebanese diva Nancy Ajram dedicated to Egypt and called "Ragel ibn Ragel" (What a fine man).

But not everyone is upbeat about the changes.

Sporting casual attire, a voter in his mid-30s told AFP in Cairo: "We are all staff in the same company and we were instructed by management to go vote.

"I want to say 'No'... on extending the presidential terms and the amendments related to the judiciary," he said declining to give his name for fear of repercussions.

He pointed to his bosses nearby who were making sure employees were voting.

"Even if I say 'No', they (the authorities) are still going to do what they want in the end," he added despondently.

Earlier in the week, parliament overwhelmingly endorsed the consitutional changes, which also include the creation of a second parliamentary chamber and a quota ensuring at least 25 percent of lawmakers are women.

Think tank the Soufan Center said the main effect of the referendum would be to "solidify Sisi's grip on the Egyptian political regime" in a country that "has become even more autocratic than it was under Mubarak".