US slams Iran for prolonging Yemen war and blocking peace

A Houthi militant patrols Sanaa. The US says Iran's backing of the militia has prolonged the devastating conflict there. (AFP)
Updated 22 February 2019

US slams Iran for prolonging Yemen war and blocking peace

  • Envoy Brian Hook urges Tehran to change its ways and help make ceasefire agreement a success
  • Iran has “organized, equipped and trained” the Houthi militia

WARSAW: The US on Thursday accused Iran of prolonging the war in Yemen with its support for the Houthis and called on Tehran to help make a ceasefire agreement a success.

Speaking to Arab News at the Middle East conference in Warsaw, Washington’s special represenative for Iran Brian Hook said there had been extensive discussion at the meeting of the war, which is now in its fifth year.

While Hook accused Tehran of being the biggest obstacle to peace in the Middle East, he urged the regime to play a positive role in the process that seeks to bring an end to the conflict in Yemen. 

“This conference was a very useful opportunity for us to educate the world about the very dangerous role Iran has played and continues to play in Yemen,” Hook said. 

“We have a very good agreement that came out of Sweden, Stockholm, but we now need the will of Iran and Houthis to implement the agreement. That is the diplomatic role that we need to take and we very much urge Iran and the Houthis to take that role.”

The agreement reached in December installed a ceasefire in the key battleground city of Hodeidah - home to the country’s main port. 

But the UN-mediated deal is under increasing strain with Yemen and the Arab coalition supporting the legitimate government accusing the Houthis of repeated violations.

Hook said Iran had “organized, equipped and trained” the Houthi militia, which seized the capital Sanaa in 2014 to spark the conflict.

“Iran has intensified, prolonged and widened the conflict in Yemen,” he said. “They have allowed this war to go well beyond the course it would otherwise take.”

Hook accused the Western media of missing the story of Iran’s involvement in Yemen. Weapons shipments from Iran have been intercepted heading to the Houthis on dhows and ballistic missiles fired at Saudi cities from Yemen have been supplied by Iran.

Hook said Iran had helped prolong the Yemen conflict far longer than necessary. (AFP)

On Wednesday, the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel Al-Jubeir, met with the foreign ministers of the UK, US and the UAE to discuss the conflict.

They called on the warring parties to fully implement the Stockholm agreement, and in particular for the Houthis to allow safe access for the UN monitoring team to the areas they control.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia are both members of the military coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen.

On Thursday morning, Yemen’s Foreign Minister Abdul-Malek Al-Mekhlafi, gave a very “thoughtful and very forceful analysis of Iran’s very destructive role in Yemen,” Hook said.

Matthew Tueller, the US ambassador to Yemen, told Arab News that there needs to be a collective push back against Iran’s agenda in both Yemen and the region.

“We really hope there’s a process that would put pressure on Iran to not meddle, to not obstruct the process and allow Yemen to reach a peace comprehensive solution,” he said.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and the UN has described Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian emergency, with 10 million people on the brink of famine.

Film cameras start to roll again in Damascus studios

Updated 26 March 2019

Film cameras start to roll again in Damascus studios

  • The film and television business has been hit hard by a war that has killed half a million people

DAMASCUS: On a long-disused film set outside Damascus featuring mud houses, palm trees, alleyways and camels, actors in flowing robes are making a television series that the producers say is part of a gradual revival of their industry.
Like most other sectors of the economy in Syria, the film and television business has been hit hard by a war that has killed half a million people, forced millions from their homes and laid waste to swathes of the country since 2011.
Any films or TV series made by Syrian production houses during the war were rarely bought by the customers in the Gulf and elsewhere that once made up an important part of their market. Actors and directors moved abroad. Studios lay silent.
However, fighting around Damascus ended last year after a series of massive government offensives, reflecting a wider increase in state control around the country, and Syrian studios are starting to work again.
Ziad Al-Rayes, head of the television producers’ association in Syria, said it was again possible to film comfortably and effectively.
“Here you can find four seasons. Here you have mountains, desert, valleys and snow,” he said. It is cheaper to film in Syria than elsewhere, he added.
The television series being produced outside Damascus is about a Sufi cleric called Muhiy Al-Din bin Arabi, and is set in historic Makkah, the holiest city of Islam located in modern-day Saudi Arabia.
It is being made to air in the United Arab Emirates, the producers said. Television series are also being made for broadcast in Lebanon and in Syria’s two closest allies Russia and Iran, the producers’ association said.
The film set was part of a large studio lot that was unused for most of the war and shows signs of disrepair. A nearby set in the same studio is made up like an ancient Roman city.
During the war many famous Syrian actors left the country to work in other Arab states. One well-known actor, 41-year-old Qays Al-Sheikh Najib, is now filming for the first time in Syria for eight years, playing a photographer in a new series called A Safe Distance, which looks at how the Syrian war affected people.
“Syrian actors always tried to keep up their good level and they could maintain their level in the Arab world,” he said.