UN envoy sees troop withdrawal in Yemen’s Hodeidah within weeks

Martin Griffiths (R), the UN special envoy for Yemen, arrives at Sanaa international airport in the Yemeni capital on April 8, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 18 April 2019

UN envoy sees troop withdrawal in Yemen’s Hodeidah within weeks

  • The UN has struggled to implement a pact agreed at talks last December in Sweden, the first major breakthrough in peace efforts to end the war
  • Griffiths said he had received on Sunday the formal acceptance of the legitimate government and the Houthis to implement a first phase of troop redeployments

DUBAI: Yemen’s warring parties could start withdrawing forces from the main port city of Hodeidah within weeks, a move needed to pave the way for political negotiations to end the four-year war, the UN special envoy said on Thursday.
Martin Griffiths said he had received on Sunday the formal acceptance of the legitimate government and the Iran-backed Houthi group to implement a first phase of troop redeployments, while discussions were still underway for the second phase.
The United Nations has struggled to implement a pact agreed at talks last December in Sweden, the first major breakthrough in peace efforts to end the war that has killed tens of thousands and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
“The two parties agreed formally to the concept of operations for phase one. What we are doing now is ... moving on as planned from there to agree on phase two,” Griffiths told Reuters in a telephone interview without elaborating, adding that talks would “intensify” in coming days.
“So we don’t have an exact date at the moment for the beginning of this physical redeployment,” he said. “It’s got to be weeks ... hopefully few weeks.”
Sources have told Reuters the first phase would see the Houthis leave the city’s ports and pro-government forces leave some areas on the city’s outskirts. In the second phase, both sides would pull troops to 18 km from the city and heavy weapons 30 km away.
The Hodeidah deal was a trust building step aimed at averting a full-scale assault on Hodeidah by the Arab coalition trying to restore the legitimate government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and paving the way for political talks to set up a transitional government.
Danish general Michael Lollesgaard, head of the UN observer team in Hodeidah, chairs a Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) tasked with hammering out details not spelled out in the pact.
A cease-fire in Houthi-held Hodeidah has largely held but violence has escalated elsewhere in the country. The troop withdrawal was due to have been completed by Jan. 7 but stalled over disagreement on who would control the Red Sea port city.
Asked if that issue had been resolved, Griffiths said: “We have ideas on how to bridge the gap on the issue of the local security forces” but it would be up to the parties represented in the RCC headed by Lollesgaard to resolve it.
Three sources told Reuters last month that the first phase would see the Houthis pull back 5 km (3 miles) from the ports of Saleef, used for grain, and Ras Isa, for oil. Then the Houthis would quit Hodeidah port while coalition forces would retreat 1 km from the city’s “Kilo 8” and Saleh districts.
This would restore access cut off since September to the Red Sea Mills, which holds some 50,000 tons of World Food Programme grain, enough to feed 3.7 million people, and allow humanitarian corridors to be reopened.
Hodeidah handles the bulk of Yemen’s commercial and aid supplies and is critical for feeding the population of 30 million people. It became a focus of fighting last year, raising concern that an all-out assault could disrupt supply lines and trigger mass starvation in the poorest Arabian Peninsula nation.
“I know we’re spending an enormous amount of time, and rightly so, on Hodeidah, but it’s the gateway to the comprehensive settlement and of course failure in Hodeida is not an option,” Griffiths said.
“The aim ultimately of an agreement which will resolve the conflict and end this war is to return governing of Yemen to politicians, to return to the people of Yemen accountable government.”


Anger in Lebanon over botched Israeli drone strike on Beirut

Updated 59 min ago

Anger in Lebanon over botched Israeli drone strike on Beirut

  • Prime Minister Hariri says Israel drone crash was violation against Lebanon
  • Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the incident was 'very dangerous'

BEIRUT:  Anger erupted in Lebanon on Sunday after two Israeli drones crashed in south Beirut in a botched raid that was the most serious military escalation since 2006.

The first device, thought to be a surveillance drone, fell to ground between residential buildings in the Mouawad area after children threw stones at it. Israel is thought to have launched a second armed drone to destroy the first one, but it exploded near the Hezbollah media center in the southern Dahiyeh suburbs.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has described the crash of two Israeli reconnaissance drones over Beirut as a violation and “aggression” against Lebanese sovereignty.

“The new aggression ... constitutes a threat to regional stability and an attempt to push the situation toward further tension,” he said. 

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said Sunday the incident was "very, very, very dangerous." He vowed to confront and shoot down Israeli drones in Lebanese skies from now on.
 

Damage is seen inside the media office of the Lebanese Hezbollah group in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP)

Earlier on Sunday the Lebanese army confirmed that the drones were Israeli, while the Shiite group said one of the aircraft damaged its media centre.
“Two drones belonging to the Israeli enemy violated Lebanese airspace (at dawn)... over the southern suburbs of Beirut. The first fell while the second exploded in the air causing material damage,” an army statement said.
The early morning incident came hours after Israel launched air strikes in neighboring Syria.

The Arab League Secretary-General, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, telephoned Hariri and stressed the country’s rejection and condemnation of the repeated Israeli violations against Lebanese sovereignty.

FAST FACTS

  • The first drone fell to ground between residential building in the Mouawad area.
  • The second device exploded near Hezbollah media center in the Dahiyeh suburbs.
  • Lebanon will file a complaint with the Security Council to condemn the attack.

The Arab League said in a statement that “Aboul Gheit affirmed the Arab League’s full solidarity with Lebanon in this delicate situation and its readiness to play its role in maintaining security, stability and civil peace in Lebanon.”
The statement added that the organization strongly condemns the repeated Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty, especially in its airspace, as a flagrant violation of Security Council resolution 1701.
The statement stressed that the Arab League hopes to all concerned parties would not escalate and restrain in order to prevent threatening the security and stability of Lebanon and the region.

Lebanese security stand at the site where an Israeli drone was said to have crashed in a stronghold of the Lebanese Hezbollah group, in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Lebanon has made frequent complaints to the UN about Israeli planes regularly violating its airspace.
In an apparent admission that the drone attack on Lebanon was an error, Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, said neither Iran nor Israel were interested in all-out war. “We’re not there yet,” he said. “But sometimes, someone makes a mistake.”
The Lebanese Army said on Sunday it had cordoned off the drone crash site and military police were investigating the incident under the supervision of the judiciary.
A military source told Arab News: “The Lebanese army did not receive the remnants of the two drones immediately, but is in the process of receiving them from Hezbollah.
“The military investigation will focus on the purpose of the flight of the drones, and their route. It is clear that something went wrong during their flight.”
Hariri received a telephone call from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after the incidents. The prime minister’s office said: “Pompeo stressed the need to avoid any escalation and to work with all parties to prevent any form of deterioration.”
Hezbollah spokesman, Mohamed Afif, said one of the two drones was rigged with explosives.
He said a second drone which appeared to have been sent by Israel to search for the first drone less than 45 minutes later exploded in the air and crashed nearby — an explosion heard by residents of the area.

Afif told The Associated Press Sunday: “We did not shoot down or explode any of the drones.”

Hassan Nasrallah will respond in a televised speach later Sunday. (File/AFP)

The drones struck overnight in Beirut where residents reported one large explosion that shook the area, triggering a fire.

Initially they said the nature of the blast in the Moawwad neighborhood was not immediately clear, but said it might have been caused by an Israeli drone that went down in the area amid Israeli air activity in neighboring Syria.
The late-night airstrike, which triggered Syrian anti-aircraft fire, appeared to be one of the most intense attacks by Israeli forces in several years of hits on Iranian targets in Syria.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Al Quds force, working with allied Shiite militias, had been planning to send a number of explosives-laden attack drones into Israel.
On Twitter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the attack by Israeli warplanes a “major operational effort.”
Syrian state TV said the country’s air defenses had responded to “hostile” targets over Damascus and shot down incoming missiles before they reached their targets.
In recent days, US officials have said that Israeli strikes have also hit Iranian targets in Iraq.