Clashes erupt in Yemen’s Hodeidah despite truce

The Saudi-led Arab coalition and Houthi militia last month agreed a cease-fire for Hodeidah, above, during UN-sponsored talks in Sweden. (AFP)
Updated 12 January 2019

Clashes erupt in Yemen’s Hodeidah despite truce

  • Artillery and machine-gun exchanges rocked the southern part of Hodeidah in early morning before tapering off later in day
  • UN officials say 80 percent of the population — 24 million people — are in need of aid

HODEIDAH: Clashes erupted between Houthi militia and government forces in Yemen’s flashpoint port city of Hodeidah on Saturday, dealing a new blow to a fragile truce, an AFP correspondent reported.
Artillery and machine-gun exchanges rocked the southern part of Hodeidah in early morning before tapering off later in day, the correspondent said.
The Houthi-held port city, which is a lifeline for the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid, was for months the main front line in the Yemeni conflict after government forces supported by Saudi Arabia and its allies launched an offensive to capture it in June.
But last month the warring parties agreed a cease-fire for Hodeidah during UN-sponsored talks in Sweden.
The United Nations has said the truce has largely held since it came into force on December 18 but there have been delays in the agreed pullback of the Houthis and government forces.
The Houthis control most of Hodeidah while government forces are deployed on its southern and eastern outskirts.
The conflict has killed nearly 10,000 people and unleashed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations.
UN aid officials say 80 percent of the population — 24 million people — are in need of aid and nearly 10 million are just one step away from famine.
UN aid coordinator Lise Grande visited Hodeidah on Friday and met local officials, the head of Yemen’s National Authority for the Administration and Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Jaber Al-Razahi, said.
“The reason for the visit of UN humanitarian coordinator Lisa Grande to Hodeidah is to see the humanitarian situation ... and ensure the arrival of aid through the port,” Al-Razahi said.


Change needed in Lebanon after Beirut blast, says German foreign minister

Updated 8 min 35 sec ago

Change needed in Lebanon after Beirut blast, says German foreign minister

  • Maas gave a check for over 1 million euro to the Lebanese Red Cross
  • It is part of 20 million euros in humanitarian aid from Germany

BEIRUT: Germany’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that Lebanon needed a government that can fight corruption and enact reforms as he toured Beirut port, scene of the devastating explosion that has triggered protests and led the government to resign.
Last week’s blast at a warehouse storing highly-explosive material for years killed at least 171 people, injured some 6,000 and damaged swathes of the Mediterranean city, compounding a deep economic and financial crisis.
“It is impossible that things go on as before,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. “The international community is ready to invest but needs securities for these investments. It is important to have a government that fights the corruption.”
“Many in Europe have a lot of interest for this country. They want to know that there are economic reforms and good governance. Whoever takes over responsibility in Lebanon has a lot to do.”
Maas gave a check for over 1 million euro to the Lebanese Red Cross, part of 20 million euros in humanitarian aid from Germany.
International humanitarian assistance has poured in but foreign countries have made clear they will not write blank cheques to a state viewed by its own people as deeply corrupt. Donors are seeking enactment of long-demanded reforms in return for financial assistance to pull Lebanon from economic meltdown.
The resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government has plunged Lebanon into deeper uncertainty. Its talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout had already been put on hold over a row between the government, banks and politicians about the scale of vast financial losses.
Sitting amid the debris, Lebanese expressed their frustration at the state for abandoning them in their desperate efforts to rebuild homes and businesses wrecked in the blast.
“Who knows what will happen. How will we get back to business,” said Antoinne Matta, 74, whose safe and lock store was heavily damaged by the blast. Five employees were wounded.
“We in Lebanon are used to the government not doing anything.”
Unrest has erupted with Lebanese calling for the wholesale removal of a ruling class they brand as responsible for the country’s woes. The financial crisis has ravaged the currency, paralyzed banks and sent prices soaring.
Officials have said the blast could have caused losses of $15 billion, a bill Lebanon cannot pay, given the depths of the financial crisis that has seen people frozen out of their savings accounts since October amid dollar scarcity.
The central bank has instructed local banks to extend interest-free dollar loans to individuals and businesses for essential repairs, and that it would in turn provide those financial institutions with the funding.
Bandali Gharabi, whose photo studio was destroyed, said that so far local authorities had only give him a compensation sheet to fill out. He does not know if the bank will provide financial assistance because he already has a car loan.
“Everything is gone,” he said. “I just want someone to rebuild my shop.”
President Michel Aoun has promised a swift and transparent investigation into the blast at a warehouse where authorities say more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored for years without safety measures. He has said the probe would look into whether it was negligence, an accident or external factors.
Reuters reported that Aoun and Diab were warned in July about the warehoused ammonium nitrate, according to documents and senior security sources.
The presidency did not respond to requests for comment about the warning letter.
An emergency donor conference raised pledges of nearly 253 million euros ($298 million) for immediate humanitarian relief.
Volunteers and construction workers with bulldozers were still clearing wreckage from neighborhoods more than a week after the blast. Rows of destroyed cars were still parked in front of damaged stores and demolished buildings.
Nagy Massoud, 70, was sitting on the balcony when the blast gutted his apartment. He was saved by a wooden door that protected him from flying debris. A stove injured his wife.
His pension is frozen in a bank account he cannot access due to capital controls prompted by the economic crisis.
“Where is the government,” he said, looking around his shattered apartment.