UN Yemen envoy Griffiths praises truce efforts as Abyan, Shabwa pullout begins

Martin Griffiths made his briefing at the Security Council session after holding several consultations in the Middle East and meetings with various US officials in Washington. (Screenshot/UN TV)
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Updated 17 January 2020

UN Yemen envoy Griffiths praises truce efforts as Abyan, Shabwa pullout begins

  • Riyadh Agreement stipulates that both sides pull out from Abyan and Shabwa
  • Both sets of forces must return to their positions before fighting erupted in August

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen/NEW YORK: UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths said on Thursday at the UN Security Countil that any escalation of violence in Yemen could not be reduced without a political process, but thanked parties — including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — for their work toward that goal.

Griffiths made his briefing at the Security Council session after holding several consultations in the Middle East and meetings with various US officials in Washington. It is the first session on Yemen in 2020.

Griffiths' address came as forces loyal to the internationally recognized government, and others from the separatist Southern Transitional Council, began withdrawing from contested areas in the provinces of Shabwa and Abyan on Thursday.

Under the Riyadh Agreement that ended hostilities between the government and separatists, forces from both sides should go back to their positions before fighting erupted in August.

On Thursday, an officer from the pro-government 115th Infantry Brigade in Abyan said troops who reinforced government forces in both provinces have returned with military equipment to their bases in the central province of Marib.

“The remaining forces … will enter Aden to protect the presidential palace,” the officer told Arab News on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters. He confirmed that separatists withdrew some of their troops from Abyan. The deal was part of military arrangements included in the Riyadh Agreement.

The commander of the Saudi-led coalition forces, Brig. Gen. Mujahid Al-Otaibi, on Thursday said the coalition is determined to implement the Riyadh Agreement, adding that it will set the stage for peace and security throughout Yemen.

He briefed reporters about the significance of the deal, and the coalition’s role in pushing back Houthi rebels and bringing stability to liberated areas.

Ahmed Obeid ben Daghar, an aide to Yemen’s president and head of a government committee to oversee implementation of the agreement, said the withdrawal of forces from Abyan and Shabwa will continue as a Saudi-led military committee counts heavy weapons to be collected by the coalition. 

Ben Daghar said on Facebook on Wednesday various armed groups in the south will be brought under the command of a new, joint government. President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi will appoint a new governor and security chief for Aden within a week, before naming new Cabinet ministers, he said.

Recent positive developments in the south, including the withdrawal of forces and exchange of prisoners between the government and separatists, have revived hopes that implementation of the Riyadh Agreement is on track despite failing to meet deadlines. 

Mohammed Al-Jaber, Saudi ambassador to Yemen, tweeted on Wednesday that the exchange of prisoners is an “important and positive step” that will pave the way for peace in Yemen. He reiterated the coalition’s keenness to implement the Riyadh Agreement.

Meanwhile, a Houthi commander and a number of his associates were killed on Wednesday in clashes with government forces in the southern city of Taiz, Yemen’s Defense Ministry said.

Local commanders previously told Arab News that the Iran-backed Houthis have intensified attacks on Taiz’s western edges to recapture a major road linking the city with Aden. 

Fighting in Yemen broke out in late 2014 when the Houthis seized Yemen’s capital and rapidly expanded across the country.

A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia has enabled government forces to reverse Houthi gains and liberate more than 80 percent of Yemen.

Russian mediation reopens major highway in NE Syria

Updated 26 May 2020

Russian mediation reopens major highway in NE Syria

  • Syria records 20 new cases of coronavirus in largest single-day increase

BEIRUT/DAMASCUS: Traffic returned to a major highway in northeastern Syria for the first time in seven months on Monday, following Russian mediation to reopen parts of the road captured last year by Turkey-backed opposition fighters.

Syrian Kurdish media and a Syrian Kurdish official said several vehicles accompanied by Russian troops began driving in the morning between the northern towns of Ein Issa and Tal Tamr. 

The two towns are controlled by regime forces and Syrian Kurdish fighters while the area between them is mostly held by Turkey-backed opposition fighters.

Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters captured parts of the highway known as M4 in October, when Ankara invaded northeastern Syria to drive away Syrian Kurdish fighters. The M4 links Syria’s coastal region all the way east to the Iraqi border.

Four convoys will drive on the M4 every day with two leaving from Tal Tamr and two from Ein Issa, according to the Kurdish ANHA news agency. The report said a convoy will leave from each town at 8 a.m., and another set of convoys will do the same, three hours later.

The ANHA agency added that the opening of the highway will shorten the trip between the two towns as people previously had to take roundabout, side roads.

“This is the first time the road has been opened” since October, said Mervan Qamishlo, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

Russia, a main power broker with Turkey in Syria, mediated the deal to reopen the highway, he said. Russia and Turkey back rival groups in Syria’s nine-year conflict.

Coronavirus cases

Syria reported 20 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Monday, the largest single-day increase to date.

The war-torn country has recorded 106 infections and four deaths so far, and new cases have increased in recent days with the return of Syrians from abroad.

Syria has kept an overnight curfew in place but has begun to open some of its economy after a lockdown. Doctors and relief groups worry that medical infrastructure ravaged by years of conflict would make a more serious outbreak deadly and difficult to fend off.