Yemen’s Houthis drop ‘tax’ threat that jeopardised aid: UN official

A UN official in Sanaa said the Houthis had backed away from a proposed 2.0 percent levy on NGOs pushed by the Houthi aid body SCMCHA, criticised for hobbling aid with interference and layers of bureaucracy. (File/AFP)
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Updated 14 February 2020

Yemen’s Houthis drop ‘tax’ threat that jeopardised aid: UN official

  • United Nations leaders and humanitarian groups held crunch talks in Brussels on Thursday to address obstruction by the Iran-backed militia
  • The Brussels meeting heard that, while both sides have made trouble for humanitarian and UN agencies, the Houthi attempts to tax shipments triggered the latest crisis

DUBAI: Yemen’s Houthi militia have dropped a threat to tax aid, a UN official told AFP Friday, in a significant step towards resolving a crisis that has jeopardised the world’s biggest humanitarian operation.

United Nations leaders and humanitarian groups held crunch talks in Brussels on Thursday to address obstruction by the Iran-backed militia that has threatened to sever the lifeline to millions at risk of starvation.

They heard that vital supplies could be cut off, after humanitarian agencies complained of a deteriorating situation in the Houthi-controlled north where aid workers face arrest and intimidation.

But a UN official in Sanaa said the Houthis had backed away from a proposed 2.0 percent levy on NGOs pushed by the Houthi aid body SCMCHA, criticised for hobbling aid with interference and layers of bureaucracy.

The Houthi administration “in its meeting on 12 February, has decided to cancel the 2.0 percent that was included in SCMCHA regulations,” said the official, who asked not to be named.

“The cancellation of the tax is a positive development for sure,” he said, noting that other issues that still need to be dealt with relate to “access and bureaucratic impediments.”

The outcome of the Brussels meeting has not been released.

But before the talks, the European commissioner for crisis management, Janez Lenarcic, demanded that all parties in the Yemen conflict “uphold international humanitarian law and guarantee safe and unimpeded access to humanitarian organisations.”

The Brussels meeting heard that, while both sides have made trouble for humanitarian and UN agencies, the Houthi attempts to tax shipments triggered the latest crisis.

“It cannot continue, the biggest lifeline on earth is at stake. There are 20 million people in need in Yemen,” Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, told AFP on Thursday.

“We cannot pay donated aid money to one of the parties to the conflict. So that is one of the many red lines that we are fearful of having to cross. We cannot do it,” he said.


Coronavirus: 16 killed in Iran, 95 infected

Workers disinfect Qom’s Masumeh shrine, which is visited by a large number of people, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (AFP)
Updated 26 February 2020

Coronavirus: 16 killed in Iran, 95 infected

  • Six Saudi women recovering in Bahrain as Kingdom warns against travel to Italy and Japan

DUBAI: Two more people infected with the new coronavirus have died, taking the toll in Iran to 16, a Health Ministry official told state TV on Tuesday.

Iran has the highest number of deaths from coronavirus outside China, where the virus emerged late last year.
“Among those who had been suspected of the virus, 35 have been confirmed and two died of the coronavirus infection,” said Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour. He said 95 people had been infected across Iran.
The Health Ministry urged Iranians to stay at home.
Iran said on Monday 900 cases were suspected, dismissing claims by a lawmaker from Qom who said 50 people had died in the city, the epicenter of the new coronavirus outbreak.
Iran, which confirmed its first two deaths last week in Qom, has yet to say how many people it has quarantined, but the semi-official Mehr news agency said 320 people had been hospitalized.
Iraj Harirchi, Iran’s deputy health minister, has tested positive for the coronavirus and is now under quarantine.
Six Arab countries have reported their first cases of coronavirus, with those infected all having links to Iran. Kuwait said the number of infected people there had risen to eight.
Bahrain’s Health Ministry said 15 more people, including six Saudi women, had tested positive for the virus after returning from Iran via Dubai and Sharjah. The new cases were carried by Bahraini and Saudi nationals who arrived at Bahrain International Airport from Iran via Dubai or Sharjah.
The Saudi Ministry of Health said that it was coordinating with Bahraini health officials for the treatment of the Saudi women who had visited Iran. They will remain in Bahrain until they are fully recovered. The Kingdom has advised citizens and residents to avoid traveling to Italy and Japan.
Iranian authorities have ordered the nationwide cancellation of concerts and soccer matches and the closure of schools and universities in many provinces.
The head of Qom’s Medical Science University, Mohammad Reza Ghadir, expressed concern over “the spread of those people infected by the virus across the city,” adding the Health Ministry had banned releasing figures linked to the coronavirus.
Many Iranians took to social media to accuse authorities of concealing the facts.
Rouhani called for calm, saying the outbreak was no worse than other epidemics that Iran has weathered.
The sight of Iranians wearing masks and gloves is now common in much of the country.
Sales of masks, disinfectant gels and disposable gloves have soared in Tehran and other cities, with officials vowing to prevent hoarding and shortages by boosting production.
Iran has shut schools, universities and cultural centers until the end of the week in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The UAE has banned all flights to and from Iran. The UAE, home to long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad, remains a key international transit route for Iran’s 80 million people.
Emirates, the government-owned carrier based in Dubai, flies daily to Tehran. Its low-cost sister airline, FlyDubai, flies to multiple Iranian cities, as does the Sharjah-based low-cost carrier Air Arabia.
The announcement came after Bahrain said it would suspend all flights from Dubai and Sharjah.
Kuwait raised the number of its infected cases to eight, after earlier raising the number to five. It said the three latest cases involved Kuwaiti citizens just back from Iran, without giving more details. The five previously reported cases were passengers returning on a flight from the Iranian city of Mashhad, where Iran’s government has not yet announced a single case of the virus.
Kuwait had halted transport links with Iran over the weekend and said it was evacuating its citizens from Iran.
An Iraqi family of four who returned from a visit to Iran tested positive for the coronavirus, the first Iraqis known to have caught the disease.
The four cases in Kirkuk province brought Iraq’s total to five after it reported its first case on Monday, an Iranian theology student in Najaf. Iraq is deeply concerned about its exposure to the Iranian outbreak, as it has deep cultural and religious ties with its neighbor and typically receives millions of Iranians each year.
The Iraqi government, which has already banned all travel from China and Iran, added Italy, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore and Japan to its travel ban list on Tuesday. Returning Iraqi citizens are exempt, as are diplomats.
Populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr suspended a call for his followers to hold a “million-man” protest, saying he had decide to forbid the events “for your health and life, for they are more important to me than anything else.”
“I had called for million-man protests and sit-ins against sectarian power-sharing and today I forbid you from them for your health and life, for they are more important to me than anything else,” he said in a statement. It was not immediately clear how the government’s call on citizens to avoid public gatherings would affect the strength of anti-government protests, and the response of security forces.
A Turkish Airlines plane flying from Iran was diverted to Ankara on Tuesday at the Turkish Health Ministry’s request and an aviation news website said one passenger was suspected of being infected by coronavirus.
Turkey’s Demiroren news agency broadcast video showing ambulances lined up beside the plane, with several personnel wearing white protective suits on the tarmac.
The plane was flying from Tehran and had been scheduled to land in Istanbul. Turkey shut its borders to Iran on Sunday and cut flights due to the spread of the virus in that country.
Oman’s Khasab port has suspended the import and export of goods to and from Iran from Feb. 26.