Stranded Yemenis in plea for help after Houthi lockdown

A security guard wearing a protective mask sprays sanitizer onto the hands of incoming customers as a measure against COVID-19 coronavirus disease, outside a coffee shop in Yemen's capital Sanaa on March 19, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 21 March 2020

Stranded Yemenis in plea for help after Houthi lockdown

  • The official Saba news agency said that the aid includes testing kits, sanitizers, drugs and protective equipment such as masks and gloves

AL-MUKALLA: Thousands of Yemenis have been left stranded in the central province of Baydha and the southern province of Dhale after a Houthi militia lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Iran-backed Houthis, who control most of heavily populated northern Yemen, including Sanaa, circulated an order on March 16 telling local transport companies to halt travel to and from the territories for two weeks to prevent the spread of the virus.
In the order, the militants said that they wanted to stop the virus spreading via travelers from “neighboring countries,” a reference to thousands of Yemeni Umrah pilgrims and expatriates who recently crossed into Yemen through the Wadea border crossing with Saudi Arabia.
Amateur videos on social media showed thousands of Yemenis crowding outside two Houthi checkpoints in the Afar region in Baydha and Qa’ataba in Dhale.
Travelers said that the Houthis left them in the open without proper sanitation or water and food. Other images showed elderly people, women and children seeking shelter under buses and vehicles.
Local transport companies have been forced to halt travel from government-controlled areas to Sanaa and other northern provinces in order to prevent congestion at Houthi checkpoints.
A bus official in Sanaa told Arab News on condition of anonymity that his company will stop carrying travelers from southern Yemen to Sanaa until the Houthi restrictions are lifted.
According to the official, the rebels have claimed they will send 100 health workers to test travelers at the checkpoints.
“We will wait for some time before resuming trips,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Travelers said that the Houthis left them in the open without proper sanitation or water and food.

On social media, Yemenis strongly criticized the Houthi travel restrictions, warning that thousands of stranded people are at risk of falling ill if they are left in open quarantine for days.

“The unhygienic Houthi quarantine will lead to a humanitarian catastrophe and hasten the spread of coronavirus,” Jamel Aiz Addin, Yemen state TV director, said on Twitter on Thursday.
“They are holding those who return in areas with no water, medicine, food, shelter or health services,” he added. “Where are the social organizations and WHO?”
Yemen’s Health Minister Dr. Nasser Baoum said on Thursday that the King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Work (KSRelief) has sent urgent medical assistance worth $3.5 million to help war-torn Yemen cope with the spread of coronavirus.
The official Saba news agency said that the aid includes testing kits, sanitizers, drugs and protective equipment such as masks and gloves.
Yemen Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed last week appealed for help from KSRelief and WHO after the country exhausted its supply of testing kits on thousands of Yemenis returning from abroad.
While Yemen has yet to record a single case of coronavirus, the internationally recognized government has closed schools, shut down land crossings, and stopped flights to and from the country.
On Friday, authorities in the southeastern province of Hadramout halted cultural activities and celebratory gatherings such as weddings. However, mosques and markets are still bustling with people.


Lebanese MPs fail to reach agreement on draft amnesty law

Updated 29 May 2020

Lebanese MPs fail to reach agreement on draft amnesty law

  • The Free Patriotic Movement tried to amend the law by excluding “perpetrators of crimes against public funds and terrorist crimes” from the amnesty

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Parliament on Thursday failed to approve a draft law on general amnesty, after tensions rose during a vote and the Future Movement, led by former prime minister Saad Hariri, walked out of the legislative session.

“They want to bring us back to square one,” he said. “Every party has its own arguments, as if they want to score points.”

The Free Patriotic Movement tried to amend the law by excluding “perpetrators of crimes against public funds and terrorist crimes” from the amnesty. Minister of Justice Marie Claude Najm, who is affiliated with the FPM, asked for “amendments to the draft law so that it does not include those accused of tax evasion and violating maritime property.”

The draft law was referred to the parliament despite disagreements between parliamentary committees over the basic issue of who should and should not be included in the amnesty. The former government, led by Hariri, proposed a general amnesty law before it resigned last October in the face of mounting pressure resulting from public protests.

There were a number of protests during the legislative session, some opposing the adoption of the law entirely, while others were directed at specific provisions within it.

The draft law includes an amnesty for about 1,200 Sunni convicts, 700 of whom are Lebanese. Some are accused of killing soldiers in the Lebanese Army, possessing, transporting or using explosives, kidnap and participating in bombings.

It was also covers about 6,000 Lebanese Christians, most of whom fled to Israel following the withdrawal of occupying Israeli soldiers from southern Lebanon in 2000, as well as nearly 30,000 people from the Bekaa region, the majority of whom are from the Shiite community and wanted for drug trafficking, drug abuse, murder, kidnap, robbery and other crimes.

Hezbollah appeared to agree to a pardon for entering Israel, but object to a pardon for anyone who worked or communicated with the enemy or acquired Israeli citizenship.

Before the session, the Lebanese Order of Physicians highlighted overcrowding in Lebanese prisons, and this health risk this poses during COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are 20 prisons for men, four for women and one juvenile prison holding a total of 8,300 inmates, 57 percent of whom are in the Roumieh Central Prison,” the LOP said. It added that 57 percent of prisoners are Lebanese and 23 percent are Syrian, one third have been convicted while the rest are awaiting trial, and the overcrowding is so bad each prisoner has the equivalent of only one square meter of space. The organization described the situation as “a time bomb that must be avoided.”

In other business during the session, as part of anticorruption reforms required as a condition for receiving international economic aid, the Parliament approved a law to increase transparency in the banking sector, with responsibility for this resting with the Investigation Authority of the Lebanese Central Bank and the Anti-Corruption Commission.

It also endorsed a draft law to create a mechanism for top-level appointments in public administrations, centers and institutions. An amendment was added to prevent ministers from changing or adding candidates for the position of director general. The FPM opposed this, while Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces voted in favor. Hariri accused the FPM of having a “desire to possess the entire country.”

MPs rejected a draft law to allow Lebanon to join the International Organization for Migration because, said MP Gebran Bassil, “it’s unconstitutional and facilitates the accession, integration and settlement process.” Lebanon hosts about 200,000 Palestinian and a million Syrian refugees.

The session sparked a wave of street protests. Some of them, led by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Lebanese Communist Party, opposed the approval of a general amnesty that includes those who fled to Israel.

Protesters burned the Israeli flag in Sidon in protest against a law that “affects Israeli agents who sold their land, fought their people, and plotted against them.” They set up a symbolic gallows on which they wrote: “This is the fate of Zionist agents who fled execution.”

Others, including the families of Muslim detainees, staged demonstrations in support of the amnesty.