Yemenis meet truce calls with both hope and skepticism

An employee wearing a face mask and gloves counts local currency at a bank in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on March 24, 2020 amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. (AFP)
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Updated 28 March 2020

Yemenis meet truce calls with both hope and skepticism

  • Government commanders said that they had received orders from their superiors to stop fighting in response to the UN envoy’s call

AL-MUKALLA: When the Iran-backed Houthi militias advanced toward his home city of Taiz in early 2015, Ibrahim Al-Zubairi decided not to flee the city, hoping that the war would come to an end. 
“I stayed put because I heard people saying the war would end soon,” Al-Zubairi, a 21-year-old college student, told Arab News. 
To his disappointment, Taiz, Yemen’s third most important city, saw the fiercest clashes between government forces and the rebels, which claimed the lives of hundreds of people and ruined most of the city’s infrastructure.

Each time he thought of leaving the city, he heard about a new round of peace talks that would end the conflict.

In 2017, he abandoned hope and fled to the southern port city of Al-Mukalla, where he enrolled at college.

“The war must stop immediately and completely,” Al-Zubairi said, expressing hope that pressure by the international community would lead to halting the hostilities. “I hope that peace prevails in Yemen.”

Al-Zubairi is an example of tens of thousands of Yemenis who have been displaced over the last six years as the Houthis began expanding militarily across Yemen, triggering bloody battles.

On Thursday, positive responses by Yemen’s warring groups rekindled hopes for a ceasefire that could pave the way for a comprehensive settlement to end the war in Yemen.

The UN's Yemen Envoy Martin Griffiths called upon Yemeni parties to convene for an urgent meeting to discuss the ceasefire.

“I am calling the parties to an urgent meeting to discuss how to translate their stated commitments to the Yemeni people into practice. I expect the parties to heed Yemen’s desire for peace and immediately cease all military hostilities,” Griffiths said in a statement on Thursday.

Citing many previous short-lived truces, many Yemenis doubt the factions will adhere to their commitments.

Speaking to Arab News from Marib, Kamal Al-Muradi, a government soldier, said his forces were currently battling a heavy offensive by the Houthis in Marib’s Serwah, ruling out ending the war any time soon.

“The Houthis are more dangerous than the coronavirus,” Al-Muradi said, noting he and other troops who hail from the central province of Marib would keep fighting until the rebels were repelled.

“There is no way we stop fighting before we end the Houthi threat to Marib,” he added.

The war must stop immediately and completely. I hope that peace prevails in Yemen.

Ibrahim Al-Zubairi, Student

The Houthis have scored major territorial gains in northern Yemen by seizing control of two districts in Jawf and pushing government troops out of the mountainous Nehim district, near Sana’a.

Their next target is the oil and gas rich city of Marib, according to local officers.

Government commanders said that they had received orders from their superiors to stop fighting in response to the UN envoy’s call.

Abdul Basit Al-Baher, the Yemeni army spokesperson in Taiz, told Arab News: “We welcome any humanitarian initiative. But from our experience with the Houthis, they have never committed to any peace initiative.

“The Houthis should first lift their blockade on Taiz and stop shelling residential areas and planting landmines ahead of any truce.”

Doubts

Given Yemen’s weak health system, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus across much of the world, experts have encouraged the country’s warring factions to stop fighting to allow health workers to divert efforts to preventing the spread of the disease.

“We all have to be united to save Yemen from a potential coronavirus outbreak which, if happens, will have disastrous consequences given that our health system has collapsed,” said Nadwa Al-Dawsari, a Yemeni conflict analyst and a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute.

Based on the scale of the Houthi offensive in northern Yemen and their breaches of previous agreements and truces, Nadwa predicted the proposed truce would not last.

“The Houthis have used every truce and agreement they had with others before to refuel, regroup and launch military offensives. Their actions on the ground don’t always match their rhetoric when it comes to commitment to peace unfortunately.”

This time, Nadwa said, the Houthis would exploit the truce to prepare for a push to take Marib.

“My worry is that the Houthis will use this truce to push into Marib, which will be disastrous. The Houthis definition of a truce is not about suspending military operations. Their definition is the suspension of airstrikes and Saudi-led coalition support for the government. Their definition of peace is for the government to collapse and everyone else to accept them as their rulers.”


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.