UN pushes for Yemen cease-fire as virus cases rise

UN pushes for Yemen cease-fire as virus cases rise
Security men wearing protective masks stand on a street in Sanaa in May, 6, 2020, during a 24-hour curfew amid concerns about the spread of the COVID-19. (REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)
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Updated 07 May 2020

UN pushes for Yemen cease-fire as virus cases rise

UN pushes for Yemen cease-fire as virus cases rise
  • Health teams in Aden, Taiz and Hadramout reported a new surge in the number of infections

AL-MUKALLA: Envoys of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to Yemen have renewed their calls for an immediate cease-fire in the country after an alarming surge in the number of coronavirus cases.  

Following a virtual meeting with Yemen’s Foreign Minister, Mohammed Al-Hadrami, and a spokesperson for the Iran-backed Houthis, Mohammed Abdul Salam, the ambassadors urged both parties to “engage positively” with UN proposals to end hostilities and allow the country’s fragile health system to fight the virus outbreak.

“We told both parties that the best defense against COVID-19 is a permanent cease-fire and a resumption of political dialogue,” Michael Aron, the British ambassador to Yemen, said in an online post on Tuesday.

“We urged both parties to engage constructively with the UN texts with a view to adopting the joint declaration and attending the proposed crisis meeting.”  

Local media outlets also reported that the ambassadors voiced strong support for UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths’ diplomatic efforts with the separatist Southern Transitional Council, which seized control of Aden. 

In a recent interview with Arab News, Griffiths said that his latest peace proposal is based initially on a nationwide truce, measures to alleviate economic and humanitarian strife, and a commitment to the resumption of peace talks.

Discussions were expected to lead to a comprehensive peace settlement that would address the country’s thorny issues and prevent it from plunging into war again, he said.

The Saudi-led coalition and the internationally recognized government have declared a truce in Yemen to allow health workers to fight the spread of the disease.

Houthi rebels have demanded an end to airstrikes on their forces, the opening of airports and the withdrawal of Saudi-led coalition forces from the country before they adhere to a cease-fire.

Yemen’s Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that the army and allied tribesmen pushed back two Houthi attacks in the mountainous Nehim district, near Sanaa and Al-Bayda.

As fighting raged, the Aden-based supreme national emergency committee announced on Wednesday that four new coronavirus cases had been recorded in Lahj and Aden, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in areas under the government’s control to 25, including five deaths.

Health teams in Aden, Taiz and Hadramout reported a new surge in the number of infections as they continued to trace patients’ contacts despite a severe shortage of personal protective equipment. 

Riyadh Al-Jariri, head of the health ministry’s Hadramout office, said that health workers identified more than 50 people who had direct contact with  three people who tested positive for coronavirus in the province.

Patients’ contacts were asked to stay home and report any health problems to local doctors.

At the same time, authorities in Hadramout reimposed a partial curfew from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m., closed land entries to the province, and advised residents to limit social contact.

The emergency committee in the central province of Marib, headed by Gov. Sultan Al-Aradah, stepped up virus curbs, including extra testing at the province’s entry points, the use of rapid response teams, a ban on large gatherings and the shutting down of markets.

Following reports that the Houthis are concealing the number of coronavirus cases, the rebels failed to report any new cases on Wednesday and announced that 10 districts in Sanaa will be placed in 24-hour lockdown.

The first case of coronavirus inside Houthi-controlled territory was announced on Tuesday after a Somali national was found dead in a hotel in Sanaa.


UN envoy calls for greater sense of urgency in Syrian peace efforts

UN envoy calls for greater sense of urgency in Syrian peace efforts
Updated 23 January 2021

UN envoy calls for greater sense of urgency in Syrian peace efforts

UN envoy calls for greater sense of urgency in Syrian peace efforts
  • Geir Pederson wants enhanced international diplomacy, and tighter focus on progress in drafting new constitution
  • The fifth session of the Small Body of the Syrian Constitutional Committee begins in Geneva on Monday

NEW YORK: Geir Pedersen, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, on Friday called for “more serious and cooperative” international diplomacy as part of political efforts to improve the lives of the Syrian people and develop a vision for the future of their country.

Speaking ahead of the fifth session of the Small Body of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, which begins on Monday in Geneva, he also urged committee members to focus their efforts and work more effectively to speed up progress on constitutional reform.

Pedersen expressed hope that much-needed international engagement with the peace process is now possible.

“After all, despite the differences, key states are continuing to reaffirm their commitment to Resolution 2254,” he added, referring to the UN Security Council resolution, adopted in 2015, that calls for a ceasefire and political settlement in Syria.

Pedersen, who briefed the Security Council this week on the latest developments, highlighted the fact that five foreign armies are active in Syria and “violations of Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity (have been) going on for years.”

Although the ceasefire agreement reached by Russia and Turkey in the northwest of the country resulted in a de-escalation of hostilities, Pedersen warned that this relative calm remains fragile.

UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File) 

“All of these issues cannot be sorted out by the Syrians alone,” he said. (They) need an international cooperation (and) a real exchange of views (among all parties).

“If that political will is lacking it would be very, very difficult to move this process forward ... if you leave this to the UN alone, we will not be able to succeed.”

Top on the agenda on Monday will be discussion of the basic principles of the Syrian constitution. Pedersen said he has been meeting with the two co-chairs of the committee on a regular basis, and has also had intensive discussions with the “Middle Third” civil-society group, which includes society activists and experts and other independents from inside and outside of Syria.

His experiences during the past year, he said, lead him to believe there is potential for finding common ground. No single actor or group of actors can impose its will on Syria or settle the conflict alone — they must work together, he added.

The time has now come for the co-chairs of the Constitutional Committee to organize and focus its efforts by establishing “more effective and operational working methods,” Pedersen said, so that they can begin to move forward from preparing constitutional reforms to actually drafting them, and agreeing on clear agendas and discussion topics for future meetings.

“There needs to be more urgency (in) delivering progress in this process,” he added.

As he saluted the work of civil society groups and “all the Syrians who do what they can to improve the situation on the ground and support a political process,” Pedersen singled out women in particular for praise. He has been particularly proactive in seeking input from the Women’s Advisory Board.

“It is a priority for all of us to make sure that we have full participation of Syrian women in the political process,” he said. “(Promoting) their core constitutional rights is central for me, as the facilitator of the work of the Constitutional Committee.”

Asked about plans for large-scale prisoner swaps, Pedersen said that although this is not on the agenda for the talks in Geneva this week, it is always part of his own agenda. The disappointment over the lack of progress on the issue so far means “that we should work even harder” on it, he added.

“This is a file that really has an impact on nearly every Syrian family, and it needs to be addressed,” he said. “(I) have appealed (for) more information on the missing. (We) need to see the early release of women, children, the elderly and the sick, and I think (nothing) should stop that from happening.”

The members of the Small Body of the Syrian Constitutional Committee are due to arrive in Geneva on Saturday, and Pedersen will consult with the co-chairs over the weekend before the main talks begin on Monday.

Asked whether he expects this latest round of negotiations to be a success for the UN, Pedersen said: “I really do not think this is the question; the question (is) whether it is a success for the Syrian people and (their) aspirations.

“My hope has been that the Constitutional Committee, if it is handled in the correct manner, could start to build trust and (be) a door-opener for a broader political process.

“But the (committee) cannot work in isolation ... we need political will from the different parties to be able to move forward.”

He added: “The (committee) is just one aspect, and it is not the one aspect that will solve the Syrian crisis. If we are to see changes in the situation on the ground, there are other factors that need to be discussed.”