Fighting intensifies in Yemeni province despite truce

In this file photo taken on May 11, 2020, fighters from of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) gesture following clashes with Saudi-backed government forces in the Sheikh Salim area in the southern Abyan province. (AFP)
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Updated 24 June 2020

Fighting intensifies in Yemeni province despite truce

  • Government forces accused separatists of attacking their positions with artillery and heavy machine guns and said they only acted in response

AL-MUKALLA: Yemeni government forces and southern separatists traded mortar and cannon fire in the southern province of Abyan on Tuesday, despite a truce and diplomatic talks in Saudi Arabia, local officials said.

Separatists said the government launched an offensive on their forces in the Al-Taryia region in Abyan, which triggered heavy clashes and resulted in deaths on both sides.

“They launched a big offensive from Shouqra, hours after agreeing to the truce. We are committed to the truce and implementing the Riyadh Agreement as long as the government abides by it,” Nizar Haytham, a spokesperson for the Southern Transitional Council (STC), told Arab News.

He added that STC forces acted in self-defense and that a Saudi-led committee had been formed to monitor the truce.

Government forces accused separatists of attacking their positions with artillery and heavy machine guns and said they only acted in response.

“Fighting has not stopped for even one hour since the truce was announced,” an army officer, who asked to remain anonymous, told Arab News from Abyan.

The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said on Tuesday that its Aden hospital treated more than 20 people who were injured in the fighting.

The Yemeni government and separatists have clashed since early 2018, when the government accused separatists of obstructing ministers’ movements in the port city of Aden, the country’s interim capital.

In August, separatists expelled the government from Aden, prompting loyalists into regrouping in Abyan and launching a counterattack.

Seeking to broker peace, Saudi Arabia oversaw a peace deal in November, known as the Riyadh Agreement.

Under the deal, both sides would disarm and withdraw personnel from Aden, Abyan and Shabwa, as the internationally recognized president names a new government and governors.

Western diplomats and Yemeni politicians have praised the Saudi-brokered agreement for including the separatists in the decision-making process and allowing the Yemeni government to operate from Aden.

“By implementing it the Yemeni government and STC will be in a situation where they are united in a newly formed government where they both feel they have adequate representation. The STC have been demanding a place at the UN talks and the Riyadh Agreement offers them a place at the table as part of the delegation,” Michael Aron, the British ambassador to Yemen, told Arab News.

The UN Yemen envoy has attempted to forge a peace deal that would put an end to the war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives and caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Fighting also continued in northern Yemen, where government try to repel attacks by Iranian-backed Houthi militias, in Marib, Jawf and Al-Bayda.

On Tuesday, Yemen’s defense ministry announced the death of Brig. Gen. Naji Ali Hanshel, a senior military officer killed in battle against Houthi militias.

UN fails to find consensus after Russia, China veto on Syrian aid

A woman talks with a soldier of the Syrian army during distribution of humanitarian aid from the Russian military, in the town of Rastan, Syria. (AP)
Updated 17 min 34 sec ago

UN fails to find consensus after Russia, China veto on Syrian aid

  • Russia and China argue that the UN authorization violates Syria’s sovereignty, and that aid can increasingly be channeled through Syrian authorities

NEW YORK: The UN Security Council failed to find a consensus on prolonging cross-border humanitarian aid to Syria on Friday after Russia and China vetoed an extension and members rejected a counter proposal by Moscow.
Without an agreement, authorization for the transport of aid to war-torn Syria, which has existed since 2014, expired Friday night.
Germany and Belgium were working on a final initiative to save the effort, with hopes of bringing it to a vote this weekend.
“We are ready to work round the clock, and call on others to think of the millions of people in Syria waiting for the Security Council to decide their fate,” said German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, who holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month.
After Moscow and Beijing wielded vetoes for a second time this week, only three countries joined Russia in backing its proposal to cut the number of aid transit points from two to one.
China supported Russia, but seven countries including the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Belgium voted against, with four abstentions.
An attempt by Russia to pass a similar resolution also failed earlier this week.
The NGO Oxfam had warned that stopping cross-border aid would be “a devastating blow to the millions of Syrian families who rely on this aid for clean water, food, health care and shelter.”
Thirteen countries voted in favor of an earlier German-Belgian draft, but Moscow and Beijing opposed the extension because they favor a more limited proposal.
European countries and the US want to maintain two crossing points on the Turkish border — at Bab Al-Salam, which leads to the Aleppo region, and Bab Al-Hawa, which serves the Idlib region.
The UN authorization allows the body to distribute aid to displaced Syrians without needing permission from Damascus.
Russia and China argue that the UN authorization violates Syria’s sovereignty, and that aid can increasingly be channeled through Syrian authorities.
The latest proposal by Russia, which claims to want continued aid for the insurgent Idlib region, would have kept only the Bab Al-Hawa access point open, and for one year.
Moscow claims that more than 85 percent of current aid goes through Bab Al-Hawa and that the Bab Al-Salam entry point can therefore be closed.
Western countries oppose it, with the US having described two entry points as “a red line.”
In January, Moscow, Syria’s closest ally, succeeded in having the crossing points reduced from four to two and in limiting the authorization to six months instead of a year.
According to Washington’s ambassador to the UN, Kelly Craft, keeping only one border crossing open would cut off 1.3 million people living north of Aleppo from humanitarian aid.
Another diplomat noted that “if the authorization is renewed a few days late, it is not the absolute end of the world. It suspends the convoys for a few days, it does not put them in danger.”
For the UN, keeping as many entry points open as possible is crucial, particularly given the risk of the coronavirus pandemic, which is spreading in the region.
In a report in June, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a one-year extension of the aid to include the two current access points.
When asked Thursday if the UN would be satisfied with a single entry point into Syria, body spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “We need more aid to go through the border. We do not need less to go through.”
David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, called it a “dark day” for Syrian civilians and the UN.
He added it “defies logic or humanity to dismantle a system designed to bring life-saving aid to Syrians in the form of food, health supplies, vaccines, and now critical COVID-19 provisions.”