UN renews calls for access to Safer as fighting rages in Hodeidah

A pro-government tribal fighter checks munitions at a position where he is fighting against the Houthis in Marib, Yemen. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 October 2020

UN renews calls for access to Safer as fighting rages in Hodeidah

  • Fighting intensifies for the fifth day as Houthis launch major assaults on government-controlled areas

AL-MUKALLA: The UN has renewed calls for Iran-backed Houthis to allow its experts to visit the decaying Safer tanker in the Red Sea.

Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said on Monday the UN was still worried about the tanker, warning any oil spill would cause a major environmental disaster.

“I can tell you that we remain extremely concerned about the oil tanker off the coast of Hodeidah, which is at risk of spilling more than 1.1 million barrels of oil into the Red Sea,” he said at a press conference in New York, adding the UN has sent the Houthis a detailed plan about proposed technical assessment of the tanker. 

“The UN has submitted a comprehensive mission proposal to the de facto authorities, and we are optimistic that this will be quickly approved,” he said, adding: “The UN needs formal approval of the mission in order to begin procuring specialized equipment and making other arrangements.”

Last week, a virtual meeting between the Houthis and UN officials ended in failure. Houthi officials said they blocked the maintenance of the tanker under UN supervision over fears members of the proposed team were “spies” disguised as engineers.

Dujarric demanded the Houthis swiftly comply with the UN demands for inspection, saying the UN team would not arrive at the site until at least two months after receiving Houthi consent. “Based on current market availability of required equipment, we would need up to seven weeks from receipt of approvals until the mission staff could arrive on site with necessary equipment. The sooner the approvals come together, the sooner the work can get started,” Dujarric said.

In Hodeidah province, fighting intensified on Tuesday for the fifth day as the Houthis launched major assaults on government-controlled areas. Heavy explosions rocked the edges of Hodeidah city on Tuesday, as government forces traded heavy fire with the Houthis. 

“The Houthis launched an attack on Tuesday morning on the Joint Forces in Kilo 16 and Al-Sateen street in Hodeidah,” a local military officer, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Arab News by telephone.

Other local sources described the clashes in Hodeidah this week as the heaviest since late 2018 when the internationally recognized government and the rebels signed the Stockholm Agreement. Fighting has been raging in Hays and Al-Durihimi districts in Hodeidah since Friday, when the Houthis launched an offensive to push out government troops from liberated areas in the provinces. 

Hundreds of Houthis and government troops have been reportedly killed or wounded in the fighting. International experts have warned that stray shells could hit the stranded Safer, causing an explosion as destructive as the recent port blast in Beirut.

German defense minister rejects Turkey complaint over Libya weapons ship search

Updated 24 November 2020

German defense minister rejects Turkey complaint over Libya weapons ship search

  • Germany insists it acted correctly in boarding a Turkish ship to enforce arms embargo of Libya
  • Turkey summoned European diplomats to complain at the operation

BERLIN: Germany’s defense minister on Tuesday rejected Turkey’s complaints over the search of a Turkish freighter in the Mediterranean Sea by a German frigate participating in a European mission, insisting that German sailors acted correctly.
Sunday’s incident prompted Turkey to summon diplomats representing the European Union, Germany and Italy and assert that the Libya-bound freighter Rosaline-A was subjected to an “illegal” search by personnel from the German frigate Hamburg. The German ship is part of the European Union’s Irini naval mission, which is enforcing an arms embargo against Libya.
German officials say that the order to board the ship came from Irini’s headquarters in Rome and that Turkey protested while the team was on board. The search was then ended.
Turkey says the search was “unauthorized and conducted by force.”
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer backed the German crew’s actions.
“It is important to me to make really clear that the Bundeswehr soldiers behaved completely correctly,” she said during an appearance in Berlin. “They did what is asked of them in the framework of the European Irini mandate.”
“That there is this debate with the Turkish side points to one of the fundamental problems of this European mission,” Kramp-Karrenbauer added, without elaborating. “But it is very important to me to say clearly here that there are no grounds for these accusations that are now being made against the soldiers.”
This was the second incident between Turkey and naval forces from a NATO ally enforcing an arms blockade against Libya.
In June, NATO launched an investigation over an incident between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean, after France said one of its frigates was “lit up” three times by Turkish naval targeting radar when it tried to approach a Turkish civilian ship suspected of involvement in arms trafficking.
Turkey supports a UN-backed government in Tripoli against rival forces based in the country’s east. It has complained that the EU naval operation focuses its efforts too much on the Tripoli administration and turns a blind eye to weapons sent to the eastern-based forces.
In Ankara, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that Irini was “flawed from the onset.”
“It is not based on firm international legal foundations,” Akar said. He renewed Turkey’s criticism of the German ship’s actions.
“The incident was against international laws and practices. It was wrong,” he said.
Kramp-Karrenbauer stressed that “Turkey is still an important partner for us in NATO.” Turkey being outside the military alliance would make the situation even more difficult, she argued, and Turkish soldiers are “absolutely reliable partners” in NATO missions.
But she conceded that Turkey poses “a big challenge” because of how its domestic politics have developed and because it has its “own agenda, which is difficult to reconcile with European questions in particular.”