US accuses Houthis in Yemen of ‘behaving like a terrorist organization’

US accuses Houthis in Yemen of ‘behaving like a terrorist organization’
Houthi militants in Sanaa. The US is weighing whether to designate the group a terrorist organization. (AFP/File)
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Updated 11 December 2020

US accuses Houthis in Yemen of ‘behaving like a terrorist organization’

US accuses Houthis in Yemen of ‘behaving like a terrorist organization’
  • Trump officials consider designating militia as terrorist group
  • Timothy Lenderking says new US administration will want to maintain pressure to change Iranian behavior

LONDON: Yemen’s Houthi militia behaves like a terrorist organization and is deepening its relationship with Iran’s elite military units, a senior US official said on Thursday.

The comments came as the US issued new sanctions against Houthi officials for human rights abuses and the Trump administration continued its deliberations on whether to designate the militants as a terrorist group.

The militia sparked the Yemen conflict in 2014 when it seized the capital Sanaa from the internationally recognized government and now controls much of northwest Yemen.

Timothy Lenderking, deputy assistant secretary of state for Arabian Gulf affairs, said he could not comment on internal deliberations about a possible designation, but added: “The Houthis do things that are akin to the behavior of a terrorist organization.”

Speaking at a press briefing for regional media, Lenderking listed the Houthi actions that the US sees as most terrorist in nature and warned that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was increasingly helping fund and train the militants.

“They target civilians and civilian infrastructure, they use kidnapping as a tool of war and, if anything, they seem to be deepening their relationship with the IRGC, which from our point of view is a designated terrorist organization,” he said.

Lenderking added that the Houthi’s use of child soldiers, the barring of experts seeking to assess a stricken oil tanker, and the obstruction of aid operations in Yemen were “highly distasteful activities but not specifically terrorist.”

He said these activities would have to stop if the Houthis wanted to be seen as a legitimate political actor inside the country.

Some aid agencies have warned that designating the Houthis as terrorists would further hamper their operations in Yemen, which is suffering one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.

Lenderking’s comments come after a flurry of diplomatic activity between the US and Arab Gulf states in recent months.

He said the US is working with Gulf countries to counter the Iranian threat in the region, which includes fueling the war in Yemen.

Officials have also been looking to reassure parties in the region amid concerns that the switch to the Joe Biden administration next month will lead to an easing of the “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.

Under Donald Trump, the US pulled out of a landmark deal to curtail Tehran’s nuclear program and ramped up sanctions. Many in the region believe the 2015 agreement gave the Iranian regime political and financial muscle to pursue an expansive and aggressive foreign policy across the Middle East.

Biden was a key part of the Barack Obama government that oversaw the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and it is expected he will attempt to revive it.

Responding to Arab News, Lenderking said he could not speculate on how the new administration will tackle the “Iran problem,” but added that any administration would want to see a change in behavior.

“The goal of the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign has not been to destroy Iran or bring down the leadership. It has been to try to force a change in behavior,” Lenderking said.

“Any US administration would want to see different behavior from Iran because so much of that we see is very concerning. When you look at their support for various conflicts — I mentioned Yemen — but one could look at Syria, their support for proxy forces in Iraq, I mean all of these areas where Iranian influence has been brought to bear is destabilizing to our interests and also to the region.”

Lenderking also welcomed as “very reassuring” recent signs of an easing of tensions between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain.

All four countries are key US allies and Washington has been pushing to resolve the dispute, which erupted in 2017 and led to a boycott of Qatar.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan hinted at a resolution to the dispute, saying at the weekend that a breakthrough would come “soon.”

“It’s imperative that the GCC unites against regional threats,” Lenderking said.


Former Mosul priest: Pope’s Iraq visit a ‘precious gift’ for all

Former Mosul priest: Pope’s Iraq visit a ‘precious gift’ for all
Updated 29 min 59 sec ago

Former Mosul priest: Pope’s Iraq visit a ‘precious gift’ for all

Former Mosul priest: Pope’s Iraq visit a ‘precious gift’ for all
  • ‘Like a dove, he’ll bring a twig of peace to all the people living in this land who’ve suffered for too long,’ priest tells Arab News
  • Pope Francis due to arrive in Baghdad on March 5

ROME: The pope’s upcoming visit to Iraq is a “precious gift” not only for the Christians who live there, but for all those who after years of war want a return to peace and coexistence between religions, a priest who worked for eight years in the diocese of Mosul told Arab News.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. Pope Francis is coming … to invite us to all be instruments of peace,” said Jalal Jako.

“Like a dove, he’ll bring a twig of peace to all the people living in this land who’ve suffered for too long.”

Jako, currently in Italy, will return to Iraq for the pope’s visit, which will begin on March 5.

The priest was born in Qaraqosh, a historic Christian city near Mosul, which is part of the pope’s itinerary.

He fled the region in August 2014 along with nearly 150,000 Christians and made his way to Erbil in northern Iraq. There, Jako worked in a refugee camp where he said the conditions for those who had fled the extremists were “terrible.”

When he returned to Qaraqosh three years later, “We found that everything had been destroyed,” he said.

The pope will be welcomed by Iraq’s prime minister in Baghdad and then visit the country’s president at the presidential palace, where he will meet with local authorities, representatives of civil society and the diplomatic corps.

Pope Francis will also meet with bishops and priests at the Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad.

On March 6, he will fly to the city of Najaf and meet with Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani. The pope will return to Baghdad that day and celebrate Holy Mass at the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph.

On March 7 he will visit Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and meet with religious and civil authorities of the autonomous region. He will also visit the city of Qaraqosh. His return to Rome is scheduled for March 8 from Baghdad.

Jako said: “We can’t fail to be there at such an important moment for us Christians — the first visit of a pope to Iraq. He’ll tell us, ‘No more blood, live all as brothers.’ Thus he’ll send out a message that all the Iraqi people need.”

Jako added: “Pope John Paul II was supposed to come on a pilgrimage in 2000 … but it wasn’t possible for him. Pope Francis is keeping his predecessor’s promise to come to Iraq to visit a Christian community that today has only 500,000 faithful, a third of the number who lived there in 2003. He comes as the leader of a Church that respects all religions and aims to build peace.”


Israel vaccinate Palestinians with Israeli work permits against COVID-19

Israel vaccinate Palestinians with Israeli work permits against COVID-19
Updated 28 February 2021

Israel vaccinate Palestinians with Israeli work permits against COVID-19

Israel vaccinate Palestinians with Israeli work permits against COVID-19
  • Palestinian medical teams would be stationed at checkpoints to administer the vaccines
  • Of the 5.2 million people, only 32,000 have received the vaccine to date

JERUSALEM: Israel will administer COVID-19 vaccines to Palestinians who work in Israel or in its settlements in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli liaison office COGAT said on Sunday.
The vaccination campaign, which could apply to around 130,000 Palestinians, will begin within days, COGAT said.
Shaher Saad, secretary-general of the Palestinian Workers’ Union, said thousands of Palestinians who work in the Israeli service and industrial sectors had already been vaccinated privately by their employers inside Israel.
He said Palestinian medical teams would be stationed at checkpoints to administer the vaccines, by agreement with Israeli authorities.
Israel has given at least one dose of the Pfizer Inc. vaccine to more than half of its 9.3 million population, including Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
But it has come under international criticism for not doing more to enable vaccination of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
The Palestinians have received around 32,000 vaccine doses to date, for the 5.2 million people who live in the West Bank and Gaza.
Israeli officials have said that, under the Oslo peace accords, the Palestinian health ministry is responsible for vaccinating people in Gaza and those parts of the West Bank where it has limited self-rule.


Jordanian ministers sacked for attending dinner breaching COVID-19 rules

Jordanian ministers sacked for attending dinner breaching COVID-19 rules
Updated 28 February 2021

Jordanian ministers sacked for attending dinner breaching COVID-19 rules

Jordanian ministers sacked for attending dinner breaching COVID-19 rules
  • A local news website said the pair had gone to a dinner at an Amman restaurant attended by nine people
  • The sackings come amid Jordanians’ increasing unease about the handling of the pandemic

AMMAN: Two Jordanian ministers resigned on Sunday for violating coronavirus-containment regulations, days after one of them had vowed “zero tolerance” against COVID-19 rule breakers.

Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh asked Interior and Justice Ministers Samir Mubaidin and Bassam Talhouni to step down for violating the defense order put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

A government source told Arab News that al-Khasawneh's directives, which were immediately endorsed by King Abdullah, came after the two ministers were at an event that brought together more than six people.

A local news website said the pair had gone to a dinner at an Amman restaurant attended by nine people, in violation of a defense order that allows a maximum of six.

Mubaidin chaired a meeting with senior security officers last Thursday where he had stressed the need to abide by defense orders, notably following the curfew, wearing masks and physical distancing. 

He vowed “zero tolerance” against violators, adding that these measures were aimed at protecting public health.

A royal decree was issued on Sunday accepting the resignation of Talhouni and Mubaidin. 

Another decree assigned the deputy prime minister and minister of local administration, Tawfiq Kreishan, to take on the Ministry of Interior, and for the minister of state for legal affairs, Ahmad Ziadat, to take on the Ministry of Justice, as of Sunday.

Jordan has toughened its health regulations, reinstating a curfew on Fridays and extending lockdown hours, with the country witnessing a surge in coronavirus cases. It has recorded around 387,000 COVID-19 infections and 4,675 deaths.

The sackings come amid Jordanians’ increasing unease about the handling of the pandemic.

“The sacking of the two ministers should have been in fact linked to the failure in handling matters related to citizens’ lives, including vaccines, the health situation and food security,” political analyst Amer Sabaileh told Arab News.


Turkey summons Iran ambassador over accusations Ankara is violating Iraqi sovereignty: Al Arabiya

Turkey summons Iran ambassador over accusations Ankara is violating Iraqi sovereignty: Al Arabiya
Updated 28 February 2021

Turkey summons Iran ambassador over accusations Ankara is violating Iraqi sovereignty: Al Arabiya

Turkey summons Iran ambassador over accusations Ankara is violating Iraqi sovereignty: Al Arabiya

CAIRO: Turkey has summoned the Iranian ambassador over accusations by Tehran that Ankara is violating Iraqi sovereignty, Al Arabiya TV reported Sunday. 

Turkey said it expects from Tehran to stand by Ankara in “combating terrorism”. 

Last week, Iran summoned the Turkish ambassador in Tehran over comments made by Turkish officials accusing Iran of destabilizing the region by getting involved in Iraq and Syria. 


Iran health ministry says virus deaths cross 60,000 mark

Iran health ministry says virus deaths cross 60,000 mark
Updated 28 February 2021

Iran health ministry says virus deaths cross 60,000 mark

Iran health ministry says virus deaths cross 60,000 mark

Iran's health ministry said the country's coronavirus fatalities broke the 60,000 mark on Sunday, as the Islamic republic battles the Middle East's worst outbreak of the illness.
"Sadly in the past 24 hours, 93 people lost their lives to Covid-19, and total deaths from this disease reached 60,073," health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said in a televised address.
Iran has registered a total of 1,631,169 infections, according to the ministry.