Still hope for Yemen despite violence and famine, says UN envoy

Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy for Yemen. (AFP/File)
Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy for Yemen. (AFP/File)
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Updated 15 January 2021

Still hope for Yemen despite violence and famine, says UN envoy

Still hope for Yemen despite violence and famine, says UN envoy
  • Martin Griffiths hails resolve of newly formed Yemeni cabinet after they were targeted in airport attack
  • US urged to reverse designation of Houthis as terrorists to safeguard peace talks and avoid humanitarian disaster

NEW YORK: Even though it was a virtual session, one could sense the emotional atmosphere during a meeting of the Security Council on Thursday as Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy for Yemen, briefed members about the “harrowing note” on which 2020 had ended in the war-ravaged country.
He spoke of his shock when he visited Aden’s civilian airport and saw the damage caused by “a vicious attack” on Dec. 30 targeting the Yemeni government’s newly formed cabinet as they arrived at the airport. Dozens of civilians were killed or injured, including government officials, humanitarian-aid workers and a journalist.
As he condemned the attack “in the strongest terms possible” and hailed the resolve of the members of the new government, who chose to remain in Aden and carry out their duties despite the security risks, Griffiths reminded the council that “deliberate attacks on civilians (may) constitute a war crime.”
The members of the Security Council echoed his condemnation of the attack.
“The UK assesses that it is highly likely that the Houthis were responsible for this cowardly and craven attack,” said Barbara Woodward, the UK permanent representative to the UN.
“Only the Houthis have the means, the motive and the opportunity. It was a clear and deplorable attempt to destabilize the newly formed Yemeni government. The Houthi attack casts a dark shadow over a group that claims to be pursuing peace in Yemen.”
Woodward also condemned “Houthi cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia” and said the UK “shares US concerns about the Houthi commitment to peace.”
A Yemeni government investigation into the assault on the airport also concluded that the Houthis were responsible for an attack that “casts a dark shadow over what should have been a moment of hope in the efforts to achieve peace in Yemen.”
Griffiths said the formation of the Yemeni cabinet and its return to Aden “was a major milestone for the (Saudi-brokered) Riyadh Agreement, and for the stability of state institutions, the economy and the peace process.” He once again commended Saudi Arabia for its “successful mediation role.”
He added: “Progress on the Riyadh Agreement is significant. It shows us that reconciliation between opposing parties can be achieved. Despite all their bitter opposition, and with the tireless efforts of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as mediator, the two sides made peace with each other. So it can be done.”
Turning to the “cumbersome and frustrating” negotiations for a joint declaration by the government and the Houthis — a set of proposals for measures including a nationwide ceasefire, humanitarian aid and economic relief, and the resumption of the peace process — Griffiths acknowledged that they cannot continue indefinitely.
“But let me be clear: the parties can slice and dice the set of proposals contained in the joint declaration any way they wish,” he said. “It can be a whole package. It can be done in parts. I have no objection to the way these measures are adopted.”
He called for the focus to remain on the political process, irrespective of the outcome of the joint declaration negotiations.
Mark Lowcock, the UN’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, warned that the people of Yemen face a looming “massive famine,” amid projections that 16 million Yemenis will go hungry this year. He said that 50,000 people are already starving to death in what is “essentially a small famine,” and another five million are “just one step behind them.”
There is impending danger of an even larger-scale famine, Lowcock said, if US authorities do not reconsider their decision to designate the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization. He joined Griffiths and World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley in calling on Washington to reverse the decision on humanitarian grounds.
 “We fear that there will be inevitably a chilling effect on my efforts to bring the parties together,” Griffiths told the 15-member Security Council.
Beasley said: “We are struggling now, without the designation — with the designation, it’s going to be catastrophic. It literally is going to be a death sentence to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent people in Yemen.”
Richard Mills, the deputy US ambassador to the UN, said the terrorist designation is a response to a stalling political process that “has produced little results despite the heroic efforts of (Griffiths).”
He assured the officials that their concerns will inform Washington’s approach to the implementation of the designation, but was adamant that “this step is the right move forward to send the right signal if we want the political process to move forward.”
Details of exemptions that would allow aid agencies to distribute food in Yemen despite US regulations have reportedly not been finalized yet by the State Department in Washington, with only days to go until the designation takes effect on Jan. 19.
On top of this, about 30 million Yemenis rely on aid from UN organizations, but Lowcock said that 90 percent of the food they distribute is imported. Even if exemptions are granted quickly to aid agencies, it will not be enough to prevent famine, he warned, because the agencies cannot adequately replace commercial imports. A number of NGOs have expressed concerns that the US designation of the Houthis will disrupt their ability to maintain shipments of food to Yemen.
Lowcock also said that fears of being sanctioned by the US is discouraging many traders from continuing to supply food because they consider the risks too great.
 “What would prevent (famine?)” he asked? “A reversal of the US decision.”
Beasley additionally warned that there is a massive deficit in the funding of aid for Yemen and urged countries in the region to contribute more.
He called on “the Gulf states, the Saudis to pick up the financial tab for the needs inside Yemen because the needs in other parts of the world are so great.”
 


Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people

Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people
Updated 14 April 2021

Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people

Oman imposes Ramadan night-time ban on commercial activities, movement of people
  • The decisions can either be relaxed or toughened, depending on the pandemic situation

DUBAI: Oman has imposed a night-time ban on all commercial activities and movement of people throughout the holy month of Ramadan.

All types of gatherings, including iftars in mosques, tents or public places typical during Ramadan are affected by the prohibition against mass assembly, which starts from 9 p.m. until 4 a.m.

Oman’s Supreme Committee, which was created to deal with all coronavirus pandemic related developments, also imposed a ban on all social, sports and cultural activities and any other group activities throughout the holy month of Ramadan.

Key sectoral workers such as in oil, healthcare, utilities, food supply and media were however exempted from the movement ban, provided they have permissions, as well as three-ton trucks. Pharmacies were also allowed to operate during the night-time commercial ban.

The decisions can either be relaxed or toughened, depending on the pandemic situation, according to Dr. Abdullah Nasser Al-Harrasi, the minister of Information and a member of the COVID-19 Supreme Committee.


UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight
Updated 54 min 31 sec ago

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight
  • UAE health officials reported 2,022 new coronavirus cases overnight

DUBAI: The UAE administered 1118,805 more doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight, bringing total jabs given to residents and citizens to 9,156,728 or about 92.58 doses per 100 individuals.

The nationwide inoculation program aims to give the population immunity from coronavirus that will help curb its spread as well as bring down infection cases.

UAE health officials reported 2,022 new coronavirus cases overnight, bringing the country’s caseload to 487,697 since the pandemic began. Four deaths were also confirmed due to COVID-19 complications, bringing the total number of deaths in the country to 1,537.

Meanwhile, an additional 1,731 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 471,906.


Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE
Updated 14 April 2021

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden’s administration has told Congress it is proceeding with more than $23 billion in weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, including advanced F-35 aircraft, armed drones and other equipment, congressional aides said on Tuesday.
A State Department spokesperson said the administration would move forward with the proposed sales to the UAE, “even as we continue reviewing details and consulting with Emirati officials” related to the use of the weapons.
The Democratic president’s administration had paused the deals agreed to by former Republican President Donald Trump in order to review them.


Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier
An honour guard of Israeli soldiers with their rifles stands to attention during a one minute siren, as they partake in a state ceremony for Memorial Day in Jerusalem on April 13, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 14 April 2021

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier
  • ‘He saw horrible things and nobody took care of him,’ his tearful brother Avi Saidian told journalists at the hospital

JERUSALEM: Israel was shaken Tuesday after a 26-year-old former soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder since the 2014 Gaza war set himself on fire, suffering severe injuries.
Itzik Saidian went to a support service for wounded soldiers near Tel Aviv on Monday, doused himself with a flammable liquid and lit it, “due to significant psychological distress,” the army said.
He was rushed to the intensive care unit of Tel Hashomer Hospital near Tel Aviv and was in “critical condition” with “deep burns all over his body,” the hospital said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “very shocked” and “determined to undertake a complete reform of the way we take care of our disabled and wounded veterans.”
The young man had been recognized as partially disabled because he suffered from PTSD related to his service during the 2014 war between Israel and the armed Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Around 2,250 Palestinians were killed in the war, mostly civilians, and 74 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
Saidian’s self-immolation came on the eve of Israel’s Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and attack victims.
It sparked controversy over the support system for wounded or psychologically ill soldiers, which is often deemed inefficient and bureaucratic.
“He saw horrible things and nobody took care of him,” his tearful brother Avi Saidian told journalists at the hospital.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced a “thorough investigation to find the reasons for this tragic event.” His ministry pledged to “substantially improve the treatment of post-traumatic soldiers.”
Military service is mandatory in Israel for 18-year-olds. Women serve two years and men two years and six months.


Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
Updated 13 April 2021

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
  • Aoun's decision could significantly delay the process
  • Israeli Energy Minister said Monday Lebanon's expanded claim would derail talks

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president said on Tuesday a draft decree expanding its maritime claims in a dispute with Israel must be approved by the caretaker government, rejecting a request to grant it swift presidential approval.
The dispute with Israel over the maritime boundary has held up hydrocarbon exploration in a potentially gas-rich area of the eastern Mediterranean.
The decree, approved by Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, defense minister and minister of public work on Monday, would add around 1,400 square km (540 square miles) to an exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean claimed by Lebanon.
Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s office said the decree should be approved by President Michel Aoun so that the new maritime coordinates setting out Lebanon’s claim could be submitted to the United Nations.
But the presidency said it should be approved by Diab’s full cabinet, even though the government resigned eight months ago following a devastating explosion in Beirut, because of the gravity of the issue.
The draft decree “needs a collective decision from the council of ministers..., even under a caretaker government, due to its importance and the consequences,” a statement from Aoun’s office said.
Aoun’s decision could significantly delay the process. Since the government resigned in August it has referred all issues for exceptional approval by the president, leaving them to get formal endorsement when a new government is finally agreed.
Negotiations were launched in October to try to resolve the dispute with Israel yet the talks, a culmination of three years of diplomacy by the United States, have since stalled.
Israel already pumps gas from offshore fields but Lebanon has yet to find commercial gas reserves in its own waters.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday Lebanon’s expanded claim would derail the talks rather than help work toward a common solution, warning that Israel would implement “parallel measures.”
Lebanon, in the throes of a deep financial meltdown that is threatening its stability, is desperate for cash as it faces the worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war. But political leaders have failed to bridge their differences and form a new government.