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.”
 


Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to  pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’
Updated 28 February 2021

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to  pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’
  • The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019

CAIRO: Tourism in Egypt will return to pre-pandemic levels by fall 2022, according to a government minister.
Khaled Al-Anani, who is minister of tourism and antiquities, said the sector’s recovery and restoration to pre-pandemic levels would be because of countries’ COVID-19 vaccination programs as well as Egypt’s efforts in developing archaeological sites in the Red Sea and South Sinai areas.
He said that, in the last three months of 2020, Egypt had received between 270,000 and 290,000 tourists on a monthly basis, equivalent to 10,000 tourists a day.
Al-Anani said the Grand Egyptian Museum would be finished during the third quarter of 2021 provided that, within the next few days, the winning international coalition to manage the museum’s operations was announced.
He added that the ministry had contacted 30 companies that organize concerts and Olympics to participate in the opening ceremony of the Grand Egyptian Museum but, while three had been chosen to organize the event, the pandemic had disrupted these plans.
The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019.
At the start of 2020 it was expected that Egypt would receive over 14 million tourists.
It received 2 million tourists in the first quarter of last year until the pandemic hit and led to a contraction in tourism, according to the minister’s adviser and ministry spokesperson, Soha Bahgat.
“The tourism sector in the whole world has been affected in an unprecedented way due to the pandemic … and Egypt has taken strict precautionary measures to limit the spread of the virus, and at the same time supportive measures for the economy, including supporting the tourism sector,” she said.
Egypt managed to attract about a million tourists from last July to the start of 2021.
Bahgat added that although the number was small, it had led many establishments to resume operations and slowly maintain the tourism sector.


Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official
Vendors work at a vegetable market amid the coronavirus disease pandemic in Cairo. (File/Reuters)
Updated 28 February 2021

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official
  • Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December

CAIRO: Egypt has overcome the peak of the second wave of coronavirus, according to the president’s health adviser Mohammed Awad Taj El-Din.
He said that new coronavirus cases were currently decreasing, pointing to the continued presence of the disease, but that precautionary measures still needed to be followed in order to reduce infection rates among people.
“The second wave was high, but there is a decrease in new cases. As for cases that need hospitals or ventilators, their numbers have decreased,” he added.
Taj El-Din regarded the fluctuation in the number of cases, whether it was an increase or decrease, as natural because COVID-19 symptoms appeared in some people up to two weeks after they had contracted the virus.

FASTFACT

Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December.

He said that intensive care rooms were available as were respirators and, as long as there was a decline in the number of new cases, there was no reason to be worried.
Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December.
It also received 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in early February, as part of its program to vaccinate health workers.
Taj El-Din said the antibodies produced by the coronavirus vaccines could last up to nine months, and the immunity to coronavirus that was produced by the vaccines, the period in which people were protected from contracting the virus again, varied between three and nine months.
He explained that the immunity period varied from one person to another, as some vaccines gave 86 percent protection from the virus while others gave up to 90 percent.
He said it was necessary to limit gatherings and follow precautionary measures during Ramadan so that there was no new coronavirus wave in Egypt.


Lebanon facing coup threat, Maronite leader warns rally

Lebanon facing coup threat, Maronite leader warns rally
Updated 28 February 2021

Lebanon facing coup threat, Maronite leader warns rally

Lebanon facing coup threat, Maronite leader warns rally
  • Patriarch calls for UN-led forum to save nation ‘from those who harbor evil’

BEIRUT: The leader of Lebanon’s influential Christian Maronite church has warned that the country is facing the threat of a “full-fledged coup,” and called for an international conference to avert “chaos, hunger and oppression.”

In an emotional address to thousands of followers on Saturday, Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said that he was “drawing red lines for anyone who harbors evil for Lebanon, regardless of their sect.”
His comments were widely seen as a veiled reference to Iran-backed Hezbollah along with the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and its founder President Michel Aoun.
“We are facing a full-fledged coup attempt,” Al-Rai told Lebanese who traveled to the church’s headquarters in Bkerke to support his demand for a UN-sponsored international conference to save Lebanon.
In response to the patriarch’s speech, people chanted: “Hezbollah is terrorist,” “Get out, Iran” and “Michel Aoun, leave.”
Cries of “Revolution! Revolution!” were also heard.
The Bkerke rally went ahead despite measures to limit gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic, with some observers suggesting it could signal an end to the stalemate in Lebanese politics.

We want to provide support to the Lebanese Army, making it Lebanon’s sole defender.

Patriarch Bechara, Boutros Al-Rai

The FPM, led by Gebran Bassil, did not attend, saying it feared that the gathering “would be used against it,” according to affiliated websites.
Sources at Bkerke told Arab News that Al-Rai decided to speak out “because Lebanon is facing an existential threat” following the failure of a string of initiatives, including his efforts to reconcile Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri.
Banners unfurled on the dome of the Bkerke church read: “Neutrality, sovereignty, and stability,” “Lebanon comes first and last,” and “Bkerke for all of Lebanon.”
Al-Rai said at the outset of his address: “Long live a single, united and neutral Lebanon that is active, positive, sovereign, independent, free and strong.”
He said: “We are demanding this now because all other solutions have reached a dead end, and we have not been able to agree on the fate of our country, nor even to discuss our homeland’s affairs. We support finding a solution inside Lebanon.”

BACKGROUND

The Bkerke rally went ahead despite measures to limit gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic, with some observers suggesting it could signal an end to the stalemate in Lebanese politics.

He added: “To let hunger and oppression destroy the country is something we do not accept in any way. Rejecting the proposed solutions means chaos and seizing the levers of power.”
Al-Rai called for an international conference to ensure Lebanon’s neutrality, so that it “is no longer a victim of conflicts and wars, and a land of division.”
He added: “We want the state to extend its authority over the entire Lebanese territory. We want to provide support to the Lebanese army, making it Lebanon’s sole defender.”
Al-Rai said the UN-sponsored conference also should agree on a plan “to prevent the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and ensure a safe return for Syrian refugees to their homeland.”
He said: “We do not want armies and camps, nor do we want Lebanon to be undermined. Lebanon’s borders are not subject to amendment, its Christian-Muslim partnership is untouchable, and its democracy is not subject to veto.”
The patriarch called on protesters to continue to speak out, saying: “Do not remain silent in the face of corruption. Do not tolerate the theft of your money, the fluid borders, the failure of the political class, the chaos in the investigation into the Beirut port explosion, or the imprisonment of the innocent.
“Do not tolerate the failure in forming a government and implementing reforms.”
Participants in the rally, many from different sects, told Arab News that Al-Rai is their last hope.
“No politician cares for the collapsing state. Politicians have left us on our own,” said one.
A Muslim woman in her 50s said: “This is an opportunity to raise our voice. The patriarch’s stances are patriotic, and history will remember him. The country is collapsing.”
A man in his 40s said: “I have come to Bkerke to say that people suffer from hunger and despair, and there is nothing left to lose.”
Internal security forces personnel were deployed on the road to the church’s headquarters, and those entering the square were searched.
Before the gathering, Hezbollah and FPM supporters took to social media to share tweets opposing the event.


Houthis take 500 families hostage in Marib battle

Houthis take 500 families hostage in Marib battle
Updated 28 February 2021

Houthis take 500 families hostage in Marib battle

Houthis take 500 families hostage in Marib battle
  • Iran-backed terror militia using trapped families ‘as human shield’
  • Militants recently stormed several displacement camps in Serwah, west of Marib, blocking people’s escape to safer areas

AL-MUKALLA: Hundreds of Yemeni families trapped inside their camps in Marib province by Iran-backed Houthis are being used as a human shield against government forces, a Yemen government unit has claimed.

In a report seen by Arab News on Saturday, the internationally recognized government’s Executive Unit for IDP Camps said that militia fighters had besieged camps and planted land mines on main roads to stop families escaping and hinder advancing troops.

“Houthis have prevented 470 families from fleeing, using them as human shields. Until today, many families in the camps are still trapped by the Houthis,” the report said.

Militants recently stormed several displacement camps in Serwah, west of Marib, blocking people’s escape to safer areas. 

The government unit has appealed to the rebels to stop using displaced families as hostages and allow them to leave the camps.

“The Executive Unit for IDP Camps calls on the Houthis to respect international humanitarian law and stop targeting civilians and displaced persons, and to open safe corridors in order to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.”

The Houthis earlier this month renewed a bloody offensive on Marib, an oil-rich city and the government’s last bastion in the northern half of the country. For four weeks, the Houthis have faced stiff resistance from government forces backed by massive air and logistics support from the Arab coalition. 

Army commanders say that hundreds of Houthis have been killed, wounded or captured and their advance on Marib halted. 

Maj. Gen. Nasser Al-Thaybani, commander of the army’s Military Operation Authority, said that more than half the Houthi fighters sent to seize Marib have died or been wounded in the fighting, while army troops and allied tribesmen have pushed back all of the Houthi attacks on government-controlled areas. 

Yemeni government forces also suffered heavy casualties during fierce clashes.

Local officers and media said on Saturday that Brig. Gen. Abdul Ghani Sha’alan, commander of the Special Security Forces in Marib, was one of several government soldiers who died in fighting with the rebels near Balouq mountain in Serwah district, west of Marib city, on Friday. 

A local military officer, who declined to be named, told Arab News that Sha’alan was leading government troops pushing back a Houthi attack on the peak, which was claimed by government forces last week.

Several army commanders and tribal leaders have been killed since the beginning of the rebel offensive on Marib.

Yemen’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday criticized international rights groups over their failure to “name and shame” the Houthis for attacking residential areas after the densely populated city was targeted by 10 ballistic missiles in the previous 24 hours.

“Since the beginning of February, the province has come under the largest and fiercest Houthi attack in which the militia used all kinds of heavy weapons, including artillery, explosive-laden drones and ballistic missiles,” the ministry said in a statement. 

On Friday, Yemen’s Prime Minister, Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed, hailed military support from the Arab coalition to help tilt the war in the army’s favor, vowing to continue backing army troops and tribesmen until they push the Houthi out of areas under their control.


Syria strikes: Biden warns of ‘consequences’ for Iran’s militia support

Syria strikes: Biden warns of ‘consequences’ for Iran’s militia support
Updated 27 February 2021

Syria strikes: Biden warns of ‘consequences’ for Iran’s militia support

Syria strikes: Biden warns of ‘consequences’ for Iran’s militia support
  • Psaki told reporters Friday that Biden used his constitutional authority to defend US personnel
  • Comments follow Friday’s attack on Syria-Iraq border compound by US jets

LONDON: US airstrikes in Syria demonstrate that Iran should expect retaliation for supporting militia groups that threaten American interests, President Joe Biden has warned.
“You can’t act with impunity. Be careful,” he said when asked about Friday morning’s strikes on Syria’s eastern border with Iraq.
The Pentagon said the attack was carried out by two US Air Force F-15E aircraft that fired seven missiles.

The pair destroyed nine buildings used by Iran-backed militias and heavily damaged two others in eastern Syria.
Officials said the strikes were not intended to destroy the groups, but to demonstrate that the US “will act firmly” to avoid greater regional escalations.
The airstrikes were “legal and appropriate” as they “took out facilities housing valuable capabilities used by the militia groups to attack US and allied forces in Iraq,” officials said.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, the leading Republican on the Senate Committee on Armed Services, said the decision was “the correct, proportionate response to protect American lives.”
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Biden “used his constitutional authority to defend US personnel.”
She said the strikes were designed to deter future actions by Iran-backed militias following a rocket attack on Feb. 15 in Iraq that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a US service member.
Pentagon chief spokesman John Kirby said the strikes resulted in “casualties,” but declined to comment on the details.
An Iraqi militia official with close links to Iran said one fighter was killed in the strike and several others wounded.
The group housed in the compound is known as Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades — an Iraqi Shiite paramilitary group sponsored by Iran.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said the strikes targeted a shipment of weapons. It reported that 22 fighters from an Iraqi umbrella group of militias were killed.
Kataeb Hezbollah confirmed that one of its fighters was killed and warned that it had the right to retaliate.