US calls on Houthis to halt all military operations in Yemen

Arab coalition forces repel a Houthi militia offensive on oil-rich Marib, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Yemen’s capital Sanaa, on Feb. 14, 2021. (AFP)
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e 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Yemen’s capital Sanaa, on Feb. 14, 2021. (AFP)
Arab coalition forces get into position during clashes with the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Al-Jadaan area about 50 kilometers northwest of Marib in central Yemen on Feb. 11, 2021. (AFP)
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Arab coalition forces get into position during clashes with the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Al-Jadaan area about 50 kilometers northwest of Marib in central Yemen on Feb. 11, 2021. (AFP)
A girl sits as other children play on swings at a camp for internally displaced people in Marib, Yemen Feb. 16, 2021. (Reuters)
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A girl sits as other children play on swings at a camp for internally displaced people in Marib, Yemen Feb. 16, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 February 2021

US calls on Houthis to halt all military operations in Yemen

US calls on Houthis to halt all military operations in Yemen
  • Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis resumed an offensive to seize Marib earlier this month
  • UN ‘very alarmed’ by Houthi assault, says it could endanger millions of civilians

LONDON: The US urged Yemen’s Houthi militia on Tuesday to halt their advance on the government-held city of Marib and take part in international efforts to find a political solution to the violence in the country.

“The Houthis’ assault on Marib is the action of a group not committed to peace or to ending the war afflicting the people of Yemen,” the State Department said.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimates that around one million Yemenis have sought refuge in Marib during the six-year war to escape Houthi violence.

The Iran-backed Houthi militia resumed an offensive to seize the strategic oil-rich Marib earlier this month. The city is 120 kilometers east of Yemen’s capital Sanaa, which was seized by the Iran-backed militia in 2014.

“This assault will only increase the number of internally displaced persons and exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, already home to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe,” the State Department said.

If the Houthis were serious about a negotiated political solution to the crisis, then “they must cease all military advances and refrain from other destabilizing and potentially lethal actions, including cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia,” the statement added.

The Houthi militia has launched a series of drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia this month, including an attack on Abha airport that damaged a commercial aircraft.

Earlier on Tuesday, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock said the Houthi offensive threatens to displace hundreds of thousands and complicates a renewed diplomatic push to end the war.

“An assault on the city would put two million civilians at risk, with hundreds of thousands potentially forced to flee — with unimaginable humanitarian consequences,” Lowcock said.

UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths has said the resumption of Houthi hostilities near Marib was extremely concerning at a time of renewed diplomatic momentum.

The US special envoy for Yemen Timothy Lenderking said Washington was “very aggressively” using back channels to communicate with the Houthi militia.

Lenderking told a State Department press briefing that the US is working to energize international diplomatic efforts with its Gulf partners, the UN and others, to create the right conditions for a cease-fire and to push the parties toward a negotiated settlement to end the war.

He said he visited Riyadh last week and met with the Saudi leadership and UN envoy Griffiths, as well as Yemen’s president and foreign minister.

During talks with Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Lenderking discussed a drone attack on Abha airport in southern Saudi Arabia which led to a passenger plane being set on fire.

They had lengthy discussions on what could have happened had there been people onboard the aircraft.

“Attacks against Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport and civilian infrastructure by the Houthis are not the actions of a group that claim they want peace, and they must stop,” he said.

Lenderking added that the US is not going to allow Saudi Arabia to be “target practice” and that the Kingdom needs to have the ability to defend itself.

“Unless and until Yemen’s Houthis change their reprehensible behavior their leaders will remain under significant US and international pressure.”

He also said Iran must stop its lethal support for the Houthi militia and called on Tehran and other “stakeholders and those with a say in the issue to rally around and support our efforts.”

“We maintain that a political solution that brings the parties together is the only way to bring lasting peace to Yemen and lasting relief to the people of Yemen,” he said.

(With Reuters)

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Syrian regime used chemical weapons in 2018 attack on Saraqib

Syrian regime used chemical weapons in 2018 attack on Saraqib
Updated 52 sec ago

Syrian regime used chemical weapons in 2018 attack on Saraqib

Syrian regime used chemical weapons in 2018 attack on Saraqib
  • Syrian air force used the chemical weapon chlorine in an attack on the town of Saraqib in 2018
  • OPCW previously reported that Assad’s air force used the nerve agent sarin and chlorine in two attacks on the village of Lataminah in March 2017

THE HAGUE: The Syrian regime’s air force used the chemical weapon chlorine in an attack on the town of Saraqib in 2018, the global toxic arms watchdog said on Monday after an investigation.
The report is the second by an investigations team set up by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which has the new power to apportion blame for attacks.
The OPCW said in a statement that the Investigations and Identification Team “concludes that units of the Syrian Arab Air Force used chemical weapons in Saraqib on 4 February 2018.”
“The report reached the conclusion that there are reasonable grounds to believe that, at approximately 21:22 on 4 February 2018, a military helicopter of the Syrian Arab Air Force under the control of the Tiger Forces hit eastern Saraqib by dropping at least one cylinder,” the OPCW report said.
“The cylinder ruptured and released chlorine over a large area, affecting 12 named individuals.”
The team issued its first report a year ago, in which it said Syrian President Bashar Assad’s air force used the nerve agent sarin and chlorine in two attacks on the village of Lataminah in March 2017.


34 migrants dead after boat capsizes off Djibouti: IOM

34 migrants dead after boat capsizes off Djibouti: IOM
Updated 36 min 4 sec ago

34 migrants dead after boat capsizes off Djibouti: IOM

34 migrants dead after boat capsizes off Djibouti: IOM
  • Survivors reported that the boat capsized in rough seas at around 4:00 am after leaving Yemen with around 60 passengers on board

DJIBOUTI: Thirty-four migrants drowned on Monday after their boat capsized off the coast of Djibouti, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said, the second such accident in just over a month.
Survivors reported that the boat capsized in rough seas at around 4:00 am (0100 GMT) after leaving Yemen with around 60 passengers on board, an IOM official in Djibouti told AFP, asking not to be named.
"The migrants were being transported by people smugglers," Mohammed Abdiker, the IOM's regional director for East Africa and the Horn of Africa, added on Twitter.
"Apprehending and prosecuting people traffickers and smugglers who exploit the vulnerabilities of migrants must become a priority. Too many lives needlessly lost."
There were "many children" among the bodies found, the first official said, adding that survivors were receiving treatment from the IOM and local authorities.
The boat capsized in seas north of the Djibouti port town of Obock, a major transit point for thousands of African migrants in the region trying to reach the Gulf.
It follows a similar accident on March 4 when 20 people drowned after smugglers threw dozens of migrants overboard during a journey between Djibouti and Yemen across the Gulf of Aden.
At least 200 migrants were packed aboard that vessel when it left Djibouti. But about 30 minutes into the voyage the smugglers panicked about the weight on board, and threw 80 people into the sea before turning back towards land.
Two similar incidents in October claimed the lives of at least 50 migrants.
Every year thousands of migrants make perilous boat journeys from the Horn of Africa to war-torn Yemen, many with the aim of travelling overland to Gulf nations in search of work.
It is believed thousands of migrants are stranded in Yemen, where a years-long conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions in what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
The strait which separates Djibouti from Yemen is unusual in that it sees migrants and refugees passing in both directions -- boatloads of Yemenis fleeing to Africa to escape war, while others head in the opposite direction carrying African migrants to the Arabian Peninsula in search of better opportunities.


Israel’s Netanyahu says Iran is greatest threat in Middle East

Israel’s Netanyahu says Iran is greatest threat in Middle East
Updated 56 sec ago

Israel’s Netanyahu says Iran is greatest threat in Middle East

Israel’s Netanyahu says Iran is greatest threat in Middle East

DUBAI: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed not to allow Iran to obtain nuclear capability and that Tel Aviv would continue to “defend itself” against what he called “Iranian aggression.”

The prime minister also described Iran as “the greatest threat in the Middle East.”

Iran blamed Israel for Sunday's incident at the Natanz nuclear site and will take its revenge, state TV quoted Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying on Monday.
Iranian authorities described the incident a day earlier as an act of "nuclear terrorism" and said Tehran reserves the right to take action against the perpetrators.
Iran and world powers held what they described as "constructive" talks last week aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran that Washington abandoned three years ago.
"The Zionists want to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions ... they have publicly said that they will not allow this. But we will take our revenge from the Zionists," Zarif was quoted as saying.

On Monday, Iran had identified the person who disrupted flow of power at the Natanz nuclear facility that led to electricity outage in the site, Iran’s Nournews website quoted intelligence sources as saying.
“The person has been identified ... Necessary measures are being taken to arrest this person who caused the electricity outage in one of the halls at the Natanz site,” the website reported. It gave no details about the person.


Dubai’s local campaign to provide food goes international

Dubai’s local campaign to provide food goes international
Updated 12 April 2021

Dubai’s local campaign to provide food goes international

Dubai’s local campaign to provide food goes international
  • The program is an expansion of last year’s local ‘10 Million Meals’
  • Donations can be made across the globe to the campaign through www.100millionmeals.ae

DUBAI: The ‘100 Million Meals’ campaign, launched by Dubai’s ruler, will provide food parcels for the needy across 20 countries during Ramadan.
The program is an expansion of last year’s local ‘10 Million Meals,’ which distributed food in communities affected by the coronavirus pandemic across the country.
Individuals and companies across the globe can make donations to the campaign through www.100millionmeals.ae, which will then distribute food in countries such as Sudan, Lebanon, Jordan, Pakistan, Angola, Uganda and Egypt.
“Providing food during the holy month of Ramadan is the best we can give from the UAE to humanity,” Dubai’s Ruler Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum said.
The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives (MBRGI) will work with the UN World Food Program, Food Banking Regional Network and local humanitarian organizations in receiving countries to distribute food for those in need.
“We will work with humanitarian organizations, companies, entities and humanitarians to join us in securing 100 million meals to bring a sense of safety to underserved homes across the world,” Al-Maktoum said.  
The campaign also supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to end hunger by 2030.


‘Green Paradise’ brings hydroponics to Libya

‘Green Paradise’ brings hydroponics to Libya
Agriculture remains a marginal sector in Libya, where the economy is dominated by hydrocarbons, the country boasting the most abundant oil reserves in Africa. (AFP)
Updated 12 April 2021

‘Green Paradise’ brings hydroponics to Libya

‘Green Paradise’ brings hydroponics to Libya

TRIPOLI: Under a yellow tarpaulin stretched over an arched metal frame, Siraj Bechiya and his partner inspect their hydroponically grown lettuce, pioneers of the method in mostly desert Libya where conventional agriculture struggles.
Zip ties, punctured plastic cups as pots and PVC tubing bought in DIY shops hold the precious crops at “Green Paradise” — so dubbed by the two young Libyan entrepreneurs spearheading the project.
But the ad hoc nature of the materials hasn’t stopped the plants from thriving, their long white roots nourished by water rich with nutrients and oxygen.
Bechiya and his partner, Mounir, have been working tirelessly on their project for months in the small town of Qouwea, 40 km east of the capital Tripoli, erecting a tunnel-shaped greenhouse surrounded by breeze-block walls on a semi-arid site.
Their hope is to demystify hydroponic farming, which “guarantees a good yield in small spaces,” uses little water and doesn’t need pesticides, 20-year-old Bechiya told AFP.
Soilless farming has gained ground in many countries but is still in its infancy in Libya.
But in a country whose territory is 90 percent arid desert, the method could offer a path toward more food self-sufficiency, Bechiya believes.
Agriculture remains a marginal sector in Libya, where the economy is dominated by hydrocarbons, the country boasting the most abundant oil reserves in Africa.
Arable land barely makes up three percent of Libya’s territory and is under threat, as rapid urbanization eats up the fertile strip along the Mediterranean coast.
Another major challenge to farming in Libya is the lack of water where agriculture needs it most.
The Great Man-Made River — a pharaonic project realized by former ruler Muammar Qaddafi more than 30 years ago — carries drinking water pumped from groundwater tables in the south to the northern cities where most Libyans live.
But this resource is not infinite, and the GMMR’s network has been heavily damaged in the decade of conflict that has ravaged Libya since Qaddafi’s ouster in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising.
In the face of these challenges, Bechiya and Mounir set out to train in hydroponics two years ago in neighboring Tunisia.
“When we came back, it was imperative that we move from theory to practice,” Bechiya said.
“We started with some vegetables in the house and we were surprised by people’s enthusiasm.”
In theory, hydroponics can guarantee higher yields and profits than conventional farming, which is at risk from weather, water shortages and pollution from unregulated pesticide use.
“With more space in the greenhouse, the idea was able to take off. We will continue to develop it ... and improve quality,” said Bechiya, as he measured the acidity of the water feeding his young lettuce.
“Libyan consumers don’t want produce full of pesticides anymore, but organic produce,” he added.