Houthi offensive ‘risks new humanitarian crisis in Yemen’

 UN’s humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock warned against the impact of the Marib attacks on people. (AFP/File)
UN’s humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock warned against the impact of the Marib attacks on people. (AFP/File)
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Updated 17 February 2021

Houthi offensive ‘risks new humanitarian crisis in Yemen’

Houthi offensive ‘risks new humanitarian crisis in Yemen’
  • Escalating fighting has forced hundreds of people who live in displacement camps near the battlefields to flee to other shelters inside Marib

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen is on the brink of another humanitarian crisis as the Iran-backed Houthis press ahead with their large-scale offensive on the central city of Marib, where more than 750,000 displaced people have sought shelter, UN and Yemeni officials warn.

Mark Lowcock, the UN’s humanitarian chief, has warned against the impact of the Marib attacks on people who have fled fighting in their hometowns.

“An assault on the city would put 2 million civilians at risk, with hundreds of thousands potentially forced to flee — with unimaginable humanitarian consequences. Now is the time to de-escalate, not to add even more to the misery of the Yemeni people,” the UN official said in a Twitter post on Tuesday, without mentioning the Houthis.

Earlier this month, the rebel militia resumed a major military offensive on Marib, the last stronghold for the internationally recognized government in the northern part of the country and an oil and gas-rich city, sparking heavy fighting with army troops and allied tribesmen that claimed the lives of hundreds of combatants on both sides.

Escalating fighting has forced hundreds of people who live in displacement camps near the battlefields to flee to other shelters inside Marib.

Echoing UN concerns about the humanitarian situation in the city, Yemeni government officials and aid workers say the Houthi offensive has triggered a new wave of displacement from Marib’s Serwah area as the rebels seek to break government defenses.

“I saw today four families cramming into one car and fleeing fighting in Al-Zor in Serwah,” Yahiya Hussein, a local air worker in Marib, told Arab News by telephone on Tuesday.

Dozens of families are still heading to Marib’s crammed camps to escape the fighting, he added.

Hussein, who fled Houthi-controlled Sanaa in 2016, said that militia attacks on displacement camps have increased in the past two weeks weeks and large explosions have forced many people to flee.

“People here are hungry. They live in panic and fear, and have no jobs,” he said.

Unlike many lawless Yemeni areas, Marib has enjoyed peace and stability since early 2015, becoming a major haven for hundreds of thousands of people who fled the fighting and Houthi repression.

Local and international aid workers have warned that the Houthi invasion of Marib will trigger a huge displacement from the city to the other government-controlled areas or neighboring countries.

Hussein said that only pressure from international organizations on the rebels can save the city and country from disaster.

“International organizations and right groups should seriously and strongly intervene by pressuring the Houthis to stop their offensive on Marib,” he said.

Fighting intensified on all fronts in Marib on Tuesday after a brief lull the previous day  as government forces pushed back militia attacks and made limited gains in the Serwah area.

Yemen’s defense ministry said that army troops and allied tribesmen engaged in heavy fighting with the Houthis, halting the rebels’ progress.

Arab coalition warplanes carried out several sorties, targeting Houthi military reinforcements heading to Marib battlefields, the ministry said.

Airstrikes by coalition warplanes have tilted the balance of the war in favor of government forces and stopped militia advances in Marib and other battlefields.

Several Yemeni MPs have called on the government to withdraw from the Stockholm Agreement and resume a military offensive on the western city of Hodeidah to ease rebel pressure on government forces in Marib.

Mohsen Basurah, deputy parliamentary speaker, said the Houthis are pushing ahead with their offensive on Marib despite suffering heavy casualties.

He urged the Yemeni president to launch a general mobilization and move military units from liberated areas in southern Yemen to Marib to shore up government forces.

“History will not forgive us if the Houthi enter Marib,” Basurah said on Twitter on Monday.

Soleimani’s shadow
Qassem Soleimani left a trail of death and destruction in his wake as head of Iran’s Quds Force … until his assassination on Jan. 3, 2020. Yet still, his legacy of murderous interference continues to haunt the region

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Bahrain, Abu Dhabi vow to protect maritime trade

Bahrain, Abu Dhabi vow to protect maritime trade
Updated 7 min 53 sec ago

Bahrain, Abu Dhabi vow to protect maritime trade

Bahrain, Abu Dhabi vow to protect maritime trade
  • In a statement released by Bahrain’s state media, both men drew upon their countries’ “brotherly ties”

DUBAI: Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa said Tuesday that coordination with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyanis ongoing to protect international navigation from any threats. 

In a statement released by Bahrain’s state media, both men drew upon their countries’ “brotherly ties” during the meeting and vowed to “continue coordinating a joint strategic vision to establish security and stability.”

“Protect international maritime traffic from any threats that negatively affect the course of global trade,” is of the utmost importance, the statement said.


Graduating Syrian-British doctor meets family of deceased medic who inspired him

Graduating Syrian-British doctor meets family of deceased medic who inspired him
Updated 03 August 2021

Graduating Syrian-British doctor meets family of deceased medic who inspired him

Graduating Syrian-British doctor meets family of deceased medic who inspired him
  • UK inquest found Abbas Khan was unlawfully killed in regime prison
  • Karim Al-Jian: ‘Someone out of the goodness of their heart went to this country — where they have no connection — to save lives’

LONDON: A newly qualified Syrian-born British doctor has had an emotional meeting with the siblings of the deceased British surgeon who inspired him to enter the field.
Karim Al-Jian, 24, who was born in Aleppo but raised in Britain, recently met with the brother and sister of Dr. Abbas Khan, an orthopaedic surgeon from London who was killed in a Syrian prison after he left the safety of his home to care for victims in the war-torn nation.


Al-Jian posted a photo of himself with a portrait of Khan with the caption: “In 2012 British surgeon Abbas Khan went to Aleppo, Syria to treat wounded civilians. He was consequently tortured and murdered by the Syrian regime. His story touched many, including a … boy from Aleppo who wanted to be like Dr. Khan. Today that boy graduated a doctor.”

Khan’s sister Sara, 31, asked Twitter users to locate Al-Jian. “This is so touching it has brought tears to my eyes,” she wrote. “I would like to send him a message if possible.”

The BBC organized a meeting between the new medic and Khan’s family. Sara told Al-Jian: “It is inspiring the fact that you dedicated your medical career to Abbas. I cannot explain to you how touched my family and I are. It was so beautiful to read it.”

The deceased doctor’s brother Shah, who is also an orthopaedic surgeon, has said he will keep in touch with Al-Jian to give him advice about his career path. Al-Jian intends to share the same specialism as the Khan brothers.

Al-Jian said when he was a teenager, he saw the news of Khan’s sacrifice, which inspired him to turn to medical training.

On his graduation and eight years after the surgeon’s death, Al-Jian paid tribute to Khan on social media, posing with his portrait while donning his academic robes.
Khan traveled to Syria via Turkey to lend his expertise by assisting the victims of bombed hospitals, which were being regularly targeted by regime forces.
He was arrested and jailed for over a year in a regime-controlled prison. In December 2013, he was found hanging in his cell. He was 32. A British inquest in 2014 concluded that he had been unlawfully killed.
Al-Jian said Khan’s story had an enormous impact on him, and he shared in the pain and suffering that he saw.

“That someone out of the goodness of their heart went to this country — where they have no connection — to save lives was astounding to me. He put the lives of others before himself,” said Al-Jian. “I really felt that his mother’s pain was the pain of hundreds of thousands of Syrians.”

Living in northern England at the time, Al-Jian was awarded a place to study on the country’s south coast at Brighton and Sussex Medical School. He graduated last month after five years. 


Some officials saw risk of Beirut blast but failed to act – human rights group

Some officials saw risk of Beirut blast but failed to act – human rights group
Updated 03 August 2021

Some officials saw risk of Beirut blast but failed to act – human rights group

Some officials saw risk of Beirut blast but failed to act – human rights group
  • The explosion killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed swathes of Lebanon’s capital
  • HRW based its report on official documents it reviewed and on multiple interviews with top officials

BEIRUT: A report released by Human Rights Watch on Tuesday concluded there was strong evidence to suggest some Lebanese officials knew about and tacitly accepted the lethal risks posed by ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut port before the fatal blast there on Aug. 4 last year.
The explosion, caused by the chemicals stored unsafely at the port for years, killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed swathes of Lebanon’s capital.
The report by the international rights watchdog contained over 700 pages of findings and documents. Its investigation also concluded there was evidence that multiple Lebanese authorities were criminally negligent under Lebanese law.
HRW based its report on official documents it reviewed and on multiple interviews with top officials including the president, the caretaker prime minister and the head of the country’s state security.
The investigation trailed events from 2014 onwards after the shipment was brought to Beirut port and tracked repeated warnings of danger to various official bodies.
“Evidence strongly suggests that some government officials foresaw the death that the ammonium nitrate’s presence in the port could result in and tacitly accepted the risk of the deaths occurring,” the report said.
It called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to mandate an investigation into the blast and on foreign governments to impose human rights and corruption sanctions on officials.
A Lebanese investigation into the blast, led by Judge Tarek Bitar, has stalled. Politicians and senior security officials are yet to be questioned and requests to lift their immunity have been hindered.
The HRW report said President Michel Aoun, caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab, the director general of state security Tony Saliba and other former ministers wanted for questioning by judge Bitar, had failed to take action to protect the general public despite having been informed of the risks.
Reuters sought comment on the report’s findings from Aoun, Diab and Saliba. The presidential palace offered no comment. There was no immediate response from Diab and Saliba.
Aoun said on Friday he was ready to testify and that no one was above the law.
A document seen by Reuters that was sent just over two weeks before the blast showed the president and prime minister were warned about the security risk posed by the chemicals stored at the port and that they could destroy the capital.


Iran supreme leader endorses hard-line protégé as president

Iran supreme leader endorses hard-line protégé as president
Updated 03 August 2021

Iran supreme leader endorses hard-line protégé as president

Iran supreme leader endorses hard-line protégé as president
  • New Iran president Ebrahim Raisi: Government would try to improve living conditions which have suffered under the sanctions

TEHRAN, Iran: Iran’s supreme leader officially endorsed his hard-line protégé as the nation’s next president on Tuesday, just two days ahead of the inauguration of Ebrahim Raisi. The new president’s ascension comes at a sensitive time for Iran and the wider Middle East.
Iran is reeling from crushing US sanctions that have devastated the economy, led to the crash of the Iranian riyal and hit ordinary Iranians hard.
In his speech, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei advised Raisi, a former judiciary chief, to “empower the country’s poor people and improve the national currency.”
Doubts about an imminent return to Tehran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal, which granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for limits on its nuclear program, have become a dark cloud dangling over the incoming hard-line administration.
The collapse of the nuclear agreement after former President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the accord three years ago doomed the relatively moderate administration of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, who has seen his popularity plummet. Rouhani sat stone-faced throughout the endorsement ceremony.
Last week, Khamenei delivered a harsh rebuke of the West, blaming the delay of the nuclear deal’s revival on America’s “stubborn” negotiating stance. While repeating his usual anti-West rhetoric on Tuesday about Iran’s “enemies” seeking to sway public opinion, Khamenei struck a milder tone during the endorsement. He focused on Iran’s mounting domestic issues, praising Raisi’s anti-corruption campaign and asking him to encourage local production.
“The nation needs competent, effective and brave management,” Khamenei said.
Without commenting on the stalled nuclear negotiations in Vienna, Raisi stressed he would “pursue the removal of oppressive sanctions” in order to salvage the crippled economy.
“We will not (tie) the people’s dining tables and the economy to the will of the foreigners,” he said. Raisi won a landslide victory in the June election, which saw the lowest in the Islamic Republic’s history. He will take the oath of office in an inauguration ceremony Thursday before parliament.
President Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin the landmark nuclear accord and lift sanctions if Iran moves back into compliance with the agreement.
But escalating tensions in the Middle East now risk complicating the diplomatic choreography. The West has blamed Iran for a drone attack last week that struck an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman, killing two crew members. Iran has denied involvement in the incident, which marks the first-known fatal assault after a yearslong shadow war targeting commercial shipping in the region.


UN rights chief concerned about Tunisia turmoil, offers help

UN rights chief concerned about Tunisia turmoil, offers help
Updated 03 August 2021

UN rights chief concerned about Tunisia turmoil, offers help

UN rights chief concerned about Tunisia turmoil, offers help
  • Tunisia has plunged into political turmoil, adding to the crippling economic crisis as well as a wave of COVID-19 infections

GENEVA: UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet voiced her concerns about the political turmoil in Tunisia in a phonecall with the foreign minister, and offered her assistance if required, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi called the high commissioner for human rights after President Kais Saied seized power on July 25 following violent demonstrations against the government.
“It’s a worrying situation. We are following really closely and we know the challenges the country is facing,” Marta Hurtado, a spokeswoman for Bachelet’s office, told reporters in Geneva.
“What we hope is that all the achievements toward democratic reform that they have been doing over the last 10 years can be maintained and preserved, and that there’s no regression in any way.”
Tunisia has often been praised as a rare success story for its democratic transition after the Arab Spring regional uprisings sparked by its 2011 revolution.
But many Tunisians are angered at a political class seen as obsessed with power struggles and disconnected from the suffering of the poor, amid high unemployment and spiralling prices.
In a surprise move, Saied sacked prime minister Hichem Mechichi late last month and suspended parliament for 30 days. He ordered a graft crackdown targeting 460 businessmen and an investigation into alleged illegal funding of political parties.
The move plunged Tunisia into political turmoil, adding to the crippling economic crisis as well as a wave of COVID-19 infections.
Hurtado said former Chilean president Bachelet told Jerandi “that we are here to support them — we have an office on the ground in Tunisia — and we are closely following the situation and we are there to help, should they ask for it.
“We are concerned at what is happening but we trust that the authorities have the capacity to deal with it,” Hurtado added.
“But we are open to any request that they might have for help.”

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said that the country may be over the peak of the latest wave but the government must still speed up inoculations.
“The epidemiological data are going in the right direction,” WHO representative in Tunisia Yves Souteyrand told a press conference.
“We have the feeling that the peak of the epidemic may have passed.”
But with vaccines in short supply, overwhelmed hospitals, shortages of oxygen and the highly contagious Delta variant rampaging through the country’s 12 million population mean the risk of a health disaster remains, the WHO warned.
The Delta variant was responsible for “more than 90 percent” of cases, and the impact of family gatherings during a recent religious holiday was hard to evaluate but could set back progress made, Souteyrand said.
“The challenge is to speed up the vaccination campaign,” he said.
The country had “in 10 days received around seven million vaccine doses and will receive perhaps two or three million more” soon, he said.
The WHO has also provided 400 oxygen concentrators and four oxygen generators to Tunisia.
Since the shock move late last month, Saied has established a coronavirus crisis unit, supervised by a high-level military official, to help manage the country’s outbreak.
Souteyrand said that “relations between the WHO and the health ministry have not been affected by the political crisis.”
The health ministry on Monday announced the start of a mobile vaccination campaign in several regions.
Authorities have also announced a vaccination drive across the country on Sunday for Tunisians aged over 40.
Over the past seven days, the North African country has registered the worst official Covid-19 mortality rate in the world, with 10.64 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, an AFP tally based on officially reported data shows.
On the other hand, Tunisia shares its coronavirus data more transparently than many other countries, the WHO said.