UN says Houthi attack on government stronghold Marib ‘must stop’

UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths meets Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Yemen Mohammed bin Saeed Al-Jaber on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. (SPA)
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UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths meets Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Yemen Mohammed bin Saeed Al-Jaber on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. (SPA)
The Houthis resumed their offensive to seize oil-rich Marib, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of the capital Sanaa, which was seized by the Iran-backed militia in 2014. Picture taken Feb. 17, 2021. (Reuters)
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The Houthis resumed their offensive to seize oil-rich Marib, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of the capital Sanaa, which was seized by the Iran-backed militia in 2014. Picture taken Feb. 17, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 19 February 2021

UN says Houthi attack on government stronghold Marib ‘must stop’

UN says Houthi attack on government stronghold Marib ‘must stop’
  • Griffiths also said Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia ‘damage prospects for peace and regional stability’
  • UN aid chief says $4 billion needed in 2021 to avert famine in Yemen

LONDON: A Houthi militia assault on the Yemeni government’s last northern stronghold must stop, the UN envoy to the country said Thursday, warning of a potential humanitarian disaster.
“It puts millions of civilians at risk, especially with the fighting reaching camps for internally displaced persons,” envoy Martin Griffiths told the UN Security Council by video conference, of the attack on the city of Marib.
“The quest for territorial gain by force threatens the prospects of the peace process.”
Griffiths said he sees “common ground for agreement” between the Houthis and the internationally recognized government to end the conflict. “But there is nothing anybody can do to force the warring parties to peace, unless they choose to put down the guns and talk to each other,” he said.

“I want to emphasize what is at stake,” he said. “The military situation in the country is extremely tense” — more so than at any time during his three years as Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ special representative to Yemen.
“Over the past month, the conflict in Yemen has taken a sharp escalatory turn,” he said, adding that civilians are bearing the brunt of hostilities and pointed to “shocking violations” of international humanitarian law.
Along with the Marib fighting, Griffiths said there have been “worrying spikes of violence and hostilities” in the provinces of Hodeidah, where a key port is located, and the government-held Taiz.
Cross-border attacks into Saudi Arabia, blamed on the Houthis and their supporters, “damage prospects for peace and regional stability,” Griffiths told council members.
He welcomed President Joe Biden’s renewed focus on ending Yemen’s war and the appointment of a new US special envoy, Timothy Lenderking.
“This offers us new opportunity to reopen space for a negotiated solution,” he said. “To seize this chance to revitalize the political process, the parties should immediately agree to a nationwide cease-fire.”
He said he will continue engaging the parties “on the path forward, and I hope they will demonstrate the will to make progress.”

The Houthis this month resumed their offensive to seize oil-rich Marib, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of the capital Sanaa, which was seized by the Iran-backed militia in 2014..
The city’s loss would be a major blow for Yemen’s government but would also threaten catastrophe for civilians, including hundreds of thousands of displaced people sheltering in desolate camps in the region.
“To seize this chance to revitalize the political process, the parties should immediately agree to a nationwide cease-fire that halts all forms of fighting,” Griffiths said.
On a positive note, Griffiths said negotiations between the two sides on a second release of prisoners and detainees have been taking place in Amman, Jordan for the past three weeks.
“We’re not quite there yet,” he said, urging the parties to successfully conclude negotiations. “And I call for the immediate and unconditional release of all sick, wounded, elderly and children detainees as well as all arbitrarily detained civilians including women and journalists.”
Also briefing the Security Council, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock appealed for about $4 billion in 2021 to fund humanitarian operations, warning that “Yemen is speeding toward the worst famine the world has seen in decades.” Lenderking this week also urged the Houthis to halt their advance.
Lowcock then warned: “There’s an important opportunity right now to help Yemen move toward lasting peace ... but that opportunity will disappear, it will be wasted, if Yemen tips into a massive famine.”

The assault could “push an already stretched humanitarian infrastructure beyond the breaking point,” Lenderking told reporters in Washington after a trip to the region.
The toll from the battle for Marib is unknown, but there are reports of hundreds dead.
Until early 2020, Marib had been spared the worst of Yemen’s six-year-old conflict, and became a sanctuary for many.
On Thursday, Griffiths also met with Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Yemen Mohammed bin Saeed Al-Jaber to discuss the Houthi militia’s attacks on civilian facilities in the Kingdom, as well as the group’s ongoing offensive Marib, despite international calls for peace.
Al-Jaber affirmed the Kingdom’s support for UN efforts to reach a comprehensive political solution to the war in Yemen.
(With AP, AFP and Reuters)

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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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HRW urges Iran to probe deadly shooting on Pakistan border

HRW urges Iran to probe deadly shooting on Pakistan border
Updated 5 min 55 sec ago

HRW urges Iran to probe deadly shooting on Pakistan border

HRW urges Iran to probe deadly shooting on Pakistan border
  • Shooting in the border area near the town of Saravan killed at least 10 people and wounded five
BEIRUT: Human Rights Watch called on Iran Friday to investigate a deadly shooting by Revolutionary Guards against smugglers attempting to transport fuel into neighboring Pakistan for excessive use of force.
Monday’s shooting in the border area near the town of Saravan killed at least 10 people and wounded five, HRW said, citing Baluchi activists.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had blocked a road used to transport fuel before apparently opening fire at people attempting to reopen the route, it added.
The action has prompted attacks by angry protesters on government buildings in both Saravan and the Sistan-Baluchistan provincial capital Zahedan.
“The Iranian authorities should urgently conduct a transparent and impartial investigation into the shootings at the Saravan border,” said HRW Iran researcher Tara Sepehri Far.
“The authorities should hold those responsible for wrongdoing to account, appropriately compensate victims and ensure that border guards are taking the utmost precautions to respect the right to life and other human rights.”
Provincial deputy governor Mohammad-Hadi Marashi said Tuesday that the shooting had started from the Pakistani side of the border and one person had been killed and four wounded.
Sistan-Baluchistan province has long been a security headache for the Iranian government.
Its large ethnic Baluch population, which staddles the frontier, has made it a flashpoint for cross-border attacks on government or Shiite targets by separatists and Sunni extremists.
HRW said the lack of employment opportunities in the province had left its ethnic Baluch population few alternatives to black market trading with their fellow Baluchs across the border.
“Similar to the western provinces of Western Azerbaijan and Kurdistan (on the border with Iraq), its lack of economic opportunities has led many residents to engage in unlawful cross-border commerce with Pakistan,” the New York-based watchdog.

Israel vaccinates 50% of its population against COVID-19

Israel vaccinates 50% of its population against COVID-19
Updated 26 February 2021

Israel vaccinates 50% of its population against COVID-19

Israel vaccinates 50% of its population against COVID-19
  • About 35 percent of Israel’s population had received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine

JERUSALEM: Israel has administered at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose to 50 percent of its 9.3 million population, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Friday.
Israel counts East Jerusalem Palestinians, who have been included in the vaccine campaign that began on Dec 19, as part of its population. Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip are not part of the Israeli campaign.
Edelstein said 35 percent of Israel’s population had received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, putting them on course to receive a so-called “Green Pass” with access to leisure sites that the country has been gradually reopening.


Libya’s new PM delays naming Cabinet as deadline looms

Libya’s new PM delays naming Cabinet as deadline looms
Updated 26 February 2021

Libya’s new PM delays naming Cabinet as deadline looms

Libya’s new PM delays naming Cabinet as deadline looms
  • Appointing the Cabinet is part of a UN-backed transitional roadmap
  • Since 2015, Libyan state institutions have been divided between two administrations

CAIRO: Libya’s newly-elected prime minister failed to name members of a much-anticipated Cabinet ahead of an expected deadline Thursday, raising questions over whether his transitional government can unite Libya’s factions.
Prime Minister designate Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah was set to announce his Cabinet in a news conference from the capital, Tripoli, and send it to Libya’s House of Representatives for approval.
Instead, Dbeibah told reporters he only shared with Libyan lawmakers proposed guidelines for the selection of Cabinet members and an outline of his priorities in the coming period.
Appointing the Cabinet is part of a UN-backed transitional roadmap, which envisages holding general elections in the war-torn North African country by the end of the year.
Since 2015, Libyan state institutions have been divided between two administrations: One in the east and another in the west, each supported by a vast array of militias and foreign governments.
“We are ready to submit the names (of Cabinet ministers) but we should consult among ourselves and examine candidate names meticulously,” Dbeibah told reporters in Tripoli without specifying when he will actually make the submission.
Dbeibah said he envisages a Cabinet of technocrats who would represent Libya’s different geographic areas and social segments.
“These are critical times and we are taking into consideration that the Cabinet must genuinely achieve national unity and seek consensus and reconciliation,” he said.
He added that the country’s sovereign ministerial portfolios should be equally divided between candidates from Libya’s three key geographic areas in the east, the west and the south.
Earlier this month, Dbeibah was elected as prime minister by Libyan delegates at a UN-sponsored conference near Geneva.
The 75-member Libyan Political Dialogue Forum also elected a three-member Presidential Council, which along with Dbeibah should lead the country through general elections on December 24. Mohammad Younes Menfi, a Libyan diplomat from the country’s east, was selected as chairman of the council.


Bahrain introduces fifth vaccine, extends COVID-19 safety measures

Bahrain introduces fifth vaccine, extends COVID-19 safety measures
Updated 26 February 2021

Bahrain introduces fifth vaccine, extends COVID-19 safety measures

Bahrain introduces fifth vaccine, extends COVID-19 safety measures
  • The Janssen Covid-19 Vaccine will be the fifth vaccine authorized in Bahrain in the fight against the spread of COVID-19
  • The announcement comes as the Government Executive Committee extended precautionary measures

DUBAI: Bahrain’s National Health Regulatory Authority (NHRA) has authorized the use of Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine for coronavirus the Bahrain News Agency reported on Friday.

The Janssen Covid-19 Vaccine will be the fifth vaccine authorized in Bahrain in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 and will be given to those most at risk, suchas the elderly, people with chronic diseases and other groups identified by the Health Ministry.

The announcement comes as the Government Executive Committee extended precautionary measures, aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, for an additional three months.

The measures involve the continued enforcement of  social distancing and screening of people at commercial and industrial premises for a further three months.


Oman extends COVID-19 safety measures, closes parks, beaches, leisure areas indefinitely

Oman extends COVID-19 safety measures, closes parks, beaches, leisure areas indefinitely
Updated 26 February 2021

Oman extends COVID-19 safety measures, closes parks, beaches, leisure areas indefinitely

Oman extends COVID-19 safety measures, closes parks, beaches, leisure areas indefinitely
  • Three Omani citizens convicted of violating coronavirus safety protocols

DUBAI: Oman’s Supreme Committee supervising the country’s coronavirus response has extended indefinitely the closure of beaches, public parks and leisure spaces to curb the spread of the highly contagious disease.

It reiterated the ban on indoor gatherings in resthouses, farms and winter camps, state news agency ONA reported, citing the high risk of coronavirus transmission in closed spaces.

In the North A’Sharqiyah governorate, the Supreme Committee has extended the shortened business operating hours with commercial activities required to close from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m..

Petrol stations, health establishments and private pharmacies are exempt from the updated regulation.

The latest regulations were issued as the Sultanate’s coronavirus cases reached 140,588 with 29 new patients hospitalized overnight. The total number of COVID-19 related death cases is at 1,562.

Meanwhile, three Omani citizens have been convicted of violating coronavirus safety protocols and separately fined $2,000 and sentenced to a three-month imprisonment.

“Primary Courts in the governorates of North Al Batinah and Dhofar issued penal verdicts convicting three citizens who breached decisions of the Supreme Committee” particularly non-compliance with the institutional quarantine and for not wearing a mask, ONA said in a separate report.