ICRC concerned over Houthi offensive in central Yemen

ICRC concerned over Houthi offensive in central Yemen
Saudi-backed government troops repel a Huthi rebel offensive on oil-rich Marib, some 120 kilometres (75 miles) east of Yemen's rebel-held capital Sanaa, on February 14, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 20 February 2021

ICRC concerned over Houthi offensive in central Yemen

ICRC concerned over Houthi offensive in central Yemen
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross urges all parties to the conflict to take every possible measure to protect the civilians, their properties and all civilian essential infrastructures

CAIRO: The International Committee of the Red Cross in Yemen said on Friday it was “extremely concerned” by the recent escalation of violence between Houthis and government forces in in the Marib province.
“The ICRC urges all parties to the conflict to take every possible measure to protect the civilians, their properties and all civilian essential infrastructures,” the humanitarian agency tweeted.
The ICRC said it has provided medical supplies, including surgical kits, to hospitals treating the wounded, vowing to continue with the provision of medical needs.
Earlier this month, Houthis renewed their attacks on Marib in central Yemen. Advances stalled however amid stiff resistance and airstrikes from the Arab coalition.
The latest bout of violence killed dozens of Houthis.
Marib province has served as a sort of haven for around 1 million Yemenis who have fled Houthi offensives since the start of the war in 2014, according to UN figures.
The UN special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths told the UN Security Council that the conflict had taken “a sharp escalatory turn” after the Houthis launched the Marib offensive.
“I have condemned this many times ... and I repeat my call now: The attack on Marib must stop,” Griffiths said.
“It puts millions of civilians ... at risk, especially with the fighting threatening to reach the camps for internally displaced persons.”
On Friday, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights voiced concern over the fate of several thousand of internally displaced people, or IDPs, who had to flee from Marib’s district of Swarih eastward to the province’s capital, after the heavy fighting left them without water, electricity, heath and educational needs.
“If the frontlines continue to move east toward the city and other populated parts of Marib Governorate, it is likely hundreds of thousands of civilians will be forced to flee the area,” Liz Throssell said in a statement.
She called on all parties to ensure safe passage for civilians, including IDPs and East African migrants.
Humanitarian workers and aid should be allowed to reach civilians in all areas at all times, she added.


New joint force to ‘crack down on insecurity’ in Sudan

New joint force to ‘crack down on insecurity’ in Sudan
Updated 22 min 19 sec ago

New joint force to ‘crack down on insecurity’ in Sudan

New joint force to ‘crack down on insecurity’ in Sudan
  • Sudanese authorities have warned about “gangs and criminal groups” which they blame for disturbances in Khartoum
  • The force announced on Thursday would be formed “immediately,” under the leadership of sovereign council member General Yasser Al-Atta

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s military has announced plans to create a joint force to “crack down on insecurity” and assert the state’s authority in the capital and nationwide as an economic crisis and regional tensions plague a fragile transition period.
The announcement was made in an order from General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy head of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council, that was published late on Thursday.
Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, is head of the Rapid Support Forces which will be part of the new force with the police, armed forces, General Intelligence Service and “representatives” of rebel groups and the public prosecutor, the order said.
In a speech this week defending reforms meant to tackle a deep economic crisis and stabilize a political transition toward elections, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said there was a danger of chaos or civil war fomented by loyalists of the previous leadership.
The latest of those reforms was the removal of fuel subsidies last week at a time when annual inflation has risen to 379 percent, causing a public outcry.
Sudanese authorities have warned about “gangs and criminal groups” which they blame for disturbances in the capital, Khartoum, in recent days.
Sudan’s Darfur region has seen an uptick in deadly violence, as has the country’s eastern region, since the installation of a military-civilian power-sharing government in mid-2019.
A peace agreement signed late last year called for the integration of rebel groups into a unified national army which has not yet begun.
UN special representative Volker Perthes told a news conference he was concerned about the delay, adding that he considered the police to be best suited to protect civilians.
Dagalo’s Rapid Support Forces, which emerged out of the janjaweed militias in Darfur’s conflict of the early 2000s, are viewed with mistrust by many in the country.
The force announced on Thursday would be formed “immediately,” under the leadership of sovereign council member General Yasser Al-Atta, according to the order.
Dagalo also ordered the signatory rebel groups to get their members under control and designate gathering places. Many rebel troops had moved toward Khartoum as their leaders joined the government following the singing of the agreement.


Israel to send Palestinians 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in exchange deal

Israel to send Palestinians 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in exchange deal
Updated 18 June 2021

Israel to send Palestinians 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in exchange deal

Israel to send Palestinians 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in exchange deal
  • Vaccine deal was among initial policy moves toward the Palestinians by new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett
  • Some 30 percent of eligible Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have received at least one vaccine dose

TEL AVIV: Israel will send at least 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to the Palestinian Authority (PA) under a deal to share shots, officials said on Friday, in a boost for the Palestinians’ vaccination campaign in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Under the terms of the deal, announced by new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office, the PA agreed to give Israel a reciprocal number of doses from one of its own shipments due to arrive later this year.
The vaccine deal was among initial policy moves toward the Palestinians by Bennett since he was sworn in on Sunday, replacing veteran leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Israel will transfer to the Palestinian Authority 1-1.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine,” a joint statement from Bennett’s office and the health and defense ministries said.
The Pfizer-BioNTech doses earmarked for transfer “will expire soon,” the statement said, and they were “approved in light of the fact that Israel’s vaccine stock meets its needs today.”
A source in the PA health ministry confirmed the deal and said the Palestinians expect to receive a shipment of Pfizer doses in August or September. The Israeli statement said Israel would receive reciprocal doses from the PA in September or October.
Neither side said when the initial Israeli transfer to the PA would be made.
Israel, which led the world with its swift vaccine roll-out, had faced criticism for not doing more to ensure Palestinian access to doses in territory it captured in a 1967 war.
Around 55 percent of eligible Israelis are fully vaccinated — a turnout largely unchanged by this month’s expansion of eligibility to include 12- to 15-year-olds.
Some 30 percent of eligible Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have received at least one vaccine dose, according to Palestinian officials.
The Palestinians have received vaccine doses from Israel, Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates and the global COVAX vaccine-sharing initiative.


Egypt’s affirms support for Libya’s stability

Egypt’s affirms support for Libya’s stability
Updated 18 June 2021

Egypt’s affirms support for Libya’s stability

Egypt’s affirms support for Libya’s stability
  • Sisi called on Libyan institutions concerned with the upcoming elections to fulfill their national duty

DUBAI: President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has affirmed Cairo’s support for the Libyan government to achieve stability, presidential spokesperson Bassam Radi said.

Radi issued the statement on Thursday following Egypt intelligence chief Abbas Kamel’s visit to Tripoli, where he met with Abdel Hamid Al-Dabaiba, Libya’s Prime Minister-designate of the new Government of National Unity. They discussed how to strengthen cooperation relations and support the political process in the war-torn country.

Sisi affirmed that the efforts exerted for national unity in Libya are a key pillar for its stability, renewing Egypt’s support for carrying out the Libyan elections, local daily Egypt Today reported.

Sisi called on Libyan institutions concerned with the upcoming elections to fulfill their national duty, the report said.

Meanwhile Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shokry met with his Libyan counterpart Naglaa Al-Manqoush on the sidelines of an Arab ministerial meeting in Doha earlier this week.

Both ministers discussed developments in Libya steps to hold elections by the end of the year.


Israel strikes Gaza in retaliation for fire balloons

Israel strikes Gaza in retaliation for fire balloons
Updated 18 June 2021

Israel strikes Gaza in retaliation for fire balloons

Israel strikes Gaza in retaliation for fire balloons

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: Israeli jets launched air strikes on Gaza overnight Thursday to Friday after militants in the Palestinian territory again set off incendiary balloons into southern Israel, the army and AFP journalists said.
The fire balloons and air strikes are the latest violence heaping pressure on a fragile cease-fire between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers that came into place on May 21, ending 11 days of heavy fighting.
“Over the past day, arson balloons were launched from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory,” Israel’s military said in a statement.
“In response... fighter jets struck military compounds and a rocket launch site belonging to the Hamas terror organization.”
AFP journalists in the Palestinian enclave also reported hearing explosions, which the army said hit sites in both Gaza City and in Khan Yunis, in the south of Gaza, home to some two million people.
Soon after the strikes, Hamas militants opened fire with heavy machines guns toward the Jewish state, as Israeli warning air raid sirens rang out.
US Secretary of State Blinken spoke on Thursday with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and discussed “the need to improve Israeli-Palestinian relations in practical ways,” the State Department said in a statement.
“They also shared opinions on opportunities to deepen normalization efforts as well as on regional security issues, including Iran,” the State Department said.
Palestinian militants in Gaza launched balloons for a third day running on Thursday, according to Israeli firefighters battling the blazes sparked by the devices.
The balloons are basic devices intended to set fire to farmland and bush surrounding Gaza.


Iranians nonchalant as regime opens poll

Iranians nonchalant as regime opens poll
Updated 18 June 2021

Iranians nonchalant as regime opens poll

Iranians nonchalant as regime opens poll
  • Khamenei’s ally Raisi likely to succeed succeed the pragmatist incumbent Hassan Rouhani

JEDDAH: Iranians vote on Friday in a race that is seen by the regime’s critics as not democratic, fair, or free by any means.

The election, tightly managed by the nation’s top authorities, is likely to hand the presidency to a judge sanctioned by Washington for alleged involvement in executions of political prisoners.

Hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi, an ally and protege of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is the favorite to succeed the pragmatist incumbent Hassan Rouhani.

“The regime will attempt to project that it enjoys legitimacy during this election. Government employees will be instructed to go to the ballots in order to show the popularity of the regime, while the authorities may manipulate the statistics in order to show a high voter turnout,” Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist, writes in Opinion.

Khamenei on Wednesday urged Iranians to turn out and vote, but a record number of people are expected to boycott the polls due to anger over worsening economic hardship and frustration with hard-line rule.

Another potential deterrent for voters is a hard-line vetting body’s disqualification of hundreds of would-be candidates, including many advocating more freedoms.

For an overwhelmingly young population chafing at political restrictions, the lack of choice at the ballot box means a vote serves little purpose, analysts of Iranian politics say.

Soraya, a student at Tehran University, told Arab News: “The government is telling people to vote. But I see voting as an insult. We are not going to vote in order to show the world that we Iranians are frustrated with this clerical establishment.

“We are not with a government that shoots down a passenger plane (Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, which was downed by the IRGC in January 2020), lies repeatedly, and kills and tortures its own citizens.

“We are not with a government that steals the nation’s natural resources and spends it on its militias. The old game of moderate or hard-liner is over. They are all the same.”

Within Iran’s mix of clerical rulers and elected officials, Khamenei has the final say on all state matters, including nuclear and foreign policies. But the elected president will be in charge of tackling an economy hammered by US sanctions.

Over 50 percent of Iran’s 85 million population has been pushed under the poverty line since 2018 when then US President Donald Trump ditched a 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed nuclear-related sanctions that have squeezed Tehran’s oil income.

Aware of its vulnerability to anger over the economy, the leadership fears a revival of street protests that have erupted since 2017, in which protesters called for “regime change.”