New Houthi demands delay efforts to assess decaying oil tanker off Yemen

New Houthi demands delay efforts to assess decaying oil tanker off Yemen
There are new delays in deploying an expert mission to assess the condition of the Safer tanker due to a new list of requests from the Houthis, the UN said. (File/AFP)
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Updated 25 February 2021

New Houthi demands delay efforts to assess decaying oil tanker off Yemen

New Houthi demands delay efforts to assess decaying oil tanker off Yemen
  • UN said officials continue to work ‘as diligently as possible on a field where sometimes the goalposts seem to shift’
  • Experts fear that without repairs it could leak four times as much oil as was spilled in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster

NEW YORK: A new list of demands from the Houthis relating to “logistics and security arrangements” are causing fresh delays in efforts to send experts to assess the condition of the Safer oil tanker and make emergency repairs, the UN said on Wednesday.
The tanker, which contains about 48 million gallons of oil, has been moored near Ras Issa oil terminal off the coast of Yemen for more than five years. Its condition has deteriorated and the UN has warned it threatens to leak four times as much oil as was spilled during the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off the coast of Alaska.
“Unfortunately, we have encountered some new delays after recent additional requests from the Houthis,” said Stephane Dujarric, the UN chief spokesman. “Those additional requests focused on logistics and security arrangements.”
While talks with the Houthis continue in an effort to resolve the issues, it remains uncertain when the mission might be deployed.
“We understand that many member states, including donors to the project, are extremely concerned by these new delays. We, of course, share those concerns,” said Dujarric.
Referring to Houthis’ demands, he added: “We are working as diligently as possible on a field where sometimes the goalposts seem to shift.”
Frustrated is not the right word for how negotiators feel, he said, adding: “I think ‘increased worry’ is the right expression. We've been talking about this for two years now.
“By the grace of God, there has not been a major leak. The more we wait, the chances of a major leak are increasing. Time is not on anyone’s side.
“If there was a major leak, first of all, the ports around Hodeidah would be closed. Hodeidah is a major lifeline for that area of Yemen in terms of importing food and commercial goods.
“One can only imagine the devastating ecological impact it would have on the region and on countries surrounding Yemen (and) bordering the Red Sea, whose population rely on the Red Sea for fishing and for tourism.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the Security Council have repeatedly called on the Houthi militia in Yemen to grant access to the tanker for assessment and repairs.
“The mission will give us the assessment we need to formulate a permanent solution. It is already two years too late and cannot not be stalled any longer,” said Dujarric.
“This is not a matter of just sending UN staff to an area. This is having to procure highly specific and technical equipment, including a tugboat and a barge and people with very, very pointed experience who are able and willing, from a private sector company, to go on this first assessment mission.”
Asked whether enforcement action under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter — which provides a framework for the Security Council to act in response to threats to peace and acts of aggression, or to prevent the aggravation of a situation — might be considered if the goalposts continue to shift, Dujarric said such action would be up to the Security Council. He added that the secretary-general’s focus remains on working with the support and agreement of the de facto authorities.
“We want — and this not only applies to the tanker but to everything that is going on in Yemen — that all those who have power in Yemen put the interests of the Yemeni people first,” Dujarric added. “This includes trying to fix the tanker. This includes stopping the fighting. This includes facilitating humanitarian access.”

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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Syria loses chemical weapons watchdog voting rights after poison gas findings

Syria loses chemical weapons watchdog voting rights after poison gas findings
Updated 36 min 30 sec ago

Syria loses chemical weapons watchdog voting rights after poison gas findings

Syria loses chemical weapons watchdog voting rights after poison gas findings
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A majority of nations voting at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) supported a decision to immediately revoke Syria’s privileges at the agency.

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Syrian President Assad to run for re-election in May — state media

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Updated 21 April 2021

Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines

Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines
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  • 912,000 doses have been allocated to Syria for a first phase of vaccination

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The 53,800 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were dispatched to the rebel-dominated region as part of the Covax facility, which ensures the world’s poorest economies get access to jabs for free.

“Once the vaccines arrive, we are prepared to start vaccination to priority groups through our implementing partners,” said Mahmoud Daher, a senior official with the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO).

The delivery will be the first to Syria as part of the Covax program, which has already sent vaccine doses to more than 100 different territories worldwide.

The vaccine doses are intended for the extended northwestern Syrian region, which includes the jihadist-dominated Idlib enclave.

The first categories of people to be vaccinated in the coming days in the Idlib region will be medical personnel involved in the battle against the pandemic and first aid responders.

The next group will be people above the age of 60, followed by people from younger age groups with chronic diseases, said Daher, who is based in the Turkish city of Gaziantep.

Much of the Idlib enclave is controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a jihadist organization that includes ex-members of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda franchise.

Other regions of Syria will also receive vaccine doses through Covax, under which 92 countries are eligible.

Imad Zahran, a media officer for the Idlib region’s health department, told AFP that the vaccination campaign was expected to begin early next month and would last approximately three weeks.

According to the WHO, a separate 912,000 doses have been allocated to Syria for a first phase of vaccination in regime controlled and semi-autonomous Kurdish areas.

The aim is to vaccinate 20 percent of the population by year’s end.

Vaccination for health workers has started in government-controlled areas but not with doses received as part of the Covax program.

The official COVID-19 death toll in Syria is low compared to some other countries in the region but credible data collection across the conflict-ravaged country is almost impossible.

Syria’s war has killed more than 388,000 people since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.


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Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, welcomed the Israeli official to explore further UAE-Israeli relations and mutual cooperation in areas such as trade, investment and tourism, state news agency WAM reported on Wednesday.

The two countries lead the COVID-19 vaccination rollout and during the meeting underlined the importance of accelerating efforts to ensure recovery from the crisis.

Last month, the UAE established a $10 billion fund to invest in strategic sectors in Israel that include energy, manufacturing and healthcare.

Since the signing of the Abraham Accords, both countries have established reciprocal diplomatic missions, launched direct flights and held several trade visits – with the UAE attracting over 50,000 Israeli tourists.


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Updated 21 April 2021

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  • Abu Dhabi earlier approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

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“The vaccine is our best means to recover and return to a normal life … Delaying or refraining from taking the vaccine poses a threat to the safety of society and puts all groups, especially those most vulnerable to infection, at risk,” Dr. Al-Dhaheri said in reports from local media.

“Strict measures are being considered to restrict the movement of unvaccinated individuals and to implement preventive measures, such as restricting entry to some places and having access to some services, to ensure the health and safety of everyone,” he added, as he urged residents aged 16 and above to get vaccinated.

The UAE reported 1,903 new coronavirus cases and three fatalities related to the highly transmissible disease overnight, amid the government’s continued inoculation program for citizens and residents.

The country’s COVID-19 caseload now stands at 500,860 while total fatality count is at 1,559, a report from state news agency WAM said.

Health officials said that 113,621 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the past 24 hours, bringing the number of jabs given provided to 9,788,826 for a distribution rate of 98.97 doses per 100 people.

Abu Dhabi earlier approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the second COVID-19 shot to be made available in the emirate after beginning a mass campaign using the Sinopharm vaccine that was trialed in the country.

Pfizer obtained emergency approval in the UAE in December and Dubai rolled out the vaccine during that month.