Yemeni government makes military gains in Jouf and Marib provinces

The Houthis seized Hazem and surrounding areas last March, paving the way for their fighters to push toward the oil- and gas-rich province of Marib. (AFP)
The Houthis seized Hazem and surrounding areas last March, paving the way for their fighters to push toward the oil- and gas-rich province of Marib. (AFP)
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Updated 25 February 2021

Yemeni government makes military gains in Jouf and Marib provinces

Yemeni government makes military gains in Jouf and Marib provinces
  • Houthis delay UN inspection of leaking tanker

AL-MUKALLA: Yemeni troops and allied tribesmen, backed by air cover from the Arab coalition, have seized control of a large territory in the northern province of Jouf, the first major territorial gains since the beginning of a Houthi offensive on Marib, local army officers told Arab News on Thursday.

The Defense Ministry announced recapturing Al-Jadafer, a large desert area in Jouf, putting government forces on the edges of provincial capital Hazem city and other strategic locations.

Maj. Gen. Amen Al-Waili, commander of the 6th Military Region, first announced the Jouf gains on Wednesday, saying the army was pushing toward new areas as the Houthis had suffered heavy setbacks and casualties.

“After this remarkable progress, the national army forces are (now) on the outskirts of Hazem,” Al-Waili was quoted as saying by state media.

The Houthis seized Hazem and surrounding areas last March, paving the way for their fighters to push toward the oil- and gas-rich province of Marib.

But the army’s territorial gains in Jouf have boosted the morale of loyalists as well as alleviating Houthi pressure on government troops in Marib.

An officer in Marib, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Arab News that they had pushed back Houthi attacks on Serwah and other contested areas.

Army troops and allied tribesmen on Thursday captured Zor, a small village in Serwah hosting displacement camps, and surrounding mountains and areas after clashes with rebels.

Dozens of fighters were killed or wounded in the Murad area as army troops and tribesmen repelled their offensive, the Defense Ministry said.

Yemeni Information Minister Muammar Al-Iryani tweeted the latest gains in Marib, saying that troops were determined to recapture areas that had fallen to the Houthis.

“With their high morale and determination, the heroes are moving toward recapturing areas that the terrorist Houthi militia controlled during their latest escalation,” he said.

Earlier this month the Houthis resumed a large-scale offensive to capture the city of Marib, the government’s last stronghold in northern Yemen. The Defense Ministry recently sent hundreds of troops and equipment to push back the Houthis.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak is visiting Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to mobilize diplomatic efforts to stop Houthi attacks and explain the government's perspective on plans for ending the war.

Bin Mubarak told Arab News that he would visit the capitals of Gulf states to garner support for the government, explaining political developments and coordinating positions with GCC officials.

Separately, the UN said that new requests by the Houthis were further delaying its experts from examining a decaying tanker that is loaded with more than a million barrels of crude oil.

It warned last year that the tanker, the FSO Safer, had not been maintained for more than five years. Experts fear it could explode or leak, causing huge environmental damage to marine life and also affect shipping in the Red Sea.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the additional requests focused on “logistics and security arrangements,” and that it was “now difficult to say exactly when the mission could be deployed,” according to an AP news agency report.
 


Shadow war no more: The tussle between Iran and Israeli spy agency Mossad

A grab of a videoconference screen of an engineer inside Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant, shown during a ceremony headed by the country's president on Iran's National Nuclear Technology Day, in the capital Tehran. (AFP/File Photo)
A grab of a videoconference screen of an engineer inside Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant, shown during a ceremony headed by the country's president on Iran's National Nuclear Technology Day, in the capital Tehran. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 8 min 9 sec ago

Shadow war no more: The tussle between Iran and Israeli spy agency Mossad

A grab of a videoconference screen of an engineer inside Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant, shown during a ceremony headed by the country's president on Iran's National Nuclear Technology Day, in the capital Tehran. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Natanz nuclear plant sabotage lays bare vulnerability to betrayal at the hands of own population
  • Analysts say Tehran’s tepid response is a sign of its desperation for sanctions relief above all else

LONDON: Analysts have said that the blast that struck Iran’s most critical nuclear facility on April 11 is another significant event in a decades-long shadow war between Tehran and its regional adversary Israel.

They say the sabotage has not only exposed Iran’s vulnerability to betrayal at the hands of its own population, but its tepid response has revealed its desperation for sanctions relief above all else.

Unnamed intelligence officials from Mossad told Israeli media and the New York Times last week that the mysterious Natanz explosion was their handiwork. And, according to Yossi Mekelberg, associate fellow with the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, it is a continuation of the spate of blasts, blackouts, and fires that swept across the Islamic Republic last year — but with one major difference.

“What has changed from last year is how public it is. (Israel) is ready to take responsibility. From a shadow war it has moved to the forefront,” Mekelberg told Arab News.

“This confrontation has been taking place for two decades now, at least. Cyberattacks, assassinations of scientists, attacks on ships — this is something that is ongoing. What you have seen in the last year or so is that it is becoming open, from covert to overt.”

In the past year alone, Iran has been rocked by a relentless series of attacks, assassinations, and sabotages. The country’s top nuclear scientist was killed in a sophisticated attack.

Their entire nuclear archives were stolen and smuggled out of the country, and nuclear, military, and logistics sites across the country have suffered from a series of mysterious setbacks.

An image grab from footage obtained from Iranian State TV IRIB on April 17, 2021 shows the portrait of a man identified as 43-year-old Reza Karimi, saying the intelligence ministry had established his role in last week's "sabotage" on the Natanz nuclear facility. (AFP/File Photo)

According to Mekelberg, these incidents have not only hindered Iran’s economy and nuclear program, but also exposed a fundamental weakness in the regime.

“They have a real issue inside their nuclear program,” he said. “The idea that their top scientist, they couldn’t protect him, and that someone managed to take your nuclear archives out of the country — that is not something you can simply put in your pocket.”

Iranian state television named 43-year-old Iranian national Reza Karimi as the prime suspect in the April sabotage — but said he had already fled the country in the hours before the blast occurred.

Mekelberg and other experts believe the involvement of an Iranian national is indicative of the regime’s core vulnerability: Turncoats within its population, and even within the nuclear program itself.

INNUMBERS

Iranian oil

* $40 - Price per barrel of oil used in Iran’s budget calculations.

* 300,000 - Estimated oil exports in barrels per day (bpd) in 2020.

* 2.8m - Iranian oil exports in bpd in 2018.

“They have a real issue with security. I assume that the more things like this happen, the more paranoid they become about who they can trust, who is working with foreign agencies. Obviously, someone is,” Mekelberg said.

Olli Heinonen, a non-proliferation expert and distinguished fellow at the Washington-based Stimson Center, believes the sophistication of the Natanz attack means there is little doubt that local collaborators from within the regime enabled it.

“Those who have designed and executed these actions have insider information and highly likely local contributors,” Heinonen told Arab News.

This handout satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies on January 8, 2020 shows an overview of Iran's Natanz nuclear facility, south of the capital Tehran. (AFP/Maxar/File Photo)

Like Mekelberg, Heinonen highlighted Iran’s apparent ineptitude in defending even its most critical nuclear facilities and pointed to the stark contrast between the country’s record and another global pariah state’s nuclear program.

“It is worth noting that we have not heard about similar incidents in North Korea,” he said. “It is evident that the (Iranian) security forces have not been able to protect the assets as the leadership had expected.

“This does not come as a surprise. Not all Iranians, including technical professionals, buy the reasonability of the enrichment efforts, the investments for which could be used better elsewhere, even within the nuclear program.”

Tehran has admitted that the attacks caused serious damage at the Natanz facility. Last week, Alireza Zakani, a regime hardliner who heads the Iranian parliament’s research center, referred to “several thousand centrifuges damaged and destroyed” in an interview on state television.

A handout picture released by the official website of Iran's Revolutionary Guard on August 25, 2014, shows an alleged Israeli drone that was shot down above the Natanz uranium enrichment site. (AFP/File Photo)

“From a technical standpoint, the enemy’s plan was rather beautiful,” the head of the Iranian parliament’s energy committee said. “They thought about this and used their experts and planned the explosion so both the central power and the emergency power cable would be damaged.”

Heinonen said the attacks have “certainly slowed production” of 20 percent enriched uranium, which is above the enrichment level needed for nuclear power, but far below the 90 percent required for weapons-grade uranium.

However, he cautioned that production could begin to ramp up again within three months of the attack, and Tehran’s promise to begin enriching uranium to 60 percent in response to the attack could act as a springboard toward rapid development of a nuclear bomb.

“In a short term (60 percent enrichment) does not contribute much to breakout time, but it demonstrates the fact that uranium enrichment is mainly designed to build a nuclear latency; to be in a position to relaunch in short interval a full nuclear weapon acquisition program, if such a decision is made,” he said.

The response to the attacks is part of a delicate balancing act by Tehran, according to Nader Di Michele, an Iran-focused analyst at political risk consultancy Prelia.

This handout powerpoint slide provided by U.S. Central Command damage shows an explosion (L) and a likely limpet mine can be seen on the hull of the civilian vessel M/V Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019. (AFP/File Photo)

“They do not want escalations but the government has to show a response in terms of its foreign policy. That could be aimed at international actors or even its domestic population,” he told Arab News.

Beyond increasing uranium enrichment, it was reported that unknown actors targeted an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the following days. However, Di Michele thinks the damage caused by that attack was, by design, minimal compared with the devastation caused by the Natanz attack.

“There always has to be a response to these attacks, but I think the Iranian delegation understands that there is a limit to what they can do if they want sanctions relief.”

Di Michele said if the ongoing negotiations in Vienna prompt a lifting of sanctions and release of various assets that, in turn, deliver a financial boost to the regime, “we can never be sure what proportion of that would go to support which activities.”

He added: “It can be assumed that a proportion of those assets released would go toward foreign policy activities. What those entail, I couldn’t speculate on.”

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Twitter: @CHamillStewart


Turkey logs highest daily COVID-19 deaths since pandemic started -data

Turkey logs highest daily COVID-19 deaths since pandemic started -data
Updated 20 April 2021

Turkey logs highest daily COVID-19 deaths since pandemic started -data

Turkey logs highest daily COVID-19 deaths since pandemic started -data
  • Turkey registered its highest daily toll of 346 deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday
  • Total cases stood at 4,384,624 while the total death toll rose to 36,613

ISTANBUL: Turkey recorded 346 deaths from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Tuesday, registering the highest daily death toll since the beginning of the pandemic.
The data also showed the country recorded 61,028 new coronavirus cases in the same period.
The total number of cases stood at 4,384,624 while the total death toll rose to 36,613, according to the data.
Turkey currently ranks fourth globally in the number of daily cases based on a seven-day average, according to a Reuters tally.


Defiant Lebanese judge referred to Judicial Inspection Authority

Defiant Lebanese judge referred to Judicial Inspection Authority
Ghada Aoun. (Photo/Twitter)
Updated 20 April 2021

Defiant Lebanese judge referred to Judicial Inspection Authority

Defiant Lebanese judge referred to Judicial Inspection Authority
  • Ghada Aoun has six criminal cases and 28 complaints against her

BEIRUT: A Lebanese judge who defied a decision dismissing her from an investigation into possible currency export breaches was Tuesday referred to the Judicial Inspection Authority over her actions.

Judge Ghada Aoun had been investigating the Mecattaf money exchange company and Societe Generale Bank for allegedly withdrawing US dollars from the market and shipping the funds abroad.

She staged two raids on a currency exchange earlier this month, defying a decision from Public Prosecutor Judge Ghassan Oweidat to dismiss her from the case. There have been six criminal cases and 28 complaints filed against Aoun.

Lebanon’s Supreme Judicial Council met the judge on Tuesday, deciding to refer her to the authority and asking it to take the necessary measures.

“Any investigation or judicial case will be followed up to the end by the competent judiciary whoever the judge may be and regardless of any considerations outside of the judicial framework,” the council said, emphasizing that judicial authority was exercised by all judges. “It is their responsibility to preserve and protect it, abide by their oath and not mix between their duty and issues that do not come in line with the nature of proper judicial work.”

Aoun’s actions gained political traction when she was accompanied on one of the raids by supporters of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), the political party led by MP Gebran Bassil.   

A number of FPM supporters accompanied Aoun on Tuesday to the vicinity of the Justice Palace in Beirut.

They waited for her on the street while she attended the council session, which lasted for 40 minutes and took place amid strict security measures taken by the army and Internal Security Forces.

On Monday, rival protests had to be broken up after fighting erupted between those who supported her and those who did not.

The conflict between Aoun and Oweidat temporarily diverted attention away from the months-long political deadlock that has stopped a new government from being formed.

But the involvement of FPM supporters has angered some, who said the judge was being used as a tool to settle political scores.

The council downplayed the idea that there was a dispute, judicial or political.

“What happened is not a dispute between those who want to fight corruption and hold the corrupt accountable, and those who do not want to and are preventing it, or a conflict between the prosecutor general and the region public prosecutor. It definitely is not a political dispute between two parties, as some are portraying it.”

The council said it had asked the Court of Cassation’s Public Prosecutor and the head of the Judicial Inspection Authority to take the necessary measures, each within his jurisdiction, regarding her actions, to listen to her before the council due to her “violation of the obligation to exercise reserve, recurrent failure to meet the commitments she expressed before the council, and refusal to come to the Cassation Public Prosecution.”

Its statement also referred to Aoun’s “positions and actions” following Oweidat’s decision, in which he amended the distribution of work at Mount Lebanon Public Prosecution.

The council’s term ends in June and it tried, through the position it adopted on Tuesday, to save face due to the judiciary’s image suffering in the past few days.

 


Gaza Strip’s Karmousa Kitchen offers Ramadan delicacies

Gaza Strip’s Karmousa Kitchen offers Ramadan delicacies
Women shared the work among themselves, with each group undertaking a specific task that they must finish in the shortest period of time. (Supplied)
Updated 20 April 2021

Gaza Strip’s Karmousa Kitchen offers Ramadan delicacies

Gaza Strip’s Karmousa Kitchen offers Ramadan delicacies
  • Karmousa, named after an Algerian delicacy, relies on social media platforms to promote and market its products

GAZA: Warda Erbee and other women are busy preparing Ramadan foods and sweets in a Gaza Strip kitchen.

Erbee and her colleagues work in Karmousa Kitchen, from the Baraem Development Association, for about seven hours a day to cater for the increased demand during the fasting month.

Erbee, who joined the team in 2017, became the main breadwinner for her family after her husband lost his job due to the pandemic.

She works every day, from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m.

“We work throughout the year at a normal pace, but work increases significantly in the blessed month of Ramadan as the demand is greater for items related to this month, specifically the kubba and sambousak,” she said.

The kitchen’s stand-out offering the rest of the year is the maftool, which is made from wheat or white flour and has earned the satisfaction and admiration of customers.

Karmousa, named after an Algerian delicacy, relies on social media platforms to promote and market its products.

The goal of the Baraem Development Association when launching this project was to help marginalized women cope with poor living conditions.

Kitchen manager Khetam Arafat said that while work did not stop throughout the year, its production doubled during Ramadan and provided additional job opportunities for poor women.

Women shared the work among themselves, with each group undertaking a specific task that they must finish in the shortest period of time.

They need to maintain high levels of accuracy and quality to meet the demands of customers, maintain the position of their products in the market and compete with other factories and kitchens.

According to Arafat, the kitchen’s most famous products are the vegetable and cheese-stuffed sambousak and the Syrian kibbeh made of bulgur and stuffed with minced meat.

“Preparing for Ramadan begins days before in order to meet the demands received by the kitchen and to produce large quantities of items that are in high demand and consumption during this month.”

Despite the emergency conditions resulting from the pandemic, Arafat believed that the demand for Ramadan appetizers and sweets was in line with the annual average.

“Because of an increase in demand this year, the number of female workers has doubled from five to 10, and the number depends on the quality and quantity of the orders.”

From the middle of Ramadan until its end, work in Karmousa is focused on making cakes and maamoul, which are sweets associated with Eid Al-Fitr.

But Arafat feared that an increase in COVID-19 infections in Gaza may lead to a comprehensive closure and inflict heavy losses on the kitchen and all economic sectors.

 


Egypt, Russia in talks over Sputnik V vaccine imports

Egypt, Russia in talks over Sputnik V vaccine imports
Updated 20 April 2021

Egypt, Russia in talks over Sputnik V vaccine imports

Egypt, Russia in talks over Sputnik V vaccine imports
  • The two-dose Sputnik V vaccine has obtained approval from the Egyptian Drug Authority – both doses are designed to be administered within a 21-day period
  • Russian Ambassador to Egypt Georgy Borisenko said that Russia is keen to accelerate the delivery of Sputnik V doses to Egypt

CAIRO: Egypt is negotiating with manufacturers of the Russian-made Sputnik vaccine in a bid to buy enough doses for Egypt’s entire population, Mohamed Awad Tag El-Din, advisor to the president on health affairs, has said.

The move emerged during a meeting headed by Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly on Tuesday to discuss ways to control the pandemic. The meeting heard that coordination is taking place regarding the supply of monthly doses.

Egypt’s Health Minister Hala Zayed said that the ministry is working on increasing the daily capacity of vaccine centers so that Egypt can inoculate more than 112,000 people per day, adding that there are adequate reserves of medical oxygen in the country.

Negotiations have also taken place with oxygen manufacturers to increase the amount available in Egyptian hospitals and health centers, and to redirect industrial oxygen to the medical sector. Medical gas networks have been upgraded for 40 hospitals affiliated with the ministry.

Zayed also discussed the possibility of manufacturing the Sputnik V vaccine in Egypt in a meeting with Russian Ambassador to Egypt Georgy Borisenko.

Khaled Megahed, health ministry spokesperson, said that the meeting also involved talks on investment opportunities and a potential strategy of using Egypt as a vaccine manufacturing base for all of Africa.

Megahed said that the ministry “endeavors to provide vaccines and prioritize the health of citizens and workers in Egypt.”

The two-dose Sputnik V vaccine has obtained approval from the Egyptian Drug Authority. Both doses are designed to be administered within a 21-day period.

Borisenko said that Russia is keen to accelerate the delivery of Sputnik V doses to Egypt. He added that Russia has given its “full support and cooperation” to Egypt in fighting the pandemic.