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.
 


Israel to buy millions of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses

Israel to buy millions of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses
Updated 4 min 38 sec ago

Israel to buy millions of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses

Israel to buy millions of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses
  • New vaccinations will be suitable to protect people against different coronavirus variants, said Netanyahu
  • Israeli PM hopes to sign a similar deal to purchase vaccines from Moderna

JERUSALEM: Israel signed a deal to buy millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccinations from Pfizer through 2022, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday.
The new vaccinations will be suitable to protect people against different variants of the coronavirus, Netanyahu said in a statement.
He said he hopes to sign a similar deal to purchase vaccines from Moderna.
“This means that very soon we will have more than enough vaccines, both for adults and children,” he said.
With about 81% of citizens or residents over 16 — the age group eligible for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in Israel — having received both doses, infections and hospitalizations are down sharply.


Syrian opposition’s Michel Kilo dies in exile

Syrian opposition’s Michel Kilo dies in exile
Updated 19 April 2021

Syrian opposition’s Michel Kilo dies in exile

Syrian opposition’s Michel Kilo dies in exile
  • Michel Kilo, who turned 80 last year, was a key player in efforts to form a credible non-violent alternative to President Bashar Assad’s regime
  • Kilo often spoke out against the internal rifts weakening Syria’s opposition and in 2015 he said the conflict’s foreign brokers have made matters worse

BEIRUT: Prominent exiled opposition figure Michel Kilo died of Covid-19 on Monday in Paris after a lifetime of peaceful struggle against Baath party rule in Syria, colleagues said.
Kilo, who turned 80 last year, was a key player in efforts to form a credible non-violent alternative to President Bashar Assad’s regime during the early stages of the conflict that erupted a decade ago.
“A great loss. Michel Kilo departed today after he was infected with Covid-19,” senior opposition figure Nasr Hariri wrote in a statement.
“Michel was an intellectual and patriotic powerhouse and his dream was to see a free and democratic Syria. God willing, the Syrian people will carry on this dream and see it through,” he said.
Kilo, who was also a writer, was born in 1940 to a Christian family in Syria’s Mediterranean town of Latakia, a bastion of the Assad family’s Alawite minority.
He had opposed the ruling Baath party since it came to power in 1963.
He was jailed in Syria from 1980 to 1983 under Hafez Assad, and then again from 2006 to 2009 under Bashar.
In September 2000, he was one of around 100 intellectuals who called for reforms including public freedoms, political pluralism, and the lifting of the state of emergency in what became known as the Damascus Spring.
He also belonged to a group of prominent Syrian opposition figures who in 2005 signed the “Damascus Declaration” calling for democratic reform in the autocratic Arab nation.
When mass anti-regime demonstrations swept Syria in 2011, he advocated peaceful protest but warned that armed resistance would lead to civil war.
“From the very beginning, the regime has followed a plan — push the protesters to extreme options, to take up arms. A peaceful civil movement is not what it wants at all,” Kilo told AFP in Damascus before the onset of a conflict that has since killed more than 388,000 people and displaced millions.
In 2013, he joined the opposition alliance, known as the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) before quitting over internal divisions.
In a tribute on Monday, the SNC said Kilo had “dedicated his life to Syria and fought against tyranny for more than fifty years.”
Kilo often spoke out against the internal rifts weakening Syria’s opposition and in 2015 he said the conflict’s foreign brokers have made matters worse.
“We are hostages to meticulous political and diplomatic games” by states that each hold a “Syria card” they want to play, he said.
Fellow exiled opposition figure Alia Mansour mourned Kilo on Twitter.
“Michel Kilo spent his life opposing the Assad regime, fighting for freedom and democracy for Syria and its people,” she said.
“How misfortunate that you left before witnessing the downfall of the tyrant.”


Egypt: 3 militants involved in Christian's slaying killed

Egypt: 3 militants involved in Christian's slaying killed
Updated 19 April 2021

Egypt: 3 militants involved in Christian's slaying killed

Egypt: 3 militants involved in Christian's slaying killed
  • Militants were involved in killing of Nabil Habashi, a 62-year-old Coptic Christian kidnapped five months ago
  • Security forces exchanged fire with Daesh militants while chasing them in the Abtal area of North Sinai

CAIRO: Egypt police killed three suspected militants allegedly involved in the slaying of a Coptic Christian man kidnapped more than five months ago in a restive part of Sinai Peninsula, the Interior Ministry said Monday.
Security forces exchanged fire with Daesh militants while chasing them in the Abtal area of North Sinai province, the ministry said in a statement. Three of the militants were killed and police were chasing three others. The statement did not say when they fighting took place.
The ministry, which oversees the police, said an explosives belt detonated during the shootout. It was unclear whether the bomber was one of the three militants the ministry said were killed. No casualties were reported among the security forces.
The details provided by the ministry could not be independently verified and media access to northern Sinai is heavily restricted.
The ministry said the dead militants were involved in the killing of Nabil Habashi, a 62-year-old Coptic Christian from the town of Bir al-Abd. Nabashi had built the sole church in the area.
Militants kidnapped Habashi, a jewelry dealer, in November from Bir Al-Abd, and demanded a ransom of 2 million Egyptian pounds ($127,550 million), said a church official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media.
The local Daesh affiliate in Sinai Peninsula released a 13-minute video showing Habashi kneeling, with three men dressed in black standing behind him. One of the men appears to shoot Habashi in the back of his head. It was not clear when Habashi was killed.
Egypt is battling an Daesh-led insurgency in Sinai Peninsula that intensified after the military overthrew an elected Islamist president in 2013. The military had intervened after mass protests against the president's divisive, one-year rule. The insurgents have carried out scores of attacks, mainly targeting the security forces and minority Christians.


J Street conference energizes push for two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict

J Street conference energizes push for two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Updated 19 April 2021

J Street conference energizes push for two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict

J Street conference energizes push for two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict
  • Palestinian president tells delegates he would return to peace table if talks were based on 1967 borders, shared East Jerusalem
  • Former Israeli PM says deal could ‘still be done’ with the right attitude from both sides

CHICAGO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has told the annual conference of the progressive American Jewish lobby, J Street, that he would return to the peace table to negotiate over a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

During his presentation on Sunday, Abbas accused the current Israeli government of being an obstacle to peace by refusing to talk and he joined a succession of other speakers in reinforcing support for the two-state solution.

In 2008, Abbas met 35 times with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Madrid and came close to reaching an agreement, but the discussions were aborted when Olmert was ousted from office and Benjamin Netanyahu was elected premier.

“We believe in the two-state solution based on the 1967 borders … and a sharing of East Jerusalem. We are ready to resume negotiations,” Abbas told conference delegates.

The virtual J Street meeting was held in response to the continuing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and attracted nearly 5,000 registered attendees online.

In his address, Olmert said he believed that peace based on the two-state solution was not only possible but viable if Israel had the right government leadership to engage in direct negotiations with the Palestinians and if the Palestinians were to embrace the concept openly.

“There is no other way to resolve the historic conflict between Israelis and Palestinians … on the basis of the 1967 borders – there will be some changes in the border, but the total size will be as it was in 1967.

“If we sit together with the Palestinians on that basis, I am sure it can be resolved,” he added.

The former PM detailed the discussions he had with Abbas and said that the Palestinian state would be based on the 1967 borders with land adjustments. He pointed out that settlements would be consolidated into three zones in the West Bank and that land swaps would be made to compensate the Palestinians for the settlement lands that remained.

Olmert noted that East Jerusalem would serve as the capital for both Israel and Palestine, and that it would include the support of nations including the US, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.

He told the J Street conference that it would require “a change in the attitude in the government of Israel. But the present government of Israel is unwilling to do it. But I think the Palestinians have to adopt themselves to this framework, also. It still can be done.”

Both Olmert and Abbas said that the goal of establishing peace between Palestinians and Israelis had been “omitted from the Israeli discourse in politics” since Netanyahu was first elected in 2009 but agreed it could be revived “with some effort.”

J Street president and founder, Jeremy Ben-Ami, said that the two-state solution was “the only solution,” and that the priorities must be to stop the “creeping annexation” of the West Bank and expansion of the settlements.

He added that he did not believe that negotiations could start under the current political climate in Israel.

Ayman Odeh, leader of the Arab Hadash party and member of the Joint List in the Knesset, told conference attendees that “laws can be undone,” and that a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders “can be done.”

But similar to Olmert and Abbas, Odeh said he did not expect much progress while Netanyahu continued to offer limited equality to Palestinian Arab citizens.

Odeh urged Israeli society to “topple Netanyahu’s corrupt reign and build democracy that works for all of us.”

He added: “We are the hope … the wrench that will stop the machinery of division and fear. We are the Arabs and the Jews who refuse to be enemies.”

The Israeli administration remains in turmoil having held four elections since April 2019, all of which have resulted in weak and indecisive governments led by Netanyahu.

Speakers at the J Street conference said that if Netanyahu failed to form a ruling coalition to run the country, the person most likely to take his place was Naftali Bennett, who embraces many of Netanyahu’s extremist anti-peace platforms but was more willing to form coalitions with centrist political organizations.


Russia says Iran nuclear talks enter ‘drafting stage’

Russia says Iran nuclear talks enter ‘drafting stage’
Updated 19 April 2021

Russia says Iran nuclear talks enter ‘drafting stage’

Russia says Iran nuclear talks enter ‘drafting stage’
  • The 2015 agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief has been left hanging by a thread since the US withdrew from the pact in 2018
  • Diplomats from the parties to the deal — Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and China — have been meeting in Vienna since early this month

VIENNA: A Russian diplomat taking part in talks to save the landmark Iran nuclear deal said Monday that the negotiations had entered “the drafting stage” though solutions to some of the issues were “still far away.”
The 2015 agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief has been left hanging by a thread since the US withdrew from the pact in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, prompting Tehran to in turn step up its nuclear activities.
Diplomats from the parties to the deal — Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and China — have been meeting in Vienna since early this month to find a way to get the pact back on track with US participation under the new Joe Biden administration.
“Summing up the results of two weeks of deliberations on JCPOA restoration we can note with satisfaction that the negotiations entered the drafting stage,” Russian ambassador to Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov wrote on Twitter, referring to the acronym of the deal’s formal name.
“Practical solutions are still far away, but we have moved from general words to agreeing on specific steps toward the goal,” he added.
The EU, Russia and Iran all hailed progress at the talks Saturday following an attack on the Natanz nuclear facility, which Iran blamed on arch-foe Israel.
On Friday, Tehran also announced that it was producing uranium enriched to 60 percent purity, taking the country closer to the 90-percent level required for use in a nuclear weapon and far above the threshold allowed by the deal.
Iran has said it will reverse steps taken so far if the US lifts sanctions imposed under the administration of former president Donald Trump.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told Fox News on Sunday that the US wanted to be sure of Iran’s compliance.
“The United States is not going to lift sanctions, unless we have clarity and confidence that Iran will fully return to compliance with its obligations under the deal that it will put a lid on its nuclear program,” he said.
Iran delegation head Abbas Araghchi said Saturday that “a new agreement is taking shape” but warned that it won’t be easy.
“We think that negotiations have reached a stage that the parties can start working on a joint text. The writing of the text can start, at least in the fields with a consensus,” he said.
“There are still serious disagreements that must be reduced during future negotiationSwitch to plain text editors,” he added.