Saudi Arabia’s peace initiative for Yemen gains groundswell of support

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan (L) speaks during a press conference in the capital Riyadh on March 22, 2021, announcing an offer of a cease-fire with Yemen’s Houthi militia. (Reuters)
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan (L) speaks during a press conference in the capital Riyadh on March 22, 2021, announcing an offer of a cease-fire with Yemen’s Houthi militia. (Reuters)
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Updated 31 March 2021

Saudi Arabia’s peace initiative for Yemen gains groundswell of support

Saudi Arabia’s peace initiative for Yemen gains groundswell of support
  • ‘Its time to hire more envoys to add to the diplomatic pressure in Yemen,’ expert says
  • A discussion on the current developments and regional dynamics of Yemen’s war was organized by London-based think tank Chatham House

LONDON: The newly announced Saudi initiative to end the war in Yemen offers the first real prospects for peace, experts say.
Prior to this, there has been no formal peace process or enough diplomatic investment in Yemen, said Farea Al-Muslimi, chairman and co-founder of the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies.
“The entire regional conflict resolution model over the past five years has not been enough in responding to what we are facing,” he said during a panel discussion on the current developments and regional dynamics of Yemen’s War, which was organized by Chatham House.
Saudi Arabia announced a new initiative to end the six-year war in Yemen last week, which calls for a UN-supervised nationwide cease-fire, the reopening of Sanaa airport to civilian air traffic, easing restrictions on Hodeidah port, and the resumption of negotiations to reach a political resolution to the conflict.
Al-Muslimi said reconciliation among Gulf states, the new administration of US President Joe Biden, and the US special envoy to Yemen that reports directly to the White House are all driving factors behind real peace prospects.
“It is really about time to hire more envoys to add to the diplomatic pressure in Yemen,” he said.
Al-Muslimi said Europe, the UK, the Gulf and the Arab League do not have envoys for Yemen.
He also said previous peace initiatives were not adhered to their fullest because they were handled solely by the UN, which is not able to lead a democratic transition without help.
Yemen’s civil war began in late 2014 mainly between the internationally recognized government, led by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, and the Iran-aligned Houthi militia. An Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, intervened the following year in support of the government.
Al-Muslimi said Saudi Arabia cannot and should not walk away from Yemen now because it is so heavily involved in rebuilding the war-torn country.

Sama’a Al-Hamdani, director of the Yemen Cultural Institute for Heritage and the Arts, said the “situation is quite prime for peace.” She added that if it was not for the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, “we probably would have seen some sort of a peace initiative take place last year.”
She referred to several events over the past year, including the new sultan taking power in Oman, the US killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman taking charge of the Yemen file that enabled a “new turning page” for the region.
“There were a lot of things that were happening that could have indicated that the US and Saudi Arabia would be ready to engage in a peace process,” Al-Muslimi said.
She also referred to a column published by Prince Khaled bin Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the UK, where he discussed the Kingdom’s engagement in the peace process and rebuilding efforts that offered “a new level of seriousness that was being presented to the conflict.”
Meanwhile, Editor in Chief of Al Arabiya English Mohammed Alyahya said this is the most significant peace initiative presented since the beginning of the war.
“This is a true test of the extent to which the Houthis are subordinate to the revolutionary guards in Iran or whether the decision is one that is motivated by domestic priorities and a desire to be part of Yemen’s political fabric,” he said.
Moreover, he said: “Defending the Houthis has become totally impossible and life under Houthi rule is something that is a struggle, especially since they have been monetizing aid that comes to their areas for their war effort.
“Peace is important,” Alyahya said. “Stability is important for Yemen but it should not come at the cost of people that are living under Houthi rule.”

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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Nearly 100 people injured after train derails in Egypt

Nearly 100 people injured after train derails in Egypt
Updated 18 April 2021

Nearly 100 people injured after train derails in Egypt

Nearly 100 people injured after train derails in Egypt
  • 58 ambulances rushed to the site and moved the injured to three hospitals in the province

CAIRO: Ninety-seven people have been injured after a train derailed in Egypt's Qalioubia province north of Cairo, the health ministry said in a statement.
58 ambulances rushed to the site and moved the injured to three hospitals in the province, it said.

Egypt’s health minister Hala Zayed is heading to Qalioubia province to check up on those injured in the incident. 
The train departed Cairo at 1:20 P.M. and was due to arrive in Mansoura at 5:00 P.M. 
At least 20 people were killed and nearly 200 were injured in March when two trains collided near Tahta in Sohag province.


Iran asks Interpol to arrest Natanz ‘sabotage’ suspect – media report

Iran asks Interpol to arrest Natanz ‘sabotage’ suspect – media report
Updated 18 April 2021

Iran asks Interpol to arrest Natanz ‘sabotage’ suspect – media report

Iran asks Interpol to arrest Natanz ‘sabotage’ suspect – media report
  • National television has published a photo and identified the alleged saboteur as Reza Karimi
  • A Red Notice is a request to law enforcement worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a person

TEHRAN: Iran has asked Interpol to help arrest a suspect in a sabotage attack on its Natanz nuclear facility which it blames on Israel, a local newspaper reported Sunday.
National television has published a photo and identified the man as 43-year-old Reza Karimi, saying the intelligence ministry had established his role in last week’s “sabotage” at Natanz.
The broadcaster said the suspect had “fled the country before the incident” and that “legal procedures to arrest and return him to the country are currently underway.”
Neither state TV nor other media provided further details on the suspect. The intelligence ministry has not issued an official statement.
The ultraconservative Kayhan daily reported in its Sunday edition that “intelligence and judicial authorities” are engaged in the process.
It added that “after his identity was established, necessary measures were taken through Interpol to arrest and return” the suspect.
Kayhan did not specify what form of Interpol assistance had been requested.
As of Sunday noon, Interpol’s public “red notice” list online returned no results for Reza Karimi.
A Red Notice is a request to law enforcement worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a person pending extradition, surrender or similar legal action, according to Interpol’s website.
A “small explosion” hit the Natanz plant’s electricity distribution system a week ago, according to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.
The Iranian foreign ministry accused arch-foe Israel of an act of “nuclear terrorism” and vowed revenge.
Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement but public radio reports said it was a sabotage operation by the Mossad spy agency, citing unnamed intelligence sources.
The New York Times, quoting unnamed US and Israeli intelligence officials, also said there had been “an Israeli role” in the attack.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh last week indirectly accused Israel of attempting to scuttle talks underway in Vienna aimed at reviving a landmark nuclear agreement.
The talks are focused on bringing the US back in to the accord after former president Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Tehran, and to bring Iran back into compliance with key nuclear commitments it suspended in response to the sanctions.


Syria to hold presidential vote on May 26: parliament

Syria to hold presidential vote on May 26: parliament
Updated 18 April 2021

Syria to hold presidential vote on May 26: parliament

Syria to hold presidential vote on May 26: parliament

DAMASCUS: Syria is to hold a presidential election on May 26, the parliament speaker announced Sunday, the country's second in the shadow of civil war, seen as likely to keep President Bashar Al-Assad in power.
Syrians abroad will be "able to vote at embassies" on May 20, Hamouda Sabbagh said in a statement, adding that prospective candidates could hand in their applications from Monday.
Assad, who took power following the death of his father Hafez in 2000, has not yet officially announced that he will stand for re-election.
He won a previous election three years into Syria's devastating civil war in 2014, with 88 percent of the vote.
Under Syria's 2012 constitution, a president may only serve two seven-year terms -- with the exception of the president elected in the 2014 poll.
Candidates must have lived continuously in Syria for at least 10 years, meaning that opposition figures in exile are barred from standing.
Candidates must also have the backing of at least 35 members of the parliament, which is dominated by Assad's Baath party.
This year's vote comes after Russian-backed Syrian government forces re-seized the vital northern city of Aleppo and other opposition-held areas, placing Damascus in control of two-thirds of the country.
But the poll also comes amid a crushing economic crisis.
The decade-long civil war has left at least 388,000 people dead and half of the population displaced.


Cyprus meeting, Riyadh visit latest examples of regional coalitions coming together

Cyprus meeting, Riyadh visit latest examples of regional coalitions coming together
Updated 18 April 2021

Cyprus meeting, Riyadh visit latest examples of regional coalitions coming together

Cyprus meeting, Riyadh visit latest examples of regional coalitions coming together
  • Foreign ministers of Greece, Israel, Cyprus, UAE met in Paphos on Friday
  • ‘Greater Mediterranean region emerging based on new partnerships, initiatives,’ expert tells Arab News

ATHENS: Common interests are bringing together regional coalitions of like-minded countries in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean — favoring stability, combating extremism and respecting international law — in bilateral and multilateral formats.

The latest examples of this diplomatic activism are the meeting of the foreign ministers of Greece, Israel, Cyprus and the UAE that took place on Friday; and the forthcoming visit of Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos to Saudi Arabia.

The four-way talks in the Cypriot city of Paphos marked the first time that the UAE had participated in one of the multilateral forums that have been created in the eastern Mediterranean since 2010.

In Riyadh, Dendias and Panagiotopoulos will sign a Status of Forces Agreement that will pave the way for the development of a Patriot-2 antimissile battery in Saudi Arabia in order to help the Kingdom in its fight against the Houthi militia in neighboring Yemen.

“The evolving web of regional cooperation is creating a new narrative, one that is cracking the glass ceiling of the prevailing, restrictive narrative of our neighborhood as a region of turmoil, conflict and crisis,” said Nikos Christodoulides, Cypriot foreign minister and host of the Paphos meeting.

The four-way talks will benefit from the recent normalization of ties between Israel and the UAE, and could offer an opportunity for the latter to join other regional efforts.

“A partnership that comprises both Israel and the UAE is very important for regional stability,” said Dendias. “We also welcome other regional initiatives undertaken with the aim of regional peace, such as the AlUla Accord, as well as the Saudi initiative that aims at bringing peace to the conflict in Yemen.”

Spyridon N. Litsas, professor of international relations at the University of Macedonia in Greece, and at the Rabdan Academy in Abu Dhabi, told Arab News: “The meeting of Greece, the UAE, Cyprus and Israel in Paphos signals two main facts. Firstly, the UAE and Israel seem able and willing to jointly contribute to the stabilization of the region. Secondly, smart diplomatic deterrence is taking a more definitive shape, and is oriented toward countering Turkish revisionism in the region.”

Ankara’s actions in the eastern Mediterranean, and its support of the Muslim Brotherhood, have raised regional concerns.

“Alliances are formed either to balance the threat of an aggressor, or to balance the power of a revisionist actor,” Litsas said.

“Greece, the UAE, Cyprus and Israel prove that alliances can also be formed on the basis of a smart approach toward Αnkara’s atavism. Turkey produces more revisionism than neighboring states can tolerate.”

The visit of Greece’s foreign and defense ministers to Riyadh has been long in the making, having been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Athens wants to enhance its defense cooperation with Saudi Arabia, as it has done with the UAE.

Saudi F-15 fighter aircraft were stationed in Greece’s Souda Bay airbase last summer, and the two countries have engaged in political consultations at the highest level.

Athens aims to advance its role in linking the eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf. “A Greater Mediterranean region is emerging based on new partnerships and initiatives linking the Gulf with Mediterranean states,” Aristotle Tziampiris, professor of international relations at the University of Piraeus, told Arab News.

“Greece is in the middle of this important development that’s based on common interests and viewpoints, which include viewing Turkey as an increasingly unpredictable actor and Iran as a potentially serious, even existential threat.”

In February, “Athens established the Philia (Friendship) Forum, comprising Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” said Tziampiris.

“Greece is coming, without any doubt, closer to several Gulf countries aiming to contribute to regional stability.”


Israel rescinds outdoor coronavirus mask requirement

Israel rescinds outdoor coronavirus mask requirement
Updated 18 April 2021

Israel rescinds outdoor coronavirus mask requirement

Israel rescinds outdoor coronavirus mask requirement
  • Police-enforced wearing of protective masks outdoors scrapped from Sunday
  • But requirement still applied for indoor public spaces

JERUSALEM: Israel rescinded the mandatory wearing of face masks outdoors and fully reopened schools on Sunday in the latest return to relative normality, boosted by a mass-vaccination campaign against the COVID-19 pandemic.
With almost 54 percent of its 9.3 million population having received both shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Israel has logged sharp drops in contagion and cases.
The police-enforced wearing of protective masks outdoors, ordered a year ago, was scrapped from Sunday, but the Health Ministry said the requirement still applied for indoor public spaces and urged citizens to keep masks to hand.
With Israeli kindergarteners, elementary and high school students already back in class, middle school pupils who had been kept at home or attended class sporadically returned to pre-pandemic schedules.
The education ministry said that schools should continue to encourage personal hygiene, ventilation of classrooms and to maintain social distancing as much distance as possible during breaks and lessons.
Israel counts East Jerusalem Palestinians among its population and has been administering the vaccines there.
The 5.2 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Islamist Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip have been receiving limited supplies of vaccines provided by Israel, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, the global COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme and China.