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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Arab coalition carries out air strikes on military targets in Sanaa, Saada

Arab coalition carries out air strikes on military targets in Sanaa, Saada
Updated 1 min 32 sec ago

Arab coalition carries out air strikes on military targets in Sanaa, Saada

Arab coalition carries out air strikes on military targets in Sanaa, Saada
  • Operation in Sanaa targeted one of the main stores of weapons and other supplies
  • The coalition also destroyed workshops that store ballistic missiles and drones in Saada

DUBAI: The Arab coalition on Thursday carried out air strikes on military targets in Yemen’s Sanaa and Saada, Al-Arabiya TV reported.
It further called on civilians not to approach the targeted sites.
The coalition said the operation in Sanaa targeted one of the main stores of weapons and other supplies. “In east of Sanaa, we destroyed two sites under construction as warehouses for military use,” it said.
The coalition also destroyed workshops that store ballistic missiles and drones in Saada.
Earlier on Wednesday, the coalition said they intercepted and destroyed a drone over Amran province after it was launched from Sanaa International Airport.
The Iran-backed Houthis have repeatedly target Saudi Arabia with explosive-rigged drones, mostly without causing much damage because of the Kingdom’s air defenses.
The coalition has carried out multiple sorties against targets in Sanaa, particularly hitting the airport after surveillance pictures and videos showed it has been converted into a military base for experts of the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah.


Unvaccinated expats in Jordan face strict measures, including deportation

Unvaccinated expats in Jordan face strict measures, including deportation
Updated 02 December 2021

Unvaccinated expats in Jordan face strict measures, including deportation

Unvaccinated expats in Jordan face strict measures, including deportation
  • Foreign workers are allowed to receive the vaccine for free

DUBAI: Foreign workers who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by December 15 face strict measures from the government, including deportation.

“The decision aims to protect public health, noting that prompting foreign workers to get vaccinated protects them against future infections and disease transmission,” a report from state news agency Petra said, quoting a statement from Jordan’s interior ministry.

Foreign workers are allowed to receive the vaccine for free, without the need to present their residency or work permits.

A total 4,142,489 individuals have received their first COVID-19 jab, while 3,754,055 are now fully vaccinated, a health ministry briefer noted.

Health officials on Wednesday reported 5,047 new coronavirus infections, putting Jordan’s caseload to 958,990, with 56,991 active cases currently receiving treatment.

Jordanian authorities earlier declared that the country had entered a third wave of the coronavirus ‘with the increase in the number of delta variant infections and hospital admission rates.’ The second wave occurred during the first quarter of this year.

Authorities have banned travelers South Africa and six other African countries from entering the, with the emergence of the omicron COVID-19 strain from these nations. It was first detected in South Africa.


UN warned its credibility is at stake over the Palestinian question

UN warned its credibility is at stake over the Palestinian question
Updated 02 December 2021

UN warned its credibility is at stake over the Palestinian question

UN warned its credibility is at stake over the Palestinian question
  • General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid reiterated that a two-state solution is the only way forward and said ‘we cannot give up hope’
  • His comments came days after the 74 th anniversary of Resolution 181, which called for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states

NEW YORK: There is more at stake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than peace and security in the Middle East, according to Abdulla Shahid, the president of the UN General Assembly.

The reputation of the global community and its ability to work together to resolve international disputes, in keeping with the founding vision of the UN, is also on the line, he warned.

“That is why we cannot give up hope,” said Shahid as he called on member states to make every effort to join forces to resolve the conflict in line with international human rights and humanitarian laws, and the UN charter.

“We must maintain the credibility of this great institution and push for positive dialogue and engagement between the parties involved.”

Speaking on Wednesday during a plenary meeting of the General Assembly to discuss the Palestinian question and the situation in the wider Middle East, Shahid described as “disheartening” the lack of progress on an issue that has been on the UN agenda since the organization’s earliest years.

The situations in Palestine and the wider region are “deeply intertwined,” he said.

“We have seen time and time again how the spillover effects of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute undermine the stability of the broader region,” he added.

“As long as the Palestinian people are deprived of statehood, as long as illegal settlements continue to be built on land that Palestinians are justly entitled to, as long as Palestinian families are forced to flee the violence and injustices against them and they cannot return home, anger and bitterness will fester.

“This will contribute to a cycle of violence that has gone on for far, far too long.”

The plenary session came days after the 74th anniversary of resolution 181, which was passed by the General Assembly on Nov. 29, 1947. It called for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, with the city of Jerusalem a separate entity to be governed by an international regime.

Facilitating a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders is the “most important thing” the world can do to help resolve the conflict, said Shahid, who called for an acceleration of the multilateral political process to find a just and peaceful settlement.

Turning to key issues affecting Palestinians, he said it is time for the international community to back its words with actions in terms of humanitarian assistance, support for efforts to resolve the conflict, and upholding the dignity of Palestinians.

“Year after year we speak of the appalling humanitarian crisis in Palestine, especially the Gaza strip,” Shahid said. “But words are insufficient. Words cannot substitute for the lack of running water, electricity, proper sanitation, and decent living conditions that millions of Palestinians endure.

“Words can express how COVID-19 has exacerbated these challenges but they cannot resolve them. Words cannot save Palestinian people suffering from decades of occupation, arbitrary arrests and the use of excessive force against them. Words cannot restore their demolished homes or halt the proliferation of illegal settlements on their land.”

More than half of the five million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are dependent on humanitarian assistance to survive. That number rises to 80 percent in Gaza, where residents “cry out for access to even basic amenities and services,”  Shahid said.

The many Palestinian refugees across the Middle East are also in jeopardy, he added, highlighting the large shortfall in funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. He called on the international community to ensure it provides enough financial support to maintain the life-saving work of the agency.

“Let us all come together as an international community and reiterate our commitment to protect the rights of the Palestinian people,” said Shahid.

“Let us grant them what they have been justly demanding for so long: dignity, statehood and respect.”


The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera

The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera
Updated 02 December 2021

The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera

The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera
  • The UAE’s National Day, celebrated on Dec. 2 each year, marks the unification of the emirates into a federation
  • Ramesh Shukla documented the UAE’s evolution from disparate sheikhdoms into an ambitious, modern nation

DUBAI: Veteran photographer Ramesh Shukla has lived in the UAE for the best part of five decades. He arrived from his native India just as the former Trucial States were approaching independence from Britain and embarking on a remarkable journey of nation building.

Now 84 years old, he witnessed firsthand the UAE’s evolution from a collection of disparate desert sheikhdoms and fishing villages into a global business hub synonymous with entrepreneurial dynamism, cosmopolitan cities and incredible skylines.

It is a transformation whose story he has diligently documented with his camera through the decades.

Sheikh Zayed signing his name on a photo for a young Shukla

His attachment to the country began by accident following a rather uncomfortable boat journey from Mumbai in 1965. At the time, Shukla was working for the Times of India newspaper, but the lure of exploration proved too great to resist.

Packing his most cherished possession, a Rolleicord camera, and as many rolls of film as he could carry, the young man, then in his twenties, set off on what would be a life-changing adventure.

“This is my camera,” Shukla told Arab News at Dubai’s Etihad Museum more than half a century later, carefully cradling his now-vintage Rolleicord.

“When I was 15, my father asked me: ‘What birthday gift do you want?’ And I said: ‘Papa, please give me a camera.’”

(Photo by Ramesh Shukla)

Despite his desire to see the world, Shukla, it transpired, was not well suited to sea travel. Shortly after his ship, the Dwarka, set sail from Mumbai he began to feel horribly seasick.

Desperate to escape the incessant rocking of the waves, he disembarked at Sharjah, one of the Trucial States that at the time collectively were an informal protectorate of the British Empire.

Here he found lodgings with a local, who urged the young visitor to go to the Sharjah camel racetrack where a big event was taking place at the time. Eager to witness the authentic sights and sounds of Arabia, Shukla duly went along, camera in hand.

There, squatting on the ground alongside the racetrack, he spotted a group of men who would go on to found the UAE. Among them was Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, who would soon become the new country’s first president, a position he held until his death on Nov. 2, 2004.

Ramesh Shukla cradling his vintage Rolleicord camera. (AN photo/Mohamed Fawzy)

Shukla took 12 photographs of Sheikh Zayed watching the races, and returned the following day to present him with one of his portraits. The ruler of Abu Dhabi, now commonly referred to as the “Father of the Nation,” was so impressed, he signed the print and gave Shukla his pen as a gift.

“That’s when the first connection took place,” Shukla’s son Neel, an art director, told Arab News. “That was the first time he met his highness. From that point on, Sheikh Zayed said: ‘Don’t leave this region. Stay.’”

Determined to remain, Shukla brought his wife and their son to live with him in his adopted country, during its formative years.

“I was with him all the time,” said Neel. “Before taking a picture, he would take my picture to make sure the lighting was accurate and then he would take the shot.”

(Photo by Ramesh Shukla)

Entirely self-taught, Shukla developed a signature style of photography, capturing scenes of everyday life on black-and-white film, highlighting the simplicity of nomadic life in the country prior to unification and the oil boom.

Recurring subjects of his early work included hardworking Bedouin, herds of camels, traditional abra boats on Dubai Creek and Deira’s clock tower, photographed from above. He also documented the early days of Dubai’s first commercial airport and the city’s first museum.

“This was life in the UAE; there was nothing. There was no light and no water in my house,” Shukla said, highlighting the contrast between the limited amenities available then and the advanced infrastructure in the country now. Even the water he needed to develop his photos had to be drawn from a nearby well.

Though his lifestyle was modest, Shukla built a strong rapport with the UAE’s leaders, earning the informal title of “royal photographer.” His prized access to the royal courts meant that his photographs were much sought after, especially by the Indian news media.

Ramesh Shukla with his iconic image of the UAE's founding fathers. (AN photo/Mohamed Fawzy)

Much of Shukla’s collection has been preserved for posterity thanks to his wife, Tarulatta, who carefully archived her husband’s negatives, protecting them from the humidity and dust, at their modest home in Deira, which consisted of a dark room, a kitchen and a bedroom. The archive offers a compelling account of the UAE’s 50-year journey as a nation.

“He kept documenting history,” said Neel. “We are very careful about the collection. We don’t commercialize it — this is history. This is why he is loved more than anything else, because he’s keeping history sacred and close to him.”

(Photo by Ramesh Shukla)

Shukla’s business card features a miniature print of a photograph of which he is especially proud. On Dec. 2, 1971, he attended the historic ceremony during which the rulers of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah and Umm Al-Quwain came together to mark their independence from Britain and the establishment of their own unified country. Ras Al-Khaimah would join the union the following month.

It was here that Shukla captured on film what would become an iconic image of the sheikhs standing under the national flag of their new country. The flagpole stands to this day in Dubai’s Jumeirah district.

“There was great happiness,” said Shukla, recalling the day, half a century ago, he took the photograph under the same flagpole. “With one family, the UAE started.”

Union House, where the agreement that created the UAE was signed, is nearby. Shukla was there, of course, to capture on camera the historic moment when Sheikh Zayed added his signature to the document. His photo of the assembled sheikhs became the “Spirit of the Union” logo, which was widely used on the 45th UAE National Day five years ago.

Many of Shukla’s photos are displayed at stations along the Dubai Metro line. More recently, his image of Sheikh Zayed signing the union agreement has featured in the Expo 2020 Dubai passports.

Ramesh Shukla with his son art director Neel Shukla. (AN photo/Mohamed Fawzy)

In recognition of his remarkable contribution to the UAE’s national story, the photographer was among the first of Dubai’s creative community to receive a coveted Golden Visa, which grants holders long-term residency rights without the need for a national sponsor, and 100 percent ownership of their own businesses.

Shukla has certainly led an eventful life, documenting the history of a nation from its very inception, including its natural and cultural heritage, its most pivotal and proudest moments, and even the lives of its heads of state.

Yet, he does not believe in retirement despite working so hard for so many years.

“After the age of 100, life starts,” he said.


Israel, Turkey should restore ambassadorial links: Foreign policy expert

Israel, Turkey should restore ambassadorial links: Foreign policy expert
Updated 02 December 2021

Israel, Turkey should restore ambassadorial links: Foreign policy expert

Israel, Turkey should restore ambassadorial links: Foreign policy expert

ANKARA: Israel and Turkey should restore ambassadorial links as part of efforts to reduce tensions between the two countries, a leading regional foreign policy expert has told Arab News.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently hinted that an impending detente with Israel could be next on his rapprochement agenda with countries in the region, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
Such a move would reflect a general pattern currently being followed in the Middle East with nations trying to de-escalate tensions and diversify relations.
Dr. Nimrod Goren, president and founder of Mitvim, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, said the restoration of ambassadorial-level ties was now a feasible foreign policy goal for Israel and Turkey.
“The leaders of both countries should not let this opportunity go by unfulfilled and should seek to translate the positive vibe in relations into tangible actions,” he added.
Earlier this month, an Israeli couple, both bus drivers, were detained for a week in Turkey on political and military espionage charges after being arrested for photographing Erdogan’s residence in Istanbul.
Their release and return to Israel and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s public thanks to Erdogan for his personal involvement in resolving the incident were seen as the extension of an olive branch to prevent an escalation of the crisis.
Goren said: “The positive manner in which the incident of the Israeli couple’s detention in Istanbul ended creates a window of opportunity beyond the window that already opened up when the new Israeli government took office and after the recent call between Erdogan and (new Israeli President Isaac) Herzog.
“The efforts to resolve the incident exemplified that both countries can work together to resolve tensions. It increased mutual trust, strengthened existing channels, and led to initial and much-needed direct communication between Erdogan and Bennett.”
In a recent interview with Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, Israel’s Foreign Ministry Director General Alon Ushpiz, said: “There is potential for a relative improvement in Israel Turkey ties, more than there was two weeks ago, and I think we need to examine it exhaustively.”
Dr. Selin Nasi, London representative of the Ankara Policy Center and a respected researcher on Turkish Israeli relations, told Arab News: “Turkey and Israel, as two of the three non-Arab countries in the region, have a lot to gain from cooperation in various areas, be it trade relations, intelligence sharing, energy cooperation, or defense.
“Indeed, the two countries have succeeded in compartmentalizing bilateral relations and bilateral trade has continued to grow in the last decade despite political disputes.”
The foreign trade volume between Turkey and Israel was $6.2 billion last year.
The looming threat of Iran becoming armed with nuclear weapons had also incentivized the need for security cooperation, Nasi said.
On Nov. 18, Erdogan had a rare phone call with his Israeli counterpart Herzog and emphasized that continued dialogue between the two nations would be “mutually beneficial.”
Nasi added: “From Ankara’s perspective, anti-Israeli rhetoric might have served its purpose in the domestic political sphere but is no longer deemed useful in mobilizing the constituency.”
Instead, she pointed out that a positive narrative based on “Turkey gaining back its soft power through a number of reconciliatory steps taken to mend broken ties with countries in the region” may prove more useful in the upcoming elections.
She noted that improved relations between Turkey and Israel would pave the way for Ankara to get involved, either directly or indirectly, in the US-backed strategic partnership network that had been increasingly consolidated in the Eastern Mediterranean over the last decade.
“Ankara wants to gain back some of the ground lost to her regional competitors — Greece and Egypt — and therefore aims to repudiate multilateral treaties and redraw maritime boundaries according to her strategic interests,” Nasi said.
Israel, she added, had always been a significant facilitator for friendly ties between Ankara and Washington.
“Maintaining cordial relations with Israel also enables Turkey to play a more active and constructive role in the Palestinian issue, raising living standards for the Palestinians.
“Because of her unique geopolitical position bordering Syria and Iran, along with her being a NATO member, Turkey will remain as an important actor and an ally for Israel. This explains why Israel has left the door open for dialogue with Ankara, and welcomed reconciliatory steps in this regard, despite having reservations,” Nasi said.
Meanwhile, Israel has urged Turkey to close all offices and ban the activities of Hamas in the country after a Nov. 21 terror attack in Jerusalem carried out by a Hamas member affiliated with Turkey.
Nasi pointed out that any progress on the normalization of Turkish Israeli relations would depend on Ankara’s sincerity and consistency in seeking reconciliation with Israel.
“There is potential for cooperation, but building mutual trust is essential in moving forward. And in terms of building resilient bilateral ties, the two countries need to develop cooperation on the basis of shared interests in a pragmatic manner, preventing the Palestinian issue solely dominating the agenda,” she added.
Goren said: “Senior Israeli ministers still expect Turkey to prove its goodwill and positive intentions, especially by limiting Hamas’ activities in Turkey. But a Turkish decision to send an ambassador to Israel, will most likely be welcomed, and will be reciprocated with a similar Israeli move.”
He noted that such an upgrade of ties would enable both countries to launch a strategic dialogue on regional affairs, improve bilateral economic and civilian cooperation, promote Turkish involvement in the Palestinian issue, and increase Israeli engagement with the Muslim world.
“If done within a context of a Turkish rapprochement with Egypt and the UAE, the potential will even be bigger. It will soften tensions in the region, broaden the space for dialogue and cooperation, and lessen Israeli concerns that advancing ties with Turkey might jeopardize other regional alliances,” he added.