Interview: Yemeni info minister says world must push Houthis to break with Iran, accept peace

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Updated 01 April 2021

Interview: Yemeni info minister says world must push Houthis to break with Iran, accept peace

Interview: Yemeni info minister says world must push Houthis to break with Iran, accept peace
  • In exclusive interview, minister says Yemenis “disappointed” by US decision to delist Houthis from terror list
  • Al-Eryani deplores rights groups’ silence on Houthi crimes, including deadly Sanaa migrant camp fire

RIYADH: Members of the international community with open channels to Yemen’s Houthi militia must use their leverage to encourage it to sever ties with Iran and commit to the Saudi-led peace initiative, a senior Yemeni Cabinet minister has said. 

Moammar Al-Eryani, Yemen’s minister for information, culture and tourism, issued the appeal in an exclusive interview with Arab News, adding he was under no illusions about the role of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG), in particular its extraterritorial Quds Force, in the Houthis’ ongoing military offensive in Marib and its attacks on civilian facilities and commercial shipping. 

“Although we understand that the Houthi militia is merely a dirty tool to carry out the Iranian agenda of targeting Saudi Arabia, spreading chaos and terrorism in the region and threatening commercial ships and international shipping lanes, we call on countries that are communicating with the Houthis to play a constructive role,” Al-Eryani said. 

He added these countries should pressure the militia to “drop Iranian guardianship over its political and military decisions,” to “immediately halt its military escalation in Marib,” and to “immediately and unconditionally respond to the initiative made by our brothers in Saudi Arabia. 

“These countries must put pressure on the Houthis to stop their daily crimes and violations against civilians in their areas of control, which are considered war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he said. 

Tehran installed Quds Force officer Hassan Irloo as its ambassador in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in Oct. 2020, making Iran the only nation to officially recognize and appoint formal representation to the Houthis. Irloo, a Quds Force veteran, has been sanctioned by the US Treasury for his role in the supply of advanced weaponry to the Houthis. 

The militia, which has control of most of Yemen’s north, has been battling forces loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s internationally recognized government with funding and weaponry provided by Iran as part of its proxy campaign across the Middle East. 

The military and financial support given by Iran to the Houthis has been an open secret from long before the militia’s takeover of Sanaa in 2015. The general consensus of security analysts is that Tehran’s malign influence has fanned the flames of war, undermined numerous peace attempts and contributed to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. 

The US State Department listed the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) on Jan. 19 in one of the final acts of the Trump administration in its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran and its proxies in the Middle East. 

However, with the Biden administration reversing the FTO designation on Feb. 15 with the stated objective of easing the humanitarian situation in the country, the Houthis have ratcheted up their assaults on Yemeni government forces, and targeting of Saudi population centers and civilian infrastructure with missiles and drones. 




Newly recruited Houthi fighters take part in a gathering in the capital Sanaa to mobilize more fighters to battlefronts in several Yemeni cities. (AFP file photo)

“The decision of the US administration to delist the Houthis as a terrorist organization has disappointed Yemenis, who saw it as encouraging the militia to carry out more crimes and violations against civilians,” Al-Eryani said. 

“They also saw it as giving the Houthis a free hand to launch a military offensive in Marib province, to increase the frequency of terrorist attacks on civilians and vital installations in Saudi Arabia, and to threaten the security and stability of global energy supplies, as well as international shipping lanes in the Red Sea and Bab Al-Mandab.” 

Al-Eryani said the terror-delisting decision ignored the truth about the Houthis’ association with the IRGC, as well as “their extremist views, hostile slogans and criminal practices against civilians in their areas of control, which are no different from those of other terrorist groups.” 

The Houthis’ disregard for civilian lives was further demonstrated on March 7 when scores of Ethiopian migrants kept in a detention camp in Sanaa were burned alive after teargas canisters and flash bangs fired by guards caused a fire. 

For Al-Eryani, the only thing worse than the atrocity itself was the silence of normally outspoken rights groups and the international community. 

“Unfortunately, the horrific crime for which the Houthi terrorist militia claimed responsibility, killing and injuring dozens of African migrants in a deliberate fire in one of the detention camps, has not received much attention from the international community or international human rights organizations, except for a few timid statements,” Al-Eryani said. 




Moammar Al- Eryani (right) being interviewed by Arab News’ Mohammed Al-Sulami. 

“This shameful and unjustified international silence regarding the crimes and violations of the Houthi militia is not limited to just this incident. Consider the thousands of crimes and violations committed by the militia in cold blood against innocent women, children and the elderly, including the attempt to target the government at Aden International Airport.” 

According to diplomats, an investigation by a UN team of experts has found that the Houthis were responsible for that Dec. 30 attack, which killed at least 22 people and injured dozens more. Missiles landed just as Yemeni government officials arrived at the airport to join members of the Southern Transitional Council in a new cabinet as part of a Saudi-led reconciliation effort. The dead included government officials and three ICRC staff members. 

According to Al-Eryani, since their emergence in the Saada governorate in the early 2000s, the Houthis have perpetrated all sorts of crimes against defenseless civilians, including: “Killings and kidnappings; forced disappearances; psychological and physical torture; assaults on women in secret detention centers; looting of public and private properties; bombing of opposition houses and mosques; child soldier recruitment; compulsory conscription of civilians and refugees; planting of land and sea mines, and attacks on commercial vessels and oil tankers in international sea corridors.” 

Saudi Arabia has led repeated attempts to reach a comprehensive resolution between the Houthis and the Yemeni government. The latest attempt came on March 22, when it announced a wide-ranging initiative that calls for a UN-supervised nationwide ceasefire, the reopening of Sanaa airport, and new talks to end the conflict. 

Al-Eryani believes it is Iran’s influence over the Houthis that has stalled progress on the plan. 

“The Saudi initiative came at an important and crucial time to clearly reveal the role played by Tehran in undermining efforts to bring peace to Yemen, and the role of Irloo as the de-facto ruler in Sanaa. Irloo controls the political and military decisions of the Houthi militia,” Al-Eryani said. 

Negotiations being necessarily a two-way street, Al-Eryani says the Yemeni government has already shown it is willing to make concessions. “During the rounds of consultations with the Houthis under the auspices of the UN, the government made many concessions to stop the bloodshed and end the suffering of Yemenis,” Al-Eryani said. “But the Houthis dealt with these concessions with indifference and exploited them to regroup and compensate for its human losses, and also to amass weapons smuggled from Iran such as ballistic missiles and drones for military re-escalation and in an attempt to impose its coup.” 




The FSO safer is being used by Houthis as a time bomb and a means to blackmail the international community. (File photo)

In addition to the war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the international community has urgent business in the form of the FSO Safer — an abandoned oil tanker moored off Yemen’s western coast. Unless the Houthis allow urgent repairs to take place, the vessel’s payload — 48 million gallons of oil — could spill into the Red Sea, devastating the environment and coastal fishing communities. 

While announcing the Kingdom’s latest peace initiative in Riyadh, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi foreign minister, described the dilapidated ship as a “ticking time bomb” in view of its potentially destructive ecological impact. 

“The Saudi foreign minister’s description is very accurate,” said Al-Eryani. “The Houthis are using the FSO Safer as a time bomb and a means to blackmail and pressure the international community for political and material gains. Unfortunately, the Houthis are not interested in the looming environmental, economic and humanitarian disaster.” 

Expressing the Yemeni government’s concerns on the FSO Safer issue, Al-Eryani said: “We call on the international community, primarily the member states of the UN Security Council to put pressure on the Houthis to immediately and unconditionally implement the agreements with the UN, and to allow the technical team to assess the status of the Safer and avoid a disaster that will have serious consequences for all Red Sea countries and will affect the region and the world.” 

_______

Twitter: @md_sulami


Over 120 wounded in east Jerusalem clashes

Over 120 wounded in east Jerusalem clashes
Updated 16 min 18 sec ago

Over 120 wounded in east Jerusalem clashes

Over 120 wounded in east Jerusalem clashes
  • The violence flared outside one of the entrances to the walled Old City, after police had barred access to some areas where Palestinians usually gather
  • Tensions were fueled by the arrival of far-right Jews at the end of a march during which they harassed Palestinians and chanted “death to Arabs”

JERUSALEM: Over 100 Palestinians and 20 Israeli police were wounded in overnight clashes in annexed east Jerusalem, authorities said Friday, as tensions mount over a ban on gatherings and videos of attacks on youths.
The violence flared outside one of the entrances to the walled Old City, after police had barred access to some areas where Palestinians usually gather in large numbers during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Tensions were fueled by the arrival of far-right Jews at the end of a march during which they harassed Palestinians and chanted “death to Arabs.”
There have been nightly disturbances in the area since the start of Ramadan on April 13, with Palestinians outraged over police blocking access to the promenade around the walls, a popular gathering place after the end of the daytime Ramadan fast.
Police said that after night prayers at Al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City “hundreds of rioters began disrupting the order violently, including throwing stones and objects at forces.”
Stun grenades were fired and water cannon deployed to disperse the “rioters” and force them toward less central areas of east Jerusalem, police said.
Police said officers attempted to “distinguish between them and those who finished prayers” and were not involved in the events.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said on Friday it had treated at least 105 people, with about 20 of them hospitalized.
Israeli police said 20 officers were injured, three of whom were taken to hospital.
“It was like a war zone; it was dangerous,” a Palestinian who was near the clashes outside the Old City told AFP. “That’s why I left the place.”
Tensions have been high in Jerusalem after a series of videos posted online in recent days showing young Arabs attacking ultra-Orthodox Jews and Jewish extremists taking to the street to bully Arabs in nightly confrontations.
On Thursday night, the Israeli extreme right group Lehava organized a march ending opposite the Old City attended by hundreds to protest the anti-Jewish violence.
Police erected barriers to keep them from entering the mainly Arab location.
The Palestinian presidency meanwhile condemned “the growing incitement by extremist far-right Israeli settler groups advocating for the killing of Arabs, which in recent days manifested in a wave of attacks against Palestinian civilians in the Old City.”
A statement late Thursday on the official Palestinian news agency Wafa urged the international community to protect Palestinians from the “settler” attacks, which it alleged were encouraged by the Israeli government.
Videos on social media also showed Palestinians attacking ultra-Orthodox Jews in the early hours of Friday, with reports of Israeli vehicles being stoned in and near east Jerusalem.
Police reported “a number of incidents overnight in which civilians were attacked, some of whom needed medical treatment.”
Jerusalem mayor Moshe Lion said he tried to cancel the Lehava march, but police told him it was legal, noting that “dozens” of Jews who attacked Arabs had been arrested in the past two weeks.
Speaking with public broadcaster Kan, Lion said he was in talks with leaders of the Palestinian east Jerusalem neighborhoods “to end this pointless violence.”
More than 50 people detained overnight were taken for a remand hearing on Friday morning, a statement from police said.


Houthis abduct three civilians from Yemeni village

Houthis abduct three civilians from Yemeni village
Updated 23 April 2021

Houthis abduct three civilians from Yemeni village

Houthis abduct three civilians from Yemeni village

ADEN: Houthi "terrorists" have abducted three civilians from the Yemeni village of "Beit Al-Jabr" in the governorate of Dhamar, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Friday.

The Houthis took their victims to a detention center in Jabal Al-Sharq district, in the same governorate controlled by the Iran-backed group, the report said.

The raiders claimed they were taking the victims under the pretext of setting up a funeral council, but the official Yemeni News Agency (Saba) quoted a local source as saying there was no such plan to establish a funeral council, SPA said.

According to the Saba source, the storming of the village was consistent with the "systematic policy of harassment" that the Houthi militia follows in dealing with the population in all areas under their control, SPA added.

Houthis earlier abducted Yemeni model and actress Entesar Al-Hammadi and two of her friends on Feb. 20 as they were traveling to shoot a TV drama series.

On Thursday, the captors reportedly placed Al-Hammadi in solitary confinement as punishment for her protest against her initial incarceration and prison conditions.


Credible Palestinian elections crucial for peace and unity, says UN

Credible Palestinian elections crucial for peace and unity, says UN
Updated 23 April 2021

Credible Palestinian elections crucial for peace and unity, says UN

Credible Palestinian elections crucial for peace and unity, says UN
  • Envoy Tor Wennesland said the road will not be easy, and called on all sides to protect voting rights
  • Central Elections Commission praised for “professionalism and integrity” and its efforts to ensure safe voting during pandemic.

NEW YORK: The successful staging of credible Palestinian elections on May 22 is a crucial step toward unity and guaranteeing the legitimacy of national institutions, the UN Security Council heard on Thursday.
Tor Wennesland, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told council members that the elections, along with Israeli efforts to form a coalition government, will have a “significant implication for the prospects for advancing peace in the months ahead,” and called on the international community to provide support.
“Expectations for the holding of elections in Palestine are high and come after a long wait of almost 15 years … a growing number of young people are expected to participate in shaping their political future, and have the opportunity to vote for the first time,” Wennesland said.
“These elections should also pave the way to uniting Gaza and the West Bank under a single, legitimate national authority, which would be an important step toward reconciliation and could advance Middle East peace.”
He praised the Palestinian Central Elections Commission for its “professionalism and integrity, enhancing trust in the electoral process,” singling out in particular the committee’s efforts to create a safe voting environment during the pandemic.
He also underscored the importance of the role of election observers in ensuring that the results of “credible and transparent” elections are respected.
“All sides must work toward protecting the right of Palestinians across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza, to participate in credible and inclusive Palestinian elections, as well as to stand for election free from intimidation,” said Wennesland.
He urged all those involved in the process “to refrain from any arrest, detention or interrogation based on freedom of opinion, expression or association.”
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose “a formidable threat” throughout the occupied Palestinian territories, further exacerbating an already dire social and economic situation, Wennesland said as he called for vaccination efforts to be stepped up and for more vaccine doses to be made available.
The Biden administration this month announced its plans for resuming US funding for the UN Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), which was halted in August 2018 by President Donald Trump. Wennesland welcomed the move by Washington and called on all UN members to recommit to supporting the agency, whose “services are not only a lifeline for millions of Palestine refugees but are also critical for stability throughout the region.”
The envoy repeated his call for Israel to halt the demolition and seizure of Palestinian properties and to allow the Palestinian people “to develop their communities.”
Denouncing the “daily violence” that has resulted in more arrests, injuries and deaths, Wennesland called on all sides “to de-escalate tensions and maintain calm.”
He added: “I underscore that all perpetrators of violence must be held accountable and swiftly brought to justice. I reiterate that Israeli security forces must exercise maximum restraint and may use lethal force only when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.
“Particular care should be taken to protect children from any form of violence. In addition, the indiscriminate launching of rockets toward Israeli population centers violates international law and must stop immediately.”


Iraqi military: 3 rockets strike close to Baghdad airport

Iraqi military: 3 rockets strike close to Baghdad airport
Updated 23 April 2021

Iraqi military: 3 rockets strike close to Baghdad airport

Iraqi military: 3 rockets strike close to Baghdad airport

BAGHDAD: At least three rockets hit near Baghdad international airport late Thursday, the Iraqi military said.
A total of eight missiles were fired and three landed near the airport complex, the statement said. It did not detail whether the attack caused casualties.
The rockets struck areas known to contain Iraqi security forces. One hit close to a central prison, the second near an academy of the elite Counter-Terrorism Service, and a third near the headquarters of the Rapid Response regiment.
No one claimed responsibility for the attacks. US officials have previously blamed Iran-backed militia groups.
It is the latest in a string of rocket attacks that have primarily targeted American installations in Iraq in recent weeks. On Sunday, multiple rockets hit an Iraqi air base just north of Baghdad, wounding two Iraqi security personnel.
Last month, a base in western Iraq housing US-led coalition troops and contractors was hit by 10 rockets. One contractor was killed.
Calls from mainly Shiite leaders have grown to oust US troops from Iraq after a US-directed drone strike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and an Iraqi militia leader in Baghdad in January 2020.
Strategic talks between the US and Iraq have focused on the future of US troop presence in the country.


Syrian missile exploding in Israel not intentional: US general

Syrian missile exploding in Israel not intentional: US general
Updated 23 April 2021

Syrian missile exploding in Israel not intentional: US general

Syrian missile exploding in Israel not intentional: US general
  • Israeli media also described the Syrian missile as an “errant” projectile, not a deliberate attack deep inside Israel
  • Dimona, the Negev desert town where Israel’s nuclear reactor is located, is some 300 km south of Damascus

WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM: A senior US general said on Thursday that he believed a Syrian missile exploding in Israel was not intentional, but rather showed a lack of Syrian air defense capability.

“I think it reflects actually incompetence in Syrian air defense ... I do not believe it was an intentional attack,” Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing

Earlier in the day, a Syrian anti-aircraft missile landed in southern Israel, setting off air raid sirens near the country’s top secret nuclear reactor. In response, it attacked the missile launcher and air-defense systems in neighboring Syria.

Israeli media later described the Syrian missile as an “errant” projectile, not a deliberate attack deep inside Israel.

In recent years, Israel has repeatedly launched air strikes at Syria, including at military targets linked to foes Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, both allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Such strikes routinely draw Syrian anti-aircraft fire. Thursday’s exchange was unusual because the Syrian projectile landed deep inside Israel.

A road sign shows the way to Dimona nuclear power plant in Israel's Negev desert. (AFP / Ahmad Gharabali)

Syria’s state news agency SANA said the exchange began with an Israeli air strike on Dumeir, a suburb of the capital of Damascus. Dumeir is believed to house Syrian army installations and batteries as well as bases and weapons depots belonging to Iran-backed militias. SANA said four soldiers were wounded.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitoring group based in Britain that tracks Syria’s civil war, said the Israeli strikes hit an air defense base belonging to the Syrian military and destroyed air defense batteries in the area. It said the Syrian military fired surface-to-air missiles in response.

The Israeli military described the projectile that landed near the nuclear site as a surface-to-air missile, which is usually used for air defense against warplanes or other missiles.

Dimona, the Negev desert town where Israel’s nuclear reactor is located, is some 300 km south of Damascus, a long range for an errantly fired surface-to-air missile.