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

Dozens of armed Daesh militants still hold corner of Syria prison

Dozens of armed Daesh militants still hold corner of Syria prison
Updated 50 min 53 sec ago

Dozens of armed Daesh militants still hold corner of Syria prison

Dozens of armed Daesh militants still hold corner of Syria prison
  • Two sides clashed a day after the SDF announced they had regained full control of the facility
  • The weeklong assault on one of the largest detention facilities in Syria has turned Hassakeh into a conflict zone

BEIRUT: Dozens of armed Daesh militants remained holed up in the last occupied section of a Syrian prison, US-backed Kurdish-led forces said Thursday. The two sides clashed a day after the Syrian Democratic Forces announced they had regained full control of the facility.
Fighting between the armed extremists and SDF troops left at least two Daesh extremists dead Thursday, the SDF said in a statement. It said between 60 and 90 militants were hiding out in the northern section of the prison in the northeastern city of Hassakeh.
The SDF claimed Wednesday it had regained full control of the prison — a week after scores of militants overran the facility. The attackers allowed some to escape, took hostages, including child detainees, and clashed with SDF fighters in violence that killed dozens.
The weeklong assault on one of the largest detention facilities in Syria has turned Hassakeh into a conflict zone. The Kurdish-led administration declared a curfew and sealed off the city, barring movement in and out.
Thousands have been displaced because of the violence that began with a bold attack on the prison last Thursday. There were overnight celebrations in the city, including fireworks, after news that the prison had been recaptured.
It was the biggest military operation by Daesh since the fall of the group’s “caliphate” in 2019 and came as the militants staged a number of deadly attacks in both Syria and Iraq that stoked fears they may be staging a comeback.
The SDF said about 3,000 inmates have surrendered since its operation to retake the prison’s northern wing began three days ago.
The militants had used child detainees as human shields slowing down the effort. There are over 600 child detainees in the facility that houses more than 3,000 inmates. The Kurdish officials have not provided specific numbers of the facility’s population.
Kurdish officials said a large number of children were freed Wednesday but their fate remained unclear. Rights groups and at least one child detainee from inside the prison say many children were killed and injured in the clashes. Rights groups have criticized the SDF for keeping the children in adult facilities or holding them without trials in the first place.
In a statement, SDF said the children had been kept in separate dormitories from the adults, and were detained as an “interim measure” for their safety and the safety of the community until a solution for them is found.
The Kurdish-led SDF appealed to the UN and member states to “search for genuine solutions by repatriating non-Syrian children, rehabilitating them.”
At least 300 foreign child detainees are believed to be held in the Gweiran facility. Thousands more, mostly under the age of 12, are held with their mothers in locked camps in other parts of northeastern Syria on suspicion of being families of Daesh members. Most countries have refused to repatriate them, with only 25 out of 60 countries taking back their children, some without their mothers.
In the week of fighting, dozens of fighters from both sides have been killed, the US-led coalition has carried out nearly a dozen airstrikes and thousands of civilians living nearby have been displaced.
Siamand Ali, a spokesman for SDF, said the militants were hiding in the basement of the northern section.
A coalition official said Thursday that detainees of the prison known as Gweiran or Al-Sinaa are being secured in a “new, hardened facility” nearby where biometrics will be used by the SDF to enroll them. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the coalition continues to advise and assist the SDF in the operation. The militants had also targeted the new facility in their initial assault but failed.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll from the struggle at over 200, including over 150 militants and more than 50 fighters from the Kurdish-led force. At least seven civilians were killed in the fighting, the Observatory said. The SDF said preliminary information put the force’s death toll at 35.
The SDF, backed by US-led coalition Bradley Fighting Vehicles and air support, had been closing in on the prison wing still controlled by the militants for a few days. Fighters from the SDF and other security teams used loudspeakers to call on the militants to surrender.
Kurdish officials said about 200 militants attacked the prison with car bombs and suicide belts while activating sleeper cells hiding in residential areas around the prison. In one video released by Daesh, the militants rammed vehicles against the prison walls. At one point, a car bomb was detonated in a petroleum warehouse near the prison, sparking a fire that lasted a couple of days.

Rights experts, jurists, politicians urge UN to probe 1988 Iran massacre

Rights experts, jurists, politicians urge UN to probe 1988 Iran massacre
Updated 27 January 2022

Rights experts, jurists, politicians urge UN to probe 1988 Iran massacre

Rights experts, jurists, politicians urge UN to probe 1988 Iran massacre
  • Letter: ‘Mass executions, enforced disappearances of thousands of political prisoners constitute ongoing crimes against humanity’
  • Many were sent to their death by current President Ebrahim Raisi

LONDON: Hundreds of international lawyers and human rights scholars have penned an open letter to the UN’s Human Rights Council urging it to open an investigation into Iran’s 1988 massacre of political prisoners.

Dozens of rights groups also joined more than 450 individuals, many of them former world leaders and prosecutors in the International Criminal Court, in signing the letter, which was released to the public on Thursday.

“We urge the UN Human Rights Council to urgently challenge the impunity enjoyed by Iranian officials by mandating an international investigation into the 1988 mass executions and enforced disappearances of thousands of political prisoners which constitute ongoing crimes against humanity,” the letter said.

“We believe it’s long overdue for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to investigate the 1988 massacre.”

The letter was organized by a London-based association of victims’ families called Justice for the Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran.

In the immediate aftermath of the war with Iraq and on orders of then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, Iranian authorities executed thousands of political prisoners accused of betraying the state during the conflict.

By some estimates 30,000 were killed, many of them members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, a revolutionary group that later fell out of favor with the regime.

Many of those prisoners were sent to their death by Iran’s current President Ebrahim Raisi, who served as a deputy prosecutor in Tehran at the time.

The US placed him on a sanctions list in 2019, citing the executions and other alleged rights abuses. He has denied involvement in the executions.

Among the letter’s signatories is Sang-Hyun Song, president of the ICC from 2009 to 2015; Jacques Santer, former prime minister of Luxembourg; Guy Verhofstadt, former prime minister of Belgium; and hundreds of former UN officials and human rights professionals.

Other signatories include former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and 18 Nobel Laureates.

The letter is the latest in a series of calls by rights groups and others urging the UN to take action on the 1988 massacre, which remains controversial internationally as well as in Iran.

Snow carpeting Jerusalem’s holy sites, West Bank adds to refugees’ misery

Snow carpeting Jerusalem’s holy sites, West Bank adds to refugees’ misery
Updated 27 January 2022

Snow carpeting Jerusalem’s holy sites, West Bank adds to refugees’ misery

Snow carpeting Jerusalem’s holy sites, West Bank adds to refugees’ misery
  • Jordanian authorities urge people to stay home, keep off roads as heavy rain swells major dams
  • In Syria, days of heavy snowfall blanketed camps housing displaced people in the country’s northwest

AMMAN: Jerusalem and the eastern Mediterranean were on Thursday left carpeted in snow after a winter storm hit the region.

And in neighboring Jordan, heavy snowfall closed roads in Amman and made driving conditions treacherous throughout much of the country.

Jordan’s Meteorological Department forecast more snow on higher ground with temperatures again expected to fall below freezing.

Jordanians woke up on Thursday to a thick layer of snow covering homes and driveways. On Wednesday night, the region was affected by a depression coming from Greece and Turkey toward the eastern basin of the Mediterranean that coincided with a polar wave that hit Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and some parts of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iraq.

In Syria, days of heavy snowfall blanketed camps housing displaced people in the country’s northwest, forcing families to huddle together under canvas in freezing conditions.

Abu Hussan, who lives with his family in a makeshift camp outside the city of Jisr Al-Shughur, told AFP: “We’ve been trapped in the snow for four days.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that at least 227 displacement sites throughout the northwest had been hit by severe winter weather since Jan. 18.

The agency added that 545 tents had been reported destroyed and 9,125 tents damaged by snowfall, floods, and high winds, along with the belongings of displaced people.

Schools in Jerusalem and northern Israel were closed, leaving children free to play in the snow. Israel’s meteorological service reported that up to 25 centimeters of snow had fallen on Wednesday night. It took until midday for snow ploughs to reopen the main highways leading into Jerusalem from the north, south, and west.

Amman, and northern and southern regions were covered in several inches of snow on Thursday, with authorities urging the public to stay at home and keep off roads amid warnings of more falls over the next 24 hours.

While Jordanian farmers have been complaining of frost devastating their crops with freezing weather conditions prevailing some days before the polar depression, recent rain has increased depleted water levels in Jordan’s major dams.

The Jordanian Water Ministry said on Thursday said that recent deluges had raised overall rainfall volumes for the season to 45 percent of Jordan’s long-term annual average of 8.1 billion cubic meters.

A total of 2.4 million cubic meters of water had poured into Jordan’s 10 major dams by Thursday morning, raising their storage to 98.5 mcm, 29.3 percent of their total capacity of 336.4 mcm, said a ministry statement.

Meanwhile, the Jordanian National Center for Security and Crisis Management warned on Thursday that the Waleh Dam in Madaba governorate, which was empty in November last year, would likely reach full capacity over the next 24 hours. Center officials, who are monitoring the current snow situation, added that the dam was only 2 mcm off hitting its full capacity of 9 mcm.

Jordan recently warned of an expected water deficit of 45 mcm in 2022.

On Nov. 22, the country signed a declaration of intent with Israel and the UAE to explore the feasibility of a joint energy-for-water project.

Defending the deal, Jordan’s Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh warned of “unprecedented” levels of water scarcity, adding that resource-poor Jordan would receive 200 mcm of water a year under the proposed project.

Addressing the lower house on Dec. 15, the PM said that Jordan’s annual water resources were less than 80 cubic meters per person, below the international threshold of 500 cubic meters per person.

Six migrants drown off Tunisia, 30 missing

Six migrants drown off Tunisia, 30 missing
Updated 27 January 2022

Six migrants drown off Tunisia, 30 missing

Six migrants drown off Tunisia, 30 missing
  • Coast guard units rescued a further 34 passengers after the vessel sank off Zarzis near the Libyan border
  • Survivors had said 70 people had been aboard, including Egyptians, Sudanese and a Moroccan

ZARZIS, Tunisia: Six migrants drowned and 30 were missing Thursday off the coast of Tunisia after their boat sank during a bid to reach Europe, authorities and the Red Crescent said.
Coast guard units rescued a further 34 passengers after the vessel sank off Zarzis near the Libyan border, Tunisian defense ministry spokesman Mohamed Zekri told AFP.
Survivors had said 70 people had been aboard, including Egyptians, Sudanese and a Moroccan, when the boat set off from Libya headed for European shores, he added.
A search and rescue operation was underway for the remaining passengers, he said.
The survivors were taken to a port in Ben Guerdane, according to Tunisian Red Crescent official Mongi Slim.
Both Tunisia and Libya have served as launchpads for migrants making desperate bids to reach Europe, especially in the chaos in Libya that followed the toppling of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
The Central Mediterranean route has become the world’s deadliest migration trail, according to humanitarian groups.
Departures surged rapidly in 2021, with almost 55,000 migrants reaching Italy in the first 10 months of the year compared with under 30,000 the previous year, according to Rome.
The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights says that over the first three quarters of last year, the coast guard intercepted 19,500 migrants during crossing attempts.
The United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR says at least 1,300 disappeared or drowned over the same period.

Coalition: Nearly 200 Houthis killed in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz

Coalition: Nearly 200 Houthis killed in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz
Updated 27 January 2022

Coalition: Nearly 200 Houthis killed in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz

Coalition: Nearly 200 Houthis killed in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz
  • The coalition said 29 military vehicles were destroyed during operations over the last 24 hours

RIYADH: More than 190 Houthis were killed in airstrikes on the Yemeni provinces of Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz, the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy said on Thursday.

The coalition said 29 military vehicles were also destroyed during the operations over the last 24 hours.

On Wednesday, dozens of Houthis were killed in Marib province as government troops rolled into a new area in Abedia district for the first time in months, adding to the latest military gains in the province, a local military official told Arab News.