Houthi offensive on Marib weakens as rebels suffer attritions, defections

A Yemeni government fighter fires a vehicle-mounted weapon at a frontline position during fighting against Houthi fighters in Marib, Yemen March 9, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 18 May 2021

Houthi offensive on Marib weakens as rebels suffer attritions, defections

A Yemeni government fighter fires a vehicle-mounted weapon at a frontline position during fighting against Houthi fighters in Marib, Yemen March 9, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Yemeni news media say Houthis concede to more than 500 deaths among fighters during the holy month of Ramadan, which started on April 13
  • Houthis move troops from less intense battlefields to Marib to shore up depleted forces after fighters abandon their recruitment campaigns, military source says

AL-MUKALLA: The Iran-backed Houthi military offensive on Yemen’s central city of Marib has tapered off as the rebels have suffered heavy casualties, defections and stiff resistance from Yemen’s army and allied tribesmen, three military sources told Arab News.

Houthis have been mounting a major offensive on the city of Marib since February in a bid to seize control of the government’s last bastion in the northern half of the country, which contains rich oil reserves, gas fields and big electricity stations. 

The offensive has claimed the lives of thousands of combatants on both sides and triggered a huge displacement from contested areas in and around Marib. 

This week, Yemeni military officials say the intensity of the Houthi offensive has largely eased up for the first time since February as the rebels have dispatched fewer fighters and military equipment to the battlefields. 

“The Houthi attacks on Marib have decreased in May compared to April,” Yemeni army spokesperson Maj. Gen. Abdu Abdullah Majili told Arab News on Tuesday.

During the past four months, the Houthis have rejected local and international calls for stopping their deadly assault on Marib amid warnings that their invasion of the strategic city would aggravate the already desperate humanitarian situation in Yemen. The city hosts more than 2 million internally displaced people who have fled fighting or Houthi crackdown in their home cities and villages. 

Yemeni officials believe the Houthis in the Marib province have been weakened by heavy casualties, intensive airstrikes, attritions and local tribes’ reluctance to join the fighting. 

Col. Yahiya Al-Hatemi, director of Yemen's army’s military media, told Arab News that the growing number of deaths among Houthis in Marib has prompted many Yemenis to reject Houthi calls for fighting government troops. 

“The Houthi attacks (in Marib) have decreased. People have refused to join their ranks as a result of the massacres that took place in recent battles in Marib,” Al-Hatemi said. 

Arab coalition warplanes have long been credited for foiling Houthi attempts to advance on the ground by targeting rebels’ reinforcements and military locations, Yemeni military officials say.

The government’s news media said the Houthis have officially admitted to the deaths of more than 500 fighters during the holy month of Ramadan, which started on April 13.

Based on Houthi media reports, Al-Masdr Online, a popular Yemeni news site, said the rebels had arranged funeral processions for 522 fighters. That number includes many high-ranking military leaders who were killed in fighting with government troops or by Arab coalition airstrikes in Marib between April 13 and May 12.

A military source with contacts inside Houthi-controlled territories told Arab News the Houthis have moved troops from less intense battlefields to Marib to shore up their depleted forces after fighters abandoned their recruitment campaigns.

“Many people abandoned their weapons and returned to their houses after the Houthis lied about making victory in Marib. Those who are fighting in Marib came from other battlefields,” said the military source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

At the same time, the Yemeni government and military officials have warned that the Houthis are trying to cash in on the growing resentment in Yemen toward the Israeli military operations in Gaza. They are using that conflict to recruit new fighters and raise funds for their weakened offensive in Marib.

“We warn citizens in the areas controlled by the Houthi militia against falling victim to the Houthi exploitation and misinformation which uses the Palestinian cause and the tragedy of our steadfast Palestinian people in the occupied territories for making political gains with the aim of prolonging the war in Yemen and continuing to kill Yemenis,” Muammar Al-Eryani, Yemen’s minister of information, wrote on Twitter.

The Yemeni government has once again threatened more military operations if the rebels do not halt their offensive on Marib and continue to reject peace initiatives. 

During a meeting with French Ambassador to Yemen Jean-Marie Safa in Riyadh on Monday, the speaker of the Yemeni parliament, Sultan Al-Barkani, warned that the Yemeni government could intensify military options until the Houthis accept UN- and US-brokered peace ideas and cease their attacks on Yemeni civilians.


Early agreement reached in dispute over Suez Canal ship

In this March 30, 2021 file photo, the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, is anchored in Egypt's Great Bitter Lake. (AP/File Photo)
In this March 30, 2021 file photo, the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, is anchored in Egypt's Great Bitter Lake. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 7 sec ago

Early agreement reached in dispute over Suez Canal ship

In this March 30, 2021 file photo, the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, is anchored in Egypt's Great Bitter Lake. (AP/File Photo)
  • The disagreement centers on the compensation amount the Suez Canal Authority is claiming for the salvage of the vessel Ever Given

CAIRO: The owners and insurers of the giant container ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week earlier this year have reached an agreement in principle over their dispute with canal authorities, representatives from both sides said Wednesday.
Stann Marine, the lawyers representing the vessel’s owners and insurers, and the Suez Canal Authority both confirmed the development.
The disagreement centers on the compensation amount the Suez Canal Authority is claiming for the salvage of the vessel Ever Given, which ran aground in March, blocking the crucial waterway for six days. Specialist tugboats and dredgers eventually freed the 400-meter-long (quarter-mile-long) cargo ship carrying some $3.5 billion in cargo.
In an on-air phone call to Egyptian talk show “Al-Hiyat Al-Youm” on Wednesday the head of Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority, Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie, said the parties had agreed on a compensation amount. But he said it would not be made public as they had signed a non-disclosure agreement until the signing of the final contract.
The money would cover the salvage operation, costs of stalled canal traffic, and lost transit fees for the week the Ever Given blocked the canal.
At first, the Suez Canal Authority demanded $916 million in compensation, which was later lowered to $550 million.
Since it was freed, the Panama-flagged, Japanese-owned vessel, which carries cargo between Asia and Europe, has been ordered by authorities to remain in a holding lake mid-canal, along with most of its crew, as its owner and the canal authority try to settle the compensation dispute.
In a statement, the UK Club, one insurer for the ship's owners, the Japanese company Shoei Kisen, said it is working with other insurers and the canal authority to sign a final agreement “as soon as possible."
“Once the formalities have been dealt with, arrangements for the release of the vessel will be made,” the statement said.
The two sides have traded blame for the vessel’s grounding, with bad weather, poor decisions on the part of canal authorities, and human and technical error all being thrown out as possible factors.
On Sunday, the Ismailia Economic Court adjourned a hearing on the case after the Suez Canal’s attorneys said they were looking into a new offer made by the vessel’s owners. Lawyers did not share any details of the offer.
The six-day blockage disrupted global shipping. Hundreds of ships waited in place for the canal to be unblocked, while some ships were forced to take the much longer route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip, requiring additional fuel and other costs.
About 10% of world trade flows through the canal, a pivotal source of foreign currency to Egypt. Some 19,000 vessels passed through the canal last year, according to official figures.


Child labor rises in Jordan as pandemic adds to economic woes

(Photo courtesy of the Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies)
(Photo courtesy of the Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies)
Updated 8 min 38 sec ago

Child labor rises in Jordan as pandemic adds to economic woes

(Photo courtesy of the Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies)
  • In a recent report on the World Day Against Child Labor, annually marked on June 12, Workers’ House, a local NGO specialized in labor rights, expected the number of working children in Jordan aged between 5 and 17 to reach 100,000

AMMAN: Twelve-year-old Mamdouh said he has been on a seven-day street shift selling gum and candy to cover the needs of his family living in a refugee camp on the outskirts of Jordan’s capital, Amman. 

“A small van drops us off here every day at 5 p.m. to sell gum and candies, and the driver comes at 10 p.m. to take us back to Wehdat,” Mamdouh said, accompanied by a 9-year-old girl and 10-year-old boy selling candy in Amman’s Al-Weibdeh neighborhood.    

Insisting that no picture of him be used under fears of labor ministry inspectors, Mamdouh said his 56-year-old father has forced him to quit school and work to help feed their family.

Mamdouh lives in Al-Wehdat refugee camp, the second largest camp for Palestinian refugees in Jordan.

“We are six — two boys and four girls — but my father only allows my older brother and sister to go to school,” Mamdouh said, again insisting that no photo of him or his friends be used in the report.

“You are not an inspector from the labor and social development ministries, are you?” Mamdouh asked before telling his story to Arab News.

Government inspectors were seen looking for child workers and beggars in Al-Weibdeh, one of Amman’s oldest and most famous neighborhoods.

In a recent report on the World Day Against Child Labor, annually marked on June 12, Workers’ House, a local NGO specialized in labor rights, expected the number of working children in Jordan aged between 5 and 17 to reach 100,000 by the end of 2021, signaling an increase of 25 percent from the latest figures recorded in 2016.

The report warned against a “worrying” rise in the number of children who are victims of child labor as a result of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the subsequent economic distress and rise in poverty and unemployment rates in Jordan in 2020.

The unemployment rate in Jordan reached around 24 percent in the third quarter of 2020, up by 4.8 percent compared to the same period in 2019, according to official figures.

The Workers’ House report said that the pandemic has seen around 80,000 people lose their jobs in Jordan in 2020, with authorities forcing businesses to close in a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19. The organization added that more than 500,000 workers have been facing pay cuts since March 2020.

The organization also explained that the poverty rate in Jordan has climbed to 26 percent in 2020, prompting families, “in the absence of a social protection system,” to send their children to the labor market to secure their daily living.

The report called for updated data on the impact of the pandemic on child labor, adding that the latest survey was in 2016, in which the number of working children was placed at 76,000.

Citing the 2016 survey, the NGO said that, of the 76,000 working children aged between 5 and 17, 70,000 were illegally employed, with around 45,000 of them found working in hazardous environments.

The report said that 29 percent, 28 percent and 11 percent of the working children registered in 2016 were working in retail businesses and auto repair shops, agriculture, and construction, respectively. 

Labor Ministry Spokesman Mohammed Zyoud told Arab News that inspection teams have uncovered a total of 191 child labor cases from the 5,560 field visits they conducted during the first four months of this year.

He also said that the ministry’s inspectors had carried out a total of 11,952 and 7,143 field visits to businesses in 2020 and 2019 and discovered a total of 503 and 467 cases of child labor, respectively.

The spokesman also said that the ministry has taken a decision to intensify inspection campaigns and field visits during 2021 to curb child labor, which, he added, has been “increasing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying economic difficulties.”

During a recent seminar at Al-Rai Center for Strategic Studies, Labor Minister Yousef Shamali said that government inspectors working in the specialized unit for child labor carry out inspection campaigns annually on businesses across the kingdom to check on their abidance with the Jordanian labor law, which prohibits the employment of children under 16.

He also explained that the child laborers recovered by the inspectors are referred to the social protection center, where they receive educational and psychological rehabilitation to able to go back to school or vocational training to qualify them to join the labor market when they reach legal age.

Shamali also explained that the ministry set up an online database for child labor in 2018 and is financing the Program on the Elimination of Child Labor, implemented by the Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organization.

The International Labor Organization said that the influx of refugees from Syria to Jordan has exacerbated the situation of child labor, in terms of both magnitude and complexity, adding that it is supporting the government in its implementation of the National Framework to Combat Child Labor, adopted in 2011.


Continuity of aggressive Iranian policies assured with Raisi’s election: Former senior CIA official Norman Roule

Continuity of aggressive Iranian policies assured with Raisi’s election: Former senior CIA official Norman Roule
Updated 31 min 30 sec ago

Continuity of aggressive Iranian policies assured with Raisi’s election: Former senior CIA official Norman Roule

Continuity of aggressive Iranian policies assured with Raisi’s election: Former senior CIA official Norman Roule
  • Norman Roule says use of Iranian missiles and drones are main obstacles to better ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia
  • The Middle East analyst sees stark contrast between changes underway in Iran and those visible just across the Gulf

LONDON: When Ebrahim Raisi was declared winner of Iran’s June 18 presidential election, the world quickly turned its attention to the effect this will have on the Arab region, where the Islamic Republic’s proxy militias and advanced weaponry have long inspired terror and yielded influence over internal affairs.

Raisi has a reputation as an ultraconservative, but Norman Roule, a Middle East expert and former senior official in the CIA, believes that the 60-year-old cleric’s rise to power will change little in terms of the scope and direction of Iranian foreign policy.

“(The) election of Ebrahim Raisi means that Iran is transitioning to a new generation of leadership, which will be hard line and which will continue Iran’s aggressive policies for the region,” he told Arab News in a special interview.

Roule should know: He spent 34 years with the CIA covering the Middle East and is a senior adviser to the Counter Extremism Project and to United Against Nuclear Iran. He predicts the Iranian regime will continue to support its proxies throughout the Arab world as a means to project power abroad.

“Iran’s proxies in the region — the Houthis (in Yemen), Kataib Hezbollah and other Iraqi militias, militias in Syria, and the Lebanese Hezbollah — will receive continued strong support from Tehran,” he said.

On Monday, in his first comments since his landslide victory, Raisi rejected the possibility of any negotiations, as part of renewed talks on the nuclear deal, about Tehran’s ballistic-missile program or its support for regional militias. “It’s non-negotiable,” he said.

Raisi secured nearly 62 percent of the 28.9 million votes cast in the election, which had the lowest turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic. The candidate list had been carefully manipulated by the regime’s powerful Guardian Council to guarantee an acceptable winner.

Even with a strong mandate, however, in reality Iran’s new president has very little control over Tehran’s foreign and military policies, as the activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its extraterritorial Quds Force is under the strict command of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

So when former Islamic jurist Raisi takes the reins from his more moderate predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, he will simply be “more ideologically consistent and supportive of these efforts,” Roule said.

The new president’s true power will lie in ensuring the hard-line ideology of Wilayat Al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Islamic jurist) that was created by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini — father of the 1979 Islamic Revolution — will live on.

“Now that he is in the position of president, it gives him an opportunity to place hard-line actors, former IRGC personnel in particular, in different parts of the Iranian government, so that when the supreme leader passes on, he will be able to assure a smoother transition to a continued hard-line government, which because of his relatively young age could last another 20 to 30 years,” Roule said.

Dubbed the “Butcher of Tehran” by rights activists, Raisi is unrepentant about his bloody past. A protege of Khamenei, he is accused of ordering the execution of tens of thousands of dissidents over the past three decades. Iranian activists also claim that Raisi, as a junior prosecutor in the 1980s, headed “death committees” that buried murdered political prisoners in mass graves in 1988.

His election to the presidency could be an indication of further planned crackdowns on dissent and protest.

“At some point, the Iranian people may decide they’ve just had enough and I think that will be a moment of blood,” Roule said. “The security forces in Iran will push down on that.

“But you just can’t help feeling sympathy for the Iranian people, who have to endure such a system at a time of such extraordinary and positive change so close to their border.”

Across the Gulf, countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE are marching ahead in the fields of technology, entertainment and efforts to tackle the effects of climate change.

“I’ve spent many years following the region and I’m watching right now the most extraordinary and impressive series of political, social, economic and technological changes; Iran is not part of any of these changes,” Roule said.

“The Iranian people enjoy an extraordinary history but they are daily falling further and further behind. Iran is stuck in a time warp. It is stuck in an archaic political system, which is out of sync with where the world is going.”

Although Raisi has said there are no obstacles to Tehran and Riyadh mending their relationship, Roule views the president-elect’s comments with disdain.

“The obstacles to better relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia are in the form of Iranian missiles and drones, which are fired upon innocent men, women and children in Saudi Arabia every day it seems,” he said, referring to attacks launched from Yemen.

“Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states are conducting no aggression against Iran but Iran routinely provides proxies with the money, weapons and training to attack innocent civilians throughout the region. That’s a terrific obstacle.”

Raisi is due to take up his office on Aug. 8 during what is a sensitive time, diplomatically. The US and European powers are trying to revive some version of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, from which the Trump administration withdrew in 2018, arguing it was not robust enough.

While many believe a new and improved deal could defang Iran and help bring calm to the region, Roule firmly disagrees, predicting that any sanctions relief for Tehran in exchange for nuclear restraint will only fuel its other activities.

“There is no reason Iranian hardliners should oppose a nuclear deal,” he said. “A nuclear deal does not constrain regional activities or missile activities. It provides them with steady resources to, indeed, support these activities.

“I don’t believe that Iran is going to lessen its regional threat. I do believe that the nature of the regional political dynamic is changing as the conflict in Syria ends and as Iraq stabilizes. The Iranians are going to look to change their proxies, from fighting militias to political elements, and I think we’re going to see a different type of Iran activity in the region.”

To help achieve this, Roule predicts Iran will increase its support for its Lebanese proxy.

“Hezbollah needs to walk a very careful path in the coming months in Lebanon,” he said. “They wish to retain control, their influence, the influence of their political allies over key ministries, but they want to make sure that they are not seen as bearing any responsibility for the economic and political decision-making and the hardships this has imposed on the innocent Lebanese people.

“Imagine that you have $600-700 million a year being sent to a terrorist organization and militia which holds the Lebanese people hostage. This will increase after a nuclear deal, unfortunately, and the international community has very few options to constrain this.”

Roule also believes the election of Raisi as president will make the possibility of a diplomatic solution to the war in Yemen even more remote, as the Iran-backed Houthi militia is unlikely to accept a package that diminishes its influence.

“I remain generally pessimistic only because the regional actors and the United Nations have worked very hard for years to bring the Houthis to the diplomatic table,” he said.

“They have offered a series of political and financial packages to the Yemeni people, working through the Yemeni government, which is an actor we should never forget, and the Houthis have rejected this.”

________________

Twitter: @Tarek_AliAhmad


Israel army chief says cooperation with US against Iran ‘unprecedented’

Israel army chief says cooperation with US against Iran ‘unprecedented’
Updated 23 June 2021

Israel army chief says cooperation with US against Iran ‘unprecedented’

Israel army chief says cooperation with US against Iran ‘unprecedented’
  • Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi's remarks came the same day as Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building
  • Israel staunchly opposes the deal, which it fears could enable its arch-nemesis to obtain nuclear weapons.

JERUSALEM: Israel’s army chief on Wednesday hailed “unprecedented” cooperation with the US, as he wrapped up a US visit focused on preventing Tehran from obtaining military nuclear capabilities.
Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi’s remarks came the same day as Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building, as talks continue in Vienna between Tehran and world powers aimed at reviving their 2015 nuclear deal.
Israel staunchly opposes the deal, which it fears could enable its arch-nemesis to obtain nuclear weapons.
Kohavi’s visit, which began on Sunday, also came four weeks since Israel and Gaza’s Palestinian Islamist rulers Hamas agreed a cease-fire ending 11 days of heavy fighting.
At the US military’s Central Command in Florida, Kohavi met Centcom commander General Frank McKenzie, where he discussed the Gaza war, the Syrian arena and coordination between the countries.
“The IDF’s operational cooperation with the US military is unprecedented in its scope and has reached new heights,” Kohavi said in a statement, using the acronym for Israel defense forces.
“The mutual and main goal of action for the two armies is thwarting Iranian aggression,” he added.
“Iran seeks to establish and entrench terrorists in many countries (and) continues to pose a regional threat in terms of nuclear proliferation, advanced weapons systems including ballistic missile capabilities, and the financing of terrorist armies,” the Israeli general said.
Kohavi was also meeting with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on “Iran’s regional entrenchment throughout the Middle East and the flaws” of the nuclear deal with Iran, a statement from the military said.
In meetings with Sullivan and CIA head William Burns, Kohavi was “presenting multiple ways to prevent Iran from acquiring military nuclear capabilities,” the army said.
Kohavi was due to return to Israel on Friday.


More blackouts ahead as Lebanon generators starved of fuel

More blackouts ahead as Lebanon generators starved of fuel
Updated 23 June 2021

More blackouts ahead as Lebanon generators starved of fuel

More blackouts ahead as Lebanon generators starved of fuel
  • National network run by Electricité du Liban is prone to blackouts as some areas only gets provided power for 2 hours a day
  • Many Lebanese pay a separate bill for a backup from neighbourhood generators run by private firms

BEIRUT: The owners of private generators that provide a vital backup to Lebanon’s decrepit power grid warned Wednesday of their own cuts due to lack of fuel as the country’s economic crisis deepens.
The national network run by Electricité du Liban is prone to blackouts and in some areas only manages to provide power for two hours a day.
That forces many Lebanese to pay a separate bill for a backup from neighborhood generators run by private firms.
With the Lebanese economy facing its worst crisis in a generation and the currency in freefall, private suppliers have warned they are struggling to secure enough fuel to keep running.
The crisis is so acute that on Wednesday the lights went out in a building belonging to the foreign ministry, forcing employees to stop work, Lebanese media reported.
“Generator owners in several regions started telling customers on Wednesday that they would not be able to provide electricity for lack of mazout,” a widely used petrol derivative, said Abdu Saadeh, head of a syndicate for generator owners.
“We had warned late last week that the stocks would start running dry... and so far we haven’t found a solution.”
Lebanon has been roiled since autumn 2019 by an economic crisis the World Bank says is likely to rank among the world’s worst financial crises since the mid-19th century.
The collapse has sparked outrage at Lebanon’s political class, seen as woefully corrupt and unable to tackle the country’s many difficulties.
Officials have blamed the current fuel shortages on stockpiling by traders and a surge of fuel smuggling into Syria.
Several people have been arrested on suspicion of smuggling in recent weeks, according to the police.
The central bank has set up a mechanism to subsidise fuels by up to 85 percent, but fuel importers have accused it of failing to implement the program.
The head of public Internet provider Ogero has warned that electricity cuts could also threaten Lebanon’s access to the web.