Houthis condemned for military activities at Sanaa airport

Houthis condemned for military activities at Sanaa airport
The tower at Sanaa airport, Sanaa, Yemen, Sept. 8, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 24 November 2021

Houthis condemned for military activities at Sanaa airport

Houthis condemned for military activities at Sanaa airport
  • Loyalist forces remove landmines from recently liberated areas in Hodeidah and Taiz provinces
  • Militia ‘using government offices, civil facilities, houses, mosques and markets for terrorist activities’

AL-MUKALLA: The government of Yemen on Tuesday criticized the Iran-backed Houthis for turning Sanaa airport into a military site for storing and testing weapons.

Yemen’s Information Minister Muammar Al-Eryani said that the Houthis imperil the lives of thousands of Sanaa residents by turning civilian facilities, including Sanaa airport, into military areas for storing and assembling missiles, explosives-rigged drones and ammunition.

He tweeted that Houthi militia had used government offices, civil facilities, airports, ports, houses, mosques and markets for military purposes, in flagrant violation of international laws that criminalize using of civilians as shields and endanger their lives.

The Yemeni minister was reacting to a video released by the Arab coalition on Monday that shows officers in civilian clothes testing an air defense system at Sanaa airport, using a departing UN plane as a target.

He called on the international community and the UN and US envoys to condemn the Houthis’ activities that “endanger the lives of United Nations crews and relief organizations, which amount to war crimes.”

The Houthi official media quoted a rebel official who admitted testing weapons at a military base next to Sanaa airport.

Large explosions rocked the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, early on Tuesday morning after the Arab coalition warplanes struck two military sites controlled by the Houthis.

The coalition said in a statement on Tuesday that the warplanes hit “legitimate” targets, including ballistic missile silos.

The US repeated its demands to the Houthis on Monday to release Yemeni workers abducted from its embassy in Sanaa and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and to stop harassing their families.

“The United States condemns the Houthis’ detention and mistreatment of dozens of Yemeni citizens and their family members simply because they have worked for the United States in Sanaa,” the US Embassy in Yemen said on Twitter.

Early this month, the Houthis stormed the US Embassy in Sanaa, looting property and abducting two dozen local employees.

Meanwhile, fighting between the coalition-backed forces and the Houthis subsided on Tuesday along the country’s western provinces as loyalists secured and removed landmines from recently liberated areas in Hodeidah and Taiz provinces.

The Yemeni forces have pushed the Houthis out of many areas since the beginning of their new offensive on Friday.


New year brings tourism back to Sri Lanka despite omicron fears

New year brings tourism back to Sri Lanka despite omicron fears
Updated 11 min 32 sec ago

New year brings tourism back to Sri Lanka despite omicron fears

New year brings tourism back to Sri Lanka despite omicron fears
  • Close to 30,000 visitors have arrived in Sri Lanka in first 10 days of 2022, mostly from Europe, India
  • Tourism Development Authority dismisses fears that omicron variant could force new lockdown

COLOMBO: In a makeshift kiosk, just off the Kadawatha Interchange in Sri Lanka’s western province, golden-orange king coconuts, bright green and yellow mangoes, and small, round wild oranges are stacked in neat piles. A fruit seller slices open a coconut deftly with a knife and hands it to a customer, before turning to serve the next.

Around him, waiting patiently, are a mix of people. Vehicles have pulled up to the side of the road, with drivers waiting for refreshing drinks before resuming their journeys.

Sri Lanka, once deserted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is bustling again.

And across the island is a most welcome sight: Foreign tourists, who contribute significantly to the country’s economy. A tourism hotspot offering surf, sun, sand, cool hinterlands, and UNESCO-protected sites of cultural and architectural significance, Sri Lanka relies heavily on visitors, who before the pandemic accounted for about $5 billion of foreign exchange earnings, or almost 5 percent of gross domestic product.

Successive COVID-19 lockdowns since March 2020 resulted in the tourism sector grinding to a complete halt, depriving thousands of people of their livelihoods. Crushed by an economic crisis due to dwindling foreign reserves and mounting foreign debt, Sri Lanka is desperate to revive the tourism industry, with a target of making 2022 the “Visit Sri Lanka Year” and generating $10 billion from the sector by 2025.

January has proven that Sri Lanka may be on course to meet the target. Close to 30,000 people have arrived in the country in the first 10 days of 2022, mostly from Russia, India, Ukraine, the UK and Germany, despite global fears of over the spread of the new, highly contagious omicron variant.

“In Europe, there is a thought process of relaxing and dealing with the virus,” Kimarli Fernando, chairperson of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, told Arab News.

“EU countries treat COVID-19 like the flu, suggest people get used to living with it, and treat the virus as an endemic disease. So, this will not pose a problem.”

She said that the tourism authority expects to see about 1 million tourists visiting the country this year — half the number of visitors in 2018, which was Sri Lanka’s best year on record in terms of tourism arrivals.

“I am absolutely confident we will reach these numbers,” Fernando said, dismissing fears that the emergence of omicron could force the island nation back into lockdown. “We don’t see a potential for a lockdown at all.”

Almost 63 percent of Sri Lanka’s 22 million people have already been fully vaccinated, with tourism workers receiving jabs on priority basis to facilitate the swift reopening of the travel industry and revival of the economy.

Fernando added that besides vaccinations, tourism staff have also been properly trained to deal with the outbreak. “We’ve actually physically audited every single hotel. The staff are all trained,” she said.

“Tour guides, drivers — they are all trained. In public, everyone is wearing their masks. Everyone is diligent, in terms of sanitizing and adhering to health precautions,” she added. “We’ve never relaxed those rules, so we do not see an issue arising.”

But omicron is not the only factor that could pose a challenge to local hospitality businesses.  

To shore up its currency reserves, the government last year imposed a broad import ban to shore up foreign reserves, triggering shortages of fuel and price hikes for food and other essential goods.

Harpo Gooneratne, president of the Colombo City Restaurant Collective, told Arab News that he believed the industry, which has already withstood many challenges, will “manage.”  

He added: “We will have to look at this as a temporary setback that will last a few months, and in the meanwhile manage by keeping costs down, managing inventories and pushing an aggressive marketing plan that will look at new markets.”


Texas Muslims express support for hostages in synagogue assault

Texas Muslims express support for hostages in synagogue assault
Updated 14 min 10 sec ago

Texas Muslims express support for hostages in synagogue assault

Texas Muslims express support for hostages in synagogue assault
  • Imams at nearby mosques condemned the violence and prayed for the safety of the synagogue's congregation
  • The FBI on Sunday identified the gunman killed as 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram

CHICAGO: Leaders of the Muslim community in Texas and activists around the US expressed support for members of a synagogue in Colleyville which came under attack on Saturday, sparking a 10-hour hostage crisis.

A SWAT team breached the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue at around 9:30 p.m. in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, freeing all the hostages.

No members of the synagogue’s congregation were injured, but the gunman was killed, police said without releasing details. The rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker, was reported to be among the four held hostage.

The FBI on Sunday identified the gunman who was killed as 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram.

Imams at nearby mosques quickly responded with statements of support and prayers for the safety of the synagogue's congregation and condemnations of the violence.

“We are shocked and horrified at what is transpiring in the Colleyville synagogue,” said Imam Jawaid Alam, from the Islamic Center of Southlake, as word spread of the hostage crisis. “They are going through an appalling ordeal and we stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters. Our thoughts and prayers are with them, and we condemn these atrocious actions. We will provide our support and hope that this situation comes to a safe resolution as soon as possible. Ameen.”

The Secretary-General of the US Council of Muslim Organizations Oussama Jammal said that Muslims across the US stand in solidarity with “the Colleyville and broader American Jewish community,” and are “relieved” at their safe release.

“This heinous attack on a synagogue, a sacred and inviolable place of worship – and its congregants in the act of prayer – is utterly unacceptable. Whoever the attacker is and whatever his claimed motivations, there can be no excuse for this horrific crime. We praise God for their return to their loved ones,” Jammal said.

Police issued updates on Twitter as the hostage situation continued throughout Saturday evening and Sunday morning. Colleyville Police Spokesperson Sgt. Dara Nelson said a 911 call came in just before 11 a.m.

“Officers arrived on scene and observed an emergency situation that warranted evacuation of the surrounding areas and an external perimeter was established,” Nelson said. “The Colleyville Police Department is on scene along with the FBI's Dallas Field Office, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the North Tarrant Regional SWAT Team and other neighboring agencies.”

Nelson said a gunman was holding several hostages inside the synagogue and reported that at 5 p.m. the suspect released one male hostage uninjured. FBI crisis negotiators were in communication with the suspect, Nelson added.

The SWAT team entered the synagogue and freed all of the hostages and the suspect was killed.

US President Joe Biden issued a statement immediately after the hostages were released late Saturday night.

“Thanks to the courageous work of state, local and federal law enforcement, four Americans who were held hostage at a Texas synagogue will soon be home with their families. I am grateful to the tireless work of law enforcement at all levels who acted cooperatively and fearlessly to rescue the hostages. We are sending love and strength to the members of Congregation Beth Israel, Colleyville, and the Jewish community,” he said.

“There is more we will learn in the days ahead about the motivations of the hostage taker. But let me be clear to anyone who intends to spread hate—we will stand against antisemitism and against the rise of extremism in this country. That is who we are, and tonight, the men and women of law enforcement made us all proud.”

On Sunday, Biden said that the hostage taker had got his weapons off the street.

The hostage incident in Colleyville, Texas, “was an act of terror; it was an act of terror,” said Biden, who was in Philadelphia with first lady Jill Biden.

Pro-Palestinian activists also issued statements against the violence, including Jewish Voices for Peace. It said: “We are grateful to G-d that Rabbi Cytron-Walker and the congregants at Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas are free and safe. We send love to our fellow Jews everywhere who are breathing slightly easier, and recommit to the fight against antisemitism and Islamophobia.”

Britain's foreign office confirmed the death of a British man in Texas, when asked to respond to a Sky News report that the gunman was a British national. The foreign office did not explicitly say the dead Briton was the gunman.

British foreign minister Liz Truss on Sunday condemned the actions of the gunman, calling it an act of terrorism and anti-Semitism.

“My thoughts are with the Jewish community and all those affected by the appalling act in Texas. We condemn this act of terrorism and anti-Semitism,” she wrote on Twitter.

“We stand with US in defending the rights and freedoms of our citizens against those who spread hate.”

The attack came as the US prepared to commemorate racial and religious tolerance on Monday, what would have been the 93rd birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis by James Earl Ray, a white segregationist and escaped felon.


Benitez sacked as Everton manager

Benitez sacked as Everton manager
Updated 53 min 7 sec ago

Benitez sacked as Everton manager

Benitez sacked as Everton manager
  • Benitez was an unpopular appointment in June last year after his long spell with Everton’s Merseyside rivals Liverpool
  • Former Everton forward Wayne Rooney, currently impressing as manager of second tier Derby, is the bookmakers’ favorite to replace Benitez

LONDON: Rafael Benitez was sacked as Everton manager on Sunday after just 200 days in charge of the struggling Premier League club.
Benitez was an unpopular appointment in June last year after his long spell with Everton’s Merseyside rivals Liverpool.
The Spaniard paid the price for a dismal run of nine defeats in Everton’s last 13 league matches, culminating in a 2-1 loss at lowly Norwich on Saturday.
“Everton Football Club can confirm the departure of Rafael Benitez as first-team manager,” a club statement said.
“Benitez, who joined Everton in June 2021, has left the club with immediate effect.
“An update on a permanent replacement will be made in due course.”
Former Everton forward Wayne Rooney, currently impressing as manager of second tier Derby, is the bookmakers’ favorite to replace Benitez.
Rooney is a boyhood Everton fan who had two spells at the club as a player either side of his successful time at Manchester United.
He has kept Derby competitive in the Championship despite dealing with a pair of points deductions and the club’s descent in administration.
Rooney’s former Everton team-mate Frank Lampard, sacked by Chelsea last year, is another contender for the job.
Brighton boss Graham Potter and Paulo Fonseca, whose last job was with Roma, could also be in the running.
Under Benitez, Everton earned just 19 points in 19 league matches, their lowest tally at the halfway stage of a season since 2005-06.
Everton fans had made clear their desire for Benitez to be axed during the limp loss at Norwich.
They chanted for his dismissal and held up a banner reading ‘Benitez get out of our club’, while one supporter invaded the pitch in an attempt to confront the former Real Madrid boss.
Everton held an emergency board meeting on Saturday evening to discuss Benitez’s future, with the talks leading to his departure on Sunday.
Benitez’s controversial appointment to replace Carlo Ancelotti after the Italian’s move to Real Madrid was a major gamble by Everton owner Farhad Moshiri.
Benitez had infuriated Everton fans by describing them as a “small” club during his time at Liverpool, who he led to a Champions League final triumph against AC Milan in 2005.
Merseyside police investigated a threatening banner near Benitez’s house which read: ‘We know where you live, don’t sign’ before his appointment.
Last month, Moshiri stood by Benitez, claiming the 61-year-old would be given time to get things right with new signings and injured players coming back.
But Everton’s results have shown no signs of improving and, with the mood among the fans increasingly toxic, it was clear Benitez would have to go.
Across Stanley Park, Liverpool fans celebrated their rivals’ latest woes by chanting Benitez’s name when news of his sacking reached Anfield during Liverpool’s match against Brentford.
Benitez leaves Goodison Park with Everton languishing in 16th place, just six points above the relegation zone.


US and France discuss ways to promote Libya’s democratic process

US and France discuss ways to promote Libya’s democratic process
Updated 53 min 8 sec ago

US and France discuss ways to promote Libya’s democratic process

US and France discuss ways to promote Libya’s democratic process
  • Egyptian and Algerian foreign ministers met to discuss Libya, Sudan, Mali, and the Sahel and Sahara regions
  • Arab League chief and UN envoy to Libya also held talks

LONDON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held talks with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian to discuss efforts to promote the democratic process in Libya, the State Department said on Sunday.
Efforts to lead Libya into elections at the end of December were thrown into disarray when the country’s electoral commission said a vote could not take place, citing what it called inadequacies in the electoral legislation and the judicial appeals process.
Blinken also spoke about the recent informal EU foreign ministers’ meeting, that was held in the western French city of Brest on Friday as part of the French presidency of the Council of the EU. 
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had reiterated following the meeting on Friday his view that talks to revive a 2015 Iran nuclear deal are progressing “much too slowly to be able to reach a result.”
“We now have to conclude and come to a decision: Either the Iranians want to complete this, in which case we have the impression that there will be flexibility in the Americans’ stance.
“Or they don’t want to complete this, and in that case we will be faced with a major proliferation crisis,” Le Drian said.
“There will be nothing more to negotiate if nothing happens,” he warned.
Negotiations to salvage the nuclear deal resumed in late November after they were suspended in June as Iran elected a new, ultraconservative government.
“Secretary Blinken reiterated the United States’ firm commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of continued Russian aggression and discussed US resolve to respond swiftly and strongly to any further Russian invasion into Ukraine,” the State Department also said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met with his Algerian counterpart Ramdane Lamamra in Cairo to discuss developments in Libya, Sudan, Mali, and the Sahel and Sahara regions.
The two ministers stressed the need to intensify coordination within the framework of joint African action in a way that enhances efforts to achieve peace and security on the African continent, especially in light of the various security challenges imposed by the successive developments in the region, the Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman said on Facebook.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Algerian counterpart Ramdane Lamamra meet in Cairo. (Twitter/@MfaEgypt)

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit stressed the importance of encouraging the Libyan institutions to assume their responsibilities toward the Libyan people during this important and critical stage that would lead to the desired electoral process.
He was speaking during a meeting with Stephanie Williams, the UN secretary-general’s special adviser on Libya, in the Egyptian capital, the Arab League’s General Secretariat said in a statement.
The two parties agreed on the importance of holding elections that will reflect the will of the Libyan people, while continuing the security, military and economic agenda.
(With AFP and Reuters)


Saudi Arabia in ‘critical phase’ of tackling COVID-19, says ministry spokesman

Saudi Arabia in ‘critical phase’ of tackling COVID-19, says ministry spokesman
Updated 16 January 2022

Saudi Arabia in ‘critical phase’ of tackling COVID-19, says ministry spokesman

Saudi Arabia in ‘critical phase’ of tackling COVID-19, says ministry spokesman
  • Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly stressed the importance of receiving the necessary vaccine doses and booster shots

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 are rapidly increasing due to the omicron variant, with cases having more than doubled since the beginning of the year.
In a press conference on Sunday, Saudi Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly said the country was currently going through a critical phase in tackling the spread of COVID-19.
He stressed the importance of people receiving the necessary vaccine doses and booster shots. 
He also urged people to follow preventative measures such as wearing face masks, washing their hands, and maintaining social distance during the critical phase, with the ministry saying: “Our immunization is our life.”
Saudi Arabia confirmed 5,477 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday and one new death.
Al-Abd Al-Aly said although Saudi Arabia was witnessing a jump in confirmed infections, the number of critical cases was lower compared to the previous year’s and that this was a result of the vaccine’s effectiveness and national efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Testing hubs and treatment centers set up throughout the country have helped millions of people since the pandemic outbreak.
Taakad centers provide COVID-19 testing for those who show no or mild symptoms or believe they have come into contact with an infected individual. 
Tetamman clinics offer treatment and advice to those with virus symptoms such as fever and breathing difficulties.
The ministry also announced on Sunday that it had begun administering the COVID-19 vaccine to children aged between five and 11.
Health officials began administering the COVID-19 jab late last year after the Saudi Food and Drug Authority approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for this age group. Priority was given to those considered vulnerable and at high risk from the virus.
The ministry, which has 587 vaccine centers throughout the Kingdom, urged people who had not yet received a jab to register to receive one through its Sehhaty app.