UN demands release of workers abducted by Houthis in Yemen

UN demands release of workers abducted by Houthis in Yemen
The recovery of the riyal has prompted major industrial sectors to announce price slashing of vital products, including fuel, rice, flour and cooking oil. (AFP)
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Updated 30 December 2021

UN demands release of workers abducted by Houthis in Yemen

UN demands release of workers abducted by Houthis in Yemen
  • Basic commodity prices have fallen by about 40% this week in Yemen’s government-controlled areas
  • The Yemeni riyal rebounded against the US dollar for the first time this year

AL-MUKALLA: Two UN bodies working in Yemen have accused the Iran-backed Houthis of abudcting two of their Yemeni workers in Sanaa, demanding their immediate release.

Audrey Azoulay, director general of UNESCO, and Michelle Bachelet, UN high commissioner for human rights, said in a joint statement that the Houthis abducted two workers early in November in Sanaa.

The militia subsequently rejected calls for information about the locations of the workers, they warned.

“OHCHR and UNESCO recall the privileges and immunities accorded to staff of the UN system under international law, which are essential to the proper discharge of their official functions, and call for the staff members’ immediate release without any further delays,” the two UN officials said.

In November, the US strongly condemned a Houthi raid on its embassy in Sanaa and the abduction of local workers, accusing the group of contradicting their promises to work for peace in Yemen.

The US Embassy in Sanaa has been closed since early 2015 when the Houthis tightened their grip on power after toppling the internationally recognized president and later expanding across Yemen.

The central city of Marib has been a key battleground for control of the country.

Yemen’s Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that dozens of Houthis were killed or wounded in heavy fighting with government troops outside the city.

Fighting broke out south and west of Marib as the Houthis mounted fresh attacks on government troops in a bid to seize control of a strategic mountain range with views of the city.

Warplanes from the Arab coalition conducted several air raids in the province, targeting Houthi military vehicles that were carrying fighters and weapons to the battlefields.

On Wednesday, a coalition warplane struck a military base controlled by the Houthis in Bayan district, in the southern province Shabwa.

The airstrikes came hours after two ballistic missiles fired by the Houthis ripped through the government-controlled Ataq airport in Shabwa, damaging infrastructure.

Meanwhile, basic commodity prices have fallen by about 40 percent this week in Yemen’s government-controlled areas as the riyal rebounded against the US dollar for the first time this year.

Boosted by fresh government policies and the reconstruction of the Central Bank administrative board, the Yemeni riyal achieved the biggest gains since early this year, surging to almost 770 against the US dollar this week, compared to 1700 earlier this month.

The riyal traded at 215 to the dollar in January 2015. The recovery of the riyal has prompted major industrial sectors to announce price slashing of vital products, including fuel, rice, flour and cooking oil.

The state oil company announced that the price of fuel is now 650 Yemeni riyals per liter, falling from 1200 several weeks ago.

Transportation prices have subsequently dropped by 50 percent, and food traders announced a decrease in prices for frozen chicken and other products.

The price of a 10 kilogram bag of rice fell from 19,000 riyals two weeks ago to less than 13,000 today, local grocery owners told Arab News.

The recovery of the riyal and subsequent drop in prices of food and fuel have sparked joy among Yemenis.

“The current prices are better than nothing. We demand more drops in prices,” said a government employee from the city of Al-Mukalla, the capital of Hadramout Governorate.

The Yemeni riyal began climbing against the US dollar on Dec. 6, hours after President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi reshuffled the Central Bank board, appointing a new governor and a deputy, and empowering a state-controlled auditing body to monitor and review the bank’s financial activities.

Within hours, the riyal rebounded to 1330.

Yemen Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed said this week that his government had “contained speculative activities by local money traders,” who have long been blamed for fueling the rapid depreciation of the currency.

The prime minister also said that the state oil company would handle imports and sales of fuel to the local market alone, a move aimed at curbing demand for the dollar by local oil traders.

Inspired by international support from regional and international donors to the government, the nationalization of oil activities is among many reforms introduced by the Yemeni government to steady the economy, including boosting revenues, punitive measures against violators of the central bank’s rule and fighting corruption.

“Boosting state revenues will reduce food and fuel prices,” the prime minister told a gathering of businessmen in Aden this week.

The skyrocketing prices of fuel, falling currency and power cuts repeatedly fueled unrest and union strikes across the government-controlled areas.

In September, three people were killed in Aden, Al-Mukalla and other cities when police clashed with people protesting against the plunging currency and crumbling public services.

The fall of the riyal also pushed many state-funded universities to closure as students could not afford transportation prices.

But despite the latest optimism, economists expressed concerns that the recovery of the riyal could be temporary, citing previous rebounds that were followed by rapid devaluation.

In December last year, the Yemeni riyal recovered by 20 percent, boosted by the news about the formation of a new government. But it subsequently tumbled to a historic low of 1,000 against the dollar despite the Central Bank closing dozens of local exchange offices and companies that violated its monetary rules.

Mustafa Nasr, director of the Economic Media Center, said that the new recovery of the riyal “is in response to anticipated financial support from international donors and enthusiasm about the new administration, not due to government measures.”

He added: “If we exclude the decision to limit the distribution of fuel to the state oil company, there are no practical measures that have enhanced the stability of the Yemeni riyal so far.”


Iraqi civil defense launches rescue operation after restaurant collapse in Baghdad

Iraqi civil defense launches rescue operation after restaurant collapse in Baghdad
Updated 11 sec ago

Iraqi civil defense launches rescue operation after restaurant collapse in Baghdad

Iraqi civil defense launches rescue operation after restaurant collapse in Baghdad

DUBAI: A restaurant has collapsed in central Baghdad, state media said Sunday, with some people reportedly still trapped inside. 

Iraqi civil defense did not comment on any casualties.  

But it said initial information indicated that a gas leak at the restaurant led to the blast.  

“Civil Defense teams began a rescue operation into the accident of the collapse of a restaurant in the Jadriya area near the Ministers complex,” read a statement received by the Iraqi News Agency (INA).  

“There are people trapped inside the collapsed building.”


Visit by far-right Israeli lawmaker sparks Jerusalem unrest

Visit by far-right Israeli lawmaker sparks Jerusalem unrest
Updated 36 min 24 sec ago

Visit by far-right Israeli lawmaker sparks Jerusalem unrest

Visit by far-right Israeli lawmaker sparks Jerusalem unrest
  • The unrest erupted ahead of a mass ultranationalist Israeli march planned later Sunday
  • Sunday’s unrest took place in a contested hilltop compound revered by Jews and Muslims

JERUSALEM: A far-right Israeli lawmaker, joined by scores of ultranationalist supporters, entered Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site early Sunday, prompting a crowd of Palestinians to begin throwing rocks and fireworks toward nearby Israeli police.
The unrest erupted ahead of a mass ultranationalist Israeli march planned later Sunday through the heart of the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. Some 3,000 Israeli police were deployed throughout the city ahead of the march.
Israel says the march is meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem, including the Old City, in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital. But Palestinians, who claim east Jerusalem as their capital, see the march as a provocation. Last year, the parade helped trigger an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza militants.
Sunday’s unrest took place in a contested hilltop compound revered by Jews and Muslims. The compound is home to the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam. It also the holiest site for Jews, who call it the Temple Mount and revere it as the home of the biblical Temples. The competing claims to the site lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have triggered numerous rounds of violence.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of a small ultranationalist opposition party in party and a follower of the late racist rabbi, Meir Kahane, entered the compound early Sunday along with dozens of supporters.
Palestinians shouted “God is great” as Ben-Gvir, accompanied by Israeli police, shouted “the Jewish people live.” Later, a crowd of Palestinians barricaded inside the mosque threw fireworks and stones toward police, who did not immediately respond.
Sunday’s march comes at a time of heightened tensions. Israeli police have repeatedly confronted stone-throwing Palestinian demonstrators in the disputed compound in recent months, often firing rubber bullets and stun grenades.
At the same time, some 19 Israelis have been killed by Palestinian attackers in Israel and the West Bank in recent weeks, while over 35 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli military operations in the occupied West Bank. Many of those killed were Palestinian militants, but several civilians were also among the dead, including Shireen Abu Akleh, a well-known correspondent for the Al Jazeera satellite channel.
Jerusalem police were widely criticized for beating mourners at Abu Akleh’s funeral two weeks ago.
Under longstanding arrangements known as the “status quo,” Jewish pilgrims are allowed to enter the hilltop compound but they are not allowed to pray. In recent years, however, the number of Jewish visitors has grown significantly, including some who have been spotted quietly praying.
Such scenes have sparked Palestinian fears that Israel is plotting to take over or divide the area. Israel denies such claims, saying it remains committed to the status quo.


Libya’s security threatened by foreign fighters, say UN experts

Libya’s security threatened by foreign fighters, say UN experts
Updated 29 May 2022

Libya’s security threatened by foreign fighters, say UN experts

Libya’s security threatened by foreign fighters, say UN experts
  • Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group singled out for violating international law
  • 7 other armed groups accused of using unlawful detention to settle scores

 

UNITED NATIONS: Libya faces a serious security threat from foreign fighters and private military companies, especially Russia’s Wagner Group which has violated international law, UN experts said in a report obtained by The Associated Press.
The experts also accused seven Libyan armed groups of systematically using unlawful detention to punish perceived opponents, ignoring international and domestic civil rights laws, including laws prohibiting torture.
In particular, “migrants have been extremely vulnerable to human rights abuses and regularly subjected to acts of slavery, rape and torture,” the panel said in the report to the UN Security Council obtained late Friday by the AP.
The oil-rich North African nation plunged into turmoil after a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who was later killed. It then became divided between rival governments — one in the east, backed by military commander Khalifa Haftar, and a UN-supported administration in the capital of Tripoli. Each side is supported by different militias and foreign powers.
In April 2019, Haftar and his forces, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive to try and capture Tripoli. His campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support for the UN-supported government with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.
An October 2020 cease-fire deal led to an agreement on a transitional government in early February 2021 and elections were scheduled for last Dec. 24 aimed at unifying the country. But they were canceled and the country now has rival governments with two Libyans claiming to be prime minister.
The cease-fire agreement called for the speedy withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries but the panel said “there has been little verifiable evidence of any large-scale withdrawals taking place to date.”
The report said Chadian opposition groups operate from Libya and Sudanese fighters have been recruited by Haftar. Turkish-backed Syrian fighters have been seen by the panel in government military camps in Tripoli while Haftar-affiliated Syrian fighters operate alongside the Wagner Group’s fighters in the strategic northern city of Sirte and nearby Jufra. At least 300 of these Syrians have returned home and not been replaced by Haftar, the report said.
The panel said it continues to investigate the deployment of Wagner fighters and the transfers of arms and related materiel to support its operations.
The Wagner Group passes itself off as a private military contractor and the Kremlin denies any connection to it. But the United States identifies Wagner’s financer as Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The panel said it considers a Samsung electronic tablet left on a Libyan battlefield by a Wagner mercenary and obtained by the BBC in early 2021 to be authentic. It contained maps of the locations of 35 unmarked anti-personnel mines in the Ain Zara area of south Tripoli that was then a frontline area under Haftar’s control, supported by Wagner.
Several mines had never been reported as being in Libya before and their transfer therefore violated the UN arms embargo, the panel said. It added that a booby-trapped mine exploded during a mine clearance operation killing two civilian mine clearers.
Experts also received information about the recovery of anti-tank mines from positions primarily occupied by Wagner in south Tripoli.
The panel said the failure to visibly mark the anti-personnel and anti-tank mines and issue warnings of their locations to civilians in the areas was a violation of international humanitarian law by Wagner.
The Wagner tablet also contained a list of requested items including drones and tanks that would violate the arms embargo if delivered, the panel said, but it didn’t know if any of it had.
The panel said it identified 18 arms transfers and four examples of military training between March 2021 and late April 2022 that violated the UN arms embargo. Among the examples it cited was the Luccello, a ship flying the Comoros flag that delivered 100 armored vehicles to Haftar in Benghazi.
The experts said four migrants suffered human rights abuses in secret detention facilities controlled by human traffickers in the areas of Tazirbu in the Libyan desert and Bani Walid near the northwest coast. They said victims were enslaved, severely beaten, deliberately starved and denied medical care.
“Two former female detainees, who were 14- and 15-year-old girls at the time, further testified to the panel that multiple perpetrators repeatedly raped them, subjected them to sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence during the period of over 18 months in a secret detention facility in Bani Walid,” the report said.
The panel said it also found that guards responsible for protecting the most vulnerable migrants in the government-run Shara Al-Zawiya detention center “took a direct part in or turned a blind eye to consistent acts of rape, sexual exploitation and threats of rape against women and girls” detained there between January and June 2021.

 


13 Albanians, others from Kosovo are repatriated from Syria

American forces patrol near the countryside of Rumaylan in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province near the border with Turkey.
American forces patrol near the countryside of Rumaylan in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province near the border with Turkey.
Updated 29 May 2022

13 Albanians, others from Kosovo are repatriated from Syria

American forces patrol near the countryside of Rumaylan in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province near the border with Turkey.
  • Hundreds of people from Albania and Kosovo joined Daesh and other groups fighting in Syria and Iraq in the early 2010s

TIRANA: Albania’s Interior Ministry said on Saturday that four Albanian women and nine children, all related to Albanians who joined extremist groups fighting in Syria and Iraq, have been repatriated from a Syrian camp.
The group, which landed at the Pristina Adem Jashari Airport in neighboring Kosovo, was joined by “other Kosovar citizens leaving the hell camps,” the statement said, without disclosing the number. At least one man’s blurred face was seen in a video distributed by the ministry.
Speaking at the airport, Albanian Interior Minister Bledi Cuci thanked US authorities and Lebanese Gen. Abass Ibrahim, who has played a key role in the repatriation efforts.
Kosovar Interior Minister Xhelal Zvecla did not give details on the Kosovar citizens repatriated but assured that specialized institutions would take care to “rehabilitate” and “de-radicalize” them.

BACKGROUND

Albanian Interior Minister Bledi Cuci thanked US authorities and Lebanese Gen. Abass Ibrahim, who has played a key role in the repatriation efforts.

Cuci said 43 Albanian women and children whose husbands and fathers joined Daesh and most often have been killed in fighting have been brought back in four missions since 2018.
Cuci said Albania had a list of citizens still in the camps and would continue efforts to bring them back.
Kosovo has repatriated at least 121 people since 2019.
“I would like to assure Albanians that we are determined to bring back from those camps any Albanians who remained there, every child and every woman,” said Cuci.
Hundreds of people from Albania and Kosovo joined Daesh and other groups fighting in Syria and Iraq in the early 2010s.
Many were killed, and their widows and children are stuck in Syrian camps.


Turkey shows off drones at Azerbaijan air show

A Bayraktar Akinci unmanned combat aerial vehicle is exhibited at Teknofest aerospace and technology festival in Baku.
A Bayraktar Akinci unmanned combat aerial vehicle is exhibited at Teknofest aerospace and technology festival in Baku.
Updated 29 May 2022

Turkey shows off drones at Azerbaijan air show

A Bayraktar Akinci unmanned combat aerial vehicle is exhibited at Teknofest aerospace and technology festival in Baku.
  • Turkey’s drones first attracted attention in 2019 when they were used during the war in Libya to thwart an advance by rebel commander, General Khalifa Haftar, against the government in Tripoli

BAKU: Looping in the air at lightning speed, Turkish drones like those used against Russian forces in Ukraine draw cheers from the crowd at an air show in Azerbaijan.
Turkey is showcasing its defense technology at the aerospace and technology festival “Teknofest” that started in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku this week.
Turkey’s TB2 drones are manufactured by aerospace company Baykar Defense, where  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly prominent son-in-law Selcuk Bayraktar is chief technology officer.
On Wednesday, Bayraktar flew over Baku aboard an Azerbaijani air force Mikoyan MiG-29 plane. One of his combat drones, the “Akinci,” accompanied the flight.
A video showing Bayraktar in command of the warplane, dressed in a pilot’s uniform decorated with Turkish and Azerbaijani flag patches, went viral on social media.
“This has been a childhood dream for me,” Bayraktar told reporters after the flight.
Turkey’s drones first attracted attention in 2019 when they were used during the war in Libya to thwart an advance by rebel commander, General Khalifa Haftar, against the government in Tripoli.
They were then again put into action the following year when Turkey-backed Azerbaijan in recapturing most of the land it lost to separatist Armenian forces in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Azerbaijani audience members at the aviation festival applauded during a display of TB2 drones, which are now playing a prominent role against invading Russian forces in Ukraine.
A senior official from the Turkish defense industry said his country was facing a wide spectrum of “threats,” including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and Daesh.
The PKK is listed as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.
But with NATO allies — including the US — having imposed embargoes on Turkey, Ankara was forced to take matters into its own hands to build defense equipment, the official said. “The situation is changing now with the war in Ukraine,” the official said.
Turkey has been looking to modernize its air force after it was kicked out of the F-35 fighter jet program because of its purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system.
But Ankara’s role in trying to mediate an end to the Ukraine conflict through direct negotiations may have helped improve its relations with Washington in the past months.
In April, US President Joe Biden’s administration said it now believed that supplying Turkey with F-16 fighter jets would serve Washington’s strategic interests.
Michael Boyle, of Rutgers University-Camden in the US, said Turkish drones such as Bayraktar TB2 drones were “increasingly important to modern conflicts because they have spread so widely.”