Yemeni troops push to liberate Houthi-controlled Hareb

Yemeni troops push to liberate Houthi-controlled Hareb
The gains made by Yemeni government forces south of Marib have alleviated the military pressure on troops outside the strategic city who have been under attack from Houthis since early last year. (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 January 2022

Yemeni troops push to liberate Houthi-controlled Hareb

Yemeni troops push to liberate Houthi-controlled Hareb
  • Town will be ‘seized back soon,’ army spokesperson says
  • 2 people killed while defusing landmines in Hodeidah, clearance program says

AL-MUKALLA: Heavy fighting broke out on Thursday outside the Houthi-held town of Hareb in Yemen’s central province of Marib as government troops sought to seize control of the strategic area, military officials said.

Building on their latest military gains in neighboring Shabwa province, troops from Yemen’s army and the Giants Brigades rolled into Hareb district, south of Marib, on Tuesday, as the Iran-backed Houthis retreated to the district’s center.

Abdu Abdullah Majili, a Yemeni army spokesperson, told Arab News that government troops engaged in heavy fighting with the Houthis on the edges of Hareb town as some pockets of fighters refused to surrender or retreat.

“Hareb will be seized back from the Houthi militia soon,” he said.

Yemeni army commanders and officials said government forces took the initiative in the fighting in Marib after the redeployment of Giants Brigades troops and due to intensive and more precise airstrikes by Arab coalition warplanes.

The coalition said in a statement on Thursday that it killed more than 340 Houthis and destroyed 31 of their vehicles in Marib and Shabwa during 53 airstrikes over the past 24 hours. The strikes also destroyed a military helicopter that bombed government troops in Marib.

Hareb’s fall would be another blow to the Houthis who have suffered heavy setbacks since the beginning of the year when the Giants Brigades mounted an offensive in Shabwa.

The gains made by government forces south of Marib have alleviated the military pressure on troops outside the strategic city who have been under attack from Houthi rebels since early last year.

On Monday, the Houthis’ military spokesperson, Yahya Saree, claimed that their forces pushed back government troop attacks in Shabwa and Marib.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Project for Landmine Clearance (Masam) said on Thursday that two of its Yemeni experts were killed while defusing landmines planted by the Houthis in the Hays district of Hodeidah.

The Saudi-funded program said the head of Team 27, Ali Hadi, and another member of the same team, Sha’afel Abdullah, were killed while “carrying out their humanitarian duty."

Several Yemeni civilians have been killed this year after driving over landmines in liberated areas of Marib and Shabwa. The deaths prompted officials to urge people to avoid using unpaved roads until the mines have been cleared.

Masam believes the Houthis have planted more than 1 million landmines since the start of the war.


Egypt urges Libyan officials to ‘seize the opportunity’ at Cairo meetings

Egypt urges Libyan officials to ‘seize the opportunity’ at Cairo meetings
Updated 1 min 2 sec ago

Egypt urges Libyan officials to ‘seize the opportunity’ at Cairo meetings

Egypt urges Libyan officials to ‘seize the opportunity’ at Cairo meetings
  • Talks can put Libya on path to stability and security, Foreign Ministry says
  • ‘Time is running out fast and the Libyan people are more anxious than ever’: Acting UN envoy to Libya

CAIRO: The Egyptian Foreign Ministry has urged rival Libyan officials meeting in Cairo to “seize the opportunity of their presence together during this round of talks to address issues.”

The ministry said it was aware of the sensitivity and difficulty of the issues but affirmed its confidence in the capabilities and commitment of the participants to support the interests of the Libyan people.

A second round of talks began on Sunday in the presence of all members of the House of Representatives Committee, the “Higher Council of State,” and the acting UN envoy to Libya Stephanie Williams amid high hopes that a solution could be reached to end the political crisis.

The talks began with a speech by the host nation in which it expressed its support for the constitutional process on which the Libyans have pinned their hopes. The ministry said that the eyes of 7 million Libyans were on the talks and it hoped “the outcomes of these meetings rise to the ceiling of the aspirations of the Libyans in approving a constitutional framework.”

It also expressed its confidence that the efforts of the joint committee would put Libya on the path to stability, security and development, stressing that Cairo would continue to sponsor the Libyan constitutional track based on its ties and balanced relations with all parties.

The ministry confirmed that previous meetings, in Cairo in October 2020 and Hurghada in January and February 2021, and the first round of the current talks on April 13-18 had paved the way for the high-level political consultations held over the past two weeks.

It also commended the efforts of Williams, “and the work team of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya in facilitating this meeting, and supporting the task of the meeting with the ideas and tools necessary to complete it to the fullest.”

Williams said at the opening session: “Time is running out fast and the Libyan people are more anxious than ever for stability.

“As you know, the work of this committee began on April 13 and therefore we will finish its work on May 28, meaning within 45 days.

“In everything I do, my message is … After more than a decade of turmoil, the Libyan people are tired of war and endless competition over the Libyan executive and economic resources, and they want to choose their representatives so that their long-awaited dream of stability and prosperity can come true.”

She continued: “A month has passed since our last meeting, and Libya is still at the same critical juncture, for which there is no solution but to move toward comprehensive, fair, transparent and credible national elections to respect the will of the 2.8 million Libyan citizens who have registered to vote.”

The first round of consultations concluded last month without an agreement. The Supreme State is calling for the formulation of a constitutional rule that leads to elections, while Parliament demands the amendment of “controversial” texts between the two councils in the constitution in accordance with the 12th amendment it issued two months ago, provided that it is put to a referendum as a constitution, on the basis of which parliamentary and presidential elections are held.


Briton facing death penalty in Iraq over pottery smuggling pleads with court

Briton facing death penalty in Iraq over pottery smuggling pleads with court
Updated 16 May 2022

Briton facing death penalty in Iraq over pottery smuggling pleads with court

Briton facing death penalty in Iraq over pottery smuggling pleads with court
  • Jim Fitton, 66, took 12 stones and shards of broken pottery from an archaeological site in Eridu, southeastern Iraq
  • Fitton said that his background as a geologist meant that he liked to collect fragments as a hobby, but did not intend to sell them

LONDON: A retired British geologist facing an Iraqi court over allegations that he attempted to smuggle historical items has argued that he did not realize he was committing a crime.

Jim Fitton, 66, took 12 stones and shards of broken pottery from an archaeological site in Eridu, southeastern Iraq.

Fitton, who is facing the death penalty, appeared in the Baghdad court with German national Volker Waldmann.

He told the three-judge panel that he did not act with criminal intent, adding that there were no signs warning him against taking the shards of pottery.

Fitton told the judges that he “suspected” the items had ancient heritage, but that he “didn’t know about Iraqi laws” at the time, and that he was unaware that taking the shards was a criminal offense.

He was confused because “there were fences, no guards or signage.”

Fitton said that his background as a geologist meant that he liked to collect fragments as a hobby, but did not intend to sell them.

The chief judge in the Baghdad court told Fitton that the location and importance of the site meant that the items were clearly protected.

“These places, in name and by definition, are ancient sites. One doesn’t have to say it is forbidden,” Jaber Abdel Jabir said.

Fitton pleaded that some of the shards he had recovered were “no larger than my fingernail,” but the judge responded: “Size doesn’t matter.”

The 66-year-old and Waldmann were arrested as they attempted to fly out of the country at the end of a geological tour in March. Pottery shards and stones were recovered from their luggage.

Waldmann said that the two artifacts found among his belongings were given to him by Fitton.

The court will reconvene on May 22 to determine if the men hoped to profit from the shards. They are facing the death penalty, but some legal experts have said that this is an unlikely result, even if it is the statutory sentence for smuggling artifacts.

Fitton’s lawyers are expected to submit further evidence, including information from government employees who were present at the sites where the shards and stones were recovered.


Iran says awaits US response to nuclear talks ‘solutions’

Iran says awaits US response to nuclear talks ‘solutions’
Iran says awaits US response to nuclear talks ‘solutions’. (File/AFP)
Updated 16 May 2022

Iran says awaits US response to nuclear talks ‘solutions’

Iran says awaits US response to nuclear talks ‘solutions’
  • Negotiations had stalled for about two months

TEHRAN: Iran said on Monday it awaited the US response to “solutions” discussed with the EU envoy for breaking a stalemate in talks aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal.
The European Union’s coordinator for nuclear talks with Iran, Enrique Mora, held two days of discussions with the Islamic republic’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri in Tehran last week, leading the EU to say talks had been unblocked.
The negotiations, aimed at bringing the US back into the deal and Iran to full compliance with it, had stalled for about two months.
“Serious and result-oriented negotiations with special initiatives from Iran were held,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters.
“If the US gives its response to some of the solutions that were proposed, we can be in the position that all sides return to Vienna,” where the talks are held, he added during his weekly press conference.
Iran has been engaged in direct negotiations with France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China to revive the deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The US has participated indirectly.
The 2015 agreement gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program to prevent Tehran from developing an atomic bomb — something it has always denied wanting to do.
But the US unilateral withdrawal from the accord in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump and the reimposition of biting economic sanctions prompted Iran to begin rolling back on its own commitments.
“If the US announces its political decision today, which we have not yet received, we can say that an important step has been taken in the progress of the negotiations,” Khatibzadeh noted.
Among the sticking points is Tehran’s demand to remove the Revolutionary Guards, the ideological arm of Iran’s military, from a US terrorism list.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell on Friday said Mora’s mission to Tehran went “better than expected” and the stalled negotiations “have been reopened.”
Washington, however, has adopted a less optimistic tone. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Friday that “at this point, a deal remains far from certain.”
He added: “It is up to Iran to decide whether it wants to conclude a deal quickly.”
Talks on reviving the agreement began in April last year.


Israel’s top Catholic prelate condemns police funeral attack

Israel’s top Catholic prelate condemns police funeral attack
Updated 16 May 2022

Israel’s top Catholic prelate condemns police funeral attack

Israel’s top Catholic prelate condemns police funeral attack
  • Friday’s incident was a ‘disproportionate use of force’ to the Palestinian flag-waving crowd
  • Israel and the Palestinians are locked in a war of narratives over the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

JERUSALEM: The top Catholic clergyman in the Holy Land on Monday condemned the police beating of mourners carrying the casket of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, accusing the authorities of violating human rights and disrespecting the Catholic Church.
Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa told reporters at St. Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem that Friday’s incident, broadcast around the world, was a “disproportionate use of force” to the Palestinian flag-waving crowd of thousands proceeding from the hospital to a nearby Catholic church in Jerusalem’s Old City. The attack drew worldwide condemnation and added to the shock and outrage of Abu Akleh’s killing as she covered a shootout in the occupied West Bank.
The police attack, Pizzaballa told reporters, “is a severe violation of international norms and regulations, including the fundamental human right of freedom of religion, which must be observed also in a public space.”
There was no immediate Israeli response.
He spoke as Israel and the Palestinians are locked in a war of narratives over the killing of Abu Akleh. The reporter, a Palestinian-American and a 25-year veteran of the satellite channel, was killed Wednesday while covering an Israeli military raid in the Jenin refugee camp. She was a household name across the Arab world, known for documenting the hardship of Palestinian life under Israeli rule.
Palestinian officials and witnesses, including journalists who were with her, say she was killed by army fire. The military, after initially saying Palestinian gunmen might have been responsible, later backtracked and now says it’s not clear who fired the deadly bullet.
After an international uproar over the funeral violence, Israeli police launched an investigation into the conduct of the officers who attacked the mourners, causing the pallbearers to nearly drop her coffin.
Israel has called for a joint investigation with the Palestinians, saying the bullet must be analyzed by ballistics experts to reach firm conclusions. Palestinian officials have refused, saying they don’t trust Israel. Human rights groups says Israel has a poor record of investigating wrongdoing by its security forces.
After earlier saying they would accept an outside partner, the Palestinians said late Sunday that they would handle the investigation alone and deliver results very soon.
“We also refused to have an international investigation because we trust our capabilities as a security institution,” Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh announced. “We will not hand over any of the evidence to anyone because we know that these people are able to falsify the facts.” He stood with Abu Akleh’s brother, Anton, and Al Jazeera’s local bureau chief, Walid Al-Omari.
Amid the wrangling, several research and human rights groups have launched their own investigations.
Bellingcat, a Dutch-based international consortium of researchers, published an analysis of video and audio evidence gathered on social media. The material came from both Palestinian and Israeli military sources, and the analysis looked at such factors as time stamps, the locations of the videos, shadows and a forensic audio analysis of gunshots.
The group found that while gunmen and Israeli soldiers were both in the area, the evidence supported witness accounts that Israeli fire killed Abu Akleh.
“Based on what we were able to review, the IDF (Israeli soldiers) were in the closest position and had the clearest line of sight to Abu Akleh,” said Giancarlo Fiorella, the lead researcher of the analysis.
Fiorella acknowledged that the analysis cannot be 100 percent certain without such evidence as the bullet, weapons used by the army and GPS locations of Israeli forces. But he said the emergence of additional evidence typically bolsters preliminary conclusions and almost never overturns them.


US vice president Kamala Harris heading to UAE to pay respects to late Sheikh Khalifa

US vice president Kamala Harris heading to UAE to pay respects to late Sheikh Khalifa
Updated 16 May 2022

US vice president Kamala Harris heading to UAE to pay respects to late Sheikh Khalifa

US vice president Kamala Harris heading to UAE to pay respects to late Sheikh Khalifa
  • Trip is the highest-level visit by Biden administration officials to oil-rich Abu Dhabi

DUBAI: A high-powered American delegation led by Vice President Kamala Harris flew to the United Arab Emirates on Monday to pay respects to the federation’s late ruler and meet with the newly ascended president.
The trip is the highest-level visit by Biden administration officials to oil-rich Abu Dhabi, intended to be a potent show of support.
The delegation includes Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, CIA Director William Burns and climate envoy John Kerry, among others.
The UAE named the Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan its new president following the death of his half-brother last Friday.
Underscoring Abu Dhabi’s great influence in Western and Arab capitals, an array of presidents and prime ministers descended on the desert sheikhdom over the weekend to honor the late Sheikh Khalifa, praise Sheikh Mohamed and solidify ties. French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were the first European leaders to jet to the UAE capital.
Before heading to Abu Dhabi, Harris said she was traveling on behalf of President Joe Biden to offer condolences on the death of the long-ailing Sheikh Khalifa and to shore up America’s crucial relationship with the UAE.
“The United States takes quite seriously the strength of our relationship and partnership with the UAE,” Harris told reporters. “We are going there then to express our condolences but also as an expression of our commitment to the strength of that relationship.”
Blinken was first to touch down in Abu Dhabi before talks with his Emirati counterpart. It was widely expected officials would address the UAE’s long-simmering frustrations about American security protection in the region as well as tensions that have emerged between the countries over Russia’s war on Ukraine.
UAE is a key Russian trading partner and member of the so-called OPEC+ agreement, of which Russia is an important member.
After taking office, Biden lifted a terrorist designation on Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels that have fired missiles and drones at the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and is trying to revive Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers — an accord that Gulf Arab states fear could embolden Iran and its proxies.
America’s abrupt and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer and its long-term foreign policy goal of pivoting away from the Mideast and toward China has added to Gulf Arab concerns.

Iran’s top diplomat Hossein Amirabdollahian also travelled to the UAE, the highest level visit by an Iranian official to the Gulf country since Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement launched a deadly strike on the UAE in January.
In 2019, the UAE started engaging with Iran following attacks on tankers off Gulf waters and on Saudi energy infrastructure.

– with Reuters