US reiterates concern over Houthi detention of Yemeni staff

Houthi militants walk past the the US embassy’s gate in Sanaa, Yemen. (File/Reuters)
Houthi militants walk past the the US embassy’s gate in Sanaa, Yemen. (File/Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 14 January 2022

US reiterates concern over Houthi detention of Yemeni staff

US reiterates concern over Houthi detention of Yemeni staff
  • No communication from the UN has been possible with the staff members

LONDON: The US reiterated on Thursday its concern over the Iran-backed Houthi militia’s continued obstruction of the peace process in Yemen and harassment American and UN-employed local Yemeni staff.
“If they are serious about peace and upholding international norms, they will release our colleagues immediately,” said Samantha Power, administrator of the US Agency for International Development.
The UN Security Council had condemned in the strongest terms the Houthis’ seizure and intrusion into a compound that was formerly used to house the US embassy in Sanaa, when dozens of local employees were detained.
Power was speaking a day after US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield issued a similar statement saying the Houthi militia is continuing these actions despite condemnation from the Security Council.
“The Houthis must immediately cease threats, release unharmed those detained, vacate the compound, return seized US property, and cease their threats against our employees and their families.” she said during a Security Council briefing on Yemen on Wednesday.

UNESCO and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Dec. 28 said they continued to be deeply concerned for the well-being of two of their staff members who were detained in early November in Sanaa. 
No communication from the UN has been possible with the staff members since that time.
“Although the two staff members remain in custody, the UN has not received information about the grounds or legal basis for their detention, or their current status, despite earlier assurances by the Ansar Allah movement (who are also called Houthis) of their immediate release,” the two UN bodies said in a joint statement.
“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,” they added.


Pink Caravan takes to the road for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Pink Caravan takes to the road for Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Updated 7 sec ago

Pink Caravan takes to the road for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Pink Caravan takes to the road for Breast Cancer Awareness Month
  • Friends of Cancer Patients to offer free screenings across UAE in October
  • Initiative backed by health ministry, private-sector partners

SHARJAH: The Friends of Cancer Patients charity will deliver its Pink Caravan initiative across the UAE in October to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Emirates News Agency reported.

Pink Caravan is a UAE-based scheme that seeks to raise awareness of the importance of screening for breast cancer and provide facilities for its detection and treatment.

Throughout October, mobile clinics will offer people access to free screenings and consultations with experts.

With support from the Ministry of Health and Prevention the initiative will also host a series of public activities on the subject with help from partners MSD, Pfizer, Adnoc, Amit Group and others.

Ashraf Mallak, MSD’s managing director for the GCC, said: “Breast cancer is the most common cancer globally and in the UAE today. With patients being at the heart of our efforts, we are committed to improving long-term disease control and survival for patients.”

He added that the company had developed an immuno-oncology therapy and had 1,300 clinical trials underway studying more than 30 tumor types.

“This year, we are joining forces with FOCP’s Pink Caravan to achieve a greater impact in the UAE. We look forward to a successful awareness campaign and encourage women to avail themselves of the screenings,” Mallak said.

FOCP Chairman Sawsan Jafar said: “Last year, our Pink Caravan initiative delivered thousands of free breast health checkups, including 2,197 clinical breast examinations, 1,019 mammograms and 208 ultrasound tests.

“This testifies to both the generosity and support extended by our sponsors and partners as well as the willingness of members of the UAE community to actively participate in securing their own health and well-being.”

He added: “We are fortunate to have received the support of so many private and public sector entities to promote breast cancer awareness and drive early detection efforts this October. We always need more assistance to be able to make the greatest impact.

“I therefore urge our supporters — sponsors, public and private entities and the people — to ensure the success of our advocacy efforts once again. With a responsible community and committed philanthropists, the UAE will always be a step ahead of breast cancer.”


Egypt warns UK not to ‘backtrack’ on climate commitments ahead of COP27

Egypt warns UK not to ‘backtrack’ on climate commitments ahead of COP27
Updated 39 min 58 sec ago

Egypt warns UK not to ‘backtrack’ on climate commitments ahead of COP27

Egypt warns UK not to ‘backtrack’ on climate commitments ahead of COP27
  •  Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry also stressed the need for more money to tackle the climate crisis

LONDON: COP27 host Egypt has warned the UK against “backtracking” from its commitments to the global fight against climate change.

“The COP president designate is disappointed by these reports,” an Egyptian government spokesperson said. “The Egyptian presidency of the climate conference acknowledges the longstanding and strong commitment of His Majesty to the climate cause, and believes that his presence would have been of great added value to the visibility of climate action at this critical moment,” they added.

“We hope that this doesn’t indicate that the UK is backtracking from the global climate agenda after presiding over COP26.

“His Majesty King Charles was invited as a very special guest to COP27. The invitation was extended to His Royal Highness as Prince of Wales, and renewed to His Majesty as King, and he will be most welcomed in Sharm El-Sheikh if he honors us with his presence.”

An Egyptian government spokesperson’s comments, which appear to be a response to concerns over British prime minister Liz Truss’ stance on net zero targets, also came as reports surfaced of Britain’s King Charles III being told not to attend the conference next month.

During pre-COP27 climate talks in Kinshasa on Monday, Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry also stressed the need for more money, noting an unfulfilled promise — dating back to COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 — to provide developing countries with $100 billion dollars a year to fight climate change.

“The picture is not reassuring,” he said.

Delegates from over 50 countries are attending the two-day informal talks in Kinshasa, including US climate envoy John Kerry. The event finishes on Wednesday with side discussions.

No formal announcements are expected in what is billed as a ground-clearing exercise ahead of the next month's conference, taking place in Sharm El-Sheikh from November 6-18. Egypt, as host of COP27, has made implementing the pledge to curb global heating the priority of the November summit.

Greater support from wealthier countries, historically the world's biggest carbon polluters, to their poorer counterparts is expected to dominate the talks. But post-pandemic economic strains and Russia's invasion of Ukraine have cast a pall over the money question.


Fighting erupts in Yemen as Houthis refuse to renew UN-brokered truce

Fighting erupts in Yemen as Houthis refuse to renew UN-brokered truce
Updated 35 min 10 sec ago

Fighting erupts in Yemen as Houthis refuse to renew UN-brokered truce

Fighting erupts in Yemen as Houthis refuse to renew UN-brokered truce
  • PM Saeed urges international community to abandon its soft policy on Iran-backed militia
  • ‘Appeasement … does not increase the likelihood of peace,’ he says

AL-MUKALLA: Heavy fighting between government troops and Iran-backed Houthis broke out across Yemen at the weekend after the militia refused to renew a UN-brokered truce that expired on Sunday, sources said.

The fiercest battles took place outside the central city of Marib and in Al-Fakher area of Dhale province, where the Houthis barraged government forces with mortar rounds, cannonballs, tanks and drones fitted with explosives, an army official told Arab News.

Just minutes after the truce expired on Sunday night, the Houthis began shelling government soldiers with heavy weapons and drones in the area of Al-Baleq mountain, south of Marib. After that, they advanced on the ground in an effort to take control of the hilly territory that overlooks the city.

At the same time, other Houthi fighters launched attacks on government forces in Al-Kasarah, Raghwan and Mas, west of Marib.

The attacks sparked fierce fighting with loyalists, who were able to push them back.

“They have been preparing for these engagements from the beginning of the truce,” said the official, who asked to remain anonymous, adding that the Houthis incurred significant losses in the clashes and were unable to advance on the battlefield.

Heavy fighting also erupted in Al-Fakher in Dhale, where pro-independence southern troops said they had repelled Houthi attacks on their positions soon after the truce expired.

There were also sporadic exchanges of heavy machine-gun fire between government troops and the Houthis outside the besieged city of Taiz. The fighting erupted after UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg failed to persuade the Houthis to renew the ceasefire.

He said on Sunday that the UN-brokered truce, which went into effect on April 2 and was renewed twice, would not be renewed a third time. He thanked the Yemeni government for “positively” cooperating with his proposals to end the war.

A few hours before the announcement, Grundberg told Rashad Al-Alimi, the president of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, that the Houthis had rejected his latest proposal to extend the truce.

The failure to renew it sparked outrage and criticism, primarily directed at the Houthis, as the truce has significantly reduced violence in Yemen, allowed Sanaa airport to reopen and made it possible for dozens of fuel ships to dock at Hodeidah port.

Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed condemned the Houthis for failing to renew the truce and urged the international community to abandon its soft policy toward the Houthis and take aggressive measures to punish them for sabotaging peace efforts.

“Appeasement policy (from the international community) does not increase the likelihood of peace and instead encourages the Houthis to become more obstinate,” he was quoted as saying by official media, adding that the Houthis interpreted concessions and appeals to them as signs of weakness.

“Whenever an opportunity for peace arises, the Houthi militia, backed by the Iranian regime, chooses to squander it by choosing to go to war,” Saeed said.

International aid organizations working in Yemen also expressed their dismay at the renewed fighting and its impact on civilians and humanitarian efforts in the country.

“We are deeply disappointed that the truce in #Yemen has not been restored,” the Norwegian Refugee Council said on Twitter.

“We call on parties to the conflict to reconsider, refrain from pulling the trigger and extend the arm of diplomacy as they have done for 6 months."

Fabrizio Carboni, the International Committee of the Red Cross’ Near and Middle East director, also appealed for an end to the fighting, saying the truce had allowed Yemenis to live in peace.

“We regret that an agreement was not reached to extend a nationwide ceasefire in #Yemen. Over the past 6 months, the truce had given millions of people respite from fighting,” he tweeted on Monday.


Egyptian Presidential Pardon Committee releases 50 pretrial detainees

Egyptian Presidential Pardon Committee releases 50 pretrial detainees
Updated 51 min 47 sec ago

Egyptian Presidential Pardon Committee releases 50 pretrial detainees

Egyptian Presidential Pardon Committee releases 50 pretrial detainees
  • The legal moves have continued as the government and various political forces in the country prepare for a wide-ranging national conversation on political, economic, and social issues

CAIRO: Egypt’s Presidential Pardon Committee has announced the release of 50 pretrial detainees.
The committee said that it had completed its procedures in coordination with the relevant agencies to release a new batch of detainees who are not involved in violence and do not belong to terrorist groups.
The committee confirmed in a statement the continuation of its work during the coming period in containing and integrating the released persons in accordance with the directives of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, which are implemented in coordination with state agencies and institutions.
The names of the list were announced on Twitter by MP Tarek El-Khouly, a member of the committee, which included 50 detainees who received a presidential pardon.
The committee also confirmed its aspiration for more releases.
Tariq Al-Awadi, a member of the committee, said: “We hope to speed up the pace of consideration of the remaining detainees, close this file permanently, and turn this page completely.”
Al-Awadi continued: “All that concerns me is the release of all those imprisoned in opinion cases, and I am not interested in who or what the reason for their release was.”
Last September, Egypt ordered the release of 39 pretrial detainees.
The legal moves have continued as the government and various political forces in the country prepare for a wide-ranging national conversation on political, economic, and social issues.
The committee was one of the outcomes of the first National Youth Conference in 2016, where Egyptian youth addressed government leaders with presidential engagement.
In April this year, El-Sisi said during his speech at the Egyptian Family Iftar that he would reactivate the work of the Presidential Pardon Committee that was formed as one of the outcomes of the conference.
Since the committee’s formation in 2016, a variety of political parties and organizations, including the National Council for Human Rights and parliament’s Human Rights Committee, have submitted the names of prisoners who are eligible for presidential pardon consideration.


From Yemen to Ukraine, how Iranian drone technology is wreaking havoc

From Yemen to Ukraine, how Iranian drone technology is wreaking havoc
Updated 16 min 58 sec ago

From Yemen to Ukraine, how Iranian drone technology is wreaking havoc

From Yemen to Ukraine, how Iranian drone technology is wreaking havoc
  • Yemen’s Houthis and other militias have used Iranian-made drones to target Saudi civilian facilities 
  • Last month Shahed-136 and Mohajer-6 made their combat debut in Ukraine in the service of Russia 

IRBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan: Armed drones designed and manufactured by Iran have given Tehran’s militia proxies across the Middle East a unique capability to wreak havoc throughout the region.

The Houthi militia in Yemen, for instance, has frequently used explosive-laden drones to target Saudi Arabia. Tehran provided these militants with the means and the know-how to assemble and launch these drones to devastating effect.

In September 2019, Iranian drones and cruise missiles were used to attack oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais in eastern Saudi Arabia, causing significant disruption to global oil markets. 

Iranian drones have also been deployed inside Iraq, demonstrating just how widespread their proliferation has been in this volatile region. Last week, US forces said they had shot down an Iranian Mohajer-6 drone heading for Irbil, capital of Iraq’s semiautonomous northern Kurdistan region.

Now, for the first time, Iran’s home-grown unmanned aerial vehicles are being put to the test in a different war altogether. 

In September, Iran’s drones made their combat debut in Ukraine in the service of the Russian military, where they appear poised to play a significant role in the eight-month-old eastern European conflict. Ukrainian forces shot down Iranian kamikaze drones sold to Russia in an effort to target civilians, which led President Volodymyr Zelensky to dismiss Iranian diplomats from the country.

 

“It is sad that we have to recognize that the Iranian government is lying, as the Russian Federation government is, because we had contact with Iran’s leaders at the topmost level. We talked to the embassy, we had the ambassadors called up to the Ministry of External Affairs, and we were assured that nothing was sold to Russia, it wasn’t their drones, and nothing of the kind,” he recently told Arab News’s Frankly Speaking.

“We have a number of these downed Iranian drones, and these have been sold to Russia to kill our people, and they are — you’re right — they are being used against civilian infrastructure and civilians, peaceful civilians. Because of that, we sent Iranian diplomats away from the country. We have nothing to talk with them about.”

Nicholas Heras, director of strategy and innovation at the New Lines Institute, says there are significant differences in how Russia and the Houthis choose to deploy their fleets of Iranian drones. 

“The Houthis are deploying these loitering munitions in a more strategic manner, generally trying to strike high-value targets inside Yemen but beyond their zone of control or inside Saudi Arabia. Iranian drones serve as the Houthis’ air force on the cheap,” he told Arab News.

“In Ukraine, the Russians are using the Iranian drones in a more tactical sense, using them to strike at Ukrainian artillery or arms depots that are closer to the frontlines. The Russians are basically using these drones like another type of artillery round, whereas the Houthis use them more like intermediate missiles.”

 

According to US officials, Iran is supplying Russia with “hundreds” of armed drones in a bid to turn the tide of the war against the Western-backed Ukrainian armed forces, which have reclaimed vast swathes of the country’s eastern territory in recent weeks. 

In an exclusive interview this week with Frankly Speaking host Katie Jensen, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said: “We have a number of these downed Iranian drones, and these have been sold to Russia to kill our people. 

“They are being used against civilian infrastructure and civilians, peaceful civilians. Because of that, we sent Iranian diplomats away from the country. We have nothing to talk with them about.”

Russia has already used several of its newly acquired Iranian loitering munitions, also referred to as kamikaze or suicide drones, in this war. These particular drones are relatively cheap and can be used in large numbers, enabling them to overwhelm enemy defenses, reach their target and self-destruct.

Russia recently employed, or at least attempted to employ, this technique in Ukraine’s southern Odesa port and the city of Mykolaiv using Iranian Shahed-136 loitering munitions. 

A military parade in Septemberm 2022 in Sanaa, during which drones and missiles that have been hallmarks of the Iran-backed militia's military campaign filed past a grandstand. (AFP/Houthi Media Office)

Iranian-made drones have also targeted Ukrainian artillery positions in the Kharkiv region. Ukraine’s military authorities say they have shot down several such drones, including the larger Mohajer-6 model, in recent days. 

The Shahed-136 and Mohajer-6 are two very different drone types, designed to achieve different objectives. 

“Shahed-136 is a loitering munition with a significant range, while Mohajer-6 is a mid-range ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) and combat drone with a range of around 200 kilometers,” Samuel Bendett, a research analyst with the Center for Naval Analyses, told Arab News. 

“The one Mohajer-6 drone that was recently downed probably fell victim to operator error or Ukrainian EW (electronic warfare) systems.”

Although individually they have different applications, the two drone models have also been known to be used in tandem.

Wreckage of an Iranian Shahed-136, shot down by the Ukrainian armed forces near Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region. (Ministry of Defense of Ukraine/Social Media)

“Russian commentators indicate that Mohajer may have been directing Shahed-136 to target, given that Shahed-136 does not have its own camera and has to rely on GPS for targeting,” said Bendett.

“Mohajer-6 is roughly comparable with the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone in capabilities, which gives the Russians employing it as an ISR and combat system a rough parity with some Ukrainian drone capabilities.”

James Rogers, the DIAS associate professor in war studies within the Center for War Studies at the University of Southern Denmark and non-resident senior fellow within the Cornell Tech Policy Lab at Cornell University, also described the Shahed-136 and Mohajer-6 drones as very different systems, “designed to fulfill important operational gaps for the Russian military.”

“The Shahed-136 can be used in rudimentary swarms of five drones or less and is roughly comparable to a growing family of loitering drones, like the (American) Switchblade 600 or the (Israeli) Harop,” Rogers told Arab News. 

“In contrast, the Mohajer-6 is a weapons platform that can fulfill a surveillance role and also deploy its own missiles and guided bombs. This makes it broadly comparable to the TB2 type of drone, in the fact that it is a longer endurance multi-purpose weapon.”

According to Bendett, some Ukrainian sources estimate the cost of the Shahed-136 is as little as $20,000 per unit, “making it cheap enough to be mass-produced by the Russians.” 

“In fact, some Russian Telegram channels are indicating that such mass production has already commenced at Russian enterprises,” he said. “If used en masse, they can pose a challenge for the Ukrainian air defenses and cause damage.”

n September, Iran’s drones made their combat debut in Ukraine in the service of the Russian military, where they appear poised to play a significant role in the eight-month-old eastern European conflict. (MEHR News Agency)

Nevertheless, Bendett is doubtful Russia’s new Iranian drone capabilities will prove to be a game-changer in the Ukraine conflict.

“They will not be able to reverse Ukrainian gains, since such gains are made by infantry and combined arms operations that hold territory,” he said.

“They can, however, cause a serious headache for the Ukrainians given a possibly high rate of attrition of weapons, systems and personnel due to continued attacks by Shaheds.”

Rogers, meanwhile, believes it is still too soon to determine whether the Shahed-136 and Mohajer-6 “will have a transformative impact” on the Russian war effort.

“A number of the Iranian drones have already been shot down by the Ukrainian military, but there are reports of them being used successfully against the US-supplied High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems that have been indispensable to Ukrainian forces,” he said. 

Indeed, the GPS-guided Shahed-136 has proven remarkably accurate, as demonstrated by the “recent Ukrainian admission that Shaheds have struck artillery batteries as well as stationary targets like buildings in Odesa,” said Bennet. 

However, the drone model lacks sophisticated electronics, and a robust electronic warfare defense “can interfere with their operation,” he added.

Wreckage of another Iranian Shahed-136, shot down by the Ukrainian armed forces near Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region. (Ministry of Defense of Ukraine/Social Media)

It would be wrong to underestimate the significant advantages drone technology can bring to the battlefield.

According to Rogers, the Shahed-136 is comparable to a modern cruise missile “in that it can hit targets with precision and explode on impact but differs in the fact that it can remain airborne, survey the battlefield and adjust its target in reaction to developments on the ground.

“It can also be used in a multi-drone ‘swarming’ deployment to saturate ground defenses, opening the floodgates — so to speak — to a range of other missiles and rockets,” he said. 

Bendett likewise believes the Shahed-136 has given the Russian military the ability “to launch long-range loitering munitions at targets in large numbers at different tactical and operational depths.”

This is significant because it is “something they have struggled to do in the preceding months given their limited stocks of domestic loitering and combat drones.”

He added: “Russia also gains valuable lessons from Iran’s own use of these drones via their multiple proxies across the Middle East, possibly adding to new tactics and procedures in Ukraine.” 

Aside from providing Russia with lessons and doctrines, these drones also serve as substitutes for Russia’s depleting stockpile of cruise missiles, which will likely take Moscow years to replenish to pre-war levels.

A Ukrainian soldier looks up to the sky after hearing the sound of a drone during a patrol in the frontline city of Kupiansk, Kharkiv region, on September 24, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (AFP)

“With trade restrictions and embargoes placed on Russia, the military has found it hard to replace lost military assets,” said Rogers. 

“This is why the convenient arrangement with Iran has emerged. It allows Russia to obtain military capabilities it has run low on or does not have the supplies to produce.”

The more battle testing Iran’s drones rack up in Ukraine and across the Middle East, the more sophisticated they are likely to become. That is why Heras believes both Kyiv and Riyadh need to enhance their air defenses to adequately deal with this threat.

“The Ukrainians have used portable anti-air missiles fired by infantry or vehicles to shoot down the Iranian-made Russian drones, albeit with a mix of success and failure,” he said. 

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has expended a large number of expensive Patriot interceptor missiles, which cost millions of dollars per shot, against Houthi drones that cost mere thousands to manufacture. 

“Eventually, Israeli- and American-developed anti-air systems intended for smaller rocket types could be useful for both Ukraine and Saudi Arabia,” said Heras. 

“Especially for Saudi Arabia, which would need these defenses to protect strategic targets that the Houthis prefer to strike.”