Coalition in Yemen launches 18 strikes on Houthis in Marib, Hajjah

Yemeni pro-government fighters man a position on the outskirts of Al-Jawba in the country’s northeastern province of Marib. (File/AFP)
Yemeni pro-government fighters man a position on the outskirts of Al-Jawba in the country’s northeastern province of Marib. (File/AFP)
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Updated 19 February 2022

Coalition in Yemen launches 18 strikes on Houthis in Marib, Hajjah

Coalition in Yemen launches 18 strikes on Houthis in Marib, Hajjah
  • Coalition destroys explosive-laden boat belonging to the Houthi militia in the southern Red Sea

RIYADH: The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen said it had launched 18 operations targeting the Iran-backed Houthi militia in the Yemeni provinces of Marib and Hajjah in the past 24 hours.
The coalition said casualties were inflicted on several Houthi militants and 13 military vehicles had been destroyed, Saudi state TV reported on Friday.
Meanwhile, the coalition said it destroyed an explosive-laden boat belonging to the Houthi militia in the southern Red Sea from the port of Hodeidah.
“The Houthis’ use of the port for military purposes threatens freedom of navigation and global trade,” the coalition said.


Lebanese currency reaches record-low value

Lebanese currency reaches record-low value
Updated 8 sec ago

Lebanese currency reaches record-low value

Lebanese currency reaches record-low value
  • Official exchange rate changed from 1,505 LBP/USD to 15,000 LBP/USD, reaching over 60,000 LBP/USD on black market
  • Council of Maronite Bishops: Lebanon on the verge of complete collapse

BEIRUT: After being pegged at 1,505 pounds to the US dollar 25 years ago, the Lebanese pound’s official exchange rate changed to 15,000 pounds to the dollar as of Wednesday.
The previous exchange rate lasted from 1998 until 2019, when the financial crisis erupted and the Lebanese currency began to gradually collapse, losing about 97 percent of its value by 2023.
The Lebanese Ministry of Finance has started charging value-added tax based on the new rate, causing confusion in the markets, as all official and unofficial transactions changed. Meanwhile, the black-market exchange rate ranges between 59,000 and 61,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, in the absence of any solutions by the Central Bank or the government.
Almost all services and products are now priced in US dollars: foodstuffs, medicine, gasoline, the Internet, and private generator bills. Security services seem to have given up on pursuing illegal money changers, who are now operating using secret social media groups or personally making home visits to practice their illegal exchanges.
During its monthly meeting on Wednesday, the Council of Maronite Bishops warned against the dangerous manipulation of the exchange rate on the black market, which leads to extreme price hikes, preventing most of the Lebanese people from securing their needs.
The council urged Parliament to convene and elect a new Lebanese president to end the four-month presidential vacuum.
The council further warned that Lebanon is on the verge of a complete catastrophic collapse and blamed the MPs’ reluctance to elect a president for this worsening collapse.
Over the past two days, Lebanon’s parties have been intensifying their meetings to come to an agreement on a new presidential candidate, form a government and appoint a governor for the Central Bank.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri is yet to set a new date for the presidential election session after the Progressive Socialist Party’s MPs threatened to stop attending voting sessions if Hezbollah’s MPs and their allies insist on casting blank votes.
A spiritual summit was held that included the Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs, dedicated to discussing a way to resolve the presidential crisis.
Head of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt said after his meeting with Berri on Tuesday evening that he is trying to find common denominators with all the parties to finally elect a new president.
“The country is abandoned, the economic situation is deteriorating, and the judicial situation is collapsing as well,” he said.
Among the candidates being discussed is Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun, but agreeing to elect him requires amending the constitution.
So far, no presidential candidate has the support of 65 MPs. The Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces party oppose the candidacy of Suleiman Frangieh, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad. However, Hezbollah supports him.
MP Michel Moussa, a member of the Parliamentary Development and Liberation Bloc, said: “The election of a president is still hampered by the vertical division in Parliament, as none of the two opposing poles is able to rally votes for its candidate.”
Moussa noted: “Berri knew from the start that this would happen, and this is why he called for dialogue, but no one responded, although everyone is well aware that the only way to start solving Lebanon’s crises is to elect a new president and form a new government that would implement reforms according to a recovery plan.”


Spain's PM heads to Morocco to reap benefits of mended ties

Spain's PM heads to Morocco to reap benefits of mended ties
Updated 01 February 2023

Spain's PM heads to Morocco to reap benefits of mended ties

Spain's PM heads to Morocco to reap benefits of mended ties
  • The visit comes 10 months after Sánchez went to meet Moroccan King Mohammed VI and put an end to a diplomatic crisis
  • Sánchez is flying south again on Wednesday and will attend a forum of business leaders from both countries in Rabat

BARCELONA, Spain: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez travels to Rabat on Wednesday along with 12 ministers before a meeting with Moroccan government officials. This visit comes as part of the European country’s strategy to improve historically complex relations with its neighbor across the Strait of Gibraltar.
It comes 10 months after Sánchez went to meet Moroccan King Mohammed VI and put an end to a diplomatic crisis that had erupted in 2021 regarding Morocco's disputed territory of Western Sahara. During that meeting, Sánchez declared “a new phase of bilateral relations” with Morocco, an important partner with the European Union in fighting extremism and aiding the bloc's irregular migration policies.
Sánchez is flying south again on Wednesday and will attend a forum of business leaders from both countries in Rabat. On Thursday, he will sit down with Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch, a billionaire businessman who won a 2021 election and is considered close to Mohammed VI.
Sánchez’s agenda doesn't include another meeting with the Moroccan king, with whom he shared the Iftar meal to break the day’s fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan last April in the highlight of their reconciliation.
Sánchez’s office said that the prime minister instead had a phone conversation with the monarch in which they agreed that the meeting would “contribute to consolidating this new era in the relations between Morocco and Spain.” It added that Sánchez accepted the invitation by the king to make another official visit to Rabat at an unspecified date.
Moroccans make up the single largest foreign community with 800,000 residents in Spain, and important economic ties unite the neighbors which are separated by just 13 kilometers (8 miles) of water at the nearest point.
But relations between Spain and Morocco were severely damaged in May 2021 after Spain allowed the leader of the Polisario Front, which has waged a low-intensity armed rebellion seeking the Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco, to receive medical treatment for COVID-19 in Spain.
Morocco responded by relaxing its border controls around Spain’s North African exclave of Ceuta and thousands of people crossed over into the city. Tensions remained high until Sánchez did an about-face on Spain’s long-standing position on Western Sahara by backing Rabat’s proposal to give it more autonomy as long as it remains unquestionably under Moroccan control. Madrid maintains that the people of Western Sahara must decide their future via a referendum.
Sánchez paid a high price for moving closer to Morocco.
His shift on Western Sahara angered Algeria, a backer of the Polisario Front and major natural gas supplier to Spain. It was also widely criticized in Spain, which held Western Sahara as a colony until 1975, and caused friction inside Spain’s governing left-wing coalition between Sánchez’s Socialists and its junior partner. Politicians from across Spain's spectrum considered Sánchez to have betrayed the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara for very little tangible gains in return.
Now, Sánchez is aiming to reap some benefits after last year’s return to diplomatic normalcy.
This will be first meeting since 2015 with such a large delegation of ministries represented. Sánchez is taking along his ministers in charge of the economy, energy, foreign affairs, security and policing, agriculture, commerce, transport and migration, among others.
Thursday's meeting between the governments is expected to produce several agreements between ministries and to favor business growth, including the opening of customs offices at the border crossings for Ceuta and its sister exclave, Melilla, which Morocco has never officially recognized as Spanish territories. Melilla’s customs office was closed by Morocco in 2018, while Ceuta has never had one.
Spain is the largest foreign investor in Morocco, accounting for a significant chunk of all foreign investments, making economic cooperation a top priority for the Moroccan government. Morocco is Spain’s third most important non-EU commercial partner after the United States and Britain.
Morocco, in similar fashion to Turkey and other countries in north Africa, has reaped economic benefits from the EU in exchange for curbing irregular immigration to Spain. That, however, has not stopped thousands of migrants and refugees, including young Moroccans looking for a better future in Europe, from attempting a dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean, or a perilous Atlantic journey to the Canary Islands.
The frontier policing methods of both Spain and Morocco have fallen under intense scrutiny following the death of at least 23 African men, many reportedly refugees from Sudan, when they stormed a border fence at Melilla in June.
Rights group Amnesty International held a protest outside the seat of Spain’s government in Madrid on Wednesday, with cutout silhouettes of the victims of the Melilla tragedy. The rights group raises the number of deaths to 37 and says that 77 more people are still missing from the incident.
“A summit today between Morocco and Spain pretends to ignore what happened just seven months ago,” Esteban Beltrán, head of Amnesty International in Spain, said. “We want to remember that (the victims) are with us, and we want to remember the suffering of their families who have no information or a real investigation of what happened.”


Suez Canal tugs working to move broken down tanker, shipping traffic unaffected: Sources

Suez Canal tugs working to move broken down tanker, shipping traffic unaffected: Sources
Updated 01 February 2023

Suez Canal tugs working to move broken down tanker, shipping traffic unaffected: Sources

Suez Canal tugs working to move broken down tanker, shipping traffic unaffected: Sources
  • Canal sources say that shipping traffic is unaffected

CAIRO: Suez Canal tugboats are working to move a broken down LNG tanker called Grace Emilia on Wednesday, two canal sources told Reuters, adding that shipping traffic is unaffected.
The incident happened in a southern section of the canal where a second channel allows for ships to bypass the blockage caused by an engine malfunction, one of the sources said.


Iran says Iraq-based Kurd groups ‘involved’ in drone attack

Iran says Iraq-based Kurd groups ‘involved’ in drone attack
Updated 01 February 2023

Iran says Iraq-based Kurd groups ‘involved’ in drone attack

Iran says Iraq-based Kurd groups ‘involved’ in drone attack
  • Iranian authorities earlier reported “unsuccessful” drone attack

TEHRAN: Iran has accused Iraq-based Kurdish groups of being “involved” in a drone attack last week against a defense ministry site in the central province of Isfahan, Iranian media reported Wednesday.
“Parts of the drones that attacked the workshop complex of the defense ministry in Isfahan, along with explosive materials, were transferred to Iran with the participation and guidance of the Kurdish anti-revolutionary groups based in Iraq’s Kurdistan region,” Nour news agency said.
Iranian authorities reported an “unsuccessful” drone attack late Saturday that targeted a defense ministry “workshop complex” in Isfahan province, home to the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility.
An anti-aircraft system destroyed one drone and two others exploded, the defense ministry said, adding that there were no casualties and only minor damage to the site.
Nour charged that Kurdish groups brought the drone parts and explosive materials into Iran from “one of the hardly accessible routes in the northwest” upon “the order of a foreign security service.”
The news agency, considered close to the Islamic republic’s Supreme National Security Council, did not specify which country’s security service it accused of being behind the attack. It said the drone parts were delivered to the “service’s liaison in a border city.”
“The parts and materials have been assembled and used for sabotage in an advanced workshop by trained forces,” Nour said.
Some Western media have blamed the attack on Iran’s arch foe Israel.
Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region hosts camps and rear-bases operated by several Iranian Kurdish rebel groups, which Iran has accused of serving Western or Israeli interests in the past.
In November, Iran launched cross-border missile and drone strikes against several of the groups in Iraq, accusing them of stoking the nationwide protests triggered by the death in custody in September of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini.


Eight rockets fired at Turkish base in Iraq

Eight rockets fired at Turkish base in Iraq
Updated 01 February 2023

Eight rockets fired at Turkish base in Iraq

Eight rockets fired at Turkish base in Iraq
  • Iraqi contractor in the base was wounded
  • No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack

IRBIL, Iraq: Unidentified attackers fired eight rockets at a Turkish military base in northern Iraq on Wednesday, two of which landed inside the facility, the Counter-Terrorism Group, a security organization in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, said.
A Turkish security source said the attack had caused no damage and there were no casualties in the base, without going into further detail.
An Iraqi security source who declined to be identified said an Iraqi contractor in the base had been wounded.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in the early hours on the Zilkan base, which hosts Turkish troops in Ninevah province of northern Iraq.
Turkiye has been carrying out operations in Iraq for decades against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has bases in the region. It is designated a terrorist group by Turkiye, the United States, and the European Union.
The group launched an insurgency in southeast Turkiye in 1984 in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.