GCC-brokered Yemeni consultations seek to bring peace to war-torn country

Update Nayef Al-Hajraf, Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), speaks during the last day of the conference on the conflict in Yemen, hosted by the six-nation GCC in Riyadh. (AFP)
Nayef Al-Hajraf, Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), speaks during the last day of the conference on the conflict in Yemen, hosted by the six-nation GCC in Riyadh. (AFP)
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Updated 08 April 2022

GCC-brokered Yemeni consultations seek to bring peace to war-torn country

Nayef Al-Hajraf, Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), speaks during the last day of the conference on the conflict in Yemen, hosted by the six-nation GCC in Riyadh. (AFP)
  • GCC chief says the talks were a success and ideas were discussed with full transparency

RIYADH: For the first time in more than a decade, almost all of Yemen’s feuding leaders came together in one building in Riyadh in a bid to settle their disputes.

The Gulf Cooperation Council last month invited all Yemeni political, tribal and religious leaders, journalists, activists, economists and the heads of nongovernmental organizations to join unprecedented talks in the Saudi capital under its aegis to examine and propose solutions to the country’s problems.

With the exception of the Iran-backed Houthis, who turned down the invitation, hundreds of people engaged in the talks to draw up a road map for bringing peace and stability to war-torn Yemen.

During the discussions, members of the General People’s Congress — the party of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh — exchanged views for hours with supporters of the Islamist Islah party, which led the Arab Spring-inspired protests against Saleh in 2011.

The leaders of the pro-independence Southern Transitional Council discussed ideas with those they fought in Aden in 2018 and 2019.

Sarhan Al-Minaikher, the GCC ambassador to Yemen, said that almost 1,000 people participated in the Yemeni-Yemeni consultations, and that the participants were left in closed rooms to privately, transparently and directly exchange views without any interference from the Gulf bloc or any other country.

The most important outcome of the consultations was the formation of the Presidential Leadership Council, a body of eight people, led by Rashad Al-Alimi and comprising Yemeni leaders representing different parties, including separatists and Saleh’s supporters.

On Thursday, former President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi passed powers to the new council and empowered it to run the country and negotiate with the Houthis.

During the closing ceremony, the participants came out with recommendations that called upon the new presidential body to start engaging in talks with the Houthis to end the war, supported boosting and reforming state bodies, and allowed them to function in Yemen.

The participants also called for fighting terrorism, opening roads between Yemeni cities that were closed during the war and seeking an international donor conference for mobilizing funds to the country.

The Riyadh consultations are the latest in a string of initiatives and peace ideas proposed by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf bloc and the UN to bring an end to the violence.

The current fighting in Yemen began in late 2014 when the Houthis, with support from Saleh and Iran, seized control of Sanaa and put Hadi under house arrest.

In February 2015, Hadi managed to escape from Sanaa to the southern city of Aden where he regrouped his forces and vowed to challenge the Houthis.

The UN and many local organizations say that tens of thousands of Yemenis have been killed in the war that has pushed most of the country’s 30 million people to the brink of famine.

Before the Houthi capture of Sanaa, the GCC mediated peace initiatives to end the violence in Yemen.

Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi

— Born in 1945 in a small village in Yemen’s southern province of Abyan.

— He received military training and degrees from Russia and Britain.

— He was among thousands of South Yemen officers who fled to northern Yemen after a bloody coup in 1986.

— In 1994, he led Saleh’s forces that crushed a rebellion by South Yemen forces.

— Saleh rewarded him by promoting him to vice president in October 1994.

— In February 2012, Hadi became the president of Yemen after an uncontested election that was widely supported by the international community.

— In 2014, Houthis stormed the capital, forced him to resign and placed him under house arrest.

— In 2015, Hadi fled to Aden where he called for international support to push back the Houthis.

— In April 2022, Hadi passed his powers to a presidential council led by his former adviser.

In late 2011, Saleh signed a peace initiative, known as the GCC initiative, and agreed to pass power to his then deputy, Hadi, to run the country during a transitional period.

Hadi was elected a year later as the new president after winning an uncontested election.

As part of the GCC initiatives, the National Dialogue Conference in 2013 brought together hundreds of Yemenis and recommended ways of achieving peace and prosperity.

In 2014, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states backed the Peace and National Partnership Agreement between the Houthis and the other Yemeni forces. But the Houthis violated the deal and expanded militarily across the country, sparking bloody fighting with government troops and allied forces.

In March 2015, the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen, led by the Kingdom, intervened militarily at the request of Saleh and managed to blunt Houthi advances on the ground and helped government forces liberate many provinces.

Thanks to military support from the coalition, the Yemeni government liberated Aden, the interim capital of Yemen, and its neighboring provinces during the first months of the military operations.

Despite supporting the internationally recognized government, Saudi Arabia has sponsored peace talks and supported many peace agreements between the Yemeni factions since the beginning of the war.

Amid international outrage over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the Kingdom in March last year presented an initiative to bring peace to Yemen and alleviate the suffering of its people. That called for an immediate nationwide truce, the opening of Sanaa airport and the lifting of restrictions on the movement of fuel ships into Hodeidah port.

But the Houthis rejected the initiative and continued with their aggressive attacks on government-controlled areas.

When fighting between the former government and south Yemen separatists broke out in Aden in 2019, Saudi Arabia brokered a power-sharing deal known as the Riyadh Agreement.

That led to the formation of a new government, led by Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed, and allowed it to resume duties from Aden.

In 2018, the Kingdom deposited $2 billion into the central bank of Yemen in Aden, which helped the government pay salaries, buy vital commodities and stopped the fall of the Yemeni riyal.


UK tells tourists to avoid Turkiye quake epicenter

UK tells tourists to avoid Turkiye quake epicenter
Updated 8 min 11 sec ago

UK tells tourists to avoid Turkiye quake epicenter

UK tells tourists to avoid Turkiye quake epicenter
  • No travel guidance issued against visiting rest of the country
  • Flights by British carriers continue as normal to Turkish airports outside affected area

LONDON: The UK Foreign Office has advised British travelers against visiting southeastern parts of Turkiye in the aftermath of the three earthquakes that hit the country on Monday.
It did not issue specific guidance not to travel to the country, but told people to check with their airlines if they already had flights booked to avoid being disrupted by cancelations.
The three airports closest to the epicenter — at Gazientep, Hatay and Ceyhan — are currently closed to commercial flights.
There are also no flights currently from the UK to Adana, which is 220 km west of Gazientep.
However, flights to popular tourist destinations such as Istanbul, Bodrum and Dalaman have not been canceled, and Adana can be reached via internal flights from western Turkish airports.
Turkish newspaper the Daily Sabah reported: “Currently, only planes carrying aid and rescue teams are allowed to land and take off from (Gazientep and Ceyhan).
“Hatay Airport, whose runway was damaged because of the earthquake, was closed for all flights.”
As of this time, no British operators have canceled flights to Turkiye outside of the region affected.
Hugh Fraser, founder of Corinthian Travel, told the Daily Mail: “Southeastern Turkiye and the area in the vicinity of Gaziantep has many spectacular attractions and is noted for its delicious regional cuisine, but has traditionally been the preserve of the second or third-time cultural visitors to Turkiye.
“The earthquake is a human tragedy but it is unlikely to have much impact on Turkiye’s major centers of tourism — Istanbul, Cappadocia, and the Aegean Coast — all of which are located hundreds of miles away to the west.”
So far, over 5,000 people are confirmed to have died in the disaster in Turkiye and neighboring Syria, with tens of thousands injured and homeless.
The World Health Organization has said the death toll could rise to as high as 20,000, with people left exposed to sub-zero temperatures.
UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “The UK is sending immediate support to Turkiye, including a team of 76 search and rescue specialists, equipment and rescue dogs.
“In Syria, the UK-funded White Helmets have mobilized their resources to respond. We stand ready to provide further support as needed.”


‘Everyone has been impacted’: UK charity describes ‘race against time’ to find survivors

‘Everyone has been impacted’: UK charity describes ‘race against time’ to find survivors
Updated 8 sec ago

‘Everyone has been impacted’: UK charity describes ‘race against time’ to find survivors

‘Everyone has been impacted’: UK charity describes ‘race against time’ to find survivors
  • Devastation “beyond words,” says Action For Humanity CEO

LONDON: Rescuers and aid organizations face a “race against time” to find survivors of Monday's deadly earthquake in Turkiye and Syria and bring assistance to those in most need, a British charity said on Tuesday.

Following the two 7.8 and 7.5-magnitude earthquakes that wrought devastation in both countries, Action For Humanity, the parent charity of the UK’s largest Syria-focused NGO Syria Relief, released a statement describing the devastation impacting the lives of everyone in the areas worst hit. 

Two members of their own staff, a medical professional and a monitoring evaluation and learning (MEAL) manager in Idlib, Syria, were killed with members of their family.

Dozens of other staff have lost family members and “everyone has been impacted,” the statement said.

“The devastation is beyond words, virtually every village in Northwest Syria, and every life has been impacted,” Othman Moqbel, CEO for Action For Humanity said. “Two of our own team, the Action For Humanity family, were killed — a medical professional and a member of our MEAL team in Syria — people motivated to do all they can to save the lives of Syrians, lost theirs to this tragedy,” he added.

He continued: “They were killed alongside family members. Also dozens of our team have lost parents, cousins, uncles, aunties, nephews and nieces. Their lives have been ripped apart.

“Across Syria, traumatised families have been spending spent 30 hours out in freezing cold as they are afraid to stay in buildings that are at risk of collapsing. They fear more earthquakes. The death toll rises by the minute.

“We are in a race against time to find survivors and provide warmth, food, shelter and medical aid.”

Moqbel also said it was vital that governments, but also members of the global public, help to support the emergency response.

“Syria is suffering from being underfunded and forgotten throughout nearly 12 years of war,” he said. 

“There was no hospital capacity already before this week, just suffering, there was not enough food before this week, just poverty, after neglecting Syrians for so long, we owe it to do all we can to help them. 

“We have mobilized staff to provide emergency aid and are working with our peers to provide a coordinated emergency response — which is so vital in times of large scale humanitarian need like this,” he added.

Action For Humanity has launched an emergency appeal, raising funds for items such as emergency holistic kits, support for the medical facilities, fuel and temporary collective shelter for those made homeless by the disaster.

It also deploying its mobile health clinics to support those impacted on site and health systems already under strain.


3 Britons missing in Turkiye after deadly quakes

3 Britons missing in Turkiye after deadly quakes
Updated 16 min 17 sec ago

3 Britons missing in Turkiye after deadly quakes

3 Britons missing in Turkiye after deadly quakes
  • UK FM: ‘We assess that the likelihood of large-scale British casualties remains low’
  • PM Rishi Sunak: ‘The UK stands ready to help in whatever way we can’

LONDON: Three British nationals are missing in Turkiye following Monday’s series of earthquakes, and the UK Foreign Office is providing support to at least 35 Britons affected by the disaster, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said on Tuesday.

The earthquakes struck southern Turkiye and northern Syria, killing at least 5,000 people. More than 6,000 buildings collapsed due to the shockwaves, with vital electricity and gas infrastructure damaged amid freezing winter temperatures.

“We assess that the likelihood of large-scale British casualties remains low,” Cleverly told the UK Parliament. “The Turkish government has declared a state of emergency and they are requesting international assistance on a scale that matches the enormity of the situation that they are facing.”

The UK has already authorized the deployment of a medical assessment team, Cleverly said, adding: “The further stages of requirement will evolve over time. We will, of course, work closely with our international partners to make sure we address that.

“Many of the 3.5 million Syrian refugees hosted by Turkiye reside in the affected provinces. Turkiye’s outstanding disaster relief response capability has been severely tested by the sheer scale of this catastrophe.”

He said: “Turkiye will lead the disaster relief response in the areas of Syria where it has the presence.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared 10 provinces in the country as disaster zones.

On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “The UK stands ready to help in whatever way we can.”


Doctor says bodies “everywhere” in collapsed Iskenderun hospital

Doctor says bodies “everywhere” in collapsed Iskenderun hospital
Updated 45 min 18 sec ago

Doctor says bodies “everywhere” in collapsed Iskenderun hospital

Doctor says bodies “everywhere” in collapsed Iskenderun hospital
  • There was little amongst the debris to suggest the building was a busy medical facility less than two days before
  • One of the hospital's surviving physicians, who identified himself only as Dr. Deveci, said he found the scene at his workplace hard to witness

ISKENDERUN, Turkiye: Rescue teams and survivors peered through the twisted remains of an Iskenderun hospital on Tuesday, searching for signs of life a day after a major earthquake struck Turkiye and neighboring Syria.
There was little among the debris to suggest the building was a busy medical facility less than two days before.
One of the hospital’s surviving physicians, who identified himself only as Dr. Deveci, said he found the scene at his workplace hard to witness.
“I’m devastated. I see bodies inside, everywhere. Although I’m used to seeing bodies because of my expertise, it’s very difficult for me,” he said.
Much of Iskenderun, a port city located in Turkiye’s southern Hatay province, lay in ruins after the magnitude 7.8 quake hit just after 4 a.m. on Monday. More than 1,200 buildings were destroyed in Hatay alone.
“A doctor said there are about 15 people here, including the patients,” taxi driver Kerim Sahin said as he looked for a colleague in one part of the hospital.
“At the moment, they’re all trapped inside. Nobody can go near the building, only one cabinet is supporting the third floor.”
Sahin said the scale of the damage meant further rescue efforts were reliant on excavation equipment arriving from nearby cities.
The death toll in Turkiye had risen to 3,549 people, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday as he declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces. In Syria, the toll stood at just over 1,700, with tens of thousands injured or left homeless in several Turkish and Syrian cities.
Turkish authorities say more than 12,000 search and rescue personnel are working in the affected areas, plus another 9,000 troops.


UAE pledges $100 million in quake relief to Syria, Turkiye

The UAE has dispatched planes to both Turkiye and Syria with relief items and rescue teams following Monday’s quake. (UAE MoD)
The UAE has dispatched planes to both Turkiye and Syria with relief items and rescue teams following Monday’s quake. (UAE MoD)
Updated 44 min 24 sec ago

UAE pledges $100 million in quake relief to Syria, Turkiye

The UAE has dispatched planes to both Turkiye and Syria with relief items and rescue teams following Monday’s quake. (UAE MoD)
  • The sum would be equally split between Syria and Turkiye, with each getting $50 million
  • It was not immediately clear if the funds for Syria included the $13.6 million previously announced

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates Tuesday pledged $100 million to Syria and Turkiye, one of the largest sums yet following a massive earthquake that killed more than 5,400 people across both countries.
The oil-rich Gulf nation — which had already pledged some $13.6 million to Syria — is spearheading regional relief efforts, having dispatched planes to both countries with relief items and rescue teams following the 7.8-magnitude quake that struck early Monday.
On Tuesday, Emirati President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan “ordered the provision of $100 million for the relief of those affected,” Emirates News Agency said.
The sum would be equally split between Syria and Turkiye, with each getting $50 million, according to the news agency.
It was not immediately clear if the funds for Syria included the $13.6 million previously announced.
Major General Saleh Al-Ameri, commander of joint operations at the UAE’s defense ministry, said Tuesday that three military planes had been dispatched to Turkiye, carrying search and rescue teams who have since commenced operations.
A total of seven flights are planned to the quake-hit countries, including two to the Syrian capital Damascus, he told local media.
Syria’s official SANA news agency said Tuesday that an Emirati plane carrying 10 tons of food supplies had arrived at the Damascus international airport.
The UAE reopened its embassy in the Syrian capital in December 2018.
In March last year, Assad made a visit to the UAE — his first to an Arab state in more than a decade of brutal civil war.