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.

Israel FM: Fully normalized ties with Sudan later this year

Israel FM: Fully normalized ties with Sudan later this year
Updated 03 February 2023

Israel FM: Fully normalized ties with Sudan later this year

Israel FM: Fully normalized ties with Sudan later this year
  • Israel’s foreign minister Eli Cohen spoke after returning from a lightning diplomatic mission to the Sudanese capital
  • Cohen presented a draft peace treaty to the Sudanese

JERUSALEM: Israel expects to fully normalize ties with Sudan sometime later this year, Israel’s foreign minister said Thursday, after returning from a lightning diplomatic mission to the Sudanese capital.
Eli Cohen spoke to reporters after a one-day trip to Khartoum that included high-level meetings with military leaders, including Sudan’s ruling general, Abdel-Fattah Burhan, who led a coup that overturned the country’s transitional government in 2021.
“The agreement is expected to be signed this year and it will be the fourth” such accord, Cohen said, referring to the US-brokered normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco in 2020.
The announcement could help Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deflect attention from a recent burst of violence with Palestinians and widespread public anger over his plans to overhaul the country’s judicial system — which critics say will badly damage Israel’s democratic system of checks and balances.
For Sudan’s ruling generals, a breakthrough with Israel could help convince foreign countries, including the United States and the UAE, to inject financial aid into the struggling economy. Sudan remains mired in a political stalemate between a popular pro-democracy movement and the country’s powerful armed forces.
Earlier in the day, Sudan’s Foreign Ministry said it would move forward to normalize full diplomatic ties with Israel. Sudan first signed a normalization agreement with Israel, joining Morocco, Bahrain, and the UAE in 2020 as part of the US-brokered “Abraham Accords” to establish full diplomatic ties.
However, the process stalled amid widespread popular opposition in Sudan. The military coup in October 2021 then deposed Sudan’s government, upending the African country’s fragile democratic transition.
Cohen said that he presented a draft peace treaty to the Sudanese “that is expected to be signed after the transfer of authority to the civilian government that will be formed as part of the transition underway in the country.”
In its statement, the Sudanese ministry added that the talks aimed to strengthen cooperation in various sectors, including security and military. It also spoke of a need to achieve ″stability between Israel and the Palestinian people″ in light of a recent surge in violence.
A Sudanese military official close to the discussions said Thursday’s talks also aimed to ease Israel’s concerns that a future civilian government in Khartoum could reverse the course of normalization. He said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, that Israel and the US “want to ensure that the deal would proceed” even after the military steps aside from politics.
In December, Sudan’s top generals and some political forces signed a broad pledge to remove the military from power and install a civilian government. But talks to reach a final and more inclusive peace agreement on the transition are still underway and the generals have yet to accede their power
Three Sudanese military officials told The Associated Press earlier in the day that full normalization of ties would not be achieved anytime soon. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the talks with reporters.
The country’s second-in-command, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who heads a powerful paramilitary known as the Rapid Support Forces, claimed that he had no knowledge of the visit and did not meet with the Israeli delegation in a bulletin carried by the state news agency.
Also earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu indicated a breakthrough was in the works. “We are continuing to expand the circle of peace,” he said before flying to France, noting that Chad, which borders Sudan, opened a new embassy in Israel earlier in the day.
“We will continue to expand and deepen the circle of peace with additional countries, both near and far,” added Netanyahu, who returned to office in December. During his previous 12-year term as premier, his government made it a priority to forge ties with formerly hostile countries in Africa and the Arab world.
Although Sudan does not have the influence or wealth of Gulf Arab countries, a deal with the African country — even as it is mired in a deep political and economic crisis — would be deeply significant for Israel.
Sudan was once one of Israel’s fiercest critics in the Arab world and in 1993, the US designated it a state sponsor of terrorism. The Trump administration removed Sudan from that list in 2020, a move meant to help the country revive its battered economy and end its pariah status, and an incentive to normalize relations with Israel.
Cohen spoke about the upcoming agreement as a “peace treaty” because of the two nations’ long-standing animosity. Sudan hosted a landmark Arab League conference after the 1967 Mideast war where eight Arab countries approved the “three no’s”: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations.
Under its autocratic ruler Omar Al-Bashir, Sudan was also a pipeline for Israel’s archenemy Iran to supply weapons to Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. Israel was believed to have been behind airstrikes in Sudan that destroyed a weapons convoy in 2009 and a weapons factory in 2012.

Iraq’s new leaders must keep fighting corruption: UN envoy 

Iraq’s new leaders must keep fighting corruption: UN envoy 
Updated 03 February 2023

Iraq’s new leaders must keep fighting corruption: UN envoy 

Iraq’s new leaders must keep fighting corruption: UN envoy 

UNITED NATIONS: The UN special envoy for Iraq urged the country’s new government Thursday to keep fighting corruption and move quickly on much-needed economic, fiscal and financial reforms.
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert told the UN Security Council many other areas also need immediate government attention, among them ensuring human rights, resolving issues with the Kurdistan Regional Government, improving public services, addressing environmental challenges, and continuing to return Iraqis from camps and prisons in northeast Syria.
“The hope is that the confirmation of Iraq’s new government will provide an opportunity to structurally address the many pressing issues facing the country and its people,” she said. “The urgency is for Iraq’s political class to seize the brief window of opportunity it is awarded, and to finally lift the country out of recurring cycles of instability and fragility.”
A more than year-long political stalemate punctuated by outbreaks of street violence ended in late October with the confirmation by Iraq’s Council of Representatives of a new government and Cabinet led by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani.
Hennis-Plasschaert said that during its first three months, Al-Sudani’s government has shown a commitment to tackle endemic corruption, poor public services and high unemployment.
Turning to the fight against corruption, she pointed to a number of important steps taken by the government, including trying to recover stolen funds and investigating allegations of graft.
“That said, I can only encourage the Iraqi government to persevere, as those who stand to lose will undoubtedly seek to hinder these efforts,” she said. “But if Iraq is to build a system that serves the need of society instead of serving a closed community of collusion, then ensuring accountability across the spectrum is absolutely essential.”
The UN special representative said “systemic change” is vital to address corruption and improve services that directly affect people’s lives.
As for economic, fiscal and financial reforms, Hennis-Plasschaert expressed concern at the increase in the exchange rate on the parallel market “adding to the pressure on everyday Iraqi women and men.”
“On the short term, it is obviously essential that the federal budget is passed expeditiously,” she said. “A further delay will only result in worsening the situation due to the well-known spending constraints.”
Despite high unemployment, Hennis-Plasschaert cautioned against any “further bloating” of Iraq’s “already extremely inflated public sector.”
She cautioned the government against relying totally on the country’s oil, which is vulnerable to price shocks, and urged it to focus on diversifying the economy, including by developing an employment-generating private sector.
Hennis-Plasschaert said the government also needs to swiftly implement the Sinjar Agreement brokered by the UN in October 2020 between Baghdad and the Kurdish-run regional government to jointly manage the Sinjar region. It is home to Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority, and the agreement aims to restore the state’s hold over the patchwork of militia groups and competing authorities in the area after the defeat of Islamic State extremists.
When IS fighters swept into northern Iraq in 2014 the militants massacred thousands of Yazidi men and enslaved an estimated 7,000 women, including Nadia Murad, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign to end sexual violence as a weapon of war. She returned to her home village in Sinjar this week with actress and activist Angelina Jolie to meet survivors of IS brutality and see progress in redeveloping the region.
US deputy ambassador Richard Mill called on the government to improve its respect for human rights and commit to implementing the Sinjar Agreement in close consultation with the Yazidi community.
He said the United States supports the prime minister’s efforts to root out corruption and improve public services, particularly providing electricity, and encourages development of the private sector and job growth, “with a focus on increasing women’s participation in the workforce.”
Mills added that the Biden administration is eager to work with the government on addressing the negative impacts of climate, including through the use of renewable energy and reducing gas flaring.

UN experts slam slow progress in Lebanese activist murder probe

UN experts slam slow progress in Lebanese activist murder probe
Updated 03 February 2023

UN experts slam slow progress in Lebanese activist murder probe

UN experts slam slow progress in Lebanese activist murder probe
  • Slim was found dead in southern Lebanon — a stronghold of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement of which he was heavily critical.

GENEVA: UN rights experts voiced deep concern Thursday at the slow pace of an investigation into the killing of Lebanese intellectual Lokman Slim two years ago, demanding that Beirut ensure accountability.
“It is incumbent on the Lebanese authorities to fully investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators of this heinous crime,” the four independent experts said.
“Failing to carry out a prompt and effective investigation may in itself constitute a violation of the right to life.”
A secular activist from a Shiite family, 58-year-old Slim was found dead in his car on February 4, 2021, a day after his family reported him missing.
His bullet-riddled body was found in southern Lebanon — a stronghold of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement of which he was heavily critical.
In their statement, the UN special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions, the independence of judges and lawyers, the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the situation of human rights defenders voiced outrage that no one responsible for his assassination had been identified.
“Shedding light on the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Lokman Slim and bringing those responsible to justice is also part of the State’s obligation to protect freedom of opinion and expression,” said the experts, who are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council but who do not speak on behalf of the world body.
“A culture of impunity not only emboldens the killers of Mr. Slim, it will also have a chilling effect on civil society as it sends a chilling message to other activists to self-censor,” they said.
The experts stressed that investigations into unlawful killings must be “independent, impartial, prompt, thorough, effective, credible and transparent.”
“Thus far, national authorities have shown no indication that the ongoing investigations are in line with relevant international standards,” they warned, demanding that the authorities speed up the probe and “ensure that those responsible are held accountable without delay.”
“Mr. Slim’s family must have access to justice, truth and adequate reparation expeditiously.”

Biden underlines support for Jordan in meeting with king

Biden underlines support for Jordan in meeting with king
Updated 02 February 2023

Biden underlines support for Jordan in meeting with king

Biden underlines support for Jordan in meeting with king
  • Biden recognized Jordan's "crucial role as the custodian of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem”

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Thursday underlined his support for the legal “status quo” of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound in a meeting at the White House with Jordanian King Abdullah II.
Biden, the king and Crown Prince Hussein had a private lunch in which the US president “reaffirmed the close, enduring nature of the friendship between the United States and Jordan,” the White House said.
Referring to growing tensions around the Al-Aqsa mosque — located on a site venerated both by Muslims and Jews inside Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem — Biden reaffirmed “the critical need to preserve the historic status quo.”
Biden also recognized Jordan’s “crucial role as the custodian of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem,” the White House said in a statement.
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Biden reiterated the US position of “strong support for a two-state solution,” also thanking King Abdullah “for his close partnership and the role he and Jordan play as a force for stability in the Middle East.”
Al-Aqsa mosque is the third-holiest place in Islam and the most sacred site to Jews, who refer to the compound as the Temple Mount.
Under a longstanding status quo, non-Muslims can visit the site at specific times but are not allowed to pray there.
In recent years, a growing number of Jews, most of them Israeli nationalists, have covertly prayed at the compound, angering Palestinians. In January, the national security minister in Israel’s new far-right government made his own visit to the site, sparking a torrent of international condemnation.

Some UN Afghan aid delivered by men only, donors voice alarm

Some UN Afghan aid delivered by men only, donors voice alarm
Updated 02 February 2023

Some UN Afghan aid delivered by men only, donors voice alarm

Some UN Afghan aid delivered by men only, donors voice alarm
  • Issue illustrates a delicate balancing act between women’s rights and finding ways to continue working in Afghanistan

UNITED NATIONS: Under pressure from Afghanistan’s Taliban administration, the United Nations is delivering some food aid using men only, prompting warnings from donors and humanitarian groups that it could be seen as giving in to an internationally condemned ban on most female aid workers.
UN aid chief Martin Griffiths acknowledged to reporters this week that women are not involved in some food aid activities, which the World Food Programme described as “operational adjustments” to allow it to continue its work, and he said the situation was inadequate.
“There are still activities that are ongoing where men-only (are), for example, delivering food, but it can’t work,” Griffiths said on Monday after he visited Afghanistan last week.
The issue illustrates a delicate balancing act facing the world body since the ban was imposed on Dec. 24: how to stand firm on women’s rights while finding ways to continue working in Afghanistan, where some 28 million people — two thirds of the population — need help, with six million on the brink of famine.
The Taliban, which seized power in August 2021 as US-led forces withdrew from Afghanistan after 20 years of war, says it respects women’s rights in accordance with its interpretation of Islamic law. It has since excluded women from parks, high school and university, and said women should not leave the home without a male relative and must cover their faces.
While women are still allowed to work for the United Nations, its operations are suffering because UN officials said 70 percent of the humanitarian response is implemented by local and international aid groups that are covered by the ban.
Any potential change to the UN approach to food aid following the ban has alarmed some donor nations and aid groups.
The United States — a key donor to aid efforts in Afghanistan — is concerned that some UN agencies may be considering an all-male aid delivery model, deputy US Ambassador to the United Nations, Lisa Carty, said on Wednesday during a briefing by Griffiths to UN member states.
“This could effectively cut off access to aid to women in need,” Carty said. “It could signal international agencies’ acquiescence to the Taliban’s unacceptable conditions thus normalizing the suppression with repercussions for humanitarian settings elsewhere.”
The International Rescue Committee said in an operational note on Wednesday that the role of women was “an operational necessity,” adding: “Without female staff at all levels and across all sectors, we cannot accurately assess needs and deliver aid and programs at the necessary scale.”
Griffiths stressed that Afghan women need to work in food aid distribution to ensure supplies reached the most vulnerable — women and girls.
“There’s absolute conviction that programs should all include women,” Griffiths said on Wednesday. “This may not be always needed in every single point of delivery, but they should include women, and even when they don’t there should be absolute clarity of reaching all members of society.”
The United Nations has appealed for $4.6 billion to fund the aid operation in Afghanistan in 2023. Griffiths said monitoring of programs would be ramped up to ensure they reach everyone.
“Aid delivery without participation of women cannot be normalized,” Deputy British UN Ambassador James Kariuki said.
When asked about the remarks Griffiths made on Monday, a WFP spokesperson said some changes had been made to operations after the ban was imposed.
“Where it is safe for them to do so, female partner staff continue to attend distributions and monitor assistance. Where needed, WFP has made operational adjustments to continue its life-saving assistance,” the spokesperson told Reuters.
The United Nations has managed to secure some health and education exemptions to the ban. Griffiths and the heads of some international aid groups met Taliban officials last week to push for more, including in the areas of cash and food aid distribution.
Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary General Jan Egeland, who was UN aid chief from 2003-06, said if any organizations started male-only aid delivery programs that would make it difficult for groups like NRC to stay. He said NRC had been forced to freeze its aid efforts until women can resume work.
“It sets a precedent in Afghanistan and in the wider world that we will live to regret,” he told Reuters. “The hard-liners would say ‘We won, we can do it without you’.”