Released by coalition, dozens of Houthi war prisoners return to Yemen

Update A total of 108 Houthi prisoners will be released in three phases as part of Saudi Arabia’s humanitarian initiative aimed at supporting peace in Yemen. (Screenshot)
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A total of 108 Houthi prisoners will be released in three phases as part of Saudi Arabia’s humanitarian initiative aimed at supporting peace in Yemen. (Screenshot)
Update A total of 108 Houthi prisoners will be released in three phases as part of Saudi Arabia’s humanitarian initiative aimed at supporting peace in Yemen. (Screenshot)
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A total of 108 Houthi prisoners will be released in three phases as part of Saudi Arabia’s humanitarian initiative aimed at supporting peace in Yemen. (Screenshot)
Update Aden airport is preparing for the arrival of the third plane. (AFP/File Photo)
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Aden airport is preparing for the arrival of the third plane. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 07 May 2022

Released by coalition, dozens of Houthi war prisoners return to Yemen

Released by coalition, dozens of Houthi war prisoners return to Yemen
  • International bodies, UK, French embassies call on both sides to observe terms of truce, work for peace
  • Coalition coordinating with International Committee of the Red Cross

AL-MUKALLA: The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen released on Friday 163 Houthi prisoners of war and helped send them back to Aden and Sanaa as part of its initiative to pave the way for ending the conflict in the country.

A total of 108 were transferred to Aden, the interim capital of Yemen, while nine were transferred to the Houthi-held Sanaa. Nine foreign fighters, captured while fighting alongside the Houthis, were be handed to embassies of their countries. The coalition also transferred by land 37 wounded fighters to their home provinces in Yemen.

The coalition on Friday morning announced the departure of the first flight carrying dozens of Houthi prisoners from Saudi Arabia to Yemen, among three phases of the process to transfer the prisoners to Sanaa and Aden.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is facilitating the transfer of over 100 detainees from Saudi Arabia to Yemen in three planes.

Basheer Omar, the spokesperson for the ICRC delegation in Yemen, told Arab News that the destinations of released prisoners were determined by their place of origin, current homes, personal wishes and security concerns to help them arrive safely at their homes, adding that around 80 detainees arrived in Aden by Friday afternoon.

Yemeni government officials who handle prisoners of war said prisoners who arrived in Aden would be taken by buses and cars to their villages and cities after the Houthis refused to receive them in Sanaa.

Majed Fadhail, Yemen’s deputy minister of human rights and a member of a government delegation involved in prisoner swap talks with the militia, thanked Saudi Arabia for the humanitarian initiative, saying the Houthis wanted to free their military leaders held by the coalition.

“The Houthis were seeking the release of big heads and some Hashemite fighters,” Fadhail said, urging the Houthis to reciprocate the coalition’s move by releasing thousands of Yemenis held inside their prisons. “I hope that this initiative will accelerate the completion of the prisoner exchange deal,” he added.

The latest efforts to achieve another major prisoner swap between the Houthis and the internationally recognized government reached a deadlock after the militia proposed swapping their fighters held by the government with civilians snatched from the streets of Sanaa.

In October 2020, warring factions in Yemen swapped more than 1,000 detainees, brokered by the UN in the first major prisoner exchange since the beginning of the war.

The coalition’s prisoner initiative is happening as international pressure increases on Yemeni parties to hold the current two-month UN-brokered truce, amid reports of hundreds of violations, including a Houthi drone strike in Taiz.

Richard Oppenheim, UK ambassador to Yemen, said the UN-brokered truce was helping ease the aggravating humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and was opening doors to achieving peace, urging the Yemeni parties to honor their commitments to end the fighting.

“We join international calls for all parties to uphold their truce commitments, including by relieving years of siege-like conditions that have created a humanitarian catastrophe for hundreds of thousands of people in and around Taiz and by re-opening Sanaa airport,” he tweeted.

The French Embassy in Yemen expressed its concerns over delays in opening the airport in Sanaa, and the Houthi siege of the Taiz, urging the various factions to work in good faith to alleviate the suffering of Yemenis across the country by supporting the truce.

“After more than seven years of war, everything must be done to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people, whether in Taiz or elsewhere in the country. This requires upholding the truce by all parties for the good of all Yemenis,” the embassy tweeted.

The Yemeni government said the Houthis had committed 341 violations of the truce from April 30 to May 4, during the Eid break, by attacking and firing missiles at government-controlled cities and army locations in Taiz, Marib, Jouf, Dhale, Saada, Abyan and Hodeidah.

On Wednesday, at least 10 civilians were wounded when an explosive-laden drone launch by the Houthis hit a security center for government forces in the southern city of Taiz.

Meanwhile, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said on Saturday that it has welcomed the decision to release the 163 Houthi prisoners, who were sent back as part of Saudi Arabia’s humanitarian initiative. 

The OIC also said it hopes to continue efforts that will encourage a truce in Yemen in order to reach a comprehensive political solution. 


Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank
Updated 58 min 9 sec ago

Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank
  • At least 50 Palestinians have been killed since late March, mostly in the West Bank

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: A Palestinian man was killed by the Israeli military during a raid in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, the Palestinian health ministry said.
Rafiq Riyad Ghannem, 20, was “shot by the occupation (Israeli army)” near the northern West Bank city of Jenin, the ministry said in a statement, adding that he was killed in the town of Jaba.
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Sunday, a 17-year-old Palestinian died after being shot a day earlier in another Israeli army raid in the same town.
At least 50 Palestinians have been killed since late March, mostly in the West Bank, among them suspected militants and non-combatants.
Israeli security forces have launched near-daily raids in the West Bank following a spate of attacks in Israel in recent months.
Nineteen people — mostly Israeli civilians inside Israel — have been killed mainly in attacks carried out by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. Three Arab Israeli attackers have also been killed.


Palestinian president and Hamas chief hold rare meeting

Palestinian president and Hamas chief hold rare meeting
Updated 06 July 2022

Palestinian president and Hamas chief hold rare meeting

Palestinian president and Hamas chief hold rare meeting

ALGIERS: Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met publicly for the first time in over five years, on the sidelines of Algerian independence anniversary celebrations.
Algeria’s state broadcaster reported late Tuesday that representatives of the Palestinian Authority and the Islamist Hamas movement also attended this meeting, which it called “historic.”
The pair, who officially last met face-to-face in Doha in October 2016, were brought together in a meeting with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, whose country marked the 60th anniversary of independence from France.
Abbas’ secular Fatah party, which dominates the Palestinian Authority that rules the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has been at loggerheads with Hamas since elections in 2007, when the Islamists took control of Gaza.
Tebboune and Abbas also signed a document to name a street “Algeria” in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
As well as Abbas and Haniyeh, Tebboune on Tuesday hosted several foreign dignitaries, who watched a huge military parade to mark independence in 1962 when Algeria broke free from 132 years of French occupation.


WHO praises Bahrain’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic

WHO praises Bahrain’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic
Updated 06 July 2022

WHO praises Bahrain’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic

WHO praises Bahrain’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic
  • National task force, 24-hour war room, and multilingual media campaign was key, says health body
  • Free testing and vaccines kept virus at bay

RIYADH: Bahrain’s successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic was built on active collaboration between various sectors in the Gulf state, according to a new WHO report.

The document titled “Bahrain COVID-19 Case Studies,” highlights the country’s wide-ranging efforts to get the health crisis under control and identifies lessons learned from that response.

The world health body credits strategic partnerships between public and private entities for the positive response.

Bahrain detected its first case of the virus on Feb. 24, 2020, and caseloads have remained relatively low during the pandemic, with only short-lived surges as a result of the delta and omicron variants. The country has lost 1,495 people to the disease since the start of the pandemic, according to the information organization Our World in Data.

The study was presented by Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the health organization’s head for the eastern Mediterranean region.

“I would like to acknowledge the resilience of the health system in Bahrain throughout the pandemic, and its continued provision of essential health services for all, under a framework of accessibility, acceptability, availability, and quality,” Al-Mandhari said.

“This new report provides us with a valuable reminder: Together we can face health emergencies, and together we can build back stronger,” he said in a joint press conference with Jaleela S. Jawad Hasan, the health minister, on Tuesday.

Hasan outlined some of the strategies that had helped to keep the virus in check on the small island kingdom of 1.7 million people.

Even before the first case appeared, Hasan said, Bahrain established a national task force coupled with a round-the-clock war room, featuring representatives from various sectors. A multilingual public media campaign to spread awareness was also introduced.

The report stated that by using its existing health infrastructure, the kingdom “capitalized on and scaled up its existing resources and displayed a level of preparedness and synergy of efforts from both the top down and the bottom up.”

King Hamad’s decision to provide testing and vaccines to the public free of charge was among the positive steps in handling the crisis, stated the authors of the report.

The lessons learned from what the country has achieved provide “invaluable insights into best practices that, shared, will have far-reaching and long-lasting effects beyond Bahrain’s borders,” the report concluded.

Hasan said Bahrain was committed to its cooperation with the WHO to combat the pandemic and achieve global health goals, according to the Bahrain News Agency.

On Tuesday, the health ministry reported 40 active hospitalized cases, 15 of which were critical.

Bahrain removed most COVID-19 restrictions in February, doing away with capacity limits at indoor venues and testing and vaccination requirements for travelers heading to the kingdom.


Egypt family keeps alive tradition behind Hajj centerpiece

An embroiderer sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran onto a replica of the Kiswa. (AFP)
An embroiderer sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran onto a replica of the Kiswa. (AFP)
Updated 06 July 2022

Egypt family keeps alive tradition behind Hajj centerpiece

An embroiderer sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran onto a replica of the Kiswa. (AFP)
  • From the 13th century, Egyptian artisans made the giant cloth in sections, which authorities transported to Makkah with great ceremony

CAIRO, Egypt: Under the steady hum of a ceiling fan, Ahmed Othman weaves golden threads through black fabric, creating Qur'anic verses, a century after his grandfather’s work adorned the Kaaba in Makkah’s Grand Mosque.
A ceremonial hanging of the kiswa, huge pieces of black silk embroidered with gold patterns, over the cubic structure that is the centerpiece of the Grand Mosque symbolizes the launch of the Hajj annual pilgrimage, which starts this week.

In this file photo taken on April 4, 2021 the keys of the Kaaba (box), Islam's holiest shrine at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, and a fragment of the black-clothed Kiswa (wall) which is used to cover the Kaaba, the final one provided by Egypt (in 1961) during the administration of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, are displayed at the Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC), in the Fustat district of Old Cairo. (AFP)

Othman’s family used to be honored with the task of producing the kiswa.
His family’s creations would be despatched in a camel caravan to Islam’s holiest site in western Saudi Arabia toward which Muslims across the world turn to pray.
Now, Othman keeps the tradition alive in a small workshop, tucked above the labyrinthine Khan Al-Khalili bazaar in central Cairo, where mass-produced souvenirs line the alleys.
The area is historically home to Egypt’s traditional handicrafts, but artisans face growing challenges.

Egyptian embroiderer Ahmed Othman el-Kassabgy (R), whose family was traditionally responsible for used to be honoured with the task of producing the Kiswa, the cloth used to cover the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Makkah, supervises as another employee (L) sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran, Islam's holy book, onto a replica drape to be sold as a souvenir for tourists visiting the historic district of al-Hussein of Islamic Cairo in Egypt's capital on June 15, 2022. (AFP)

Materials, mostly imported, have become expensive, particularly as Egypt faces economic woes and a devalued currency.
Plummeting purchasing power makes high quality hand-crafted goods inaccessible to the average Egyptian, while master craftspeople find it hard to hand down their skills as young people turn to more lucrative jobs.
This wouldn’t be the case “if there was good money in the craft,” Othman sighed, hunched over one of the many tapestries that fill his workshop.
Sheets of black and brown felt are covered in verses and prayers, delicately embroidered in silver and gold.
Every stitch echoes the “sacred ritual” Othman’s grandfather was entrusted with in 1924.
“For a whole year, 10 craftsmen” would work on the kiswa that covers the Kaaba which pilgrims circumambulate, using silver thread in a lengthy labor of love.

An embroiderer sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran, Islam's holy book, onto a replica of the Kiswa, the cloth used to cover the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Makkah, to be sold as a souvenir for tourists visiting the historic district of al-Hussein of Islamic Cairo in Egypt's capital on June 15, 2022. (AFP)

From the 13th century, Egyptian artisans made the giant cloth in sections, which authorities transported to Makkah with great ceremony.
Celebrations would mark the processions through cities, flanked by guards and clergymen as Egyptians sprinkled rosewater from balconies above.
Othman’s grandfather, Othman Abdelhamid, was the last to supervise a fully Egyptian-made kiswa in 1926.
From 1927, manufacturing began to move to Makkah in the nascent Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which would fully take over production of the kiswa in 1962.
The family went on to embroider military regalia for Egyptian and foreign dignitaries, including former presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat.
“In addition to our work with military rank embroideries, my father started embroidering Qur'anic verses on tapestries,” and then reproducing whole sections of the kiswa.
Clients began flooding in for “exact replicas of the kiswa, down to the last detail.”

Egyptian embroiderer Ahmed Othman el-Kassabgy, whose family was traditionally responsible for used to be honoured with the task of producing the Kiswa, the cloth used to cover the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Makkah, sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran, Islam's holy book, onto a replica drape to be sold as a souvenir for tourists visiting the historic district of al-Hussein of Islamic Cairo in Egypt's capital on June 15, 2022. (AFP)

Though today they offer small tableaus for as little as 100 Egyptian pounds (about $5), massive customised orders go for several thousand dollars, such as replicas of the Kaaba door, which Othman proudly claims are indistinguishable from the originals in Makkah.

But the family has not been immune to the economic turbulence that began with the coronavirus pandemic, which decimated small businesses and craftsmanship in Egypt.
Since early 2020, they have sold around “two pieces per month,” whereas before they would sell at least one tapestry a day.
Othman worries that a sense of “worldwide austerity” makes business unlikely to bounce back.
Today, there might only be a dozen or so craftsmen whose work he considers authentic, with many artisans leaving the craft for quicker cash flows.
“They can make 200 to 300 pounds a day,” ($10-$16) driving a tuktuk motorized rickshaw, or a minibus, Othman said. “They’re not going to sit on a loom breaking their backs all day.”
But still, a century and a half after his great grandfather left his native Turkey and brought the craft with him to Egypt, Othman says he has stayed loyal to techniques learnt as a child when he would duck out of school to watch his father work.
“It’s on us to uphold the craft the same way we learned it, so it’s authentic to the legacy we inherited,” he said.


Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president

Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president
Updated 05 July 2022

Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president

Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president
  • "We have taken the joint decision to reopen the land border from July 15," said President Abdelmadjid Tebboune
  • He was speaking at Algiers airport alongside his Tunisian counterpart President Kais Saied

ALGIERS: Algeria said Tuesday it would reopen its land border with Tunisia later this month, more than two years after it was shut at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have taken the joint decision to reopen the land border from July 15,” said President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
He was speaking at Algiers airport alongside his Tunisian counterpart President Kais Saied, who was leaving the country after attending a huge parade marking 60 years since Algeria’s independence from France.
Passengers had been blocked from crossing the border since March 2020 to stop the Covid-19 illness spreading, although cargo traffic had continued.
Being cut off from a neighbor of some 44 million people has dealt a serious blow to Tunisia’s tourism industry.
More than three million Algerians usually visit the country every year, according to local media.
Air and sea links between the two countries were restored in June 2021.