Houthis shell besieged Taiz amid intensifying international efforts to renew truce

Special Houthis shell besieged Taiz amid intensifying international efforts to renew truce
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The Houthis have imposed a choking siege that has pushed thousands of people in Taiz into famine. (AFP file photo)
Special Houthis shell besieged Taiz amid intensifying international efforts to renew truce
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Taiz, Yemen, from Al-Qahira Castle. (Wikimedia Commons)
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Updated 01 June 2022

Houthis shell besieged Taiz amid intensifying international efforts to renew truce

Houthis shell besieged Taiz amid intensifying international efforts to renew truce
  • Several explosions, caused by Houthi artillery, rocked the eastern parts of Taiz
  • The attack is the latest in a series of violations of the UN-brokered truce

AL-MUKALLA: Several artillery shells fired by the Houthis hit the city of Taiz in Yemen on Tuesday, as international mediators, envoys and aid organizations intensified their efforts to convince the two sides to renew a UN-brokered truce.

Residents and officials in Taiz said several explosions, caused by Houthi artillery, rocked eastern parts of the city. The attack is the latest in a series of violations of the UN-brokered truce, according to Yemeni officials.

Abdul Basit Al-Baher, a Yemeni military officer in Taiz, told Arab News that a Houthi sniper targeted a civilian in the same eastern area of the city, as the militia’s tanks and other heavy artillery pounded residential areas.

“The Houthi heavy fire and sniper attacks have not stopped during the truce,” he said, adding that the militia recently deployed more snipers and created new military posts. “People did not go to mosques during last Friday’s prayers out of fear of being hit by Houthi snipers.”

The Houthis have been in control of the outskirts of Taiz for seven years and have imposed a choking siege that has pushed thousands of people into famine.

As part of the truce, discussions between the Yemeni government and the Houthis in Amman about the opening of roads in Taiz have so far failed to produce any results. A new round of talks between the two sides will take place on Wednesday, a member of the Yemeni government delegation told Arab News.

Al-Baher said people in Taiz are not supportive of a renewal of the truce because it has failed to result in the lifting of the siege.

“We did not benefit from the truce. The Houthi shelling, mobilization of forces and military operations have not ceased during the truce,” he said.

During the past seven days, people in Taiz have intensified their protests and campaigns to draw attention to the effects of the siege and put pressure on the Yemeni negotiators in Amman to end it.

The two-month truce, which came into effect on April 2, led to a significant reduction in fighting and fatalities, the resumption of commercial flights from Sanaa, and at least 12 ships carrying fuel have been able to enter Hodeidah.

The latest Houthi mortar attack on Taiz came as the UN envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, Western diplomats and aid organizations stepped up the pressure on the Yemeni government and the Houthis to renew the truce.

On Tuesday, dozens of international organizations wrote a joint letter to the two sides, urging them to extend the truce in June to avoid more civilian casualties.

“We, the undersigned agencies, urge you to extend the truce agreement, build further on the gains you have made possible over the past two months, and work toward peace for the people of Yemen,” they said in the letter.

It added that the truce has had positive humanitarian effects, including a reduction in casualties by 50 percent. It has also addressed fuel shortages and allowed patients to travel to receive medical attention outside the country.

“The gift of a better life for the people of Yemen is in your hands. Don’t let June be the month where fighting resumes, public services fail and more innocent lives are lost,” the letter said.

A group of European ambassadors to Yemen arrived in the port city of Aden and met government officials to express their support for the Presidential Leadership Council and call for an end to the siege of Taiz, said Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak, Yemen’s foreign minister.

In Muscat, meanwhile, Grundberg discussed with the chief negotiator for the Houthis, Mohammed Abdul Salam, and Omani officials the possibility of opening roads in Taiz, renewing the truce and working to achieve a peace settlement to end the war, according to the UN envoy’s office.

He discussed the same topics with Rashad Al-Alimi, the head of the Presidential Leadership Council, and his government in Aden on Monday. Grundberg noted that renewing the truce is “critical to solidify benefits delivered so far and provide space to move toward a political settlement.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the permanent US representative to the UN, said that her country had been encouraged early on by efforts to move the truce forward and come up with “confidence-building measures that would allow for humanitarian assistance to move to the people of Yemen.”

But now the negotiations seem “troublesome to us,” she told reporters in New York. However, she noted that the “talks haven’t ended yet and we encourage the parties on both sides to continue those efforts and find a peaceful way to provide the needed humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called Al-Alimi to discuss the implementation of the truce, as well as the latest security developments in the war-ravaged country. During the conversation the UN chief stressed the need to extend and “fully implement all the elements of the renewable, two-month nationwide truce.”

He also underscored the “critical role of the truce in addressing some of the most immediate humanitarian and economic needs to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people, including facilitating the freedom of movement of people and goods to, from and across Yemen,” according to Stephane Dujarric, the spokesperson for the secretary-general.

- Additional reporting by Ephrem Kossaify in New York

 


Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program

Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program
Updated 12 August 2022

Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program

Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program
  • Prime Minister Najla Bouden, UGTT labour union chief Noureddine Taboubi and UTICA commerce union chief Samir Majoul had agreed a "social contract" to tackle national challenges
  • The UGTT reposted the statement on its Facebook page

TUNIS: Tunisia’s government and both its main labor and commerce unions agreed on Friday to start talks on Monday over economic reforms required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a rescue program.
State news agency TAP reported that Prime Minister Najla Bouden, UGTT labor union chief Noureddine Taboubi and UTICA commerce union chief Samir Majoul had agreed a “social contract” to tackle national challenges, citing a government statement.
The UGTT reposted the statement on its Facebook page.
The labor union, which represents a vast syndicate of workers, has been a staunch critic of IMF economic reforms proposed by the government, including subsidy cuts, a public sector wage freeze and the restructuring of state-owned companies.
It previously said, such reforms would increase the suffering of Tunisians and lead to an imminent social implosion.
Tunisia is seeking $4 billion in IMF support amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine, though diplomat sources told Reuters any IMF program approved would be unlikely to reach that level.
The IMF wants the UGTT, a powerful union that has a million members and has previously paralyzed parts of the economy in protest, to formally agree to government reforms.
Efforts to secure the IMF bailout have been complicated by Tunisia’s political upheavals since President Kais Saied seized most powers a year ago, shutting down parliament and moving to rule by decree.
Last month, he pushed through a new constitution formalising many of the expanded powers he has assumed in a referendum. Official figures showed that 31 percent of Tunisians took part, but opposition groups have rejected the figure, calling it inflated.


Tunisia says 82 migrants intercepted or rescued

Tunisia says 82 migrants intercepted or rescued
Updated 12 August 2022

Tunisia says 82 migrants intercepted or rescued

Tunisia says 82 migrants intercepted or rescued
  • Tunisia is in the throes of political and economic crises, and Libya has been gripped by lawlessness since 2011 that has seen militias turn to people trafficking

TUNIS: Tunisian authorities intercepted five new migration attempts and rescued or intercepted 82 people, the Interior Ministry said on Friday.
National Guard units “from the north, center, south and coast” of Tunisia foiled the attempts “as part of the fight against irregular migration,” a statement said.
Tunisia is a key departure point for migrants hoping to reach Europe — usually Italy — and sea crossing attempts tend to increase during spring and summer.
Friday’s statement said 76 people were rescued in four operations at sea, and another six were intercepted on land in the Gabes and Sfax areas.
It did not provide details the nationalities of the migrants or report on the condition of the boats they used.
The statement said that both Tunisian and foreign currency were seized, although the amounts were not specified.
Media in the North African country reported a shipwreck on Tuesday off the Kerkennah islands in which eight Tunisians — three women, four children and a man — died. Another 20 people were saved.

BACKGROUND

Tunisia is a key departure point for migrants hoping to reach Europe — usually Italy — and sea crossing attempts tend to increase during spring and summer.

And on Sunday, the National Guard said that 170 people from sub-Saharan Africa were among 255 migrants intercepted during 17 attempted crossings.
Tunisia and Libya are the main points of departure for migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa.
Tunisia is in the throes of political and economic crises, and Libya has been gripped by lawlessness since 2011 that has seen militias turn to people trafficking.
Italian authorities say 34,000 people arrived in the country by sea up to July 22 this year, compared with 25,500 over the same period in 2021 and 10,900 in 2020.
Meanwhile, a search and rescue operation was conducted for a third day for migrants reported missing after their boat capsized south of the Greek island of Rhodes.
The coast guard said on Friday that a Greek frigate and three merchant ships were searching the area roughly 40 nautical miles (74 km) south of Rhodes and 33 nautical miles southeast of Karpathos,
A total of 29 survivors, all men, were picked up by a merchant ship and a Greek air force helicopter in the early hours of Wednesday after the boat sank.
Survivors had initially indicated that between 60 and 80 people had been on board, but that figure was later revised, and the coast guard said Friday that a total of 50-60 people were now believed to have been on board.
Two of the 29, who the coast guard said were Turkish nationals, were rescued by helicopter and flown to Karpathos, while the other 27, all nationals of Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, were picked up by the merchant ship and transported to Kos.
The Turkish coast guard had also said on Wednesday that they had rescued five people. No further survivors or bodies have been located since the initial rescues.
It was not immediately clear why the boat sank, but weather conditions in the area were rough at the time, with strong winds and choppy seas, Greek authorities said.
The most common sea route for asylum-seekers from the Middle East, Asia and Africa has been from Turkey to the nearby Greek islands in the Aegean Sea.
But with Greek authorities increasing patrols in the area and facing persistent reports of summarily deporting new arrivals to Turkey without allowing them to apply for asylum, many are now attempting the much longer, and more dangerous, route directly to Italy. Greek authorities deny they carry out illegal summary deportations of asylum-seekers.


Drought tightens its grip on Morocco

Drought tightens its grip on Morocco
Updated 12 August 2022

Drought tightens its grip on Morocco

Drought tightens its grip on Morocco
  • The situation is critical, given the village’s position in the agricultural province of Settat, near the Oum Errabia River and the Al Massira Dam, Morocco’s second largest

OULED ESSI MASSEOUD, Morocco: Mohamed gave up farming because of successive droughts that have hit his previously fertile but isolated village in Morocco and because he just couldn’t bear it any longer.
“To see villagers rush to public fountains in the morning or to a neighbor to get water makes you want to cry,” the man in his 60s said.
“The water shortage is making us suffer,” he told AFP in Ouled Essi Masseoud village, around 140 km from the country’s economic capital Casablanca.
But it is not just his village that is suffering — all of the North African country has been hit.
No longer having access to potable running water, the villagers of Ouled Essi Masseoud rely solely on sporadic supplies in public fountains and from private wells.
“The fountains work just one or two days a week, the wells are starting to dry up and the river next to it is drying up more and more,” said Mohammed Sbai as he went to fetch water from neighbors.
The situation is critical, given the village’s position in the agricultural province of Settat, near the Oum Errabia River and the Al Massira Dam, Morocco’s second largest.
Its reservoir supplies drinking water to several cities, including the 3 million people who live in Casablanca. But latest official figures show it is now filling at a rate of just 5 percent.
Al Massira Reservoir has been reduced to little more than a pond bordered by kilometers of cracked earth.
Nationally, dams are filling at a rate of only 27 percent, precipitated by the country’s worst drought in at least four decades.
At 600 cubic meters of water annually per capita, Morocco is already well below the water scarcity threshold of 1,700 cubic meters per capita per year, according to the World Health Organization.
In the 1960s, water availability was four times higher — at 2,600 cubic meters.
A July World Bank report on the Moroccan economy said the decrease in the availability of renewable water resources put the country in a situation of “structural water stress.”
The authorities have now introduced water rationing.
The Interior Ministry ordered local authorities to restrict supplies when necessary, and prohibits using drinking water to irrigate green spaces and golf courses.
Illegal withdrawals from wells, springs or waterways have also been prohibited.
In the longer term, the government plans to build 20 seawater desalination plants by 2030, which should cover a large part of the country’s needs.
“We are in crisis management rather than in anticipated risk management,” said water resources expert Mohammed Jalil.
He added that it was “difficult to monitor effectively the measures taken by the authorities.”
Agronomist Mohamed Srairi said Morocco’s Achilles’ heel was its agricultural policy “which favors water-consuming fruit trees and industrial agriculture.”
He said such agriculture relies on drip irrigation which, although it can save water, paradoxically results in increased consumption as previously arid areas become cultivable.
The World Bank report noted that cultivated areas under drip irrigation in Morocco have more than tripled.
It said that “modern irrigation technologies may have altered cropping decisions in ways that increased rather than decreased the total quantity of water consumed by the agricultural sector.”
More than 80 percent of Morocco’s water supply is allocated to agriculture, a key economic sector that accounts for 14 percent of gross domestic product.
Mohammed, in his 90s, stood on an area of parched earth not far from the Al Massira Dam.
“We don’t plow the land anymore because there is no water,” he said, but added that he had to “accept adversity anyway because we have no choice.”
Younger generations in the village appear more gloomy.
Soufiane, a 14-year-old shepherd boy, said: “We are living in a precarious state with this drought.
“I think it will get even worse in the future.”


Beirut bank gunman still behind bars as family takes to the street in protest

Beirut bank gunman still behind bars as family takes to the street in protest
Updated 12 August 2022

Beirut bank gunman still behind bars as family takes to the street in protest

Beirut bank gunman still behind bars as family takes to the street in protest
  • Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein was arrested on Thursday after holding employees hostage
  • After surrendering himself he was told he would not be jailed

BEIRUT: The Lebanese man who held eight bank employees hostage at gunpoint while demanding the release of his frozen savings remained behind bars on Friday pending further inquiries.

Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein was arrested after voluntarily leaving the Federal Bank branch in Beirut on Thursday evening following a seven-hour standoff.

On Friday, members of his family blocked Al-Ouzai Road in Beirut in protest at his continued detention saying it was in breach of an agreement made the night before.

An armed man Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, 42, speaks with one of his hostages inside a bank, in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. (AP)

Al-Sheikh Hussein, 42, surrendered after being told his family would be given $35,000 of his money and being promised he would be questioned and then set free. Inside the bank he had been armed with a pump-action shotgun and gasoline, which at on point he said he would use to set himself alight.

Many people in the crowd that had gathered outside the bank during the siege applauded as he was led away. Lebanon’s central bank imposed a freeze on all bank deposits in 2019.

Despite the promise that he would be allowed to walk free, after leaving the bank Al-Sheikh Hussein was arrested and detained on the orders of the Lebanese judiciary.

Lawyer Haytham Ezzo told Arab News that Al-Sheikh Hussein was detained by the Information Branch of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces and denied access to a lawyer despite it being his legal right to have one present.

“Even if no one sues him, there’s the public right,” he said. “Either the investigating judge asks for his release after he’s referred to him by the Information Branch, or asks for his arrest.”

Ezzo said it was possible that Al-Sheikh Hussein had been arrested for endangering state security or threatening to kill or kidnap.

As for the money paid to the family, that could not be reclaimed by the bank as “it doesn’t constitute a criminal tool. It is the arrested depositor’s right and property,” he added.

Hassan Mughnieh, the head of Lebanon’s Depositors Association, who was in charge of the negotiations between Al-Sheikh Hussein and the bank, told Arab News that “neither the employees who were held hostage nor the Federal Bank sued him.”

But the gunman would remain behind bars until next week at the earliest, he said.

“Things will become clear on Tuesday, as it’s the weekend and judges do not work on Monday in the Justice Palaces.”

He added: “As depositors, we will organize a protest in front of Beirut’s Justice Palace on Tuesday and in front of the Directorate General of the Internal Security Forces. We don’t have a problem with Al-Sheikh Hassan’s arrest, but justice says the bank owner should also be arrested.”

Mughnieh said he had received many calls from other disgruntled bank depositors saying they wanted to act as Al-Sheikh Hassan had done.

Lebanese bank customers have had their deposits frozen since the start of the country’s economic crisis and slump of its currency.

Castro Abdallah, head of the National Federation of Trade and Employees Unions, said on Friday that “the affected people should stand together in order to recover the stolen public and depositors’ money.”

He called on unions to protest next Thursday in the commercial street of Hamra in Beirut.

Lebanon’s caretaker deputy Prime Minister Saade Chami warned that Lebanon was standing at a crossroads.

“We need to acknowledge the reality and the crises we are facing and confront them. This means that we should take the needed measures and carry out the critical and necessary reforms that put the country on the right path.”

He added that the financial and monetary policies adopted in recent years in a bid to buy time had failed and that time was now running out.

“No one will rescue us if we don’t try to rescue ourselves,” he said. “Receiving help from the little friends we have left in the world will not achieve the desired outcome.”


Hundreds linked to Daesh transferred from Syria to Iraq

Hundreds linked to Daesh transferred from Syria to Iraq
Updated 12 August 2022

Hundreds linked to Daesh transferred from Syria to Iraq

Hundreds linked to Daesh transferred from Syria to Iraq
  • It is the fourth operation of its kind this year from the camp, which lies less than 10 kilometers from the Iraqi border
  • The men, women and children belonged to 150 families and left the camp on Thursday

BEIRUT: Syria’s autonomous Kurdish region transferred to the Iraqi government more than 600 relatives of Daesh group members who were detained at the notorious Al-Hol camp, a monitor said Friday.
It is the fourth operation of its kind this year from the camp, which lies less than 10 kilometers from the Iraqi border.
In the latest transfer, around “620 people, relatives of Daesh members, left Al-Hol,” coordinated between the camp administration and the Iraqi government, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement.
The men, women and children belonged to 150 families and left the camp on Thursday, an official in the Kurdish administration told AFP.
Thousands of foreign extremists joined Daesh as fighters, often bringing their wives and children to live in the “caliphate” declared by the group across swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Kurdish-led forces backed by a US-led coalition dislodged the militants from their last scrap of territory in Syria in 2019.
Kurdish authorities have repeatedly called on countries to repatriate their citizens from crowded displaced camps, of which Al-Hol is Syria’s largest.
More than 100 people, including many women, were murdered in Al-Hol over an 18-month period, the UN said in June, calling for camp residents to be returned home.
But nations have mostly received them only sporadically, fearing security threats and a domestic political backlash.
The first repatriation of Iraqi families from Al-Hol, involving around 300 people, took place in May last year.
Iraq should repatriate 500 families in total from Al-Hol this year, the official Iraqi New Agency announced on Wednesday.
In addition to the returned family members, the Iraqi government also received this week about 50 Iraqi Daesh fighters and leaders who were detained by the Syrian Democratic Forces, according to the Observatory.
The SDF spearheaded the fight against Daesh in Syria with the support of the US-led coalition.
In early June, Iraq repatriated another 50 Iraqi Daesh fighters who were detained by Kurdish forces. They were among 3,500 Iraqis held in Syrian Kurdish prisons, a senior military official said at the time.
In April, a senior Iraqi security official said the Al-Hol camp is a security threat and should be dismantled.
It houses around 55,000 people, the UN reported in June.