Yemen negotiators accept UN road proposal on Taiz siege

The houthis flatly rejected the idea of opening the main roads that link Taiz with sanaa, hodeidah and aden and they alternatively suggested opening a rough and rarely used road. (Reuters)
The houthis flatly rejected the idea of opening the main roads that link Taiz with sanaa, hodeidah and aden and they alternatively suggested opening a rough and rarely used road. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 June 2022

Yemen negotiators accept UN road proposal on Taiz siege

The houthis flatly rejected the idea of opening the main roads that link Taiz with sanaa, hodeidah and aden
  • Houthis accused of opening unpaved road to falsely claim that the siege has been lifted

AL-MUKALLA: Yemeni government negotiators in the UN-brokered talks over the siege of Taiz on Tuesday accepted a UN proposal for initially opening a main road in the besieged city of Taiz, achieving a breakthrough in the talks and as the truce continues to produce significant benefits.

Abdul Kareem Shaiban, the head of the government’s delegation at the talks in the Jordanian capital of Amman, said that the delegation supports the UN envoy’s efforts in reaching a deal on ending the Houthi siege on Taiz, urging the international community to order the Yemeni militia to implement the UN-brokered truce and stop obstructing ideas for alleviating the suffering of the Yemenis.

“We appreciate the positive role of the UN special envoy and his team, and we hope that he will exercise the necessary pressure and quick measures on the Houthi group to speed up the implementation of the opening of the main roads, and not allow it to manipulate and consume the time of the second truce,” Shaiban said in a statement, accusing the rebels of unilaterally opening small and unpaved roads in Taiz, apparently to ease international pressure on them to end the siege of Taiz.  

We appreciate the positive role of the UN special envoy and his team, and we hope that he will exercise the necessary pressure and quick measures on the Houthi group to speed up the implementation of the opening of the main roads.

Abdul Kareem Shaiban, Head of the govt’s delegation at the talks in Amman

Aiming to end the impasse in talks in Amman, the UN Yemen envoy, Hans Grundberg, on Monday said he made a proposal to the two sides for opening a main road in Taiz and roads in other provinces as a first step for completely opening routes that were closed during the war.

“The parties have a moral and political responsibility to engage seriously and urgently with the UN proposal, prioritizing the interests of civilians and delivering immediate and tangible results to the people of Taiz and Yemen at large,” Grundberg’s office said in a statement, adding that his latest proposal considered the concerns of both sides and comments from the country’s civil society.

The current discussions on the Taiz siege and opening roads in other provinces are part of the UN-brokered truce that came into effect on April 2. Renewed for another two months, the truce significantly reduced hostilities across the country, allowed the resumption of commercial flights from the Houthi-held Sanaa airport and facilitated the arrival of fuel ships to the western city of Hodeidah.

Mistrust has overshadowed the talks on Taiz since they kicked off as both sides traded accusations over delays in opening roads in Yemen’s third-largest and most populated city. The Yemeni government said that the Houthis flatly rejected the idea of opening the main roads that link Taiz with Sanaa, Hodeidah and Aden and they alternatively suggested opening a rough and rarely used road.

The Houthis also accused the Yemeni government of refusing to open roads from areas under its control in the city. This week, residents and officials said that the Houthi bulldozers and trucks were seen clearing sands and opening an abandoned road that links the besieged town with other areas in the north and west.

The Houthi move has sparked angry reactions from disappointed residents and government officials and was widely deemed a one-sided step by the Houthis to claim they lifted the siege on Taiz.

“This is a very narrow, one-way and unpaved road,” Abdul Basit Al-Baher, a military officer, told Arab News by telephone.

“We want them to open Al-Huban road. This is the largest road in Taiz that links the city with the southern provinces and Taiz’s eastern countryside,” Al-Baher said.

The Yemeni official said the Houthis on Tuesday violated the truce in Taiz by launching artillery attacks that pounded army positions near an air-defense military base, northwest of Taiz.


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.