How Syria’s Bab Al-Hawa aid corridor became hostage in a geopolitical game

Special How Syria’s Bab Al-Hawa aid corridor became hostage in a geopolitical game
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Years of conflict have plunged millions of Syrians into poverty. (AFP)
Special How Syria’s Bab Al-Hawa aid corridor became hostage in a geopolitical game
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Displaced Syrians protest against the regime and its ally Russia at a camp for displaced people in Kafr Lusin near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey on Sept. 7, 2018. (AFP)
Special How Syria’s Bab Al-Hawa aid corridor became hostage in a geopolitical game
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Years of conflict have plunged millions of Syrians into poverty. (AFP)
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Updated 19 June 2022

How Syria’s Bab Al-Hawa aid corridor became hostage in a geopolitical game

How Syria’s Bab Al-Hawa aid corridor became hostage in a geopolitical game
  • Delivering UN aid directly to opposition-held areas dependent on fragile cross-border mechanism
  • Closing Bab Al-Hawa would “condemn civilians in need to death and hunger,” warns UNSC president

NEW YORK CITY: The four million people in northwest Syria who rely on international aid to survive are unsure whether there will be bread on their tables after July 10. That is when an increasingly fragile UN cross-border mechanism for delivering aid to Syria is set to expire.

Its renewal is up for a vote at the UN Security Council next month amid fears that Russia will use its power of veto to close the last remaining UN-facilitated gateway for aid into Syria, Bab Al-Hawa on the border with Turkey.

Ferit Hoxha, Albania’s permanent representative to the UN and the president of the Security Council for the month of June, told Arab News during a press conference that the closure of the only border crossing would amount to “a condemnation to death, starvation and hunger to millions of people.”

He added: “I hope no one, not Russia nor any other country, would come to that decision: To condemn civilians in need to death and hunger.”

While the world’s media might have stopped counting the numbers of dead and injured in the Syrian conflict, the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure and the largest number of internally displaced people in the world lay bare the fact that the war is far from over.




Ninety percent of Syria's population live below the poverty line, with many families left to scavenge to survive. (AFP file photo)

Syria continues to experience one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with 90 percent of the population living below poverty line. According to the World Food Program, 14.6 million people now need humanitarian assistance to survive, an increase of 1.2 million compared with last year.

The collapsing economy, coupled with a looming global food shortage as a consequence of the war in Ukraine, have added a new layer of complexity to the situation. Now, the WFP warns, the threat of famine is knocking on Syria’s door.




Ninety percent of Syria's population live below the poverty line, with many families left to scavenge to survive. (AFP file photo)

The cross-border mechanism was created in 2014 to allow the delivery of UN humanitarian aid directly to opposition-held areas of Syria. International humanitarian law requires that all aid deliveries should go through the host government.

However, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s tactic of treating humanitarian supplies as a weapon of war prompted the Security Council to resort to approving the use of four aid crossings along the Syrian border: one from Jordan, one from Iraq and two from Turkey.

Until December 2019, the members of the Security Council renewed the mandate for these crossings without much fuss. In January 2020, however, permanent member Russia used its power of veto to force the closure of all but one: Bab Al-Hawa.




A convoy transporting humanitarian aid crosses into Syria from Turkey through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing on Jan. 18, 2022. (AFP)

If this last remaining crossing is closed — and the fear that this could happen is real — humanitarian agencies say they will be unable to feed more than about 10 percent of those in need. Moreover, finding any alternative to the UN aid operations is nearly impossible.

“The problem is that you have organizations and institutions that have been in emergency mode for 12 years,” said Jomana Qaddour, co-founder of Syria Relief & Development, a humanitarian organization active in northwestern Syria.

“The Syrian crisis has been so consuming and so overwhelming that planning for a massive humanitarian response now — under a totally different umbrella with all the buy-ins from the various different actors, from the local level to international donors — would be really quite a feat.”




A truck carrying aid packages from the World Food Program drives through the town of Hazano in the rebel-held northern countryside of Syria's Idlib province, on May 16, 2022. (Omar Haj Kadour / AFP)

The effects of the war on Ukraine on food security are “systematic, severe and speeding up,” according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. He has said that the war, combined with other crises, threatens to unleash an unprecedented wave of hunger and destitution, leaving social and economic chaos in its wake.

Lamenting the skyrocketing prices of food and a near doubling of the cost of fertilizers, and the resultant shortages of corn, wheat, rice and other staple crops, Guterres warned that while this year’s food crisis is about lack of access, “next year’s could be about lack of food.”

INNUMBERS

90% of Syrian population lives below the poverty line.

14.6m Syrians are dependent on humanitarian assistance.

While the UN warns that no country will be untouched by looming food shortages, especially those that are already vulnerable, one can only imagine the devastating severity of its effects on a place such as Syria, which has been reeling under similar conditions for the past 12 years of conflict.

In the run-up to the Security Council vote in July, intensive negotiations for a new resolution to extend the cross-border mechanism are continuing behind closed doors, led by Ireland and Norway, according to sources at the Irish mission to the UN.




Civil society activists, aid, and medical and rescue services form a human chain rally on July 2, 2021 calling for the continued passage of humanitarian aid into Syria's rebel-held Idlib. (AFP file)

The two countries are the chief advocates at the UN for humanitarian issues in Syria. Last year at around this time, their ambassadors to the UN, Geraldine Byrne Nason and Mona Juul, were seen rushing back and forth from one UN chamber to another, trying to rally council members around a resolution they had drafted to reauthorize Bab Al-Hawa.

When Russia and the US agreed a compromise on the issue last year, American President Joe Biden hailed it as a diplomatic victory. The vote took place just days after he had held a summit with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, during which the cross-border issue was discussed.

After the successful adoption of Resolution 2585 by the council last year, both leaders commended “the joint work of their respective teams following the US-Russia summit that led to the unanimous renewal of cross-border humanitarian assistance to Syria today in the Security Council.”




An aerial picture shows camps for displaced Syrians in the village of Killi, near Bab al-Hawa by the border with Turkey, in Idlib province, on Jan.9, 2021. (AFP photo)

The US had long asserted that progress on the aid process would open the door to more meaningful engagement with Russia on some of the thornier diplomatic questions relating to Syria, such as the issue of detainees and the forcibly disappeared, the return of refugees, and the work of the constitutional committee.

This time around, however, diplomatic talks between the two major powers have all but ground to a halt following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine in February.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, has been investing her personal legacy in seeking an extension to the mandate for Bab Al-Hawa. She touched on the issue during several of the meetings she convened when her country held the presidency of the Security Council in May.




Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, h

She also recently returned from an official trip to Turkey, her second this year, during which she visited the Syrian border to assess the potential consequences should the UN be forced in July to end its humanitarian deliveries to Idlib. She warned that without aid, “babies will die.”

“We have not forgotten Syria,” Thomas-Greenfield said as she vowed to do “everything possible” to ensure the UN mandate to deliver cross-border aid continues and is expanded to meet the growing needs on the ground. She said she would try to reopen discussions with Russian diplomats at the UN in an effort to keep the aid flowing.

The Russian mission at the UN did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but Dmitry Polyanskiy, Moscow’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, recently offered a pessimistic view of the prospects for a revival of diplomacy with Washington, citing the “current geopolitical circumstances.”




An aerial view shows a convoy transporting humanitarian aid parked at customs in Syria after crossing from Turkey through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing on Jan. 18, 2022. ( AFP)

Russia argues that the cross-border mechanism violates the sovereignty of Syria. With China’s backing, Moscow has lobbied for all aid to be channeled through Assad’s government and blames the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country on American and European sanctions against the Syrian regime.

Critics of Russia’s stance say Moscow’s priority is not cross-border assistance, and that it seeks to use its power of veto as leverage to gain support for its position on Syria. According to the critics, Russian diplomats at the UN have been linking the vote on the cross-border mechanism to unrelated issues such as sanctions relief, reconstruction efforts and counterterrorism.

While UN chief Guterres has repeatedly asserted that cross-border operations are among the most transparent and scrutinized mechanisms in the world, Russia claims that the aid that flows through them has been benefiting designated terrorist groups in and around Idlib, such as Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham.

Washington declared a victory when the cross-border mechanism was renewed last year, but Qaddour, who in addition to her work with Syria Relief & Development is also a senior fellow with the Rafik Hariri Center and Middle East Programs at the Atlantic Council, believes it is Russia that has gained the most from this situation.

She believes it is unlikely that the extension of the Bab Al-Hawa gateway will be vetoed, the reason being that this is a useful political card that has been played repeatedly, and will be played again in the future.




Jomana Qaddour. (Supplied)

In each round of renewals, according to Qaddour, Moscow has been able to extract a variety of concessions from Washington and its allies, such as a UN resolution endorsing certain early recovery projects that were previously contingent on a broader political settlement, as well as a qualified easing of sanctions on the Assad regime.

“This confusion over what the West is actually gaining from these negotiations places them, at a minimum, in a weak position,” Qaddour told Arab News. “And, at the maximum, it does hamper the ability of partners, such as aid organizations, to continue to rely on UN aid.”

The Syrian civil war has presented Putin with an opportunity to re-establish Russia as a powerful player in the region by protecting its ally and defeating what it considers a US-led regime-change campaign.

“Syria was the stage for Russian resurgence,” said Qaddour. “I can’t be optimistic to think that this is going to be a place that Russia abandons with ease. This is something they will continue to absolutely fight for and shape.




Displaced Syrians protest against the regime and its ally Russia at a camp for displaced people in Kafr Lusin near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey on Sept. 7, 2018. (AFP)

Not that Syria is close to being uppermost on the agenda in Washington, said Qaddour.

“Am I under any illusion that the US or the West are recalculating and going back and putting Syria at the top of their priority list? No. I don’t think that anything indicates such a reprioritization in the US foreign policy circle. Ukraine now dominates everything,” she said.

Meanwhile, even if the aid corridor is not blocked, the northwest of Syria remains one of the most vulnerable areas in the country. Many agree that its ultimate fate lies thousands of miles away in New York, where calls for reforms to the Security Council have become louder since the start of the war in Ukraine — reforms that would allow humanitarian assistance to be delivered to the most vulnerable people without worrying whether it might be blocked by a veto from a permanent member of the council.

 


Jordanian university nursing student killed on campus laid to rest

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Photo/Facebook
Updated 11 sec ago

Jordanian university nursing student killed on campus laid to rest

Photo/Facebook
  • Social media users launch hashtag demanding justice

AMMAN: Jordanian university student Iman Ersheid, who was reportedly gunned down on campus, was laid to rest on Friday in the northern city of Irbid.

Ersheid, 18, was killed by an unidentified assailant on Thursday. Police said the suspect was wearing a cap.

She was a nursing student at the Applied Science University in Amman’s Shafa Badran neighborhood.

Police spokesperson Lt. Col. Amer Sartawi said criminal investigation personnel had identified the shooting suspect, who was still at large.

The police raided his house on Friday but he was not there. “But the search is underway for the suspect.”

He said official statements would be issued, and he urged people to adhere to the gag order issued by the attorney general banning the publication of any news about the case.

Police said the victim was shot over five times by the suspect, who fled the scene after committing the crime.

An eyewitness, who is a colleague of Ersheid, spoke on condition of anonymity and said the assailant had entered the university from its main gate brandishing a weapon.

She told Arab News that Ersheid was shot right after she left the exam hall at around 10 a.m.

Asked how a man could enter the university with a gun, the eyewitness replied: “I don’t know because the norm is that only students can enter and are sometimes asked to show their student ID to security. The university is now investigating the issue.”

She said the suspect fled the campus firing shots into the air. “I didn’t see that but was told about it by those who were present at the crime scene.”

The victim’s father said his last contact with his daughter was on the phone at 10 a.m. on Thursday.

“My daughter told me that she finished her exam and I told her to wait at the university until her brother comes and picks her up. He was on the way with the car to her,” the father told journalists.

But, two hours later, the father said he received a call from the police saying his daughter was being treated at a hospital.

Social media users launched a hashtag demanding justice for Ersheid and the severest punishment for the killer. The hashtag - “capital punishment for Iman’s killer” - was trending on social media.

The university offered condolences to her family in a Facebook post.

Zakaria Mubasher, the university’s student affairs dean, said the suspected killer was not a university student.

Mubasher told the government-owned Al-Mamlaka TV: “The security personnel at the university first thought the gunshots were firecrackers, but later realized that a student was shot.”

He said there were 800 surveillance cameras installed in different places in the university and that cameras had captured images of the killer. “The footage is now in the hands of the police.”

Mubasher added that the university’s security personnel had attempted to stop the suspect, but “he fired several rounds in the air so that he could escape, which he did.”

Following the incident, a group of MPs from the National Guidance Committee said they would meet with the government to discuss arm possession laws in Jordan.

Sociologist Kamal Mirza said the shooting must only be examined from a “criminal perspective.”

“Campus shooting and shooting incidents, in general, have not reached the alarming phenomenon level. Taking into consideration the low level of such crimes in Jordan, sociology should still not be used as an analytical tool.”

Mirza told Arab News that from a “statistical point of view” murder as a crime in Jordan was not a social practice yet, but a behavior.

“Maybe psychology could be applied to analyzing this crime. It is possible that the killer suffers from behavioral disorders.”

According to the latest official statistics, the country's crime rate decreased by 5.39 percent in 2021.

The Public Security Directorate report said 20,991 crimes were committed in Jordan in 2021, 1,196 down from the 22,187 registered in 2020.

There were 5,237 murders recorded in 2021.


Rain douses Cyprus wildfire that burned thousands of acres

Rain douses Cyprus wildfire that burned thousands of acres
Updated 4 min 55 sec ago

Rain douses Cyprus wildfire that burned thousands of acres

Rain douses Cyprus wildfire that burned thousands of acres
  • Aircraft from both sides of Cyprus, as well as British military and Israeli personnel, had responded to calls for help to fight the fire
  • The fire has been extinguished to a large extent with the effect of the rain that fell last night

KANTARA, Cyprus: In the end, it was Mother Nature that extinguished a wildfire that scorched thousands of acres and forced the evacuation of villages in the north of divided Cyprus, officials said Saturday.
Aircraft from both sides of Cyprus, as well as British military and Israeli personnel, had responded to calls for help to fight the fire which began Tuesday in the Kantara area of the Kyrenia mountain range.
“The fire... has been extinguished to a large extent with the effect of the rain that fell last night,” said Unal Ustel, prime minister of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Ankara.
“We have survived a great disaster.”
There have been no reports of casualties but Turkish Cypriot authorities said more than 6,500 acres (2,600 hectares) had been burned.
Helicopters were still dropping water onto the burning ridge lines on Friday, before intense rains fell overnight.
Forestry department head Cemil Karzaoglu said the fire was completely under control and mopping up operations were continuing where smoke was still visible.
Ustel expressed gratitude to “the British Base Areas, Israel and the Greek Cypriot administration for their support in extinguishing the fire from the air.”
The United Nations peacekeeping force said it coordinated the firefighting response.
According to Cypriot media reports earlier, at least four villages were evacuated.
Emergency services from Israel and Britain’s Sovereign Base Areas on the eastern Mediterranean island often help fight Cyprus’s frequent wildfires.
In July last year, blazes that broke out in the Larnaca and Limassol districts claimed the lives of four Egyptian farmworkers and destroyed more than 12,000 acres.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish forces occupied the northern part of the island in response to a military coup sponsored by the junta in power in Greece at the time.


UNRWA in ‘early warning mode’ after shortfall at pledging conference

UNRWA in ‘early warning mode’ after shortfall at pledging conference
Updated 25 June 2022

UNRWA in ‘early warning mode’ after shortfall at pledging conference

UNRWA in ‘early warning mode’ after shortfall at pledging conference
  • Agency subject to smear campaign that ignores pioneering achievements, its chief tells Arab News
  • UN Relief and Works Agency supports millions of Palestinian refugees in Middle East

UNITED NATIONS: The solution to the chronic underfunding of the UN agency helping Palestinian refugees lies in a “political will” that matches declarations of support for its work, the head of the UN Relief and Works Agency told Arab News.

Philippe Lazzarini’s comments came at a press briefing a day after a pledging conference that raised $160 million from international donors.

This leaves the agency short of $100 million needed to support education for more than half a million Palestinian children, health care services for over 2 million people, and cash assistance for the poorest among them.

The $100 million shortfall is about the same as UNRWA has faced every year for almost a decade.

This year, however, skyrocketing costs mean the agency will not be able to absorb the shortfall through austerity and cost-control measures as “there’s very little left to cut without cutting services,” Lazzarini said, adding that the money should tide UNRWA over until September, but things are up in the air after that.

“We’re in an early warning mode,” he said. “Right now, I’m drawing attention that we’re in a danger zone and we have to avoid a situation where UNRWA is pushed to cross the tipping point, because if we cross the tipping point that means 28,000 teachers, health workers, nurses, doctors, engineers can’t be paid.”

He added that UNRWA has a very strong donor base in Europe, and last year the Biden administration restored funding, reversing former US President Donald Trump’s aid freeze.

But Lazzarini said the overall contribution from the Arab world has dropped to less than 3 percent of the agency’s income.

“What’s also true is that the Arab world and the Gulf countries have always shown great solidarity with Palestinian refugees, and have always been involved in financing the construction of schools and clinics, and whenever there was a humanitarian emergency, to contribute to the humanitarian response,” he added. “This is very important to keep.”

He said the Arab League has been discussing for two years that its contribution to UNRWA should at least amount to 7-8 percent of the agency’s core budget.

“There’s room for increased solidarity, and having the region committed means a lot to the Palestinians,” he added.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine cast a shadow over the donor conference, where some admitted to financial difficulties and donor fatigue.

“Funding the agency’s services has been put at risk today because of de-prioritization, or maybe increased indifference, or because of domestic politics,” Lazzarini said. “We’ll know better at the end of the year how much it will impact the agency.”

Some donors have already warned UNRWA “that we might not have the traditional top-up at the end of the year, which would be dramatic” for the agency, he added.

UNRWA was established in 1949 following a resolution by the UN General Assembly to carry out relief efforts for the 750,000 Palestinians who were forced from their homes when Israel was established in 1948.

There are now about 6 million Palestinian refugees living in camps in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

“Today, we have some classrooms with up to 50 kids,” Lazzarini said. “We have a double shift in our schools. We have doctors who can’t spend more than three minutes in medical consultation. So if we go beyond that, it will force the agency to cut services.”

UNRWA’s problem is that “we’re expected to provide government-like services to one of the most destitute communities in the region, but we’re funded like an NGO because we depend completely on voluntary contributions,” he added.

Ahead of Thursday’s donor conference, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s permanent UN representative, had urged countries to stop contributions until UNRWA fires teachers that his country claims support terrorism and killing Jews.

Lazzarini said UNRWA received a letter from Israel’s UN Mission on Friday that he had not read, but all allegations will be investigated and if there is a breach of UN values and misconduct, “we’ll take measures in line with UN policies.”

He added that UNRWA’s detractors are usually civil society organizations that “seek to undermine the agency, usually target lawmakers, and talk about (UNRWA’s) textbooks and education in schools without acknowledging the extraordinary efforts exerted by the agency to ensure quality education in line with UNESCO standards.

“I keep reminding we’re the only ones having reached gender equality, having a proper human rights curriculum in the region, that we’re regularly assessed by third parties.

“The World Bank assessed that we’re high value for money when it comes to education. Children are one year ahead compared to public education in the region.

“We have extraordinary human success stories of kids who have gone to our schools and succeeded at international level.”

He said UNRWA’s operations are among the most heavily scrutinized but “despite that, there’s smear campaign on issues — which sometimes need indeed to be addressed — but which never acknowledge the efforts being put by the agency.”
 


60,000 students take exams as Lebanon grapples with crises

60,000 students take exams as Lebanon grapples with crises
Updated 25 June 2022

60,000 students take exams as Lebanon grapples with crises

60,000 students take exams as Lebanon grapples with crises

BEIRUT: On Saturday, 60,933 Lebanese students took their intermediate certificate exams (Brevet) amid severe power cuts, water shortages and inflated transport costs.
However, the security forces provided a peaceful environment inside the exam centers while the Lebanese Army was deployed outside.
The Ministry of Education and Higher Education organized exams around where invigilators live to reduce transport costs. It also ensured that exams were only taken in centers that students and teachers could efficiently access.
Lebanon’s worsening financial crisis and the local currency’s depreciation meant that the ministry faced several challenges for holding the exams.
The ministry canceled the exams last year during the pandemic and struggled to organize them this year amid a teachers’ strike and parents grappling with the high costs of driving their children to centers.
Making matters worse for the students, an unusual end-of-June thunderstorm hit Lebanon on Saturday morning. Given the cloudy weather, the ministry had to plead with private generator owners to provide exam centers with power so students can clearly see their exam sheets.
In some centers in Diniyeh, northern Lebanon, exams were delayed for over two hours due to the power outage and the storm.
The second part of the Brevet exams will be held on Monday; just two days of exams are now required after subjects were reduced to five instead of nine.
The official exams of the Lebanese Baccalaureate Certificate of Secondary Education, which 43,000 students will take, are scheduled to start on Wednesday and last for three days.
A total of 12,000 teachers are supervising the official exams as the official education associations decided not to boycott exams at the last minute despite their demands to raise the allowance.
Imad Al-Ashkar, director general at the ministry, who heads the examining committees, said the suspension of studies as a result of the teachers’ strike and online schooling have been taken into account while setting exam papers.
The ministry has resorted to donors to secure additional funds to pay teachers for supervising and correcting official exams.
The teachers were promised an increase in financial allowances for supervisors and heads of exam centers; 160,000 LBP ($6.34) and 200,000 LBP respectively. They were also promised a $20 daily allowance provided by donor countries.
The currency depreciation means that the supervisor’s allowance is only enough to buy them a sandwich and a soda. Meanwhile, the price of a 20-liter gasoline canister is almost 700,000 LBP.
The struggle of education workers is being replicated by all the Lebanese, who are facing a living crisis that has reached unacceptable limits, as bakeries are running out of bread and water is barely reaching households since the Water Establishment cannot afford diesel to run its pump.
Power cuts are ongoing and more medicines are expected to go missing from pharmacies as subsidies will be lifted on more chronic disease medicines next week.
Traders are taking advantage of the crisis to make illegal profits; the cost of 10 barrels of household water has doubled to 1 million LBP.
Some bakery owners have reported that people in the southern suburb of Beirut are buying all the flour from the mills at a subsidized price before setting up stands near bakeries, selling flour bags at double their price while the security services stand idly by.


Yemen truce suffers blow as Houthis reject UN envoy’s proposal on Taiz

Yemen truce suffers blow as Houthis reject UN envoy’s proposal on Taiz
Updated 25 June 2022

Yemen truce suffers blow as Houthis reject UN envoy’s proposal on Taiz

Yemen truce suffers blow as Houthis reject UN envoy’s proposal on Taiz
  • The international community’s lenient stance would only encourage the Houthis to refuse to lift their siege of the city
  • “He should push for the implementation of his proposal and name and shame the party that rejected it,” Al-Ajar told Arab News

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: The Yemeni government’s delegation to peace talks focused on the southwestern city of Taiz demanded on Saturday that the United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Hans Grundberg denounce the Iran-backed Houthis for rejecting proposals to end the siege of Taiz and threatening to undermine the UN-brokered truce.
Ali Al-Ajar, a member of the government delegation, said the international community’s lenient stance would only encourage the Houthis to refuse to lift their siege of the city, which began in 2015.
“He should push for the implementation of his proposal and name and shame the party that rejected it,” Al-Ajar told Arab News. “His policy of holding the stick from the middle will not lead to any solution.”
Grundberg initially propose the opening of a main road and four secondary roads around the city in Amman, during the latest round of talks on Taiz between the government and the Houthis.
The government delegation, which had previously insisted that the Houthis lift their siege of Taiz immediately, accepted the proposal, while the Houthi delegation requested time to discuss it with their leaders in Sanaa.
Grundberg had visited Sanaa and Muscat in an effort to convince the Houthis to accept his proposal and start implementing a key element of the UN-brokered truce that came into effect on April 2.
The Houthis officially rejected Grundberg’s proposal on Taiz on Thursday, proposing as an alternative the “immediate opening” of two of the city’s access roads, one linking Taiz to Sanaa via Aber, Al-Saremen, Al-Demenah and Al-Houban, and the second connecting Taiz to Aden through Al-Sharejah (Lahj), Karesh and Al-Rahedah.
Those roads were described by the government delegation as “unpaved, long, and going through flood courses.” The first road, they said, is “small and rough” and only viable for off-road vehicles, while the second road runs through Houthi-controlled areas.
“For us, the (siege) is better than accepting the Houthi’s proposal. The road is one-way and dusty and would not alleviate the suffering of the people of Taiz. They should open the wide road between Taiz and Al-Houban,” Abdul Basit Al-Baher, a Yemeni military officer in Taiz, told Arab News.
Protesters on Friday congregated near Taiz’s blockaded western and eastern entrances to denounce the Houthi siege and draw international attention to their suffering. “Break Taiz siege,” read one of the posters written in English.
Taiz has been effectively cut off from the rest of the country since the Houthi siege began seven years ago, but the Iran-backed militia has so far failed to seize control of the city thanks to fierce opposition from the army and resistance fighters.