Special interview: There is ‘a very strong consensus’ in favor of Yemen truce continuation, says US envoy Tim Lenderking

Special Special interview: There is ‘a very strong consensus’ in favor of Yemen truce continuation, says US envoy Tim Lenderking
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US Special Envoy Lenderking arrived in Riyadh on Saturday, to discuss peaceful solutions to the war, and the FSO Safer tanker. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Special Special interview: There is ‘a very strong consensus’ in favor of Yemen truce continuation, says US envoy Tim Lenderking
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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses a press conference following a pledging conference for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen on Feb. 26, 2019 in Geneva. (AFP file)
Special Special interview: There is ‘a very strong consensus’ in favor of Yemen truce continuation, says US envoy Tim Lenderking
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Yemeni boys bring home food relief distributed by the Saudi aid agency KSrelief in various parts of the war-ravaged country. (Supplied)
Special Special interview: There is ‘a very strong consensus’ in favor of Yemen truce continuation, says US envoy Tim Lenderking
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Thousands of Yemenis fled their homes amid battles between government forces and Houthi fighters near the Hodeidah airport in 2018. (AFP file)
Special Special interview: There is ‘a very strong consensus’ in favor of Yemen truce continuation, says US envoy Tim Lenderking
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Millions of children in Yemen face starvation due to a lack of aid for the country, UNICEF has said. (AFP)
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Updated 27 November 2022

Special interview: There is ‘a very strong consensus’ in favor of Yemen truce continuation, says US envoy Tim Lenderking

Special interview: There is ‘a very strong consensus’ in favor of Yemen truce continuation, says US envoy Tim Lenderking
  • Washington’s point man for Yemen says Houthis face complete isolation if they opt for a military solution
  • He expressed hope that Houthis’ backer Iran will match its words supporting extended truce with action

RIYADH: There is a very strong internal and international consensus in favor of continuation of the truce in Yemen, with all of the regional countries supporting a peaceful resolution, not a return to war, Timothy Lenderking, the US special envoy for Yemen, has told Arab News.

If the Houthis opt for a military solution, they will be completely isolated, he said during an interview with Arab News in Riyadh, where he arrived on Saturday as part of a diplomatic push to extend a UN-mediated truce in Yemen into a permanent arrangement.

Lenderking is also expected to continue to rally support for UN efforts to raise awareness of the threat posed by the stricken oil storage vessel, Safer, in the Red Sea, and the funding required to address the ticking environmental time bomb.

After more than seven years of war and humanitarian crisis, the truce between the Houthis, who control most of northern Yemen, and the UN-recognized government has been extended from two to six months and has largely held.

Lenderking considers the extension an opportunity for the Iran-backed Houthis to show good faith and good will, and respond to the desire of the Yemeni people for peace.

“From what we know after talking to Yemenis inside Yemen and around the world, there is no appetite for a return to war. There is no capacity for anybody to wish to see this happen,” he said.




US Special Envoy Lenderking being interviewed by Arab News' Aisha Fareed in Riyadh. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Lenderking, a career member of the senior foreign service who was picked for the special envoy’s post by US President Joe Biden on Feb. 4, 2021, said that the US recognizes the leadership the Yemen government has shown in terms of flexibility with facilitating the entry of oil derivatives ships into the port of Hodeidah.

Deploring the fuel crisis that resulted from the Houthis’ “altering of the standard operating procedures” by which oil supplies move into Yemen, he said: “It created a problem, and immediately produced long gas lines in Sanaa such as we had seen before the truce.”

Washington does not support any bureaucratic procedures that obstruct the movement of oil, Lenderking clarified, adding that free movement of oil without any impediments into Yemen is, for the US, a fundamental and longstanding position.

Acknowledging that the government’s role in facilitating the entry of oil tankers into Hodeidah port is a vital part of the truce (which went into effect on April 2 this year), he said the movement of oil has an immediate and positive impact on Yemenis.

“It reduces the fuel lines, powers the food mills, and brings fuel to hospitals and schools and indeed the entire transportation network. It’s one of the cornerstones of what we feel has been a very successful truce,” he said.




Lenderking said the movement of oil into Yemen, thanks to the truce, is having an immediate and positive impact on the lives of ordinary people. (AFP)

Illustrating his point, Lenderking said that 21,000 passengers have flown from Sanaa airport on commercial airlines for the first time since 2016, and there will be more destinations becoming available.

Also as a result of the truce, he said, there are 60 percent fewer civilian casualties in Yemen — yet another development that he believes demonstrates what the agreement can bring in terms of tangible benefit to the Yemeni people.

The Houthis have publicly committed to the terms of the truce when it was extended on Aug. 2, and according to Lenderking, the US is counting on them to continue to support the deal going forward in October in an expanded format.

“We see all of those (pillars of the truce including the fuel ships and commercial flights) expanding after October, bringing additional benefit to the Yemenis and really changing their lives in a very positive way,” he said.

Lenderking said that the international consensus exists among the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, notably the Chinese, the US, the Russians, who all see this conflict in the same way — that the pressing issues must be resolved in a political context through negotiation.




Houthi fighters, reportedly funded and armed by Iran, have contributed largely to the destruction of Yemen. (AFP file)

He said that even Iran has welcomed the truce in each of its iterations and that there is a considerable amount of international attention focused on Yemen at this moment, particularly heading into October.

Elaborating on Iran’s role in the conflict, Lenderking said that the relationship between the Houthis and Iran has been mostly a “lethal” one, with the Iranians having encouraged the Houthis at times to launch attacks.




A picture taken on June 19, 2018 shows debris of Iranian-made Ababil drones, which the UAE military says were used by Houthi rebels in Yemen in battles against coalition forces. (AFP)

“They’ve supported the Houthis in developing their military capability, their UAV capability. And that’s been very negative,” he said. “This fuels rather than tempers the conflict.”

Nevertheless, Lenderking expressed hope that Tehran would match its words — welcoming the truce and backing an extended cease-fire — with action by supporting the current positive trajectory.

“There is a lot at stake here,” he said. “When we talk about the Yemen conflict, you have not only the livelihoods and the terrible humanitarian situation in Yemen, but you also have the American lives in Saudi Arabia and around the Gulf that are put at risk by attacks on these countries.

“We’ve seen oil and other infrastructure in these countries attacked by the Houthis.”

BIO

Name: Timothy A. Lenderking

Designation: Deputy assistant secretary of state for Arabian Gulf Affairs in the Near East Bureau, Department of State

Previous posts: Deputy chief of mission, US Embassy in Riyadh Senior democracy adviser, US Embassy in Baghdad

Education: Masters in history and international relations, University of Washington (1989)

All things considered, Lenderking says now is the moment for Yemen and its leaders to embrace the possibility of peace — through the truce, a durable cease-fire and political negotiations.

Besides the war, another issue related to Yemen that is of growing international concern is the fate of the derelict vessel FSO Safer. In recent months, the UN, with the support of the US and the Netherlands, has raised $70 million in contributions for the safe transfer of the oil stored in the Safer.

The Safer, decaying off the port of Ras Isa north of Hodeidah, is believed to contain 1.1 million barrels of oil — four times the amount that leaked into Alaska’s Prince William Sound as a result of the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989.




There is growing international concern surrounding the fate of the derelict vessel FSO Safer. (AFP)

The vessel’s structure has been left exposed to humidity and corrosion with little or no maintenance since the war started in 2015.

Lenderking, who is spearheading the salvage effort, is optimistic about preventing what he has described as a “looming disaster.”

He said that there is considerable support not only from countries in this region but also from Europe and the US, which is one of the largest donors to the initiative, with a pledge of $10 million, alongside Saudi Arabia and other countries.

“Obviously, an oil spill of a magnitude four times the size of the Exxon Valdez will be devastating for the coastline of the Red Sea, through which so much of international commerce traverses,” Lenderking said. “It will exacerbate the humanitarian situation in Yemen if the ports along the western coast are blocked to oil ships.”

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

According to Lenderking, the private sector has done a good job, but could do more to support the dismantling effort, which he said would benefit international commerce, maritime diversity and trade, in addition to helping Yemen rebound from the humanitarian crisis.

The first phase envisages the removal of the oil from the Safer onto a more secure vessel. However, neither the funding ($80 million) of this phase has been completed, nor is a reliable political agreement in place.

Still, Lenderking believes that the salvage initiative has been worthwhile, noting that a great deal of progress has been made since it was launched and expressing satisfaction with the leadership that Saudi Arabia, the US, the Netherlands, the UN and other donors have shown in the matter.




Lenderking is optimistic about preventing what he has described as a “looming disaster” off the western Yemeni coast. (AFP)

“We’re not there yet, and of course the key is to actually move the oil off the Safer before the tanker explodes or starts to leak, and that’s really the concern and that could happen at any time,” he said. “I mean experts have been warning about this for years.”

Lenderking pointed out that is the first time has been an agreement to move oil off the Safer and put it onto a safer vessel, an objective he is “confident” will be met this year.

“That’s a realistic goal, and I believe at the UN General Assembly later this month there will be an event which marks the progress made, and calls on donors to continue to support this effort,” he said.

 


US says helping quake-hit Syria but not Assad

US says helping quake-hit Syria but not Assad
Updated 08 February 2023

US says helping quake-hit Syria but not Assad

US says helping quake-hit Syria but not Assad
  • The United States has refused normalization of relations with Syrian President Bashar Assad or any direct reconstruction aid, seeking accountability for abuses during the brutal nearly 12-year civil war

WASHINGTON: The United States said Tuesday it was working with partners to provide earthquake relief in Syria but would stand firm against working with the Damascus government.
The United States also said it expected to send further assistance to Turkiye after sending two rescue teams to the NATO ally, which suffered heavily as well in Sunday’s earthquake.
“In Syria itself we have US-funded humanitarian partners that are coordinating lifesaving assistance,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters as he met his Austrian counterpart.
“We’re committed to providing that assistance to help people in Syria recover from this disaster, just as we have been their leading humanitarian donor since the start of the war in Syria itself,” Blinken said.
“I want to emphasize here that these funds, of course, go to the Syrian people — not to the regime. That won’t change.”
The United States has refused normalization of relations with Syrian President Bashar Assad or any direct reconstruction aid, seeking accountability for abuses during the brutal nearly 12-year civil war.
Assad has wrested back most of the country and over the past year has been restoring relations with other Arab nations as well as Turkiye.
Stephen Allen, who is leading the response on the ground for the US Agency for International Development, said that most of the damage was in areas not under Assad’s control and that USAID had local partners there.
USAID is reorienting assistance that was already in place to help war-hit Syrians, instead focusing on rescue efforts and other immediate needs including providing shelter and food, Allen said.
“We’ve got the full gamut of humanitarian response going in northwest Syria right now,” Allen told reporters.
He declined to name the non-governmental groups working with the United States, citing operational security.
The United States has announced that it was sending two rescue teams to NATO ally Turkiye. Allen said the teams would arrive Wednesday morning and head to the city of Adiyaman, where search efforts have so far been limited.
The teams, coming on two C-130 transport aircraft, are bringing 158 personnel, 12 dogs and 170,000 pounds (77,100 kilograms) of specialized equipment, he said.
“What we’re focused on right now in Turkiye is getting those teams out and saving lives, to put it bluntly,” Allen said from Ankara.
“If they need further assistance when it comes to populations who may be without housing or need immediate assistance, we are certainly ready to provide that,” he said.
The 7.8-magnitude earthquake has killed more than 7,100 people in the two countries, according to officials and medics.

 


Israeli court delays demolition of West Bank village again

Israeli court delays demolition of West Bank village again
Updated 08 February 2023

Israeli court delays demolition of West Bank village again

Israeli court delays demolition of West Bank village again
  • Right-wing Israeli group Regavim had taken the government to court in order to force officials to raze the village
  • Opponents to the demolition believe levelling Khan Al-Ahmar would pave the way for the expansion of Israeli settlements in the area

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday approved a new delay to the controversial demolition of a Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank.
The Khan Al-Ahmar community, which lies on a strategic highway east of Jerusalem, was slated for demolition in 2018 after a ruling that it was built without Israeli permits.
Right-wing Israeli group Regavim had taken the government to court in order to force officials to raze the village, whose 200 residents have drawn international support.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration, which took office in December, had requested more time to decide on Khan Al-Ahmar’s fate, telling the court it needed an extension before presenting a plan to demolish the village.
In Tuesday’s ruling, the Supreme Court granted a delay until May 1 but expressed regret that the government was “satisfied with the current situation... postponing its response every few months.”
Prior administrations have delayed their decision on Khan Al-Ahmar eight times.
Opponents to the demolition believe levelling Khan Al-Ahmar would pave the way for the expansion of Israeli settlements in the area, effectively forming a barrier between annexed east Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank.
Israel has been under international pressure to block the demolition, with European diplomats most recently visiting the community on January 30.
Khan Al-Ahmar is located in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control and where it is almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain construction permits.
The West Bank has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War.


Newborn, toddler saved from rubble in quake-hit Syrian town

Newborn, toddler saved from rubble in quake-hit Syrian town
Updated 07 February 2023

Newborn, toddler saved from rubble in quake-hit Syrian town

Newborn, toddler saved from rubble in quake-hit Syrian town
  • The newborn girl’s umbilical cord was still connected to her mother, Afraa Abu Hadiya, who was dead
  • Baby was the only member of her family to survive from the building collapse Monday in the town of Jinderis

JINDERIS, Syria: Residents digging through a collapsed building in a northwest Syrian town discovered a crying infant whose mother appears to have given birth to her while buried underneath the rubble from this week’s devastating earthquake, relatives and a doctor said Tuesday.
The newborn girl’s umbilical cord was still connected to her mother, Afraa Abu Hadiya, who was dead, they said. The baby was the only member of her family to survive from the building collapse Monday in the small town of Jinderis, next to the Turkish border, Ramadan Sleiman, a relative, told The Associated Press.
Monday’s pre-dawn 7.8 magnitude earthquake, followed by multiple aftershocks, caused widespread destruction across southern Turkiye and northern Syria. Thousands have been killed, with the toll mounting as more bodies are discovered. But dramatic rescues have also occurred. Elsewhere in Jinderis, a young girl was found alive, buried in concrete under the wreckage of her home.
The newborn baby was rescued Monday afternoon, more than 10 hours after the quake struck. After rescuers dug her out, a female neighbor cut the cord, and she and others rushed with the baby to a children’s hospital in the nearby town of Afrin, where she has been kept on an incubator, said the doctor treating the baby, Dr. Hani Maarouf.
Video of the rescue circulating on social media shows the moments after the baby was removed from the rubble, as a man lifts her up, her umbilical cord still dangling, and rushes away as another man throws him a blanket to wrap her in.
The baby’s body temperature had fallen to 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) and she had bruises, including a large one on her back, but she is in stable condition, he said.
Abu Hadiya must have been conscious during the birth and must have died soon after, Maarouf said. He estimated the baby was born several hours before being found, given the amount her temperature had dropped. If the girl had been born just before the quake, she wouldn’t have survived so many hours in the cold, he said.
“Had the girl been left for an hour more, she would have died,” he said.
When the earthquake hit before dawn on Monday, Abu Hadiya, her husband and four children apparently tried to rush out of their apartment building, but the structure collapsed on them. Their bodies were found near the building’s entrance, said Sleiman, who arrived at the scene just after the newborn was discovered.
“She was found in front of her mother’s legs,” he said. “After the dust and rocks were removed the girl was found alive.”
Maarouf said the baby weighed 3.175 kilograms (7 pounds), an average weight for a newborn, and so was carried nearly to term. “Our only concern is the bruise on her back, and we have to see whether there is any problem with her spinal cord,” he said, saying she has been moving her legs and arms normally.
Jinderis, located in the rebel-held enclave of northwest Syria, was hard hit in the quake, with dozens of buildings that collapsed.
Abu Hadiya and her family were among the millions of Syrians who fled to the rebel-held territory from other parts of the country. They were originally from the village of Khsham in eastern Deir Ezzor province, but left in 2014 after the Daesh group captured their village, said a relative who identified himself as Saleh Al-Badran.
In 2018, the family moved to Jinderis after the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army, an umbrella for several insurgent groups, captured the town from US-backed Kurdish led fighters, Sleiman said.
On Tuesday, Abu Hadiya and the girl’s father Abdullah Turki Mleihan, along with their four other children were laid to rest in a cemetery on the outskirts of Jinderis.
Back inside the town, rescue operations were still ongoing in their building hoping to find survivors.
The town saw another dramatic rescue Monday evening, when a toddler was pulled alive from the wreckage of a collapsed building. Video from the White Helmets, the emergency service in the region, shows a rescuer digging through crushed concrete amid twisted metal until the little girl, named Nour, appeared. The girl, still half buried, looks up dazedly as they tell her, “Dad is here, don’t be scared. … Talk to your dad, talk.”
A rescuer cradled her head in his hands and tenderly wiped dust from around her eyes before she was pulled out.
The quake has wreaked new devastation in the opposition-held zone, centered on the Syrian province of Idlib, which was already been battered by years of war and strained by the influx of displaced people from the country’s civil war, which began in 2011.
Monday’s earthquake killed hundreds across the area, and the toll was continually mounting with hundreds believed still lost under the rubble. The quake completely or partially toppled more than 730 buildings and damaged thousands more in the territory, according to the White Helmets, as the area’s civil defense is known.
The White Helmets have years of experience in digging victims out from buildings crushed by bombardment from Russian warplanes or Syrian government forces. An earthquake is a new disaster for them.
“They are both catastrophes — a catastrophe that has been ongoing for 12 years and the criminal has not been held accountable, and this one is a natural catastrophe,” said the deputy head of the White Helmets, Munir Mustafa.
Asked if there was a difference between rescue work in the quake and during the war, he said, “We cannot compare death with death … What we are witnessing today is death on top of death.”


Quake imperils cross-border aid to Syria: UN

Quake imperils cross-border aid to Syria: UN
Updated 07 February 2023

Quake imperils cross-border aid to Syria: UN

Quake imperils cross-border aid to Syria: UN
  • "The cross-border operation has itself been impacted," Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA, told reporters
  • A spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Stephane Dujarric, said the Bab al-Hawa crossing itself is "actually intact"

GENEVA: The sole border crossing used to shuttle life-saving aid from Turkiye into conflict-ravaged Syria has seen its operations disrupted by the deadly earthquake that struck the two countries, the UN said Tuesday.
The 7.8-magnitude quake and its aftershocks struck Turkiye and Syria on Monday and killed more than 5,400 people.
“The cross-border operation has itself been impacted,” Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA, told reporters in Geneva.
A spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Stephane Dujarric, said the Bab Al-Hawa crossing itself is “actually intact.”
“However, the road that is leading to the crossing has been damaged, and that’s temporarily disrupted our ability to fully use it,” Dujarric said.
Disaster agencies said several thousand buildings were flattened across an area plagued by war, insurgency, refugee crises and a recent cholera outbreak.
Concerns have been running particularly high for how aid might reach all those in need in Syria, devastated by more than a decade of civil war.
Humanitarian aid in rebel-held areas usually arrives through Turkiye via a cross-border mechanism created in 2014 by a UN Security Council resolution.
But it is contested by Damascus and its ally Moscow, who see it as a violation of Syrian sovereignty.
Under pressure from Russia and China, the number of crossing points has been reduced over time from four to one.
And now areas surrounding that one border crossing have suffered significant infrastructure damage, while the aid workers on the ground have been hit by the catastrophe.
“Every effort is being done to overcome these logistical hurdles, which are created by the earthquake,” Laerke said.
“There is a window of about seven days” when survivors are generally found, Laerke said, adding that it was critical to get teams to those in immediate need as soon as possible.
“It is imperative that everybody sees it as a humanitarian crisis where lives are at stake,” he said.
“Please don’t politicize this. Let’s get the aid out to the people who so desperately need it.”
He said the UN was intent on using “any and all means to get to people, and that includes the cross-border operation and the cross-line operation from inside Syria.”
But Laerke said access by road was a challenge and pointed out that the quake had impacted the UN’s “own staff, our own contracting partners, our truck drivers that we work with, our national staff.”
“They’re looking for their families in the rubble... That has had an impact on that operation in the immediate,” he acknowledged.
At the same time, he said, partners that deliver aid in northwestern Syria said they were “operational and they are asking for supplies, and they are also asking for funding.”
For now though, the specific Syria cross-border humanitarian fund is empty, he warned.


Iran unveils underground base for fighter jets

Iran unveils underground base for fighter jets
Updated 07 February 2023

Iran unveils underground base for fighter jets

Iran unveils underground base for fighter jets
  • Base can accommodate ‘all types of fighter jets and bombers, in addition to drones’

TEHRAN: Iran’s army on Tuesday unveiled its first underground base for fighter jets designed to withstand possible strikes by US bunker-busting bombs, state media reported.

The base — named Oghab 44 (“Eagle” in Persian) — can accommodate “all types of fighter jets and bombers, in addition to drones,” the official news agency IRNA said, releasing images and videos from inside the base.

The exact location of the base was not revealed, but state media said it was “at the depth of hundreds of meters under the mountains,” and capable of withstanding “bombs by strategic US bombers.”

In May last year, Iran’s army revealed an air force base for drones under the Zagros mountain range in the west of the country.

The latest unveiling comes the day before Iran marks Air Force Day, part of the buildup to the 44th anniversary on Saturday of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

State media on Tuesday showed Iran’s armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri and the army’s commander-in-chief Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi at the new base.

Oghab 44 is “one of numerous tactical underground air bases for the army’s air force built in different areas of the country in recent years,” IRNA reported.

It can prepare fighter jets to “counter possible offensives” such as those practiced by the US and Israel in their recent military drill, according to state media.

Iran has mostly Russian MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets that date back to the Soviet era, as well as some Chinese aircraft, including the F-7.

Some American F-4 and F-5 fighter jets dating back to before the revolution are also part of its fleet.