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.

 


Family home of ‘heroine’ Iranian climber demolished amid hijab row

Family home of ‘heroine’ Iranian climber demolished amid hijab row
Updated 04 December 2022

Family home of ‘heroine’ Iranian climber demolished amid hijab row

Family home of ‘heroine’ Iranian climber demolished amid hijab row
  • Elnaz Rekabi’s house lacked permit, says state news agency
  • Athlete was ‘forced to apologize’ after contest abroad

LONDON: The home of the Iranian climber who competed abroad without wearing a headscarf has been demolished, according to reports.

Elnaz Rekabi flouted Iran’s mandatory dress code during a competition in South Korea, but claimed it had fallen off inadvertently.

She had been forced to apologize, according to the BBC.

Protesters across Iran have hailed Rekabi, who had been whisked back from South Korea and was met by dozens of cheering supporters at the airport.

Widespread protests have rocked Iran for months following the death of 22-year-old Kurd Mahsa Amini, who died on Sept. 16 after her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the dress code.

A video purportedly showing the ruins of the Rekabi family house with sports medals on the ground started circulating this week and Davood, Rekabi’s brother, is seen crying in the clip.

Tasnim news agency confirmed that the house had been demolished, but said it was due to Rekabi’s family not having a valid permit for its construction, and that it had taken place before she had competed abroad.

It is not clear when the viral footage was shot.

In October, the US criticized the Iran regime’s treatment of Rekabi and warned that the “world was watching.”

State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters: “The Iranian regime and its leaders have a long history of abusing the rights of women and violating their freedom of expression, including through threats, through intimidation and violence.”


Yemen foreign minister meets Italian counterpart

Yemen foreign minister meets Italian counterpart
Updated 04 December 2022

Yemen foreign minister meets Italian counterpart

Yemen foreign minister meets Italian counterpart

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed bin Mubarak, met on Sunday with the Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Antonio Tijani, and discussed the political, security and humanitarian situation in Yemen.

Tijani affirmed Italy's support for efforts being made to resume negotiations to reach a peaceful resolution and end the conflict, stressing the importance of renewing and extending the armistice.

Mubarak thanked the Italian government for its firm and continuous political support of the Yemen’s internationally recognised government in its endeavor to establish peace, restore state institutions and end the Houthi coup, state news agency SABA reported.

Mubarak touched on the repeated Houthi attacks civilians, civilian infrastructure, and oil installations.

Mubarak also discussed his government’s decision to classify the Houthi militia as a terrorist organization, and called for support from the international community to implement that decision.

Mubarak spoke about the Houthi militia ties with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and their smuggling of Iranian weapons and drones.


Former British Daesh bride ‘will die without medical aid’ in Syrian camp, neurologist warns

Former British Daesh bride ‘will die without medical aid’ in Syrian camp, neurologist warns
Updated 04 December 2022

Former British Daesh bride ‘will die without medical aid’ in Syrian camp, neurologist warns

Former British Daesh bride ‘will die without medical aid’ in Syrian camp, neurologist warns
  • UK government inaction in Layla case amounts to ‘barbarism,’ says Dr. David Nicholl

LONDON: A former British Daesh bride detained in a prison camp in northeast Syria will die without medical intervention, with the UK government’s inaction amounting to “barbarism,” a neurologist told The Times.

The woman in her 40s, who is known by the pseudonym Layla, first traveled to Syria to join Daesh during the country’s conflict.

Following the collapse of the terror group and detainment of thousands of former fighters and their families, Layla — who is epileptic and partially paralyzed as a result of a shrapnel wound — has repeatedly appealed for medical aid through National Health Service consultant neurologist Dr. David Nicholl.

But despite his repeated warnings to the government that Layla will die without urgent medical aid, the government has yet to respond.

He first examined her via an online meeting late last year. Following another Zoom video call in November, Nicholl found that Layla’s condition had significantly worsened, with shrapnel in her neck having moved dangerously close to the aorta.

He said: “She’s ill and at risk of dying and needs to be got out of there and brought back immediately. It’s utterly inhumane.”

Layla, who has a university degree and held a high-level public sector job in the UK before traveling to Syria with her husband, suffered a stroke in 2019. “She has had life-changing neurological injuries as a consequence of her stroke,” Nicholl added.

“She does not speak Arabic so it is hard for her to understand the medical advice she is being given.

“It troubles me that my previous assessment has still not been acted on, the case for her urgent transfer still remains.

“Everything about this is a mess. Her son is also vulnerable and watching all this and is in a place where no child should be.”

Layla spoke to the Sunday Times in June, claiming: “I was never a threat.” She added: “Whatever people think I have done I am prepared to face trial. I made a mistake, why should my son pay?

“Life in the camp is really, really hard. It’s hard to walk on the stones with my crutches. I am embarrassed to have to ask for help for everything, and the tent is so hot and when it’s windy the whole tent moves.”

Human rights group Reprieve has also appealed to the UK government to act urgently and rescue Layla.

The organization sent a letter to Foreign Secretary James Cleverly that said: “Her condition has become critical and a local doctor told her that without urgent surgery, she will die. She requires immediate medical assistance that cannot be provided in northeast Syria.”

In response to the appeals, Cleverly told The Times: “I am not comfortable going into specific cases. They are difficult, they are sensitive, we do always look at the cases.”


Iran scraps morality police after months of deadly protests

Iran scraps morality police after months of deadly protests
Updated 04 December 2022

Iran scraps morality police after months of deadly protests

Iran scraps morality police after months of deadly protests
  • The morality police — known formally as the Gasht-e Ershad or “Guidance Patrol” — were established under hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

TEHRAN: Iran has scrapped its morality police after more than two months of protests triggered by the arrest of Mahsa Amini for allegedly violating the country’s strict female dress code, local media said Sunday.
Women-led protests, labelled “riots” by the authorities, have swept Iran since the 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin died on September 16, three days after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran.
“Morality police have nothing to do with the judiciary” and have been abolished, Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.
His comment came at a religious conference where he responded to a participant who asked “why the morality police were being shut down,” the report said.
The morality police — known formally as the Gasht-e Ershad or “Guidance Patrol” — were established under hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to “spread the culture of modesty and hijab,” the mandatory female head covering.
The units began patrols in 2006.
The announcement of their abolition came a day after Montazeri said that “both parliament and the judiciary are working (on the issue)” of whether the law requiring women to cover their heads needs to be changed.
President Ebrahim Raisi said in televised comments Saturday that Iran’s republican and Islamic foundations were constitutionally entrenched “but there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible.”
The hijab became mandatory four years after the 1979 revolution that overthrew the US-backed monarchy and established the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Morality police officers initially issued warnings before starting to crack down and arrest women 15 years ago.
The vice squads were usually made up of men in green uniforms and women clad in black chadors, garments that cover their heads and upper bodies.
The role of the units evolved, but has always been controversial even among candidates running for the presidency.
Clothing norms gradually changed, especially under former moderate president Hassan Rouhani, when it became commonplace to see women in tight jeans with loose, colorful headscarves.
But in July this year his successor, the ultra-conservative Raisi, called for the mobilization of “all state institutions to enforce the headscarf law.”
Raisi at the time charged that “the enemies of Iran and Islam have targeted the cultural and religious values of society by spreading corruption.”
In spite of this, many women continued to bend the rules, letting their headscarves slip onto their shoulders or wearing tight-fitting pants, especially in major cities and towns.
Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia also employed morality police to enforce female dress codes and other rules of behavior. Since 2016 the force there has been sidelined in a push by the Sunni Muslim kingdom to shake off its austere image.


State news: Iran executes 4 people it says spied for Israel

State news: Iran executes 4 people it says spied for Israel
Updated 04 December 2022

State news: Iran executes 4 people it says spied for Israel

State news: Iran executes 4 people it says spied for Israel
  • Executed prisoners identified as Hossein Ordoukhanzadeh, Shahin Imani Mahmoudabadi, Milad Ashrafi and Manouchehr Shahbandi

TEHRAN: Iranian authorities executed four people Sunday accused of working for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, the state-run IRNA news agency said.
IRNA said the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guard announced the arrests of a network of people linked to the Israeli agency. It said members stole and destroyed private and public property and kidnapped individuals and interrogated them.
The report said the alleged spies had weapons and received wages from Mossad in the form of cryptocurrency.
Israel and Iran are regional arch-enemies.
IRNA identified the executed prisoners as Hossein Ordoukhanzadeh, Shahin Imani Mahmoudabadi, Milad Ashrafi and Manouchehr Shahbandi.