Iran says deal with Saudi Arabia will help end Yemen’s war

Iran says deal with Saudi Arabia will help end Yemen’s war
Political commentators have urged Tehran and Riyadh to further pressure their allies in Yemen to end the conflict and ease tensions elsewhere in the region. Above, the southern port city of Aden. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 March 2023

Iran says deal with Saudi Arabia will help end Yemen’s war

Iran says deal with Saudi Arabia will help end Yemen’s war
  • Riyadh and Tehran agreed Friday to reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen their embassies after years of tensions
  • Iran has long been accused by western governments and UN experts of providing weapons to the Houthis

CAIRO: Iran’s mission to the United Nations says a breakthrough agreement with Saudi Arabia restoring bilateral relations will help bring a political settlement to Yemen’s yearslong war, Iranian state media reported on Sunday.
Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed Friday to reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen their embassies after seven years of tensions that brought the two regional powerhouses to the brink of conflict and fueled tensions across the region.
Iran has long been accused by western governments and UN experts of providing weapons to the Houthis. Western militaries have repeatedly intercepted Yemen-bound ships carrying Iranian weapons in the Red Sea.
Tehran has denied the accusations of arming the Houthis.
China mediated the major diplomatic breakthrough between Tehran and Riyadh, which it is widely believed decreases the likelihood of armed conflict between the regional rivals, both directly and in proxy conflicts.
Citing a statement from Iran’s UN mission, IRNA news agency said the deal with Saudi Arabia would accelerate efforts to renew an expired cease-fire deal, “help start a national dialogue, and form an inclusive national government in Yemen.”
The ceasefire, the longest of the Yemen conflict, expired in October. Both sides, however, refrained from taking serious escalatory actions that could cause fighting to flare-up, as negotiations were underway between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia to renew the agreement.
The Houthis appeared to welcome the deal, slamming at the same time the US and Israel, Iran’s top foes.
“The region needs the return of normal relations between its countries, through which the Islamic society can regain its lost security as a result of the foreign interventions, led by the Zionists and Americans,″ said Mohamed Abdulsalam, the rebels’ spokesman and chief negotiator.
Abdel-Bari Taher, a Yemeni political commentator and former Journalists’ Union head, called the Saudi Arabia-Iran deal a “positive first step.”
He urged both Tehran and Riyadh to further pressure their allies in Yemen to end the conflict and ease tensions elsewhere in the region.
“They should pressure their allies to engage positively in the UN efforts to relaunch political talks between Yemenis,” he said. “Yemen is a hot and sensitive spot in the regional rivalry. If it is solved, it would ease tensions in other areas in the region.”
Rights groups say Yemen’s war has unleashed one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises and pushed millions of people to the brink of famine.


Voters in Turkiye return to polls to decide on opposing presidential visions

Voters in Turkiye return to polls to decide on opposing presidential visions
Updated 28 May 2023

Voters in Turkiye return to polls to decide on opposing presidential visions

Voters in Turkiye return to polls to decide on opposing presidential visions
  • More than 64 million people are eligible to cast ballots
  • Challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu described the runoff as a referendum on the country’s future

ANKARA, Turkiye: Voters in Turkiye returned to the polls Sunday to decide whether the country’s longtime leader stretches his increasingly authoritarian rule into a third decade or is unseated by a challenger who has promised to restore a more democratic society.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been at Turkiye’s helm for 20 years, is favored to win a new five-year term in the second-round runoff after coming just short of an outright victory in the first round on May 14.
The divisive populist who turned his country into a geopolitical player finished four percentage points ahead of Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the candidate of a six-party alliance and leader of Turkiye’s center-left main opposition party. Erdogan’s performance came despite crippling inflation and the effects of a devastating earthquake three months ago.
Kilicdaroglu, a 74-year-old former bureaucrat, has described the runoff as a referendum on the country’s future.
More than 64 million people are eligible to cast ballots.
Turkiye does not have exit polls, but the preliminary results are expected to come within hours of the polls closing at 5 p.m.
The final decision could have implications far beyond Ankara because Turkiye stands at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and it plays a key role in NATO.
Turkiye vetoed Sweden’s bid to join the alliance and purchased Russian missile-defense systems, which prompted the United States to oust Turkiye from a US-led fighter-jet project. But Erdogan’s government also helped broker a crucial deal that allowed Ukrainian grain shipments and averted a global food crisis.
The May 14 election saw 87 percent turnout, and strong participation is expected again Sunday, reflecting voters’ devotion to elections in a country where freedom of expression and assembly have been suppressed.
If he wins, Erdogan, 69, could remain in power until 2028. After three stints as prime minister and two as president, the devout Muslim who heads the conservative and religious Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is already Turkiye’s longest-serving leader.
The first half of Erdogan’s tenure included reforms that allowed the country to begin talks to join the European Union and economic growth that lifted many out of poverty. But he later moved to suppress freedoms and the media and concentrated more power in his hands, especially after a failed coup attempt that Turkiye says was orchestrated by the US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. The cleric denies involvement.
Erdogan transformed the presidency from a largely ceremonial role to a powerful office through a narrowly won 2017 referendum that scrapped Turkiye’s parliamentary system of governance. He was the first directly elected president in 2014 and won the 2018 election that ushered in the executive presidency.
The May 14 election was the first that Erdogan did not win outright.
Critics blame Erdogan’s unconventional economic policies for skyrocketing inflation that has fueled a cost-of-living crisis. Many also faulted his government for the slow response to the earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people in Turkiye.
Still, Erdogan has retained the backing of conservative voters who remain devoted to him for lifting Islam’s profile in the country that was founded on secular principles and for raising the country’s influence in world politics.
In a bid to woo voters hit hard by inflation, he has increased wages and pensions and subsidized electricity and gas bills, while showcasing Turkiye’s homegrown defense industry and infrastructure projects. He also centered his reelection campaign on a promise to rebuild quake-stricken areas, including constructing 319,000 homes within the year. Many see him as a source of stability.
Kilicdaroglu is a soft-mannered former civil servant who has led the pro-secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, since 2010. He campaigned on a promise to reverse Erdogan’s democratic backsliding, restore the economy by reverting to more conventional policies and to improve ties with the West.
In a frantic do-or-die effort to reach out to nationalist voters in the runoff, Kilicdaroglu vowed to send back refugees and ruled out any peace negotiations with Kurdish militants if he is elected.
Many in Turkiye regard Syrian refugees who have been under Turkiye’s temporary protection after fleeing the war in neighboring Syria as a burden on the country, and their repatriation became a key issue in the election.
Earlier in the week, Erdogan received the endorsement of third-place candidate, nationalist politician Sinan Ogan, who garnered 5.2 percent of the votes and is no longer in the race. Meanwhile, a staunchly anti-migrant party that had supported Ogan’s candidacy, announced it would back Kilicdaroglu.
A defeat for Kilicdaroglu would add to a long list of electoral losses to Erdogan and put pressure for him to step down as party chairman.
Erdogan’s AKP party and its allies retained a majority of seats in parliament following a legislative election that was also held on May 14. Parliamentary elections will not be repeated Sunday.
Erdogan’s party also dominated in the earthquake-hit region, winning 10 out of 11 provinces in an area that has traditionally supported the president. Erdogan came in ahead in the presidential race in eight of those provinces.
As in previous elections, Erdogan used state resources and his control of the media to reach voters.
Following the May 14 vote, international observers also pointed to the criminalization of dissemination of false information and online censorship as evidence that Erdogan had an “unjustified advantage.” The observers also said the elections showed the resilience of Turkish democracy.
Kilicdaroglu “receives his orders from Qandil,” Erdogan repeatedly said at recent campaign rallies, a reference to the mountains in Iraq where the leadership of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, is based.
“We receive our orders from God and the people,” he said.
The election was being held as the country marked the 100th anniversary of its establishment as a republic, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

 


Miseries pile up for West Bank refugees as UNRWA workers’ strike continues

Miseries pile up for West Bank refugees as UNRWA workers’ strike continues
Updated 28 May 2023

Miseries pile up for West Bank refugees as UNRWA workers’ strike continues

Miseries pile up for West Bank refugees as UNRWA workers’ strike continues
  • Environmental and health disaster feared as piles of garbage accumulate on streets
  • The UNRWA administration requires urgent intervention to resolve the dispute with the staff and restore life to normal in the camps

RAMALLAH: Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank face a summer littered with waste due to an ongoing strike, sparking fears about disease outbreaks.

Piles of garbage have accumulated as more than 3,600 UN Relief and Work Agency workers have been on strike since Feb. 20.

Camp residents, who number about 960,000, continue to complain about their dire living conditions, which has also affected healthcare provision and impacted the education of 50,000 students.

The UNRWA claims that it does not have enough funds to raise the salaries of its workers and meet their demands.

The lack of garbage collection, combined with the halting of healthcare services, could lead to an environmental and health disaster with summer approaching, locals fear.

Youssef Baraka, from the Jalazoun refugee camp near Ramallah, told Arab News: “The refugee always pays the bill ... and we live in difficult conditions due to the continuation of the strike.

“Our children are without education, and our patients are without treatment.”

He said that individual efforts were being made to help patients with treatment and provide medical supplies, and that residents were trying to rid camps of garbage themselves where possible.

Taysir Nasrallah, from the Balata refugee camp in Nablus, in the northern West Bank, told Arab News that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had set up a committee to meet with the UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini to find a quick solution to the crisis.

“The UNRWA administration requires urgent intervention to resolve the dispute with the staff and restore life to normal in the camps,” he told Arab News.

The UNRWA was set up in 1949 by the UN General Assembly to assist and protect Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Walid Masharqa, from the Jenin camp, said rubbish was piling up and sewage was seeping into the streets, while many basic medicines for chronic diseases are not currently available to residents.

“What is the fault of the Palestinian refugee, in the existence of wars and other humanitarian disasters in the world, for UNRWA to spoof its services to the Palestinian refugees?” Masharqa said to Arab News.

The Palestinian Authority is not allowed to provide services to refugees in the camps, he added.

Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the UNRWA in the Middle East, told Arab News that talks were continuing with the PA and the Palestine Liberation Organization to solve the strike problem.

Abu Hasna expects all parties to reach a solution soon.

He said that the UNRWA had approved an allowance of $268 for 300 of its employees in East Jerusalem due to its high prices, and employees in the West Bank were demanding the same.

But he said the UNRWA budget was unable bear the additional cost, as its funds have an annual deficit of $70 million.

Abu Hasna referred to the tremendous Saudi support for UNRWA, as it funded it for over 10 years with $1 billion, built entire cities and neighbourhoods and dozens of schools in the Gaza Strip, and saved UNRWA several times from collapse.

“King Salman personally established support for UNRWA since he was the governor of the Riyadh region and president of the Association for the Support of the Palestinian People, and the position of Saudi Arabia in strong support for UNRWA is considered a motivating factor for other countries to support UNRWA,” Abu Hasna told Arab News.

 


Iraq unveils $17bn transport project linking Europe and Mideast

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani attends a meeting with Transport Ministry representatives in Baghdad on Saturday.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani attends a meeting with Transport Ministry representatives in Baghdad on Saturday.
Updated 27 May 2023

Iraq unveils $17bn transport project linking Europe and Mideast

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani attends a meeting with Transport Ministry representatives in Baghdad on Saturday.
  • Once completed, the $17 billion project known as the ‘Route of Development’ would span the length of the country, stretching 1,200 km from the northern border with Turkiye to the Gulf in the south

BAGHDAD: Iraq on Saturday presented an ambitious plan to turn itself into a regional transportation hub by developing its road and rail infrastructure, linking Europe with the Middle East.
Once completed, the $17 billion project known as the “Route of Development” would span the length of the country, stretching 1,200 km  from the northern border with Turkiye to the Gulf in the south.
Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani announced the project during a conference with Transport Ministry representatives from Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkiye and the United Arab Emirates.
“We see this project as a pillar of a sustainable non-oil economy, a link that serves Iraq’s neighbors and the region, and a contribution to economic integration efforts,” Al-Sudani said. While further discussions are required, any country that wishes “will be able to carry out part of the project,” the Iraqi parliament’s transport committee said, adding the project could be completed in “three to five years.”
“The Route of Development will boost interdependence between the countries of the region,” Turkiye’s ambassador to Baghdad Ali Riza Guney said, without elaborating on what role his country would play in the project.
War-ravaged and beset by rampant corruption, oil-rich Iraq suffers from dilapidated infrastructure.
Its roads, riddled with potholes and poorly maintained, are in terrible condition.
Those connecting Baghdad to the north cross areas where sporadic attacks are still carried out by remnants of the Daesh group.
Al-Sudani has prioritized the reconstruction of the country’s road network, along with upgrading its failing electricity infrastructure.
Developing the road and rail corridor would allow Iraq to capitalize on its geographical position, with the aim of making the country a transportation hub for goods and people moving between the Gulf, Turkiye and Europe.
Work has already started to increase capacity at the commercial Port of Al-Faw, on the shores of the Gulf, where cargo is to be unloaded before it embarks on the new road and rail links.
The project also includes the construction of around 15 train stations along the route, including in the major cities of Basra, Baghdad and Mosul, and up to the Turkish border. The Gulf, largely bordered by Iran and Saudi Arabia, is a major shipping zone, especially for the transportation of hydrocarbons extracted by countries of the region.
Zyad Al-Hashemi, an Iraqi consultant on international transport, cast doubt on the plan to develop the country into a transportation hub, saying it lacks “fluidity.”
“Customers prefer to transport their goods directly from Asia to Europe, without going through a loading and unloading process,” that would see containers moved between ships and road or rail, he said.
Transport is a key sector in the global economy and Iraq’s announcement is the latest in other planned international megaprojects, including China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” announced in 2013 by its President Xi Jinping.
The planned works in that project would see 130 countries across Asia, Europe and Africa connected through land and sea infrastructure providing greater access to China.

 


Officials: UN chief ‘shocked’ by letter from Sudan’s military ruler demanding removal of UN envoy

Officials: UN chief ‘shocked’ by letter from Sudan’s military ruler demanding removal of UN envoy
Updated 27 May 2023

Officials: UN chief ‘shocked’ by letter from Sudan’s military ruler demanding removal of UN envoy

Officials: UN chief ‘shocked’ by letter from Sudan’s military ruler demanding removal of UN envoy
  • “The Secretary-General is shocked by the letter he received this (Friday) morning,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said
  • According to the official, Burhan accused Perthes of “being partisan,” and that his approach in pre-war talks between the generals and the pro-democracy movement helped inflame the conflict

CAIRO: The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “shocked” by a letter from Sudan’s military ruler, demanding the removal of the UN envoy to the country, Sudanese and UN officials said Saturday.
The letter by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, Sudan’s top military official and head of the ruling Sovereign Council, comes as Sudan plunged into further chaos after worsening tensions between military rivals exploded into an open fighting last month.
“The Secretary-General is shocked by the letter he received this (Friday) morning,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. “The Secretary-General is proud of the work done by (UN envoy) Volker Perthes and reaffirms his full confidence in his Special Representative.”
Dujarric didn’t reveal the contents of the letter. However, a senior military official said Burhan’s letter asked Guterres to replace Perthes who was appointed to the post in 2021.
According to the official, Burhan accused Perthes of “being partisan,” and that his approach in pre-war talks between the generals and the pro-democracy movement helped inflame the conflict. The talks had aimed at restoring the country’s democratic transition which was derailed by a military coup in Oct. 2021.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media.
Perthes declined to comment neither on the letter.
Burhan accused Perthes last year of “exceeding the UN mission’s mandate and of blatant interference in Sudanese affairs.” He threatened to expel him from the country.
The ongoing fighting broke out in mid-April between the military and the powerful Rapid Support Forces, commanded by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. Both Burhan and Dagalo led the 2021 coup that removed the western-backed government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
The fighting centered in the capital of Khartoum, which was turned into a battleground along with its sister city of Omdurman. The clashes also spread elsewhere in the country, including the war-wracked Darfur region.
The conflict has killed hundreds of people, and wounded thousands of others, and pushed the country to near collapse. It forced more than 1.3 million out of their homes to safer areas inside Sudan, or to neighboring nations.
Sexual violence including rape of women and girls, a common practice in Sudan’s wars and political upheavals, were reported in Khartoum and Darfur since the fighting began.
The Combating Violence Against Women Unit, a government-run group, said on Friday it received reports of at least 24 cases of sexual attacks in Khartoum, and 25 other cases in Darfur.
The unit, which tracks violence against women across the country, said most of survivors reported that the attackers were in RSF uniform and in areas in Khartoum controlled by RSF checkpoints.
The RSF didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Both warring parties have agreed on a weeklong cease-fire, brokered by the US and Saudi Arabia. However, the truce, which is scheduled to expire Monday night, did not stop the fighting in parts of Khartoum and elsewhere in the county.
Residents reported sporadic clashes Saturday in parts of Omdurman, where the army’s aircrafts were seen flying over the city. There was also fighting reported in Al-Fasher, the provincial capital of North Darfur.
Burhan’s letter came after the UN envoy accused the warring parties of disregarding the laws of war by attacking homes, shops, places of worship and water and electricity installations.
In his briefing to the UN Security Council earlier this week, Perthes blamed the leaders of the military and the RSF for the war, saying that they have chosen to “settle their unresolved conflict on the battlefield rather than at the table.”


Yemeni government resumes airlifts from Sudan

Yemeni government resumes airlifts from Sudan
Updated 27 May 2023

Yemeni government resumes airlifts from Sudan

Yemeni government resumes airlifts from Sudan
  • Crackdown on Bahai community condemned by human rights organization
  • Thousands of Yemenis, including students, have been stuck in Sudan since April 15, when violence erupted between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

AL-MUKALLA: A Yemenia Airways plane carrying 192 Yemeni evacuees landed at Sanaa airport on Saturday as the Yemeni government resumed emergency flights to evacuate more than 1,200 Yemenis stuck in war-torn Sudan.
The Yemen embassy in Sudan said that the plane carrying 192 people, including 14 newborns, departed Port Sudan at 8:38 a.m., bound for Houthi-held Sanaa. Another plane carrying roughly the same number of people was scheduled to travel to government-controlled Aden later on Saturday.
Thousands of Yemenis, including students, have been stuck in Sudan since April 15, when violence erupted between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.
The first set of stranded Yemenis were evacuated by the Saudi navy and transferred to Jeddah, where they were provided with free lodging for two nights before being transported to Yemen by bus.
Yemen’s Foreign Ministry said that seven Yemenia planes would transport 1,250 stranded Yemenis from Sudan to Yemen between Friday and Monday, adding that 750 Yemenis had already been airlifted from Sudan, while 800 were transported from Port Sudan to Saudi Arabia on Saudi ships. The Yemeni government said it would cover all flight costs and assist citizens in extending their passports, obtaining birth certificates for their children, and having their university and high-school certificates authorized.
Thrilled Yemenis published photos on social media as they exited Port Sudan airport.
“After one month and one day of exhaustion in Port Sudan, we are eventually evacuated from Sudan to Sanaa airport,” Fawzy Jamoom wrote on his Facebook page while boarding the plane to Sanaa on Saturday.
Separately, Yemeni government officials and human rights activists criticized a Houthi attack on a gathering of Bahais — a Yemeni religious minority — in Sanaa on Friday and urged the militia to immediately release them and end their persecution of religious minorities and opponents.
Yemen’s Information Minister Muammar Al-Eryani said in a tweet that the Houthis attacked a Bahai sect’s annual gathering in Sanaa, arresting 17 people, including five women, and raiding Bahai homes.
“This heinous crime verifies that the Houthi militia, under Iranian direction, continues its escalation, targeting, and systematic terrorism of religious minorities, particularly the Bahai community, and persecution of its adherents on the basis of their faith,” the minister said.
Since late 2014, he added, the Houthis have arbitrarily abducted Bahais, tortured them, ransacked their homes, seized their offices and other properties, and incited the public against them.
A video that circulated online showed armed and masked Houthis storming a gathering. Women’s screams can be heard in the video.
The Geneva-based SAM Organization for Human Rights and Liberties also condemned the Houthis’ “barbaric and brutal” assault on a group of Bahais, as well as the militia’s other violations of human rights in Sanaa and other areas of Yemen under their control.
“The Houthi group’s daily violations, the most recent of which was the assault on the Bahai community meeting, are merely a microcosm of the deteriorating human rights situation in the areas it controls,” the organization said.