Yemeni government and Houthis agree to release hundreds of detainees

Yemeni government and Houthis agree to release hundreds of detainees
Yemenis greet their freed relatives during a prisoner exchange ceremony between the Houthis and government forces in Taiz. (AFP/File)
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Updated 21 March 2023
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Yemeni government and Houthis agree to release hundreds of detainees

Yemeni government and Houthis agree to release hundreds of detainees
  • UN envoy Hans Grundberg said the prisoner exchange is one more reason to be optimistic that things are finally moving in the right direction in Yemen
  • He added that he senses there is now a greater will to resolve the conflict, following the recent Saudi-Iranian rapprochement

NEW YORK CITY: The Yemeni government and the Houthis on Monday agreed to release 887 detainees, following 10 days of negotiations in Geneva, the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

They added that both sides have also agreed to visit each other’s detention facilities, grant the delegations full access to all detainees during those visits, and to meet again in May to discuss further prisoner swaps.

Hans Grundberg, the UN’s special envoy for Yemen, described the deal as one more reason to believe things are moving “in the right direction” toward a resolution of a conflict that has ravaged the country for more than eight years and caused one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the world.

“For hundreds of Yemeni families, today is a good day,” said Grundberg. “Unfortunately, Yemen doesn’t experience as many good days as it deserves. So, I warmly congratulate all involved for this achievement. Today, hundreds of Yemeni families can look forward to reuniting with their loved ones.

“But it is important to remember that when the parties committed to the Detainees’ Exchange Agreement they made a promise, not just to each other, but to thousands of Yemeni families who have been living with the pain of separation from those dearest to them for far too long.”

Referring to the announcement on March 10 of the resumption of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Grundberg added that he senses there is now “a willingness to engage in a positive direction on trying to come to a settlement on the conflict in Yemen.”

During a UN Security Council meeting last week, Grundberg welcomed the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran and said the region was witnessing a “step change in the scope and depth” of talks to end the long-running conflict in Yemen.

At the same time, he urged all those involved in the conflict to seize the opportunity offered by this “renewed regional diplomatic momentum” and take “decisive steps toward a more peaceful future.”

On Monday, he said a “comprehensive and sustainable end to the conflict is necessary if Yemen is to recover from the devastating toll the eight-year conflict has had on its men and women.”

According to a message posted on Twitter by the head of the Houthis’ prisoner affairs committee, Abdul Qader Al-Murtada, and the militia’s chief negotiator, Mohammed Abdulsalam, the Houthis have agreed to release 181 detainees, including 15 Saudis and three Sudanese nationals, in exchange for 706 prisoners held by the Yemeni government. The exchange will take place in three weeks, they added.

“It’s an expression of hope, it’s an expression of humanity and it indicates the way ahead for all parties to the conflict,” said Fabrizio Carboni, the International Committee of the Red Cross’s regional director for the Middle East, who was sitting between representatives of the two delegations on Monday.

The talks, which took place near the Swiss capital, Bern, were the latest in a series of meetings under the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement, which previously led to the release of prisoners in 2020 and 2022.

Grundberg thanked the Swiss government for hosting the negotiations, and Jordan for hosting a number meetings of the supervisory committee.

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Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 29,313

Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 29,313
Updated 21 February 2024
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Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 29,313

Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 29,313
  • Ministry statement: A total of 118 people died in the past 24 hours

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Wednesday that at least 29,313 people have been killed in the Palestinian territory during the war between Hamas-led militants and Israel.
A ministry statement said a total of 118 people died in the past 24 hours, while another 69,333 have been wounded since the war erupted on October 7.


Iran dismisses plan by UN nuclear watchdog head to visit next month

Iran dismisses plan by UN nuclear watchdog head to visit next month
Updated 21 February 2024
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Iran dismisses plan by UN nuclear watchdog head to visit next month

Iran dismisses plan by UN nuclear watchdog head to visit next month
  • IAEA’s Rafael Grossi: Iran continuing to enrich uranium well beyond the needs for commercial nuclear use
  • Under a defunct 2015 agreement with world powers, Iran can enrich uranium only to 3.67 percent

DUBAI: Iran’s nuclear chief on Wednesday dismissed a suggestion that the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi would visit Iran next month but instead invited Grossi to a conference in Tehran in May.
Grossi said this week Iran was continuing to enrich uranium well beyond the needs for commercial nuclear use and said he planned to visit Tehran next month to tackle “drifting apart” relations between the IAEA and the Islamic Republic.
But Mohammad Eslami said a visit next month was unlikely due to a “busy schedule” without giving further clarification. “Iran’s interactions with the IAEA continue as normal and discussions are held to resolve ambiguities and develop cooperation,” he said at a weekly press conference in Tehran.
Eslami said Grossi had been invited to attend Iran’s first international nuclear energy conference in May.
Speaking to Reuters on Monday, Grossi said while the pace of uranium enrichment had slowed slightly since the end of last year, Iran was still enriching at an elevated rate of around 7kg of uranium per month to 60 percent purity.
Enrichment to 60 percent brings uranium close to weapons grade, and is not necessary for commercial use in nuclear power production. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons but no other state has enriched to that level without producing them.
Under a defunct 2015 agreement with world powers, Iran can enrich uranium only to 3.67 percent. After then-President Donald Trump pulled the US out of that deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, Iran breached and moved well beyond the deal’s nuclear restrictions.
The UN nuclear watchdog said the 2015 nuclear deal “is all but disintegrated.”


Day 3 of ICJ hearings: US says Israel should not be legally obligated to withdraw from the Occupied Territories immediately

Day 3 of ICJ hearings: US says Israel should not be legally obligated to withdraw from the Occupied Territories immediately
Updated 28 sec ago
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Day 3 of ICJ hearings: US says Israel should not be legally obligated to withdraw from the Occupied Territories immediately

Day 3 of ICJ hearings: US says Israel should not be legally obligated to withdraw from the Occupied Territories immediately
  • More than 50 states will present arguments until February 26
  • Current hearings could increase political pressure over Israel’s war in Gaza

THE HAGUE: Egypt wants the establishment of a viable Palestinian state on the pre-1967 borders, said Egypt’s legal counselor Jasmine Moussa at the International Criminal Court of Justice (ICJ) on Wednesday.

In the third day of hearings at the ICJ, also known as the World Court, in the Hague, Moussa said Israel’s ongoing ‘onslaught’ on Gaza killed over 29,000 Palestinians and displaced 2.3 million people in violation of international law.
 
“It is shocking that some states do not want the court to render its legal opinion. What message does this send on their respect for international justice and the rule of law?” asked  Moussa.

Egypt’s Jasmine Moussa said the Middle East “yearns for peace and stability” and a “comprehensive and lasting resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict”.

Legal Advisor of the Cabinet of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jasmine Moussa attends ICJ public hearing to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories. (Reuters)

UAE representative Lana Nusseibeh said the viability of peace and an independent Palestinian state are imperiled by Israel’s violations which have risen sharply recently.

The UAE is confident that the court will determine the legal consequences of Israel's violations of international law against the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank.

“According to the United Nations, 2023 has been the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank,” said Nusseibeh.

Nuseibeh said Israel must cease all policies and practices that impede the exercise of Palestinian right to self determination.

Israel must ensure freedom of access to holy places and respect the legal and historic status quo of these areas, added Nusseibeh.

The UAE concluded their statement by calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and criticized the UN’s Security Council’s failure to adopt a peace resolution.

The United States and Russia will also present arguments on Wednesday in proceedings at the UN’s highest court examining the legality of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
The ICJ, also known as the World Court, was asked in 2022 by the UN General Assembly to issue a non-binding opinion on the legal consequences of the occupation.
Israel, which is not taking part, said in written comments that the court’s involvement could be harmful to achieving a negotiated settlement. Washington in 2022 opposed the court issuing an opinion and is expected to argue on Wednesday that it cannot rule on the occupation’s lawfulness.
More than 50 states will present arguments until Feb. 26. Egypt and France were also scheduled to speak on Wednesday.
On Monday, Palestinian representatives asked the judges to declare Israel’s occupation of their territory illegal and said its opinion could help reach a two-state solution.
On Tuesday, 10 states including South Africa were overwhelmingly critically of Israel’s conduct in the occupied territories, with many urging the court to declare the occupation illegal.
The latest surge of violence in Gaza that followed Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks in Israel has complicated already deeply-rooted grievances in the Middle East and damaged efforts toward finding a path to peace.
The ICJ’s 15-judge panel has been asked to review Israel’s “occupation, settlement and annexation ... including measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and from its adoption of related discriminatory legislation and measures.”
The judges are expected to take roughly six months to issue their opinion on the request, which also asks them to consider the legal status of the occupation and its consequences for states.
Israel ignored a World Court opinion in 2004 when it found that Israel’s separation wall in the West Bank violated international law and should be dismantled. Instead, it has been extended.
The current hearings could increase political pressure over Israel’s war in Gaza, which has killed about 29,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — areas of historic Palestine which the Palestinians want for a state — in the 1967 conflict. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but, along with neighboring Egypt, still controls its borders.
Israeli leaders have long disputed that the territories are formally occupied on the basis that they were captured from Jordan and Egypt during the 1967 war rather than from a sovereign Palestine.


GCC regrets failure of UN to adopt Gaza ceasefire resolution

GCC regrets failure of UN to adopt Gaza ceasefire resolution
Updated 21 February 2024
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GCC regrets failure of UN to adopt Gaza ceasefire resolution

GCC regrets failure of UN to adopt Gaza ceasefire resolution
  • US vetoed the Algeria proposal seeking immediate ceasefire
  • Need to ‘spare the blood’ of Palestinians, says GCC spokeswoman

DUBAI: The GCC has expressed its “regret” over the failure of the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution seeking a ceasefire in Gaza.

Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani, the GCC’s spokeswoman and Qatar’s permanent envoy at the UN, said the resolution was aimed at ending the war on Gaza, ensure the protection of Palestinians, and was consistent with international humanitarian law.

The resolution was proposed by Algeria and supported by Arab nations and most members of the council, said Al-Thani on Tuesday.

“We regret the failure of the security council to adopt the resolution submitted by Algeria,” she said.

“Our countries will continue their efforts along with partners to ensure reaching a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, in order to spare the blood of our Palestinian brothers and to ensure the arrival of more humanitarian and relief aid to the Strip and to protect civilians,” Al-Thani said.

The draft resolution condemned the forced displacement of Palestinian civilians, urged all parties to comply with their obligations under international law, and called for the release all hostages.

The US vetoed the resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and proposed its own draft urging a temporary ceasefire.

Washington said the Algeria-proposed resolution would “jeopardize” talks to end the war.


Israeli strike hits Damascus residential area, killing at least 2

Israeli strike hits Damascus residential area, killing at least 2
Updated 21 February 2024
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Israeli strike hits Damascus residential area, killing at least 2

Israeli strike hits Damascus residential area, killing at least 2
  • Strike hit a building near an Iranian school and caused casualties: Pro-government Sham FM radio
  • Israel had no comment

DAMASCUS: Israeli strikes hit a neighborhood of the Syrian capital on Wednesday morning, killing two people and causing material damage, Syria’s state TV said. There was no confirmation of the strikes from Israel.
The Syrian state TV reported that several missiles hit the western neighborhood of Kfar Sousseh but did not elaborate or say who were the people killed. The pro-government Sham FM radio station said the strike hit a building near an Iranian school.
Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based opposition war monitor, said the two killed were inside an apartment but did not give any clues about their identities.
He added that the strike was similar to last month’s killing in Beirut of Saleh Arouri, a top official with the militant Palestinian Hamas group.
The strike damaged the fourth floor of a 10-story building, shattered window glass on nearby buildings and also damaged dozens of cars parked in the area. An empty parked bus for the nearby Al-Bawader Private School was also damaged and people were seen rushing to the school to take their children.
Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets inside government-controlled parts of war-torn Syria in recent years.
Israel rarely acknowledges its actions in Syria, but it has said that it targets bases of Iran-allied militant groups, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has sent thousands of fighters to support Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Last month, an Israeli strike on the Syrian capital’s western neighborhood of Mazzeh destroyed a building used by the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, killing at least five Iranians.
In December, an Israeli airstrike on a suburb of Damascus killed Iranian general Seyed Razi Mousavi, a longtime adviser of the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard in Syria. Israel has also targeted Palestinian and Lebanese operatives in Syria over the past years.