Yemeni PM hails $1.2bn Saudi funding package as ‘lifeline’ to help tackle budget deficit, currency depreciation

Yemeni PM hails $1.2bn Saudi funding package as ‘lifeline’ to help tackle budget deficit, currency depreciation
Yemeni prime minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed. (AFP/File)
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Updated 04 September 2023

Yemeni PM hails $1.2bn Saudi funding package as ‘lifeline’ to help tackle budget deficit, currency depreciation

Yemeni PM hails $1.2bn Saudi funding package as ‘lifeline’ to help tackle budget deficit, currency depreciation
  • WHO representative claims ‘insufficient funding’ has limited vaccination efforts to children amid concern over measles cases

AL-MUKALLA: Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed on Monday hailed a $1.2 billion financial aid package from Saudi Arabia to Yemen as a “lifeline” for the country.

He pointed out that the latest funding from the Kingdom would enable his government to pay public employees, help tackle the budget deficit, and control the depreciation of the Yemeni riyal.

The PM told reporters in Yemen’s port city of Aden, the country’s interim capital, that this year’s budget deficit was nearly 40 percent compared to 20 percent last year, and said that his government had adopted several reforms, such as combating smuggling, to ensure financial aid was properly targeted.

“The assistance provided by the brothers in Saudi Arabia was a lifeline for the government, allowing it to continue guaranteeing salary payments and financing the budget deficit,” Saeed added.

He accused unspecified “influential” people of hindering his government and noted that taxes and customs costs on oil imports had added 239 billion riyals ($63.7 billion) to the budget each year, up from zero in 2018.

“We are in a difficult situation. We need to succeed in the budget support grant. We need to succeed in the reform process. The situation of the people is difficult in education and health,” he said.

In a bid to break a Houthi monopoly on mobile and internet services, Saeed noted that the Yemeni government had signed an agreement with a UAE telecom company to build modern communication infrastructure in government-controlled areas, a move which was expected to bring the vital sector under government control.

“The scale of the towers and infrastructure, as well as the size of the Emirati company’s investment, are both large. We expect it to make a qualitative advance (in the communication industry),” the premier added.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization reported that 413 Yemenis had died from measles, and more than 34,000 suspected cases of the disease had been registered in Yemen since the beginning of this year.

The number of cases this year has nearly doubled on that of 2022 when 220 individuals died, and 27,000 cases were recorded.

The UN health agency attributed the rapid increase in measles cases to the economic collapse, poverty, continuing displacement, overcrowded displacement camps, and a strained healthcare sector, adding that conditions had made it difficult for 27 percent of Yemeni children under the age of one to receive measles and rubella vaccines.

WHO representative in Yemen, Arturo Pesigan, said matters had been made worse by insufficient funding that had meant limiting vaccination efforts to children under the age of five, rather than all children under the age of 10.

“Ideally, the outbreak response vaccination campaign should target at least all children under the age of 10 to be comprehensive and effective; however, the current funding gap has eroded support and limited the target to children under five years of age, the group with higher mortality rates,” Pesigan added.

Since the beginning of this year, local and international health organizations have raised the alarm over an increase in measles cases throughout the country, particularly in the Houthi-controlled northern and western provinces.

In July, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported 25,935 suspected cases of measles and 259 deaths since January, blaming the Houthis for preventing mass vaccination of Yemeni youngsters under their authority, which exacerbated the measles outbreak.

Houthi health officials have publicly opposed vaccinating Yemeni children against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases and urged parents not to have their kids vaccinated.

Iran condemns US for welcoming Israeli PM

Iran condemns US for welcoming Israeli PM
Updated 4 sec ago

Iran condemns US for welcoming Israeli PM

Iran condemns US for welcoming Israeli PM
  • ‘The American government and Congress are welcoming this executioner with applause,’ says Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani in a post on X
TEHRAN: Iran on Thursday denounced the US government and Congress for welcoming the Israeli prime minister amid the deadly war in Gaza that is raging into its 10th month.
“Palestinian children are slaughtered every day by the Tel Aviv butcher, and in the face of all these crimes, the American government and Congress are welcoming this executioner with applause,” said Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani in a post on X.
“The criminal prime minister of a fake regime is embraced by his supporters after nine months of genocide and infanticide,” he added, referring to Benjamin Netanyahu, who addressed the US congress on Wednesday.
The remarks came after Netanyahu called for an alliance against what he described as an Iranian “axis of terror,” claiming Tehran is behind almost all sectarian killing in the Middle East.
“America and Israel today can forge a security alliance in the Middle East to counter the growing Iranian threat,” he told US lawmakers.
The months-long Gaza war was triggered when Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel on October 7, resulting in the deaths of 1,197 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
Out of 251 people taken hostage that day, 111 are still being held inside the Gaza Strip, including 39 who the military says are dead.
More than 39,100 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip since the war began, according to the health ministry of Hamas-run Gaza.
Iran had hailed the October 7 attack but said it was not involved in it.

Boat with 45 refugees capsizes off Yemen’s coast, UNHCR says

Boat with 45 refugees capsizes off Yemen’s coast, UNHCR says
Updated 35 min 34 sec ago

Boat with 45 refugees capsizes off Yemen’s coast, UNHCR says

Boat with 45 refugees capsizes off Yemen’s coast, UNHCR says
  • The boat capsized because of strong winds and overloading
  • Boat departed from Somalia carrying 260 migrants

DUBAI: A boat with at least 45 refugees has capsized off the coast of Yemen’s Taiz on Wednesday night, and there are only four survivors, the UN refugee agency in Yemen said on Thursday.
The boat capsized because of strong winds and overloading, the agency added. It said it was working with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to assist the survivors and provide protection.
No further details were provided about the rest of the refugees.
In June, at least 49 migrants died and 140 went missing after their vessel, which departed from Somalia carrying 260 migrants, capsized of the Yemeni coast.
IOM, which runs a tally of migrants who are killed or go missing on migration routes, has since 2014 recorded 1,860 migrant deaths and disappearances along the route running from East Africa and the Horn of Africa to Gulf countries.
According to the United Nations, 97,000 migrants arrived in Yemen from the Horn of Africa last year.

Israeli forces advance in southern Gaza, tanks active in Rafah

Israeli forces advance in southern Gaza, tanks active in Rafah
Updated 52 min 27 sec ago

Israeli forces advance in southern Gaza, tanks active in Rafah

Israeli forces advance in southern Gaza, tanks active in Rafah
  • Fighting in recent days has centered around the eastern towns of Bani Suaila, Al-Zanna, and Al-Karara
  • Diplomatic efforts by Arab mediators to conclude a ceasefire deal seem to be on hold

CAIRO: Israeli forces advanced deeper into some towns on the eastern side of Khan Younis in southern Gaza on Thursday, hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US lawmakers he was actively engaged in bringing hostages home.
Fighting in recent days has centered around the eastern towns of Bani Suaila, Al-Zanna, and Al-Karara, where the army said on Wednesday it had found the bodies of five Israelis who were killed in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and held in Gaza since.
Hamas militants took more than 250 hostages in the early morning raid into southern Israel and killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel retaliated by vowing to eradicate Hamas in Gaza in a nine-month war that has killed more than 39,000 Palestinians, Gaza health officials say.
Several were wounded in the eastern towns during Israeli tank and aerial shelling, while an airstrike east of Khan Younis killed four people, Palestinian health officials said.
Israeli bombardment intensified in several areas in Rafah, near the border with Egypt, as tanks operated north, west and in the town center, residents and medics said. Several Palestinians were also wounded in Israeli fire earlier on Thursday.
The Israeli military said forces operating in Khan Younis killed dozens of militants and dismantled around 50 military infrastructures, while it continued activities in Rafah, killing two militants.
In a speech to the US Congress, Netanyahu said his government was actively involved in seeking the release of remaining hostages and was confident they would succeed.
Hamas described the comments by Netanyahu as “pure lies” accusing him of thwarting efforts to end the war.
Netanyahu’s comments also disappointed many displaced Palestinians who had hoped for a clearer signal of an imminent end to the fighting, which has laid the overcrowded enclave to waste and created a humanitarian crisis.
“It was depressing, he didn’t even mention ceasefire at all, not even once,” said Tamer Al-Burai, a resident of Gaza City, now displaced in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.
“People awaited some surprise, a ceasefire announcement by Netanyahu as a gift to (US President Joe) Biden, but they slept with much disappointment, as Netanyahu said he was determined to pursue war,” Burai said via a chat app.
Deir Al-Balah, where tanks haven’t yet invaded, is currently overcrowded with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, displaced from other areas of the enclave, home to 2.3 million people.
“Netanyahu spoke in a play, he spoke to clowns,” said Burai.
Diplomatic efforts by Arab mediators, backed by the United States, to conclude a ceasefire deal, seemed to be on hold, as Israel was expected to send a delegation for more talks next week.
In northern Gaza, an Israeli air strike on a house in the Sheikh Radwan suburb killed four people, medics said, while seven Palestinians arrived at a hospital in central Gaza who had been detained by Israeli forces and released in an area close to the border.

In Congress speech, Netanyahu defends war in Gaza and denounces protesters

In Congress speech, Netanyahu defends war in Gaza and denounces protesters
Updated 25 July 2024

In Congress speech, Netanyahu defends war in Gaza and denounces protesters

In Congress speech, Netanyahu defends war in Gaza and denounces protesters
  • Netanyahu’s speech quickly took on a darker tone as he defended his country but also derided those protesting the war
  • He drew shouts of applause from many in Congress, but also silence from leading Democrats

WASHINGTON: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended Israel’s war in Gaza and condemned American protesters in a scathing speech to Congress Wednesday that triggered boycotts by many top Democratic lawmakers and drew thousands to the Capitol to condemn the war and the humanitarian crisis it has created.
Netanyahu vowed to press on with the war until “total victory,” disappointing hopes by some that the Israeli leader’s visit to the United States could bring some breakthrough in negotiations for a ceasefire and hostage-release.
Speaking to applause from US lawmakers, and stony silence from others, Netanyahu sought to bolster US support for his country’s fight against Hamas and other Iran-backed armed groups.
“America and Israel must stand together. When we stand together something really simple happens: We win, they lose,” said Netanyahu, who wore a yellow pin expressing solidarity with the Israeli hostages held by Hamas.
But the Israeli leader soon pivoted to a darker tone as he derided those protesting the war on college campuses and elsewhere in the US, gesturing to demonstrations happening on the streets outside the Capitol. He called protesters “useful idiots” for Israel’s adversaries.
He drew shouts of applause from many in Congress, but also silence from leading Democrats who declined to stand and cheer.
Freed former hostages of Hamas and families of hostages listened in the House chamber. Lawmakers of both parties rose to applaud the Israeli leader in milder moments in the speech. Security escorted out protesters in the gallery who rose to display T-shirts with slogans demanding that leaders close a deal ending the conflict and freeing hostages.
Netanyahu accused the numerous protesters of the war in the United States of standing with the militants who he said killed babies in Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7. “These protesters that stand with them, they should be ashamed of themselves,” he said.
Netanyahu — who is frequently accused of wading into US politics in favor of conservative and Republican causes — started his remarks with praise of President Joe Biden. But he turned to lavishing praise on former president and current presidential contender Donald Trump “for all he’s done for Israel.”
With criticism against him rising in Israel, too, Netanyahu aimed to portray himself as a statesman respected by Israel’s most important ally. That task is complicated by Americans’ increasingly divided views on Israel and the war, which has emerged as a key issue in the US presidential election.
Tall steel barriers ringed the Capitol Wednesday, and police deployed pepper spray as thousands of protesters rallied near the Capitol, denouncing Netanyahu as a “war criminal” and calling for a ceasefire.
Netanyahu received a warm welcome from House Speaker Mike Johnson and other Republican lawmakers who arranged his speech in the House chamber. Netanyahu received a bipartisan standing ovation before speaking.
The appearance made Netanyahu the first foreign leader to address a joint meeting of Congress four times, surpassing Winston Churchill.
More than 50 Democrats and political independent Bernie Sanders boycotted Netanyahu’s speech. The most notable absence was right behind him: Vice President Kamala Harris, who serves as president of the Senate, said a long-scheduled trip kept her from attending.
The next Democrat in line, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, declined to attend, so Sen. Ben Cardin, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, served as “senator pro tempore” in place of her.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat who has family in the West Bank, sat in the House chamber with a keffiyeh, which she often wears, wrapped over her shoulders. Tlaib was censured last year for her strident criticism of Israel’s conduct in the war.
Republicans said the absence of Harris, the new Democratic front-runner for the presidency, was a sign of disloyalty to an ally. Former President Donald Trump’s running mate, JD Vance, was also a no-show for Netanyahu’s speech, citing the need to campaign.
Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with President Joe Biden and Harris on Thursday, and with Trump at Mar-a-Lago on Friday.
Many in the swelling crowds of demonstrators protested the killings of more than 39,000 Palestinians in the war. Others condemned Netanyahu’s inability to free Israeli and American hostages taken by Hamas and other militants during the Oct. 7 attack that sparked the war.
Support for Israel has long carried political weight in US politics. But the usual warm welcome for Netanyahu’s visits has been diminished this time around by political turmoil, including the assassination attempt against Trump and Biden’s decision not to seek another term.
Many Democrats who support Israel but have been critical of Netanyahu saw the address as a Republican effort to cast itself as the party most loyal.
Many Democrats attended the address despite their criticism of Netanyahu, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who called for new elections in Israel in a March floor speech. Schumer, of New York, said then that Netanyahu has “lost his way” and is an obstacle to peace in the region amid the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
About 60 lawmakers met Wednesday with relatives of those taken hostage by Hamas, and they expressed anger toward Netanyahu. “Because by coming here, he risks making himself the issue, turning the humanitarian issue of the hostages into a political one,” Maya Roman, who had several family members taken hostage, told the lawmakers.
The United States is Israel’s most important ally, arms supplier and source of military aid. Netanyahu’s visit is his first abroad since the war started, and comes under the shadow of arrest warrants sought against him by the International Criminal Court over alleged Israel war crimes against Palestinians. The United States does not recognize the ICC.
The Biden administration says it wants to see Netanyahu focus his visit on helping it complete a deal for a ceasefire and hostage-release. Growing numbers of Israelis accuse Netanyahu of prolonging the war in order to avoid a likely fall from power whenever the conflict ends.
Netanyahu has said his aims for the US visit are to press for freeing hostages held by Hamas and other militants in Gaza, to build support for continuing Israel’s battle against the group, and to argue for continuing to confront Hezbollah in Lebanon and other Iranian-allied groups in the region.
Some Democrats are wary about Netanyahu since he used a 2015 joint address to Congress to denounce then-President Barack Obama’s pending nuclear deal with Iran.
Netanyahu used an appearance early Wednesday to focus on Iran, its nuclear program and its network of armed allies. Iran is “behind the entire axis of terror” that threatens the US and Israel, he said, speaking at a memorial for former Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Putin meets Assad amid calls to defuse Turkiye-Syria tensions

Putin meets Assad amid calls to defuse Turkiye-Syria tensions
Updated 54 min 54 sec ago

Putin meets Assad amid calls to defuse Turkiye-Syria tensions

Putin meets Assad amid calls to defuse Turkiye-Syria tensions
  • Meeting comes at a time when Russia could mediate to defuse tensions between Syria and Turkiye

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin held talks with Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad in Moscow amid calls for Russian mediation to cool tensions between Turkiye and Syria.
Wednesday’s talks between the pair — the first since since March 2023 — come after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan flagged the potential of a three-way meeting to discuss normalizing ties between Ankara and Damascus.
Putin highlighted his concerns over the situation in the Middle East, which he said was “tending to escalate,” in opening remarks between the pair which were aired on state television Thursday.
Moscow is Syria’s most important ally, having effectively saved Assad’s government through its military intervention in 2015 during a civil war.
“I am very interested in your opinion on how the situation in the region as a whole is developing. Unfortunately, it is tending to escalate, we see this. This concerns Syria directly,” Putin said.
Assad said his visit to Moscow was a “very important” opportunity to discuss “events that are taking place today in the world as a whole and in the Eurasian region,” according to a translation into Russian.
Neither mentioned Turkiye or the conflict in Syria in the televised remarks.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to say whether a possible meeting between Putin, Erdogan and Assad was discussed in private talks.
“The situation in the region was discussed in a broad context,” he told Russian state media on Thursday.

Turkiye-Syria tensions
Turkiye originally aimed to topple Assad’s regime when the Syrian conflict erupted with the violent suppression of peaceful protesters in 2011.
Turkiye then backed rebels calling for Assad to be removed and Erdogan has also branded the Syrian leader a “murderer.”
As Damascus regained territory, however, Erdogan reversed course and has lately prioritized the prevention of what in 2019 he called a “terror corridor” opening up in northern Syria.
Since 2022, top Syrian and Turkish officials have met for Russia-mediated talks.
Erdogan has long said he could reconsider ties with Assad as his government is working to ensure safe and voluntary return of Syrian refugees.
“Now we have come to such a point that as soon as Bashar Assad takes a step toward improving relations with Turkiye, we will show him the same approach,” Erdogan said at a regional summit in Kazakhstan earlier this month.
In a complex multi-sided conflict, Turkiye has launched a string of offensives in Syria since 2016 targeting Kurdish militias, Daesh group jihadists and forces loyal to Assad.
Pro-Turkish forces in Syria now control two vast strips of territory along the border.
Moscow has complicated, but generally pragmatic and warm relations with NATO member Turkiye, with Putin and Erdogan speaking regularly.
Analysts have said any rapprochement between Turkiye and Syria is likely to be gradual due to the complex set of thorny issues between the two sides.