‘This is the best opportunity for peace in Yemen since the war broke out,’ US special envoy tells Arab News

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Updated 24 January 2024
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‘This is the best opportunity for peace in Yemen since the war broke out,’ US special envoy tells Arab News

‘This is the best opportunity for peace in Yemen since the war broke out,’ US special envoy tells Arab News
  • On the sidelines of UNGA, Tim Lenderking discussed how truce might pave the way for an end to conflict
  • He said “I am 24/7 on Yemen. Yemen is my goal. It is my heart’s mission. It is my team’s mission”

NEW YORK CITY: On their first official visit to Saudi Arabia since the Yemen war erupted in 2014, a delegation of Houthi rebels held talks in Riyadh over a five-day period last week on a potential agreement that could hasten the end of hostilities.

Progress has been reported on many of the main sticking points, including a timeline for foreign troops to leave Yemen, and a mechanism for paying public servants’ salaries. A full reopening of Houthi-controlled ports and Sanaa airport, along with reconstruction efforts, was also among the issues discussed.




Houthi soldiers march during an official military parade in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, on September 21, 2023. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP)

Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, praised the meetings — the highest-level, public negotiations with the Houthis in the Kingdom in the past nine years — as “a moment of opportunity.” The Saudi government “welcomed the positive results of the serious discussions.”

But despite the general decline in violence in Yemen, UN officials have cautioned that the situation on the ground remains “fragile and challenging” and “the front lines are not silent.”

According to Timothy Lenderking, the US special envoy for Yemen since February 2021, Washington is working tirelessly to end the conflict, which has killed and maimed hundreds of thousands, and left 80 percent of Yemen’s population dependent on humanitarian aid.




Tim Lenderking

“I am 24/7 on Yemen. Yemen is my goal. It is my heart’s mission. It is my team’s mission,” Lenderking told Arab News in an interview in New York City on the sidelines of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly.

“It’s the (Biden) administration’s mission to see that this terrible war, which has displaced and killed so many people and distracted the region, can be brought to a close in a just and comprehensive manner.”

Although the past year has been marked by both humanitarian challenges and de-escalation in Yemen, Lenderking, a career diplomat whose official title is deputy assistant secretary for Arabian Gulf Affairs, has generally voiced optimism since the internationally recognized Yemeni government and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels reached a truce agreement in April 2022.

Last year on the sidelines of the 77th General Assembly, a few months after the truce came into effect, he told Arab News that the benefits accruing to the Yemeni people had opened the door for a durable ceasefire to be agreed in the following months.

FASTFACTS

Tim Lenderking said meetings held by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Yemen show the international community’s determination to move the peace process forward.

Saudi Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman reaffirmed the Kingdom’s “commitment to promoting dialogue among all parties” when he met Houthi negotiators during their recent five-day visit to Riyadh.

“My optimism last year was not misplaced because after the truce we have continued in a period of de-escalation that has lasted 18 months, with no cross-border attacks,” Lenderking said.

“Recall the pace and the fury of those attacks in the earlier days of the war, including more than 400 attacks from Yemen in 2020. The commercial capital’s airport, Sanaa, has been open for commercial flights. Those have expanded from three to six per week.”




Smoke billows from a Saudi Aramco's petroleum storage facility after an attack in Jeddah on March 26, 2022. (Reuters/File)

Lenderking described the development as “a drop in the bucket,” but added that “it still represents good progress and tangible benefits” for the Yemeni population.

“After all, these are two sides who have been fighting intensely for the past several years. And to have them talking and visiting and spending days in each other’s capitals is a very important development,” he said.

“No one’s saying there is a breakthrough, but it appears that these contacts were positive enough that they will continue. We are very keen to see them drive to positive results, begin to untangle the distrust that has prevailed. They are going to have to live together eventually.”

He added: “The considerable efforts that have been exerted very positively between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, that needs to transition to the UN-led process. We want to move beyond the current truce — which is very positive but not enough — into a durable ceasefire and Yemeni-Yemeni political talks.




Ships are docked for unloading in the Yemeni port of Hodeida on March 5, 2023. (AFP)

“This is how Yemen’s future gets decided. Not by the outside powers. Not by one party in Yemen dictating to another. (It) has to be an inclusive Yemeni-Yemeni process. And there is an international consensus behind this and supporting it.”

Lenderking said that the presence of Rashad Al-Alimi, chairman of the Presidential Leadership Council, in several meetings involving the US and the P3 (the three permanent members of the Security Council: US, UK and France), underscored the strong signals of international support for his leadership.

All these factors provide reason to believe that with international backing, progress toward a UN-led initiative and Yemeni-Yemeni dialogue is possible in the near future, he said.

(At the UNGA general debate on Thursday, Al-Alimi urged the international community to do more to stop the flow of arms and resources to the Houthis, and warned that “the institutions of Yemen will not have the necessary resources to deal with these cross-border challenges” if funds are not directed to recognized governmental financial institutions.)




Rashad Mohammed Al-Alimi, chairman of Yemen's Presidential Leadership Council, addresses the 78th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on September 21, 2023. (AFP)

Asked whether the Saudi-Iran rapprochement played a role in bringing the warring Yemeni parties to the present point, Lenderking said that much of the groundwork that was done to achieve and maintain the truce was well in motion even before the Chinese-brokered deal between the two Middle East powers was announced on March 10 this year.

“What we are looking to see from the Saudi-Iran deal is whether Iran’s posture toward Yemen has changed. Is it moving away from smuggling lethal weapons and aid for the Houthis that fueled the war effort, violating Security Council resolutions? And is Iran going to support a political solution?” Lenderking said.

“We hear that they are moving in this direction. We have seen some positive public statements from Iran. A new posture from Iran toward Yemen supporting the positive trajectory would be well received by the United States.”




Saudi Arabia's Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman (R) meeting with a delegation of Yemen's Houthis in Riyadh last week. (SPA)

The fact that the Houthis have chosen not to resume hostilities despite the lapse of the truce is of great significance, Lenderking said, adding that this could point to a change in the Houthi mindset while the extended phase of de-escalation continues.

He believes the group has demonstrated a refreshing willingness to release detainees and engage in discussions with the opposing party in the context of military committees.

This level of engagement “was not happening at this pace throughout the entirety of the war; this is the best opportunity for peace that Yemen has had since this war broke out almost 10 years ago. And that’s why US efforts are so energetic and so vigorous at this point,” he said.

“Here in New York City, Secretary Blinken (had) at least three meetings that focused on Yemen while he was here. Bear in mind the (extensive list of topics on the) international agenda in New York: climate, Russia-Ukraine, other humanitarian considerations. So, Yemen is getting some time here among world leaders, which we think is very positive.”




Displaced Yemenis receive sacks of food aid supplies at a camp in Hays district in the war-ravaged western province of Hodeid on April 20, 2023. (AFP)

Although diplomatic channels between the US and Russia have been all but cut off since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, there is no disagreement among the P5 on the way forward in Yemen.

The P5 are united on the need for a political solution, and this unity is a “great asset for us to have,” Lenderking said.

“The Security Council has shown considerable unity, a strong support for (Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Yemen Hans) Grunberg’s efforts, support for (the) humanitarian crisis. This is a blessing. We really have to take advantage of the fact that there is this united positioning between key players.

“We don’t take anything for granted when it comes to support for peace in Yemen. We have to work toward solutions. We have to be very, very aggressive about maintaining what progress we make.”

One of this year’s notable success stories of the multilateral system also has to do with Yemen. The threat of a massive oil spill in the Red Sea had been averted, after more than a million barrels of oil were transferred to a salvage ship from the Safer tanker, a decaying storage vessel that had been moored off the coast of Yemen for years and described as a “ticking time bomb.”




Technicians work on the deck of the replacement vessel as the transfer of oil from the decaying FSO Safer oil tanker began off Yemen on July 25, 2023. (Reuters/File)

“I think it is an incredible story because (of) an unlikely coalition of private sector, including oil companies, national governments, and a crowdfunding effort that tapped into individuals around the world. School kids in Bethesda, Maryland, sold lemonade because they got swept up by the environmental consequences of this oil spill had it happened,” Lenderking said.

“And it’s kind of a model for cooperation because we worked together to avert a problem before it became a crisis. That doesn’t happen very often on the world stage. Here in New York, nearly every conversation is about something that has happened already and needs to be dialed back. So, this was a terrific effort.”

On the downside, Yemen continues to be one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises. In 2023, 21.6 million Yemenis require some form of humanitarian assistance as 80 percent of the population struggles to put food on the table and access basic services. The UN has appealed for funding, with only 30 percent of the target having been met so far.




Yemenis displaced by the conflict receive food aid and supplies to meet their basic needs at a camp in Hays district in the war-ravaged western province of Hodeida on August 31, 2022. (AFP)

“Yemen’s economy has been in ruins. The country’s economic capacity has to be revitalized,” Lenderking said. “I think there’s eagerness to do this. We are in regular contact with the international financial institutions ... IMF, World Bank. And then there’s the distrust that has to be worked at through the kind of personal engagement that we’re seeing between the parties that until recently were shooting at each other. They are talking now.

“Now, the common outcome and objective must be peace: a peace agreement, threading together these various positive strands and pushing them with international support under UN leadership. It ultimately falls to the UN to put a roadmap together, capitalize on all of this positive movement and drive it toward Yemeni-Yemeni negotiations.”

 


Israeli strikes kill at least 42 in Gaza, enclave’s government media office says

Israeli strikes kill at least 42 in Gaza, enclave’s government media office says
Updated 23 June 2024
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Israeli strikes kill at least 42 in Gaza, enclave’s government media office says

Israeli strikes kill at least 42 in Gaza, enclave’s government media office says
  • One Israeli strike on houses in Al-Shati, a historic refugee camp, killed 24 people
  • Another 18 Palestinians killed in a strike on houses in the Al-Tuffah neighborhood

CAIRO: At least 42 people were killed in Israeli attacks on districts of Gaza City in the north of the Palestinian enclave on Saturday, the director of the Hamas-run government media office said.

One Israeli strike on houses in Al-Shati, one of the Gaza Strip’s eight historic refugee camps, killed 24 people, Ismail Al-Thawabta said. Another 18 Palestinians were killed in a strike on houses in the Al-Tuffah neighborhood.

The Israeli military released a brief statement saying: “A short while ago, IDF fighter jets struck two Hamas military infrastructure sites in the area of Gaza City.”

It said more details would be released soon.

Exchanges of fire across the Lebanese border between Israel and the powerful Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah have also escalated in recent weeks, raising fears of an even wider war.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday that the cross-border hostilities must not turn Lebanon into “another Gaza,” warning of the risk of triggering a catastrophe “beyond imagination.”

His warning came as Israel stepped up its strikes in the Gaza Strip, where one hospital in Gaza City reported at least 30 dead on Friday.

Fighting continued Saturday morning, with witnesses reporting gunbattles between militants and Israeli forces in Gaza City.

And in the city’s Zeitun neighborhood, Israeli helicopters fired at militants, witnesses said.

The Israeli military meanwhile said troops continued to carry out operations in central Gaza “eliminating several armed terrorists and dismantling terrorist infrastructure in the area.”

“Fighter jets and additional aircraft struck numerous terror targets in the Gaza Strip, including armed terrorists, weapons storage facilities, and additional terrorist infrastructure,” it added.

In southern Gaza, the ICRC on Friday said 22 dead and 45 wounded people were taken to a Red Cross field hospital after shelling with “heavy calibre projectiles” near its Gaza office.

“Firing so dangerously close to humanitarian structures puts the lives of civilians and humanitarians at risk,” the ICRC said on X.

The health ministry in the Hamas-run territory blamed the shelling on Israel, saying there were 25 killed and 50 wounded in the southern coastal Al-Mawasi area, where thousands of displaced people have been sheltering in tents.

An Israeli military spokesman did not acknowledge any role in the incident but said it was “under review.”

In the north of the Strip, the director of Gaza City’s Al-Ahli hospital was quoted by the territory’s health ministry as reporting 30 dead in strikes.

“It has been a difficult and brutal day in Gaza City. So far, around 30 martyrs have arrived at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital,” doctor Fadel Naeem was quoted as saying.

Civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Basal said five municipal workers died when a garage in the city was bombed.

Lebanon-based Hamas ally Hezbollah meanwhile claimed a number of attacks on Israeli troops and positions near the border on Friday, including two using drones.

The Israeli army said it had carried out multiple retaliatory strikes on both days.

Israeli jets on Friday struck a “Hezbollah military structure in the area of Khiam, a Hezbollah military post in the area of Mais Al-Jabal, and Hezbollah terrorist infrastructure in the areas of Taybeh and Tallouseh in southern Lebanon,” the army said in a statement.

Experts are divided on the prospect of a wider war, almost nine months into Israel’s campaign to eradicate Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Amid the escalating exchanges between Israel and Hezbollah, Israel’s military said Tuesday that plans for an offensive in Lebanon had been “approved and validated.”

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said “no place” in Israel would “be spared our rockets” in a wider war, and also threatened nearby European Union member Cyprus.

Citing the “bellicose rhetoric” on both sides, UN chief Guterres warned Friday that the risk of all-out war was real.

“One rash move — one miscalculation — could trigger a catastrophe that goes far beyond the border, and frankly, beyond imagination,” he said.

Israel’s ally the United States has appealed for de-escalation.

The violence on the Lebanon border began after the October 7 attack on southern Israel by Hamas militants from Gaza. That attack resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza although the army says 41 are dead.

As of Thursday, Israel’s retaliatory offensive had killed at least 37,431 people, also mostly civilians, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Months of negotiations toward a truce and a hostage release have failed to make headway, but mediator Qatar insisted Friday it was still working to “bridge the gap” between Israel and Hamas.

The war has destroyed much of Gaza’s infrastructure and left residents short of food, fuel and other essentials.

On June 16 the army said it would implement a daily “tactical pause of military activity” in a southern Gaza corridor to facilitate aid delivery.

But on Friday Richard Peeperkorn of the World Health Organization said “we did not see an impact on the humanitarian supplies coming in.”

Hisham Salem in Jabalia camp said: “The markets... used to be full, but now there is nothing left. I go around the entire market and I can’t find a kilo of onions, and if I do... it costs 140 shekels ($37).”

Doctor Thanos Gargavanis, a WHO trauma surgeon and emergency officer, said the UN in Gaza was trying to “operate in an unworkable environment.”

According to the WHO, 17 of the 36 hospitals in Gaza are operational, but only partially.

Israel’s military on Friday identified two more soldiers killed in Gaza, bringing the death toll since ground operations began to at least 312.

The war has revived a global push for Palestinians to be given a state of their own.

Armenia on Friday declared its recognition of “the State of Palestine,” prompting Israel to summon its ambassador for “a severe reprimand.”


Algerian women pioneer eco-friendly farming

Algerian women pioneer eco-friendly farming
Updated 23 June 2024
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Algerian women pioneer eco-friendly farming

Algerian women pioneer eco-friendly farming
  • The plant ecology and biodiversity graduates now run one of the country’s rare ecological plots of land, where the produce is grown in harmony with the broader ecosystem and without using pesticides

ALGIERS: Ibtissem Mahtout and Amira Messous pick fresh strawberries and tomatoes on the eco-friendly smallholding the two women are working near Algiers, a pioneering initiative in Algeria’s male-dominated agricultural sector.
After graduating from university four years ago, they left the capital and started working on the small patch of land in Douaouda, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) to the west.
“As soon as I’m in the field I’m happy,” said Messous, 28, holding a bundle of fresh beetroot.
“From morning to night, we’re here. To me, it’s the most beautiful job in the world.”
The plant ecology and biodiversity graduates now run one of the country’s rare ecological plots of land, where the produce is grown in harmony with the broader ecosystem and without using pesticides.

Amira Messous (L) and Ibtissem Mahtout (C) speak to a customer at their vegetable and fruit stand during the Friday market at an educational farm in Zeralda on May 30, 2024. (AFP)

Messous said it was challenging at first to “have to integrate” into a sector in which most people who work the land are men.
According to local media, as of last October just four percent of workers registered with the Chamber of Agriculture in Tipaza province where their land is were women.
But some “male farmers are happy to see educated women working the land,” said Messous.
“They take the time to explain things to us, and it brings more value to their own work.”
Her 29-year-old partner, Mahtout, recalls that they launched the project with just 60,000 Algerian dinars (around $445) — “enough to buy basic tools” — after renting the patch of land.

With the help of Torba, an association that promotes ecological farming in Algeria, they “learned to plant, to sow, to work the soil.”
Today, their 1,300-square-meter farm even employs one male worker full-time — and up to eight part-timers at harvest time.
When they are not in the fields themselves, the two women make full use of social media to sell their produce.

Ibtissem Mahtout (C) speaks with a customer who has come to pick up or buy their produce, at the Friday market at an educational farm in Zeralda, west of Algiers on May 30, 2024. (AFP)

On Instagram, they advertise their baskets of seasonal fruits and vegetables each week, and take orders for the produce on WhatsApp.
Come Friday, the first day of the Algerian weekend, clients pick up their orders at a larger farm in nearby Zeralda, where other smallholders also sell produce including flowers.
“We want to eat something healthy from time to time,” said Fatma Zohra, a 72-year-old loyal customer and subscriber to the small farm’s social media account.
“I found these girls very nice, and when I discovered they sell to subscribers, I wanted to encourage them.”
Each week, the pair sell between 10 and 30 baskets of fruit and vegetables that are in season.
The farm in Zeralda where they market their produce is also educational, and runs themed programs for children.
In addition to the Friday farmers’ market, it is also a meeting space for local families and offers cooking classes, entertainment and cultural events.
 


Tens of thousands rally against Israeli government

Tens of thousands rally against Israeli government
Updated 17 min 5 sec ago
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Tens of thousands rally against Israeli government

Tens of thousands rally against Israeli government
  • Anti-government protest organization Hofshi Israel estimated more than 150,000 people attended the rally, calling it the biggest since the Gaza war began

TEL AVIV: Tens of thousands of protesters waving Israeli flags and chanting slogans against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government rallied in Tel Aviv Saturday, demanding new elections and the return of hostages held in Gaza.
Large protests have occurred in the Israeli city on a weekly basis over Netanyahu’s handling of the nearly nine-month-old war in Gaza started by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel.
Many protesters held signs reading “Crime Minister” and “Stop the War” as people poured into the biggest Israeli city’s main thoroughfare.
“I am here because I am afraid of the future of my grandchild. There will be no future for them if we don’t go out and get rid of the horrible government,” said 66-year-old contractor Shai Erel.
“All of the rats in the Knesset... I wouldn’t let any one of them be a guard of a kindergarten.”
Anti-government protest organization Hofshi Israel estimated more than 150,000 people attended the rally, calling it the biggest since the Gaza war began.
Some demonstrators lay on the ground covered in red paint in the city’s Democracy Square to protest what they say is the death of the country’s democracy under Netanyahu.
In an address to the crowd, a former head of Israel’s domestic Shin Bet security agency, Yuval Diskin, condemned Netanyahu as Israel’s “worst prime minister.”
Many are frustrated with the country’s right-wing coalition, which includes Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and other far-right ultra-nationalists, accusing it of prolonging the war in Gaza and putting the country’s security and hostages at risk.
Yoram, a 50-year-old tour guide who declined to give his last name, said he was attending every weekly protest as Israel needed elections “yesterday” because of Netanyahu.
“I really hope that the government collapses,” he said. “If we go to the original date of elections in 2026, it is not going to be a democratic election.”
Hamas militants seized 251 hostages on October 7, of whom Israel believes 116 remain in Gaza, including 41 who the army says are dead.
A separate Tel Aviv rally on Saturday night drew thousands of relatives and supporters of the hostages.
The attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed at least 37,551 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.
 

 


Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid

Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid
Updated 23 June 2024
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Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid

Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid
  • A video circulating on social media and verified by Reuters showed a Palestinian resident of Jenin, Mujahed Azmi, on the jeep that passes through two ambulances

JERUSALEM: Israeli army forces strapped a wounded Palestinian man to the hood of a military jeep during an arrest raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on Saturday. A video circulating on social media and verified by Reuters showed a Palestinian resident of Jenin, Mujahed Azmi, on the jeep that passes through two ambulances.
The Israeli military in a statement said Israeli forces were fired at and exchanged fire, wounding a suspect and apprehending him.
Soldiers then violated military protocol, the statement said. “The suspect was taken by the forces while tied on top of a vehicle,” it said.
The military said the “conduct of the forces in the video of the incident does not conform to the values” of the Israeli military and that the incident will be investigated and dealt with.
The individual was transferred to medics for treatment, the military said.
Reuters was able to match the location from corroborating and verified footage shared on social media that shows a vehicle transporting an individual tied on top of a vehicle in Jenin. The date was confirmed by an eyewitness interviewed by Reuters.
According to the family of Azmi, there was an arrest raid, and he was injured during the raid, and when the family asked for an ambulance, the army took Mujahed, strapped him on the hood and drove off.
Violence in the West Bank, already on the rise before the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, has escalated since then with frequent army raids on militant groups, rampages by Jewish settlers in Palestinian villages, and deadly Palestinian street attacks.


ICRC official describes Rafah as a ‘ghost town’

ICRC official describes Rafah as a ‘ghost town’
Updated 22 June 2024
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ICRC official describes Rafah as a ‘ghost town’

ICRC official describes Rafah as a ‘ghost town’
  • Desperation among Gaza’s 2.4 million population has increased as fighting rages, sparking warnings from agencies that they are unable to deliver aid

JERUSALEM: Days after Israel announced a daily pause in fighting on a key route to allow more aid into Gaza, chaos in the besieged Palestinian territory has left vital supplies piled up and undistributed in the searing summer heat.
More than eight months of war have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip and repeated UN warnings of famine.
William Schomburg, International Committee of the Red Cross chief in Rafah, described Rafah City as a “ghost town.”
“It is a ghost town in the sense that you see very few people, high levels of destruction, and just another symbol of the unfolding tragedy that has become Gaza over the last nine months,” he said.
The UN food agency has said its aid convoys have been looted inside Gaza by “desperate people.”
Desperation among Gaza’s 2.4 million population has increased as fighting rages, sparking warnings from agencies that they are unable to deliver aid.
Israel says it has let supplies in and called on agencies to step up deliveries.
“The breakdown of public order and safety is increasingly endangering humanitarian workers and operations in Gaza,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, said in a briefing.
“Alongside the fighting, criminal activities and the risk of theft and robbery has effectively prevented humanitarian access to critical locations.”
But Israel says it has allowed hundreds of trucks of aid into southern Gaza, trading blame with the UN over why the aid is stacking up.
It shared aerial footage of containers lined up on the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom crossing and more trucks arriving to add to the stockpile.
With civil order breaking down in Gaza, the UN says it has been unable to pick up any supplies from Kerem Shalom since Tuesday, leaving crucial aid in limbo.