Houthi leader rejects US terror designation, vows to continue attacks on ships in Red Sea

Houthi leader rejects US terror designation, vows to continue attacks on ships in Red Sea
A Yemeni checks his phone near a portrait of Houthi movement's leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi on January 18, 2024 in Sanaa. (AFP)
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Updated 18 January 2024
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Houthi leader rejects US terror designation, vows to continue attacks on ships in Red Sea

Houthi leader rejects US terror designation, vows to continue attacks on ships in Red Sea
  • Yemen’s information minister and other opponents of the militia welcome Washington’s decision to put it back on list of terrorist groups

AL-MUKALLA: The leader of Yemen’s Houthi militia, Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, condemned the US on Thursday for its decision to redesignate his movement as a terrorist organization, accusing Washington of punishing the group for its support of the Palestinian people.

“The American attacks and classifications have no significance and are a step that occurs solely in the context of defending Israel’s crimes,” he said during a televised speech. He vowed his group will continue to launch missile and drone attacks against Israeli targets, including ships in the Red Sea with connections to the country.

“We will continue targeting ships linked to Israel and the bombing of occupied Palestine until the aggression and blockade on Gaza ends,” he said.

His comments came as opponents of the Houthis, inside and outside of Yemen, applauded the US decision and called for harsher sanctions and penalties to be imposed on the group.

The Biden administration on Wednesday confirmed the redesignation of the Houthis as a terrorist group, in an attempt to put pressure on them to halt their attacks on ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The classification of the group as Specially Designated Global Terrorist gives the US the power to severely penalize the militia by cutting off its funding and weapons supplies and reducing its capacity to damage the security of international commerce. US President Joe Biden removed the Houthis from the list in early 2021 to make it easier to provide aid amid concerns about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

Other prominent members of the Houthis’ political and military wings joined the group’s leader in condemning the terror designation and accusing the US of complicity in Israel’s devastating military campaign in Gaza.

Dhaif Allah Al-Shami, the group’s information minister, accused Washington of using a carrot-and-stick approach in an attempt to coerce the group into halting its attacks on ships in the Red Sea in support of Palestine, and said it would not succeed.

In a message posted on social media site X, he wrote: “The threat to place (the Houthis) on the American terrorist list is a desperate ploy that has no impact on the Yemeni people. On the contrary, it will boost their faith, strength, and confidence in their position.”

Yemen’s internationally recognized government and other opponents and critics of the Houthis welcomed the redesignation of the group as terrorists and urged other nations to follow Washington’s example.

Yemeni Information Minister Muammar Al-Eryani described the redesignation as an “important” step that will highlight the Houthi threat to international maritime traffic.

He said that since the Houthis took control of the country through force in late 2014, they have committed numerous crimes that merit the label of terrorism, including attacks on residential areas using missiles made in Iran and packed with explosives, kidnappings, killings, the torture of abducted women, the demolition of homes, the recruitment of children, laying landmines, repression of dissidents, and other atrocities.

“The international community is required to intensify pressure on the Houthi militia to force it to abandon its terrorist approach, engage seriously and in good faith in deescalation efforts and bringing peace,” the minister added.

Yemeni human rights campaigners, journalists and politicians forced to flee their country for fear of Houthi reprisals similarly applauded the US reclassification of the group as terrorists.

Fahed Al-Sharafi, a Yemeni journalist from the province of Saada, a Houthi stronghold, and consultant to the information minister, said the US had shown its support for the oppressed people of Yemen who have suffered as a result of Houthi atrocities.

“The decision prevailed for justice and truth against a local and multinational terrorist gang that murdered, displaced, and destroyed everything beautiful in Yemen. This decision should be welcomed,” he wrote in a message posted on X.


Few civilians left in Rafah ‘trapped’ by the fighting

Few civilians left in Rafah ‘trapped’ by the fighting
Updated 25 June 2024
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Few civilians left in Rafah ‘trapped’ by the fighting

Few civilians left in Rafah ‘trapped’ by the fighting
  • There is “almost no one left” in Rafah, Abu Taha said, barring a handful of people who refused to leave their homes or who also came back later
  • The distress of the 2.4 million people in the narrow strip of land that is Gaza, already impoverished before the war, has increased with the fighting

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories: Rafah city center in Gaza lies deserted after most residents fled weeks of fighting between the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups led by Hamas that punctuated daily life there.
Those who are left in the city feel trapped.
Israeli officials have described Rafah as the last Hamas stronghold in the Gaza Strip.
In early May troops entered the city in the south of the Palestinian territory, bombarding areas near the border with Egypt and forcing tens of thousands of residents to leave.
“There is no more water or food. We are totally trapped,” said Haitham Abu Taha.
He is one of the few Palestinians who returned to Rafah with his family after Israel’s army recently announced a daily pause on a southern route.
“It was better than staying in tents or with relatives because we were separated from each other,” he remembered thinking, before returning to find that soldiers “had not really withdrawn.”
There is “almost no one left” in Rafah, Abu Taha said, barring a handful of people who refused to leave their homes or who also came back later.
Over the desolate city’s sea of rubble, Palestinians say Israeli drones fly precise maneuvers at low altitudes.
Almost silent, they offer a detailed view of the terrain and have been used, Palestinians say, to carry out precision strikes since the Israel-Hamas war began more than eight months ago.

Abu Taha, 30, spoke of the “danger of quadcopter drones which mercilessly target anyone walking” in the streets.
“Many people were killed” by the quadcopters, 22-year-old Ismail Abu Shaar told AFP, claiming to have stayed at home to “protect” the area.
“The artillery, the shooting and the clashes” never stop, he said.
The Israeli military said on Monday it was “continuing intelligence-based targeted operations” in and around Rafah, adding that it had found “large amounts of weapons.”
“We are clearly approaching the point where we can say we have dismantled the Rafah Brigade (of Hamas), that it is defeated not in the sense that there are no more terrorists, but in the sense that it can no longer function as a fighting unit,” army chief Herzi Halevi said in a statement after touring Rafah late on Sunday.
However, Palestinian armed groups, notably Hamas armed wing the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, say they regularly operate in the area.
William Schomburg, representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Rafah, told journalists on Saturday that the city is now a “ghost town.”
“We see very few people, very significant destruction,” he said.
The distress of the 2.4 million people in the narrow strip of land that is Gaza, already impoverished before the war, has increased with the fighting.

International organizations have said for months they face extreme difficulties in providing humanitarian aid to civilians, while the Israeli authorities say they have allowed the aid in but it has not been collected for distribution.
Plumes of smoke rise regularly above Rafah, to which Egypt partly controlled access until the war changed the situation on the ground.
Before the Israeli ground offensive on the city began in early May, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians took refuge there, displaced from across the territory as the fighting intensified.
Many have left homes where they had lived for years or apartments they had rented at high prices after the war began — or tents erected in haste as the war tightened its grip on the city.
At the end of May, AFP correspondents saw hundreds of Palestinians fleeing Tal Al-Sultan, a district of Rafah which had just been hit by an Israeli strike that left 45 dead, according to the local authorities in the Hamas-run territory.
After strikes last week killed dozens, the east and center of the city are becoming even more empty as the people flee.
On flatbed vans and donkey carts, families piled patched-up solar panels, foam mattresses covered with flowers, wooden planks and plastic pipes.
A young boy pushed sheets of metal on an office chair.
Many say they simply do not have the means to embark on a new move, as the war closes in on the few who remain behind with them.
“We’re afraid to move because we fear being killed,” said Abu Taha.
 

 


US urges Israel’s defense minister to avoid Lebanon escalation

US urges Israel’s defense minister to avoid Lebanon escalation
Updated 25 June 2024
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US urges Israel’s defense minister to avoid Lebanon escalation

US urges Israel’s defense minister to avoid Lebanon escalation

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Israel during a Monday meeting with its defense minister to avoid further escalation in Lebanon as they discussed efforts to reach a deal to free hostages in Gaza.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was on a visit to Washington seeking to reaffirm the value of ties with Israel’s top ally, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly chastised the United States for what he said was a delay in weapons deliveries.
In a two-hour meeting with Gallant at the State Department, Blinken discussed indirect diplomacy between Israel and Hamas on an agreement that “secures the release of all hostages and alleviates the suffering of the Palestinian people,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.
Blinken also “underscored the importance of avoiding further escalation of the conflict and reaching a diplomatic resolution that allows both Israeli and Lebanese families to return to their homes,” Miller said in a statement.
Tensions have been rising with growing exchanges of fire between Israel and Lebanon’s Iranian-backed militant movement Hezbollah.
Netanyahu has said Israeli forces are winding up the most intense part of the Gaza war and will redeploy to the northern border, although he cast the move as defensive.
Gallant also met CIA chief Bill Burns, the key US pointman in negotiations to free hostages from Hamas.
“I would like to emphasize that it is Israel’s primary commitment to return the hostages, with no exception, to their families and homes,” Gallant said before starting his meetings.
“We will continue to make every possible effort to bring them home,” he said.
The minister made no further comment as he left the meeting with Blinken, as a few dozen protesters outside the State Department chanted to call him a “war criminal.”

President Joe Biden on May 31 laid out a plan for a ceasefire in Gaza and release of hostages.
Hamas, which launched the conflict with its October 7 attack on Israel, has come back with its own demands, and the United States hopes the gaps can be bridged.
Netanyahu, who has faced major protests calling for him to accept the deal, in recent days has annoyed the Biden administration by accusing Washington of cutting back arms and ammunition deliveries.
Gallant took a different tack, saying: “The alliance between Israel and the United States, led by the US over many years, is extremely important.”
Other than Israel’s own military, “our ties with the US are the most important element for our future from a security perspective,” he said.
Biden, who has faced criticism from parts of his own base over his support for Israel, held back a shipment that included heavy 2,000-pound bombs.
Netanyahu — who has close relations with Biden’s rivals in the Republican Party — told a cabinet meeting on Sunday that there was a “dramatic drop in the supply” of US weapons around four months ago.
Asked about his latest remark, Miller told reporters, “I don’t understand what that comment meant at all.”
“We have paused one shipment of high-payload munitions. That shipment remains on pause,” Miller told reporters.
“There are other weapons that we continue to provide Israel, as we have done going back years and years, because we are committed to Israel’s security. There has been no change in that,” Miller said.
Miller said the United States would also press Israel to work on longer-term arrangements after the end of the fighting.
“We don’t want to see in Rafah what we’ve seen in Gaza City and what we’ve seen in Khan Yunis, which is the end of major combat operations and then the beginning of Hamas reasserting control,” he said, referring to two other major cities targeted by Israel earlier in the war.
 

 


Israeli military confirms death of hostage held in Gaza

Israeli military confirms death of hostage held in Gaza
Updated 25 June 2024
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Israeli military confirms death of hostage held in Gaza

Israeli military confirms death of hostage held in Gaza
  • Israeli authorities had previously confirmed Alatrash, a sergeant major in the Israeli military’s Bedouin Trackers Unit, was taken hostage on October 7

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military on Monday confirmed the death of a soldier held hostage by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip for nearly nine months since Hamas’s October 7 attack.
In a separate statement the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said that Mohammad Alatrash was killed during the October attack on southern Israel and his body taken captive by Hamas militants.
Israeli authorities had previously confirmed Alatrash, a sergeant major in the Israeli military’s Bedouin Trackers Unit, was taken hostage on October 7.
Alatrash, 39, is survived by two wives and 13 children, the forum said in a statement.
“The Families Forum will continue to support and stand by the family during this difficult time and until his remains are returned to Israel,” it said.
The Hostages and Missing Families Forum meanwhile released a video showing the kidnapping of three other hostages on the day of the Hamas attack.
It showed Hersh Goldberg-Polin, Or Levy and Eliya Cohen being seized, loaded in a pick-up truck and driven away to Gaza by armed militants, some chanting “Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest).”
Goldberg-Polin is seen drenched in blood after part of his left arm was blown off in the attack.
In April, he appeared in a proof-of-life video released by Hamas in which he said the captives were living “in hell.” His left arm had been amputated below the elbow.
“The shocking abduction video of Hersh, Or and Eliya breaks all of our hearts and re-emphasizes the brutality of the enemy whom we have sworn to eliminate,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement after the release of the latest footage.
“We will not end the war until we return all ... of our loved ones home.”
Alatrash’s death raises the toll from Hamas’s attack to 1,195, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Palestinian militants also took 251 people hostage in the attack, 116 of whom remain captive in the Gaza Strip, according to Israel.
Of those, the military says 42 are dead, including at least nine soldiers.
Israel’s retaliatory invasion and bombardment of the Gaza Strip has resulted in the deaths of at least 37,626 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.


Jordan police say they detonated explosives hidden in a warehouse in capital

Jordan police say they detonated explosives hidden in a warehouse in capital
Updated 25 June 2024
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Jordan police say they detonated explosives hidden in a warehouse in capital

Jordan police say they detonated explosives hidden in a warehouse in capital
  • Security officials said the incidents were terror-related based on the quantities of explosives found

AMMAN: Jordanian security forces said they uncovered and detonated explosives hidden in a commercial warehouse in an industrial area southeast of the capital Amman on Monday that security sources say were part of an Iran-linked plot to destabilize a key US ally.
Witnesses earlier said security forces had sealed the Abu Alanda area in a wide scale security operation two days after authorities announced they had detonated explosives uncovered in another location in the capital. The authorities said the explosives found on Monday were hidden by the same group of suspects who stored the explosives uncovered on Saturday in a crowded residential area close to a military airport used by US army planes. The authorities, who have not disclosed who was behind the storing of munitions or whether arrests have been made, say they will reveal details once the investigations are completed.
Over the past year, Jordan has said it has foiled many attempts to smuggle weapons by infiltrators linked to pro-Iranian militias in Syria, who it says have crossed its borders with rocket launchers and explosives, adding that some of the weapons managed to get through undetected.
Iran has denied being behind such attempts.
Security sources say some of the arms are bound for the neighboring Israeli-occupied West Bank, adding that they have arrested several Jordanians linked to Palestinian militants.
Security officials said the incidents were terror-related based on the quantities of explosives found. They said it is linked to Iran’s clandestine efforts to recruit agents to undertake sabotage acts within the kingdom to destabilize a key ally of Washington in the region.
Jordan has over 3,500 American troops stationed in several bases and, since the war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza erupted in October, it has been increasingly targeted by Iranian-backed groups operating in neighboring Syria and Iraq.


1 in 5 in Gaza go days without eating, UN report says

1 in 5 in Gaza go days without eating, UN report says
Updated 25 June 2024
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1 in 5 in Gaza go days without eating, UN report says

1 in 5 in Gaza go days without eating, UN report says
  • More than 495,000 people in region facing catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity

LONDON: More than 495,000 people in Gaza, representing one in five of the enclave’s population, are now facing catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity, characterized by extreme lack of food, starvation, and exhaustion, according to a forthcoming UN report.

The latest “Special Snapshot” of Gaza from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification will be published on Tuesday, The Guardian reported.

The UN report will also reveal that more than half of Gaza’s households have had to sell or exchange clothes to buy food, as the risk of famine remains high across the territory following recent violence.

Israeli authorities have tight control over entry into Gaza, and movements require military permission. Rubble has damaged the roads, fuel is in short supply, and power and communication networks are barely functional.

At the start of the war Israel imposed a complete siege on Gaza, which has only been gradually eased under US pressure. The war has significantly reduced Gaza’s ability to produce its own food.

The IPC noted that food deliveries and nutritional services to northern Gaza increased significantly in March and April, preventing a famine and improving conditions in the territory’s south. However, the situation has deteriorated again as a result of renewed hostilities, and the risk of famine remains in the Gaza Strip as long as the conflict continues and humanitarian access is limited, according to a draft report obtained by The Guardian.

More than half of households reported frequently running out of food at home, and more than 20 percent go entire days and nights without eating, The Guardian reported. The most recent trajectory is negative and highly unstable. If this trend continues, the improvements seen in April may be quickly reversed.

UN agencies and aid organizations report difficulties in reaching Kerem Shalom border crossing due to ongoing fighting, Israeli restrictions, coordination issues with the army, and the breakdown of law and order.

Although the IPC has not officially declared a famine — which requires a stringent set of conditions — the situation in Gaza is dire. Stage 5 hunger, which affects 22 percent of Gaza’s population, is comparable to famine conditions.

A formal famine declaration requires 20 percent of households to have an extreme lack of food, 30 percent of children to suffer from acute malnutrition, and at least two adults or four children per 10,000 people to die each day.

Volker Turk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has said that Israel’s restrictions on humanitarian aid into Gaza may constitute the war crime of deliberate starvation. The World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization have warned that by the middle of July, more than 1 million people could be dead or starving.

A joint statement from Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, and the European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic said: “The crisis in Gaza has reached another breaking point … The delivery of any meaningful humanitarian assistance inside Gaza has become almost impossible and the very fabric of civil society is unraveling.”

Ahead of the release of the IPC’s report on Gaza, Kate Phillips-Barrasso, vice president of global policy and advocacy at Mercy Corps, said: “People are enduring subhuman conditions, resorting to desperate measures like boiling weeds, eating animal feed, and exchanging clothes for money to stave off hunger and keep their children alive.

“The humanitarian situation is deteriorating rapidly, and the specter of famine continues to hang over Gaza … Humanitarian aid is limited … The international community must apply relentless pressure to achieve a ceasefire and ensure sustained humanitarian access now. The population cannot endure these hardships any longer.”