Houthi disruption of Red Sea shipping hurts, not helps, Gaza Palestinians, US diplomat Tim Lenderking tells Arab News

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Updated 08 February 2024
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Houthi disruption of Red Sea shipping hurts, not helps, Gaza Palestinians, US diplomat Tim Lenderking tells Arab News

Timothy Lenderking, the US special envoy for Yemen. (US State Department)
  • Special envoy for Yemen underscores importance of keeping Iran-backed militia focused on the peace process
  • Defends earlier Biden move to remove Houthis’ terrorist designation as motivated by humanitarian imperatives

DUBAI: The Houthis’ professed attempts to show solidarity with Gaza are not helping but hurting Palestinians in the embattled enclave, Timothy Lenderking, the US special envoy for Yemen, has said.

Since the Israel-Hamas war erupted in October last year, the Iran-backed militia has been launching missiles and drones from Yemen not just at Israel but also at commercial and military vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

The militia says that its actions are an expression of solidarity with Gaza — a claim Lenderking strongly disagrees with, citing the resultant “increasing freight and insurance costs” and higher prices in general.

“It’s just unfortunate that the Houthis have chosen to convey their solidarity with the Palestinians, which many people feel, many Americans feel, many regional countries feel, by attacking regional shipping,” Lenderking said.

“It’s as though I have an issue with my neighbor, and I go and burn down the neighborhood grocery store. It makes no sense.”

He added: “This action by the Houthis is doing nothing to help the Palestinians, nothing to alleviate the suffering of Gazans at all. In fact, on the contrary, it’s complicating the movement of vital supplies into Gaza. So, this is also an adverse effect of what the Houthis are doing. It is simply the wrong reaction.”

Lenderking, a career member of America’s Senior Foreign Service, made the remarks on “Frankly Speaking,” Arab News’ current affairs show. The full interview will be published on Sunday.

The US State Department only recently announced the listing of “Ansarallah, commonly referred to as the Houthis, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group.”

Yet, between 2015 and 2022, Houthi missiles repeatedly struck civilian infrastructure and population centers in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, some of which killed civilians.

The State Department had listed the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization in January 2021 in the last days of former President Donald Trump’s administration but revoked the designation less than one month later when President Joe Biden took office.

Addressing what many view as a double standard on the part of US foreign policy, Lenderking said the recent relisting of the Houthis as a terrorist group was a response to their attacks on civilian and commercial ships “in a reckless, indiscriminate manner,” adding that more than 50 nations have been affected by the latest violence.

“This is becoming a global problem, raising prices, increasing freight costs and insurance costs, not for the wealthy, but for those moving wheat,” Lenderking said.

“This is hurting all sorts of consumers and ordinary people all over the world. And that’s why there’s been such a short, such a sharp reaction and why the reaction is growing against this Houthi behavior.”

Defending the US decision to revoke the Houthis’ terrorist designation in February 2021, Lenderking said that despite some “detestable aspects of (Houthi) ideology” and a litany of documented human rights violations carried out by the group, the US “felt that removing the designation would lessen the stress on humanitarian networks in Yemen,” something that was a priority for the Biden administration.

Though the US has repeatedly affirmed its support for a peaceful, non-military solution to the decade-long Yemeni conflict — backing up its promises with more than $5 billion in humanitarian aid since the start of the conflict — the strikes against the Houthis have cast doubt on Washington’s commitment to peace.

Lenderking said that the Central Command’s retaliatory strikes were limited to military targets only. “The targets that have been selected are all missile sites and storage facilities, UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) capabilities that are specifically aimed at international shipping,” he said. “They are having significant impact in degrading that capability.”

He underscored the importance of keeping the Houthis focused on the peace process in Yemen as opposed to the war in Gaza.

“I think we all recognize that we are not going to solve any of the problems in the region if we have to keep dealing with these attacks on shipping. So, let the Houthis de-escalate this effort, we de-escalate, and we can move the focus back to helping the Gazans in a genuine and effective way,” he said.

“And also working toward a genuine and durable peace in Yemen.”

The full episode of Frankly Speaking will be released on Sunday.


No indication from Israel that Rafah crossing could open soon, Palestinian minister says

No indication from Israel that Rafah crossing could open soon, Palestinian minister says
Updated 2 sec ago
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No indication from Israel that Rafah crossing could open soon, Palestinian minister says

No indication from Israel that Rafah crossing could open soon, Palestinian minister says
  • Rafah was a major entry point for humanitarian relief before Israel stepped up its military offensive on the Gaza side of the border
GENEVA: The Palestinian health minister said on Wednesday there was no indication from Israel that the Rafah crossing, used to bring in essential humanitarian and medical supplies, could be opened soon.
“Since it was closed, we have no indication that the Israelis would like it to be opened any time soon,” the minister, Majed Abu Ramadan, told reporters on the sidelines of the World Health Assembly in Geneva.
Rafah was a major entry point for humanitarian relief before Israel stepped up its military offensive on the Gaza side of the border earlier this month and seized control of the crossing from the Palestinian side.

Iran’s Tasnim news agency: Iran made sea-launched ballistic missile available to Houthis

Iran’s Tasnim news agency: Iran made sea-launched ballistic missile available to Houthis
Updated 47 min 6 sec ago
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Iran’s Tasnim news agency: Iran made sea-launched ballistic missile available to Houthis

Iran’s Tasnim news agency: Iran made sea-launched ballistic missile available to Houthis
  • Iran’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment
  • Iran is armed with the largest number of ballistic missiles in the region

DUBAI: Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Wednesday that Tehran’s sea-launched ballistic missile Ghadr has been made available to Yemen’s Houthis.
“Iran’s sea-launched ballistic missile, named Ghadr, now has been made available to Yemen’s (Houthi) fighters,” — reported Tasnim, which is believed to be affiliated to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
“Now, the missile … has become a weapon capable of presenting serious challenges to the interests of the United States and its main ally in the region, the Zionist regime,” Tasnim said.
Iran’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Iran supports the Houthis but has repeatedly denied arming the group.
The Houthis have been attacking shipping lanes in and around the Red Sea to show support for Palestinians in the Gaza war impacting a shipping route vital to trade.
According to the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Iran is armed with the largest number of ballistic missiles in the region. It is also a major producer of drones.


Turkiye’s Erdogan says ‘spirit of United Nations dead in Gaza’

Turkiye’s Erdogan says ‘spirit of United Nations dead in Gaza’
Updated 29 May 2024
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Turkiye’s Erdogan says ‘spirit of United Nations dead in Gaza’

Turkiye’s Erdogan says ‘spirit of United Nations dead in Gaza’
  • Calls on the ‘Islamic world’ to react after the latest deadly Israeli strikes in Gaza
  • Turkish premier hits out at fellow Muslim-majority countries for failing to take common action over the Israeli strike

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday hit out at the United Nations and called on the “Islamic world” to react after the latest deadly Israeli strikes in Gaza.
“The UN cannot even protect its own staff. What are you waiting for to act? The spirit of the United Nations is dead in Gaza,” Erdogan told lawmakers from his AKP party.
Erdogan’s comments came as the UN Security Council met to discuss a deadly Israeli attack on a displacement camp west of Rafah on Tuesday that killed 21 people, according to a civil defense official in Hamas-run Gaza.
The Turkish premier also hit out at fellow Muslim-majority countries for failing to take common action over the Israeli strike.
“I have some words to say to the Islamic world: what are you waiting for to take a common decision?” Erdogan, who leads a Muslim-majority country of 85 million people, told lawmakers from his AKP party.
“Israel is not just a threat to Gaza but to all of humanity,” he said.
“No state is safe as long as Israel does not follow international law and does not feel bound by international law,” Erdogan added, repeating an accusation that Israel is committing “genocide” in Gaza.


Three Israeli soldiers killed in combat in southern Gaza, military says

Three Israeli soldiers killed in combat in southern Gaza, military says
Updated 29 May 2024
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Three Israeli soldiers killed in combat in southern Gaza, military says

Three Israeli soldiers killed in combat in southern Gaza, military says
  • Israeli forces have kept up their offensive in Rafah, defying an order from the International Court of Justice

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said three soldiers had been killed in combat in southern Gaza on Wednesday, as it pressed ahead with its offensive in Rafah.
Three more soldiers were badly wounded in the same incident, the military said, though it provided no further details. Israel’s public broadcaster Kan radio said they were injured by an explosive device set off in a building in Rafah.
Defying an order from the International Court of Justice, Israeli forces have kept up their offensive in Rafah, where they aim to root out the last major intact formations of Hamas fighters and rescue hostages.
International unease over Israel’s three-week-old Rafah offensive has turned to outrage since an airstrike on Sunday set off a blaze in a tent camp in a western district of the city, killing at least 45 people.
Israel said it had been targeting two senior Hamas operatives and had not intended to cause civilian casualties. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “something unfortunately went tragically wrong.”
The Israeli military said it was investigating the possibility that munitions stored near a compound targeted by Sunday’s airstrike may have ignited.
Israel told around one million Palestinian civilians displaced by the almost eight-month-old war to evacuate from Rafah before launching its incursion in early May. Around that many have fled the city since then, according to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.
On Tuesday, the United States, Israel’s closest ally, reiterated its opposition to a major Israeli ground offensive in Rafah but said it did not believe such an operation was under way.


Syrians in Lebanon fear unprecedented restrictions, deportations

Syrians in Lebanon fear unprecedented restrictions, deportations
Updated 29 May 2024
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Syrians in Lebanon fear unprecedented restrictions, deportations

Syrians in Lebanon fear unprecedented restrictions, deportations
  • Lebanon remains home to the largest refugee population per capita in the world: roughly 1.5 million Syrians
  • Five million Syrian refugees who spilled out of Syria into neighboring countries, while millions more are displaced within Syria

BEKAA VALLEY: The soldiers came before daybreak, singling out the Syrian men without residence permits from the tattered camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. As toddlers wailed around them, Mona, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon for a decade, watched Lebanese troops shuffle her brother onto a truck headed for the Syrian border.
Thirteen years since Syria’s conflict broke out, Lebanon remains home to the largest refugee population per capita in the world: roughly 1.5 million Syrians — half of whom are refugees formally registered with the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR — in a country of approximately 4 million Lebanese.
They are among some five million Syrian refugees who spilled out of Syria into neighboring countries, while millions more are displaced within Syria. Donor countries in Brussels this week pledged fewer funds in Syria aid than last year.
With Lebanon struggling to cope with an economic meltdown that has crushed livelihoods and most public services, its chronically underfunded security forces and typically divided politicians now agree on one thing: Syrians must be sent home.
Employers have been urged to stop hiring Syrians for menial jobs. Municipalities have issued new curfews and have even evicted Syrian tenants, two humanitarian sources told Reuters. At least one township in northern Lebanon has shuttered an informal camp, sending Syrians scattering, the sources said.
Lebanese security forces issued a new directive this month shrinking the number of categories through which Syrians can apply for residency — frightening many who would no longer qualify for legal status and now face possible deportation.
Lebanon has organized voluntary returns for Syrians, through which 300 traveled home in May. But more than 400 have also been summarily deported by the Lebanese army, two humanitarian sources told Reuters, caught in camp raids or at checkpoints set up to identify Syrians without legal residency.
They are automatically driven across the border, refugees and humanitarian workers say, fueling concerns about rights violations, forced military conscription or arbitrary detention.
Mona, who asked to change her name in fear of Lebanese authorities, said her brother was told to register with Syria’s army reserves upon his entry. Fearing a similar fate, the rest of the camp’s men no longer venture out.
“None of the men can pick up their kids from school, or go to the market to get things for the house. They can’t go to any government institutions, or hospital, or court,” Mona said.
She must now care for her brother’s children, who were not deported, through an informal job she has at a nearby factory. She works at night to evade checkpoints along her commute.
’Wrong $ not sustainable’
Lebanon has deported refugees in the past, and political parties have long insisted parts of Syria are safe enough for large-scale refugee returns.
But in April, the killing of a local Lebanese party official blamed on Syrians touched off a concentrated campaign of anti-refugee sentiment.
Hate speech flourished online, with more than 50 percent of the online conversation about refugees in Lebanon focused on deporting them and another 20 percent referring to Syrians as an “existential threat,” said Lebanese research firm InflueAnswers.
The tensions have extended to international institutions. Lebanon’s foreign minister has pressured UNHCR’s representative to rescind a request to halt the new restrictions and lawmakers slammed a one billion euro aid package from the European Union as a “bribe” to keep hosting refugees.
“This money that the EU is sending to the Syrians, let them send it to Syria,” said Roy Hadchiti, a media representative for the Free Patriotic Movement, speaking at an anti-refugee rally organized by the conservative Christian party.
He, like a growing number of Lebanese, complained that Syrian refugees received more aid than desperate Lebanese. “Go see them in the camps — they have solar panels, while Lebanese can’t even afford a private generator subscription,” he said.
The UN still considers Syria unsafe for large-scale returns and said rising anti-refugee rhetoric is alarming.
“I am very concerned because it can result in... forced returns, which are both wrong and not sustainable,” UNHCR head Filippo Grandi told Reuters.
“I understand the frustrations in host countries — but please don’t fuel it further.”
Zeina, a Syrian refugee who also asked her name be changed, said her husband’s deportation last month left her with no work or legal status in an increasingly hostile Lebanese town.
Returning has its own dangers: her children were born in Lebanon and do not have Syrian ID cards, and her home in Homs province remains in ruins since a 2012 government strike that forced her to flee.
“Even now, when I think of those days, and I think of my parents or anyone else going back, they can’t. The house is flattened. What kind of return is that?” she said.