Houthis launch new wave of missile attacks on ships off Yemeni coast

Special Houthis launch new wave of missile attacks on ships off Yemeni coast
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Houthi tribesmen parade in a show of defiance after US and UK air strikes on Houthi positions near Sanaa, Yemen, Feb. 4, 2024. (Reuters)
Special Houthis launch new wave of missile attacks on ships off Yemeni coast
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Houthi commandos capture the Galaxy Leader cargo vessel in the Red Sea, in November of last year. (AFP)
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Updated 06 February 2024
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Houthis launch new wave of missile attacks on ships off Yemeni coast

Houthis launch new wave of missile attacks on ships off Yemeni coast
  • British-owned and Barbados-flagged cargo ship damaged in a drone attack while navigating through the southeast Red Sea
  • Greek-owned and Marshall Islands-flagged vessel sailing from the US to India was targeted 53 nautical miles southwest of Aden

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Houthi militia on Tuesday launched another wave of missiles toward ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden as the group’s leader vowed to continue attacks until Israel lifted its blockade of Gaza.

A cargo vessel sailing 57 nautical miles west of the Houthi-controlled port city of Hodeidah sustained minor damage to its bridge after one of the weapons passed through its deck, according to British maritime agencies the UK Maritime Trade Operations, and Ambrey.

The UKMTO reported that a small boat had been spotted off the ship’s port side.

Meanwhile, Ambrey officials said a British-owned and Barbados-flagged cargo ship had been damaged in a drone attack while navigating through the southeast Red Sea.

On Tuesday, the UKMTO warned shipping companies operating in the Gulf of Aden to exercise caution after receiving reports of an explosion near to a commercial vessel 50 nautical miles south of the Yemeni city of Aden.

And Ambrey reported that a Greek-owned and Marshall Islands-flagged vessel sailing from the US to India was targeted 53 nautical miles southwest of Aden.

The warnings were issued shortly after eyewitnesses in the Houthi-controlled Ibb province said on Tuesday that a missile had been fired from the Al-Hamza military camp in Ibb’s Al-Sabrah area.

The Iran-backed Houthis have launched dozens of explosive-rigged drones and ballistic missiles at commercial and naval ships passing through Bab El-Mandeb (the strait that connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden), the Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aden in what the militia group has described as military action in support of Palestine aimed at pressuring Israel into lifting its siege of Gaza.

On Tuesday, Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sarea claimed group responsibility for firing anti-ship missiles at the Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier Star Nasia, and the cargo ship Barbados Morning Tide.

He said the first ship was American and the second British and that both vessels sustained direct hits. Sarea added that the attacks were in support of Palestine and retaliation for US and UK bombardments of Yemeni areas under Houthi control.

Since Jan. 12, American and British forces have conducted dozens of attacks on bases in Sanaa, Hodeidah, Hajjah, Al-Bayda, Saada, and other sites in a bid to diminish Houthi military capabilities to fire on ships.

On Tuesday, Houthi media said that the US and UK had conducted three attacks in the northern province of Saada, the Houthi stronghold.

And Houthi militia leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi claimed that the US was flying the Marshallese flag on its ships to evade strikes, adding that attacks on shipping in the Red Sea would continue.

Meanwhile, the Yemeni riyal rose modestly on Tuesday morning after the internationally recognized Presidential Leadership Council head named a new prime minister. Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak will succeed Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, who was made an adviser to PLC president, Rashad Al-Alimi.

In a post on X, the new PM promised to focus on improving living standards for Yemenis, reviving government institutions, and putting an end to the Houthi military seizure of power in Yemen.

Bin Mubarak said: “I assume this position today with the determination to improve the lives of every Yemeni man and woman, mindful of the suffering of our honorable people.”


Israel’s high court orders the army to draft ultra-Orthodox men, rattling Netanyahu’s government

Israel’s high court orders the army to draft ultra-Orthodox men, rattling Netanyahu’s government
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Israel’s high court orders the army to draft ultra-Orthodox men, rattling Netanyahu’s government

Israel’s high court orders the army to draft ultra-Orthodox men, rattling Netanyahu’s government
  • Under longstanding arrangements, ultra-Orthodox men have been exempt from the draft
  • These exemptions have long been a source of anger among the secular public

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled unanimously that the military must begin drafting ultra-Orthodox men for compulsory service, a landmark decision that could lead to the collapse of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition as Israel continues to wage war in Gaza.
The historic ruling effectively puts an end to a decades-old system that granted ultra-Orthodox men broad exemptions from military service while maintaining mandatory enlistment for the country’s secular Jewish majority. The arrangement, deemed discriminatory by critics, has created a deep chasm in Israel’s Jewish majority over who should shoulder the burden of protecting the country.
The court struck down a law that codified exemptions in 2017, but repeated court extensions and government delaying tactics over a replacement dragged out a resolution for years. The court ruled that in the absence of a law, Israel’s compulsory military service applies to the ultra-Orthodox like any other citizen.
Under longstanding arrangements, ultra-Orthodox men have been exempt from the draft, which is compulsory for most Jewish men and women.
These exemptions have long been a source of anger among the secular public, a divide that has widened during the eight-month-old war, as the military has called up tens of thousands of soldiers and says it needs all the manpower it can get. Over 600 soldiers have been killed since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.
Politically powerful ultra-Orthodox parties, key partners in Netanyahu’s governing coalition, oppose any change in the current system. If the exemptions are ended, they could bolt the coalition, causing the government to collapse and likely leading to new elections at a time when its popularity has dropped.
In the current environment, Netanyahu could have a hard time delaying the matter any further or passing laws to restore the exemptions. During arguments, government lawyers told the court that forcing ultra-Orthodox men to enlist would “tear Israeli society apart.” There was no immediate comment from Netanyahu’s office.
The court decision comes at a sensitive time, as the war in Gaza drags on into its ninth month and the number of dead soldiers continues to mount.
In its ruling, the court found that the state was carrying out “invalid selective enforcement, which represents a serious violation of the rule of law, and the principle according to which all individuals are equal before the law.”
It did not say how many ultra-Orthodox should be drafted, but the military has said it is capable of enlisting 3,000 this year.
Some 66,000 ultra-Orthodox men are now eligible for enlistment, according to Shuki Friedman, an expert on religion and state affairs and the vice president of the Jewish People Policy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank.
The ruling of Israel’s highest court must be followed, and the military is expected to begin doing so once it forms a plan for how to draft thousands of members of a population that’s deeply opposed to service, and which follows a cloistered and modest lifestyle the military may not be immediately prepared to accommodate. The army had no immediate comment.
The court also ruled that state subsidies for seminaries where exempted ultra-Orthodox men study should remain suspended. The court temporarily froze the seminary budgets earlier this year.
In a post on the social media platform X, Cabinet minister Yitzhak Goldknopf, who heads one of the ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition, called the ruling “very unfortunate and disappointing.” He did not say whether his party would bolt the government.
“The state of Israel was established in order to be a home for the Jewish people whose Torah is the bedrock of its existence. The holy Torah will prevail,” he wrote.
The ultra-Orthodox see their full-time religious study as their part in protecting the state. Many fear that greater contact with secular society through the military will distance adherents from strict observance of the faith.
Ultra-Orthodox men attend special seminaries that focus on religious studies, with little attention on secular topics like math, English or science. Critics have said they are ill-prepared to serve in the military or enter the secular work force.
Religious women generally receive exemptions that are not as controversial, in part because women are not expected to serve in combat units. The ruling does not address the status of Israel’s Palestinian citizens, who are not required to serve and most of whom do not. As descendants of Palestinians who remained in Israel after the 1948 war that led to its creation, their ties to the military are more fraught and some in Israel see them as a fifth column because of their solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
Tuesday’s ruling now sets the stage for growing friction within the coalition over the draft issue. Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers are likely to face intense pressure from religious leaders and their constituents and may have to choose whether remaining in the government is worthwhile for them. Previous court rulings on the issue and threats of enlistment have sparked protests and violence between ultra-Orthodox and police.
Friedman said the ultra-Orthodox “understand that they don’t have a better political alternative, but at same time their public is saying ‘why did we vote for you?’”
The exemptions have faced years of legal challenges and a string of court decisions has found the system unjust. But Israeli leaders, under pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties, have repeatedly stalled.
The Movement for Quality Government in Israel, which has helped lead the challenge against the exemptions, called on the government to immediately draft all eligible seminary students. “This is their legal and moral duty, especially in light of the complex security situation and the urgent need for personnel” in the army, said Tomer Naor, head of the group’s legal department.
Netanyahu’s coalition is buoyed by two ultra-Orthodox parties who oppose increasing enlistment for their constituents. The long-serving Israeli leader has tried to adhere to the court’s rulings while also scrambling to preserve his coalition. But with a slim majority of 64 seats in the 120-member parliament, he’s often beholden to the pet issues of smaller parties.
The government could in theory try to draft a law that restores the exemptions, but doing so will be politically challenging in light of the court’s ruling.
Some moderate members of the government have indicated they will only support a law that enlists sizable numbers of ultra-Orthodox, and the legislative clock is running out with the Knesset soon to leave for summer recess. That could force the military to begin drafting religious men before any new law is in place.
Netanyahu has been promoting a bill tabled by a previous government in 2022 that sought to address the issue by calling for limited ultra-Orthodox enlistment.
But critics say that bill was crafted before the war and doesn’t do enough to address a pressing manpower shortfall as the army seeks to maintain its forces in the Gaza Strip while also preparing for potential war with the Lebanese Hezbollah group, which has been fighting with Israel since the war in Gaza erupted last October.
With its high birthrate, the ultra-Orthodox community is the fastest-growing segment of the population, at about 4 percent annually. Each year, roughly 13,000 ultra-Orthodox males reach the conscription age of 18, but less than 10 percent enlist, according to the Israeli parliament’s State Control Committee.


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
  • Over half of Gaza’s households have sold or exchanged clothes to buy food, says UN report
  • Israeli authorities have tight control over entry into Gaza, movements require military permission

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.”


Iran’s presidential election dominated by Khamenei loyalists

Iran’s presidential election dominated by Khamenei loyalists
Updated 25 June 2024
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Iran’s presidential election dominated by Khamenei loyalists

Iran’s presidential election dominated by Khamenei loyalists
  • Iranians will select successor to Ebrahim Raisi on Friday
  • Outcome likely to influence succession to Supreme Leader, 85

DUBAI: Iranians choose a president on Friday in a tightly controlled election following Ebrahim Raisi’s death in a helicopter crash last month, with the outcome expected to influence the succession to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s top decision-maker.
With Iran’s supreme leader now 85, it is likely that the next president will be closely involved in the eventual process of choosing a successor to Khamenei, who has ensured candidates sharing his hard-line views dominate the presidential contest.
The election coincides with escalating regional tensions due to the Israel-Hamas conflict, increased Western pressure on Iran over its rapidly advancing nuclear program, and growing domestic dissent over political, social, and economic crises.
However, the looming succession to the fiercely anti-Western Khamenei is the overriding concern among Iran’s clerical elite.
The Guardian Council, a hard-line vetting body of clerics and jurists aligned to Khamenei, has approved five hard-liners and one low-profile moderate candidate from an initial pool of 80.
Prominent among the hard-liners are Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, parliament speaker and former head of the powerful Revolutionary Guards, and Saeed Jalili, a former nuclear negotiator.
The sole moderate candidate, Massoud Pezeshkian, has the endorsement of Iran’s politically-sidelined reformist camp that advocates detente with the West.
The fiercely anti-Western Khamenei has not backed any candidate publicly. However, in a televised speech on Tuesday he said: “One who thinks that nothing can be done without the favor of America will not manage the country well.”
His adviser Yahya Rahim Safavi has urged voters to elect “a president whose views do not conflict with those of the supreme leader,” state media reported.
“The people should choose a president who considers himself the second in command ... The president should not create division,” said Safavi, a former chief commander of the Guards.
While the president’s role has a high international profile, real power rests with the supreme leader, who has the final say on state matters like foreign or nuclear policies and controls all branches of government, the military, media and the bulk of financial resources.
Raisi was widely seen as a potential successor to Khamenei, and his sudden death has sparked a race among hard-liners seeking to influence the selection of Iran’s next top leader.

Divided nation
An Iranian insider close to Khamenei, who asked for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said the Supreme Leader “has no tolerance for political infighting when cohesion among those in power is essential.”
“A president, who is loyal and aligns completely with the supreme leader while also a trusted ally of the Revolutionary Guards, can significantly contribute to a seamless transition of power,” said the insider.
While devout supporters of the clerical establishment are expected to vote for hard-liners, many Iranians may choose to abstain amid limited electoral options, discontent over a crackdown on dissent, and anger over worsening living standards.
The chances of Pezeshkian, who is also strongly loyal to Khamenei, depend on attracting millions of disillusioned mainly young voters who have stayed home in elections since 2020 and also on persistent splits among the five hard-line candidates.
The reformists’ electoral strength remains uncertain, however, as some voters believe they failed to deliver greater freedoms during their past tenures in power.
Unrest sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman, in custody in 2022, exposed a widening divide between reformists and their power base, after leaders distanced themselves from demonstrators who demanded a “regime change.”
Reformists remain faithful to Iran’s theocratic rule but advocate detente with the West, economic reform, social liberalization and political pluralism.
Khamenei called for a high turnout that he said “will silence the Islamic Republic’s enemies.”
Iranian dissidents, both domestically and abroad, have called for an election boycott, distributing the hashtag #ElectionCircus widely on the social media platform X, arguing that a high turnout would legitimize the Islamic Republic.
Narges Mohammadi, the imprisoned Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said in a message from Tehran’s Evin prison that the vote would be a “sham” election.
The government relied on repression to maintain power, and its aim in holding the election “is not to uphold democracy and people’s rights, but to reinforce power and tyranny,” she said.
However, prominent reformist politicians have warned that low voter turnout will allow hard-liners to maintain control over all arms of the state.
Raisi clinched victory in 2021 on a turnout of about 49 percent — a significant drop from the 70 percent seen in 2017 and 76 percent in 2013 — largely amid widespread voter apathy.
The five hard-line candidates have largely avoided discussing social and political freedoms during their campaigns and television debates, while acknowledging the country’s economic woes without offering specific plans to tackle the crisis.
Pezeshkian, a 69-year-old former health minister, advocates social freedoms and has spoken up for the rights of women and ethnic minorities. He has pledged to foster a more pragmatic foreign policy.
If no candidate wins at least 50 percent plus one vote of all ballots cast, including blank votes, a run-off round between the top two candidates will be held.


Israel prefers diplomacy to end Hezbollah conflict, security adviser says

Israel prefers diplomacy to end Hezbollah conflict, security adviser says
Updated 25 June 2024
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Israel prefers diplomacy to end Hezbollah conflict, security adviser says

Israel prefers diplomacy to end Hezbollah conflict, security adviser says
  • Israel is discussing with Washington a possible joint effort by the United States, European and some Arab countries to find a replacement for Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip.

JERUSALEM: Israel will spend the coming weeks trying to resolve the conflict with Lebanon’s Iran-backed group Hezbollah and would prefer a diplomatic solution, Israel’s national security adviser said on Tuesday.
National security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said Israel had been discussing with US officials the possibility that an expected end of intense Israeli military operations in Gaza would allow an “arrangement” to be reached with Hezbollah.
Iran-backed Hezbollah began attacking Israel from the north shortly after Palestinian Islamist group Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel, which sparked the war in Gaza.
Shelling on Israel’s northern border has led to the evacuation of tens of thousands of people from areas on both sides of the frontier, and has escalated in recent weeks, leading to fears of an all-out conflict.
“We and the Americans believe and we will dedicate weeks now in an attempt to reach an arrangement,” Hanegbi said at the Herzliya conference.
“If there will not be an arrangement through diplomatic means, everyone understands that there must be an arrangement through other means. For now we prefer to focus on the diplomatic campaign,” he said.
Hanegbi also said Israel was discussing with Washington a possible joint effort by the United States, European and some Arab countries to find a replacement for Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip.


Israeli supreme court says ultra-Orthodox must serve in military

Israeli supreme court says ultra-Orthodox must serve in military
Updated 25 June 2024
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Israeli supreme court says ultra-Orthodox must serve in military

Israeli supreme court says ultra-Orthodox must serve in military
  • Israel supreme court rules religious seminary students must be drafted to military

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled unanimously that the military must begin drafting ultra-Orthodox men for military service, a decision that could lead to the collapse of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition as Israel continues to wage war in Gaza.
The court ruled that in the absence of a law that distinguishes between Jewish seminary students and other draftees, Israel’s compulsory military service system applies to the ultra-Orthodox like any other citizens.
Under longstanding arrangements, ultra-Orthodox men have been exempt from the draft, which is compulsory for most Jewish men and women. These exemptions have long been a source of anger among the secular public, a divide that has widened during the eight-month-old war.