‘Let’s help Yemen regain ability to chart its own future,’ US envoy Tim Lenderking tells Arab News

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Updated 25 April 2024
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‘Let’s help Yemen regain ability to chart its own future,’ US envoy Tim Lenderking tells Arab News

‘Let’s help Yemen regain ability to chart its own future,’ US envoy Tim Lenderking tells Arab News
  • Lenderking says it would be a ‘terrible tragedy’ to squander progress in Yemen peace process amid ‘competing crises’
  • US envoy calls on Iran to stop fueling the conflict in Yemen and halt smuggling weapons to the Houthi militia

NEW YORK CITY: Houthi attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in response to Israel’s military offensive against Hamas in Gaza must not derail the peace process in Yemen, Tim Lenderking, the US special envoy for Yemen, has said.

Since the war in Gaza began in October last year, attacks by the Houthis on commercial and military vessels in the strategic waterways have caused significant disruption to global trade.

The Iran-backed armed political and religious group, formally known as Ansar Allah, views itself as a part of the Iranian-led “Axis of Resistance” against Israel, the US and the wider West.

It has threatened to continue its attacks on vessels until Israel ends its assault on Gaza. Since January, the UK and the US, in coalition with five other countries, have responded with retaliatory strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen.

The US will halt these retaliatory strikes when the Houthi militia stops its attacks on shipping, Lenderking told Arab News in an interview, placing responsibility for de-escalating the situation in the militia’s hands.




Yemenis hold a pro-Palestine march in the Houthi-run capital Sanaa. (AFP)

“The onus (is) on the Houthis to stop the Red Sea attacks,” he said. “That can prompt us all to begin to dial back, to de-escalate, to return the situation in Yemen to where it was on Oct. 6, which had considerably more promise and possibility than what exists now, and that’s where we want to return the focus.”

Lenderking called on Iran to “stop fueling the conflict (and) stop smuggling weapons and lethal material to Yemen, against UN Security Council resolutions.”

Yemen had never been so close to peace before the process was derailed by the latest regional turmoil, said Lenderking. The Yemeni civil war has gone on too long, he said: “It must stop.”

“The Yemeni people (have) suffered from this war for eight years now. They want their country back. They want their country (to be) peaceful. They don’t want foreign fighters in Yemen. They don’t want the Iranians in Sanaa. They don’t want the IRGC, the (Islamic) Revolutionary Guard (Corps) wandering around in Sanaa.

“Let’s help Yemen regain its country and its ability to chart its own future. That’s what the US so, so dearly wants.”

He added: “We’re trying very hard to marshal and maintain an international effort to keep the focus on Yemen’s peace process, on the very critical humanitarian situation.

“But look at what’s crowding us out: Terrible tragedy unfolding in Gaza. Russia’s war in Ukraine. Afghanistan. Sudan. There are many competing crises that are dominating the attention of the US and the international community.”




The cargo ship Rubymar partly submerged off the coast of Yemen after being hit by a Houthi missile. (AFP)

While the war in Yemen is linked to other conflicts raging in the region, the UN has recently said the world owes it to the Yemenis to ensure that resolving the war in Yemen is not made contingent upon the resolution of other issues, and that Yemen’s chance for peace does not become “collateral damage.”

“We cannot escape what’s happening in Gaza,” said Lenderking. “Not one single day goes by when the people I talk to about Yemen don’t also talk about Gaza. So we know this is a searing and very, very important situation that must be dealt with.

“This situation is holding up our ability to return the focus to the peace process in Yemen, to take advantage of a road map that was agreed to by the Yemeni government and by the Houthis in December, and get the Houthis to refocus their priorities not on Red Sea attacks — which are hurting Yemenis by the way, hurting Yemen — but to the peace effort in Yemen itself.”

Speaking during a UN Security Council briefing last week, Hans Grundberg, the UN envoy for Yemen, said the threat of further Houthi attacks on shipping persists in the absence of a ceasefire in Gaza — the urgent need for which was underscored by the recent escalation in hostilities between Israel and Iran.

Lenderking said: “We continue to hear from the Houthis that these (two) issues are linked and that (the Houthis) will not stop the attacks on Red Sea shipping until there’s a ceasefire in Gaza.




Lenderking called on Iran to “stop fueling the conflict (and) stop smuggling weapons and lethal material to Yemen, against UN Security Council resolutions.” (AFP)

“We believe there’s essential progress that could be done now. There are 25 members of the Galaxy Leader crew, the ship that was taken by the Houthis on Nov. 19 last year, still being held.

“They’re from five different countries. There is no reason why these individuals, who are innocent seafarers, are being detained in Hodeidah by the Houthis. Let them go. Release the ship. There are steps that could be taken. We could continue working on prisoner releases.

“These kinds of things will demonstrate to the Yemeni people that there’s still hope and that the international community is still focused on their situation.”

Lenderking said it would be a “terrible tragedy” to squander the progress toward peace that had been made in the previous two years.

A truce negotiated in April 2022 between the parties in Yemen had initially led to a reduction in violence and a slight easing in the dire humanitarian situation in the country. Two years on, the UN has lamented there is now little to celebrate.




Yemeni children gather to collect humanitarian aid on the outskirts of Marib. (AFP)

“Detainees we had hoped would be released in time to spend Eid with their loved ones remain in detention,” said UN envoy Grundberg. “Roads we had hoped to see open remain closed.

“We also witnessed the tragic killing and injury of 16 civilians, including women and children, when a residence was demolished by Ansar Allah (Houthi) individuals in Al-Bayda governorate.”

The humanitarian situation in Yemen has also become markedly worse in recent months amid rising food insecurity and the spread of cholera.

Edem Wosornu, director of operations and advocacy at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told the Security Council in the same briefing that the situation had deteriorated further after the World Food Programme suspended the distribution of food aid in areas controlled by the Houthis in December 2023.

This pause followed disagreements with local authorities over who should receive priority assistance and was compounded by the effects of a severe funding crisis on WFP humanitarian efforts in Yemen.

“The most vulnerable people — including women and girls, marginalized groups such as the Muhamasheen, internally displaced people, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, and persons with disabilities — still depend on humanitarian assistance to survive,” said Wosornu.

Wosornu also voiced concern about an increase in cases of cholera in Yemen amid the deterioration of public services and institutions.

“The re-emergence of cholera, and growing levels of severe malnutrition, are telling indicators of the weakened capacity of social services,” she said.

“Almost one in every two children under five are stunted, more than double the global average: 49 percent compared to 21.3 percent.

“Emergency stocks of essential supplies are almost depleted. And water, sanitation and hygiene support systems need urgent strengthening.”

The humanitarian response plan for Yemen is only 10 percent funded, with funding for its food security and nutrition programs standing at just 5 percent and 3 percent respectively, according to an informal update presented to the Security Council by the OCHA this week.




Supporters of Yemen’s Huthi militia attend a gathering to mark annual Quds (Jerusalem) Day commemorations in Sanaa. (AFP)

Wosornu appealed to the international community to take urgent action to help fill the funding gaps.

Commenting on the funding shortage, Lenderking said: “When there’s a genuine possibility of a Yemen peace process, donors will take note of that and respond. But the fact that we’re in this limbo, where the peace process is on hold while the Houthi is continuing these attacks (in the Red Sea), that I think is to be blamed on the Houthis because they’re derailing what was a legitimate peace process.

“But once we can get back to that, I think we could call on the international community to say, look, there is a ray of hope. There is a process. There is a commitment. The US is supporting an international effort. We can get the donors to come back to Yemen, despite all of the competition for these very scarce resources.”


Prominent Algerian opposition figures blast ‘authoritarian climate’ ahead of presidential election

Prominent Algerian opposition figures blast ‘authoritarian climate’ ahead of presidential election
Updated 13 sec ago
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Prominent Algerian opposition figures blast ‘authoritarian climate’ ahead of presidential election

Prominent Algerian opposition figures blast ‘authoritarian climate’ ahead of presidential election
  • Under the rule of military-backed President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, freedom of expression has witnessed a rollback, experts say
ALGIERS: Eleven prominent Algerian opposition figures wrote an open letter this week, denouncing “the authoritarian climate” surrounding the country’s upcoming presidential election and calling for a broad democratic transition.
Under the rule of military-backed President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, freedom of expression has witnessed a rollback, experts say, with journalists and opposition members facing prison time and critical media outlets losing state advertising funding they have relied on to stay afloat.
In their open letter Sunday, the opposition figures — including well-known politicians, lawyers and academics — said the Sep. 7 election was a rubber stamp exercise in futility. They said the lack of civil liberties makes holding a legitimate election impossible
“No to electoral charades under dictatorship!” they wrote. “Yes to genuine democracy and popular sovereignty.” They also underscored how the government’s security policy in preparation for the election “continues to trample on the will of the people.”
“Today’s Algeria is in a more critical situation than before, with short- and medium-term prospects that are even more complex and perilous,” they added.
The letter came nearly two weeks after renowned Algerian Workers’ Party leader Louisa Hanoune announced she would withdraw from the race and her party would boycott the election. She was viewed as an opposition voice that many believed legitimized the election as contested and therefore democratic. A perennial candidate who has run several times before, Hanoune said this year’s election was being held under unfair conditions and “a regressive and anti-democratic legislative framework.”
Such disillusionment is hardly new in the gas-rich North African nation. Political participation has long been low and parties have for decades boycotted elections, unconvinced that they can usher in meaningful change in a country where the military plays an influential role in politics.
Little has changed since large weekly protests known as the “Hirak” movement pushed Algeria’s octogenarian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, five years ago. A quick and widely boycotted election saw 78-year-old political veteran Tebboune, supported by the powerful military, replace him.
Besides Tebboune, 14 candidates will run in the election. Campaigning is scheduled to hit full swing in the coming couple of weeks.

Palestinian officials say Israel troops kill 5 in West Bank raid

Palestinian officials say Israel troops kill 5 in West Bank raid
Updated 23 July 2024
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Palestinian officials say Israel troops kill 5 in West Bank raid

Palestinian officials say Israel troops kill 5 in West Bank raid

Palestinian officials said Israeli troops killed five Palestinians, including two women, in a pre-dawn raid on a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday.
The deaths came when Israeli forces raided the Tulkarem camp, the head of its popular committee, Faisal Salamah, told AFP. An activist at the camp confirmed the toll. The Israeli military did not immediately comment.


Palestinian factions sign declaration to end divisions after talks in China

Palestinian factions sign declaration to end divisions after talks in China
Updated 23 July 2024
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Palestinian factions sign declaration to end divisions after talks in China

Palestinian factions sign declaration to end divisions after talks in China
  • Palestinian factions including Hamas and Fatah met in Beijing this week in a renewed bid for reconciliation
  • Hamas and Fatah have been bitter rivals since Hamas fighters ejected Fatah from the Gaza Strip

BEIJING: Various Palestinian factions have agreed to end their divisions and strengthen Palestinian unity by signing the Beijing Declaration on Tuesday morning in China, according to Chinese state media.

The declaration was signed at the closing ceremony of a reconciliation dialogue among the factions held in Beijing from July 21-23, state broadcaster CCTV said.

A total of 14 Palestinian factions including the leaders of rival groups Fatah and Hamas also met with the media, with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi present, CGTN said in a social media post.

Rival factions Hamas and Fatah met in China in April to discuss reconciliation efforts to end around 17 years of disputes.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi hailed the agreement by 14 Palestinian factions to set up an “interim national reconciliation government” to govern Gaza after the war.

Palestinian factions including Hamas and Fatah met in Beijing this week in a renewed bid for reconciliation.

As the meeting wrapped up on Tuesday, China’s top diplomat said the groups had committed to “reconciliation.”

“The most prominent highlight is the agreement to form an interim national reconciliation government around the governance of post-war Gaza,” Wang said following the signing of the “Beijing declaration” by the factions in the Chinese capital.

“Reconciliation is an internal matter for the Palestinian factions, but at the same time, it cannot be achieved without the support of the international community,” Wang said.

China, he added, was keen to “play a constructive role in safeguarding peace and stability in the Middle East.”

Hamas and Fatah have been bitter rivals since Hamas fighters ejected Fatah from the Gaza Strip after deadly clashes that followed Hamas’s resounding victory in a 2006 election.

The Islamist Hamas movement has ruled Gaza since seizing control of it in 2007.

The secularist Fatah movement controls the Palestinian Authority, which has partial administrative control in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.


Israeli government quietly sends millions to unauthorized West Bank settler outposts

Israeli government quietly sends millions to unauthorized West Bank settler outposts
Updated 23 July 2024
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Israeli government quietly sends millions to unauthorized West Bank settler outposts

Israeli government quietly sends millions to unauthorized West Bank settler outposts
  • Some of those outposts have been linked to settler violence against Palestinians and are sanctioned by the US
  • Palestinians say all settlements are illegal or illegitimate and undermine hopes for a two-state solution

JERUSALEM: The Israeli government has budgeted millions of dollars to protect small, unauthorized Jewish farms in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, underwriting tiny outposts meant to grow into full-fledged settlements, according to an anti-settlement monitoring group.
Documents uncovered by Peace Now illustrate how Israel’s pro-settler government has quietly poured money into the unauthorized outposts, which are separate from its more than 100 officially recognized settlements. Some of those outposts have been linked to settler violence against Palestinians and are sanctioned by the US.
Palestinians and the international community say all settlements are illegal or illegitimate and undermine hopes for a two-state solution.
The Ministry of Settlements and National Mission, which is headed by a far-right settler leader, confirmed it budgeted 75 million shekels ($20.5 million) last year for security equipment for “young settlements” — the term it uses for unauthorized Jewish farms and outposts in the West Bank. The money was quietly authorized in December while the country’s attention was focused on the war against Hamas in Gaza.
Peace Now said the funds have been used for vehicles, drones, cameras, generators, electric gates, fences and new roads that reach some of the more remote farms.
The group estimates approximately 500 people live on the small, unauthorized farms and 25,000 more live in larger outposts. Those outposts, while not officially authorized by the government, often receive tacit support before they are retroactively legalized.
Hagit Ofran, director of Peace Now’s “settlement watch” program, said the funding was the first time the Israeli government has channeled money to the outposts so openly.
Rights groups say the expanding network of remote farms atop West Bank hilltops are the primary drivers of violence and displacement of Palestinians.
In the last month alone, Israel’s government has legalized five formerly unauthorized settlements and made the largest land grab in the West Bank in three decades, declaring a wide swath of the territory state land in preparation for new construction.
Palestinians say violence by people associated with these farms has soared since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, which sparked Israel’s war against the militant group in the Gaza Strip.
On Friday, the top United Nations court said Israel’s presence in the Palestinian territories is unlawful and called for an immediate halt to settlement construction. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly denounced the nonbinding opinion, saying the territories are part of the Jewish people’s historic homeland.
Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza — areas claimed by the Palestinians for a future state — in the 1967 Mideast war. It has settled over 500,000 Jews in the West Bank, most of whom live on authorized settlements, in addition to over 200,000 others in contested east Jerusalem, which it claims as part of its capital.
Netanyahu’s far-right government is dominated by West Bank settlers and pro-settler politicians. Netanyahu has placed his finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, in a new position inside the Defense Ministry overseeing settlement construction and development.
The United States, Britain, and the European Union have imposed international sanctions on 13 hard-line Israeli settlers, some of whom are associated with the outpost farms — as well as two affiliated outposts and four groups — over accusations of attacks and harassment against Palestinians. The measures are meant as a deterrent, and they expose people to asset freezes and travel and visa bans, though the freezes have been less effective.
The office of Orit Strock, the Minister of Settlements and National Mission, said the funds were coordinated with the Defense Ministry and “carried out in accordance with all laws.” It added that Strock, herself a longtime settler leader, “sees great importance in strengthening settlements” despite international condemnation.
The budget was approved in December and predates the sanctions. The government did not publish a list of the farms and outposts that received funding, so it’s unclear if the sanctioned farms and outposts are among them. But it’s likely that at least some of them are since the budget supported 68 of the nearly 70 farms identified by Peace Now, Ofran said. The number of farms has since grown to more than 90.
Peace Now said it learned of the funding decision from recordings and presentations shared at a conference of the pro-settler Religious Zionism Party last month at the “Shaharit Farm” outpost in the northern West Bank. Strock and Smotrich were in attendance.
US officials including President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have repeatedly raised concerns about the surge in settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank. Israel’s former top general in the West Bank raised similar concerns in a recent retirement speech.
Israel has said it is taking action against such attacks and argues that the sanctions are unnecessary.


Houthi harbor still ablaze days after Israel strikes on Yemen

Houthi harbor still ablaze days after Israel strikes on Yemen
Updated 23 July 2024
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Houthi harbor still ablaze days after Israel strikes on Yemen

Houthi harbor still ablaze days after Israel strikes on Yemen
  • Hodeidah port is a vital entry point for fuel imports, international aid for Houthi-held areas
  • The strike on Saturday was the first by Israel on the Arabian Peninsula's poorest country

HODEIDAH: Firefighting teams on Monday were struggling to contain a massive blaze at Yemen’s Hodeida port, days after a deadly Israeli strike hit oil tanks and a power plant in the harbor.
Heavy flames and black smoke were seen spiralling into the sky for a third consecutive day following the strike on Saturday, said an AFP correspondent in Hodeidah.
Firefighting teams appear to have made little progress, with the blaze seemingly expanding in some parts of the port, the correspondent said, amid fears it could reach food storage facilities.
High-resolution satellite images taken by Maxar Technologies showed flames consuming a heavily damaged fuel storage area at the Hodeidah harbor.
The fuel depot is run by the Yemen Petroleum Company which said late Sunday that the six people killed in the Israel strike were its employees.
The Houthis say more than 80 others were wounded in the attack, many of them with severe burns.
With black smoke billowing overhead, a funeral ceremony was held Monday for the victims of the strikes.
Their coffins were carried through the streets of Hodeidah, flanked by crowds and led by a Houthi marching band.
The strike on Saturday was the first by Israel on the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country and came in response to a Houthi drone strike that breached Israel’s air defenses, killing one person in Tel Aviv the day before.
The Houthis, who are fighting Israel, have pledged a “huge” response to the strikes and threatened to once again attack Tel Aviv.
Yemeni port authorities said Hodeidah “is operating at its full capacity,” according to the rebels’ Saba news agency.
“We are working around the clock to receive all ships and there is no concern about the supply chain and supplies of food, medicine, and oil derivatives,” port official Nasr Al-Nusairi was quoted by Saba as saying on Sunday.
But the US-based Navanti Group said the strikes on Hodeidah destroyed five cranes and reduced the port’s fuel storage capacity from 150,000 to 50,000 tons.
Hodeidah port is a vital entry point for fuel imports and international aid for Houthi-held areas of Yemen, a country where the United Nations says more than half the population relies on humanitarian assistance.
“Hodeidah port is a vital lifeline for delivering humanitarian aid to Yemen,” the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said in an emailed statement to AFP.
“Any impact on this infrastructure jeopardizes the entry of essential goods and hampers aid efforts.”