China pushing for peace in Yemen and end to attacks on Red Sea shipping, says Beijing’s envoy

Shao Zheng, Chargé d'Affaires of the Chinese Embassy in Yemen. (Asharq Al-Awsat/Bashir Saleh)
Shao Zheng, Chargé d'Affaires of the Chinese Embassy in Yemen. (Asharq Al-Awsat/Bashir Saleh)
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Updated 08 July 2024
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China pushing for peace in Yemen and end to attacks on Red Sea shipping, says Beijing’s envoy

China pushing for peace in Yemen and end to attacks on Red Sea shipping, says Beijing’s envoy
  • Shao Zheng, in interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, said China in discussions with all parties to resolve Yemeni conflict

LONDON: The Chinese charge d’affaires in Yemen has said Beijing is working closely with all parties in a push for peace in the country.

Shao Zheng, in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat published on Monday, said China was in discussions with UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg and the five permanent UN Security Council members regarding resolving the years-long conflict in the country.

He also urged all sides in Yemen to negotiate and sign a peace agreement as quickly as possible and end all attacks on commercial shipping through the Red Sea.

Zheng praised the “positive” efforts of Saudi Arabia and Mohammed Al-Jaber, his “dear friend” and the Kingdom’s ambassador to Yemen, in trying to bring about a peace settlement.

He told the newspaper that while China’s military base in Djibouti is not involved in current Red Sea operations, its navy has protected more than 7,200 ships in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast over the past 15 years, with the involvement of 35,000 Chinese soldiers.

“We must ensure the Red Sea’s security and make our position clear to the Houthis and other parties. The Red Sea crisis has lasted nearly six months, causing significant losses. We call for an end to these attacks,” he said.

“China believes the Red Sea crisis is linked to the conflict in Gaza. We urge immediate peace in Gaza and humanitarian aid to prevent the crisis from spreading. We must achieve peace in Gaza, respect the sovereignty of Red Sea countries like Yemen, and raise security awareness among commercial ships,” he added.

When asked about a Houthi attack on China-flagged ship MV Huang Pu in March, Zheng said China was continually monitoring the Red Sea situation.

“The foreign shipping market is complex, and identifying a ship’s nationality can be difficult. We urge an end to attacks on commercial vessels to avoid disrupting global supply chains,” he said.

“The international community must ensure Red Sea peace according to international law. Civilians must not be targeted,” he added.

Zheng highlighted ongoing efforts by Beijing to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen amid the conflict, which he witnessed himself during a recent visit to the country where he attended the arrival of Chinese medical aid.

“I saw significant local progress, like improved internet speeds, but Yemen still faces challenges such as electricity generation,” he said.

“In Aden, I met with the prime minister and other government officials for extensive discussions on bilateral relations and the situation in Yemen. We support the legitimate government and the Presidential Leadership Council,” he added.

Zheng told Asharq Al-Awsat he was optimistic about the future of Chinese-Yemeni relations, saying they faced a “bright future” and would continue to develop.

“This year marks the 68th anniversary of diplomatic ties between China and Yemen. We’ve seen fruitful cooperation in political and economic areas, both countries support each other regionally and internationally,” he said.

“We are confident in a bright future for our relations and can enhance cooperation through initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative.”


Hezbollah-Israel conflict holds crisis-weary Lebanese hostage in their own country

Hezbollah-Israel conflict holds crisis-weary Lebanese hostage in their own country
Updated 11 sec ago
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Hezbollah-Israel conflict holds crisis-weary Lebanese hostage in their own country

Hezbollah-Israel conflict holds crisis-weary Lebanese hostage in their own country
  • More than 435 people have been killed and 96,000 have been displaced in southern Lebanon since Oct. 8 last year
  • Lebanon is already in the throes of a crippling economic crisis, with some 44 percent living in poverty

DUBAI: As Hezbollah and Israel continue to engage in cross-border attacks, which began with the start of the war in Gaza last year, regular Lebanese citizens find themselves surviving in an atmosphere of tension and uncertainty.

Israel so far has stopped short of opening a second front in Lebanon while it seemingly implements a scorched-earth policy in Gaza in retaliation for the deadly attacks Palestinian militant groups led by Hamas carried out in southern Israel on Oct. 8 last year.

The tit-for-tat exchanges have grown in intensity, with two Israeli civilians killed by a Hezbollah rocket barrage in the Golan Heights on Tuesday. Just hours prior to this, an Israeli strike in Syria killed a former bodyguard of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

The death toll in south Lebanon continues to mount with more than 435 people killed and over 96,000 internally displaced, according to data from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

There has also been a steady rise in the number of senior Hezbollah officials being assassinated. The most recent of these was Mohammed Nimah Nasser, commander of the Aziz Unit responsible for the western sector of southern Lebanon.

A man stands next to a Hezbollah party flag jammed into the wreckage of a vehicle near buildings destroyed during previous Israeli military fire on the southern Lebanese village of Aita Al-Shaab, near the border with northern Israel on June 29, 2024. (AFP)

The country is already suffering from an ongoing economic collapse, soaring poverty rates, and political instability. With no diplomatic breakthrough to contain the hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, many fear the start of all-out war, a scenario that would devastate the already fragile Lebanon.

Lebanon has been without a president for nearly two years, relying on Najib Mikati’s leadership as caretaker of the government. Unending quarrels and shifting alliances within Parliament make critical decision-making impossible, while rampant corruption remains the status quo.

According to the May 2024 Lebanon Situation Report from the World Food Programme, the country’s food security has deteriorated rapidly, with the report predicting that just under a quarter of the population will be food insecure by September 2024.

Lebanon’s poverty rates have more than tripled over the past decade, with another May report from the World Bank finding that 44 percent of the total population now lives in poverty.

People line up in front of a bakery to buy bread in Lebanon’s southern city of Sidon on June 22, 2022. (AFP)

Conditions have compelled households to undertake a variety of coping strategies that include cutting back on food consumption, non-food expenses, and health expenditures, which will likely lead to severe long-term consequences.

More than half the population also now depends on aid for survival while the rest continue to struggle to secure basic life necessities such as fuel and electricity.

On July 2, Walid Bukhari, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Lebanon, announced an aid package of $10 million through the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center.

The aid will help launch 28 projects across Lebanon, adding to the 129 relief, humanitarian, and development projects KSrelief has implemented in the country to date.

A World Bank report in May said that 44 percent of the total population in Lebanon now lives in poverty. (AFP)

Bukhari said the Saudi support was a continuation of the “commitment of the leadership in Saudi Arabia to help humanitarian efforts and promote stability and development in Lebanon with the highest standards of transparency and accountability.”

He also said the support is a “solidarity approach adopted by the Kingdom toward the Lebanese people, based on the duty of true Arab brotherhood and teachings of Islam.”

While gestures are often appreciated by the Lebanese public, many remain skeptical of their own government’s ability to distribute the aid evenly and fairly.

In July, Saudi Arabia announced an aid package of $10 million for Lebanon through the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center. (SPA/File)

Joseph, a 40-year-old Lebanese from Jounieh who did not want his full name to be used, said he was doubtful that the ones in need would see a cent from any aid packages.

“We have vultures, not politicians. We would not be in this predicament if we had decent leadership,” he told Arab News.

INNUMBERS

  • 435+ People, mostly combatants, killed in south Lebanon since Oct. 8, 2023.
  • 96,000+ People internally displaced in south Lebanon during the same period.
  • 200+ Drones and rockets fired at Israel from Lebanon in first four days of July.

Another Lebanese citizen, who also did not want to reveal his full name, also likened the situation in the country to a tale of two cities.

“The ones who are well off are always out and about in Beirut in areas like Gemayze and Mar Mikhael where most of the pubs are,” Samer told Arab News.

“They have no notion of war, nor do they fear one, because they know they can leave. The others who have fallen on hard times are at home trying to figure out ways to make do at the end of every month. Everyone is talking about the US elections and what outcome it will have on our country.”

Joseph said that a growing number of his friends and family members have begun taking sedatives just to continue functioning.

“The uncertainty has everyone in a chokehold. We had problems prior to the Gaza war and now we’re caught in the middle, not knowing what might become of us and our jobs. We have become hostages in our own country.”

A Lebanese protester holds a sign as fuel tankers block a road in Beirut during a general strike by public transport and workers unions over the country’s economic crisis, on January 13, 2022. (AFP)

Since Lebanon has no adequate social safety net, mental health services range from unaffordable private care to support from local and international nongovernmental organizers that offer free or low-cost consultations.

A study done last year by the mental health NGO Embrace showed that the suicide rates in Lebanon are among the highest in the last 10 years, having increased by 21 percent since 2022. Over 81 percent of suicide cases involved men, with young people aged 23 to 32 the most at risk.

Lebanon’s economic collapse, the 2020 Beirut port blast, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, compounded by war speculation and uncertainty, have taken a heavy toll on its citizens’ mental health.

More than half the population in Lebanon now depends on aid for survival while the rest continue to struggle to secure basic life necessities such as fuel and electricity. (AFP)

This week, a mental health strategy was launched in collaboration with the World Health Organization. Dr. Rabih Chammay, the head of the National Mental Health Programme in Lebanon, said that strengthening mental health during crises is a top priority.

The National Mental Health Strategy 2024-2030 will aim to reform and ensure mental health services to those in need for a minimal cost.

Beirut-based Majed, 34, who works both in and outside Lebanon, does not see any signs of impending war except for high-risk areas like the south and Bekaa Valley.

“I also think it depends on where you stay in Lebanon, but I would assume conversations in communities that live in and around Beirut might have a different case.

“But we are seeing precautionary measures in case an all-out war takes place. I think everyone hopes that things will de-escalate but know there’s a good chance a war might happen.

“Even if people don’t live in high-risk areas, this would impact them in so many ways: in terms of their ability to travel if the airport gets hit, availability of fresh produce for people to be able to eat, and we’ll definitely see an increase in crime, especially in the cities.”

A Hezbollah fighter is seen standing at attention in an orange field near the town of Naqura on the Lebanese-Israeli border on April 20, 2017. (AFP/File)

Citing his family’s preparation, Majed said: “My mother keeps talking about leaving Beirut and going to stay in the summer house in Chouf. She also is keeping it fully set up in case a war breaks out. She has bought an additional freezer and is now stocking it up.

“Dual citizens will rely on evacuations, especially if they come from America or European countries. I guess in such a situation, optionality is a privilege.”

To date, seven countries have called on their citizens to leave Lebanon and avoid traveling there, while five countries warned their citizens to be alert and avoid certain areas.

A house lies in ruins in the border area of Shebaa in southern Lebanon, following an Israeli strike on April 27, 2024. (AFP)

In retaliation to the killing of its senior commander Nasser in Tyre, Hezbollah has so far launched 200 rockets and drones into northern Israel.

As violent standoffs between the two powers continue to mount, civilians in southern Lebanon are war-weary but on guard. For Lebanese Ali Shdid, however, the current situation has become a reality of life that one ought to make peace with.

“No one wishes for war. No one. But we will not be threatened into submission, nor will we cower,” he told Arab News.

“If Israelis think we will cave due to their threats and bravado, they got it twisted. We will welcome war on all its fronts.”

 


Displaced in southern Lebanon describe ‘significant’ damage to homes caused by Israeli assaults

Displaced in southern Lebanon describe ‘significant’ damage to homes caused by Israeli assaults
Updated 44 min 54 sec ago
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Displaced in southern Lebanon describe ‘significant’ damage to homes caused by Israeli assaults

Displaced in southern Lebanon describe ‘significant’ damage to homes caused by Israeli assaults
  • Hezbollah missiles target Israeli soldiers and spy equipment as explosions rock the Galilee Panhandle and Kiryat Shmona
  • Hezbollah and Amal are allied against Israel on the southern border but continue to compete for dominance elsewhere, sparking sporadic violence

BEIRUT: As hostilities between Hezbollah and the Israeli army along Lebanon’s southern border have de-escalated over the past few days, some displaced residents have taken the opportunity during the relative calm to return and check the condition of their homes.

“The material and moral damage is significant, and the village lost the largest number of young martyrs,” said a woman from the Bazzi family, who fled the village of Bint Jbeil for the safety of Mount Lebanon. “I don’t know how Bint Jbeil could be rebuilt.”

Meanwhile, Hezbollah forces on Monday targeted Israeli soldiers near the Branit barracks and spy equipment at Al-Raheb outpost with missile attacks. Explosions could be heard in the Galilee Panhandle and Kiryat Shmona. The situation in southern Lebanon is closely linked to developments in negotiations with Hamas over the war in Gaza.

Elsewhere, the fierce rivalry between Hezbollah and the Amal Movement continues to grow in areas controlled by the former, as both parties compete to extend their power in each other’s strongholds, particularly the southern suburbs of Beirut and surrounding villages.

A Lebanese security source said there have been repeated clashes in areas where the parties have been vying for support in the run-up to Ashura, an Islamic day of commemoration that falls this year on July 16. Religious tents have been set up for the celebration outside mosques and in other public spaces in Beirut’s southern suburbs.

Clashes between Hezbollah and Amal supporters so far have been largely contained before they could escalate, as both groups seek to assert their influence in neighborhoods. Their rivalry peaked on Saturday night when members of the Amal Movement set up a checkpoint and prevented a resident of the suburb of Hay Madi from reaching his building by car, citing security concerns as a pretext.

The incident escalated into an exchange of insults and then a fistfight before shots were fired by an Amal supporter. Other armed individuals intervened, demanding the checkpoint be removed, and the residential area became a war zone as heavy gunfire forced women, children and elderly residents to flee in terror.

Hezbollah security official Samir Kabbani was shot in the head and killed during the fighting. A number of civilians were reportedly injured. The security source said the clash was “not the first but the bloodiest.”

Ali Al-Amin, the editor-in-chief of the Janoubia news website, said a previously declared alliance between Hezbollah and the Amal Movement to confront Israel along the southern border is a forced arrangement and does not reflect any sense of harmony between the parties.

Ashura has “turned from a religious commemoration into an occasion for displaying power,” he added. “Each party now tries to show its capabilities and dominance by encroaching on the territory of others.

“The Hay Madi neighborhood in the southern suburbs of Beirut serves as an extension of the security zone for Hezbollah in the suburbs. Consequently, the clash may have been intended to reinforce the demarcation of influence boundaries.”

The conflict might also have stemmed from a “prevailing atmosphere of demagoguery,” as politicians attempt to appeal to people’s desires and prejudices, Al-Amin added.

Amid the long-running, severe economic crisis in Lebanon, Hezbollah has allocated $3 million to set up religious reception sites, a resident of the southern suburbs said. Each site received $10,000 to fund the distribution of food, drinks and sweets to residents, they added.

Al-Amin said the extravagance of organizing such events indicated “a desire to control the population.”

He added: “These manifestations were not seen last year but are now accompanied by a war led by Hezbollah in the south, resulting in prolonged displacement and unease among residents who had heavily invested in the south under the assumption of its stability.

“Despite the populace’s agitation and their feeling of oppression, disgust and dissatisfaction, they are under the sway of Hezbollah as it is the sole entity that has asserted its capability to compensate the people. Additionally, it wields significant security influence, which may have played a part in the clashes with the Amal movement.

“People might protest and express their dissent but where can they turn to? They will ultimately return to those who offer them protection, and this authority currently lies not with the government but with Hezbollah, who proclaim this both in words and actions.”


Hamas and Palestinian rivals Fatah to meet in Beijing

Hamas and Palestinian rivals Fatah to meet in Beijing
Updated 15 July 2024
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Hamas and Palestinian rivals Fatah to meet in Beijing

Hamas and Palestinian rivals Fatah to meet in Beijing
  • Hamas delegation is to be headed by its Qatar-based political chief Ismail Haniyeh, while the Fatah representation will be led by deputy head Mahmud Alul
  • Two groups have been bitter rivals since Hamas fighters ejected Fatah from Gaza after deadly clashes that followed Hamas’s resounding victory in a 2006 election

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: Senior officials from the rival Palestinian groups Hamas, which is at war with Israel, and Fatah have agreed to meet in Beijing this month in a renewed bid for reconciliation, officials said Monday.
The Hamas delegation is to be headed by its Qatar-based political chief Ismail Haniyeh, while the Fatah representation will be led by deputy head Mahmud Alul, Fatah sources said.
The two groups 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.
After seizing control of Gaza in 2007, Hamas has ruled the territory ever since.
The secularist Fatah movement controls the Palestinian Authority which has partial administrative control in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Several reconciliation bids have failed, but calls have grown since the Hamas October 7 attacks on Israel set off the Gaza war, with violence also soaring in the West Bank where Fatah is based.
China hosted Fatah and Hamas in April but a meeting scheduled for June was postponed.
The representatives are to meet with Chinese officials in Beijing on July 20 and July 21, according to Fatah’s central committee deputy secretary general Sabri Saidam.
Before that, a meeting of the two groups could take place, he added.
The goal, said Saidam, “is to end the state of division with a commitment to past agreements and agreeing on a relationship between the Palestinian groups in the next stage.”
Another Fatah executive member also said a joint Fatah-Hamas meeting could be held in Beijing before the official agenda starts.
China has positioned itself as a more neutral actor on the Israel-Palestinian conflict than its rival the United States, advocating for a two-state solution while also maintaining good ties with Israel.


Israel allows UN to bring in more equipment amid Gaza lawlessness

Israel allows UN to bring in more equipment amid Gaza lawlessness
Updated 15 July 2024
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Israel allows UN to bring in more equipment amid Gaza lawlessness

Israel allows UN to bring in more equipment amid Gaza lawlessness
  • The UN has long complained of obstacles to getting aid into Gaza

NEW YORK: The United Nations said on Monday that it will start bringing in more armored vehicles and personal protection equipment for its humanitarian aid operations in the Gaza Strip after receiving approval from Israeli authorities.
The approval was in response to a UN letter sent to Israel last month on safety and security in Gaza, said Scott Anderson, deputy humanitarian coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as the war between Israel and Palestinian militants Hamas enters its tenth month and law and order has broken down.
The UN has long complained of obstacles to getting aid into Gaza — Israel inspects and approves all trucks — and says it is also struggling to distribute aid amid “total lawlessness” within the enclave of 2.3 million people, where a global hunger monitor last month said there is a high risk of famine.
Anderson said the UN was due to start bringing more armored vehicles and protection equipment into Gaza on Tuesday.
“Some communications equipment has also been approved,” he told reporters, like hand-held radios, but added that discussions are still continuing on a UN request for stable Internet access.
The UN has said it wants communications that did not rely on cell phone towers because they were not reliable. However, Israeli authorities have security concerns about what Hamas could do if it accessed satellite Internet service.
‘CRIME FAMILIES’
Anderson said the UN needed to bring in aid in the right quantity and quality, but several factors “continue to stand in our way.” He listed problems including restrictions on movement, aid worker safety, unpredictable working hours, communications challenges and a lack of fuel.
“And we’ve seen a complete breakdown of law and order and we’ve seen essentially what are crime families preventing the free movement of aid into Gaza to assist people,” he said.
“The truck drivers that we use have been regularly threatened or assaulted ... they’ve become less and less willing, understandably, to move assistance from the border crossings to our warehouses and then onto people that are in need,” Anderson said.
He said the UN was getting between 25 and 70 aid trucks a day into northern Gaza, but there was no commercial access.
Anderson said in southern Gaza “we’ve been barely able to hit 100 trucks on a good day over the last week because of law and order problems,” but that commercial deliveries were doing a little better “but they pay essentially protection money to the families in the south and they also have armed guards.”
Aid officials say about 600 trucks of humanitarian and commercial supplies are
needed in Gaza daily
to meet the needs of the population.
He said the UN was “in talks with everybody about trying to get some sort of police force established” and in the meantime was working with the families that are hindering aid deliveries to try and address the problem.
“It’s a few families that are trying to take advantage of this opportunity and that’s why I’m confident if we get police back at work that they can address the issue,” Anderson said.


Indonesia boosts funding to UNRWA to $1.2m amid funding crisis

Indonesia boosts funding to UNRWA to $1.2m amid funding crisis
Updated 15 July 2024
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Indonesia boosts funding to UNRWA to $1.2m amid funding crisis

Indonesia boosts funding to UNRWA to $1.2m amid funding crisis
  • Indonesian government has announced a grant of $2 million in response to the UNRWA flash appeal

LONDON: Indonesia announced on Monday that it will increase its funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees to $1.2 million.

The announcement was made by Indonesian Ambassador to the UN Arrmanatha Nasir during a UN pledging conference in New York on Friday.

Starting this year, Indonesia will raise its annual contribution to UNRWA to $1.2 million. In addition, the government has announced a grant of $2 million in response to the UNRWA flash appeal for the occupied Palestinian territories, covering the period from April to December 2024.

Its 2022 donation amounted to $200,000 and excluding flash appeals in 2023, its contribution totaled $600,000.

Nasir highlighted Indonesia’s commitment to seeking innovative funding solutions for UNRWA, including engaging Indonesian society through partnerships with zakat management institutions.

UNRWA, which coordinates nearly all aid to Gaza, has been in crisis since January, when Israel accused about a dozen of its 13,000 Gaza employees of being involved in the Oct. 7 attack.

The agency, which provides aid and services to Palestinian refugees in Gaza and throughout the region, was thrown into crisis when the Israeli allegations emerged. In response, the US, the biggest single funder of UNRWA, and several other major donors put their funding for the organization on hold. In all, 16 UN member states suspended or paused donations, while others imposed conditions, placing the future of the agency in doubt.

Israeli authorities have yet to provide any evidence to back up their allegations, an independent review headed by the former French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna concluded in April.