23 September 2019

Yemen

Yemeni separatists quit some Aden posts; Houthis attack Saudi oil plant

KONFRONTASI- Southern Yemeni separatists withdrew on Saturday from some government buildings in Aden that they seized last week but held on to military camps that give them control over the southern port, interim seat of Yemen’s ousted Saudi-backed government.

The separatists’ takeover of Aden has strained a Saudi-led military coalition formed to confront the Iranian-aligned Houthis, who bombed a Saudi oil facility on Saturday.

Yemeni forces, allies shoot down Saudi-led reconnaissance drone in Hajjah

KONFRONTASI-Yemeni army forces, supported by allied fighters from Popular Committees, have intercepted and targeted an unmanned aerial vehicle belonging to the Saudi-led military coalition as it was flying in the skies over the country’s northwestern province of Hajjah.

Yemen's Houthis begin withdrawal from Hodeidah ports in boost to peace deal

KONFRONTASI- Yemen’s Houthi movement on Saturday started withdrawing forces from Saleef port in Hodeidah under a U.N.-sponsored deal stalled for months, a Reuters witness said, reviving hopes for peace efforts to end the four-year war.

But a minister in the Yemeni government backed by Saudi Arabia dismissed the Iran-aligned Houthis’ pullout as a “show” meant to “misinform the international community”.

The move, yet to be verified by the United Nations, is the first major step in implementing the pact reached last year by the government and the Houthis for a truce and troop withdrawal in Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis.

U.N. teams were overseeing the Houthi redeployment in Saleef, used for grain, as other teams headed to the second port of Ras Isa, used for oil, to start implementing the withdrawal from there, according to the witness.

A dozen trucks carrying Houthi fighters, armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and machine guns, departed from Saleef. Two ships were docked at the port and operations were running normally, said the witness who was at the facility.

“The coast guards have taken over in Saleef,” he said. “They and U.N. officials have started checking equipment at the port.”

The Houthis said their “unilateral step shows our commitment to implement the Hodeidah agreement and to achieving peace,” after four years of fighting in the Arab nation. The group called on the U.N. to press the Saudi-led coalition to take “similar steps”.

However, Yemeni Information Minister Muammar al-Iryani told Reuters the pullout was “a flagrant show”.

“It’s an attempt to misinform the international community ahead of a meeting of the U.N. Security Council” on Yemen, he said. “A group of (Houthi) militiamen left and they were replaced by others wearing coast guard police uniforms.”

The U.N. Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) has said the Houthis would make an “initial unilateral redeployment” from the ports between May 11 and May 14.

It said the redeployment would enable the United Nations to take a leading role in supporting the local Red Sea Ports Authority in managing the ports and enhance U.N. checks on cargoes. It would also allow humanitarian corridors to be reopened.

There has been no comment so far from the Saudi-led Sunni Muslim military coalition that has massed forces outside Houthi-held Hodeidah, which handles the bulk of Yemen’s imports and aid supplies.

Western allies, which supply arms and intelligence to the coalition, have pushed for an end to the war.

 

The British ambassador to Yemen reacted sharply to the Yemeni government’s scepticism about Houthi withdrawal. “The Yemeni cynics who criticize everything the other side does even if it is positive and who say the UN are naive seem to be saying the only solution is perpetual war in Yemen,” Michael Aron said in a Twitter post. He said a U.N. presence in the ports would prevent arms smuggling.

Hodeidah became the focus of the war last year when the coalition twice tried to seize its port to cut off the main supply line of the Houthis, whom they accuse of smuggling Iranian weapons, including missiles that have targeted Saudi cities. The group and Tehran deny the accusations.

Yemen's warring parties agree to ceasefire in Hodeidah

KONFRONTASI-Yemen's warring sides agreed to terms on a ceasefire on Thursday for the strategic port city of Hodeidah, which serves as a major lifeline for 18 million Yemenis who live in Houthi-held areas.

The agreement is seen as a major breakthrough on the final day of peace talks in Sweden.

According to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the Houthis have agreed to withdraw from all three ports in Hodeidah. The withdrawal will take place in two short phases, he said.

"It is obvious the UN will play an important role in the port, probably a monitoring role and the management of that port," Guterres said, adding that this will help "facilitate the humanitarian flow of goods to the civilian population and it will improve the living conditions for millions of Yemenis."

UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, added that "the designs of the withdrawal, first from the port, will happen very quickly - within days - and then from the city, with both sides disengaging".

He also said that the ceasefire is "designed to open up that east-west road [that connects Hodeidah and Sanaa] so that the humanitarian pipeline, which is crucial to the people of Yemen can start delivering aid".

Representatives from the Yemeni government and Houthis rebels had been holding closed-door discussions with Griffiths since last Thursday aimed at discussing ways to end the fighting that, according to a war monitor and rights groups, has killed more than 60,000 people.

Restrictions by a Saudi-UAE coalition, which controls Yemen's waters, on goods entering the port have exacerbated Yemen's humanitarian crisis, with some 22 million people currently needing assistance.

"The war in Yemen has gone on for four years. Four devastating years of suffering for the Yemeni people," Guterres said.

He added there has also been an agreement to ease the situation in the flashpoint city of Taiz.

Yemen warring sides agree at start of talks to free thousands of prisoners

KONFRONTASI- Yemen’s warring sides agreed to free thousands of prisoners on Thursday, in what a U.N. mediator called a hopeful start to the first peace talks in years to end a war that has pushed millions of people on the verge of starvation.

U.N. mediator Martin Griffiths told a news conference in a renovated castle outside Stockholm that just getting the warring sides to the table was an important milestone.

The war has killed tens of thousands of people and spawned what the United Nations calls the world’s direst humanitarian crisis, since a Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened in 2015 to restore a government ousted by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.

No talks have been held since 2016, and the last attempt in Geneva in September failed when the Houthis did not attend.

Griffiths said the prisoner swap agreed at the start of the talks would reunite thousands of families. The International Committee of the Red Cross said at least 5,000 would be freed.

The war, widely seen across the region as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has been stalemated for years, threatening supply lines to feed nearly 30 million inhabitants.

The Houthis control the capital Sanaa and most populated areas, while the ousted government based in the southern city of Aden has struggled to advance despite the aid of Arab states.

Humanitarian suffering in one of the world’s poorest countries has added to pressure on the parties to end the conflict, with faith in the Saudi-led war effort flagging among Western allies that arm and support the coalition.

Outrage over the Oct. 2 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate has also undermined Western support for Riyadh’s regional activities.

Diplomats are expected to shuttle between the warring parties to discuss other confidence-building steps and the formation of a transitional governing body, a U.N. source said.

The Swedish hosts called for constructive talks to end what Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom called a “catastrophe”. Griffiths, flanked by the two delegations, told them not to waiver.

Yemen's government to swap hundreds of prisoners with Houthis

KONFRONTASI-Yemen's government has said it has agreed to a large-scale prisoner swap with its adversaries, the Houthi rebels, as part of a "confidence-building measure," suggesting the warring sides could come to a ceasefire agreement at peace talks in Sweden later this week.

Yemen's Foreign Minister, Khaled al-Yamani, said on Tuesday that his government had "come to an agreement" with the Houthis after spending the "past eight to nine months locked in negotiations".

"When we head to the negotiations in Sweden, we will discuss the operational issues of this agreement, how it can be implemented, how to exchange the detainees, prisoners, abductees and the forcibly disappeared," he said.

Hadi Haig, a government official, told the AFP news agency that the deal covered between 1,500 and 2,000 pro-government forces and between 1,000 and 1,500 Houthi rebels.

Abdul Qader al Murtaza, the chairman of the Houthi administration's Committee for Prisoner Affairs, didn't specify the numbers involved but said the agreement marked the first step toward resolving Yemen's humanitarian crisis.

"The UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffith, communicated to us that coalition forces and the Yemeni government have also signed the prisoner exchange agreement that was signed in November by the Houthis.

"We express hope that the implementation phase of this agreement will proceed smoothly".

The prisoner exchange is only the third to be announced since Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates launched their aerial bombings on Yemen more than three years ago.

'Step in the right direction'

Hoping to roll back advances made by the group, the alliance has carried out more than 18,000 air raids, with almost one-third of all bombing missions striking non-military sites.

Weddings, funerals, schools and hospitals, as well as water and electricity plants, have been targeted, killing and wounding thousands.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it welcomed the announcement and would oversee and facilitate the exchange.

"This is one step in the right direction towards the building of mutual trust among Yemeni communities," spokesperson Mirella Hodeib told AFP.
The announcement comes ahead of UN-sponsored talks expected to be held in Stockholm on Wednesday between Yemeni government officials and Houthi rebels.

A source familiar with the talks said that the UN was seeking to introduce a set of confidence-building measures, including a ceasefire in Hodeidah and an end to air attacks across the country by the Saudi-UAE alliance.

The source added that the Houthis would cease all rocket and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The talks are also expected to discuss the reopening of Sanaa international airport and the payment of salaries to civil servants in Houthi-held areas.

Maysaa Shuja al-Deen, a non-resident fellow at the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies, said securing prisoners was a major objective for the government as it headed into these talks.

"There are a lot of [senior] people being held by the Houthis, such as the former Minister of Defence, General Mahmoud Al Subaihi, and one of Hadi's relatives, his nephew, Nasser Ahmed Mansour Hadi", al-Deen told Al Jazeera.

"The situation in Yemen is so complicated that they are going to schedule several rounds of talks after this initial meeting, that could take months or years to even begin addressing some these issues."

Clashes resume in Yemen's Hodeidah after Houthis say open to truce

KONFRONTASI- Intense fighting broke out in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah late on Monday, shattering a lull in violence that had raised hopes of a ceasefire between a Saudi-led coalition and Houthi insurgents as the United Nations tried to resume peace talks.

Coalition warplanes conducted more than 10 air strikes on Houthi positions and battles could be heard in the “July 7” district, four km (2.5 miles) away from the port, residents said. One resident said a medium-range missile had been fired from the city center towards the district in the suburbs.

Battle for Hodeidah: 110 Houthis, 7 civilians killed in 24 hours

KONFRONTASI-At least 149 Yemenis, including seven civilians, have been killed in the past 24 hours as forces loyal to exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi close in on areas held by Houthi rebels in the strategic port city of Hodeidah.

Medics in hospitals across the city - which is the main gateway for imports and relief supplies into Yemen - said on Monday that 110 Houthi fighters and 32 pro-government soldiers had been killed in overnight fighting.

Thousands of Yemeni children malnourished

KONFRONTASI-Hundreds of thousands of children are suffering acute malnutrition because of the war in Yemen.

Two weeks ago, we reported how two-year-old Bassam Hassan's parents in the Houthi-controlled north could not afford to take him to the capital Sanaa for treatment.

The Houthi administration's health minister saw Bassam’s story on Al Jazeera English and ordered that Bassam be brought for treatment. His condition might improve or he might need treatment from an outside specialist.

U.N. envoy due in Yemen as strains escalate with Houthi missile launch

KONFRONTASI-The Iran-aligned Houthi movement fired missiles at the Saudi capital Riyadh late on Sunday, escalating tensions ahead of a visit by the U.N. envoy to Yemen this week to try to avert a military assault on the country’s main port city.

A Houthi spokesman has threatened more attacks in response to the offensive launched by a Saudi-led coalition on June 12 to seize control of Hodeidah port, long a key target, in an attempt to weaken the Houthis by cutting their main supply line.

The United Nations fears that an assault on the Red Sea port, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis, could trigger a famine imperiling millions of lives.

U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths is due in the southern city of Aden on Wednesday for talks with ousted President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in the exiled government’s temporary capital, government officials said.

One official said Griffiths would be there only for a few hours for talks focused on averting an assault on the port.

“There is a proposal on the table,” the foreign minister of Hadi’s government, Khaled al-Yamani, told reporters in Riyadh.

“We would accept a peace initiative on the condition that militias leave the western coast,” he said at a joint press conference to announce a $40 million project launched by Saudi Arabia for de-mining operations in Yemen.

The Houthis have indicated they would be willing to hand over management of the port to the United Nations, sources told Reuters. A U.S. official said Washington was urging the Saudis and Emiratis to accept the deal.

The Hodeidah offensive could have ramifications further afield due to Yemen’s role in a proxy war between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Muslim Iran that has fueled instability across the Middle East.

The coalition said on Monday that eight members of Lebanon’s Shi’ite Hezbollah group had been killed in battles in the mountainous Saada region in Yemen’s northwest, which is held by the Houthis along with the capital Sanaa.

Hezbollah officials could not be immediately reached for comment, but the group has previously denied Saudi accusations that it is helping Houthi rebels.

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