Syrian regime retakes town of Palmyra

Syrian regime fighters retook Palmyra on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 03 March 2017

Syrian regime retakes town of Palmyra

BEIRUT: Syria’s military announced on Thursday it has fully recaptured the historic town of Palmyra from the Daesh group as the militants’ defenses crumbled and Daesh fighters fled in the face of artillery fire and intense Russia-backed airstrikes.
The development marks the third time that the town — famed for its priceless Roman ruins and archaeological treasures Daesh had sought to destroy — has changed hands in one year.
It was also the second blow for the Daesh group in Syria in a week, after Turkish backed opposition fighters seized the Syrian town of Al-Bab from the militants on Feb. 23, following a grueling three month battle. In neighboring Iraq, the Sunni extremist group is fighting for survival in its last urban bastion in the western part of the city of Mosul.
For the Syrian regime, the news was a welcome development against the backdrop of peace talks underway with the opposition in Switzerland.
“You are all invited to visit the historic city of Palmyra and witness its beauty, now that it has been liberated,” the Damascus envoy to the UN-mediated talks, Bashar Al-Ja’afari, told reporters in Geneva.
“Of course, counterterrorism operations will continue until the last inch of our territory is liberated from the hands of these foreign terrorist organizations, which are wreaking havoc in our country,” he added.
The Damascus military statement said troops gained full control of the desert town in central Syria following a series of military operations carried out with the help of Russian air cover and in cooperation with “allied and friendly troops” — regime shorthand for members of Lebanese militant Hezbollah group who are fighting along Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Daesh defenses around Palmyra had begun to erode on Sunday, with regime troops reaching the town’s outskirts on Tuesday. The state SANA news agency reported earlier that regime troops had entered the town’s archaeological site, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, around mid-day, then the town itself, as Daesh militants fled the area.
This is the Syrian regime’s second campaign to retake Palmyra. It seized the town from Daesh militants last March only to lose it again 10 months later.
Before the civil war gripped Syria in 2011, Palmyra was a top tourist attraction, drawing tens of thousands of visitors each year.
The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, had said earlier that Russian President Vladimir Putin was informed by his defense minister that Syrian troops had gained control of Palmyra, with support from Russian warplanes.
The Syrian regime’s push has relied on ground support from Hezbollah and Russian air cover, according to Hezbollah’s media outlets.
Archaeologists have decried what they say is extensive damage to its ruins.
Drone footage released by Russia’s Defense Ministry earlier this month showed new damage to the facade of Palmyra’s Roman-era theater and the adjoining Tetrapylon — a set of four monuments with four columns each at the center of the colonnaded road leading to the theater.
A 2014 report by a UN research agency disclosed satellite evidence of looting while the ruins were under Syrian military control. Opposition factions have also admitted to looting the antiquities for funds.
Daesh militants have twice used the town’s Roman theater as a stage for mass killings, most recently in January, when they shot and beheaded a number of captives they said had tried to escape their December advance. Other Daesh killings were said to have taken place in the courtyard of the Palmyra museum and in a former Russian base in the town.
The developments in Palmyra came against the backdrop of the talks in Geneva, which have been without any tangible breakthroughs so far. Diplomats and negotiators have set their sights on modest achievements in the latest round, after a week of discussions centering on setting an agenda for future talks.
On Thursday, UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura held another round of meetings with both the regime delegation and opposition groups.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told reporters Wednesday that “the parties have agreed to ... discuss all issues in a parallel way, on several tracks.”
After a Damascus request, the issue of terrorism is also on the table, he had said. Russia is a key sponsor of Assad’s regime.
A top Syrian opposition negotiator, Nasr Al-Hariri, said the talks would likely culminate in a closing ceremony on Friday and the parties may be back in Geneva for further discussions in a few weeks.
Setting the agenda and strategy to guide discussions has proven difficult as the main conflicting parties dig in their heels over form and semantics.
In Turkey, the country’s foreign minister said that with the completion of an operation to retake the Daesh-held town of Al-Bab in northern Syria, Turkish troops will head to the Syrian town of Manbij next, to oust US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces that Ankara views as terrorists and a threat to Turkey.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Thursday that Turkey would not shy away from attacking the Kurdish group that dominates the Syria Democratic Forces, which captured Manbij last year after weeks of deadly fighting with Daesh.
He renewed calls for the new US administration not to support the Kurdish forces. Cavusoglu stressed that an operation to take Manbij had not started yet, but acknowledged that skirmishes between Turkish-backed forces and the Kurdish fighters may have occurred.
That front line in northern Syria was further complicated by a concurrent announcement by the Syrian Kurdish side on Thursday that they had agreed with Russia to withdraw from some of the territory between Al-Bab and Manbij, to make room for a buffer.
The Manbij Military Council, part of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said that under the deal, they will withdraw from a front line with rival Turkish-backed forces near the Euphrates River. This will allow Syrian regime forces to create a buffer between them.
However, Cavusoglu denied any such agreement was reached.
There was no immediate comment from the Syrian regime. The Turkish and Syrian authorities have long regarded each other with thinly-veiled hostility.


Egypt receives 2.2 mln AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccine doses

Updated 13 May 2021

Egypt receives 2.2 mln AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccine doses

  • The country received its first COVAX delivery of 854,000 AstraZeneca doses at the start of April
  • Some 2.7 million people have registered online with the health ministry to receive a vaccine Some 2.7 million people have registered online with the health ministry to receive a vaccine

CAIRO: Egypt has received a batch of over 1.7 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses through the COVAX initiative and a separate shipment of 500,000 Sinopharm vaccine doses from China, the health ministry said on Thursday.
The country received its first COVAX delivery of 854,000 AstraZeneca doses at the start of April. It has also received several shipments of the Sinopharm vaccine, bringing the total number of vaccine doses delivered to 5 million, the health ministry said.
Egypt has an agreement for the supply of 20 million Sinopharm doses, and has been allocated 4.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through COVAX.
It is preparing to produce the Sinovac and Sputnik vaccines locally.
Egypt, with a population of just over 100 million, is trying to contain a third wave of COVID-19 infections and the government has put in place some restrictive measures until May 21, shortening opening hours and banning large gatherings.
Some 2.7 million people have registered online with the health ministry to receive a vaccine. Authorities opened a mass vaccination center in Cairo this month capable of vaccinating 10,000 people per day.
Egypt had officially confirmed 240,927 coronavirus cases including 14,091 deaths as of Wednesday.
Officials and experts say the real number of infections is far higher, but is not reflected in government figures because of low testing rates and the exclusion of private test results.


Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan

Updated 13 May 2021

Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan

  • Violence lay heavy on hearts of parents of children dressed in new clothes and clutching balloons reveling to celebrate Eid al-Fitr in Jerusalem’s Old City
  • As sun began to break over al-Aqsa mosque crowds of Palestinians gathered for the first prayers to mark Ramadan’s end

JERUSALEM: Dressed in sparkly new clothes and clutching balloons, excited children Thursday revelled in the Muslim Eid Al-Fitr celebrations in Jerusalem’s Old City.
But days of violence lay heavy on their parents’ hearts.
As the first rays of sun began to break over the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site of Islam, crowds of Palestinians gathered for the first prayers to mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
The three-day festival is traditionally celebrated with mosque prayers, family feasts and shopping for new clothes, gifts and sweets.
Stalls stacked high with colorful plastic toys, or tasty sesame-dipped snacks that are a Jerusalem specialty, tempted the crowds snaking along the Old City’s narrow stone streets.
At the centuries-old Damascus Gate, scene of violent clashes between Israeli Arabs and police at the start of Ramadan, two huge bundles of helium-filled balloons fluttered in the spring breeze. Mickey Mouse and Spiderman could be spotted bobbing among them.
Just three days ago, Israeli police deployed so-called skunk water there — a putrid mixture of sewage water — to disperse the crowds after a weekend of unrest in different parts of Israeli-occupied east Jerusalem.
Hundreds of Palestinians were injured as well as dozens of Israeli police in the clashes which also erupted on the Temple Mount, the most sacred site in Judaism, on which the Al-Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock shrine also stand.
The convulsion of violence has since spread, engulfing the Gaza Strip run by the Islamic militant Hamas movement, the Palestinian territory of the West Bank and Israeli cities which have seen unprecedented mob clashes between Jewish and Arab residents.
On Thursday the boom of rocket fire could be periodically heard in Jerusalem, where calm has mainly returned to the streets. But many believe it may just be the calm before a further storm.
“Do you see any problems, there, right now? No,” said Jabbar, who is in his 60s, pointing at crowds of Palestinians being carefully watched by heavily-armed Israeli police at Damascus gate.
“But it could flare up again at any minute,” he warned grimly.
“Everything will return to normal if God so wishes it,” said Fefka, who lives in the east Jerusalem quarter of Issawiya.
“The violence has to stop, but everything is only done for the settlers here,” she added angrily.
“Jerusalem is also ours,” she insisted, denouncing Israeli settlers who have moved into the east of the city since it was seized in the 1967 war.
According to the United Nations, east Jerusalem has been illegally occupied and annexed by Israel since then.
Hiba, 26, and Soujoud, 21, have been visiting the Al-Aqsa compound since Friday, the day the troubles erupted, triggered by the threat of evicting Palestinian families from their east Jerusalem homes to allow settlers to move in.
“Morning and evening, we stayed at Al-Aqsa,” said Soujoud, a secretarial student. “We don’t want any problems (with the police), but the mosque is ours and we have to defend it,” she added.
On the site, which overlooks the sprawling Old City below, children were entertained by a clown, while adults brandished Hamas flags and rolled out banners praising the Islamist movement.
“Jerusalem is a red line,” read one of the banners.
On Al-Wad Street which crosses the Old City, some passers-by were wearing shirts decorated with Palestinian flags, others had painted them on the cheeks.
Many were wearing the black-and-white chequered keffiyah scarf which has become a symbol of the Palestinian cause.
“We feel very sad for the Eid today, because of the situation and the violence,” said Hiba.
“We can’t be happy when we see what is happening in Gaza and elsewhere.”

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Israeli troops mass at Gaza border amid rocket fire, air strikes and clashes in Israel

Updated 13 May 2021

Israeli troops mass at Gaza border amid rocket fire, air strikes and clashes in Israel

  • At least 87 people have been killed in Gaza since violence escalated on Monday
  • Seven people have been killed in Israel, its military said

GAZA/JERUSALEM: Palestinian militants fired more rockets into Israel’s commercial heartland on Thursday as Israel kept up a punishing bombing campaign in Gaza and massed tanks and troops on the enclave’s border.
The four days of cross-border violence showed no sign of abating and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the campaign “will take more time.”
The violence has also spread to mixed communities of Jews and Arabs in Israel, a new front in the long conflict.
Synagogues were attacked and fighting broke out on the streets of some communities, prompting Israel’s president to warn of the danger of civil war.

Worried that the region’s worst hostilities in years could spiral out of control, the United States is sending an envoy, Hady Amr. Truce efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations have so far offered no sign of progress.
In renewed air strikes on Gaza, Israeli warplanes struck a six-story residential building that it said belonged to Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Palestinian enclave. Netanyahu said Israel has struck close to a thousand militant targets in Gaza in total.
The Gaza health ministry said 87 people, including 18 children and eight women, have been killed and 530 others wounded — further straining hospitals already under heavy pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“We are facing Israel and Covid-19. We are in between two enemies,” said Asad Karam, 20, a construction worker, standing beside a road damaged during the air strikes. An electricity pole had collapsed by the road, its wires severed.
A Palestinian rocket had earlier crashed into a building near Israel’s commercial capital of Tel Aviv, injuring five Israelis, police said. Seven people have been killed in Israel since hostilities began, the Israeli military said.
Israel has prepared combat troops along the Gaza border and was in “various stages of preparing ground operations,” a military spokesman said, a move that would recall similar incursions during Israel-Gaza wars in 2014 and 2008-2009.
Hamas armed wing spokesman Abu Ubaida responded to the troop buildup with defiance, urging Palestinians to rise up.
“Mass up as you wish, from the sea, land and sky. We have prepared for your kinds of deaths that would make you curse yourselves,” he said.

Health authorities in Gaza said they were investigating the deaths of several people overnight who they said may have inhaled poisonous gas.
US President Joe Biden said he hoped fighting “will be closing down” sooner rather than later.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed in a video call for an end to the fighting.
“The main goal is to stop violent acts from both sides and ensure the safety of the civilian population,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

Palestinians gather to pray around the bodies of 13 Hamas militants, killed in Israeli air strikes, during their funeral at the al-Omari mosque in Gaza City. (AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron also urged a “definite reset” of negotiations between the two sides, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for an “urgent de-escalation” of violence.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel will continue strikes against the military capabilities of Hamas and other Gaza groups. Hamas is regarded as a terrorist group by the United States and Israel.
On Wednesday, Israeli forces killed a senior Hamas commander and bombed several buildings which Israel said were linked to the faction’s activities.
Israel unleashed its offensive after Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Palestinians walk after performing Eid al-Fitr prayers amidst debris near the Al-Sharouk tower. (AFP)

The hostilities have opened a new front by fueling tension between Israeli Jews and the country’s 21 percent Arab minority who live alongside them in some communities.
Jewish and Arab groups attacked people and damaged shops, hotels and cars overnight. In Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv, dozens of Jews beat and kicked a man thought to be an Arab as he lay on the ground.
One person was shot and badly wounded by Arabs in the town of Lod, where authorities imposed a curfew, and over 150 arrests were made in Lod and Arab towns in northern Israel, police said.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called for an end to “this madness.”
“We are endangered by rockets that are being launched at our citizens and streets, and we are busying ourselves with a senseless civil war among ourselves,” he said.
A number of foreign carriers have canceled flights to Israel because of the unrest.
The fatalities in Israel include a soldier killed while patrolling the Gaza border and six civilians, including two children and an Indian worker, medical authorities said.
The Israeli military said some 400 of 1,600 rockets fired by Gaza factions had fallen short, potentially causing some Palestinian civilian casualties.
The conflict has led to the freezing of talks by Netanyahu’s opponents on forming a governing coalition to unseat him after Israel’s inconclusive March 23 election.
Although the latest problems in Jerusalem were the immediate trigger for hostilities, Palestinians are frustrated by setbacks to their aspirations for an independent state in recent years, including Washington’s recognition of disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.


Israel destroys tower block, kills Hamas commander as Gaza civilian death toll mounts

Updated 13 May 2021

Israel destroys tower block, kills Hamas commander as Gaza civilian death toll mounts

  • At least 56 people in Gaza, including 14 children, two Palestinians in the West Bank
  • Six Israelis have also been killed in the ongoing conflict

TEL AVIV: Heavy exchanges of rocket fire and air strikes, and rioting in mixed Jewish-Arab towns, fueled fears Wednesday that deadly violence between Israel and Palestinians could spiral into “full-scale war.”

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz vowed more attacks on Hamas and other Islamist militant groups in Gaza to bring “total, long-term quiet” before considering a cease-fire.

“This is just the beginning,” warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We’ll deliver them blows they haven’t dreamt of.”
Gaza militants have launched more than 1,000 rockets since Monday, said Israel’s army, which has carried out hundreds of air strikes on Islamist groups in the crowded coastal enclave of Gaza.
The most intense hostilities in seven years have killed at least 56 people in Gaza, including 14 children, and six in Israel, including an Israeli soldier and one Indian national, since Monday.

    

Three Palestinians were killed in West Bank clashes. And at least 230 Palestinians and 100 Israelis have been wounded.
An Israeli soldier was killed on Wednesday when Palestinian militants in Gaza fired an anti-tank missile near the border, the army said, amid tit-for-tat rocket fire and air strikes.
A statement from the army identified the soldier as Omer Tabib, 21, who was “killed this morning by the anti-tank missile launched by the Hamas terror group from Gaza at Israel.”
The bloodshed was triggered by weekend unrest at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.
As world powers voiced growing alarm over the crisis, the UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland warned that “we’re escalating toward a full-scale war.”
The UN Security Council held another emergency meeting without agreeing on a joint statement due to opposition from the United States, Israel’s ally.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called for an immediate end to violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories that has killed more than 50 people since Monday.
“Everything must be done to prevent a broader conflict, which will, first and foremost, affect the civilian populations on both sides,” Borrell said in a statement that condemned actions by both sides.

         

France’s foreign minister said the international community must do everything possible to avert a new conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, after Palestinian militants fired hundreds of rockets and the Israeli army launched air strikes.
“The cycle of violence in Gaza, in Jerusalem but also in the West Bank and several cities in Israel risk leading to a major escalation,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament. “Everything must be done to avoid... a conflict” that would be the fourth such deadly confrontation in the last 15 years, he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for an urgent meeting of the Middle East Quartet in order to halt violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
Speaking alongside UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Lavrov said: “Today we’ve come to the common opinion that the most pressing task is to convene the Quartet of international mediators — Russia, the United States, the UN and the EU.”
Sergei Vershinin, a Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, called on Israel to “immediately” stop all settlement activities in the Palestinian Territories, RIA news agency reported.
Vershinin also said that Moscow called for the “status quo of Jerusalem’s sacred sites” to be respected, RIA reported. 
China’s special envoy on the Middle East, Zhai Jun, expressed “deep concern” over escalating clashes between Palestinians and Israel and urged all parties to exercise restraint to avoid further casualties.

In a meeting with Arab envoys and the chief representative of the Arab League in China, Zhai said Beijing would continue to push the UN Security Council to take action on the situation in East Jerusalem as soon as possible, according to a foreign ministry statement.

Netanyahu declared a state of emergency in the mixed Jewish-Arab Israeli city of Lod, where police said “wide-scale riots erupted among some of the Arab residents,” and authorities later imposed an overnight curfew there.
There were fears of widening civil unrest as protesters waving Palestinian flags burnt cars and properties, including a synagogue, clashed with Israeli police and attacked Jewish motorists in several Jewish-Arab towns.
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, in unusually strong language, denounced what he described as a “pogrom” in which “an incited and bloodthirsty Arab mob” had injured people and attacked sacred Jewish spaces.
Rivlin said Israelis needed “to be ready and armed, strong and determined, prepared to defend our home.”

    

Palestinian groups, mainly Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have launched more than 1,000 rockets, Israel’s army said, including hundreds at Tel Aviv, where air sirens wailed overnight.
Of these, 850 have hit in Israel or been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, while the rest have crashed inside Gaza, the army said.
Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes on Gaza, the Israeli-blockaded strip of two million people that Hamas controls, targeting what the army described as “terror” sites.
Hamas said several of its top commanders were killed in Israeli strikes, including its military chief in Gaza City, Bassem Issa. Israel’s internal security agency, the Shin Bet, also identified three other top Hamas militants who it said were killed.

    

Its leader Ismail Haniyeh threatened to step up attacks, warning that “if Israel wants to escalate, we are ready for it.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged both sides to “step back from the brink.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said “everything must be done” to avoid a new Middle East conflict.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said a US envoy would travel to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders to seek “a de-escalation of violence.”
In Gaza City, people sifted through debris after an Israeli air strike destroyed a 12-story building that Hamas had been a residential building. It was also known to house the offices of several Hamas officials.
Five members of a single family were killed by an Israeli strike in northern Gaza Tuesday, including young brothers Ibrahim and Marwan, who were filling sacks of straw at the time.
“We were laughing and having fun when suddenly they began to bomb us. Everything around us caught fire,” their cousin, also called Ibrahim, told AFP.
“I saw my cousins set alight and torn to pieces,” said the 14-year-old, breaking down in tears.

    

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In Israel’s central city of Lod, a man and a girl were killed Wednesday by rocket fire from Gaza. Israel identified one of the dead as 16-year-old Nadin Awad, an Arab Israeli.
Her cousin, Ahmad Ismail, told public broadcaster Kan that he was near Nadin when she was killed alongside her father Khalil Awad, 52.
“I was at home, we heard the noise of the rocket,” said Ismail. “It happened so quickly. Even if we had wanted to run somewhere, we don’t have a safe room.”
An Israeli woman was killed when rockets hit Rishon Letzion near Tel Aviv. In Ashkelon, a town near Gaza which Hamas threatened to turn into “hell,” rockets fired by militants killed two women Tuesday.
The crisis flared last Friday when weeks of tensions boiled over and Israeli riot police clashed with crowds of Palestinians at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque.
Nightly disturbances have since flared in east Jerusalem, leaving more than 900 Palestinians injured, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.
The unrest has been driven by anger over the looming evictions of Palestinian families from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Large protests have been held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world, including in Britain and South Africa as well as in Muslim-majority countries including Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Tunisia and Turkey.

(With Reuters and AFP)


UN Security Council urges immediate cease-fire in Yemen

Updated 13 May 2021

UN Security Council urges immediate cease-fire in Yemen

  • UN Security Council urges immediate cease-fire in Yemen

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council called for an immediate halt to fighting in Yemen on Wednesday, saying that only a lasting cease-fire and political settlement can end the six-year conflict in the Arab world’s poorest nation and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
In calling for a cessation of hostilities, the council singled out the military escalation by Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi rebels in the oil-rich central province of Marib, the internationally recognized government’s last stronghold in Yemen’s northern half. The offensive has put at risk an estimated 1 million civilians who have fled there since 2015 to escape fighting elsewhere.
The council’s press statement followed a briefing by UN special envoy Martin Griffiths, who said he couldn’t emphasize enough that the more than yearlong Houthi offensive “has caused an astonishing loss of life, including children who have been mercilessly thrown into the battle.”
Displaced people in Marib are living in fear for their lives, he said, “and the offensive has been until now constantly disrupting peace efforts.”
In 2014, the Houthis overran the capital, Sanaa, and much of Yemen’s north, driving the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi into exile. A US-backed, Saudi-led coalition intervened the following year against the Houthis seeking to restore Hadi’s rule.
The intensified fighting in Marib has come amid an international and regional diplomatic push to end the conflict.
“The longer the Marib offensive goes on, the greater the risk to Yemen’s broader stability and social cohesion,” Griffiths warned. “It may lead to the transfer of conflict to other areas in Yemen, including those which have remained mercifully far from the main theaters of conflict. Yemen is an unstable country, easily destabilized.”
Griffiths expressed fear the Marib offensive may suggest to some that the war can be won militarily, but he said military conquest will only fuel further cycles of violence and unrest. He said Yemen can only be governed effectively by an “inclusive partnership” of “different political forces and components.”
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the council that about 25,000 people have fled the fighting in Marib, many for the second or third time. If the fighting doesn’t stop, he said, “aid agencies fear up to 385,000 people could be displaced in the coming months.”
Lowcock warned that “famine is still stalking the country, with five million people just a step away from starving,” and COVID-19 cases are still surging, “pushing the health care system to collapse.” Famine, disease and other miseries are the result of the war and that is why “it is so important to stop the fighting,” he said.
Since March 2020, Griffiths has been trying to get the Houthis and the government to commit to a nationwide cease-fire, to reopen Sanaa airport to commercial traffic, ensure an uninterrupted flow of fuel and commodities through the main port of Hodeida, and to resume a political process aimed at reaching a political settlement.
“I am here to say that a deal is still very much possible,” Griffiths told the council.
“There is strong international backing and there is regional momentum for the UN’s efforts,” he said, expressing gratitude to Oman, Saudi Arabia, the United States and others. They are working closely and “without any differences between us,” he said.
Griffiths said the differences between the parties in Yemen “are not unbridgeable” and “a deal can be achieved easily, very quickly,” if both sides agree.
But he told the council that on several occasions during negotiations, the Houthis refused to meet with him, including recently. “To say this sends a wrong signal is an understatement,” he said.
Security Council members expressed support for Griffiths “and expressed their expectation that the Houthis meet him soon.”
Shortly after the council meeting ended, Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres announced the appointment of Griffiths as the UN’s next humanitarian chief, replacing Lowcock. But Guterres said Griffiths will continue to serve as the UN’s top envoy for Yemen “until a transition has been announced.”
In the coming weeks, Griffiths said, all countries should push the parties, in particular the Houthis, to conclude negotiations so the fighting stops.
“And I would like to be able to resolve that before we meet again,” he said.