New Yemen anger over ‘time bomb’ oil vessel

The FSO Safer being held hostage by Houthi Militia off Hodeidah in Yemen. (File photo)
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Updated 05 October 2020

New Yemen anger over ‘time bomb’ oil vessel

  • Houthis again reject UN request to inspect stricken tanker in Red Sea

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: There was renewed anger in Yemen on Sunday after Houthi leaders again refused to allow UN inspectors to board a rusting oil storage vessel moored off the port city of Hodeidah.

Yemeni authorities accused the Houthis of risking an environmental catastrophe in the Red Sea, and called for a tougher UN line against the Iran-backed militias.

“The international community’s lenient approach should stop,” Salem Al-Khanbashi, Yemen’s deputy prime minister, told Arab News on Sunday. 

“The Houthis behave arrogantly because of this approach. The international community should pressure the Houthis to either empty the ship or subject it to immediate maintenance.”

The FSO Safer has been moored 7 km off the coast of Yemen since 1988. It fell into Houthi hands in March 2015, when they took control of the coast around Hodeidah. The vessel has been described as “a ticking time bomb” amid fears that the 1.4 million barrels of oil it contains will start to seep out.

The Houthis briefly bowed to pressure in July and agreed to allow a team of UN engineers to visit the ship, before changing their minds and restating previous demands for the revenue from the oil. 

They have also demanded that the vessel be inspected by engineers from “neutral” countries such as Germany, Sweden, Russia or China, claiming that UN experts would issue a politically motivated report written in advance. 

Al-Khanbashi said his government would agree to authorize the UN to collect and hold revenues from Safer oil sales as a middle ground until any financial dispute was resolved.

He spoke after officials from the UN Yemen envoy’s office and the UN Office for Project Services held a “virtual” meeting with the Houthis to discuss access to the vessel.

The Houthis had been expected to finally agree, but instead they again rejected the request, and claimed that the UN had failed to consider their demands.

Yemeni government officials have long accused the Houthis of using the tanker as leverage to ease economic pressure and extract concessions from the Yemeni government, the Arab coalition and the international community. 

Saudi Arabia alerted the UN Security Council last month about an oil spot in the Red Sea west of the tanker, fueling fears of an impending disaster.  

Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary-general, said in August that the UN was working on preventing a major catastrophe, and called for experts to visit the vessel immediately.


Rouhani: Iran ready to take steps when US lifts sanctions

Updated 22 min 22 sec ago

Rouhani: Iran ready to take steps when US lifts sanctions

  • ‘Iran is ready to immediately take compensatory measures based on the nuclear deal and fulfill its commitments’
  • Hassan Rouhani: Iran is the only country that kept its side of the bargain

TEHRAN: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday his country was prepared to take steps to live up to measures in the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as soon as the United States lifts economic sanctions on Iran.
In a meeting with Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, Rouhani said: “Iran is ready to immediately take compensatory measures based on the nuclear deal and fulfill its commitments just after the US illegal sanctions are lifted and it abandons its policy of threats and pressure.”
Rouhani criticized the European signatories of the historic nuclear deal for what he said was their inaction on their commitments to the agreement. He said Iran is the only country that kept its side of the bargain.
Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the US from the Iranian nuclear accord, in which Tehran had agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. When the US then reimposed some sanctions and added others, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development.
The Republic of Ireland has the role of facilitator in the implementation of the nuclear deal.
Coveney said the withdrawal of former President Donald Trump was a mistake and noted that the new US administration is determined to return to the deal.
In December, Iran’s parliament approved a bill that calls for the suspension of part of UN inspections of its nuclear facilities if European signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal do not provide relief from oil and banking sanctions.

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Jordan’s PM to reshuffle cabinet to hasten IMF-guided reforms

Updated 29 min 24 sec ago

Jordan’s PM to reshuffle cabinet to hasten IMF-guided reforms

  • Six new ministers will be named including the interior and justice portfolios
  • Expected reshuffle comes after parliament last week passed a $14 billion budget

AMMAN: Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh was expected to reshuffle his cabinet on Sunday to help accelerate IMF-guided reforms seen as crucial to economic recovery in Jordan from the blow of the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.
Six new ministers will be named including interior and justice after Khasawneh fired both incumbents last week for attending a restaurant dinner party that violated coronavirus restrictions they were supposed to enforce.
The British-educated Khasawneh, a veteran former diplomat and palace aide, was appointed last October by King Abdullah to restore public trust over the handling of the coronavirus health crisis and defuse anger over successive governments’ failure to deliver on pledges of prosperity and curbing corruption.
Jordan is witnessing a nearly two-month-old surge of infections driven by a more contagious variant of the virus amid rising discontent over worsening economic conditions and curbs on public freedoms under emergency laws.
Aides say Khasawneh was expected to retain Harvard-educated Mohammad Al Ississ as finance minister. He has won International Monetary Fund praise for his handling of the economy during the pandemic, and has negotiated a four-year IMF program worth $1.3 billion, signalling confidence in Jordan’s reform agenda.
The expected reshuffle comes after parliament last week passed a 9.9-billion-dinar ($14 billion) budget which Al Ississ said aimed to maintain fiscal prudence to help ensure financial stability and rein in a record $45 billion public debt.
The economy saw its worst contraction — 3 percent — in decades last year, hit by lockdowns, border closures and a sharp fall in tourism during the pandemic, but the government and the IMF both predict a bounce of similar magnitude this year.
Officials say Jordan’s commitment to IMF reforms and investor confidence in the improved outlook helped the country maintain stable sovereign ratings at a time when other emerging markets were being downgraded.


Explosion on Gaza fishing boat kills 3 Palestinian anglers

Updated 29 min 52 sec ago

Explosion on Gaza fishing boat kills 3 Palestinian anglers

  • The cause of the blast was not immediately clear

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: Three Palestinian fishermen were killed Sunday after a blast ripped through their boat off the Gaza shore, officials said.
Nezar Ayyash, of the association that represents fishermen, said the anglers – two brothers and a cousin – were plying their trade off the coast of the city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza Strip when the explosion happened.
The cause of the blast was not immediately clear.
Palestinian media reports blamed Israeli navy fire, but the Israeli military said it was not involved in this incident. The Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza said it opened an investigation.
Minutes before the explosion, local media reported that Hamas, the militant group ruling the Gaza Strip, was test-firing rockets toward the sea.


Israel in final phase of easing of lockdown

Updated 07 March 2021

Israel in final phase of easing of lockdown

JERUSALEM: Israel has opened most of its economy as part of its final phase of lifting coronavirus lockdown restrictions, some of them in place since September.
Bars and restaurants, event halls, sporting events, hotels and all primary and secondary education may reopen to the public on Sunday, with some restrictions on entry and capacity. The move comes after months of government-imposed shutdowns.
The Israeli government approved the easing of limitations Saturday night, including the reopening of the main international airport to a limited number of incoming passengers each day.
Most large public activities, including dining at restaurants, are available to people vaccinated against the coronavirus. Israel has sped ahead with its immunization campaign. Over 52% of its population has received one dose and almost 40% have had two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, one of the highest rates in the world.
Israel has confirmed at least 799,000 cases since the start of the pandemic, including 5,856 deaths, according to the Health Ministry.

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Pope Francis visits Iraqi Christians who suffered under Daesh

Updated 07 March 2021

Pope Francis visits Iraqi Christians who suffered under Daesh

  • Under tight security, he will lead a prayer “for the victims of the war” in Mosul
  • He will also visit Qaraqosh, further east in the Nineveh Plain, which is one of Iraq’s oldest Christian towns

BAGHDAD: Pope Francis, on his historic Iraq tour, visits on Sunday Christian communities that endured the brutality of the Daesh group until the jihadists’ “caliphate” was defeated three years ago.
The 84-year-old, traveling under tight security, will lead a prayer “for the victims of the war” in Mosul, an ancient crossroads whose center was reduced to rubble by fierce fighting to oust the Daesh, or also known as ISIL.
“We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion,” Francis said at an interfaith service Saturday, one of the many stops on the first-ever papal visit to the war-scarred country.
Pope Francis’ trip to Iraq as a “pilgrim of peace” aims to reassure the country’s ancient, but dwindling, Christian community and to expand his dialogue with other religions.
The leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics on Saturday met Iraq’s top Shiite Muslim cleric, the reclusive Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who agreed that Iraq’s Christians should be able to live in “peace.”
“We all hope that this visit will be a good omen for the Iraqi people,” Adnane Youssef, a Christian from northern Iraq, told AFP. “We hope that it will lead to better days.”
The Christian community of Iraq, a Muslim-majority country of 40 million, has shrunk from 1.5 million before the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein to only 400,000 now, about one percent of the population.
“This very important visit will boost our morale after years of difficulties, problems and wars,” said an Iraqi Christian leader, Father George Jahoula.
Back in 2014, when IS militants swept across one third of Iraq, Pope Francis had said he was ready to come to meet the displaced and other victims of war.
Seven years later, after a stop early Sunday in the Kurdish north of Iraq, he will see for himself the devastated Old City of Mosul and efforts to rebuild it.
Pope Francis will also visit Qaraqosh, further east in the Nineveh Plain, which is one of Iraq’s oldest Christian towns.
It was largely destroyed in 2014 when IS rampaged through the area, but its residents have trickled back since 2017 and slowly worked at rebuilding their hometown.
To honor the pope, local artisans have woven a two-meter (6.5-foot) prayer shawl, or stole, with the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” prayers carefully hand-stitched in golden thread in Syriac, a dialect of the language spoken by Jesus Christ that is still used in Qaraqosh.
Security will be extra-tight in the north of Iraq, where state forces are still hunting IS remnants and sleeper cells.
Many thousands of troops and police have been deployed as the pope has criss-crossed the country, taking planes, helicopters and armored convoys to cover more than 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) in-country.
The other major challenge is the Covid-19 pandemic, as Iraq has recently been in the grip of a second wave, with a record of more than 5,000 cases in a day.
Iraqi authorities have imposed lockdown measures to control crowds, but thousands of faithful are expected to flock to a stadium later Sunday in the northern city of Irbil to hear the pope.
Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s oil-rich northern Kurdish region, has been a relative haven of stability and a place of refuge for many Christians who fled IS.
Several thousand seats in the Franso Hariri stadium will be left empty to avoid creating a super-spreader event when Iraqis come to hear the Catholic leader, known here as “Baba Al-Vatican,” deliver the holy mass.

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