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Iran must prove it is serious before Gulf talks can begin

Iran must prove it is serious before Gulf talks can begin

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Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani last week urged the Gulf states to hold talks with Iran. The senior Qatari official expressed hope that this dialogue would take place, adding in an interview with Bloomberg TV: “We still believe this should happen.”

On Twitter, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif responded to the Qatari official’s proposal, saying: “Iran welcomes my brother (Al-Thani’s) call for inclusive dialogue in our region. As we have consistently emphasized, the solution to our challenges lies in collaboration to jointly form a ‘strong region.’”

Speaking about the same issue on Friday, Zarif told the Iranian state Mehr News Agency: “Our hands have always been extended to the Gulf states.” He added provocatively: “The region now is ours, and its security is in favor of all of us.”

In the same interview, Zarif even claimed that Iran’s regime had presented its own proposal prior to those of other regional states, saying: “Before all these proposals, we have introduced a proposal. The president of the republic last year proposed a ‘Hormuz Peace Endeavor (HOPE).’” He added: “Our readiness for negotiations, therefore, is nothing new. And as I mentioned in my response to the Qatari foreign minister, this issue is a declaration of Iran’s long-term policy.”

Zarif also said, gloatingly, that it should be made clear to some Arabian Gulf states that they have wasted four years because of former US President Donald Trump. He recalled that, when the late emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah floated a proposal for negotiations between the Gulf states and Iran, which was accepted by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the Gulf states allegedly responded by saying: “We should be patient as Trump has just taken over the US administration.” Zarif said: “These countries have wasted four years… Trump has gone, and we and they are the ones who remain.”

It should be noted here that none of the Gulf states officially responded to the remarks by Zarif. However, given the timing of his statements, two key questions arise: Is Iran serious about interacting, on a strategic rather than a tactical basis, with any genuine proposal to de-escalate the current regional situation? And can Iran reverse its current behavior in the region?

From the onset of the revolutionary regime, it has used brutal military force, as seen in the eight-year Iraq-Iran War (1980-1988). Iran emerged from this war devastated economically, politically and militarily, and in need of time to recoup its strength and overcome the crises it was going through. Hence, the regime opted for a soft approach, using diplomacy and cultural outreach, as well as emphasizing civilizational commonalities during the second term of late President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1993-1997) and particularly during the tenure of Mohammed Khatami (1997-2005).

This ostensibly peaceful period witnessed one of the most dangerous phases of the Iranian regime’s penetration into the Arab world. Iran took advantage of this period of systematic openness in the region to embed its cells and entrench its presence. It was able to conceal its hostile agenda through promoting civilizational dialogue and staging exhibitions in several Arab and Gulf capitals.

During this phase, Iran also focused on establishing so-called cultural centers in Arab states and launching its operations through them. These centers were directly linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the office of the Supreme Leader. One would have expected them to have been linked to the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or even to Iran’s diplomatic consulates, but they were all bypassed, indicating Iran’s nefarious objectives behind establishing them.

All parties are fed up with Tehran’s PR campaigns, soft power rhetoric, empty diplomacy, and promises.

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

These centers intensified the regime’s activities regionally and globally, providing handy diplomatic cover for its recruitment, propaganda and indoctrination. This phase also saw Iran cooperating with the US and some Western countries in the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. Mohammed Ali Abtahi, Iran’s vice president under Khatami, said clearly: “If it weren’t for Iran, Kabul and Baghdad wouldn’t have been toppled.”

Later in this phase, the Arab street, longing for triumphs, cheered Hezbollah’s so-called victory in the 2006 Lebanese War, which exhausted and destroyed the country. However, Iran, cheered on by some Arabs before its regional role was exposed with the onset of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, made no real gains through the Lebanese War.

As a result, following the phase of political upheaval in the Arab region, Iran left its soft power approach and returned to its original hard power approach. This involved proxy wars, a dependence on armed Shiite militias in the Arab region, sectarian rhetoric, and playing the Shiite victimhood card. The Iranian regime also activated some of its long-dormant sleeper cells and launched major intelligence activities in the region, especially in the Arabian Gulf.

The past few years have witnessed the dismantling of several Iranian espionage cells in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Yemen, not to mention Iranian support for the Houthi movement in Yemen through the supply of weapons, money and fighters. Also during this phase, Iran intensified its activities in Bahrain and Kuwait.

Despite Iran’s interference, the Gulf states have not adopted a comprehensive negative outlook toward Tehran. This is because they want to establish positive fraternal relations between the two banks of the Arabian Gulf and to ensure peaceful coexistence between Iran and themselves.

While the Arab region’s countries, particularly the Gulf states, do not oppose dialogue with Iran, there is, sadly, distrust between Iran and most of the Gulf states. To build confidence and reach a phase of serious dialogue — rather than a dialogue for its own sake — the Iranian side must take steps on the ground to prove its seriousness with regard to resolving the crises in its geographic neighborhood. Naturally, the Gulf states are cautious, with the phrase “once bitten, twice shy” quite apt for describing their cautiousness at this time.

All parties are fed up with Tehran’s PR campaigns, soft power rhetoric, empty diplomacy, and promises. Instead, neighboring countries want Iran to undertake genuine steps to prove its sincerity in seeking to become a normal state that wants to improve its relations with the region and the world, and in being prepared to abandon its expansionist projects, which have provoked regional sectarian conflicts and terrorism.

Ayatollah Khomeini considered Saudi Arabia to be Iran’s No. 1 enemy, saying: “Even if we abandon Al-Quds, settle differences with the US and reach reconciliation with Saddam Hussein, we will never do this with Saudi Arabia.” Has Iran really abandoned this position? Will Iran dissolve all its militias across the region, from Lebanon in the north to Yemen in the south? Will it pledge not to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries? Will it stop its sectarian mobilization campaigns? What will it do about the attacks on the Saudi diplomatic missions in Tehran and Mashhad? The answer to these questions will indicate Tehran’s seriousness in reaching a settlement with the Arabian Gulf states.

The benefits of reaching an understanding between the Gulf states and Iran are so many that they require a separate article to be detailed.

  • Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Are Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis firing warning shots across Biden administration’s bows?

However, everyone knows that the Houthis, backed by Iran, are the ones who carry out such terrorist acts and use ballistic missiles and drones, says analyst Hamdan Al-Shehri. (AFP/File)
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Updated 29 January 2021

Are Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis firing warning shots across Biden administration’s bows?

  • Militia has alternated between bragging about targeting Saudi population centers and maintaining plausible deniability
  • Apparent sighting of projectile high over Riyadh on Tuesday was the second such incident in a span of just three days

LONDON: Was the object sighted high above Riyadh on Tuesday a stray projectile with no evident target or a warning shot across the bows of the Biden administration? That was the question uppermost in the minds of defense experts and political analysts, just three days after a “hostile air target” — assumed to be a ballistic missile — heading towards the Saudi capital was intercepted and destroyed.

Social media was abuzz on Tuesday with footage of smoke hanging over Riyadh, with residents describing how the windows of their homes were rattled by the impact of at least one explosion. By late evening, Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis had not crowed about a direct hit on the city of 7.68 million people. The militia’s behavior ran true to recent form: it had denied involvement in Saturday’s failed attack.

But the fact of the matter is, these could be the first significant attacks targeting a major Saudi city since the US State Department designated the Houthis (also known as Ansar Allah) as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” on Jan. 19 — one of the final acts of the Donald Trump administration in its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran and its proxies.




A flurry of attacks on US allies could be attempts by Iran to test President Biden’s resolve or, with luck, even kickstart dialogue. (AFP)

Without naming the Houthis explicitly, the Biden administration issued a statement after Saturday’s incident, condemning the undeniable targeting of civilians. “Such attacks contravene international law and undermine all efforts to promote peace and stability,” the State Department said.

To many political observers, the new Houthi approach is a complete no-brainer: Threatened with sanctions and political isolation, and desperate for potential concessions from Washington, the militia is trying to have its cake and eat it too by launching attacks on Riyadh and not claiming responsibility for them.


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“There is no doubt that after evaluating the international response and noticing that a claim of responsibility would be counterproductive — especially after being classified by the State Department as “terrorists” — the Houthis tried to deny they were behind Saturday’s attack,” Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international relations scholar, told Arab News.

“However, everyone knows that the Houthis, backed by Iran, are the ones who carry out such terrorist acts and use ballistic missiles and drones. They also tried to get on the new US administration’s good side by denying what happened in the Kingdom. But everyone knows who is responsible for these actions.”




Riyadh, which is roughly 850 km from the Yemeni border, was first attacked by the Houthis on Nov. 4, 2017. (Shutterstock)

According to experts, the Houthis have a strategy of swinging between bragging about targeting population centers and maintaining plausible deniability. In other words, they pick and choose whichever attitude suits their objectives, and those of their Iranian patrons, at any given time.

Put bluntly, the brazen strikes targeting Saudi Arabia’s capital may not be routine tactical operations in a low-intensity conflict but rather reflective of a larger strategic decision by Iran to put President Joe Biden’s foreign-policy team on notice.

The Trump administration withdrew the US from the Obama-era nuclear accord with Iran in May 2018 and reimposed a slew of economic sanctions on the regime in Tehran. The strategy was matched by a zero-tolerance approach to Iranian influence in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.

The US Treasury on Monday suspended some of the terrorism sanctions that the State Department had imposed on the Houthis in President Donald Trump’s waning days in office. Against this backdrop of apparent policy reviews, a flurry of attacks on Washington’s regional allies and partners could very well be attempts by Tehran to test President Biden’s resolve or, with luck, even kickstart dialogue.

“There is no doubt that Iran wants to test the new administration to know how serious it is regarding the Yemeni issue and the Iranian nuclear issue, and it wants to negotiate with more than one card,” Al-Shehri told Arab News.

“It is as though to say: ‘If you are willing to reduce the pressure on the nuclear issue, we will reduce the pressure on targeting Riyadh.’ This is nothing but cheap and shameless political blackmail, and the world knows it.”

“Cheap and shameless” is also one way to describe the Houthis’ propensity for targeting civilian population centers, often hundreds of miles inside Saudi territory.

March 26, 2018, saw one of the biggest Houthi barrages, with Iranian-supplied ballistic missiles raining down on civilian areas in four Saudi cities. Three of them targeted Riyadh, while two were aimed at Jazan and the others at Khamis Mushayt and Najran.




Civilians have been in the Houthis’ crosshairs since the very beginning of their takeover of Sana’a. (AFP/File)

Although Saudi air defenses intercepted all seven missiles, an Egyptian civilian was killed by falling debris and two others were injured. All of the attacks appear to have deliberately targeted populated areas.

“Launching indiscriminate attacks is prohibited by international humanitarian law,” Amnesty International’s Samah Hadid said at the time.

“A high death toll may have been averted, possibly due to the missiles being intercepted, but that doesn’t let the Houthi armed group off the hook for this reckless and unlawful act. These missiles cannot be precisely targeted at such distances, so their use in this manner unlawfully endangers civilians.”

Riyadh, which is roughly 850 km from the Yemeni border, was first attacked by the Houthis on Nov. 4, 2017, when an unguided ballistic missile targeted King Khalid International Airport — about 35 km northeast of the capital.

Although the missile was intercepted in flight, fragments fell inside the airport area. No one was hurt, but the result could have been catastrophic.

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“An attack with an unguided ballistic missile such as the Burkan H2 from this range is indiscriminate since these weapons are not capable of the necessary accuracy to target military objectives,” Human Rights Watch said at the time.

“When deliberately or indiscriminately directed toward populated areas or civilian objects, such attacks violate the laws of war, and may amount to war crimes.”

A year earlier, in Oct. 2016, a missile, thought to have been a Burkan 1, was intercepted by Saudi air defenses just 65 km south of Makkah. The Houthis claimed at the time their intended target was Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport.

Civilians have been in the Houthis’ crosshairs since the very beginning of their takeover of Sana’a. In May 2015 there were repeated indiscriminate attacks with short-range rockets from northern Yemen into populated areas of southern Saudi Arabia, which left several civilians dead.




The Houthis are trying to have their cake and eat it too by launching attacks on Riyadh and not claiming responsibility for them. (Reuters/File)

Fighting in Yemen escalated in 2015 when the Houthis overthrew the UN-recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. An Arab coalition, backed by the US, Britain and France, launched a military campaign to restore the legitimate government to power.

Since then, repeated attempts to reach a peace settlement have foundered, with the militia’s representatives failing to attend UN-brokered talks in Geneva in Sept. 2018 and its combatants willfully ignoring the terms of the Stockholm and Riyadh agreements.

An April 2020 ceasefire announced by the coalition at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic quickly fell apart when the Houthis resumed cross-border drone and missile strikes targeting Saudi Arabia.

The conflict, now in its sixth year, has left 112,000 dead and 24 million in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

Twitter: @RobertPEdwards
Twitter: @Tarek_AliAhmad

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Preparations in full swing for pope’s meeting with Ali Al-Sistani

Updated 04 March 2021

Preparations in full swing for pope’s meeting with Ali Al-Sistani

  • The Vatican’s hope was that Francis would sign a document with Al-Sistani pledging human fraternity

BAGHDAD: Pope Francis and Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, a preeminent Shiite figure, are to meet on Saturday for at most 40 minutes, part of the time alone except for interpreters, in the cleric’s modest home in Najaf. 

Al-Sistani is notoriously reclusive and has not left his Najaf home in years. He does not make public appearances and his sermons are delivered by representatives. He rarely receives foreign dignitaries.

The Vatican’s hope was that Francis would sign a document with Al-Sistani pledging human fraternity, just as he did with Sunni Islam’s influential grand imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed El-Tayeb, based in Egypt.

The signature was among many elements the two sides negotiated over extensively. In the end, Shiite religious officials in Najaf told the AP a signing was not on the agenda, and Al-Sistani will issue a verbal statement instead.

The 84-year-old pontiff’s convoy will pull up along Najaf’s busy column-lined Rasool Street, which culminates at the Imam Ali Shrine, one of the most revered sites in the world for Shiites.

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To the side is an alleyway too narrow for cars. Here, Francis will walk the 30 meters to Al-Sistani’s modest home, which the cleric has rented for decades. Waiting to greet him at the entrance will be Al-Sistani’s influential son, Mohammed Ridha.

Inside, and some steps to the right, the pontiff will come face to face with the ayatollah.

Each will make a simple gesture of mutual respect.

Francis will remove his shoes before entering Al-Sistani’s room.

Al-Sistani, who normally remains seated for visitors, will stand to greet Francis at the door and walk him to an L-shaped blue sofa, inviting him to take a seat.

The pope will be offered tea. Gifts will be exchanged.

Francis will almost certainly present Al-Sistani with bound copies of his most important writings, top among them his latest encyclical “Brothers All.”

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Fatah committee member sets up separate electoral list, defies leaders’ orders

Updated 03 March 2021

Fatah committee member sets up separate electoral list, defies leaders’ orders

  • Nasser Al-Qudwa launched the Palestinian Democratic Forum, with 230 prominent Palestinians attending
  • Al-Qudwa is a nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and runs the Yasser Arafat Foundation
AMMAN: Nasser Al-Qudwa, a member of the Fatah Central Committee announced on Tuesday that he has set up a separate electoral list for the upcoming legislative elections, in defiance of orders from the party’s leaders. Al-Qudwa could still support a Fatah-nominated government, however. Al Qudwa held an online meeting on Tuesday to announce the launch of the Palestinian Democratic Forum, with a number of key figures in attendance. The forum attendees included 230 prominent Palestinians from Gaza, the West Bank, and the diaspora. Participants called on imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti to join them too. Committees dealing with media, legal affairs, management, and candidacies were formed and it was agreed that members of these committees should not be on the electoral list. It was also agreed that there would be strict guidelines regarding candidates’ donations. Hani Al-Masri director-general of Ramallah’s Masarat think-tank, told Arab News that Al-Qudwa’s move could be a game-changer. “Al-Qudwa combines clean hands, respected national presence, and popular support, it will be a game-changer if Barghouti supports the list,” he said. Al-Qudwa is a nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and runs the Yasser Arafat Foundation. He resigned from the Fatah Central Committee in May 2018, but his colleagues in the committee soon convinced him to withdraw his resignation. He has never served time in an Israeli jail. The backing of Barghouti would strengthen his credentials in the eyes of many Palestinians. In a poll conducted in September by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research, Barghouti received 61 percent of the vote versus 32 percent for Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, although Haniyeh still defeated Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by three points in that poll. In a subsequent December poll, Barghouti again beat the Hamas leader convincingly. Hamas is unlikely to challenge in the presidential race scheduled for July 30. Al-Qudwa stated in the meeting that he has no issue with rank members of the reform faction loyal to former Fatah leader Mohammad Dahlan being involved in the Palestinian Democratic Forum, even though he has been critical of Dahlan. “The new group is intended only to be a forum and not a vehicle to solve Fatah’s many problems,” he said. “We are creating a list and our aim is not to cause a crisis.” Al-Qudwa provided a 22-point initial program for the forum and said that the new body “is open for engagement and discussion in the coming meeting scheduled for March 4.” In addition to laying out ideas about how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the program calls for unity between Gaza and the Wes Bank, the rebuilding of the PLO, and government efficiency, as well as addressing issues including democracy, the rule of law, fighting corruption, and gaining national independence for the Palestinian state using the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital. The wide-ranging meeting also discussed negotiations, the Oslo Accords, Israeli settlements, how to protect and reclaim Palestinian land, women’s and children’s rights, and Palestinian martyrs and prisoners.

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Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit reappointed

Updated 03 March 2021

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit reappointed

  • The 78-year old, was first elected to lead the Cairo-based pan-regional body in 2016
  • Since its founding in 1945, the Cairo-based league has chosen an Egyptian diplomat as its chief, apart from 1979 to 1990

CAIRO: Egypt’s Ahmed Aboul Gheit was reappointed for a second term Wednesday as secretary general of the 22-member Arab League, a diplomatic source said.
The 78-year old, who served as Egyptian foreign minister between 2004 and 2011, was first elected to lead the Cairo-based pan-regional body in 2016.
“Arab foreign ministers unanimously decided to approve Egypt’s request to reappoint Arab League secretary general Ahmed Aboul Gheit for a new five-year term,” the source said.
Since its founding in 1945, the Cairo-based league has chosen an Egyptian diplomat as its chief, apart from 1979 to 1990, when a Tunisian was appointed and the headquarters moved to Tunis, after Egypt signed a peace deal with neighboring Israel.

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Egypt’s fostering campaign helps orphans find homes

Updated 03 March 2021

Egypt’s fostering campaign helps orphans find homes

  • In 2020, Egypt broadened the rules for who can foster a child to include single women over 30 and divorcees
  • A social media campaign encouraging both taking children home and financing them has also helped spark change

CAIRO: Yasmina Al-Habbal always wanted to take in an orphan but only did so last year after Egypt’s government eased regulations over who could do so and campaigned to change public attitudes, enabling her to take home baby Ghalya.
Formal adoption — where people permanently adopt a child, give them their surname and make them their legal heir, is not accepted in Islam due to the importance of respecting lineage, and not practiced in Egypt, although people are encouraged to sponsor children or foster them.
Complexities around Islam and adoption prevented some people from fostering and instead people chose to support children who remained in the full-time care of orphanages.
In January 2020 however, Egypt broadened the rules for who can foster a child to include single women over 30 and divorcees, and reduced the minimum level of education required, hoping that by increasing the pool of prospective foster parents it could make fostering more widespread and socially accepted.
A social media campaign “Yala Kafala” (Let’s sponsor a child) encouraging both taking children home and financing them, started by an Egyptian woman, has also helped spark change.
Habbal, 40 and unmarried, had always dreamt of having a daughter and said she faced social pressure when choosing to care for now seven-month-old Ghalya.
“My friends said to me: ‘how will you face society? What are you going to tell people? Are you going to tell Ghalya that she isn’t your child? Are you going to tell everyone else?’.”
Habbal assured her friends she would respond by telling people their prejudiced views were wrong, and she would tell Ghalya it didn’t matter where she came from.
“I’m going to tell Ghalya... ‘what is important is the positive change you’ve made to so many people’s lives’.”
She added she has a seen a change in attitudes to fostering, and her experience is encouraging others to apply.
“In this past year, the number of families who have applied to sponsor orphans shows just how much people have accepted it. People used to be afraid of it, but now, Egypt’s highest religious authority Al-Azhar, civil society organizations and the ministry of social solidarity are all trying to make the idea more widespread,” she said.
Reem Amin, a member of Egypt’s social solidarity ministry’s alternative families committee said its main goal was to remove the need for orphanages by 2025.
“An orphanage’s main goal is as a stopover point before the child moves to a foster home,” she said.
The ministry’s legal adviser Mohamed Omar said around 11,600 families have taken in orphans since January 2020 and another 11,000 orphans needed homes.
In the second half of 2020 as restrictions due to the pandemic began to ease, the ministry received 1000 requests from families wanting to sponsor orphans.
Cairo couple Mohamed Abdallah and his wife had initially failed to conceive a child of their own and decided to take in an orphan instead.
Months later, Abdallah’s wife Merna became pregnant and now they are raising their biological son Soliman and Dawood, their foster child. “I have a dream that they will be an example for a normal society — two brothers who love each other, even though they are not related by blood,” said Abdallah.


Yemen’s army launches offensive in Taiz to relieve pressure on Marib

Updated 04 March 2021

Yemen’s army launches offensive in Taiz to relieve pressure on Marib

  • During the early hours of the offensive, the army troops liberated a number of villages

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Army has launched a new offensive in the southern city of Taiz to break a six-year-long siege by the Iran-backed Houthis and ease military pressure on government forces in the central province of Marib, a Yemeni army spokesperson in Taiz told Arab News on Wednesday. 

Abdul Basit Al-Baher said that hundreds of army troops on Tuesday night attacked Houthi-controlled locations on the western and eastern edges of the city, triggering clashes with the rebels. 

During the early hours of the offensive, the army troops liberated a number of villages and mountainous locations and killed at least 12 Houthis and destroyed military equipment. 

“The national army activated four battlefields in Taiz and managed to push Houthi militia from different locations,” Al-Baher said, adding that the army is pushing to break the Houthi siege on Taiz and open a strategic road that links Taiz with the Red Sea areas. If the government forces seize control of Al-Bareh, the epicenter of the fighting, government forces will be able to partially end the Houthi siege on Taiz and funnel fighters and military equipment from the western regions.

About the timing of the offensive, local Yemeni commanders say that the Houthis in Taiz have been weakened since they sent their elite forces and heavy equipment to participate in the movement’s offensive on the central city of Marib. 

“The Yemeni Army offensive partly aims to ease military pressure on Marib,” Al-Baher said. 

On Wednesday afternoon, artillery shells fired by the Houthis landed in areas close to Al-Thawra hospital in the eastern part of the city, residents said. No one was reportedly hurt in the shelling. 

The Houthis have imposed a siege on the city of Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city, since early 2015, after failing to seize control of the city due to strong resistance from army troops and resistance fighters. 

The Houthi siege has stifled the densely populated city, pushing tens of thousands of people to the brink of famine and triggering condemnation from local and international rights groups.

Houthis earlier this month renewed a major offensive to recapture the central city of Marib, the Yemeni government’s last stronghold in the northern half of Yemen. 

In the western province of Hodeidah, a civilian was killed and his brother was wounded when an artillery shell fired by the Houthis exploded inside their house on Tuesday night in the town of Hays, south of Hodeidah city, local media said. 

The Joint Forces, an umbrella term for three major military units in the country’s western coast, said that Houthi sporadically shelled civilian areas in Hays, causing panic among residents. 

A truce imposed under the Stockholm Agreement in 2018 has largely failed to bring peace to contested areas in Hodeidah as local rights organizations say that hundreds of civilians have been killed in shelling and by land mines planted by the Houthis during the last three years.

Yemen’s government has hailed US sanctions on two Houthi military leaders for orchestrating terrorist strikes inside and outside Yemen. 

Yemeni Minister of Information Muammar Al-Eryani described the US decision as a “right step” on the path to punishing the Houthi group for rejecting peace ideas and launching deadly attacks on civilians across Yemen and in Saudi Arabia.

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