Houthis abduct young journalist in Sanaa amid crackdown on dissent

In this photo taken on January 18, 2016, Yemeni boys attend the funeral of journalist Almigdad Mojalli. Yemen is one of the country's considered most dangerous for journalists worldwide. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 19 August 2021
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Houthis abduct young journalist in Sanaa amid crackdown on dissent

  • Relatives were not informed of Younis Abdul Sallam’s whereabouts for more than 10 days after he was taken

ALEXANDRIA: Houthi rebels in Yemen have been holding a young journalist abducted in Sanaa for more than a week, as the militia’s clampdown on outspoken academics, journalists and social media activists intensifies.

After detaining Younis Abdul Sallam, the Iran-backed Houthis waited more than 10 days before informing a local lawyer of his whereabouts, his family told Arab News on Thursday.

“Younis is being held in the intelligence service office,” said a relative who asked to remain anonymous. “We do not know why they detained him and they refuse to answer our calls.”

Abdel Majeed Sabra, a lawyer who defends abductees in Houthi jails, said abducted journalists face mistreatment at the hands of the notorious intelligence agency. He called on local rights groups and activists, including the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate, to put pressure on the Houthis to release Abdul Sallam immediately.

“The journalists’ union should use all means to secure his release,” he said in a message posted on Facebook.

Abdul Sallam, who is from the southern city of Taiz but has lived in Sanaa for several years, graduated from Sanaa University’s College of Media in 2017. He is not a particularly high-profile journalist but has posted messages critical of the Houthis on social media.

“The moment one of their preachers shouts from a nearby mosque, warning of the dangers from America and Israel, the group begins targeting populated areas in Marib,” he said in a message posted on Facebook on June 10, in which he criticizing the Houthis for launching a deadly offensive on the central city of Marib and targeting residential areas in the city. “How can normal human beings coexist with them?” he asked.

Based on his own horrific jail experience, Haytham Al-Shihab, one of five Yemeni journalists released from Houthi prisons during a prisoner swap in October last year, said Abdul Sallam will have been put in solitary confinement, had his name replaced on documents with a number, and been subjected to intense interrogations.

“During the evenings of the first month of his detention, he will be exhausted and tired from many long interrogations, accusations and fabrications that will deprive him of sleep,” Al-Shihab said.

The Houthis are not only targeting journalists. Residents in Houthi-held Sanaa said the militia abducted academic and businessman Osama Al-Shibami weeks ago and refuse to say where he is being held. His friends and students condemned the Houthis for targeting a man they described as a good, apolitical person with no enemies, and called for his immediate release.

On Aug. 4, unidentified assailants shot and killed Mohammed Ali Naeem, a professor at Sanaa University, as he left a friend’s house in the city. It happened shortly after he posted a message on social media demanding the Houthis and the Yemeni government increase the salaries of employees. The Houthis denied they were responsible and said they had captured a man who allegedly confessed to killing the professor over an old feud.

Residents in other Houthi–controlled areas, including Amran and Dhamar, said the militia has abducted several journalists and social-media activists who had criticized the rebels’ crackdown on singing and weddings, and exposed corruption among the movement’s officials.

According to analysts and authorities, Yemen has experienced the biggest displacement of journalists and activists in its history since the Houthis seized power in the country in 2014.

Najeeb Ghallab, an undersecretary at Yemen’s Information Ministry and a political analyst, told Arab News that more than 1,000 journalists were forced to flee the country after the Houthis raided and looted media offices and suppressed their work.

“Due to problems, corruption, sabotage, systematic robberies and mismanagement by the Houthis in Sanaa, opposition began to grow, not only among journalists but intellectuals and academics,” he added.


More than one in four Syrians ‘extremely poor’: World Bank

Updated 55 min 52 sec ago
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More than one in four Syrians ‘extremely poor’: World Bank

  • 27 percent of Syrians — about 5.7 million individuals — live in extreme poverty
  • “Continued funding shortfalls and limited access to humanitarian assistance” have further strained poor Syrians, the World Bank said

BEIRUT: More than a quarter of Syrians live in extreme poverty, the World Bank said Saturday, 13 years into a devastating civil war that has battered the economy and impoverished millions.
The World Bank published two new reports on Syria, which found that “27 percent of Syrians — about 5.7 million individuals — live in extreme poverty.”
“Extreme poverty, while virtually non-existent before the conflict, affected more than one in four Syrians in 2022” and might have further deteriorated after a deadly earthquake last year, one of the reports said.
The quake killed about 6,000 people in the country.
According to the United Nations, about 90 percent of Syrians live in poverty, while it previously estimated that around 2 million lived in extreme poverty after more than a decade of war.
The report cited neighbor Lebanon’s economic meltdown in late 2019, the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, as having eroded the welfare of Syrian households in recent years.
The civil war in Syria has also ravaged the economy, infrastructure and industry, while Western sanctions have added to the country’s woes.
“Continued funding shortfalls and limited access to humanitarian assistance” have further strained poor Syrians, already coping with “soaring prices, reduced access to essential services and rising unemployment,” the World Bank said.
The UN told AFP previously that its humanitarian response plan for Syria for 2024 requires more than $4 billion but that it is only six percent funded.
The international community is set to meet in Brussels Monday to try and muster funds for Syria at a yearly pledging conference.
A lack of opportunities and dwindling aid has pushed many Syrians to rely on money sent from relatives abroad to survive, with the World Bank estimating that “in 2022, the total value of remittances received by Syrian households reached about $1.05 billion.”
Syria’s estimated GDP stood at around $6.2 billion in 2023.
Syria’s “real GDP is projected to contract by 1.5 percent in 2024, extending the 1.2 percent decline in 2023,” the report said.
“Inflation is anticipated to remain high in 2024 due to the pass-through effects of currency depreciation, along with persistent shortages and potential further subsidy cuts (for) food and fuel,” it said.
Syria’s war has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions more since it erupted in 2011 after Damascus cracked down on anti-government protests.


Israel official says ‘intention’ to renew Gaza talks ‘this week’

Updated 49 min 28 sec ago
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Israel official says ‘intention’ to renew Gaza talks ‘this week’

  • “There is an intention to renew the talks this week and there is an agreement,” said the official
  • The official did not elaborate on the agreement

JERUSALEM: An Israeli official said Saturday the government had an “intention” to renew “this week” talks aimed at reaching a hostage release deal in Gaza, after a meeting in Paris between US and Israeli officials.
“There is an intention to renew the talks this week and there is an agreement,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The Israeli official did not elaborate on the agreement, but Israeli media reported that Mossad chief David Barnea had agreed during meetings in Paris with mediators CIA Director Bill Burns and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani on a new framework for the stalled negotiations.
Top US diplomat Antony Blinken also spoke with Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz about new efforts to achieve a ceasefire and reopen the Rafah border crossing, Washington said.
Talks aimed at reaching a hostage release and truce deal in the Gaza Strip ground to a halt this month after Israel launched a military operation in the territory’s far-southern city of Rafah.
The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,903 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to data from the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.


Yemen’s Houthis postpone release of 100 prisoners belonging to government forces

Updated 25 May 2024
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Yemen’s Houthis postpone release of 100 prisoners belonging to government forces

  • The Houthis, an Iran-aligned movement that controls part of the country, last released prisoners in April 2023
  • Yemen has been embroiled in years of civil war that has killed tens of thousands of people and left millions hungry

CAIRO: Yemen’s Houthis said they had postponed the release of around 100 prisoners belonging to government forces that had previously been announced to take place on Saturday.
A Houthi official said that the delay was because of “technical reasons,” adding the release would take place at another time.
The head of the Houthi Prisoner Affairs Committee, Abdul Qader Al-Murtada, said on Friday that the group would release more than 100 prisoners in what he called “a unilateral humanitarian initiative.”
The Houthis, an Iran-aligned movement that controls part of the country, last released prisoners in April 2023 in an exchange of 250 Houthis for 70 government forces.
Yemen has been embroiled in years of civil war that has killed tens of thousands of people and left millions hungry.
The Houthis are the de facto authorities in northern Yemen, while the internationally recognized government is represented by the Political Leadership Council, which took over power from Yemen’s president-in-exile.


Spain demands Israel comply with UN court ruling on Rafah, Britain criticizes order

Updated 25 May 2024
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Spain demands Israel comply with UN court ruling on Rafah, Britain criticizes order

  • Spanish government: Ruling by the International Court of Justice is legally binding
  • British government says ruling would strengthen Palestinian Islamist group Hamas

MADRID/LONDON: The Spanish government demanded on Saturday that Israel comply with an order by the top UN court to immediately stop its bombardment and ground assault on the Gazan city of Rafah.
It stressed that the ruling on Friday by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was legally binding.
“The precautionary measures set out by the ICJ, including that Israel should cease its military offensive in Rafah, are compulsory. Israel must comply with them,” Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares wrote on X.
“The same goes for a ceasefire, the release of the hostages and access for humanitarian aid (to Gaza),” he said.
“The suffering of the people of Gaza and the violence must end.”
The British government, meanwhile, has criticized the World Court order, saying the ruling would strengthen Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.
“The reason there isn’t a pause in the fighting is because Hamas turned down a very generous hostage deal from Israel. The intervention of these courts — including the ICJ today — will strengthen the view of Hamas that they can hold on to hostages and stay in Gaza,” a UK foreign ministry spokesperson said late on Friday.
“And if that happens there won’t be either peace, or a two-state solution.”
In a case brought by South Africa alleging the Israeli assault on Gaza amounts to “genocide,” the ICJ ordered Israel on Friday to “immediately halt” the ground and air offensive in Rafah.
The operations began on May 7 despite international fears for the safety of the 1.4 million civilians trapped in the city.
The Hague-based ICJ, whose orders are legally binding but lack direct enforcement mechanisms, also ruled that Israel must keep open the key Rafah crossing with Egypt to allow “unhindered” humanitarian aid into Gaza.
And it urged the “unconditional” release of hostages taken by Hamas fighters during their October 7 attack in Israel.
Israel responded on Saturday by bombing Rafah and other parts of the densely populated Gaza Strip.
Spain is one of the European countries to have been most critical of Israel over the war in Gaza.
On Wednesday, Spain, Ireland and Norway said their governments would recognize a Palestinian state from next week.
Israel summoned their envoys to “reprimand” them for the decision and on Friday said it would ban Spain’s consulate in Jerusalem from helping Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
The war in Gaza began after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Some 252 people were taken hostage, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the Israeli army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,857 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to data from the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.


Israeli strike kills two Hezbollah fighters in Syria: monitor

Updated 25 May 2024
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Israeli strike kills two Hezbollah fighters in Syria: monitor

  • It was the third strike against Hezbollah targets in Syria in about a week

BEIRUT: An Israeli drone strike in central Syria killed two fighters from Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement on Saturday, a war monitor said.
“An Israeli drone fired two missiles at a Hezbollah car and truck near the town of Qusayr in Homs province, as they were on their way to Al-Dabaa military airport, killing at least two Hezbollah fighters and wounding others,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
It was the third strike against Hezbollah targets in Syria in about a week.
On Monday, Israeli strikes in the Qusayr area, which is close to the Lebanese border, killed eight pro-Iranian fighters, said Observatory, a Britain-based monitor with a network of sources in Syria.
At least one Hezbollah fighter was among those killed, a source from Hezbollah told AFP at the time.
Another strike, on May 18, targeted “a Hezbollah commander and his companion,” the Observatory said. It did not report any casualties.
Israel rarely comments on individual strikes in Syria but has repeatedly said it will not allow its arch-enemy Iran to expand its presence there.
Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria since the outbreak of the civil war in its northern neighbor, mainly targeting army positions and Iran-backed fighters including from Hezbollah.
The strikes have increased since Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip began on October 7, when the Iran-backed Palestinian militant group launched an unprecedented attack against Israel.
Syria’s war has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions more since it erupted in 2011 after Damascus cracked down on anti-government protests.