Houthis reject UN calls for de-escalation, truce extension

A Shiite Houthi tribesman holds his weapon during a tribal gathering in Sanaa, Yemen. (AP)
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Updated 23 November 2022

Houthis reject UN calls for de-escalation, truce extension

  • Houthi official slams UN envoy for urging movement to resume peace negotiations

AL-MUKALLA: Houthi leaders have rejected calls from the UN Yemen envoy and members of the UN Security Council to halt their assaults on oil installations in southern Yemen and to extend the UN-brokered ceasefire.

The Houthis have defiantly pledged to keep attacking oil installations with drones and missiles until their demands are met.

Houthi Deputy Foreign Minister Hussein Al- Ezzi slammed UN Yemen Envoy Hans Grundberg on Wednesday for urging the movement to de-escalate and resume peace negotiations, alleging that the Houthi movement had also provided compromises to seek peace in Yemen.

“Sanaa demands represent the minimum rights of our people,” Al- Ezzi said on Twitter.

During his briefing to the Security Council on the situation in Yemen on Tuesday, Grundberg condemned the Houthi attacks on oil infrastructure in government-controlled provinces, warning that the attacks would lead to a resumption of fighting, undermine peace efforts to end the war, and have severe economic repercussions for the country.

“Attacks on oil infrastructure and threats to oil companies undermine the welfare of the entirety of the Yemeni people. They risk setting off a spiral of military and economic escalation, a pattern we have seen play out before over the course of Yemen’s war,” the UN envoy said.

The Houthis have once again threatened to launch more explosives-rigged drones and missiles on oil facilities and ships in government-controlled areas to pressure the Yemeni government into agreeing to their demand of sharing oil revenues and compensating public employees in districts they control.

On Tuesday, Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, a Houthi leader, asked that the Yemeni government give all state revenues to the central bank in Sanaa and that the movement pay all government servants throughout the nation, or the Houthis will continue to target oil installations.

“Don’t be concerned! Our drones and missile will expedite salary payments,” Al-Houthi assured a crowd of supporters in Sanaa.

Local officials in the southeastern province of Hadramout said the Houthi-attacked Al-Dhabbah oil facility in the province’s Shiher will be shut down for repairs and to deploy additional air defenses.

In Aden, Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed on Wednesday promised to stand firm in the face of Houthi pressure from drone strikes, defend Yemen’s national institutions, and continue fighting the Houthis until they are expelled from areas they control.

“We are confident in attaining victory under the direction of the Presidential Leadership Council, as well as in our military forces, security services, and the widespread national and popular resistance,” Saeed said at a Cabinet meeting.

A Yemeni official told Arab News that the government has increased security measures and air defenses at vital ports and economic facilities across the country, as well as bolstered military forces outside key cities, including the central city of Marib.

The government is pressing the international community, which looked unanimous in its condemnation of the most recent Houthi assaults, to designate the Houthis as terrorists and put restrictions on non-humanitarian supplies passing through the Houthi-controlled Hodeidah port.

“Recently, the international community’s condemnations have intensified, but condemnations alone are insufficient. Only international designation, particularly from the US, would convince the rest of the world to ban commercial imports, accomplishing the goal of strangling the militia’s financial sources,” said the official, preferring anonymity.

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Iran acknowledges ‘tens of thousands’ detained in protests

Updated 06 February 2023

Iran acknowledges ‘tens of thousands’ detained in protests

  • Reports about decree offer no explanation for decision by Supreme Leader Khamenei
  • Iran prisons are already overcrowded after years of protests over economy, other affairs

JEDDAH: Iranian activists on Sunday dismissed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s decree reportedly ordering amnesty or a reduction in prison sentences for “tens of thousands” of people detained amid nationwide anti-government protests shaking the country, acknowledging for the first time the scale of the crackdown.

“Khamenei’s hypocritical pardon doesn’t change anything,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam of the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights.

“Not only all protesters must be released unconditionally, but also it is a public right that those who ordered the bloody repression and their agents are held accountable.”

The decree by Khamenei, part of a yearly pardoning by the supreme leader before the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, comes as a long-detained opposition leader called for a nationwide referendum on whether to write a new constitution for Iran.

State media also published a list of caveats over the order that would disqualify those with ties abroad or facing spying charges — allegations which have been met with wide international criticism.

Khamenei “agreed to offer amnesty and reduce the sentences of tens of thousands accused and convicted in the recent incidents,” the state-run IRNA news agency said in a Farsi report.

A later IRNA report carried by its English-language service said the pardons and commuted sentences were for “tens of thousands of convicts, including the arrestees of the recent riots in Iran.” Authorities did not immediately acknowledge the discrepancy in the reports.

The reports about the decree offered no explanation for the decision by Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state in Iran. However, prisons and detention facilities already had faced overcrowding in the country after years of protests over economic issues and other matters.

In Mir Hossein Mousavi’s call, posted by the opposition Kaleme website, he said he did not believe that Iran’s current system, which gives the final say to a supreme leader, worked any longer.

He also called for the formation of a constitutional assembly of “real representatives” to write a new constitution.

It remains unlikely that Iran’s theocracy will heed the 80-year-old politician’s call.

He and his wife have been under house arrest for years since his disputed presidential election loss in 2009 led to the widespread Green Movement protests that security forces also repressed.

Mousavi himself, however, had supported and served in Iran’s theocracy for decades.

Separately, former reformist President Mohammad Khatami urged “free and competitive elections” after the release of political prisoners both imprisoned and under house arrest.

“Reformism at least has faced a ... dead end, so people have a right to be (as) frustrated about it as they are about the ruling system,” Khatami said in a statement circulated online.

More than 19,600 people have been arrested during the protests, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has been tracking the regime’s crackdown.

At least 527 people have been killed as authorities violently suppressed demonstrations, the group said. Iran has not offered a death toll for months.

On Sunday, state media published a list of caveats that would disqualify those who face spying charges, among others, from receiving a pardon. The list has been met with wide international criticism.

Khamenei “agreed to offer amnesty and reduce the sentences of tens of thousands accused and convicted in the recent incidents,” the IRNA news agency said in a Farsi report.

A later IRNA report carried by its English-language service said the pardons and commuted sentences were for “tens of thousands of convicts, including the arrestees of the recent riots in Iran.”

Authorities did not name any of those who had been pardoned or given shorter sentences.

Authorities also did not name any of those who had been pardoned or seen shorter sentences. Instead, state television continued to refer to the demonstrations as being a “foreign-backed riot,” rather than homegrown anger over the September death of Masha Amini, an Iranian-Kurdish woman detained by the country’s morality police.

Anger also has been spreading over the collapse of the Iranian rial against the US dollar, as well as Tehran arming Russia with bomb-carrying drones in its war on Ukraine.

More than 19,600 people have been arrested during the protests, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that’s been tracking the crackdown. At least 527 people have been killed as authorities violently suppressed demonstrations, the group said. Iran hasn’t offered a death toll for months. It already has executed at least four people detained amid the protests after internationally criticized trials.

All this comes as Iran’s nuclear deal has collapsed and Tehran has enough highly enriched uranium to potentially build “several” atomic bombs if it chooses, the United Nations’ top nuclear envoy has said. A shadow war between Iran and Israel has risen out of the chaos, with Tehran blaming Israel for a drone attack on a military workshop in Isfahan last week as well.

Meanwhile, a long-detained opposition leader in Iran is calling for a nationwide referendum about whether to write a new constitution for the Islamic Republic.
Mir Hossein Mousavi’s call, posted late Saturday by the opposition Kaleme website, included him saying he didn’t believe Iran’s current system giving final say to a supreme leader worked any longer. He also called for the formation of a constitutional assembly of “real representatives” to write a new constitution.

It remains unlikely Iran’s theocracy will heed the 80-year-old politician’s call. He and his wife have been under house arrest for years after his disputed presidential election loss in 2009 led to the widespread Green Movement protests that security forces also put down. However, he himself had supported and served in Iran’s theocracy for decades.
In 2019, Mousavi compared Khamenei to the former Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, whose rule saw troops gun down demonstrators in an event that led to the Islamic Revolution.
Separately, former reformist President Mohammad Khatami urged “free and competitive elections” after the release of political prisoners both imprisoned and under house arrest.
“Reformism at least has faced a ... dead end, so people have a right to be frustrated about it as they are about the ruling system,” Khatami said in a statement circulated online.
Currently, hard-liners control all levers of power in the country. Reformists like Khatami and Mousavi previously sought to change and open up Iran’s Islamic Republic while maintaining its system. But increasingly, protesters have demanded an end to theocratic rule in the country.


Israeli forces kill several armed militants in raid - army statement

Updated 36 min 19 sec ago

Israeli forces kill several armed militants in raid - army statement

  • The Palestinian health ministry said three people had been wounded
  • Israeli forces have carried out months of raids in the West Bank in the wake of a spate of deadly attacks in Israel last year

JERUSALEM: Israeli forces killed a number of armed fighters on Monday during a raid on a refugee camp near the occupied West Bank city of Jericho aimed at capturing suspected Hamas militants, the Israeli military said in a statement.
Five people were killed, governor of Jericho Jihad Abu Al-Assal said, in the raid in Aqbat Jabr refugee camp in southern Jericho and eight were arrested, according to a statement published by official Palestinian news agency WAFA.
The Palestinian health ministry said three people had been wounded, one critically, but gave no details on any dead.
Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, appeared to confirm some fatalities in a statement praising the gunmen as “martyred heroes.”
The raid came during a period of heightened tensions that have drawn fears of a further escalation in violence and prompted calls for calm on both sides from the United States and international bodies including the United Nations.
Israeli forces have carried out months of raids in the West Bank following a spate of deadly attacks in Israel last year and forces have been put on high alert after a Palestinian gunman shot seven people dead near a synagogue on Jan. 27.
The military said Monday’s raid was aimed at capturing a group of militants belonging to Hamas, who it said were barricaded in a house in the camp and were planning further operations following an attempted shooting attack last month on Israelis nearby.
On Jan. 28, it said two armed individuals appeared in a restaurant in the Vered Yeriho settlement, where around 30 people were present, but fled before carrying out an attack after a weapon malfunctioned.
Over the past week, it said security forces had conducted a number of operations to try to find and arrest the suspects.
Ahead of discussions in Cairo with Egyptian officials hoping to prevent further escalation, Haniyeh indicated the raid could impact the talks.


Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground

Updated 05 February 2023

Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground

  • Rachid Karami International Fair has decayed due to conflict, poor maintenance and country’s financial crisis

TRIPOLI: Its arch is cracking and its vast pavilions lie empty, but the crumbling Rachid Karami International Fair in Lebanon’s port city Tripoli now has hope of revival, having been added to the United Nations’ list of world heritage sites in danger.
Designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in 1962, the collection of structures on the 70-hectare plot is considered one of the key works of 20th century modernism in the Middle East.
But the fair park has slowly decayed due to repeated rounds of fighting over the last 60 years, poor maintenance and most recently Lebanon’s crippling, three-year-old financial crisis.
“It was placed on the World Heritage List exceptionally, quickly and urgently – and on the list of heritage in danger because it’s in a critical situation,” said Joseph Kreidi, UNESCO’s national program officer for culture in Beirut.
Its elegant arch is missing concrete in some parts, exposing the rebar underneath. Rainwater has pooled at the locked entrances. One section is sealed off by a sign that reads, “Unsafe building entry.”
“Placing it on the World Heritage Danger List is an appeal to all countries of the world, as if to say: this site needs some care,” said Kreidi.
He said it was up to the Lebanese authorities to draw together a plan for the site’s protection and rehabilitation but that UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, could help search for funding and provide technical expertise.
Lebanon has five other sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, most of them citadels and ancient temples.
Niemeyer is recognized as one of the fathers of modern architecture and the site in Tripoli was an early foray into the Middle East.
Construction of the fairground began in the 1960s but was delayed when civil war erupted in Lebanon in 1975. Fighters used the site to stage operations and stored weapons underneath its concrete dome.
Mira Minkara, a freelance tour guide from Tripoli and a member of the Oscar Niemeyer Foundation’s Tripoli chapter, has fond – but rare – memories of the fairground as a child.
For the most part, it was off-limits to Tripoli’s residents given safety concerns. But Minkara remembered her first visit during a festival of pan-African culture and crafts.
She hopes that UNESCO’s recognition could bring new festivals, exhibitions and economic benefits to Tripoli – already one of the poorest cities on the Mediterranean before Lebanon’s financial meltdown began.
Lebanon’s cultural heritage has been hit hard in recent years. The 2020 Beirut port blast tore through 19th-century homes in historic neighborhoods and power outages caused by the financial crisis have cut supplies to the national museum.
“We hope things change a little,” Minkara said. “It’s high time for this fairground to emerge from this long sleep, this almost-death.”


Sokhna port welcomes first cruise ships amid ongoing development

Updated 05 February 2023

Sokhna port welcomes first cruise ships amid ongoing development

  • Movement of vessels ‘working perfectly’ alongside construction, official says
  • More than 3,000 tourists arrived by ship on Saturday

CAIRO: Development work at the Suez Canal Economic Zone is progressing well, a senior official said, with the new berth at Sokhna port recently welcoming its first cruise ships.

Walid Youssef, deputy chairman of the southern part of the zone, said that the circulation and reception of vessels was “working perfectly” alongside the construction work, which was nearing completion.

The development included four new basins and 18 km of marine berths, as well as commercial and logistical areas covering 5.3 sq. km, he said.

The area is served by a rail network stretching 33 km, which also connects to the Sokhna-El Alamein electric train service.

Youssef said there was constant coordination with the relevant authorities to ensure the smooth operation of the port as the work progressed.

On Saturday, the port welcomed the cruise ship Splendida MSC with 2,826 passengers aboard. It was en route from Yanbu to Safaga.

It also received the Emerald Azzurra, carrying 75 tourists from Sharm El-Sheikh, and the Clio, which had traveled from Hurghada with 85 passengers.


Iran ex-president, former PM call for political change

Updated 05 February 2023

Iran ex-president, former PM call for political change

  • Khatami hopes the use of ‘non-violent civil methods’ can ‘force the governing system to change its approach and accept reforms’

TEHRAN: Iran’s former president Mohammad Khatami and former premier Mir Hossein Mousavi have both called for political changes amid the protests triggered by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini.
As the 44th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution approaches, one of the country’s main opposition figures, Mousavi, called on Saturday for the “fundamental transformation” of a political system he said was facing a crisis of legitimacy.
And on Sunday Khatami, the leader of the reformist movement, in a statement said: “What is evident today is widespread discontent.”
Khatami said he hoped that the use of “non-violent civil methods” can “force the governing system to change its approach and accept reforms.”
In a statement carried by local media, Mousavi said: “Iran and Iranians need and are ready for a fundamental transformation whose outline is drawn by the pure ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement.”
He was referring to the main slogan chanted in demonstrations sparked by the death on September 16 of Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd.
She had been arrested three days earlier by the morality police in Tehran for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s dress code for women.
Mousavi, 80, said the protest movement began in the context of “interdependent crises” and proposed holding a “free and healthy referendum on the need to change or draft a new constitution.”
He called the current system’s structure “unsustainable.”
An unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2009, Mousavi alleged large-scale fraud in favor of populist incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, leading to mass protests.
He has been under house arrest without charge in Tehran for 12 years, along with his wife Zahra Rahnavard.
A close confidant of the Islamic republic’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Mousavi was prime minister from 1981 to 1989.
“People have the right to make fundamental revisions in order to overcome crises and pave the way for freedom, justice, democracy and development,” Mousavi said in his statement.
“The refusal to take the smallest step toward realizing the rights of citizens as defined in the constitution... has discouraged the community from carrying out reforms.”
Khatami, 79, made similar remarks, warning that “there is no sign of the ruling system’s desire for reform and avoiding the mistakes of the past and present.”
President from 1997 to 2005 before being forced into silence, Khatami said he regretted that Iran’s population was “disappointed with Reformism as well as with the ruling system.”