Houthis unilaterally free more than 100 detainees

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A released prisoner embraces his mother, as prisoners, who according to the Houthis are members of government forces, are released by the Houthis in Sanaa, Yemen May 26, 2024. (Reuters)
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Prisoners, who according to the Houthis are members of government forces, walk during their release by the Houthis in Sanaa, Yemen on May 26, 2024. (Reuters)
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Prisoners, who according to the Houthis are members of government forces, walk during their release by the Houthis in Sanaa, Yemen on May 26, 2024. (Reuters)
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A released prisoner kisses his mother's feet, as prisoners, who according to the Houthis are members of government forces, are released by the Houthis in Sanaa, Yemen on May 26, 2024. (Reuters)
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Prisoners, who according to the Houthis are members of government forces, walk during their release by the Houthis in Sanaa, Yemen on May 26, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 May 2024

Houthis unilaterally free more than 100 detainees

  • Yemen government says those released are civilians the militia seized from streets and workplaces 

AL-MUKALLAH: The Houthi militia released 112 Yemeni government prisoners on Sunday, a move supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross but not welcomed by their opponents.

At a press conference in Sanaa attended by the released prisoners, Abdulkader Al-Murtada, head of the Houthi National Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs, said that the release was in response to an order from their leader, Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, to release Yemeni government forces who were captured on the battlefields and are sick, disabled, wounded or elderly.

He urged the Yemeni government to match the initiative by releasing their prisoners and engaging in prisoner-exchange negotiations, noting that 920 inmates had previously been freed unilaterally.

“This initiative should push you to stop bad and inhuman practices with our prisoners in your prisons, as well as stop obstructing progress in this file and obstructing the implementation of the agreements that you previously signed under the auspices of the United Nations,” the Houthi official said.

The ICRC delegation in Sanaa said that it supported the Houthis’ release of the prisoners by visiting the prisoners before leaving Houthi prisons to verify their identity and ensure that they agreed to return to their homes. Doctors examined prisoners’ health before release and determined whether they were in good enough health to travel.

“We hope this paves the way for further releases, bringing comfort to families eagerly anticipating reunification with their loved ones,” Daphnee Maret, the ICRC’s head of delegation in Yemen, said in a statement.

The Yemeni government and the Houthis have regularly accused each other of undermining prisoner-exchange talks aimed at releasing hundreds of Yemeni inmates.

More than 800 inmates were released under UN and ICRC supervision in April 2023 — the last significant prisoner exchange between Yemen’s warring factions. 

In October 2020, the Houthis and their opponents swapped more than 1,000 detainees in the first big prisoner exchange since late 2014, when the Houthis militarily gained control of Yemen. 

The Yemeni government responded to the Houthis’ unilateral release by saying that the freed detainees were civilians who the Houthis had seized from the streets and their workplaces.

Majed Fadhail, deputy minister of human rights and member of a government delegation involved in prisoner swap talks with the militia, told Arab News that none of the released prisoners are among the more than 1,800 names of government prisoners held by the Houthis and whose release the government has called for in negotiations.

“The Houthis will release 100 people right now and abduct 300 more later. None of those who have been freed are among those sought by the government,” he said. 

In a post on X, Yahya Kazman, head of the Yemeni government’s team in prisoner swap talks, condemned the Houthi unilateral move as “open and scandalous plays” that entail kidnapping regular people from the streets and their homes and using their agony for political benefit. 

“The first step in settling the case is for the militia to tell the fate of the missing people,” Kazman said. 

The Yemeni government has vowed to boycott prisoner-exchange discussions with the Houthis until they provide information regarding the whereabouts of Mohammed Qahtan, a prominent Yemeni politician detained by the Houthis since 2015, and allow his family to see him.

Local and international rights organizations and activists have strengthened calls for a prisoner exchange after the deaths of scores of captives in Houthi jails as a result of abuse.

Meanwhile, the US Central Command said that the Houthis launched two anti-ship ballistic missiles into the Red Sea from regions under their control on Saturday morning.

This is the latest in a series of Houthi missile and drone attacks on international commercial and navy ships in international waters near Yemen.

“This continued malign and reckless behavior by the Iranian-backed Houthis threatens regional stability and endangers the lives of mariners across the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden,” the US military said in a statement. 

The Houthis claim that their attacks on ships are in support of the Palestinian people and are intended to push Israel to end the war in Gaza.

Israeli defense minister says Yemen strike sends a message

Updated 6 sec ago

Israeli defense minister says Yemen strike sends a message

  • Gallant: The first time that they harmed an Israeli citizen, we struck them

JERUSALEM: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Saturday that Israel struck the Houthis in Yemen in order to send a message after they harmed an Israeli citizen.
“The fire that is currently burning in Hodeidah, is seen across the Middle East and the significance is clear,” Gallant said in a statement. “The Houthis attacked us over 200 times. The first time that they harmed an Israeli citizen, we struck them. And we will do this in any place where it may be required.”
On Friday, a long-range Iranian-made drone hit the center of Tel Aviv in an attack claimed by the Houthi militia and which killed one man and wounded four others.

Israeli military: No security incident in city of Eilat

An Israeli navy missile boat patrols in the Red Sea off the coast of Israel's southern port city of Eliat on December 26, 2023.
Updated 55 min 17 sec ago

Israeli military: No security incident in city of Eilat

JERUSALEM: Israel’s military said on Saturday there was no indication of a security incident in the Red Sea port city of Eilat after reports of explosions were heard there.
“A short while ago, reports were received regarding explosions heard in the area of Eilat. It was found that no projectiles were fired toward the area of the city and no interceptor was launched. There is no indication of a security incident,” the military said. 


What is driving rise in marriages between Syrian women and local men in neighboring countries?

Updated 22 min 17 sec ago

What is driving rise in marriages between Syrian women and local men in neighboring countries?

  • More than a decade of war, displacement, hardship and uncertainty has chipped away at Syrian women’s sense of security
  • Many of these women agree to marry locals to avoid the harsh reality of being a single woman alone in a war-devastated country

LONDON: Informal advertisements for “affordable Syrian brides” have been circulating on Iraqi social media platforms in recent months, several of them perpetuating tropes about Syrian women with lines like: “Marry a Syrian woman for $100 and enjoy delectable dishes and an endearing dialect.”

The controversial posts, which have drawn local media attention, are captioned as though they are advertising chattel. One reads: “You can hear to’borni (a Syrian term of endearment) at home for as little as 500,000 dinars” — the equivalent of $380.

Men promoting the trend lament the exorbitant mahrs requested by Iraqi women, often ranging from $10,000 to $20,000, locals told Arab News. On top of this, they say, prospective Iraqi brides will also often request property, expensive jewelry and cars.

Mahr is a mandatory gift from a groom to his bride in Muslim societies as a form of security and respect, often with legal significance in marriage contracts.

For the young women who pursue marriage for economic reasons, the decision is often not a personal choice but a collective family decision, according to locals. (Getty Images)

The sheer volume of online posts, especially on the video platform TikTok, suggests the trend is genuine. Commentators have expressed outrage at the posts, finding the rhetoric demeaning to both Syrian and Iraqi women.

More than a decade of violence, displacement, economic hardship and uncertainty has already chipped away at Syrian women’s dignity. Now, in neighboring countries where they have sought safety and economic security, they endure a form of commodification.

Many Syrian women, finding themselves as the sole breadwinners for their families, have sought employment in neighboring states, including Iraq, as the economic situation worsens in their home country.

Faced with the harsh reality of being a single woman alone in a conservative society and in countries where the law offers limited protection, some have agreed to marry locals for meager mahrs, if any at all.

Sattam Jadaan Al-Dandah, Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, revealed in January that in 2023 alone, some 5,000 marriages between Syrian women and Iraqi men had been documented.

Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, Sattam Jadaan Al-Dandah, has confirmed the trend about Syrian refugee wome being married to Iraqis. (Supplied)

According to the UN Development Programme’s Gender Inequality Index for 2024, Iraq is the fifth worst country in the world for women and girls despite many recent efforts to address gender inequality.

“Syrian women in countries like Iraq, where the law does not provide adequate protection, often find themselves exposed to harassment, exploitation and even trafficking,” Mouna Khaity, a UK-based Syrian feminist and researcher, told Arab News.

“The main reasons Syrian women are agreeing to such arrangements — many even seeking them — in almost all neighboring host countries are the need for protection and the desire to escape a deteriorating economic situation.”

Thirteen years of conflict and economic sanctions have plunged 90 percent of Syria’s population below the poverty line, creating a new social norm where families struggle to survive without women’s labor.

Many Syrian women have found themselves as the sole breadwinners for their families after years of war in their country. (AFP)

“Under relatively normal circumstances women and girls’ communities and families would provide a level of protection, even though this sometimes entails unwanted intervention or even control,” said Khaity.

The erosion of this protection due to displacement has left Syrian women and girls more vulnerable.

About 5.4 million Syrians live in five countries across the region — Turkiye, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt — with more than 70 percent of them being women, according to UN figures.

After 13 years of civil conflict, lack of international funding has severely undercut the provision of basic services such as water, waste disposal and sanitation in displacement camps in northwest Syria, according to the United Nations. (AFP)

“Women in need of protection will accept a lower mahr compared to women who live within the protection of their families in their home countries,” said Khaity.

However, a woman’s decision to pursue marriage for economic reasons “is often not a personal choice but a collective family decision, with women — even girls — being persuaded this is an opportunity for a better life.

“This is often seen in displacement camps, where women don’t even have the option to choose, and marriage to a local can be perceived as a convenient way to transform from a charity recipient to a dignified and protected woman.”

The Norwegian Refugee Council in 2016 reported an alarming increase in occurence of child marriages within Syrian refugee communities, with girls as young as 13 being married off.

The increasing occurrence of child marriages within Syrian refugee communities has alarmed child protection advocates. (AFP)w

A 2023 report by American Near East Refugee Aid, an NGO that addresses the needs of refugees and vulnerable communities in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan, found that 41 percent of Syrian refugee women aged 20 to 24 in Lebanon were married before turning 18.

Stressing that the situation has been created by “layers of discrimination and injustices,” Khaity said the blame for such marriages should not be placed solely on individuals or families, but on “entire systems” that have normalized the exploitation of Syrian women through a lack of accountability.

“Neighboring countries have not been seeking to integrate Syrian refugees, who are being excluded by local communities and exploited by politicians for economic benefits,” she said.

Deeply rooted gender-related economic inequalities have long disadvantaged women, and the war has only widened this gap, despite increasing the proportion of women who earn an income.

Many Syrian women have found themselves as the sole breadwinners for their families after years of war in their country. (AFP)

“Middle Eastern societies have historically accumulated wealth in men’s hands, forcing women to be largely dependent on men,” said Khaity, adding that this has been achieved through “political systems, social norms and religious institutions.”

“Obedience to husbands has often been linked to men’s financial superiority and dominance, and consequently women’s reliance on them. There are financial resources that women cannot access.”

She added: “The war has deepened inequities, impoverished the majority of the population, heightened women’s vulnerability and displaced millions — all of which has devastated Syrian society.

“Therefore, many Syrian women have sought marriages with locals in host countries as a means to protect themselves, and often their families too, from all kinds of indignities — particularly in societies that have shown them hostility.”

The erosion of this protection due to displacement has left Syrian women and girls more vulnerable. (AFP)

Since the outbreak of civil war in 2011, which forced millions to flee abroad, Syrians in Lebanon, Turkiye and Jordan have repeatedly encountered waves of violence and threats of deportation.

Douna Haj Ahmed, a UK-based Syrian human rights activist, believes this new status quo “has created a form of modern slavery where Syrian women are commodified and traded under the guise of marriage.”

She told Arab News that the marriage arrangements promoted on Iraqi social media “reduce women to mere objects for sale,” calling the phenomenon “a stark reminder of how conflict and poverty can lead to the resurgence of exploitative systems akin to slavery.”

She added: “Such exploitation is not only unethical but also profoundly inhumane. Marriage should be grounded in mutual respect and genuine affection, not in exploiting the more vulnerable party’s needs.”

Thirteen years of conflict and displacement have placed Syrian women in “a class of their own,” said Khaity. “There is tolerance for the dehumanization of Syrian women, who are now perceived as having fewer rights.”


Both activists also believe Syrian women have been commodified by deceptive TV dramas. Iraqi TikTok posts promoting marriage to Syrian women even feature clips from controversial Syrian programs portraying Damascene women as part of an obedient, attentive harem.

Khaity says the drama genre known in Syria as “Al-Bi’a Al-Shamiyeh” — or Damascene culture — has propagated an “untrue, historically inaccurate, and unfair image of Syrian women and their role in society.”

Since the 1990s, numerous Syrian dramas have portrayed Damascene women as ravishing beauties with an innate talent for cooking, household management and seduction. They scurry to attend to their husbands’ needs, rub their feet, shower them with affection, and even hand feed them.

Syrian women had been portrayed in a popular drama series as the obedient servants to their husband, doing only domestic chores such as cooking and cleaning by day, and providing pleasuring by night. (AFP/File)

The popularity of Syrian drama series across the Arabic-speaking world has played a significant role in creating and reinforcing such harmful stereotypes.

“For decades, Syrian drama has perpetuated an image of the Syrian woman as the obedient servant to her husband, whose life revolves around meeting his needs through cooking and cleaning by day, and pampering and pleasuring by night,” said Haj Ahmed.

“This negative portrayal has reinforced outdated and misleading ideas about women’s roles in Syrian society.”

Syria's long-running war has rendered hundreds of thousands of women and children vulnerable to abuses. (AFP/File)

Haj Ahmed said that amid harsh economic circumstances, “many young men in Arab countries have seen the war in Syria as an opportunity to fulfill unhealthy desires for marriage.

“They have exploited the vulnerability of Syrian girls caused by war and poverty, forcing some Syrian families to make harsh compromises and accept any suitor for their daughters in a desperate bid to alleviate the family’s financial burden.”

She added that the social media trend promoting Syrian brides for $100 “goes beyond discrimination and hate speech” to “reflect the patriarchal mentality that objectifies women, particularly in times of war and disaster.

“This narrative confirms that women are among the first to suffer in such situations. What Syrian women are experiencing is a recurring scenario for women in all conflict zones.”


Lebanon state media says civilians injured in Israeli strike

Updated 20 July 2024

Lebanon state media says civilians injured in Israeli strike

  • Hezbollah has traded near-daily cross-border fire with Israeli forces in support of Hamas

BEIRUT: An Israeli air strike in Lebanon about 30 kilometers from the border injured civilians on Saturday, Lebanese state media said, after Hezbollah and its Palestinian ally Hamas fired rockets and explosive-laden drones at Israeli positions.
Hezbollah has traded near-daily cross-border fire with Israeli forces in support of Hamas since the Palestinian militant group’s October 7 attack on southern Israel triggered war in the Gaza Strip.
“The Israeli enemy launched a raid on the town of Adloun” in south Lebanon, the state-run National News Agency said, adding that “a number of civilians have been injured” and traffic on the highway interrupted in both directions.
Videos circulating online showed several big explosions in the coastal town.
“Shrapnel from the explosions flew to surrounding villages,” the NNA said.
Earlier Saturday, NNA said Syrian nationals, including children, had been injured after an “enemy drone targeted an empty four-wheel drive” near their tent, close to the border.
Doctor Mouenes Kalakesh, who heads the Marjayoun government hospital, said a woman and her three children, two of them minors, had been admitted for shrapnel injuries after the strike outside Burj Al-Muluk.
Among them was an 11-year-old boy in critical condition after he sustained shrapnel injuries and a head wound, Kalakesh told AFP.
Hezbollah said it launched “dozens of Katyusha rockets” on Dafna, an area in Israel’s north that the group said it was targeting for the first time, “in response to the attack on civilians.”
Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, said they also fired a rocket salvo from south Lebanon toward an Israeli military position in the Upper Galilee “in response to the Zionist massacres against civilians in the Gaza Strip.”
Later on Saturday, the Iran-backed Hezbollah said it also had launched “explosive-laden drones” targeting “artillery and missile positions” and Israeli troops at a site in the Golan Heights as well as Iron Dome platforms.
Before the drone attack, the Israeli army said a total of 45 “projectiles” had been fired from Lebanon Saturday afternoon, toward the occupied Golan Heights and the Galilee, reporting no casualties.
The army said it struck “the launcher in southern Lebanon from which the projectiles were launched toward the Golan Heights,” also targeting “an additional Hezbollah launcher.”
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had warned that his Iran-backed group would hit new targets in Israel if more civilians were killed in Israeli strikes.
Israeli strikes on Thursday killed at least five people in Lebanon, including the commander of a Hamas-allied group, a security source and militant groups said.
The violence since October has killed at least 515 people in Lebanon, according to an AFP tally.
Most of the dead have been fighters, but they have included at least 104 civilians.
On the Israeli side, 18 soldiers and 13 civilians have been killed, according to Israeli authorities.

Israeli jets strike Houthi targets in Yemen in response to attacks, military says

Updated 20 July 2024

Israeli jets strike Houthi targets in Yemen in response to attacks, military says

  • A news outlet run by Houthi militia says the strikes targeted oil facilities and caused fatalities
  • Houthis used a long-range drone to target Tel Aviv on Friday, killing one man and injuring others

AL-MUKALLA: Israeli warplanes struck the Houthi-held western Yemeni city of Hodeidah on Saturday, apparently in retaliation for the Houthi drone strike on Tel Aviv earlier this week.

Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV reported that Israeli planes hit a power plant and a gasoline storage facility, killing and injuring several people.

Images circulating on social media showed a massive ball of fire and thick fog billowing from the targets.

Mohammed Abdul Sallam, the Houthi chief negotiator based in Muscat, said the airstrikes targeted “civilian” facilities to “pressure them to stop supporting Gaza,” vowing to continue attacks on ships and Israel itself until Israel ends its war in the enclave.

“We emphasize that this brutal aggression will only strengthen the determination and steadfastness of the Yemeni people and their valiant armed forces in their support for Gaza,” he said in a post on X.

Other Houthi officials vowed to retaliate. “We will respond more violently and harshly to this Zionist-American orgy,” Abdul Sallam Jahaf, a member of the Houthi Shura Council.

On Friday, the Houthis launched an explosive-laden drone into a Tel Aviv residential area, killing one person and injuring at least 10.

Critics of the militia argue the Houthis will use the bombings to legitimize their rule and crush dissidents in regions under their control.

“An Israeli airstrike is precisely what the #Houthis have long sought to legitimize their power consolidation. This event offers a pretext for increased repression of the population & violence in #Yemen and beyond. The Houthis excel at inviting conflict to sustain their authority,” Nadwa Al-Dawsari, a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. said on X.