Posts Tagged ‘Saudis’

Saudis plan to redevelop the Shia-majority town of Awamiya

October 11, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Anuj Chopra | A picture taken on October 1, 2017, during a tour guided by Saudi authorities shows a troop vehicle in the Shiite-majority town of Awamiya in the eastern Qatif region of the Sunni-ruled kingdom, after a security campaign against gunmen in the town

AWAMIYA (SAUDI ARABIA) (AFP) – Posters of sumptuous villas and palm-fringed boulevards hang in the battle-scarred old quarter of Awamiya, symbols of a controversial Saudi plan to redevelop the Shia-majority town which triggered months of deadly clashes.

Saudi Arabia prides itself on stability in a wider Middle East torn apart by conflict and strife, but Awamiya — on the kingdom’s oil-rich east coast — has a longstanding reputation of resistance to Sunni rule.

The latest wave of violence erupted in the summer when authorities began tearing down the neighbourhood of Musawara, a walled area dating back to the Ottoman Empire, saying its labyrinthine streets and maze-like structures had become a breeding ground for “terrorists”.

The demolitions prompted militants who chafe under Saudi rule to clash with government forces, bringing death and destruction on a scale that evoked comparisons to a war zone.

The outer walls of buildings and mosques are constellations of bullet holes. Mangled carcasses of burned-out cars lay strewn across its once-vibrant streets. Broken roller shutters expose mouldering jars of jam and cookies in a scorched grocery store.

A government official who gave AFP a rare tour of Musawara drew a triangle in the sand with a twig to describe the fighting.

“Terrorists,” he said, pointing at the apex of the triangle and “government forces” at the base.

“In between, house, house, house,” he said, explaining how pitched battles between the opposing sides wrought destruction on the neighbourhood.

In August, the government announced the end of a three-month campaign to flush out gunmen from Musawara. Protest messages on walls bearing insults to the government were scrubbed.

“This is not a Shia-Sunni problem; this is a terrorist problem,” the official said, revealing a cell phone image of a bullet-ridden government bulldozer targeted by snipers in the neighbourhood.

“We target anyone who is dangerous for the country ?- Shia or Sunni.”

– ‘Tired, tired, tired’ –

Awamiya, a town of around 25,000 people, has seen bouts of unrest since 2011 when protesters emboldened by the Arab Spring uprisings called for an end to perceived discrimination of Shia minorities.

Saudi Arabia’s Shiite community makes up an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the country’s population of 32 million.

Awamiya was also home to Nimr al-Nimr, a fiery Shia cleric and government critic who was executed last year on terrorism charges, sparking widespread outrage and leading to renewed tensions with regional rival Iran.

“We hope Awamiya will be restored to its former glory,” said Mohammed Ali al-Shoyoukh, an elderly resident who recently returned to the area after the fighting subsided.

“Honestly, we are tired, tired, tired,” he told AFP in the presence of the government official.

The exact number of fatalities from the clashes is unclear.

Human Rights Watch reported in August that more than a dozen people were killed, including Saudis and foreigners, in addition to five armed militants.

The interior ministry told AFP that 28 members of the security forces were killed in the wider Qatif region, which includes Awamiya, since the outbreak of unrest in 2011.

– ‘Unique heritage’ –

The government, meanwhile, is pressing ahead with the multi-million-dollar plan to redevelop the area.

The town’s acting mayor Essam al-Mulla gave AFP a video presentation of his blueprint to transform the wasteland with glass-fronted villas, fountains and shopping malls, shaded by verdant palm fronds and bordered by manicured lawns.

The construction was supposed to start three months ago, but was delayed because of fighting.

“It will now take two years to complete,” he said.

The cost of the project is unclear but Mulla said the compensation package alone for 488 Musawara homes slated for demolition would cost around 800 million riyals ($213 million).

He brushed aside criticism from the United Nations that the destruction would erase the neighbourhood’s “unique regional heritage”, saying that efforts were in place to maintain ancient structures including traditional wells.

Despite the recent unrest, he said, a majority of residents supported the redevelopment as most homes were unsuitable for habitation.

– Uncertain future –

“Awamiya’s (residents) want government investment in their communities, but more than that they’re demanding an end to discrimination,” said Adam Coogle, a HRW researcher.

“Saudi Arabia’s violent approach to destroying the Musawara neighbourhood and the many allegations of harm to residents during the process are unlikely to reassure Saudi Shia that the state has their best interests in mind.”

But the government official dismissed that view, saying the latest unrest ended in part with the support of local residents, many of whom spied on militant hideouts, leading to a number of targeted killings and arrests.

“There are still some terrorists at large, but their number is small,” he said, pointing at a school inside Musawara that he claimed the militants occupied as a launchpad for sniper raids.

But government forces themselves face allegations of occupying a public school, firing into populated areas and shutting down clinics and pharmacies to deny militants a chance to seek medical treatment, according to activists cited by HRW.

An activist in Awamiya said a tenuous calm had settled over the area, with random episodes of “arrests and harassment” still rattling residents.

“The town has a heavy security presence and is still surrounded by concrete walls and checkpoints,” he said, adding that the blockade was having an impact on farming and fishing communities as well as local merchants.

“The situation has calmed down but the future looks uncertain.”

by Anuj Chopra
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Saudis Stress Commitment to Economic Change Despite Challenges — Power and influence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is starting to wane

September 11, 2017

Riyadh has backtracked on some moves recently, and there are worries about a public backlash

Saudi Arabia sought to reassure citizens and potential investors of its commitment to revamp the country’s oil-dependent economy after a series of setbacks that slowed the effort.

The government has backtracked on some politically-sensitive moves in recent months, postponing an increase in fuel prices and reinstating some government employee perks. It is now redrafting part of the plan to allow more time for implementation.

Read the rest:

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Saudi Arabia is reportedly revising its ambitious plans to change its economy

  • Saudi Arabia is revising its major reform strategy just over a year after its launch.
  • The timeline of some targets has been extended and others have been removed entirely.
  • The National Transformation Plan is an attempt by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to reduce the kingdom’s dependence on oil.

Saudi Deputy Crown Prince, Defence Minister and Chairman of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs Mohammed bin Salman.

Fayez Nureldine | AFP | Getty Images
Saudi Deputy Crown Prince, Defence Minister and Chairman of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Arabia is revising its major reform strategy just over a year after its launch, extending the timeline of some targets and removing others entirely, according to reports.

A government document seen by the Financial Times said that the country’s amended National Transformation Plan, dubbed NTP 2.0, would “change existing initiatives and add new ones.” Saudi Arabia’s National Transformation Plan is a pivotal element of the country’s “Vision 2030” reforms which were announced last year by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This redraft reportedly updates the plans which were originally set out to overhaul the economy and reduce what the deputy crown prince called Saudi Arabia’s “dangerous addiction to oil.”

The program had aimed to use a number of measures to wean the country off oil by 2020. These included privatizing state assets, creating 1.2 million private sector jobs and reducing unemployment from 11.6 percent to 9 percent.

Yet, according to insiders, the delays announced Thursday highlight the ambitious nature of the mammoth task. As the world’s leading oil exporter, the oil and gas sector accounts for 85 percent of Saudi Arabia’s export earnings and around 50 percent of its gross domestic product, according to OPEC.

“There is a recognition that too many of these targets were too aggressive and maybe having too much impact on the economy,” a government adviser told the Financial Times.

A view The King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) on April 13, 2016 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

David Degner | Getty Images
A view The King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) on April 13, 2016 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has been dogged by compressed oil prices since they slumped in mid-2014 and has been leading a measure by OPEC countries to reduce an ongoing supply glut. Figures from the International Monetary Fund predict that the Kingdom’s economic growth will be just 0.1 percent this year, versus 1.7 percent in 2016.

The government document stated that the timeline of the NTP will continue to 2020, but that implementation of certain projects would be extended to between 2025 and 2030.

However, advisors have suggested that the delays could hurt the country’s hopes of attracting international investment.

“Flexibility is great, but changing the goalposts isn’t a healthy habit,” another government advisor said to the Financial Times.

The amends made no reference to the partial privatization of Saudi Aramco as it sits outside of the NTP. Five percent of the state oil company is expected to be put up for an initial public offering next year.

Full details of the changes are expected to be announced in October.

Saudi Arabia’s king to soon abdicate

The news comes as discussions heat up around the anticipated transfer of power from the Kingdom’s King Salman to his son Prince Mohammed.

A research note released Thursday by analysis firm Eurasia Group suggested that the transfer could occur within the coming weeks to prevent the likelihood of dissent from other members of the ruling family.

“We think King Salman will proceed with promoting his son to his place in the next few weeks (if not imminently) to prevent MBS’s (Mohammed bin Salman) rivals from organizing to challenge the transition plan,” Ayham Kamel, practice head, Middle East & North Africa, at Eurasia Group noted.

But analysts have opined that the revisions indicate that infighting is already underway.

“Reports that the Saudi government is planning to dilute its reform plans may be the first sign that the power and influence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is starting to wane and that broader opposition to reform is building,” Jason Tuvey, Middle East economist for Capital Economics, wrote in a research note.

“There’s a clear risk that the reforms, which already fell short in a number of key areas, will be watered down even further.”

“This supports our long-held view that Vision 2030 will fall short of its lofty intentions,” Tuvey added.

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Saudi-led bloc deny progress made in Qatar dispute — White House Meeting Looks Good But is “Only a Joke” — Qatar Still Allied With Iran, “Now More Than Ever”

September 8, 2017

AFP

© AFP | US President Donald Trump and Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah shake hands during a press conference at the White House on September 7, 2017

RIYADH (AFP) – A Saudi-led bloc of countries hostile to Qatar on Friday challenged statements by the Kuwaiti emir, denying his mediation has seen progress in finding a solution to the Gulf dispute.Saudi Arabia as well as the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar in June, accusing it of bankrolling Islamist extremist groups.

Qatar, a gas-rich Gulf emirate, denies the claims and accuses the four countries of an attack on its sovereignty.

In Washington on Thursday, Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah gave an upbeat assessment of his mediation efforts during a joint news conference with US President Donald Trump.

In a statement early Friday, the Saudi-led bloc questioned the emir’s statement that Qatar would be willing to accept their 13 demands.

“Dialogue on the implementation of the demands should not be preceded by any conditions,” they said in the joint statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

They also voiced “regret” about the Kuwaiti ruler’s statement “on the success of mediation in stopping military intervention”.

Instead, the four Arab states stressed in their joint statement that “the military option has not been and will not be considered in any case.”

During Thursday’s news conference, Trump offered to mediate in the crisis, saying he believed the dispute could be solved “fairly easily”.

Riyadh and Doha are both key allies of the United States. Trump chose Saudi Arabia for his first overseas visit as president in May, two weeks before the Gulf crisis erupted.

Qatar is meanwhile home to a huge US air base, where the headquarters of Centcom — the regional command which leads operations against the Islamic State jihadist group — is based.

Peace and Freedom Note:

The Saudi’s Number 1 goal of the boycott has been a divorce between Qatar and Iran. That has not happened. In fact, Iran rescued Qatar from the boycott…

Related:

Shiite corridor from Tehran to Damascus)

UN chief calls for reopening of Yemen port, airport

August 27, 2017

AFP

© AFP | UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (C) arrives for a visit to Kuwait’s national assembly in Kuwait City on August 27, 2017
KUWAIT CITY (AFP) – UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Sunday urged warring parties in Yemen to allow humanitarian aid into the country amid a political stalemate that has seen violence spill into Sanaa.

“We are doing are best to create the conditions for the present stalemate to be overcome,” Guterres said after talks in Kuwait, which is leading mediation efforts in crises across the region.

His comments come after tension between Yemeni ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh and his ally Abdul Malik al-Huthi, who control the capital Sanaa, escalated into armed clashes that left two rebels and a pro-Saleh colonel dead late Saturday.

Since 2014, the Saleh-Huthi alliance has fought the UN-recognised government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi for control of the impoverished country.

Witnesses in the capital said the ex-president’s forces had spread in southern parts of the city near the presidential offices, which Saleh still holds despite resigning in 2012.

A Saudi-led coalition supporting the Hadi government imposed an air and sea blockade on all rebel-held territory in March 2015 and tightened it in August last year saying it was the only way to stop weapons smuggling.

Guterres said the UN was trying to facilitate the re-opening of the country’s main international airport in Sanaa as well as the Hodeida port, a key entry point for aid also in rebel-held territory.

“We will be working very closely with the (parties) to see when and how a new strong initiative will be possible,” he told a news conference.

More than 8,400 civilians have been killed and 47,800 wounded since the Arab coalition joined the war in 2015, according to the World Health Organization.

Another 2,000 people have died of cholera in a deadly outbreak that has spread across Yemen since April.

Long the poorest country in the Arab world, millions of Yemeni now stand at the brink of famine, according to the United Nations.

Deadly clashes in Yemen rebel ranks spark fears of more treason and back-stabbing

August 27, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Jamil Nasser | Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh remains the head of his General People’s Congress party, whose 35th anniversary was marked with a mass rally in Sanaa on August 24
SANAA (AFP) – A Yemeni colonel loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and two rebels have been killed in Sanaa, in an unprecedented escalation of violence between the allies that Saleh’s party warns threatens to push the capital into all-out war.An anti-government alliance between Saleh and rebel leader Abdul Malik al-Huthi has crumbled over the past week, with the two accusing each other of treason and back-stabbing.

Witnesses in the capital, which Saleh and Huthi jointly control, said the ex-president’s forces had spread in southern parts of the city near the presidential offices, which Saleh still holds despite resigning in 2012.

They said the forces had deployed in Sabaeen Square and the district of Hadda.

Saleh’s General People’s Congress party said in a statement on Sunday that “remaining silent on the incident would open the door to strife that would be difficult to contain”.

Colonel Khaled al-Rida, the deputy head of foreign relations in the GPC, was killed in the clashes between supporters of Saleh and Abdul Malik al-Huthi late Saturday, the statement said.

A source within the GPC said the clashes erupted at a Huthi rebel checkpoint in Hadda after a dispute between fighters manning the checkpoint and armed supporters of Saleh who were driving by.

The rebel-run Saba news agency said two members of the Popular Committees, a tribal alliance largely dominated by the Huthis, were also killed.

Saleh and Huthi joined ranks in 2014 in a shock alliance that drove the internationally recognised government out of Sanaa and into the southern province of Aden.

From its inception, analysts have viewed the alliance as a tactical move by both sides, with rebels exploiting Saleh’s political power and the former president benefitting from the Huthi’s guns on the ground.

– War of words –

But in the past week, a war of words between Saleh and Huthi has escalated, with Saleh hinting that his allies were merely “a militia” and the rebels warning the former president was a “back-stabber” and “traitor” who would “bear the consequences” of the insult.

The most recent clashes have added fuel to the fire, with the GPC statement accusing a “group that knows no morality or oaths” of being behind the colonel’s killing — a thinly-veiled reference to the Huthis.

The Huthis reportedly suspect Saleh has been negotiating with a Saudi-led military coalition that supports the Aden-based government.

Saleh, meanwhile, is said to be displeased with the Huthis’ newfound power in the capital, where they run a number of key offices.

The Saudi-led coalition entered Yemen’s war in March 2015 in support of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi’s government against the Iran-backed rebels and Saleh.

The war has since then pushed the country to the brink of famine, and killed more than 8,400 civilians — including in coalition air strikes.

The coalition on Saturday claimed responsibility for an air strike in the Yemeni capital that killed 14 civilians the previous day, which it called a “technical mistake”.

On Friday, the United Nations human rights office that air raids by the coalition had killed 42 civilians in Yemen in the past week, with multiple children among the dead.

The country also faces a deadly cholera outbreak that has claimed nearly 2,000 lives and affected more than half a million people since late April.

by Jamil Nasser

Qatar Welcomes Saudi Border Opening, Even if ‘Politically-Motivated’

August 17, 2017

STOCKHOLM — Qatar welcomes the opening of the Saudi-Qatari border enabling Qataris to go on pilgrimage to Mecca, even if the move is politically-motivated, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said on Thursday.

“Despite the fact it’s been politically-motivated to ban the Qatari people from haj and politically that they allow them … we welcome such a step, which is a step forward to get rid of this blockade which is imposed against my country,” Sheikh Mohammed told a news conference on a visit to Sweden.

(Reporting by Daniel Dickson, Anna Ringstrom and Sylvia Westall in Dubai, Writing by William Maclean; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Saudi Arabia and Israel Agree on Al Jazeera

August 11, 2017

There are still honourable Israelis who demand a state for the Palestinians; there are well-educated Saudis who object to the crazed Wahabism upon which their kingdom is founded; there are millions of Americans, from sea to shining sea, who do not believe that Iran is their enemy nor Saudi Arabia their friend. But the problem today in both East and West is that our governments are not our friends

By Robert Fisk

The Independent 

may-saudi.jpgTheresa May has already suppressed a report so it wouldn’t upset the Saudis. And we wonder why we go to war with the Middle East AFP

When Qatar’s Al Jazeera satellite channel has both the Saudis and the Israelis demanding its closure, it must be doing something right. To bring Saudi head-choppers and Israeli occupiers into alliance is, after all, something of an achievement.

But don’t get too romantic about this. When the wealthiest Saudis fall ill, they have been known to fly into Tel Aviv on their private jets for treatment in Israel’s finest hospitals. And when Saudi and Israeli fighter-bombers take to the air, you can be sure they’re going to bomb Shiites – in Yemen or Syria respectively – rather than Sunnis.

And when King Salman – or rather Saudi Arabia’s whizz-kid Crown Prince Mohammad – points the finger at Iran as the greatest threat to Gulf security, you can be sure that Bibi Netanyahu will be doing exactly and precisely the same thing, replacing “Gulf security”, of course, with “Israeli security”. But it’s an odd business when the Saudis set the pace of media suppression only to be supported by that beacon of freedom, democracy, human rights and liberty known in song and legend as Israel, or the State of Israel or, as Bibi and his cabinet chums would have it, the Jewish State of Israel.

So let’s run briefly through the latest demonstration of Israeli tolerance towards the freedom of expression that all of us support, nurture, love, adore, regard as a cornerstone of our democracy, and so on, and so on, and so on. For this week, Ayoob Kara, the Israeli communications minister, revealed plans to take away the credentials of Al Jazeera’s Israeli-based journalists, close its Jerusalem bureau and take the station’s broadcasts from local cable and satellite providers.

Al Jazeera exclusive: Former leader of al-Nusra Front confirming split from al-Qaeda

This, announced Ayoob Kara – an Israeli Druze (and thus an Arab Likud minister) who is a lifelong supporter of the colonisation by Jews of Israeli-occupied Arab land in the West Bank – would “bring a situation that channels based in Israel will report objectively”. In other words, threaten them. Bring them into line.

Bibi Netanyahu long ago accused Al Jazeera of inciting violence in Jerusalem, especially in its reporting of the recent Jerusalem killings – but since just about every foreign journalist in and outside Israel who has dared to be critical of the state has at one time or another been accused of incitement as well as anti-Semitism and other lies, this is just par for the course.

Personally, I have found Al Jazeera’s reporting from Israel pretty pathetic, its fawning reverence for the state all too painfully illustrated when its Qatar anchorwoman expressed to an Israeli government spokesman live on air her channel’s condolences on the death of Ariel Sharon, the monstrous Israeli ex-defence minister who was held responsible for the massacre of up to 1,700 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacres of 1982.

Ayoob Kara, however, has actually taken his cue from his fellow Arabs. And he admits it. Israel had to take steps, he said, against “media, which has been determined by almost all Arab countries to actually be a supporter of terror, and we know this for certain”. So the Israelis, it appears, now receive lessons on media freedoms from “Arab countries”. Not just the Saudis, of course, but from “almost all Arab countries” whose unfettered media – one thinks at once of the untrammelled liberal press of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Algeria and yes, “almost” the entire media of the Gulf – are bastions of truth-telling, hard-hitting opponents of authoritarian regimes, constitutionally protected from dictatorial abuse. Forgive the hollow laughter. But is this really how Israel wants to define itself?

Well, yes it is, I suppose. For if an unwritten alliance really exists between Saudi Arabia and Israel, then all options – as US presidents and secretary Hillary Clinton used to say – are “on the table”.

Imprisonment without trial, extrajudicial executions, human rights abuses, corruption, military rule – let’s say this at once: all these characteristics belong to “almost all” Sunni Muslim Arab nations – and to Israel in the lands it occupies. And as for being a “supporter of terror” (I quote Israeli minister Kara again), one must first ask why Sunni Gulf Arabs have exported their fighters – and their money – to the most vicious Sunni Islamists in the Middle East. And then ask why Israel has never bombed these same vile creatures – indeed, ask why Israel has given hospital treatment to wounded fighters from the Sunni al-Nusra – in other words, al-Qaeda, the perpetrators of 9/11 – while attacking Shiite Hezbollah and Alawite (Shiite) led-Syria, and threatened to bombard Shiite Iran itself which is a project, I should add, of which Kara himself is all in favour.

Nor must we forget that America’s insane President and his weird regime is also part of the Saudi-Israeli anti-Shiite confederation. Trump’s obscene $350bn arms sales to the Saudis, his fingering of Iran and his hatred of the world’s press and television channels makes him an intimate part of the same alliance. Indeed, when you look at one of Trump’s saner predecessors – George W Bush, who also hated Iran, kowtowed to the Saudis and actually talked to Tony Blair of bombing Al Jazeera’s own headquarters in Qatar, he who made sure the wealthy bin Laden family were flown out of the States after 9/11 – this American-Saudi-Israeli covenant has a comparatively long history.

Being an irrational optimist, there’s an innocent side of my scratched journalistic hide that still believes in education and wisdom and compassion. There are still honourable Israelis who demand a state for the Palestinians; there are well-educated Saudis who object to the crazed Wahhabism upon which their kingdom is founded; there are millions of Americans, from sea to shining sea, who do not believe that Iran is their enemy nor Saudi Arabia their friend. But the problem today in both East and West is that our governments are not our friends. They are our oppressors or masters, suppressors of the truth and allies of the unjust.

Netanyahu wants to close down Al Jazeera’s office in Jerusalem. Crown Prince Mohammad wants to close down Al Jazeera’s office in Qatar. Bush actually did bomb Al Jazeera’s offices in Kabul and Baghdad. Theresa May decided to hide a government report on funding “terrorism”, lest it upset the Saudis – which is precisely the same reason Blair closed down a UK police enquiry into alleged BAE-Saudi bribery 10 years earlier.

And we wonder why we go to war in the Middle East. And we wonder why Sunni Isis exists, un-bombed by Israel, funded by Sunni Gulf Arabs, its fellow Sunni Salafists cosseted by our wretched presidents and prime ministers. I guess we better keep an eye on Al Jazeera – while it’s still around.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/al-jazeera-saudi-arabia-israel-policy-terrorism-isis-iran-prince-mohamed-netanyahu-a7885851.html

Two Soldiers, Six Al Qaeda Militants Die in Yemen Attack: Official

August 8, 2017

ADEN — Two soldiers and six suspected al Qaeda attackers were killed and 10 soldiers wounded on Tuesday when a suicide bomber and gunmen tried to storm an army camp in southern Yemen, a local security official said.

Al Qaeda has exploited more than two years of civil war between President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s internationally- backed government and the Iran-aligned Houthis to try to deepen its influence in Yemen, repeatedly launching bomb and gun attacks on security forces, government officials and compounds.

“This was a terrorist attack and it has been foiled,” the official said of the attack in Juhayn, Abyan province.

The Yemeni army has been preparing to deploy across Abyan to try to drive al Qaeda militants out of the province, local officials have said.

Last week, Yemeni forces, backed by U.S. and UAE soldiers, deployed in neighboring Shabwa province where al Qaeda also operates. Local residents and officials said the militants withdrew into the mountains without a fight.

In March, 11 people were killed in a suicide bombing and gun attack by suspected al Qaeda militants on a local government compound in al-Houta, provincial capital of Lahj – another southern province.

(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Yemeni man executed for rape, murder of 3-year-old

July 31, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Yemeni security forces prepare to execute a man convicted of raping and murdering a three-year-old girl at a public square in Yemen’s capital Sanaa on July 31, 2017

SANAA (AFP) – Thousands of people gathered in the rebel-held Yemeni capital Monday to witness the public execution of a man convicted of raping and murdering a three-year-old girl.

Mohammed al-Moghrabi, 41, was sentenced to death for the June 25 rape and murder by a court run by the Shiite Huthi rebels who control Sanaa.

The gruesome crime coincided with the first day of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, and sparked anger among the population.

Moghrabi was first given 100 lashes and then made to lie flat, his face on the ground, and killed by multiple gunshots by security forces to cheers from the crowd.

Police said they escorted him to Tahrir square where he was executed amid fears the angry crowd could lynch him.

The public execution was widely aired on Huthi-run media in Yemen, framed as an example of the Shiite rebels’ efforts to combat crime in their areas.

The Iran-backed Huthis have been locked in war with the Saudi-backed internationally-recognised government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi for two years.

More than 8,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in the conflict, while nearly 2,000 have died of cholera since April.

The United Nations has described Yemen as “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world,” with 10 million civilians in acute need of life-saving aid as the country teeters on the edge of famine.

Saudi lets Qataris go on hajj, despite diplomatic row

July 20, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | A picture taken on September 9, 2016 shows a general view of Muslim pilgrims from all around the world circling around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque, in the Saudi city of Mecca

RIYADH (AFP) – Saudi Arabia said Thursday that Qataris wanting to perform this year’s hajj will be authorised to enter the kingdom for the pilgrimage, despite a diplomatic spat between the two countries.

In a statement, the Saudi hajj ministry said Qataris and residents of the Gulf emirate could join the pilgrimage as they were already “electronically registered for the hajj” and they had the necessary permits from Riyadh and Doha.

But the ministry has imposed restrictions on Qatari pilgrims arriving by plane, saying they must use airlines in agreement with the Saudi authorities.

They also needed to get visas on arrival in Jeddah or Medina, their sole points of entry in the kingdom, the ministry added.

The hajj, a pillar of Islam that capable Muslims must perform at least once in a lifetime, is to take place this year at the beginning of September.

Saudi Arabia and its allies Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties and imposed sanctions on Doha in June, including the closure of their airspace to Qatari airlines.

The four Arab states accuse Qatar of supporting extremists and of growing too close to Shiite-dominated Iran, the regional arch-rival of Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia.