Posts Tagged ‘United Arab Emirates’

Saudi Arabia slams ‘racial discrimination’ of Israeli law — “Israel is trying to obliterate the Palestinians”

July 21, 2018


Saudi Arabia has slammed a controversial Israeli law as “perpetuating racial discrimination” against Palestinians by defining the country as the nation state of the Jewish people, state media reported.

The law adopted by Israel’s parliament on Thursday also defines the establishment of Jewish communities as being in the national interest and downgrades Arabic from an official language to one with special status.

Citing a Saudi foreign ministry source, the official Saudi Press Agency said late Friday the kingdom “rejects and disapproves” of the new legislation which it argued contradicts international law.

The source called on the international community to “confront such a law and or other Israeli attempts, aimed at perpetuating racial discrimination against the Palestinian people”, SPA reported.

Saudi Arabia said the adoption of the law would also be a barrier to ending the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Image result for King Salman, crown prince, MBS, photos

Earlier this year King Salman reaffirmed Saudi Arabia’s “steadfast” support for the Palestinian cause, after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman signalled a shift in the country’s approach.

Prince Mohammed in April said in a magazine interview that Israelis as well as Palestinians “have the right to have their own land”.

Arab citizens account for some 17.5 percent of Israel’s more than eight million population and have long complained of discrimination.

The Israeli legislation was also condemned by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, comprised of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Teargas canisters fired by Israeli troops fall over Palestinians during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, Friday, July 13, 2018 (Wissam Nassar/Flash90)

Teargas canisters fired by Israeli troops fall over Palestinians during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, Friday, July 13, 2018 (Wissam Nassar/Flash90)

Adoption of the law “reflected the regime of racism and discrimination against the Palestinian people,” GCC secretary general Abdullatif al-Zayani was quoted by SPA as saying.

Zayani accused Israel of trying to obliterate the Palestinians’ “national identity and depriving them of their legitimate civil and human rights on their occupied homeland”.




Amnesty fears ‘war crimes’ in Yemeni prisons run by UAE

July 12, 2018

Human rights violations in a string of Yemeni prisons run by the United Arab Emirates could amount to war crimes, Amnesty International said Thursday.

It called for investigations by the UAE and allies including the United States into a network of unofficial prisons across southern Yemen where it said “egregious violations” have been committed, including enforced disappearances and torture.

© Ahmad Al-Basha / AFP | Security forces in Taez, southern Yemen, on July 2, 2018.

“Ultimately these violations, which are taking place in the context of Yemen’s armed conflict, should be investigated as war crimes,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty’s crisis response director.

“The UAE’s counter-terrorism partners, including the USA, must also take a stand against allegations of torture, including by investigating the role of US personnel in detention-related abuses in Yemen, and by refusing to use information that was likely obtained through torture or other ill-treatment.”

The UAE has denied involvement in prisons across southern Yemen.

The Gulf state has played a key role in a Saudi-led military intervention since 2015 to bolster Yemen’s President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi against Iran-backed Huthi rebels.

Both loyalist and rebel forces stand accused of failing to protect civilians in a war that has killed nearly 10,000 people, 2,200 of them children, and pushed the country to the brink of famine.

Amnesty International said it had investigated 51 cases of enforced disappearance at the hands of UAE-backed forces between March 2016 and May 2018.

Nineteen of the men remain missing, it said.

Amnesty said it had collected testimonies from released detainees and relatives of the missing across Yemen.

One former detainee told Amnesty that “UAE soldiers at a coalition base in Aden repeatedly inserted an object into his anus until he bled” and that he was “kept in a hole in the ground with only his head above the surface and left to defecate and urinate on himself in that position”.

Since joining the Yemen war in 2015, the UAE has trained, equipped and funded Yemeni security forces known as the Security Belt and Elite Forces.

The UAE has also “built alliances” with Yemeni security officials, bypassing the government, according to Amnesty.

On Monday the UAE minister for international cooperation, Reem al-Hashimi, met with Yemen’s president and interior minister, who “insisted on the need to close the prisons and place them under judicial control”, according to Yemeni state media.


Pompeo to stress need to boost pressure on Iran on NATO sidelines

July 10, 2018

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Brussels on Tuesday, where he plans meetings on the sidelines of the NATO summit aimed at stepping up pressure on Iran and reassuring allies about alternative oil supplies, a State Department official said.

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan meet at the Al Shati Palace in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, July 10, 2018. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS

Pompeo flew from Abu Dhabi, where he discussed Iran with leaders of the United Arab Emirates. Senior State Department officials have also completed three days of talks on Iran in Saudi Arabia, and “discussed new ways to deprive the regime of revenues,” a State Department official told reporters traveling on Pompeo’s plane.

“In our meeting with the Saudi energy minister, we discussed maintaining a well-stocked oil market to guard against volatility,” he said. “We discussed U.S. oil sanctions to deny Iran revenue to fight against terrorism. We talked about minimizing market disruptions and helping partners find alternatives to Iran oil.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan talk as they meet at the Al Shati Palace in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, July 10, 2018. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS

At NATO, Pompeo would discuss Iran with ministers from Britain, France and Germany, and in other bilateral meetings, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He said a meeting with political directors of the so-called E-3 countries of France, Germany and Britain, who signed an international agreement on Iran that the Trump administration has withdrawn from, would now be held in Brussels on Wednesday or Thursday. He said it was postponed for a couple of days due to scheduling issues.

The United States pulled out of a multinational deal in May to lift sanctions against Iran in return for curbs to its nuclear program. Washington has since told countries they must halt all imports of Iranian oil from Nov. 4 or face U.S. financial measures, with no exemptions.

Since Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement, European states have been scrambling to ensure Iran gets enough economic benefits to persuade it to maintain the nuclear curbs required in the deal.

But so far it has proven difficult to offset the impact of continued U.S. sanctions, with European firms reluctant to risk far-reaching U.S. financial penalties to do business in Iran.

“No matter how much people write about trans-Atlantic rifts, in the case of Iran we agree on much more than we disagree,” the U.S. official said. “The European nations are as frustrated as we are with Iran’s missile program, the missile attacks that they are facilitating.”


Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by David Alexander; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

Saudi Arabia says it intercepts Houthi missile launched at Jizan

July 10, 2018

Saudi Arabia’s air defense forces intercepted a missile launched toward the kingdom’s southwestern Jizan region by Yemen’s armed Houthi movement, state media said on Tuesday.

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Yemen’s Houthis launch a ballistic missile into Saudi Arabia. Screenshot from al-Masirah TV

The Houthi-run al-Masirah TV said earlier that a Badr 1 missile had targeted Jizan Economic City, where Saudi Aramco is building a 400,000-barrel-per-day refinery that is expected to become fully operational in 2019.

There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.

The Iran-aligned Houthis, who control Yemen’s capital Sanaa, have fired dozens of missiles into the kingdom in recent months, part of a three-year-old conflict widely seen as a proxy battle between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran. Most of the missiles have been intercepted by the Saudi military.

A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates  intervened in Yemen’s war in 2015 to unseat the Houthis and restore the internationally-recognized government in exile.

The Western-backed coalition has made no major gains in an offensive launched a month ago to wrest control of Yemen’s Hodeidah port from the Houthis, leaving it without the decisive increase in leverage it had sought against the group in U.N.-sponsored peace efforts.

Reporting by Marwa Rashad and Stephen Kalin; Editing by John Stonestreet, William Maclean


Turkey: Erdogan Wanted an Empire but Must Settle for an Unloved Country

July 1, 2018

Turkey’s alliance with Iran, Qatar and Russia, and its incursion in northern Syria versus the Kurds are just some of the moves that ruined its ‘zero problems with neighbors’ policy


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and officials at an opening ceremony for a mosque at a military school in Ankara, June 29, 2018.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and officials at an opening ceremony for a mosque at a military school in Ankara, June 29, 2018. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Reuters

The Sheraton Hotel in the Qatari capital of Doha was lit up in the colors of the Turkish flag Sunday. Qatar’s ruler, Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, was one of the first to congratulate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his electoral victory and that of his party.

Erdogan and the emir are close friends. Turkey was the first country to offer assistance to Qatar a year ago when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates imposed a brutal economic boycott on it. Turkey lambasted the boycott, rushed goods to Qatar and beefed up its military presence in the emirate to warn the other Gulf states not to attack it. Ankara also pressured Washington to mediate between Qatar and the Gulf states.

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The economic benefits of Turkey’s ties with Qatar aren’t substantial for a country whose gross domestic product is almost $900 billion. But its close relationship with Doha, an Iranian ally, is an important element of Erdogan’s effort to boost Turkey’s status as an influential power in the Middle East.

Turkey’s strategy of seeking to shape, or at least be party to shaping, a new Mideast order wasn’t born with Erdogan’s election as president. Its ties with Qatar are part of a network of relationships Ankara has been working on for almost eight years since the Syrian civil war began.

Before the war, Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy was supposed to turn it into a bridge between East and West, between Europe, America and the Middle East, and thereby into a country capable of leading moves in the region. But the war taught it the limitations of this strategy.

Erdogan’s severance of his personal ties with Syrian President Bashar Assad and his new policy of trying to oust the Assad regime due to its massacre of its own people symbolized the revolution in Erdogan’s approach. It also put Turkey in opposition to Iran.

Yet the expected rift between Turkey and Iran was avoided, mainly due to shared economic interests. Iran, at that time still under harsh international sanctions, needed an ally like Turkey, which skirted the sanctions by buying oil from Iran and paying it in gold via the UAE. Both countries also had a long-standing interest in blocking Kurdish aspirations for independence and agreed on the need to fight the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK.

.The emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, May 2018.

The emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, May 2018.AP

Nevertheless, Erdogan’s ties with Tehran created a dilemma for him. In 2015, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman formed a “Sunni coalition” against Iran and embarked on a war in Yemen, led by his son Mohammed. Salman then recruited Turkey into the coalition, giving it, for the first time, the status of a partner in the Arab Middle East, which had traditionally seen Turkey as alien at best and hostile at worst. The common denominator between the secular Turkish republic and the Wahhabi kingdom was loathing for Assad and a desire to oust him.

Saudi and Egyptian enmity

But Turkey never agreed to serve as a brake on Iran, it didn’t join the war in Yemen, and Salman soon realized that their partnership empowered Turkey without making any real contribution to advancing his own interests. The Saudi media began “reconsidering” the alliance with Turkey and describing Erdogan as an authoritarian ruler. Recently, a UAE ambassador even declared Turkey a threat to the region and said the Americans didn’t understand the gravity of this threat.

Arab hostility to Turkey was led by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi. Shortly after taking over the presidency in July 2013, Sissi not only began persecuting the Muslim Brotherhood, but also imposed an economic boycott on Turkey, which refused to accept his rule as legitimate. Erdogan said Sissi had taken power in a military coup and demanded the restoration of the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government. Sissi canceled Egypt’s trade agreements with Turkey, urged Egyptians not to travel to Turkey or fly with Turkish airlines, and blew up Turkey’s hopes of using Egypt as a commercial bridge to Africa.

Not much was left of the “zero problems with neighbors” policy created and led by a political science professor, Ahmet Davutoglu, who served as Erdogan’s foreign minister and then, after Erdogan became president in 2014, as his prime minister. Turkey’s rift with Syria and Egypt, its chilly relations with the Gulf states and its hostile relations with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which stemmed from its support for Hamas, all distanced Erdogan’s dream of becoming a pivotal country, if they didn’t utterly destroy it.

It’s simplistic to say Erdogan aspired to reestablish the Ottoman Empire and make himself sultan. Still, Turkey’s poor relationships with other countries in the region, its declining influence on regional conflicts, its alliance with Iran, Qatar and Russia – which at least for now are considered the nemeses of the Arab Middle East – and its takeover of land in northern Syria in its battle against the Kurds have all made Arab states increase their efforts to thwart Ankara. Thus no new Ottoman Empire will ever be born of Erdogan’s dream; his “sultanate” will end at Turkey’s borders.

But it’s not only Mideast leaders who loathe Erdogan. He has also been engaged in a bitter feud with the United States that has descended into mutual threats. In fact, “duel” would be a better word than “relationship” to describe the ties.

.Celebrants in Istanbul after the election victory of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, June 24, 2018.

Celebrants in Istanbul after the election victory of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, June 24, 2018.Aris Messinis / AFP

Turkey’s list of grievances starts with the refusal of both the Obama and Trump administrations to extradite preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan accuses of plotting the failed coup against him in July 2016. Next, Erdogan assailed the American legal system and the U.S. administration over a court ruling convicting the vice president of Turkey’s state bank of circumventing sanctions on Iran. And finally, Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy there drove Erdogan wild.

Russian missiles for Turkey

But the heart of Erdogan’s spat with Washington is the assistance America gave the Syrian Kurds in the war against the Islamic State. Erdogan sees this close relationship as a plot to abet Kurdish terror against Turkey.

He could make a similar accusation against Russia, which also sees the Kurds as essential allies in any diplomatic process to end the Syrian civil war. But having been burned by the economic boycott Russia imposed on Ankara after Turkey downed a Russian plane near the Turkish-Syrian border three years ago, Erdogan has been very careful not to antagonize Moscow. To reconcile with Russia, he had to withdraw his adamant opposition to Assad remaining in power and join the coalition Moscow formed with Tehran to launch a diplomatic process in Syria.

Washington, which didn’t get too upset over Erdogan’s suppression of intellectuals and political rivals or his massive violations of human rights, was furious when Turkey signed an agreement to buy Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air missile system. A battle is now being waged on Capitol Hill to prevent Turkey from buying the F-35 fighter jet in order to punish Ankara for the S-400 purchase, which Turkey’s American opponents say will undermine NATO’s defense coordination.

The one ray of light in Turkey’s relations with Washington in recent weeks was a deal over control of the Syrian city and province of Manbij, which had previously been controlled by the Kurds. Under this agreement, Turkish and American forces will conduct joint patrols of the city and the province once the Kurds, whose presence was the reason Turkey threatened to capture the city, have withdrawn.

The city and province of Afrin, however, are still under Turkish control, and Turkey even opened a branch of Harran University there, staffed by Turkish and Syrian faculty. The Kurds had to accept the American dictate, but they found a way to even the balance. With Russia’s support, they began direct negotiations with the Assad regime over their future in Syria. One likely result is that the Kurdish minority, acting in cooperation with the Syrian government, will deprive Turkey of its pretext for being in Syria.

Turkey’s intervention in Syria has also enraged Iran, which rejected Ankara’s request for cooperation in its war against the PKK in Iraq’s Qandil Mountains. “Military action against the territory of another state is illegal,” Iran said in a statement, hinting broadly that it also considers Turkey’s military presence in Syria unacceptable.

Thus Erdogan’s electoral victory won’t help him conduct a foreign policy that could extricate him safely from the thicket of regional interests that has entangled him. For now, Turkey’s international relevance rests on its role in the Syrian war and on the European Union’s dependence on an agreement with Ankara that largely blocked the flow of Syrian refugees to its member states.

Yet even Europe is sick of Turkey. “Turkey has been moving further away from the European Union,” EU foreign ministers said in a statement after a recent meeting in Brussels. “Turkey’s accession negotiations have therefore effectively come to a standstill,” and “no further work … is foreseen.”

UAE says it wants Yemen peace deal but Houthis must leave Hodeidah

June 26, 2018

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) said on Tuesday an Arab coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen was cooperating with a U.N. envoy to end fighting, but the Houthis must quit the port city of Hodeidah as a condition for any peace deal.

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© AFP | Emitari-backed Yemeni government forces advance into Hodeida (Hodeidah) airport on June 19, 2018 in a major step towards recapturing the strategic Red Sea port city from Shiite rebels. .UAE-backed Yemeni government forces fought their way into Hodeida airport today, pressing an offensive that has seen some of the most intense fighting of a three-year war against Shiite Huthi rebels.

U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths is visiting the southern city of Aden on Wednesday for talks with ousted President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in the exiled government’s temporary capital, after similar talks with the Houthis in Sanaa last week.

The U.N. is seeking a breakthrough in the three-year-old conflict that has killed more than 10,000 and caused the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis, with millions facing starvation and disease.

The Houthis control the capital and most populated areas. The alliance of Arab states led by the UAE and Saudi Arabia has been fighting since 2015 to restore Hadi’s government, and describes the Houthis as pawns of Iran, which the Houthis deny.

The coalition launched the biggest assault of the war this month on Hodeidah, Yemen’s main port city, and seized the airport last week.

The international community fears the humanitarian crisis could sharply worsen if fighting for the port causes an interruption in aid. Forces backed by the UAE have been consolidating near the airport before a push to the seaport.

Reem al-Hashimy, the UAE minister of state for international cooperation, told reporters in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi that the coalition was in close contact with U.N. envoy Giffiths “and we do want to see this come to a positive conclusion.”

But she added: “There are really certain elements we won’t sway from … the withdrawal of Houthis from the city is essential.”

The Iran-aligned Houthis have indicated they would be willing to hand over management of Hodeidah port to the United Nations, and Washington has encouraged the Arabs to accept such a deal, Western sources have told Reuters.

However, it remains to be seen whether the Houthis could be persuaded to leave the city. They have been preparing for battle in urban areas, where the Arab states’ forces would be expected to meet tougher resistance than they have so far.

Residents told Reuters the Houthis are digging trenches, building defense berms and reinforcing their ranks with troops in Hodeidah and in other towns surrounding the city.


“People in the city are afraid to die and their only hope is that the U.N. envoy will get a peace deal and prevent the war, though nobody is optimistic because of their previous attempts,” said Houda Ahmed, a teacher in Hodeidah city.

Coalition planes kept pounding Houthi-held areas, especially towns surrounding Hodeidah. Medical sources told Reuters nine civilians were killed and 11 wounded when an air strike hit a bus in the town of Zabid, in southeast Hodeidah. The coalition did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Griffiths, the envoy, has succeeded in keeping communication channels open with the Houthi leaders, in a contrast with a predecessor who was accused of dropping neutrality.

Western countries have tacitly backed the Arab states diplomatically, and the United States, Britain and France sell them billions of dollars a year in arms. But the prospect that a major offensive could cause a humanitarian catastrophe has prompted the Western states to urge caution on their allies.

A conference in Paris on Yemen set for Wednesday and jointly chaired by France and Saudi Arabia has been downgraded from the ministerial level to the level of experts. Neither the Houthis nor aid groups will attend. French officials said they still hoped for some progress from the Arab states on alleviating the humanitarian situation.

A French diplomatic source said Riyadh had indicated it may be ready to offer some concessions, including allowing more flights to and from the Houthi-controlled San’aa airport, more visas for humanitarian workers and creating one inspection system into the port of Hodeidah. “Previous discussions make us think that they can go further on this,” the source said.

The Arab states say they must recapture Hodeidah to deprive the Houthis of their main source of income and prevent them from smuggling in arms. The coalition has pledged a swift military operation to take the airport and seaport without entering the city, to minimize civilian casualties and keep aid flowing.

The fighting has showed some signs of abating on the ground in the last two days, residents said, despite the Houthis firing missiles at the Saudi capital Riyadh on Sunday. They have threatened more attacks in response to the Hodeidah offensive.

“The special envoy requires about a week or so in his conversations, those are quite delicate. Friday or Saturday this week, it comes to an end. We have continued to take a very measured and tactical approach,” al-Hashimi said.

Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris, Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Peter Graff



Yemen pro-govt forces seize Hodeida airport from rebels

June 20, 2018

Emitari-backed Yemeni government forces seized Hodeida airport from Huthi rebels on Wednesday, the coalition said, in a major step towards retaking the key Red Sea port city.

“The airport was completely cleared, Thank God, and is under control,” coalition commander for the Red Sea coast, Abdul Salaam al-Shehi, said in a video posted by the United Arab Emirates’ official WAM news agency.

Last Wednesday, government forces launched an offensive to clear Hodeida of rebel fighters who have held it since 2014, raising UN concerns for vital aid shipments and commercial food imports through the city’s docks.

© AFP | Emitari-backed Yemeni government forces advance into Hodeida airport on June 19, 2018 in a major step towards recapturing the strategic Red Sea port city from Shiite rebels. .UAE-backed Yemeni government forces fought their way into Hodeida airport today, pressing an offensive that has seen some of the most intense fighting of a three-year war against Shiite Huthi rebels.

The airport is disused but housed a major rebel base just inland from the coast road into the city from the south.

It lies just eight kilometres (five miles) from the city’s port, through which three-quarters of Yemen’s imports pass, providing a lifeline for some 22 million people dependent on aid.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths held four days of talks in the rebel-held capital Sanaa in a bid to avert an all-out battle for the city but flew out on Tuesday without announcing any breakthrough.

The United Arab Emirates and other members of a Saudi-led coalition that intervened in support of the government in 2015 have accused regional arch foe Iran of using Hodeida as conduit for arms smuggling to the rebels. Tehran has denied the allegation.


Saudi-led coalition storms Yemen’s Hodeidah airport compound

June 19, 2018

Troops backed by a Saudi-led coalition stormed the airport compound of Yemen’s main port city Hodeidah on Tuesday after fierce battles with Iran-aligned Houthis fighting to defend their sole port, residents and Yemeni military sources said.

Hodeidah port's cranes are pictured from a nearby shantytown in Hodeidah, Yemen

FILE PHOTO: Hodeidah port’s cranes are pictured from a nearby shantytown in Hodeidah, Yemen June 16, 2018. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad

The capture of the airport would be an important gain for the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) who have said they can seize the heavily defended city quickly enough to avoid interrupting aid to millions facing starvation.

“They have stormed the airport,” an anti-Houthi Yemeni military source told Reuters.

A resident also said the compound had been stormed.

“This is the first time we hear the clashes so clearly. We can hear the sound of artillery and machinegun fire,” the resident, who requested anonymity, told Reuters, adding that warplanes bombarded the airport earlier in the morning.

The Western-backed alliance launched the onslaught on Hodeidah seven days ago in order to turn the tables in a long-stalemated proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that has compounded instability across the Middle East.

The upsurge in fighting has wounded and displaced dozens of civilians and hampered the work of aid groups in the port city, which is a lifeline for millions of Yemenis.

The United Nations says 22 million Yemenis depend on aid, and 8.4 million are on the verge of starvation.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on Monday that the coalition was taking a measured approach to minimize risks to civilians, and allowing the Houthis an escape route inland to their bastion in the capital Sanaa.

Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Robert Birsel


UAE’s Gargash: Arab coalition’s full control of Hodeidah only a matter of time

June 18, 2018

The Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-aligned Houthis for control of Yemen’s main port city of Hodeidah will take a “calculated and gradual” approach to the battle, a senior United Arab Emirates official said on Monday.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said the military alliance led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE was taking into consideration a “fragile humanitarian situation,” avoiding civilian casualties in addition to military calculations.

Gargash, speaking to reporters in Dubai, estimated the number of Houthi fighters in Hodeidah at between 2,000 to 3,000. He declined to reveal the size of coalition forces but said they had “numerical superiority.”

He said that the Arab coalition’s full control of Hodeidah only a matter of time.

This image grab taken from a AFPTV video shows Yemeni pro-government forces firing a heavy machine gun at the south of Hodeida airport. (AFP)

Gargash added that the Hodeidah port is a “major artery” for weapons smuggling from Iran to the Houthis.

“The liberation of Hodeidah is a major step in freeing Sanaa,” the UAE minister said, adding that “the roads leading to the port are filled with mines.”

France is said to be helping the Arab coalition in demining the roads.

“We have opened the road from Hodeidah to Sanaa to allow the militias to flee without resistance,” Gargash said.

The UN envoy for Yemen carried a plan to halt fighting around the key aid port of Hodeidah where Houthi militia have been battling a regional coalition as he arrived Saturday in the militia-held capital Sanaa for emergency talks.

Martin Griffiths was expected to propose to militia leaders that they cede control of the Red Sea port to a UN-supervised committee and halt heavy clashes against advancing government troops backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

(With AFP – Reuters)

Arab News


The Jordanian King’s Roller-coaster Ride Into Syria to Stop Iran

June 16, 2018

The demonstrations in Amman have calmed down, but now King Abdullah must prevent ill-meaning Iranian forces from approaching Jordan via Syria

King Abdullah, left, and his son Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah performing an off-season pilgrimage to Mecca, June 10, 2018.
King Abdullah, left, and his son Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah performing an off-season pilgrimage to Mecca, June 10, 2018. Yousef Allan / Jordanian Royal Palace / AFP

A short video published online by the Fayez family of Jordan reveals the fragile web of relationships King Abdullah must balance to keep his throne. It shows young members of the family blocking the main road from the town of Madaba to Amman.

The filming was done at night, and it’s hard to identify the participants, but the family left no room for doubt. “If Fares Fayez isn’t released from jail, we’ll block the highway to the airport, and that won’t be the last step,” the family threatened on social media.

Fares Fayez is a famous opposition activist known for cursing Queen Rania and calling for the king’s ouster. During last week’s demonstrations against a new tax law, he published insulting posts against the king and his family and urged Abdullah to resign, charging that he is “chiefly responsible for all the corruption in the kingdom.”

Fayez was arrested about a week ago. Now the police will be in conflict not just with his family but with members of the large and influential Bani Sakhr tribe. If not contained, this conflict could drag Jordan into many other internecine battles.

The demonstration that resulted in Fayez’s jailing forced Abdullah to raise more money from his neighbors to finance the government’s operations, fund its $40 billion debt and, above all, substitute for the revenue the tax law was supposed to raise. Thanks to the demonstrations, this law is now in the deep freeze. “The previous government didn’t properly examine the law before approving it,” said the new prime minister, Omar Razzaz.

This is an uphill battle because Abdullah has once again discovered that aid from the Gulf states, and especially Saudi Arabia, comes with a diplomatic price tag that Jordan isn’t eager to pay. This price tag contributed significantly to the economic crisis that led to the tax law and the ensuing demonstrations.

When the protests began, the only country that expressed a willingness to help Jordan was Kuwait. It sent a special envoy to Amman to offer $1 billion in aid, half in grants and half in low-interest loans. The next to volunteer was Qatar, which is being boycotted by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt.

But accepting Qatari aid was problematic because it would put Jordan under obligation to Qatar and increase Qatari influence in the kingdom at the expense of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Thus Abdullah was in an impossible situation.

Riyadh didn’t rush to offer financial help, sufficing with supportive statements. Qatar came with a check that Jordan couldn’t accept until it knew what the Gulf states boycotting Qatar would offer. Meanwhile, the streets were seething and the people were threatening not to make do with Prime Minister Hani Mulki’s dismissal and appointment of a new government under Razzaz.

King Abdullah of Jordan flanked by Saudi King Salman, left, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Mecca, June 11, 2018.
King Abdullah of Jordan flanked by Saudi King Salman, left, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Mecca, June 11, 2018. Bandar Al-Jaloud / Saudi Royal Palace / AFP

Mainly due to the “danger” that Qatar would become Jordan’s benefactor, Riyadh eventually woke up. It convened a summit with the UAE and Kuwait.

Meager aid

But the results were disappointing. The Gulf states offered only $2.5 billion, including the $1 billion Kuwait had already pledged. Saudi Arabia and the UAE were offering only $750 million each over five years – some in the form of a deposit Jordan could draw on, some as loans and some as guarantees that would help Jordan obtain loans from international institutions.

Jordan had hoped for $5 billion. But even that wouldn’t have been enough to stabilize the economy without painful reforms.

After receiving this offer, Abdullah told Qatar he would happily accept the $500 million it offered, which was accompanied by a pledge to employ  tens of thousands more Jordanians in Qatar. The Qatari loan will arrive all at once, in cash, which will be extremely useful. In exchange, Jordan agreed to accept a new Qatari ambassador in Amman, after having downgraded relations about 18 months earlier under Saudi and UAE pressure, as part of their boycott of Qatar.

Razzaz, the new prime minister, couldn’t hide his disappointment with the Gulf states. Speaking in Jordan while Abdullah was in Kuwait, he said Jordan was under heavy diplomatic pressure, “but we won’t let anyone extort us.”

The newly appointed Jordanian Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz (C) meets with member of Union leaders in Amman, on June 7, 2018.
The newly appointed Jordanian Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz (C) meets with member of Union leaders in Amman, on June 7, 2018. AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP

The extortion in question relates first of all to Jordan’s refusal to accept Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” as long as Jerusalem, as Trump himself has said, is off the table. Amman also rejects Riyadh’s plan to deprive Jordan of its special status at Jerusalem’s holy sites as stipulated in the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty. Finally, Jordan isn’t willing to take part in the Saudi war in Yemen. In the past, it also refused Saudi demands that it either attack Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces or let an Arab coalition attack from Jordan.

It remains to be seen how Saudi Arabia and the UAE will respond to Jordan’s renewed friendship with Qatar. But this isn’t the only front where Jordan faces problems. The agreements Russia is making with Iran, Turkey and Syria about Syria’s future also worry Amman, mainly because of the proximity to the Jordanian border of Iranian and pro-Iranian forces.

Earlier this month, Jordan was supposed to host a conference of senior American, Russian and Jordanian officials to discuss arrangements for supervising the de-escalation zone in southern Syria. Under the earlier agreement that established this zone, Iranian forces are supposed to withdraw to a distance of 25 to 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Jordanian border, with Syrian army troops replacing them.

Israeli-Jordanian interests

But the meeting was canceled, apparently at Jordan’s request. This is mainly because Jordan (like Israel) opposes letting the Syrian army deploy in southern Syria, for fear that pro-Iranian forces will enter the area disguised as Syrian soldiers. Jordan wants guarantees that only Syrian soldiers, and no foreign forces, will control this zone. On this issue Jordan is aligned with Israel.

UN forces overlooking the Israeli-Syrian border, this month
UN forces overlooking the Israeli-Syrian border, this month BAZ RATNER/Reuters

Jerusalem seeks a deeper withdrawal of Iranian forces, to a distance of 50 to 75 kilometers from the Israeli-Syrian border. Both Israel and Jordan are now apparently waiting to see what the other achieves before finalizing its own position.

Russia would like Iranian forces to leave all of Syria – not just because Israel demands it, but to further its own plans. It has even said so publicly. But Iran refuses, as does Hezbollah, whose leader, Hassan Nasrallah, recently declared that Russia can’t force Iran (much less Hezbollah) to withdraw.

>> Syria signals willingness to pull Hezbollah back from border with Israel, report says <<

In a media interview earlier this week, Assad said Iranian and Hezbollah troops would leave Syria only when they decided that the war on terror – that is, against the Syrian rebels – had ended. He said Iran, Hezbollah and Russia were all in Syria legitimately, having arrived at his invitation.

Russia doesn’t accept Assad’s view and is trying to pressure Iran and Hezbollah to at least quit certain areas if they won’t leave entirely. It has sent blunt military signals. For instance, Russian forces entered the Al-Qusayr region and other sites in the Qalamoun Mountains, near the Syrian-Lebanese border, without coordinating with Hezbollah, which controls these areas. Hezbollah harshly denounced the Russian move.

Admittedly, the Russian troops withdrew less than a day later, but the message was clear: If Russia decides that Hezbollah is in its way, it won’t hesitate to take military action against it.

This conflict recalls Russia’s actions during the evacuation of rebel forces from Aleppo: It created facts on the ground without consulting Iran. Only after Iranian and Hezbollah forces refused to let the buses full of evacuees pass did Russia include Iran in the discussions.

Though Jordan and Israel expect Russia to use its leverage against Iran, Moscow has moved delicately so as not to upset Iran. But now Russia may have a new and unexpected source of leverage.

The United States’ withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran, the new sanctions it has already imposed and the additional ones it may impose,  together with Europe’s hesitant response to these sanctions, will increase Iran’s dependence on China and Russia. But whereas China doesn’t demand anything for its extensive economic ties with Iran, Russia has already proved that it knows how to exact a diplomatic price – sometimes a high one – from countries dependent on it.

Granted, Russia denounced Trump for withdrawing from the nuclear deal. But it isn’t blind to the benefits it might reap from this decision.

Still, just as in the story of Jordan’s relations with Qatar and Saudi Arabia in which Jordan’s economic dependence didn’t produce political capitulation, it would be unrealistic, at least for now, to think Vladimir Putin can just pull a string and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will nod like a puppet.