U.S. Navy seizes thousands of Chinese, Russian-made weapons in North Arabian Sea

U.S. Navy seizes weapons in North Arabian Sea from unmarked vessel thought to be from Iran

Cache believed to have originated in Iran, bound for Yemen

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Weapons that the U.S. Navy described as coming from a hidden arms shipment aboard a stateless dhow are seen aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey on Saturday, May 8, 2021. The U.S. Navy announced Sunday it seized the arms shipment … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Monday, May 10, 2021

The U.S. Navy recently seized a cache of weapons aboard a stateless vessel in the North Arabian Sea, Pentagon officials said Sunday, marking another mission by American forces to foil illegal Iranian weapons shipments to rebel groups in Yemen.

The Navy’s Fifth Fleet said the two-day operation on May 6 and 7 involved the seizure of “dozens of advanced Russian-made, anti-tank guided missiles, thousands of Chinese Type 56 assault rifles, and hundreds of PKM machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenades launchers,” along with the other arms and military equipment. Crews aboard the U.S. guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey discovered the weapons after boarding the ship in international waters for a routine flag verification, officials said.

“Monterey provided more than 36 hours of over watch and security for its boarding teams and the interdicted vessel throughout the two-day operation,” the Navy said in a statement Sunday. “After all illicit cargo was removed, the dhow was assessed for seaworthiness, and after questioning, its crew was provided food and water before being released.”

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“The U.S. Navy conducts routine patrols in the region to ensure the free flow of commerce for legitimate traffic, disrupt the transport of illicit cargo that often funds terrorism and unlawful activity, and safeguard the rules-based international order,” the Fifth Fleet said.

The Navy said that the original source and destination of the weapons are still under review, and the material is still being inspected by U.S. authorities. But a U.S. defense official told The Associated Press on Sunday that initial signs suggest the unmarked vessel set sail from Iran and was headed to Yemen, where Iran-backed Houthi rebels are battling government forces backed by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition.

Iran for years has sought to get around a United Nations arms embargo by covertly shipping weapons to the war-torn country. The U.S., which maintains a major naval presence in the North Arabian Sea, has previously seized caches of weapons and other military equipment aboard stateless vessels headed for Yemen.

President Biden earlier this year formally ended American support for Saudi Arabia’s offensive military operations in Yemen amid strong bipartisan opposition in Washington to U.S. involvement in the conflict. More than 130,000 people have been killed in the war in Yemen since 2014, according to international estimates.

In addition to backing the Houthis in Yemen, Iran also backs militias operating in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.

US Navy seizes weapons in Arabian Sea likely bound for Yemen

US Navy seizes weapons in Arabian Sea likely bound for Yemen

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A U.S. Navy Seahawk helicopter flies over a stateless dhow later found to be carrying a hidden arms shipment in the Arabian Sea on Thursday, May 6, 2021. The U.S. Navy announced Sunday it seized the arms shipment hidden aboard … more >

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By JON GAMBRELL

Associated Press

Saturday, May 8, 2021

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – The U.S. Navy announced Sunday it seized an arms shipment of thousands of assault weapons, machines guns and sniper rifles hidden aboard a ship in the Arabian Sea, apparently bound for Yemen to support the country’s Houthi rebels.

An American defense official told The Associated Press that the Navy’s initial investigation found the vessel came from Iran, again tying the Islamic Republic to arming the Houthis despite a United Nations arms embargo. Iran’s mission to the U.N. did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though Tehran has denied in the past giving the rebels weapons.

The seizure, one of several amid the yearslong war in Yemen, comes as the U.S. and others try to end a conflict that spawned one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. The arms shipment, described as sizeable, shows that the war may still have far to run.

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The guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey discovered the weapons aboard what the Navy described as a stateless dhow, a traditional Mideast sailing ship, in an operation that began Thursday in the northern reaches of the Arabian Sea off Oman and Pakistan. Sailors boarded the vessel and found the weapons, most wrapped in green plastic, below deck.

When laid out on the deck of the Monterey, the scale of the find came into focus. Sailors found nearly 3,000 Chinese Type 56 assault rifles, a variant of the Kalashnikov. They recovered hundreds of other heavy machine guns and sniper rifles, as well as dozens of advanced, Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles. The shipments also included several hundred rocket-propelled grenade launchers and optical sights for weapons.

The Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet did not identify where the weapons originated, nor where they were going. However, an American defense official said the weapons resembled those of other shipments interdicted bounded for the Houthis.

Based on interviews with the crew and material investigated on board, the sailors determined the vessel came from Iran, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.

“After all illicit cargo was removed, the dhow was assessed for seaworthiness, and after questioning, its crew was provided food and water before being released,” the 5th Fleet said in a statement.

The seizure marks just the latest in the Arabian Sea or Gulf of Aden involving weapons likely bound to Yemen. The seizures began in 2016 and have continued intermittently throughout the war, which has seen the Houthis fire ballistic missiles and use drones later linked to Iran. Yemen is awash with small arms that have been smuggled into poorly controlled ports over years of conflict.

This recent seizure appeared to be among the biggest. Tim Michetti, an investigative researcher who studies the illicit weapon trade, also said the shipment bore similarities to the others.

“The unique blend of materiel recovered by the USS Monterey appears to be consistent with the materiel from previous interdictions, which have been linked to Iran,” he said.

Yemen’s war began in September 2014, when the Houthis seized Sanaa and began a march south to try to seize the entire country. Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates and other countries, entered the war alongside Yemen’s internationally recognized government in March 2015. Iran backed the Houthis, who harass Saudi Arabia with missile fire and drone attacks.

The war has killed some 130,000 people, including over 13,000 civilians slain in targeted attacks, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Project.

The war has seen atrocities from all sides. Saudi airstrikes using American-made bombs killed school children and civilians. The UAE paid off local al-Qaida fighters to avoid fighting and controlled prisons where torture and sexual abuse was rampant. The Houthis employ child soldiers and indiscriminately lay landmines.

Since 2015, the U.N. Security Council has imposed an arms embargo on the Houthis. Despite that, U.N. experts warn “an increasing body of evidence suggests that individuals or entities in the Islamic Republic of Iran supply significant volumes of weapons and components to the Houthis.”

___

Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

US officials in Mideast to reassure jittery allies over Iran

US officials in Mideast to reassure jittery allies over Iran

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Senator Chris Coons of Delaware talks to the journalists during a press briefing in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Monday, May 3, 2021. Top Biden administration officials and U.S. senators crisscrossed the Middle East on Monday, seeking to assuage growing … more >

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By ISABEL DEBRE

Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Top Biden administration officials and U.S. senators crisscrossed the Middle East on Monday, seeking to assuage growing unease among Gulf Arab partners over America’s re-engagement with Iran and other policy shifts in the region.

The trips come as the U.S. and Iran, through intermediaries in Vienna, discuss a return to Tehran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that former President Donald Trump abandoned three years ago. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies, excluded from Obama-era nuclear negotiations, have repeatedly pressed for a seat at the table, insisting that any return to the accord must address Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for regional proxies.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a key Biden ally dispatched on overseas diplomatic missions, told reporters in the UAE’s capital of Abu Dhabi that he hoped to allay the sheikhdom’s “understandable and legitimate concerns” about the return to the landmark deal and to create “broader engagement” with Gulf partners.

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Coons said “close consultation” with the UAE about the ongoing talks in Vienna was “important, expected and happening,” adding that he hopes the Emiratis “may not just be notified, but actually help.”

What that means remains unclear, as Gulf states now watch with resignation as negotiations gain traction in the Austrian capital. When asked to elaborate, Coons balked at the suggestion that the UAE’s input had acquired any greater significance in talks with Iran over the last five years.

“I did not in any way mean to suggest that there was some deal in the works where the Emiratis would be securing anything,” he said. “Vienna is the place where the United States government, the administration, is negotiating.”

Regional tensions are rising. To pressure the Biden administration to lift sanctions and come back into compliance with the deal, Iran has steadily violated the accord’s limitations on nuclear enrichment and stockpiles of enriched uranium. The long shadow war between Israel and Iran has intensified, with suspected Israeli attacks on Iranian ships in volatile Mideast waterways and at Iran‘s Natanz nuclear facility.

In a tour intended to boost “long-standing political, economic, cultural, and security ties,” several senior Biden administration officials are touring Arab capitals, with Brett McGurk from the National Security Council and Derek Chollet from the State Department, among others, stopping in Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Amman and Cairo this week.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. joined the flurry of diplomatic activity in the region this week, jetting to Oman, Qatar and Jordan for talks on a political solution to the war in Yemen. In an interview with The Associated Press from Amman, Murphy credited the influence of the Biden administration on recent steps in the region to defuse tensions, such as a Saudi cease-fire initiative floated to the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and secret talks between archenemies Iran and Saudi Arabia. Earlier this year, Biden announced the end of U.S. support to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

However, Murphy warned, “so long as we’re still sanctioning the hell out of the Iranian economy … it’s going to be hard to push the Houthis to a cease-fire.”

Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers “is very important, perhaps critical to peace in Yemen,” he added, and without it, “the Iranians are going to see Yemen as an opportunity to make mischief against the United States and our allies.”

The visits follow the Biden administration’s decision to plow ahead with Trump-era arms sales to Gulf countries, including a $23 billion transfer of F-35 combat aircraft, Reaper drones and other advanced weapons to the UAE, despite objections from Democrats wary of states’ entanglement in the devastating war in Yemen, authoritarian policies and ties to China.

Coons, chairman of a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, helped introduce legislation last year designed to block the sale of fighters to the UAE. He said Monday that he discussed those concerns with Emirati officials during his two-day visit.

“In a number of robust conversations with senior (Emirati) leaders, I’ve been reassured I think appropriately,” Coons said, without elaborating. “But I need to return to Washington to hear from our administration … exactly how this is being resolved and addressed.”

The senator also has become known for his sharp criticism of Saudi Arabia‘s human rights record and tactics in Yemen, where U.S.-backed Saudi coalition airstrikes have killed thousands of civilians. The Trump administration, which cultivated close ties to the powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, approved a nuclear cooperation deal to share technology with the kingdom for its nuclear power venture, including plans to build several civilian reactors.

The cooperation has sparked concerns among some U.S. senators skeptical of Saudi Arabia‘s intentions.

Although Coons declined to share what he knew of the kingdom’s nuclear technology plans, he said the disastrous war in Yemen has “left us with concerns about our ability to trust the Saudis with technology that they acquire from us.”

He added: “Iran is not the only concerning player.”

Saudi Arabia offers cease-fire plan to Yemen rebels

Saudi Arabia offers cease-fire plan to Yemen rebels

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In this Feb. 16, 2021 file photo, Houthi rebel fighters attend a funeral procession for Houthis who were killed in recent fighting with forces of Yemen’s Saudi-backed internationally recognized government during their funeral procession, in Sanaa, Yemen. An offensive by … more >

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By Jon Gambrell and Isabel Debre

Associated Press

Monday, March 22, 2021

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia announced a plan Monday to offer Yemen’s Houthi rebels a cease-fire in the country’s yearslong war and allow a major airport to reopen in its capital, the kingdom’s latest attempt to halt fighting that has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in the Arab world’s poorest nation.

The move by Saudi Arabia follows Yemen’s Houthi rebels stepping up a campaign of drone and missile attacks targeting the kingdom’s oil sites, briefly shaking global energy prices amid the coronavirus pandemic. It also comes as Riyadh tries to rehabilitate its image with the U.S. under President Biden. Saudi Arabia has waged a war that saw it internationally criticized for airstrikes killing civilians and embargoes exacerbating hunger in a nation on the brink of famine.

Whether such a plan will take hold remains another question. A unilaterally declared Saudi cease-fire collapsed last year. Fighting rages around the crucial city of Marib and the Saudi-led coalition launched airstrikes as recently as Sunday targeting Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. A United Nations mission said another suspected airstrike hit a food-production company in the port city of Hodeida.

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The Houthis did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“It is up to the Houthis now,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told journalists in a televised news conference in Riyadh. “The Houthis must decide whether to put their interests first or Iran’s interests first.”

Saudi-led coalition strikes Yemen’s rebel-held capital

Saudi-led coalition strikes Yemen’s rebel-held capital

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Smoke rises after Saudi-led airstrikes on an army base in Sanaa, Yemen, Sunday, Mar. 7, 2021. The Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed rebels in Yemen said Sunday it launched a new air campaign on the war-torn country’s capital and on other … more >

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By SAMY MAGDY

Associated Press

Sunday, March 7, 2021

CAIRO (AP) – The Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed rebels in Yemen said Sunday that it had launched a new air campaign on the country’s capital and other provinces, in retaliation for missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia.

“The targeting of civilians and civilian facilities is a red line,” Col. Turki al-Maliki, a spokesman for the coalition, was quoted as saying by the official Saudi Press Agency. He was referring to the missile and drone strikes on Saudi cities in recent weeks that the Iranian-backed rebels, known as Houthis, had claimed.

“The terrorist (Houthi) leaders will be held accountable,” he said. Residents in Sanaa, Yemen’s rebel-held capital, reported hearing huge explosions as a round of bombs fell on the city on Sunday.

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The Houthi-run al-Masirah satellite TV channel reported at least seven airstrikes on the Sanaa districts of Attan and al-Nahda. Al-Masirah did not say what facilities were hit by the coalition, but back smoke was seen rising over military camps in the areas. The channel also reported an airstrike in the district of Bajil, in the province of Hodeida.

The coalition said the Houthis were encouraged by a decision of President Joe Biden’s administration last month to remove them form the U.S.’s terror list. The designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organization was announced in the waning days of former President Donald Trump’s administration, and caused widespread outcry from the United Nations and humanitarian groups working in Yemen.

While the Houthi attacks rarely cause damage or casualties, strikes on major oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, have shaken energy markets and the world economy.

The coalition also said it intercepted and destroyed at least 12 explosives-laden drones and two ballistic missiles the rebels fired on Sunday at Saudi Arabia. On Thursday, the Houthis said they launched a drone attack on an oil facility in the port city of Jiddah. Another ballistic missile attack last week reached as far as the capital, Riyadh, where it was intercepted and exploded in the sky, scattering shrapnel over the city.

Later Sunday, Saudi aviation authorities resumed air traffic to Jiddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, after a nine-hour suspension due to alleged Houthi missile and drone attacks in the area.

U.S. diplomats in Saudi Arabia issued warnings to Americans in the kingdom, citing suspected attacks and explosions – from the western port city of Jiddah to the eastern province of Damman. In a statement, they urged U.S. citizens to “stay alert in case of additional future attacks.”

Yehia Sarie, a Houthi military spokesman, meanwhile, said that their air defenses on Sunday downed a Turkish-made drone launched by Saudi Arabia’s air force over the northern province of Jawf.

There was no acknowledgement from Saudi Arabia, and the rebels did not provide evidence to support their claim.

Sunday’s airstrikes on Sanaa have also come as the Houthis continue their weeks-long offensive on the central province of Marib, in an attempt to retake it from the internationally recognized government. They have faced stiff resistance and suffered heavy casualties without making progress. Hundreds were killed in the Marib clashes.

There have been also clashes in the province of Taiz. The Medecins Sans Frontieres charity, or MSF, said on Friday that over two dozen people wounded in the clashes were treated in al-Thawra hospital, which is run by the charity. MSF also said heavy gunfire hit the hospital, wounding at least three people including one healthcare worker and a 12-year-old child.

MSF also said that on Friday the Al-Thawra hospital in Taiz treated 28 people wounded during intense clashes since Wednesday, adding that the hospital itself was hit by gun fire, injuring three, including a 12-year-old boy.

Artillery also hit a residential area in Taiz on Sunday, wounding seven children as they left their school, charity Save the Children said.

Sunday’s attack came three days after three children were killed and 10 others were wounded when shells hit their homes in the same area, it added.

“This is devastating news. We are witnessing another unacceptable increase in civilian casualties in the city of Taiz,” said Xavier Joubert, the group’s Yemen director.

The conflict in Yemen erupted nearly six years ago, after the Houthis swept into the capital and seized much of the country’s north. A Saudi-led military coalition launched a bombing campaign to dislodge the Houthis and restore the internationally recognized government.

The stalemated war was has killed around 130,000 people, including more than 12,000 civilians, pushed millions to the brink of famine and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Saudi Arabia has faced widespread international criticism for its airstrikes that have killed civilians and hit non-military targets in Yemen.

__________

Associated Press writer Isabel DeBre contributed from Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.

Yemen’s rebels say latest US sanctions will prolong the war

Yemen’s rebels say latest US sanctions will prolong the war

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Yemeni men walk amid the graves of Houthi fighters who were killed during recent fighting, at a cemetery in Sanaa, Yemen, Tuesday, Mar. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed) more >

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By SAMY MAGDY

Associated Press

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

CAIRO (AP) – Yemen’s Iran-backed rebels Wednesday warned that the U.S. sanctions imposed the previous day on two of their military leaders would only prolong the conflict in the impoverished Arab country.

President Joe Biden’s administration on Tuesday slapped sanctions on two Houthi leaders, citing their alleged roles in cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia and shipping vessels in the Red Sea.

Rebel leaders Monsour al-Saadi and Ahmed al-Hamzi were responsible for attacks “impacting Yemeni civilians, bordering nations, and commercial vessels in international waters,” the departments of State and Treasury said.

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They said the Houthis play “a significant role in the conflict in Yemen and exacerbate the dire humanitarian plight of the Yemeni people.”

Mohammed Abdul-Salam, a spokesman for the Houthis, said the sanctions show the U.S. “does not attempt to stop the aggression and lift the siege on Yemen.”

The sanctions have also shown that the U.S. “is responsible for prolonging the war and worsening the humanitarian crisis,” according to Abdul-Salam.

Al-Saadi heads the Houthis’ naval forces and masterminded attacks on ships in the Red Sea, while al-Hamzi supervised missile and explosive-laden drone attacks in Yemen and on Saudi Arabia, the Treasury Department alleged.

The sanctions came just weeks after the Biden administration removed the Houthis from a broader terrorism blacklist in a bid to ease civilian suffering in the country.

However, since the reversal of that designation, which was made in the waning days of former President Donald Trump’s administration, the Houthis have stepped up attacks in Yemen and on Saudi Arabia, mainly with ballistic missiles and explosive-laden drones.

The rebels have also renewed their offensive on the central province of Marib in an attempt to retake it from the internationally recognized government. They have faced stiff resistance and suffered heavy casualties without making progress.

The offensive on Marib has displaced some 15,000 people since January, according to the Intranational Organization for Migration. The province has served as a haven for hundreds of thousands of Yemenis who have fled Houthi offensives since the start of the war.

Yemen’s war started in 2014 when the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north. The Saudi-led coalition intervened months later to dislodge the rebels and restore the internationally recognized government.

The conflict has killed some 130,000 people and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

UN chief: Appeal for Yemen raises ‘disappointing’ $1.7B

UN chief: Appeal for Yemen raises ‘disappointing’ $1.7B

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FILE – In this June 27, 2020 file photo, a malnourished boy lies in a bed waiting to receive treatment at a feeding center at Al-Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, Yemen. The United Nations is launching an appeal Monday, March 1, … more >

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By SAMY MAGDY

Associated Press

Monday, March 1, 2021

CAIRO (AP) – A United Nations appeal for aid to Yemen to alleviate the world’s worst humanitarian disaster raised some $1.7 billion Monday- a result the U.N. chief called “disappointing.”

At a virtual pledging conference co-hosed by Sweden and Switzerland, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had appealed for $3.85 billion this year to address the impoverished Arab country’s dire needs.

The amount raised, however, was less than what the U.N. received last year, and a billion dollars short of what was pledged in the 2019 conference, he said.

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Guterres called for countries to “consider again what they can do to help stave off the worst famine the world has seen in decades.”

From the outset it was unlikely that donors would meet the U.N.‘s goal given the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating consequences for economies around the globe. Corruption allegations in Yemen aid operations were also a factor.

Yemen’s war started in 2014 when the Iran-backed rebel Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north. The Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition intervened months later to dislodge the rebels and restore the internationally recognized government.

The conflict has killed some 130,000 people, spawned the world’s worst humanitarian disaster and reversed development gains by 20 years, according to the U.N. Development Program.

Half of Yemen’s health facilities are shuttered or destroyed and 4 million Yemenis have been driven from their homes. The pandemic, cholera epidemics and severe malnutrition among children have led to thousands of additional deaths.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned that more than 16 million people in Yemen will go hungry this year, with some half a million already living in famine-like conditions.

Guterres called for a nationwide cease-fire and U.N.-led negotiations to end the war. “In the end, the only path to peace is through an immediate, nationwide cease-fire. … There is no other solution,” he said.

Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, who is on a week-long visit to Yemen, also called the outcome of the conference “disappointing,” warning that the lack of funding would cause massive cuts to Yemen aid.

“The shortfall in humanitarian aid will be measured in lives lost,” he said.

Saudi Arabia, which leads the coalition fighting the Houthis, announced it would donate $430 million in aid for Yemen this year to be funneled through the U.N. and related agencies. Saudi Arabia had pledged half a billion dollars in 2020, the largest amount pledged by any country.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken led the U.S. delegation to the conference, which took place amid efforts by President Joe Biden’s administration to bring an end to the conflict.

He said the U.S. would donate $191 million for Yemen this year, a decrease of about $35 million from the amount it announced in the 2020 pledging conference.

He called for a cease-fire and for warring parties to halt their interference in aid operations and “allow assistance to reach the innocent women, children, and men.”

“We can only end the humanitarian crisis in Yemen by ending the war in Yemen. And so the United States is reinvigorating our diplomatic efforts to end the war,” Blinken said.

Other major pledges came from Germany ($241 million), the United Arab Emirates ($230 million), the United Kingdom ($123.23 million) and the European Union ( $116.2 million).

Wealthy countries, such as the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, cut back drastically on aid to Yemen last year. The reductions came amid the pandemic, corruption allegations and concerns the aid might not be reaching its intended recipients in territories controlled by the rebels.

Last year, aid agencies received about $1.9 billion – half of what was needed and half of what was given the previous year, according to David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee.

Mohammed Abdul-Salam, spokesman for the Houthis, said such pledging conferences “don’t help Yemen as much as they help the aggression countries,” referring to the Saudi-led coalition.

“Halting the aggression and lifting the siege is the biggest aid that can be provided to Yemen,” he said in a series of tweets.

Several speakers at the conference called for the Houthis to stop their offensive on the central province of Marib and their increasing cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia.

“Money is not the only thing Yemenis need. They need an end to attacks on civilians; they need a ceasefire; they need an end to bureaucratic and political blockages on aid flows,” said Miliband.

The rebels renewed their offensive on Marib earlier last month to retake the oil-rich province from the internationally recognized government. But they have not made progress.

The fighting has displaced more than 10,500 people in just three weeks, the U.N. migration agency said Monday.

___

Associated Press writers Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, contributed.

Biden moves ahead with delisting Iran-backed Houthis as terrorists

Biden moves ahead with delisting Iran-backed Houthis as terrorists

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In this Sept. 22, 2014 file photo, Hawthi Shiite rebels chant slogans at the compound of the army’s First Armored Division, after they took it over, in Sanaa, Yemen. Yemen’s war began in September 2014, when the Houthis seized the … more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Friday, February 12, 2021

The Biden administration formally went ahead Friday with revoking the State Department’s terrorist designations of Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, citing concern about the humanitarian disaster gripping the Mideast nation.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the designations, which the Trump administration issued against the Houthis in its final days in office, needed to be removed because having them in place could hamper the movement of desperately needed basic goods and foreign assistance to innocent Yemenis.

“The revocations are intended to ensure that relevant U.S. policies do not impede assistance to those already suffering what has been called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” Mr. Blinken said in a statement. “By focusing on alleviating the humanitarian situation in Yemen, we hope the Yemeni parties can also focus on engaging in dialogue.”

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Friday’s announcement underscores the shifting dynamics around the proxy war that has been playing out for years in Yemen between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with peripheral involvement by others including the United States and the United Arab Emirates, which have both been aligned with the Saudi side of the conflict.

The development comes roughly a week after President Biden announced an end to Washington’s controversial support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign targeting the Houthis.

It remains to be seen how Iran will respond to the moves being made by the Biden administration, which has signaled an interest in thawing relations with Tehran, following a dramatic ratcheting up of pressure on the Islamic republic by the Trump administration.

The Associated Press has noted that it was the Obama administration in 2015 that first gave approval to Saudi Arabia leading a cross-border air campaign targeting the Houthis, who were seizing ever more territory at the time in Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa. The Houthis have since launched multiple drone and missile strikes deep into Saudi Arabia. U.S. officials say the Saudi-led campaign has entrenched Iran’s role in the conflict, on the side of the Houthis.

U.S. targeting assistance to Saudi Arabia‘s command and control was supposed to minimize civilian casualties in the Saudi-led airstrikes, the AP has noted. But strikes hav killed numerous Yemeni civilians, including schoolboys on a bus and fishermen in their boats. Survivors have displayed fragments showing the bombs to be American-made.

While that hangs in the backdrop, some hawkish Republican lawmakers accuse the Biden administration of turning soft on Iran, which has been designated by Washington as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1984.

Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, says the Houthis are directly backed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). “The Houthi rebels are armed and trained by Iran’s overseas terror corps, the IRGC and Hezbollah,” Mr. Cotton said in a statement last week after the Biden administration alerted Congress of its plan to revoke the Trump administration’s terrorist designations against the Houthis.

“They fire missiles at civilians and American sailors while chanting ‘Death to America.’ And they’ve plunged Yemen into a protracted war that has immiserated the Yemeni people,” Mr. Cotton said. “If that’s not terrorism, I don’t know what is.”

Many Democrats, however, argue the situation in Yemen is nuanced and complicated, and that black and white terrorist designations will only worsen what is already the world’s most devastating humanitarian crisis that the United Nations says has killed more than 230,000 people in recent years, including thousands of children.

Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, has praised the Biden administration‘s decision to revoke the Houthi terrorist designation, saying in a statement last week that the designation “did not impact the Houthis in any practical way, but it stopped food and other critical aid from being delivered inside Yemen and would have prevented effective political negotiation” that could end the conflict in the nation.

“Reversing the designation is an important decision that will save lives,” Mr. Murphy claimed.

Some Republicans have appeared to agree, but have cautioned the Biden administration to tread carefully with regard to the Houthis.

“The Yemeni civil war has caused significant death and suffering, for which the Iran-aligned Houthis bear significant responsibility,” House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking Republican Rep. Michael McCaul and Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Sen. Jim Risch said in a joint statement last week.

“We strongly urge the Biden Administration to ensure the revocation of the Foreign Terrorist Organization designation be paired with significant, targeted pressure on the Houthis,” said Messrs. McCaul and Risch, of Texas and Idaho respectively. “We should not let the Houthis believe they have been given a free pass for their violent actions.”

Mr. Blinken sought to address such concerns in his statement Friday on the Houthi rebel group, which the Biden administration refers to as Ansarallah.

“The United States remains clear-eyed about Ansarallah’s malign actions, and aggression, including taking control of large areas of Yemen by force, attacking U.S. partners in the Gulf, kidnapping and torturing citizens of the United States and many of our allies,” the secretary of state said.

“We will continue to closely monitor the activities of Ansarallah and its leaders and are actively identifying additional targets for designation, especially those responsible for explosive boat attacks against commercial shipping in the Red Sea and UAV and missile attacks into Saudi Arabia,” Mr. Blinken added. “The United States will also continue to support the implementation of UN sanctions imposed on members of Ansarallah and will continue to call attention to the group’s destabilizing activity and pressure the group to change its behavior.”

U.S. warns Houthi rebels over civilian attacks in Yemen

U.S. warns Houthi rebels over civilian attacks after removing group from terror list

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In this Jan. 25, 2021 photo, Houthi supporters chant slogans as they attend a demonstration against the United States over its decision to designate the Houthis a foreign terrorist organization in Sanaa, Yemen. President Joe Biden is distancing himself from … more >

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By Matthew Lee

Associated Press

Sunday, February 7, 2021

The Biden administration on Sunday warned Yemen‘s Houthi rebels against ongoing attacks against civilians just 48 hours after moving to strike the group from a terrorism blacklist.

The State Department called on the Iran-backed rebel group to immediately stop attacks on civilians and new military operations in Yemen. The demand came only two days after the administration notified Congress that it would remove the Houthis from its list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” a designation that comes with severe U.S. sanctions. It also came just three days after President Joe Biden ordered an end to U.S. support for the Saudi-led offensive military operations against the rebels. 

“As the president is taking steps to end the war in Yemen and Saudi Arabia has endorsed a negotiated settlement, the United States is deeply troubled by continued Houthi attacks,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. “We call on the Houthis to immediately cease attacks impacting civilian areas inside Saudi Arabia and to halt any new military offensives inside Yemen, which only bring more suffering to the Yemeni people.”

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Friday’s delisting had been hailed by relief agencies who had slammed the Trump administration for putting the Houthis on the list in its waning days in office. Critics said the designation would exacerbate what the U.N. calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis by hindering aid shipments to a population on the brink of famine.

Earlier Sunday, the U.N. special envoy for Yemen arrived on his first visit to Iran for talks on the grinding war. Martin Griffiths was set to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and other officials during his two-day visit, his office said. The sessions are part of a broader effort to negotiate a political solution to the nearly six-year conflict pitting the Houthis against Yemeni government forces supported by a Saudi-led military coalition.

“We urge the Houthis to refrain from destabilizing actions and demonstrate their commitment to constructively engage in U.N. Special Envoy Griffiths’ efforts to achieve peace,” Price said in the statement. “The time is now to find an end to this conflict.”

Yemen‘s war began in September 2014, when the Houthis seized the capital Sanaa and began a march south to try to seize the entire country. Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates and other countries, entered the war alongside Yemen‘s internationally recognized government in March 2015.

The war has killed some 130,000 people, including over 13,000 civilians slain in targeted attacks, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Project.

Yemen gov’t says willing to work with Biden to end Saudi war

Yemen gov’t says willing to work with Biden to end Saudi war

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By AHMED AL-HAJ

Associated Press

Friday, February 5, 2021

SANAA, Yemen (AP) – Yemen‘s foreign minister said his government will work with President Joe Biden’s administration to end the war in the Arab world’s poorest country.

Still, Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak insisted the country’s Houthi rebels and their Iranian backers remain the main obstacle to peace – an apparent defense of Saudi military involvement in Yemen.

On Thursday, Biden announced the U.S. was ending support for the grinding Saudi-led war in Yemen. The five-year conflict has killed some 130,000 people, including over 13,000 civilians, and resulted in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

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“We will deal positively with the attitude of the new U.S. administration, which wants to end the conflict in Yemen,” Bin Mubarak told The Associated Press late Thursday.

“This has always been our goal since the war started, and we dealt positively with all U.N. initiatives in the past, but we are always faced with the intransigence of Houthi militias and Iran’s agenda in the region,” he said.

Houthi spokesman Mohamed Abdel Salam tweeted late Thursday that peace would not be achieved until “the aggression was brought to a halt and the siege was lifted.”

Yemen’s war began in September 2014, when the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and began a march south to seize the entire country. Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates and other countries, entered the war alongside Yemen’s internationally recognized government in March 2015.

Biden announced an end to “relevant” U.S. arms sales but gave no immediate details on what that would mean. The administration already has said it was pausing some of the billions of dollars in arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia’s main partner in its Yemeni offensive. The U.S. has sold bombs and fighter jets to Saudi Arabia that the kingdom later used in strikes on Yemen killing civilians.

Biden also called for a cease-fire, an opening of humanitarian channels to allow more delivery of aid, and a return to long-stalled peace talks.

Saudi Arabia has been conciliatory in its response to rebuffs from Biden, who as a candidate blasted the kingdom’s current rulers for rights abuses and as president has made clear he intends to distance his administration from Saudi leaders.

However, the Biden administration also says it will help Saudi Arabia boost its defenses against outside attacks, as part of maintaining key security, counterterrorism and military ties. Saudi state media focused on that part of Biden’s announcements Thursday.

The Yemeni government also welcomed Biden’s decision to appoint Timothy Lenderking as special envoy to Yemen, hailing it as another “important step” attesting to the U.S. commitment to end the war, according to a statement from Yemen’s state-run SABA news agency.

Meanwhile, the United Nations on Friday called the U.S. decision “a positive development that could create further momentum for dialogue” and said U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths “looks forward to working constructively with all parties at this critical time for the Yemeni people.”

The U.N. continues to call on the United States to reverse its designation of the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization, a request “based purely on humanitarian grounds amidst a growing risk of famine in Yemen,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

___

Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

For some Muslims, hope, uncertainty after travel ban lifted

For some Muslims, hope, uncertainty after travel ban lifted

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Mohammed Al Zabidi holds his canceled U.S. visa at his home in Sanaa, Yemen, on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. The Trump administration’s travel ban that affected several Muslim-majority nations robbed him of his American dream and his chance to escape … more >

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By Mariam Fam and Sarah El Deeb

Associated Press

Friday, January 29, 2021

Mohammed Al Zabidi celebrated in 2017 when he learned he had been selected in the U.S. green card lottery, which picks people at random from a large pool of applicants. It was a chance to escape his war-torn homeland of Yemen and pursue his dreams in the United States.

“I won! I won!” Al Zabidi cheered. He borrowed money to finance his trip, bought clothes for his new life in America and packed souvenirs for friends there. With no U.S. Embassy in Yemen, he made a grueling journey to Djibouti for his visa interview.

But there, after he had been initially approved, his luck ran out: “CANCELLED WITHOUT PREJUDICE,” read the bold, black, all-caps stamp on the unused visa in his passport with a Trump administration travel ban on several Muslim-majority nations, including his, in place.

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“My family pinned their hopes on me. … My mother wept; this saddened me the most,” he said.

President Joe Biden’s repeal of the ban on Inauguration Day brought a sigh of relief from citizens in the countries covered by the measure. But amid the celebrations are tales of dreams broken, families separated, savings used up and milestones missed, from births to graduations. And for some, there are worries about whether their opportunities may be gone forever.

The lottery system requires winners be vetted and have their visas in hand by Sept. 30 of the year they are chosen, or they lose out. So Al Zabidi is left wondering whether he’ll ever make it to the States to start working there and repay what he borrowed.

“Can we get our visas back? Can we be compensated?” he said. “We don’t know.”

Many of those whose lives were upended must now navigate questions about backlogs, paid fees and travel restrictions due to the pandemic. Advocates for immigration and the rights of Muslims in the U.S. hail Biden’s decision, but also point to the work ahead to get lives back on track and roll back the ban’s legacy.

“The ban advanced the narrative that Muslims, Africans and other communities of color do not belong in America, that we are dangerous threats,” said Mary Bauer, legal director of Muslim Advocates. “Ending the ban was just the first step towards changing that narrative. Next, the Biden administration must clear away other administrative immigration obstacles that are preventing families from reuniting.”

More than 40,000 were refused visas because of the ban, according to U.S. State Department figures. They included not only lottery winners but people trying to visit family, those traveling for business or personal reasons and students accepted to U.S. universities.

Biden has commissioned a report to address a number of issues, including a proposal ensuring reconsideration of immigrant visa applications denied due to the ban. The proposal will consider whether to reopen denied applications. He also called for a plan to expedite consideration of those applications.

Many who were affected by the ban are also being blocked by an April order by former President Donald Trump halting the issuance of green cards to protect the U.S. labor market amid the pandemic.

Biden has not indicated whether he will lift it, and ending the travel ban will mean little if he doesn’t, said Rafael Urena, a California attorney.

“Most of my clients don’t have any reason to celebrate because they are still stuck,” Urena said.

They include Mania Darbani, whose 71-year-old mother in Iran was denied a tourist visa to visit her in Los Angeles. In recent days she checked and was told she still can’t go, because of the pandemic order.

“I’m so exhausted by this situation,” said Darbani, 36. “I want to ask President Biden to lift all travel bans and help us. Just please, please, help us.”

Many people are concerned about long wait times for visas, said Manar Waheed, senior legislative and advocacy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union.

“There are embassies closed all over the world because of COVID, so there’s that piece of it,” Waheed said. “But also we’ve seen so many parts of our immigration system stalled and truly eviscerated by the Trump administration, so it is about building those systems back up.”

What is variously known as the “Muslim ban” or the “travel ban” was first imposed in 2017, then retooled amid legal challenges, until a version was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2018. It affected various categories of travelers and immigrants from Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Syria and Libya, plus North Koreans and some Venezuelan government officials and their families. In 2020, immigration curbs affecting several other nations were added.

Trump and others have defended it on national security grounds, arguing it would make the U.S. safer from terrorism. Supporters of the policy rejected the argument that it was rooted in anti-Muslim bias, saying it was aimed at protecting the country.

In reversing the ban, the new administration says it intends instead to strengthen information-sharing with other countries and apply a rigorous, individualized vetting system for visa applicants.

It’s not clear whether it’ll come too late for Anwar Alsaeedi, also from Yemen, who had hoped to provide his two children with a better future. He rejoiced in 2017 when he was picked for the lottery’s “diversity visa” interview only to be deemed ineligible due to the ban.

“Our country is embroiled in wars and crises and we’ve lost everything,” Alsaeedi said. “Making it to America is a big dream.”

Some whose dreams were dashed ended up seeking them elsewhere.

Moayed Kossa, a Syrian pharmacy university graduate who hoped to start a cosmetics company bearing his family name, had landed a scholarship to study business administration in the U.S. after his country’s civil war drove the family to flee to Jordan. Just days before he was to travel, the U.S. Embassy in Amman summoned him and canceled his visa.

He ended up studying in Italy instead, and he’s not sure if he will apply again for a U.S. visa even though his brother now lives there.

“It is not always easy,” Kossa said, “to try to open a door that was closed.”

___

Associated Press writer Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.

___

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

US rejects UN plea to reverse Yemen rebel terror designation

US rejects UN plea to reverse Yemen rebel terror designation

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Thursday, January 14, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The U.N. chief and top officials urged the United States on Thursday to reverse its decision to declare Yemen’s Iran-backed rebels a terrorist group to prevent massive famine and death in the conflict-torn Arab nation – but the Trump administration in its final days stood by its action.

The U.S. deputy ambassador, Richard Mills, told the Security Council the U.S. has listened to warnings of the terrorist designation’s humanitarian impact and will take measures to reduce the impact on aid deliveries and commercial imports.

“But we do believe that this step is the right move forward to send the right signal if we want the political process to move forward,” he said.

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In 2014, the rebel Houthis overran the capital, Sanaa, and much of Yemen’s north, driving the government into exile. A U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition intervened the following year to try and restore the internationally recognized government, but years of U.N. efforts to get both sides to agree to a cease-fire and start peace negotiations have not succeeded.

The conflict has been disastrous for Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, killing more than 112,000 people, creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and wrecking infrastructure from roads and hospitals to water and electricity networks.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared the Houthis a “foreign terrorist organization” late Sunday. The designation takes effect Jan. 19, President Donald Trump’s last full day in office before Joe Biden is inaugurated president.

U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock warned the Security Council that the U.S. designation will likely lead to a “famine on a scale that we have not seen for nearly 40 years.”

Data show that 16 million of Yemen’s 30 million people will go hungry this year, he said. “Already, about 50,000 people are essentially starving to death. … Another 5 million are just one step behind them.”

Lowcock said Yemen imports 90% of its food, nearly all purchased through commercial channels, so aid shipments cannot be enough to stave off hunger.

Stressing that the designation is already seeing companies pull back from Yemen, Lowcock warned that famine will not be prevented by the measures the United States has promised to introduce so some humanitarian aid and imports can continue to reach Yemen.

World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley told the council the Nobel Peace Prize-winning agency was forced to reduce the number of Yemenis receiving aid from 13 million to 9 million, and then to cut rations in half because of a lack of funding.

Starting Feb. 1, “we will have to cut rations to 25%” because money is running out, he added.

“We are struggling now without the designation,” Beasley said. “With the designation it’s going to be catastrophic. It literally is going to be a death sentence to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent people in Yemen.”

Beasley predicted that the U.S. action, coupled with the funding crisis, will leave 24 million of the 30 million Yemenis “struggling to eat” and get fuel and medicine.

“In 2020, the United States stepped up to WFP with $3.75 billion of support and I’m very grateful for that,” he said. “But this designation – it needs to be reassessed, it needs to be reevaluated, and quite frankly it needs to be reversed.”

Beasley said WFP needs $860 million to avert famine in Yemen for the next six months, and “we don’t even have half that.”

He said the Gulf Arab states – singling out Saudi Arabia – “need to pick up the humanitarian financial tab for this problem.” If they don’t, he warned, donors will take money from other countries where it’s desperately needed, “which means we’re going to have famine in many, many other countries.”

Martin Griffiths, the U.N. special envoy for Yemen, backed Lowcock’s assessment that the U.S. designation “would contribute to famine in Yemen and thus should be revoked.”

In addition, he said, “We fear that there will be inevitably a chilling effect on my efforts to bring the parties together.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres supports the calls by Lowcock, Beasley and Griffiths for the U.S. to reverse its designation, pointing to their “very passionate” and detailed remarks of the consequences on Yemenis.

On the political front, Griffiths condemned the Dec. 30 missile strike at Aden’s civilian airport targeting the newly formed Cabinet, an attack that killed more than 25 people. He said Yemen‘s internationally recognized government has concluded the Houthis were “behind the attack” – a charge the rebels have denied.

British Ambassador Barbara Woodward told the council the United Kingdom “assesses that it is highly likely that the Houthis were responsible for this cowardly and craven attack.”

“Only they had the means, the motive, and the opportunity for this clear and deplorable attempt to destabilize the newly formed Yemeni government,” she said.

Griffiths expressed “solidarity with the new government, which has demonstrated its resolve to stay in Aden despite the security risks to carry out its duties to the Yemeni people.”

Aid agencies fear impact in Yemen after US terror decision

Aid agencies fear impact in Yemen after US terror decision

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By MAGGIE MICHAEL and SAMY MAGDY

Associated Press

Monday, January 11, 2021

CAIRO (AP) – Aid agencies were thrown into confusion Monday over the Trump administration’s out-the-door decision to designate Yemen’s Iranian-backed rebels as a terror organization, which they warned could wreck the tenuous relief system keeping millions alive in a country already near famine in the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

The designation is to take effect on President Donald Trump’s last full day in office, a day before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. Several aid groups pleaded on Monday for Biden to immediately reverse the designation. The Biden transition team has not yet expressed his intentions.

“Acting on day one cannot only be a figure of speech,” Oxfam America’s Humanitarian Policy Lead Scott Paul said. “Lives hang in the balance.”

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Six years of war between a U.S.-backed Arab coalition and the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have been catastrophic for Yemen. Most of its 30 million people rely on international aid to survive. The U.N. says 13.5 million Yemenis already face acute food insecurity, a figure that could rise to 16 million by June.

Aid agencies said Monday they were struggling to figure out the implications of the designation, which would bring sanctions against the Houthis. Some were considering pulling out foreign staff. They warned that even if the U.S. grants humanitarian exceptions as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo promised Sunday, the move could snarl aid delivery, drive away banks and further wreck an economy in which millions can’t afford to feed themselves.

The Houthis rule the capital and Yemen’s north where the majority of the population lives, forcing international aid groups to work with them. Agencies depend on the Houthis to deliver aid and pay salaries to Houthis to do so. Still, the rebels have been implicated in stealing aid and using aid access to extort concessions and money, as well as in a catalog of human rights abuses including rape and torture of dissidents.

Houthi officials Monday were defiant over the U.S. designation.

“We are not fearful,” tweeted the head of the group’s Supreme Revolutionary Committee, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi. “America is the source of terrorism. It’s directly involved in killing and starving the Yemeni people.”

In Iran, the Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the designation was “doomed to failure” and the U.S. would eventually have to enter negotiations with the Houthis.

The U.S. designation move is part of the Trump administration’s broader effort to isolate and cripple Iran. It also shows support to its close ally, Saudi Arabia, which leads the anti-Houthi coalition in the war. Saudi Arabia has advocated the terror designation, hoping it would pressure the rebels to reach a peace deal. Past rounds of peace talks and cease-fire agreements have faltered.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry welcomed the U.S. decision, saying that it hopes the designation would force the rebels to “seriously” return to negotiating table.

Maged al-Madhaji, the director of Yemen’s most prominent think tank, Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies, said the designation will “shut the doors of (Houthi) attempts to win international legitimacy.” It will also ”paralyze their finances and drain money coming from regional allies,” he said.

But the designation could hamper U.N. mediation efforts and hurt peace talks by polarizing each side’s positions, said U.N. secretary-general spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

Yemen’s war has killed more than 112,000 people and has reduced to ruins the country’s infrastructure, from roads and hospitals to water and electricity networks. It began with the Houthi takeover of the north in 2014, which prompted a destructive air campaign by the Saudi-led coalition, aimed at restoring the internationally recognized government.

The Houthis receive financial and military support from Iran, and they have pelted Saudi cities with missiles and drone strikes. Their opponents say they aim to impose an Iranian-style fundamentalist rule under the group’s religious and military leader, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi.

Already, the U.S., which is one of the largest donors to Yemen, suspended millions of dollars in aid to Houthi-controlled areas after reports of theft and looting of relief supplies. U.N. agencies have long complained of rebels stealing and rerouting food aid.

Announcing the decision late Sunday, Pompeo promised measures to reduce the impact on humanitarian efforts. Those include special U.S Treasury licenses to allow U.S. aid to continue flowing and aid agencies to continue working.

Still, aid groups said the impact could be disastrous.

“Even with exemptions, the operation will be compromised,” said Janti Soeripto, the president of Save the Children. She criticized the “chaotic manner” by which the U.S. took the decision, which she said left agencies scrambling to figure out the implications and how to deal with them.

Delays or confusion in the license-issuing process could slow or disrupt imports of food, medicine and fuel, at a time when even slight interruptions have major consequences.

International banks are likely to retreat from any dealings with Yemen’s Houthi-dominated banking system. That will cripple aid agencies and NGOs, which must use the banks to move funds, pay salaries and keep operations running. It could also hurt a main income source for individual Yemenis – remittances from relatives abroad.

Yemen’s faltering economy will be dealt a further devastating blow,” said Mohamed Abdi, Yemen director for the Norwegian Refugee Council. He said banks, businesses and donors could “become unwilling or unable to take on the risk of operating in Yemen.”

Once the designation is in effect, the World Health Organization will carry out contingency plans to relocate its international staffers, said its country director in Sanaa, Adham Ismail.

“It will definitely limit our capacity to bring international expertise,” he said, as well as make it harder to get donations and deliver health services to Yemenis under Houthi control.

Peter Salisbury, Yemen expert at the International Crisis Group, said “there is a broad consensus that if mismanaged this could have a devastating impact on millions of ordinary Yemenis.”

“What is less clear is how much of an immediate impact it will have on the Houthis, who will be the last to starve.”

___

Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran contributed to this report.

Yemen’s president in exile reshuffles Cabinet to end rift

Yemen’s president in exile reshuffles Cabinet to end rift

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By BY AHMED AL-HAJ

Associated Press

Friday, December 18, 2020

SANAA, Yemen (AP) – Yemen’s embattled president, in exile in Saudi Arabia, announced a Cabinet reshuffle Friday in a major step toward closing a dangerous rift between his internationally recognized government and southern separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates.

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s decree said the incumbent prime minister, Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, would keep his job while 24 ministerial posts would have almost equal representation of both northerners and southerners, according to the country’s state-run SABA news agency.

The reshuffle included women, for the first time since the 1990s.

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Defense Minister Mohammed al-Maqdishi and Finance Minister Salem Saleh Bin Braik kept their jobs in the new government. Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak, who was Yemen’s ambassador to the U.S., was named foreign minister, replacing Mohammed Abdullah al-Hadrami, who was critical of the UAE.

The U.N. special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, welcomed the reshuffle as “a pivotal step towards a lasting political resolution to the conflict in Yemen.”

Naming a new government was part of a power-sharing deal between the Saudi-backed Hadi and the Emirati-backed separatist Southern Transitional Council, an umbrella group of militias seeking to restore an independent southern Yemen, which existed from 1967 until unification in 1990.

The STC had been the on-the-ground allies of the UAE, once Saudi Arabia’s main partner in the war that subsequently withdrew from the conflict. The secessionist group declared self-rule over the key port city of Aden and other southern provinces in April, before it abandoned its aspirations for self-rule late in July to implement the peace agreement with Hadi’s government.

The power-sharing deal, inked in the Saudi capital of Riyadh last year, was meant to end months of infighting between what are nominal allies in Yemen’s civil war that pits a Saudi -backed coalition, of which the UAE is a part, against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The deal also called for the appointment of a new governor and security director for the port city of Aden, the seat of Hadi’s government since the Houthis took over the capital, Sanaa in 2014. The following year, the Saudi-led coalition, determined to restore Hadi’s government to power, launched a military intervention.

The power-sharing deal also included the withdrawal of rival forces from Aden and the flashpoint southern province of Abyan. The Saudi-led coalition said that was completed earlier this week.

Iran says US sanctions hinder access to COVID-19 vaccines

Iran says US sanctions hinder access to COVID-19 vaccines

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By NASSER KARIMI

Associated Press

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran‘s President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that U.S. sanctions are making it difficult for Iran to purchase medicine and health supplies from abroad, including COVID-19 vaccines needed to contain the worst outbreak in the Middle East.

President Donald Trump’s administration has imposed crippling sanctions on Iran‘s banking sector and its vital oil and gas industry since unilaterally withdrawing the U.S. from Iran‘s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.

While the United States insists that medicines and humanitarian goods are exempt from sanctions, restrictions on trade have made many banks and companies across the world hesitant to do business with Iran, fearing punitive measures from Washington. The country is also cut off from the international banking system, making it difficult to transfer payments.

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“Our people should know that for any action we plan to carry out for importing medicine, vaccines and equipment, we should curse Trump a hundred times,” Rouhani was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

He said even simple transactions to purchase medicine from other countries had become extremely difficult and that it can take “weeks” to transfer funds.

Rouhani said authorities are nevertheless doing what they can to buy vaccines from abroad, hoping to deliver them to high-risk individuals as soon as possible.

Last week, Iran said it is working on its own vaccine, with testing on human patients expected to begin next month. It plans to buy 20 million vaccine doses from abroad, for a population of more than 80 million people.

Iran has reported more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus out of more than a million confirmed cases – the worst outbreak in the Middle East.

Authorities have been reluctant to impose the kind of lockdown measures seen elsewhere in the region, partly because of concerns it would further exacerbate an already dire economic crisis. The sanctions have contributed to a plunge in the country’s currency in recent years that has caused the price of basic goods to soar and wiped out many Iranians’ life savings.

In a separate development, Iran‘s foreign ministry on Wednesday imposed sanctions on the U.S. ambassador to Yemen, Christopher Henzel, because of his alleged help “in organizing, providing financial and arms support” to the Saudi-led coalition waging war in Yemen against the country’s Houthi rebels.

Under the measure, which is mainly symbolic, Henzel would be denied an Iranian visa, should he ever apply for one. He is also barred from holding any accounts in Iranian banks and financial institutions and having financial transactions with Iranian entities.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration said it imposed sanctions on Iran’s envoy to Yemen’s Houthi rebels, Hasan Irlu, and the Iranian Al-Mustafa International University for alleged recruiting fighters for the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard to foment instability in Yemen and in Syria.

Iran and the U.S. support opposite sides in Yemen’s conflict. In August, Iran imposed similar symbolic sanctions on Richard Goldberg, a hawkish former expert with the White House National Security Council. And in 2017, Iran sanctioned 15 American companies over their alleged support for Israel, terrorism and repression in the region.

Top Saudi diplomat on 1st Sudan visit since al-Bashir ouster

Top Saudi diplomat on 1st Sudan visit since al-Bashir ouster

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By SAMY MAGDY

Associated Press

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

CAIRO (AP) – Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister arrived in Khartoum on Tuesday, Sudan’s state-run news agency reported, the first visit by the kingdom’s top diplomat since Sudan’s military overthrew former autocratic President Omar al-Bashir last year.

Shortly after landing at Khartoum’s international airport, Saudi Prince Faisal bin Farhan was received by Sudan’s acting Foreign Minister Omar Qamar al-Din, SUNA reported. The report said Prince Faisal’s visit would “activate deals” between Khartoum and Riyadh, without elaborating.

Prince Faisal then met with Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of Sudan’s sovereign council, and discussed “ways to resolve the obstacles facing Saudi investors in Sudan,” according to a statement from the ruling council. Saudi Arabia is a main backer of Sudan’s transitional government.

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Prince Faisal also met with Sudan’s prime minister and other top officials. He said the kingdom supports the recent U.S. decision to remove Sudan its list of state sponsors of terrorism, a designation that dates back to the 1990s, when al-Bashir ruled Sudan and his government briefly hosted al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden and other wanted militants.

President Donald Trump announced in October that Sudan would be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, after Khartoum agreed to pay $335 million in compensation for victims of the attacks carried out by bin Laden’s al-Qaida network while the terror leader was living in Sudan.

The Sudanese government also singed a deal with the Trump administration that could effectively stop any future compensation claims being filed against the African country in U.S. courts. The deal restores in U.S. courts what is known as sovereign immunity to the Sudanese government, but it would enter into force after U.S. Congress passes legislation needed to implement the agreement.

Sudan is on a fragile path to democracy after a popular uprising led the military to overthrow al-Bashir in April 2019, after nearly three decades of rule. Since then, the country has been led by a joint military-civilian council.

The transitional government faces steep challenges in transforming Sudan’s economic system and meeting the demands of protesters who ousted al-Bashir, spurred by soaring prices of staple goods and rising youth unemployment.

Following al-Bashir’s overthrow, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates stepped up to financially support the new leaders of Sudan. Both Gulf monarchies vowed to provide $3 billion in aid to Sudan, with half of the amount already delivered.

Sudan is part of a Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi rebels in Yemen since 2015. Khartoum sent thousands of troops to Yemen and Saudi Arabia but has recently drawn down its forces, while insisting it has not quit the coalition.

Yemen rebels claim attack on Saudi oil facility in Jiddah

Yemen rebels claim attack on Saudi oil facility in Jiddah

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This Monday, Nov. 23, 2020 satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. annotated by TankerTrackers.com, shows a damaged tank and fire-suppressing foam on the ground at a Saudi Arabian Oil Co. facility in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. Yemen’s Houthi rebels said they … more >

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By JON GAMBRELL

Associated Press

Monday, November 23, 2020

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Yemen’s Houthi rebels said they struck a Saudi oil facility in the port city of Jiddah on Monday with a new cruise missile, just hours after the kingdom finished hosting its virtual Group of 20 leaders summit.

An unnamed official at the kingdom’s Ministry of Energy acknowledged the attack in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency late Monday. It came after videos of a small explosion at a Saudi Arabian Oil Co. facility in Jiddah circulated on social media all day. A projectile struck a fuel tank at the Jiddah distribution station and ignited a fire, the official said.

Col. Turki al-Maliki, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, blamed the Yemeni rebels for what he called “a cowardly attack which not only targets the kingdom, but also targets the nerve center of the world’s energy supply and the security of the global economy.”

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Brig. Gen. Yehia Sarie, a Houthi military spokesman, tweeted that the rebels fired a new Quds-2 cruise missile at the facility. He posted a satellite image online that matched Aramco’s North Jiddah Bulk Plant, where oil products are stored in tanks.

That facility is just southeast of Jiddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, a major airfield that handles incoming Muslim pilgrims en route to nearby Mecca.

Online videos appeared to show a tank farm similar to the bulk plant on fire, with wailing sirens heard and police cars alongside a highway by the facility. Details of the videos posted predawn Monday matched the general layout of the bulk plant. However, passers-by could not see damage to the tank farm from the highway running beside the facility later Monday morning.

A satellite photo from Planet Labs Inc. later published by TankerTrackers.com appeared to show damage to one of the tanks at the bulk plant and what appeared to be fire-suppression foam on the ground near it.

The Saudi energy official said that firefighters had brought the blaze under control and the strike had not resulted in any casualties or damage to oil supplies.

Earlier, the U.S. Consulate in Jiddah said it wasn’t aware of any casualties from the claimed attack. It urged Americans to “review immediate precautions to take in the event of an attack and stay alert in case of additional future attacks.”

Saudi Aramco, the kingdom’s oil giant that now has a sliver of its worth traded publicly on the stock market, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Its stock traded slightly up Monday on Riyadh’s Tadawul stock exchange as crude oil prices remained steady above $40 a barrel.

The claimed attack comes just after a visit by outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the kingdom to see Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman , a meeting that reportedly included Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The kingdom also just hosted the annual G-20 summit, which concluded Sunday.

A Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Houthis since March 2015, months after the rebels seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. The war has ground into a stalemate since, with Saudi Arabia facing international criticism for its airstrikes killing civilians.

The Houthis have used Quds, or “Jerusalem,” missiles to target Saudi Arabia in the past. The Quds-1 has a copy of a small, Czech-made TJ-100 jet engine, with a range of 700 kilometers (435 miles). United Nations experts have said they don’t believe the missiles are built in Yemen and instead have been sold or traded to them in violation of an arms embargo.

Iran uses a copy of TJ-100 engines in its drone program. U.N. experts, Arab countries and the West say Iran supplies arms to the rebels, allegations denied by Tehran.

The Quds-1 was used in a missile-and-drone strike on the heart of the kingdom’s oil industry in 2019 that shook global energy markets. The U.S. believes Iran carried out that attack amid a series of escalating incidents last year between Tehran and Washington, something Tehran denies.

___

Associated Press writer Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

UN: After 20 years, no equality for women in peace talks

UN: After 20 years, no equality for women in peace talks

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In this photo provided by the United Nations, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, speaks in the U.N. General Assembly Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, in New York. (Eskinder Debebe/UN Photo via AP) more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Thursday, October 29, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The head of the U.N. agency promoting gender equality told the 20th anniversary commemoration of a resolution demanding equal participation for women in peace negotiations that its implementation has failed, declaring Thursday that women still remain “systematically excluded” from talks to end conflicts where men make decisions affecting their lives.

Despite some good initiatives, UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka told the Security Council that in peace negotiations from 1992 to 2019 only 13 percent of negotiators, 6 percent of mediators, and 6 percent of signatories to peace agreements were women.

She said negotiations elevated and empowered “the actors that have fueled the violence,” instead of empowering women and others who are peace-builders – and women were either confined to “informal processes or relegated to the role of spectators.”

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Germany’s Foreign Office Minister of State Michelle Muntefering called the U.N. resolution adopted on Oct. 31, 2000 “a little revolution” because a united Security Council made clear for the first time that women’s equal participation “is required to maintain world peace and security.” It also affirmed that gender equality is also about security and conflict prevention, and that sexual and gender-based violence in war is a crime that must be punished and abolished, she said.

But Muntefering said: “20 years and nine hard-won Security Council resolutions later… women are still excluded from peace processes, their rights and interests continue to be ignored when building post-conflict societies.”

She was blunt in pointing at who Is responsible: “As a global community, we have not lived up to our commitment.”

Too often, the German minister said, sexual and gender-based violence in conflicts remains unpunished and “even worse, in the past years we have seen a global push-back on women’s rights.” And she expressed doubt that the principles in the resolution on women, peace and security adopted in 2000 would be approved today.

“Let me be clear,” Muntefering said. “We have a joint responsibility to implement what we have agreed upon, And that is: without watering down any of the commitments we have signed up to.”

Last year, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution urging all countries to implement the provisions of all previous resolutions on women, peace and security “by ensuring and promoting the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in all stages of peace processes.”

This year, Russia which currently holds the council presidency, has called a vote on a draft resolution which some diplomats say weakens the previous resolutions, especially on issues of human rights and the participation of civil society organizations which have been key in promoting gender equality and participation.

The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because email voting is taking place. The result is expected to be announced on Friday afternoon and it’s unclear whether Russia will get the minimum nine “yes” votes required for adoption.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated to the council that “gender equality is first and foremost a question of power, and wherever we look, power structures are dominated by men,” starting at the top where women lead only 7 percent of countries.

He said women remain largely excluded from delegations to peace talks and negotiations and said “we face serious obstacles” if they are not fairly represented, for example, “in the rooms where the future of Afghanistan is being discussed between the Taliban and the government, or in Mali, as it embarks on a political transition.”

Afghan women’s rights advocate Zarqa Yaftali, who spoke on behalf of non-governmental organizations that work to put women at peace tables, said “the presence of four women on the government’s negotiation team is a positive development, but it is not enough.” The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and refused to allow women to go to school, work outside the home or leave their house without a male escorts, do not have any women in their delegation.

Yaftali urged the international community to insist that the parties, especially the Taliban, don’t “restrict women’s human rights, civil liberties or citizenship in any way.”

“We are not the only ones demanding action,” Yaftali said, pointing to women caught in conflicts from Yemen and Syria to Congo and Sudan who see Afghanistan as “the true test” of the Security Council’s commitment to equality in peace negotiations, and “an indication of what they too can expect” in similar challenges in their own countries.

Actress and playwright Danai Gurira, a UN Women goodwill ambassador, retold the stories of women affected by conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Libya, Somalia and South Sudan who previously addressed the council, saying she didn’t want members to forget their words about working for peace and pleas for women to be at top tables.

Gurira, who was born in Iowa but grew up in Zimbabwe and has appeared in the “Black Panther” and “Avenger” movies, said one thing all those women have in common is their insistence that “equality between men and women in decision-making is the only way we will build peace.”

“Male-dominated rooms in the 21st century should be embarrassing to us all,” Gurira told the council. “And just like (the women) keep showing up for peace, it is your turn to show up for them.”

Justice Department seeks forfeiture of Iranian oil, missiles

Justice Department seeks forfeiture of Iranian oil, missiles

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In this May 28, 2018, file photo released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei listens to a speaker during a meeting with a group of university students in Tehran, … more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Justice Department on Thursday unsealed a civil complaint seeking the forfeiture of Iranian missiles and oil seized in three incidents starting in November 2019.

It is the largest forfeiture action ever taken against Iran for fuel and weapons, officials from the State and Justice Departments told reporters.

The missiles were headed to rebels in Yemen last November when the cache was intercepted by the Navy and Coast Guard. A second stash of weapons was seized by the Navy in February.

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The stash included 171 guided and anti-tank missiles, eight surface-to-air missiles, land-attack cruise missile components, anti-ship cruise missiles and thermal weapons optics.

Separately, federal agents in August seized a multimillion-dollar Iranian fuel shipment bound for Venezuela. At the time, the Justice Department said it was the largest-ever seizure of its kind.

The shipment, confiscated from four oil tankers, was part of a scheme to sidestep U.S. sanctions.

“The two forfeiture complaints allege sophisticated schemes by the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] to secretly ship weapons to Yemen and fuel to Venezuela, countries that pose grave threats to the security and stability of their respective regions,” John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, said at a press conference. “Iran continues to be a leading state sponsor of terrorism and a worldwide destabilizing force.”

On Monday, the Trump administration imposed stricter economic sanctions against Iran’s oil sector as tensions between the two nations escalate in the days before the U.S. presidential election.

The moves come as President Trump increases economic pressure against Iran while penalizing companies and nations that do business with Tehran.

“This case exemplifies the remarkable collaboration across government toward our shared goal of protecting the homeland from regimes that threaten our national security. This investigation sends a message that the attempted circumvention of U.S. sanctions and the avoidance of export conventions will not be tolerated,” said Derek Benner, executive associate director for Homeland Security Investigations.

Yemeni officials say clashes kill 23 in Hodeida, Marib

Yemeni officials say clashes kill 23 in Hodeida, Marib

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By AHMED AL-HAJ

Associated Press

Saturday, October 3, 2020

SANAA, Yemen (AP) – Yemeni officials and tribal leaders said Saturday fighting between government forces and Houthi rebels has killed at least two dozen people in the past three days in Marib province and the key port city of Hodeida.

The war in Yemen erupted in 2014, when the Iran-allied Houthis seized the capital and much of the country’s north. A Saudi-led coalition, determined to restore the authority of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government, launched a sweeping military intervention months later.

The officials said more than 23 people were killed and dozens were wounded from both sides in the most recent fighting for the oil-rich Marib. The Iranian-backed rebels have sought to take control of the region from the internationally recognized government, in order to strengthen their position in ongoing U.N.-mediated peace talks.

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Tribal leaders said the Houthis have deployed reinforcements to break government defenses in Marib, but they have made no progress.

Saudi-led forces have hit Houthi military convoys in the region’s desert, according to the tribal leaders.

In Hodeida, fierce fighting erupted on Wednesday in the town of Durayhimi, just south of the strategic Hodeida port, which handles about 70% of Yemen’s commercial and humanitarian imports, Yemeni officials said.

They said at least one civilian was killed and seven others were wounded in the clashes, which were described as the fiercest violence in months between government forces and the rebels.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media, as did the tribal leaders for fear of reprisals.

Hodeida was the scene of bloody fighting in 2018, before the warring sides signed a U.N.-brokered agreement in December that year that included a cease-fire in the port city and an exchange of more than 15,000 prisoners. But the deal was never fully implemented.

The war in Yemen has spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical shortages. It has killed over 112,000 people, including fighters and civilians.

AP Exclusive: Aid from top donors drops even as need soars

AP Exclusive: Aid from top donors drops even as need soars

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FILE – In this March 30, 2020, file photo, Venezuelan workers wearing protective face masks and suits as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus unload boxes of humanitarian aid as medical supplies and specialists from China arrive … more >

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By CARA ANNA

Associated Press

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

JOHANNESBURG (AP) – A new snapshot of the frantic global response to the coronavirus pandemic shows some of the world’s largest government donors of humanitarian aid are buckling under the strain: Funding commitments, for the virus and otherwise, have dropped by a third from the same period last year.

The analysis by the U.K.-based Development Initiatives, obtained in advance by The Associated Press, offers a rare real-time look at the notoriously difficult to track world of aid.

At a time when billions of people are struggling with the pandemic and the ensuing economic collapse – on top of long-running disasters like famine, drought or unrest – more, not less, money is urgently needed. New virus protection equipment must be bought for almost everything, from maternity wards in African villages to women’s shelters in Syrian refugee camps.

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“We have not seen substantial funding for COVID, yet the situation is going to get worse,” Rosalind Crowther, South Sudan country director for the aid group CARE, told the AP in May, saying “some donors have backtracked on earlier commitments.” The group runs two dozen health centers, more than 40 feeding centers and a safe house in one of the world’s most fragile countries following civil war.

In Somalia, a mother of twin baby boys told Amnesty International she had to give birth in her makeshift home in a camp for displaced people because no local health clinic was open. Aid workers told Amnesty researcher Abdullahi Hassan the newly reduced services were due to lack of funding.

“You can imagine how risky this is,” he told the AP.

During the first five months of this year, overall aid commitments from the largest government donors were $16.9 billion, down from $23.9 billion in the same period last year, according to the new analysis, which drew on data from the United States, the United Kingdom, European Union institutions, Germany, France, Canada and others.

Many of these donors – notably the U.K., whose aid commitments have dropped by nearly 50% from last year, according to the analysis – are struggling as their economies contract. The sheer magnitude of the crisis is another challenge as every part of the world needs help – and now.

The U.K. on Wednesday signaled more trouble, announcing it had identified $3.6 billion in cuts to planned overseas aid spending “so that we can react to the potential shrinkage in our economy.”

The reality on the ground could be even worse than the new analysis indicates: Crucially, it only shows promises of aid. Just how much of the billions of dollars pledged have reached those in need is not yet clear.

In some cases, the response to the pandemic has been alarmingly slow. In June, more than two dozen international aid groups wrote to the U.S. about its pledged coronavirus aid, saying that “little to no U.S. humanitarian assistance has reached those on the front lines” and calling the uncharacteristic delays “devastating.”

Their letter came as the U.S. promoted global leadership on the COVID-19 response with more than $1 billion committed. Aid groups are now waiting to see whether the U.S. will deliver millions of dollars this month as indicated.

This new analysis, like any measure of aid, is imperfect – it looks at data published to the International Aid Transparency Initiative, which is voluntary but widely used. It is also more current than other measures: The data was downloaded on July 10.

The drop in funding is keenly felt by aid groups on the ground.

A survey in May of 92 members of Bond, the U.K. network for nongovernmental organizations working in international development, found just 16% had received any new funding from the U.K.’s Department for International Development while fighting the pandemic in developing countries, and 41% were responding without any extra funding at all.

Some aid groups are warning the window to prevent the pandemic’s worst effects is narrowing while the global humanitarian response “remains woefully underfunded,” as Refugees International said last week.

Meanwhile, “we are concerned that we are seeing a repurposing of existing funds … rather than a release of new funding,” Selena Victor, Mercy Corps’ senior director for policy and advocacy, has said of the EU’s response.

An U.N.-run emergency delivery service that has kept tons of humanitarian aid flowing to scores of countries hurt by travel restrictions could shut down in the coming weeks because “there has been no significant funding” from donor countries, the World Food Program said. Just 19% of the $965 million request has come in.

While individual governments struggle, the largest so-called multilateral organizations including the World Bank and the Global Fund have stepped up, perhaps not yet affected by budget constraints.

Their commitments this year are $48.8 billion, or 70% greater than the same period last year, according to the analysis. That’s a positive sign but “must be sustainable to tackle the whole crisis,” according to the analysis.

The challenges remain vast as various streams of assistance, including remittances, falter. “All resources … are set to fall,” according to a separate new Development Initiatives report.

That drop could continue for months. Official development assistance – government aid for developing countries’ economic development and welfare – could shrink by almost $20 billion worldwide between last year and 2021 under a worst-case scenario that envisages an extended pandemic. The cuts could continue “as government assess domestic priorities,” that report says.

COVID-19 arrived in a world already facing a growing number of humanitarian crises, from Yemen to Myanmar to West Africa’s Sahel. Now the pandemic “threatens to create a funding vacuum,” the report says.

As of the end of June, it says, U.N.-coordinated calls for aid for this year were up 25% from last year because of additional needs created by the pandemic, reaching more than $37 billion.

Last week, the United Nations again increased its request for the pandemic response alone to $10.3 billion – the largest appeal in its history.

Only $1.7 billion has been received. Up to $40 billion might be needed.

“The response of wealthy nations so far has been grossly inadequate and dangerously short-sighted,” U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said. “Failure to act now will leave the virus free to circle ‘round the globe.”

___

Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Yemen’s rebels crack down as COVID-19 and rumors spread

Yemen’s rebels crack down as COVID-19 and rumors spread

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In this May 2020 frame grab from video provided by a Yemeni activist, men in protective gear bury a victim of COVID-19, in the Houthi-controlled city of Ibb, Yemen. An investigation by The Associated Press found that the coronavirus is … more >

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By Maggie Michael

Associated Press

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

CAIRO (AP) — In the darkness, the bodies of suspected victims of coronavirus are carried in silence, one after the other, to be buried in several cemeteries across northern Yemen. Flashlights flicker as mourners make their way through the shadows.

The corpses are washed with disinfectants, wrapped in layers of plastic sheets and white linen before being laid to rest in 6-feet deep pits. There is no one around except for a handful of relatives in masks, gloves, and white gowns. Large gatherings are not permitted. Phones are not allowed.

Grave diggers and guards at the cemeteries are warned not to speak about the causes of the deaths. If asked, they are told to say that the dead are “unidentified bodies from the war,” according to several residents and one gravedigger. Families are never really told if their relatives died from the coronavirus, which is believed to be the culprit. Test results are never released. These daily funeral rituals come as social media are flooded with condolences and photographs of the dead.

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The coronavirus is spreading throughout Yemen, a county that has been devastated by five years of civil war. The fighting is between the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who control the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north, and a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of the internationally recognized government.

The fighting has already killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions. Years of aerial bombings and intense ground fighting has destroyed thousands of buildings, leaving half of Yemen’s health facilities dysfunctional. About 18% of the country’s 333 districts have no doctors. Water and sanitation systems have collapsed. Many families, especially among the millions displaced by fighting, can barely afford one meal a day.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the deadly toll of the war in Yemen, crippling a health system already in shambles with little capacity to test those suspected of having the virus. The country has no more than 500 ventilators and 700 ICU beds nationwide. There is one oxygen cylinder per month for every 2.5 million people.

The situation is exacerbated in the Houthi-controlled north, where the rebels have suppressed information about the virus, severely punished those who speak out, enforced little mitigation measures, and promoted conspiracies and claims by the Houthi minister of health that their scientists are working on developing a cure for COVID-19 to present to the world.

Officially, the rebels say that only four cases of coronavirus have been detected in the regions they control, but have resisted making the number of positive cases and deaths public.

“We don’t publish the numbers to the society because such publicity has a heavy and terrifying toll on people’s psychological health,” said Youssef al-Hadhari, spokesman for the Houthi health ministry, in response to questions by The Associated Press.

His comments come two months after Houthi Minister of Health Taha al-Motawakel painted a bleak picture of the country’s readiness to deal with the virus, saying that at some point Houthi officials will have to deal with 1 million people in need of hospital admissions in a two-month period. He told a parliament session that at one point, doctors will have to choose between whom to rescue and whom to let die.

This is “battlefield medicine,” he said.

The World Health Organization believes that there is a significant undercount of total number of people affected by the coronavirus outbreak, which officials say could further hinder efforts to get the medical supplies needed to contain the virus.

Richard Brennan, the WHO’s regional emergency director, told the AP that he believes the COVID-19 deaths are in the hundreds and cases are in the thousands, based on what he has heard from numerous health providers in Yemen.

Local health officials, aid workers, residents, and community activists who all spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the pandemic, say the situation in the war-torn country is worsening fast. Local unions, who have kept their own death tallies from the coronavirus, report that 46 medical staffers, 28 judges, and 13 lawyers died in a three-week period between mid-May and early June, well above the Houthis’ official count.

The lack of information about the true number of people infected by the coronavirus in Houthi-controlled areas has led to wild speculation about the nature of the disease and the rebel’s response to dealing with the infections and deaths has only added to the confusion.

One widely circulated rumor suggested Houthi rebels have instructed doctors to kill suspected COVID-19 patients with a “mercy injection.”

The rumor, which was given credibility because of a supposedly confidential document allegedly signed by the health minister, gained so much traction that Houthi leaders took the unusual step of issuing an official denial, calling the rumor “lies aimed at spreading fear.” The Houthis themselves have also spread rumors that the virus was spread by outsiders.

Some hospitals, like the Jibla hospital in the northern province of Ibb, one of the worst hit areas, have been called “injection hospitals” because of the high number of deaths happening there, residents and local activists said.

These rumors have caused widespread panic, and residents say they are less likely to notify health officials about suspected cases of COVID-19 .

“People don’t go to hospitals for fear of the mercy injection,” said a local activist, referring to the Jibla hospital. “We can’t tell the truth from the fallacy but I know many people who died in mysterious ways inside this hospital.”

A lawmaker in Sanaa told the AP that people are afraid to report coronavirus cases, fearing retaliation from Houthi officials.

“The suspected cases are treated like war criminals,” he said.

The lawmaker and a local activist from Ibb province said that the Houthis have gone through great lengths to contain information about the spread of COVID-19 in the rebel-controlled region.

At the Jibla hospital, which has has been turned into a COVID-19 isolation facility, the rebels have appointed a security supervisor to control the flow of information in and out of the hospital.

“He is the one in charge, meaning the head of the hospital himself is powerless in the face of this official. All staffers in the hospital fear him,” the activist said.

In a phone call with the AP, Abdullah al-Matari, the head of the hospital, declined to comment. He referred questions to the ministry’s top officials.

Residents said militiamen working as security personnel in the hospital also search visitors for phones and prevent them from carrying the devices inside the quarantine wards.

The Houthi information blackout extends beyond the hospitals. When a local activist posted a picture of an ambulance on social media of two medical workers in protective gear washing the vehicle in a pond, one of the men said they said they just finished transferring eight bodies to the cemetery named Jarraf.

When the picture went viral on social media, the man who spoke was interrogated and suspended from his job, the activist said. The AP could not independently verify his account.

In several cemeteries in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, burials occur almost daily, according to local residents and doctors.

Deaths from suspected coronavirus cases have surged to the point that, at the end of May, the Houthi religious endowment ministry, which is in charge of cemeteries, hung a sign on one of Sanaa’s largest cemeteries that read: “Khazima cemetery is full.”

Residents say it’s hard to find a burial plot for less than a quarter million rials, or 500 dollars – five times the salary of a government employee. Burials are spread out all over Sanaa cemeteries so as not to attract any attention to the numbers, residents said.

Secretly filming the burials on smartphones in defiance of the Houthi orders has become an act of heroism, local resident said in interviews, adding that the amateur videos give Yemenis the only true glimpse of the true impact of COVID-19 in the region.

The outbreak in the Houthi-held territory is taking place amid simmering tension between the rebels and the U.N. agencies, which are running short of funding for aid programs.

Last week, the United Nations announced that it was about a billion dollars short of what aid agencies say is needed to address Yemen’s humanitarian needs and a deteriorating health care system made worse by the coronavirus.

“The situation is catastrophic,” said one aid worker of an international agency working in Yemen. “Now the COVID-19 outbreak, the suspension of funding, the tension between donors and the authorities, we have less money, and more needs. It’s terrible.”

UN chief:16 armed groups have responded to cease-fire appeal

UN chief:16 armed groups have responded to cease-fire appeal

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Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General displayed on a screen at the Environment Ministry as he delivers his speech at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue, in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Due to the coronavirus crisis, the conference will only be held … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Thursday, April 30, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Sixteen armed groups have responded positively to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ appeal for a global cease-fire to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, but the U.N. chief said Thursday that mistrust remains high and turning intentions into an end to hostilities is difficult.

He said at a news conference that his March 23 call “has resonated widely, with endorsements from 114 governments, diverse regional organizations, religious leaders and more than 200 civil society groups spanning all regions.”

According to an informal tally kept by the U.N. based on various sources, the 16 armed groups that responded positively are from Yemen, Myanmar, Ukraine, Philippines, Colombia, Angola, Libya, Senegal, Sudan, Syria, Indonesia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

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Guterres said his special representatives and envoys are working, with his own involvement when necessary, “to turn expressed intentions into effective cease-fires.”

The secretary-general said he believes “there is an opportunity for peace in Yemen.” He said a cease-fire negotiated by Turkey and Russia in Syria’s northwest Idlib region, the last major opposition stronghold, is holding “but we are still hopeful for a country-wide end to hostilities.”

In Afghanistan, Guterres said, “we are pushing hard for a humanitarian cease-fire between the government and the Taliban.” But “in Libya, regrettably, we have seen an escalation despite all our efforts and those of many others in the international community,” he said.

Guterres stressed that all of the U.N.’s efforts “depend on strong political backing,” and he singled out divisions in the Security Council among its five veto-wielding members as an obstacle.

Diplomats say a draft Security Council resolution voicing support for the secretary-general’s cease-fire call is being held up by a dispute between the United States and China over a reference to the World Health Organization. If adopted, it would be the council’s first resolution related to the pandemic.

The Chinese insist the text mention the WHO and its role in the global fight against the virus. That is opposed by the U.S., where President Donald Trump suspended funding for the U.N. agency in early April, accusing it of failing to stop the virus from spreading and saying it “must be held accountable.” Washington is insisting instead on a reference to “transparency” in information about the virus, diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private.

Guterres told reporters, “It is my hope the Security Council will be able to find unity and adopt decisions that can help to make cease-fires meaningful and real.”

According to the U.N.’s informal tally, the groups that have responded positively to Guterres’ cease-fire appeal include Houthi rebels who control Yemen’s capital of Sanaa and the country’s separatist Southern Transitional Council; Myanmar’s Arakan Army and Brotherhood Alliance; the Communist Party of the Philippines and its rebel New People’s Army; Colombia’s National Liberation Army; and Angola’s separatist Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda.

The others are the rebel Libyan National Army; Senegal’s Movement of the Democratic Forces of Casamance; the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (Al-Hilu) and the Sudan Revolutionary Front; the Syrian Opposition Coalition; Indonesia’s West Papua National Liberation Army; de facto “authorities” in disputed Nagorno-Karabakh; and entities in control of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.

Yemen reports first COVID-19 deaths as fears grow that the coronavirus could be spreading undetected

Yemen reports first COVID-19 deaths as fears grow that the coronavirus could be spreading undetected

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In this Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, file photo, Shiite Houthi tribesmen hold their weapons as they chant slogans during a tribal gathering showing support for the Houthi movement, in Sanaa, Yemen. On Wednesday, April 8, 2020, the Saudi-led coalition fighting … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Yemen on Thursday reported its two coronavirus-related deaths as experts and officials warn that the war-torn country could be devastated by the impacts of the virus within its borders.

Yemen has reported just six confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, and one recovery. Officials on Wednesday upped the count from previous reports of just one infection.

Local sources told the BBC the two deaths are believed to be brothers who died in Yemen’s capital city of Aden.

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Earlier this month, U.S. officials announced preparations for a “substantial” aid package to help Yemen in their fight against the coronavirus, but it may be forced to circumvent the World Health Organization after President Trump vowed to freeze funding to the United Nations-backed agency over its handling of the outbreak.

Yemen has been trapped in a devastating five-year-long civil war that has decimated the country’s infrastructure and killed more than 100,000, sparking a humanitarian crisis.

The U.N. has warned recently that there is a “very real probability” that the virus could be spreading undetected among local communities due to inadequate testing resources.

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen earlier this month unilaterally declared a ceasefire in an effort to support U.N. and global measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the country and ultimately broker a peace agreement.

But the Houthi rebels have launched coalition airstrikes and ground fighting after dismissing the efforts.

The International Rescue Committee’s Yemen Director Tamuna Sabadze on Wednesday warned the country is “on the brink of catastrophe” with increased fighting in the face of a pandemic.

She called on international actors such as the U.S., United Kingdom and France to “push those responsible for the escalation in fighting to commit to a nationwide cease-fire and return to political negotiations to end the war.”

Humanitarian group predicts up to 1 billion coronavirus infections among vulnerable countries

Humanitarian group predicts up to 1 billion coronavirus infections among vulnerable countries

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

A group of 34 vulnerable countries could see up to 1 billion coronavirus infections and 3.2 million deaths without proper action against the spread of the virus, an international aid group warned Tuesday.

New analysis by the International Rescue Committee suggests that countries with fragile infrastructure and existing humanitarian crises such as Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Venezuela, could be disproportionately hit by the virus unless a “robust response” is taken in the current early stages.

“These numbers should serve as a wake-up call,” said David Miliband, president and CEO of the IRC in a statement Tuesday.

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“The full, devastating and disproportionate weight of this pandemic has yet to be felt in the world’s most fragile and war-torn countries.”

The IRC predicted there could be between 500 million and 1 billion infections, leading to between 1.7 to 3.2 million deaths from COVID-19 in these countries, based on potential response scenarios.

The group cautioned that even extreme social distancing measures that are being implemented around the world are “unsustainable” in the context of humanitarian efforts, and called for localized approaches to mitigate the virus’ spread.

The latest warning comes weeks after the Red Cross predicted that coronavirus outbreaks in Middle Eastern conflict zones could have a greater impact on millions of people in the region and fuel a socioeconomic upheaval and widespread unrest.

Days earlier, the global poverty fund Oxfam warned that the global economic impacts from the coronavirus outbreak could push up to a half a billion more people into poverty around the world.

They estimated that the financial implications from the coronavirus pandemic could set back the poverty fight by up to 30 years.

But Mr. Miliband said there is still time to prevent such devastation among fragile populations.

“We are still in the critical window of time to mount a robust preventative response to the early stages of COVID-19 in many of these countries and prevent a further perpetuation of this epidemic globally,” he said.

More than 3 million coronavirus cases have been reported globally, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.

A total of 212,038 people have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and more than 906,000 have recovered.

Yemen’s southern separatists claim sole control of Aden

Yemen’s southern separatists claim sole control of Aden

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By AHMED AL-HAJ

Associated Press

Saturday, April 25, 2020

SANAA, Yemen (AP) – Yemen’s southern separatists on Sunday broke a peace deal with the country’s internationally recognized government and claimed sole control of the regional capital of Aden, threatening to resume fighting between the two ostensible allies.

In a statement, the separatists’ Southern Transitional Council, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates, declared a state of emergency and said it would “self-govern” the key southern port city and other southern provinces. The separatists accused Yemen’s government, which is supported by Saudi Arabia, of corruption and mismanagement.

The government dismissed the separatists’ move. Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdullah al-Hadrami called for Saudi Arabia to have a “clear position” and take “decisive measures against the continuing rebellion of the so-called Transitional Council.”

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The division between the two supposed allies is another facet of the country’s complicated civil war. On one side are the separatists and on the other are forces loyal to former President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Both have fought together in the Saudi-led coalition’s war against Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels.

The Houthis in 2014 overran major parts of northern Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa, pushing out the internationally recognized government and ushering in a war that has killed tens of thousands of people. Hadi fled first to Aden and then to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi-led coalition intervened in the conflict in 2015 and has since waged war against the Houthis in an effort to restore Hadi’s government to power. The fighting in the Arab world’s poorest country has also left millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushed the country to the brink of famine.

In August, heavy fighting broke out between Hadi’s forces and the southern separatists when the latter took Aden, the temporary seat of Hadi’s government, and key southern provinces. The fighting stopped when the two groups reached a deal in November.

The deal however has yet to be implemented with both sides traded accusations on halting its implementation.

Saturday’s move came amid protests in Aden against Hadi’s government and the separatists following devastating torrential rains and floods earlier this week. The rains plunged swaths of the country under water, causing extensive damage to homes and leaving dozens of people missing, homeless or dead. It forced Hadi’s government to declare a state of emergency in Aden, which was hit hard.

Sunday’s announcement by the separatists raises concerns that Yemen could slide further into chaos amid the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Yemen so far has only one confirmed case, in the southern province of Hadramawt, but experts and health workers have warned that the disease could wreak havoc there due to the dilapidated health system and damaged infrastructure.