Lawmakers demand review of Saudi bombings before massive arms sale

BuzzFeed reports: A bipartisan group of lawmakers is demanding that the Trump administration provide a detailed account of Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen, including instances of potential war crimes, before approving the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of precision-guided bombs, BuzzFeed News has learned.

The request, detailed in a letter signed by 31 members of the House of Representatives, could push the United States to disclose sensitive details about when and where the Saudi military ignored Washington’s instructions to avoid targets that resulted in civilian casualties.

Congress must “ensure that the [Royal Saudi Air Force] has the ability to avoid civilian casualties before the U.S. sells them any additional air-to-ground munitions,” said a draft of the letter addressed to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

The demand follows a decision by the State Department to resume the sale of precision-guided weapons to Saudi Arabia as the Trump administration beefs up support for the Arab monarchy’s military campaign in Yemen. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

British police look at allegations of Saudi war crimes in Yemen

The Guardian reports: Scotland Yard is examining allegations of war crimes by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, the Guardian can reveal, triggering a possible diplomatic row with Britain on the eve of Theresa May’s visit to the Arab state.

The Metropolitan police confirmed that their war crimes unit was assessing whether criminal prosecutions could be brought over Saudi Arabia’s devastating aerial campaign in Yemen.

The force’s SO15 counter-terrorism unit revealed to a London human rights lawyer that it had launched a “scoping exercise” into the claims before Maj Gen Ahmed al-Asiri’s visit to the capital last week.

The revelation comes as May plans to underline Britain’s close relationship with the Saudi royal family on her visit to the Arab state this week, in which tackling the terror threat from Islamic State will be a key factor. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump chases arms sales – whatever the human cost

The Guardian reports: The Trump administration’s decision to press ahead with a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Bahrain will dismay Shia opposition groups and international human rights campaigners critical of the Sunni-led state’s authoritarian regime.

However, the sale of 19 advanced Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets fits an emerging pattern since Donald Trump took office in January, indicating a new US willingness to pump hi-tech weaponry into global trouble spots and fuel lucrative but destabilising regional arms races.

Barack Obama declined to approve the Bahrain deal last year amid concern over the latest crackdown on opposition leaders since the Shia uprising in 2011. Obama said Bahrain had failed to fulfil promises to improve its record, a verdict confirmed in Human Rights Watch’s latest report.

Trump’s decision reflects his priority of strengthening ties with the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf in the fight against Islamic State, and in their ongoing confrontation with Iran’s Shia theocracy.

Bahrain, which claims it faces Iranian-inspired subversion, is the home port of the US fifth fleet. Britain is building a naval base there, and has maintained arms export sales worth £45m since 2011.

In another move overriding human rights concerns, Trump is also expected to give the go-ahead soon for an expanded new arms package for Saudi Arabia. The sale, of $300m (£240m) of precision-guided munitions, was also blocked by Obama over fears the weapons would be used in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump administration weighs deeper involvement in Yemen war

The Washington Post reports: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has asked the White House to lift Obama-era restrictions on U.S. military support for Persian Gulf states engaged in a protracted civil war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, according to senior Trump administration officials.

In a memo this month to national security adviser H.R. ­McMaster, Mattis said that “limited support” for Yemen operations being conducted by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — including a planned Emirati offensive to retake a key Red Sea port — would help combat a “common threat.”

Approval of the request would mark a significant policy shift. U.S. military activity in Yemen until now has been confined mainly to counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda’s affiliate there, with limited indirect backing for gulf state efforts in a two-year-old war that has yielded significant civilian casualties.

It would also be a clear signal of the administration’s intention to move more aggressively against Iran. The Trump White House, in far stronger terms than its predecessor, has echoed Saudi and Emirati charges that Iran is training, arming and directing the Shiite Houthis in a proxy war to increase its regional clout against the Gulf’s Sunni monarchies. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Iran steps up support for Houthis in Yemen’s war

Reuters reports: Iran is sending advanced weapons and military advisers to Yemen’s rebel Houthi movement, stepping up support for its Shi’ite ally in a civil war whose outcome could sway the balance of power in the Middle East, regional and Western sources say.

Iran’s enemy Saudi Arabia is leading a Sunni Arab coalition fighting the Houthis in the impoverished state on the tip of the Arabian peninsula – part of the same regional power struggle that is fuelling the war in Syria.

Sources with knowledge of the military movements, who declined to be identified, say that in recent months Iran has taken a greater role in the two-year-old conflict by stepping up arms supplies and other support. This mirrors the strategy it has used to support its Lebanese ally Hezbollah in Syria.

A senior Iranian official said Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Qods Force – the external arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – met top IRGC officials in Tehran last month to look at ways to “empower” the Houthis. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

UN seeks inquiry into deadly assault on migrant boat near Yemen

The New York Times reports: The United Nations on Monday called for an inquiry into an aerial assault on a boat of migrants last week off Yemen’s Red Sea coast that left at least 42 people dead.

The attack on the boat, believed to be carrying 145 people leaving Yemen, was among the most horrific episodes of deadly violence on asylum seekers there since Saudi Arabia and its allies entered the country’s civil war and began an air campaign against the Houthi rebels two years ago.

The boat assault also illustrated the vibrant trade in people-smuggling between the Horn of Africa and Yemen, a congregation point for tens of thousands of Africans fleeing their own countries.

Most of the passengers aboard the vessel were believed to be Somalis who had been staying in Yemen and were trying to reach Sudan.

United Nations officials have registered nearly 280,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Yemen, mostly from Somalia. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

State Dept. approves renewal of arms sales to Saudis as they continue bombing famine-stricken Yemen

The Washington Post reports: The State Department has approved a resumption of weapons sales that critics have linked to Saudi Arabia’s bombing of civilians in Yemen, a potential sign of reinvigorated U.S. support for the kingdom’s involvement in its neighbor’s ongoing civil war.

The proposal from the State Department would reverse a decision made late in the Obama administration to suspend the sale of precision guided munitions to Riyadh, which leads a mostly Arab coalition conducting airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s approval this week of the measure, which officials say needs White House backing to go into effect, provides an early indication of the new administration’s more Saudi-friendly approach to the conflict in Yemen and a sign of its more hawkish stance on Iran.

It also signals a break with an approach the previous administration hoped would limit civilian deaths in a conflict that has pushed Yemen to the brink of widespread famine but that Persian Gulf ally Saudi Arabia has cast as a battle against the spread of Iranian influence across the Middle East. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Saudi’s Prince Turki Al-Faisal challenged on human rights and terrorism

 

Facebooktwittermail

UN officials: Yemen could face famine if no immediate action

The Associated Press reports: U.N. officials warned Thursday that the escalating conflict in Yemen has left two-thirds of the population in need of humanitarian aid and the country could face famine this year unless immediate action is taken.

U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed told the Security Council that the “dangerous” upsurge in airstrikes and fighting is having “tragic consequences for the Yemeni people,” with 18.2 million in need of emergency food.

U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien warned that “an astounding 10.3 million Yemenis … require immediate assistance to save or sustain their lives” — and “at least two million people need emergency food assistance to survive.”

“The conflict in Yemen is now the primary driver of the largest food security emergency in the world,” O’Brien said. “If there is no immediate action, famine is now a possible scenario for 2017.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Yemen: A calamity at the end of the Arabian peninsula

By Vincent Durac, University College Dublin

At the tip of the Arabian peninsula, Yemen’s disastrous war has been raging for nearly two years. Somewhat overshadowed by the devastating crisis in Syria, it is nonetheless a major calamity: according to the UN, more than 10,000 people have lost their lives, while more than 20m (of a total population of some 27m) are in need of humanitarian assistance. More than 3m people are internally displaced, while hundreds of thousands have fled the country altogether. There are reports of looming famine as the conflict destroys food production in the country.

So how did Yemen get here – and what are the prospects for turning things around?

This war has its roots in the popular uprising of 2011. That rebellion unseated the country’s long-time president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose General People’s Congress (GPC) has dominated the country’s political life since Yemeni unification in 1990. But what really triggered the conflict that began in in 2015 was the years of failed transitional negotiations that followed Saleh’s ousting.

The protest movement spread quickly across the country, its youth protesters soon joined by established opposition parties, as well as southern Yemeni separatists and the Houthi movement.

The Houthi movement emerged in the early 2000s; in brief, it’s a Zaydi Shia revivalist movement that seeks to redress the marginalisation of Yemen’s significant Zaydi minority, whose opposition to the Saleh regime erupted in outright violent conflict on six separate occasions between 2004 and 2010.

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail

Women defy Saudi restrictions in music video

 

The New York Times reports: Three women in black niqabs covering their hair and faces skateboard down a street, their scarves and colorful dresses flowing behind them. A catchy tune with provocative lyrics — “May all men sink into oblivion” and “If only God would rid us of men” — plays as the women alternately glide on in-line skates, cruise on scooters and parade down the street in vibrant outfits, all things taboo for women in Saudi Arabia.

The music video has rapidly spread across social media, viewed more than three million times since it was uploaded to YouTube two weeks ago, and it has prompted debate over the role of women in Saudi society. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Yemen’s children starve as war drags on

The Associated Press reports: As the first light of dawn trickles in through the hospital window, 19-year-old Mohammed Ali learns that his two-year-old cousin has died of hunger. But he has to remain strong for his little brother Mohannad, who could be next.

He holds his brother’s hand as the five-year-old struggles to breathe, his skin stretched tight over tiny ribs. “I have already lost a cousin to malnutrition today, I can’t lose my little brother,” he says.

They are among countless Yemenis who are struggling to feed themselves amid a grinding civil war that has pushed the Arab world’s poorest nation to the brink of famine. The family lives in a mud hut in northern Yemen, territory controlled by Shiite Houthi rebels, who are at war with government forces and a Saudi-led and U.S.-backed coalition.

The coalition has been waging a fierce air campaign against the rebels since March 2015, trying unsuccessfully to dislodge them from the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north. A coalition blockade aimed at preventing the Houthis from re-arming has contributed to a 60-percent spike in food prices, according to an estimate used by international aid groups.

During the best of times, many Yemenis struggled to make ends meet. Now they can barely feed themselves. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Ousted after the Arab Spring, a former dictator is back

The Washington Post reports: The slim, brown-suited man with the handlebar mustache nodded approvingly.

He stood behind a chair at a ceremony in the summer, watching as his loyalists and rebels signed a power-sharing deal to rule the country. Never mind that peace talks were underway at the time, or that the United Nations had expressed concerns that the deal violated the constitution.

Yemen’s former longtime ruler, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was back.

Ousted during the Arab Spring uprisings, one of the Middle East’s wiliest politicians has risen up again. He is taking advantage of the chaos of conflict and the political inexperience of the rebels to deepen his influence, officials and analysts say. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

How Syria defeated the Sunni powers

Emile Hokayem writes: Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, three of the Middle East’s major Sunni powers, once equated their standings in the region with the outcome of the war in Syria. Since the uprising broke out in 2011, they have been stalwart — if often divided — supporters of the rebels in their fight against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

In the last several months, it became clear they were on the losing side. Recent events, including the fall of eastern Aleppo this month, are compelling these countries to adjust their strategies. A cease-fire agreement brokered by Russia and Turkey and announced on Thursday has only made it clearer that in the Middle East, force drives diplomacy.

The mainstream rebel groups that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have backed since 2011 are now morphing into a rural insurgency. This will mean they are less of a threat to the Assad government, but more vulnerable to being defeated by jihadist groups — or lured into joining them. Supporting these rebels will soon become even more difficult, especially if President-elect Donald J. Trump follows through on campaign pledges to end American aid to rebel groups and to work more closely with Russia to fight jihadists in Syria. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

‘Sometimes the baby dies, sometimes the mother’: Life and death in Yemen’s hospitals

The Washington Post reports: The infant was barely breathing when his uncle brought him to the hospital in a cardboard box. He was wrapped in a blue towel, and wads of cotton were stuffed around his frail body to keep him warm.

Muhammad Haithem was just hours old, born two months premature.

His mother had gone into labor when an airstrike by a Saudi-led coalition hit near their home in the town of Abs. The hospital there was destroyed by an airstrike in August. So the baby’s uncle put him in a pickup truck and drove three hours to the nearest government hospital, recalled Ahlia Ashumali, a nurse who received the baby.

A week later, Muhammad was still teetering between life and death. He weighed four pounds and was being fed through tubes.

Surviving even birth is a struggle in Yemen. After nearly two years of war, thousands of children and adults have died from easily treatable diseases, illnesses and injuries as the health-care system collapses. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The secret wealth of the royal family running ‘Al Saud Inc’

The New York Times reports from Tangiers: Behind a tall perimeter wall, studded with surveillance cameras and guarded by Moroccan soldiers, a sprawling new palace for King Salman of Saudi Arabia rose on the Atlantic coast here last summer.

Even as the Saudi government canceled a quarter of a trillion dollars’ worth of projects back home as part of a fiscal austerity program, workers hustled to finish bright blue landing pads for helicopters at the vacation compound and to erect a tent the size of a circus big-top where the king could feast and entertain his enormous retinue.

The royal family’s fortune derives from the reserves of petroleum discovered during the reign of Salman’s father, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud, more than 75 years ago. The sale of oil provides billions of dollars in annual allowances, public-sector sinecures and perks for royals, the wealthiest of whom own French chateaus and Saudi palaces, stash money in Swiss bank accounts, wear couture dresses under their abayas and frolic on some of the world’s biggest yachts out of sight of commoners.

King Salman serves as chairman of the family business unofficially known as “Al Saud Inc.” Sustained low oil prices have strained the economy and forced questions about whether the family — with thousands of members and still growing — can simultaneously maintain its lavish lifestyle and its unchallenged grip on the country. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail