ISIS claims responsibility for bombing at Saudi mosque

The New York Times reports: The Islamic State extremist group claimed responsibility Friday for a suicide bombing during midday prayer at a Shiite mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Health Ministry said at least 21 people had been killed and more than 120 others injured.

It appeared to be the first official claim of an attack inside the kingdom by the Islamic State, which has seized control of much of Syria and Iraq.

The group attributed the attack to a new unit, the Najd Province, named for the central region of Saudi Arabia around Riyadh. But it was unclear whether the attack was planned by Islamic State leaders, initiated independently by a Saudi sympathizer, or merely claimed opportunistically after the fact.

The attack was a sign that Saudi Arabia’s intervention in the sectarian conflict in Yemen may be escalating tensions at home. Members of the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia, who make up about 15 percent of the population and live mainly in the Eastern Province, have long complained of insults and discrimination by Saudi Arabia’s Sunni majority and its clerical establishment. [Continue reading…]

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1,850 killed, over 500,000 displaced in Yemen: UN

AFP: The United Nations said on Tuesday that some 1,850 people had been killed and more than 500,000 displaced as a result of the conflict raging in Yemen since late March.

As of May 15, 1,849 people had been killed and 7,394 had been injured, the UN humanitarian agency said citing numbers from Yemen health facilities.

The UN has repeatedly stressed that many of those injured and killed do not pass through health facilities, meaning the actual toll could be higher.

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Stakes getting dangerously high for Saudi Arabia and its young prince

Bruce Riedel writes: As the war in Yemen resumes after a short humanitarian truce, the stakes are getting higher for Saudi Arabia’s princes.

The Royal Saudi Air Force and its allies resumed their bombing campaign this week after a five-day cease-fire to allow humanitarian supplies into Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s 29-year-old Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman has staked his future and his country’s on achieving some kind of victory in the kingdom’s war in Yemen. A truce that leaves Sanaa under the control of what the Saudis claim is an Iranian protégé regime is clearly not a decisive victory for the royals.

Instead — after weeks of air attacks on the Zaydi Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies — the prince’s war looks like a stalemate. The immense damage done to Yemen’s weak infrastructure has created considerable bad blood between Yemenis and their rich Gulf neighbors that will poison relations for years. Yemenis always resented their rich brothers, and now many will want revenge. Iran is scoring a victory on its Gulf rival without any cost to Tehran and with only limited Iranian assistance to the Zaydis. [Continue reading…]

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Yemen is being held hostage by opposing forces

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad writes: Early last year, the Houthis, followers of a revivalist anti-Western cleric, moved out of their northern highlands and marched south towards Sanaa, promising to end corruption, to fight al-Qaida, challenge US hegemony – al-Qaida and the Americans were allies in the subjugation of Muslims, they said – and raise Yemenis out of poverty and powerlessness into a shining and more dignified future. In 2011 President Saleh had been toppled to be replaced by his deputy, the aloof Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who had allowed al-Islah – the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood – to control many offices of state. One crony kleptocratic elite had made way for another. Yemen wanted change and the Houthis faced little or no resistance.

The Houthis marched towards Sanaa slowly but with determination. They laid siege to sectarian rivals, fought tribal leaders aligned with those rivals and outmanoeuvred their own allies. Towns fell before their troops, army bases surrendered or switched allegiance without much of a fight and the houses of those who dared to oppose them were demolished with explosives. In mid-September they built protest camps around Sanaa, ostensibly to demonstrate against a planned hike on fuel prices but effectively laying siege to the city. The army did what it usually does and shot and killed several demonstrators. Two days later, on 21 September, after defeating tribal and military units affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, Sanaa went down without much of a crash or a thud. The UN special envoy and the president came up with an agreement that enshrined the Houthis as the new masters of the city, and to preserve the façade of the political process and safeguard their jobs they declared that in every other way it was business as usual.

With the help of Popular Committees, representing their military wing, the Houthis raided and blockaded ministries, scrutinised bank accounts and removed ministers and officials from office. They even confiscated that sacred sceptre of the state, the departmental rubber stamps. The state was held hostage. The Supreme Revolutionary Committee became the authority that wielded political power and was housed in the city centre in a white hotel building with square balconies and green stone cornicing. From the early hours of the morning until late at night a motley crowd came and went through its gates. They included farmers seeking to address injustices inflicted by wealthy landlords, tribal leaders pledging allegiance, maverick politicians seeking positions in the new administration or businessmen looking for ways to avoid punishment. Even tribesmen who had long bickered over blood feuds came seeking a solution. Everyone wanted absolution from the new rulers of Sanaa. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi forces and Houthis trade heavy fire along border

Al Jazeera reports: Yemen’s Houthi fighters and Saudi Arabian forces have traded heavy artillery and rocket fire in border areas, residents say, a day before a proposed ceasefire.

The Houthis said they fired Katyusha rockets and mortars on the Saudi cities of Jizan and Najran on Monday, after the Saudis hit Saada and Hajjah provinces with more than 150 rockets, the Reuters news agency reported.

Saudi Arabia’s civil defence department said that one Saudi person was killed in the shelling in Najran, which it said targeted a school and residence adjacent to a military post. [Continue reading…]

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Yemen: Coalition blocking desperately needed fuel

Human Rights Watch: The Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s blockade of Yemen is keeping out fuel needed for the Yemeni population’s survival in violation of the laws of war. Yemen is in urgent need of fuel to power generators for hospitals overwhelmed with wounded from the fighting and to pump water to civilian residences.

The 10-country coalition, which has United States logistics and intelligence support, should urgently implement measures for the rapid processing of oil tankers to allow the safe, secure, and speedy distribution of fuel supplies to the civilian population. The Houthis and other armed groups controlling port areas should permit the safe transfer of fuel to hospitals and other civilian entities. Fuel should be allowed to go through whether or not a proposed ceasefire takes effect.

“The rising civilian casualties from the fighting could become dwarfed by the harm caused to civilians by the coalition blockade on fuel, if it continues,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “It is unclear how much longer Yemen’s remaining hospitals have before the lights go out.” [Continue reading…]

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Houthi rebels agree to 5-day cease-fire in Yemen

The New York Times: Yemen’s Houthi rebels said on Sunday that they had agreed to a five-day cease-fire proposed by Saudi Arabia that would allow desperately needed humanitarian relief supplies to be delivered to the country, according to a Houthi-controlled news service.

The Houthis’ acceptance of the cease-fire came as a Saudi-led military coalition bombed the private residence of Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former president and the Houthis’ most important ally in the war. Mr. Saleh apparently survived the attack on his residence, in Sana, the Yemeni capital.

In its statement accepting the cease-fire, the Houthis said the group would “respond” to any violation of the truce by “Al Qaeda or those who stand with them.” The Houthis frequently assert that their opponents, who include southern separatists; supporters of Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Yemen’s exiled president; moderate Islamists; and more hard-line groups, all belong to Al Qaeda.

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Saudi Arabia announces cease-fire in Yemen

The New York Times reports: Saudi Arabia announced on Friday that it would halt its bombing campaign in Yemen for five days beginning on Tuesday, in a sign that it was bowing to international pressure to ease a worsening humanitarian crisis in a country battered by weeks of war.

Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir of Saudi Arabia said the cease-fire would begin at 11 p.m. Tuesday. Mr. Jubeir, who spoke at a news conference in Paris with Secretary of State John Kerry, said the success of the cease-fire was contingent on cooperation by the Houthis, the Yemeni rebel group that has been the target of a Saudi-led military offensive that began in late March.

“It is our hope and our desire that the Houthis will come to their senses,” Mr. Jubeir said. The Houthis did not react to the cease-fire proposal later on Friday. [Continue reading…]

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The Gulf’s failure in Yemen

Farea Al-Muslimi writes: Since late March, a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition has been bombing Yemen extensively in an attempt to push back the Houthis, an insurgent Shia group, and their ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The coalition’s goal is to force the Houthis to retreat and to weaken Saleh’s hold on power. But so far, the only definitive outcome of the war is civilian devastation: At least a thousand Yemenis have died, thousands more have been injured, and hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee their homes.

Even if the Gulf countries do eventually succeed in driving out the Houthis, their intervention in Yemen is actually a sign of their failure, particularly Saudi Arabia’s. In effect, the richest country in the Arab world has had to bomb the poorest one to change its political dynamics. One might even go as far as to say that the current crisis in Yemen is a direct result of regional inaction over the last few years, if not decades.

In 2011, the Arab Spring pushed the country to the brink of civil war as protestors sought to oust a stubborn Saleh. The United Nations intervened by crafting a model for a peaceful transition with the support of six countries from the regional Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The initiative led to a successful handover of presidency from Saleh to interim leader Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, but at that time, the Gulf States were not deeply invested in the process and only played a limited role in the power turnover. They had other preoccupations. Saudi Arabia, for example, was consumed with supporting Egypt’s own leadership change, and other Gulf countries were attempting to topple President Bashar al Assad’s regime in Syria.

These same countries watched from the sidelines as this UN-administered GCC project unraveled. After Saleh’s exit, the gradual power transition focused on building consensus among Yemen’s elites. Hadi proved an incompetent leader, unable to provide either physical or economic security to an unstable country. Over the years, while Hadi and the UN envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar led the peace process, busying themselves with meetings in the capital’s five star hotels, armed groups like the Houthis began to take over large swaths of the country. Here, the international community is also to blame. Last year, in attempt to stop the Houthis’ violent spread across Yemen, the UN Security Council sanctioned the group’s leaders with travel bans and asset freezes. But since the targeted figures never travelled outside Yemen and dealt strictly in cash, the sanction was a joke. [Continue reading…]

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Yemen through its literature: A nation besieged

Nahrain Al-Mousawi writes: The recent Saudi-led bombing campaign against Yemen has been reduced to a simplistic narrative of a Sunni-Shia divide driving national conflict – reminiscent of an essentialist “clash of civilizations” trope. This sectarian paradigm attributes all conflict to the notion of cultural boundaries developed over centuries-old divides. Although limited in publication and certainly by translation, Yemeni literature (and lack thereof) functions, on the other hand, as a prism of a nation riven by years of occupation, civil war, corruption, and poverty – issues that far transcend the simplistic sectarian narrative willingly peddled by the media. While the isolated, impoverished nation struggles to negotiate a fraught economic and political terrain, poetry and verse have never ceased to dominate the country’s cultural landscape.

Despite the sparse landscape of Yemeni publishing, a hopeful assessment emerged earlier this year in the Yemen Times – that is, before the Saudi intervention: “Despite ongoing political and economic turmoil, national literature [in Yemen] saw an unexpected surge in 2014. Twenty novels were published by Yemeni authors last year, and while that figure may seem insignificant in a regional or global context, it is considerably more than the eight books produced the previous year. Indeed, it is about ten percent of all the books ever published by Yemeni writers, and considering the hardships facing the country today it is an extraordinary achievement.”

As in other Arab countries, the 20th century signalled the popularity of short stories and novels alongside poetry. Yemeni literature in translation has been less available, and literary works translated to English are a mere handful. However, they serve as a prism reflecting a complex history of authoritarianism, resistance, transnational ties, and a critique of gender conventions. [Continue reading…]

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The war in Yemen is splitting us

Ruba al-Eryani writes: Last week, after finishing my morning lectures, I called my family in Yemen – a daily routine since the escalation of the conflict last month.

“Most of the windows in the house are shattered. But the Saudis have stopped [striking] for now,” my dad said. “Oh, wait, I was wrong. They’re at it again.”

Except, they weren’t. The ‘pounding’ my father was hearing was my nine-year-old brother in the next room beating cushions with his fists as he imitated the sound of airstrikes.

Ever since a Saudi-led coalition launched ‘Operation Decisive Storm’ – a bombing campaign that aims to reinstate President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and push back Houthis rebels – I have been struggling to sleep. Caught between two time zones, the gulf between my life as a university student abroad and that as an activist watching Yemen fall apart, widens every day. [Continue reading…]

Middle East Eye reports: Weeks of airstrikes by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition have devastated Yemen’s northern province of Saada, a remote stronghold of the Shiite Houthis who the coalition are trying to drive back.

“The Saudis have decimated Saada. They bombed roads, government buildings, schools and military sites,” Muammar al-Thari, the deputy governor of Saada, told Middle East Eye by telephone on Monday.

Al-Thari said the province was a “disaster area,” and that he was sending appeals to international rights organisations to pressure Saudi Arabia to halt the airstrikes.

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Situation in Yemen unchanged weeks into air war

AFP reports: Saudi-led airstrikes against rebels in Yemen have destroyed much of their military capabilities, but almost six weeks into the campaign the situation on the ground remains unchanged, analysts said.

Last month, the kingdom declared the strikes against the Iran-backed rebels that began on March 26 a success and announced the end to daily air raids, saying operations had entered a second phase focused on political efforts, aid deliveries and “fighting terrorism.”

However, the air war has continued at the same rate amid mounting criticism over a hike in civilian casualties.

“The Saudis seem to be caught in several contradictions — opening up a war with the Huthis and forces loyal to former president (Ali Abdullah) Saleh without a coherent plan for its ground component,” said Neil Partrick, a Gulf analyst at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies.

So far, the coalition had only managed to bomb “military and civilian facilities needed by a Yemeni state that Riyadh claims is still ruled by President (Abedrabbo Mansour) Hadi,” Partrick told AFP. [Continue reading…]

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Yemeni fighters trained in Persian Gulf are said to join Saudi-led war

The New York Times reports: Yemeni fighters who are believed to have received training and weapons in the Persian Gulf entered combat around the southern city of Aden on Sunday, joining with militiamen who are battling Houthi rebels, according to local militia fighters in Aden.

The new troops arrived by sea in the last few days, they said. They all appeared to be Yemenis from the south who had trained in Saudi Arabia and possibly other Persian Gulf states, according to a senior local commander, a fighter and an allied resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss troop actions.

Their claims could not be independently verified. If confirmed, the influx would represent one of the first major deployments of ground troops trained by the Saudi-led coalition, and would shift the makeup of a military operation that has largely relied on airstrikes through its first weeks.

The reinforcements, who the commander said had been given equipment including anti-tank weapons, are entering a fight in Aden that has become a deadly stalemate. Hundreds of people have been killed and whole neighborhoods destroyed in fighting over the last few weeks between the local militias, on one side, and the Houthis and their allied security forces on the other. [Continue reading…]

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Senegal pledges 2,100 troops to aid effort in Yemen

The Associated Press: Senegal is sending 2,100 troops to help back the military intervention led by Saudi Arabia that is underway in Yemen, becoming the first sub-Saharan African country to contribute soldiers to the effort, the country’s foreign minister said Monday.

The decision to deploy soldiers was announced by Foreign Affairs Minister Mankeur Ndiaye, who read a message from the president before the National Assembly.

Senegal, which is made up of mostly Sunni Muslims like Saudi Arabia, has received significant financial investments from the kingdom in recent years. Last month, Senegalese President Macky Sall met with the Saudi king, who solicited troop contributions.

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Yemen could come to regret a messy divorce

Faisal Al Yafai writes: In the south of Yemen today, every outsider is a northerner. The red star on a blue border, part of the old South Yemen flag, can be seen everywhere. The “northern occupation”, as the unification with the north has been increasingly called since 2009, is now the northern invasion.

There’s a grain of truth in the expression and it has gained from repetition and reality. The Houthis, once confined to the furthest northern province of Saada, suddenly appeared on the roads of Aden a few weeks ago, armed with guns, missiles and fighter jets. They brought with them the remnants of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s army.

And, because of their appearance and attempt to take over Yemen’s second city, they also brought the fighter jets of the GCC and the warships of Egypt. Sanaa had become a remote city for southerners since the Arab Spring – now it appeared to have returned to the South with a vengeance.

The South has had enough. Once the Houthis have been pushed out, calls for secession will rise again. In the past, during the transition from Ali Abdullah Saleh’s presidency, such calls could be muted by offering federalism – especially if it came from the mouth of the new president Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi, himself a southerner.

But after the ravages of the war are cleared away, it is unlikely anything will convince the southerners to stay. Even voices that once seemed open to autonomy within the union – in particular the former president of South Yemen Ali Salem Al Beidh, who still commands significant support – have turned against the Houthis and the North. Yemen’s south is marching towards the exit.

But going it alone has far more risks than either the southern movement Hirak or southerners themselves care to admit. Southerners may get their own country, only to regret it. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi-led airstrikes on Yemen used cluster bombs

Human Rights Watch: Credible evidence indicates that the Saudi-led coalition used banned cluster munitions supplied by the United States in airstrikes against Houthi forces in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said today. Cluster munitions pose long-term dangers to civilians and are prohibited by a 2008 treaty adopted by 116 countries, though not Saudi Arabia, Yemen, or the United States.

Photographs, video, and other evidence have emerged since mid-April 2015 indicating that cluster munitions have been used during recent weeks in coalition airstrikes in Yemen’s northern Saada governorate, the traditional Houthi stronghold bordering Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch has established through analysis of satellite imagery that the weapons appeared to land on a cultivated plateau, within 600 meters of several dozen buildings in four to six village clusters.

“Saudi-led cluster munition airstrikes have been hitting areas near villages, putting local people in danger,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. “These weapons should never be used under any circumstances. Saudi Arabia and other coalition members – and the supplier, the US – are flouting the global standard that rejects cluster munitions because of their long-term threat to civilians.” [Continue reading…]

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UN warns Yemen’s infrastructure on ‘brink of collapse’

Deutsche Welle: Hundreds of families in Yemen had been trapped in their homes by fierce fighting in the southern port city of Aden, according to Associated Press (AP).

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also said the escalating conflict in the last month had “worsened an already large-scale humanitarian crisis in the impoverished Arab state.”

In its latest report on the Yemen crisis, OCHA said the upsurge in violence had further deepened the hardships faced by ordinary Yemenis, and that people were running short of essential supplies, including food and medicine.

The UN reported that the only lifeline was coming from volunteers making dangerous runs with supplies across Aden’s harbor in unsafe boats.

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Americans trapped in Yemen

The Wall Street Journal reports: Loud explosions and plumes of smoke not far from his father’s house in Yemen about a month ago announced to Talal Hameed that Saudi Arabia’s air bombing campaign had begun.

That was the cue for the 32-year-old American and his wife to leave. But the U.S. government didn’t evacuate them, he said, deeming the mission too risky.

“It was a shock,” Mr. Hameed said. “In the movies, the U.S. doesn’t leave anyone behind. That’s the movies, but it’s not the reality.”

Mr. Hameed, a resident of San Francisco who returned to his country of birth last year to marry, is one of hundreds of Americans trapped in Yemen amid intense fighting and a deteriorating humanitarian situation.

Mr. Hameed, who had been driving cars for Uber and running a cleaning company in San Francisco, said he sent emails over the past month to the State Department and to U.S. officials about the situation, but got no response. Meanwhile, other countries have managed to evacuate hundreds of their own citizens.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said recently that the U.S. has set up an online system where Americans in Yemen can register to receive updates on opportunities to leave. The department has also been talking to other countries about Americans joining their rescue missions, she said.

But the State Department’s assessment is that a rescue with U.S. government assets is too risky. Any evacuation point designated in a country with an active al Qaeda branch and an unstable security picture would put the security of Americans and any U.S. military assets involved at risk, an official said.

The plight of those like Mr. Hameed is a conundrum for the U.S. Authorities must balance a duty to protect Americans abroad against the dangers of a rescue mission that could become a target for armed groups, including an al Qaeda offshoot and anti-American Houthi militants. [Continue reading…]

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