BBC News reports: Saudi Arabia is at war.
You wouldn’t know it on the peaceful streets of its capital, Riyadh, but hundreds of miles to the south the civil war that has torn apart neighbouring Yemen is spilling over the border into Saudi towns and villages.
Saudi officials say more than 500 of their citizens have been killed by the Yemen war, a number dwarfed by the thousands killed in Yemen itself, but still a shock for this otherwise tranquil kingdom that is home to the holiest sites in Islam and is also the world’s biggest oil producer.
We visited the ruins of a girls’ elementary school in the village of Khawber, hit by a Houthi missile in the middle of the night.
In the shattered classroom the school clock lay on the floor, its hands stopped at the moment the missile exploded.
We met badly injured villagers, maimed by flying shrapnel when a Houthi rocket struck their mosque, and we were given rare access to a Saudi army Patriot anti-missile battery, placed in the desert facing Yemen, that has been intercepting ballistic missiles fired at Saudi Arabia’s southern towns.
These Soviet-era missiles are aimed at the towns of Najran, Abha, Gizan, Khamis Mushayt and even, according to the Saudis, at the holy city of Mecca.
These ageing but still deadly Russian-made missiles belong to a stockpile amassed by the Yemeni army over the years and now taken over by the Houthis.
The weapons include Scud B missiles with a payload of nearly one tonne of high explosives, and the smaller Tochka with a payload of 482kg of explosives.
Saudi officers showed us the remnants of a downed Tochka, still bearing Cyrillic writing on its fuselage.
Between 6 June 2015 and 26 November 2016 the Saudi authorities have recorded 37 ballistic missiles fired from Yemen across the border into Saudi airspace.
Yet the damage to Saudi Arabia pales before the destruction next door in Yemen. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: For decades, Mustafa Elaghil’s family produced snack foods popular in Yemen, chips and corn curls in bright packaging decorated with the image of Ernie from “Sesame Street.”
But over the summer, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia sent warplanes over Yemen and bombed the Elaghils’ factory. The explosion destroyed it, setting it ablaze and trapping the workers inside.
The attack killed 10 employees and wiped out a business that had employed dozens of families.
“It was everything for us,” Mr. Elaghil said.
The Saudi-led coalition has bombed Yemen for the last 19 months, trying to oust a rebel group aligned with Iran that took control of the capital, Sana, in 2014. The Saudis want to restore the country’s exiled president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who led an internationally recognized government more aligned with its interests.
But instead of defeating the rebels, the campaign has sunk into a grinding stalemate, systematically obliterating Yemen’s already bare-bones economy. The coalition has destroyed a wide variety of civilian targets that critics say have no clear link to the rebels.
It has hit hospitals and schools. It has destroyed bridges, power stations, poultry farms, a key seaport and factories that produce yogurt, tea, tissues, ceramics, Coca-Cola and potato chips. It has bombed weddings and a funeral.
The bombing campaign has exacerbated a humanitarian crisis in the Arab world’s poorest country, where cholera is spreading, millions of people are struggling to get enough food, and malnourished babies are overwhelming hospitals, according to the United Nations. Millions have been forced from their homes, and since August, the government has been unable to pay the salaries of most of the 1.2 million civil servants. [Continue reading…]
U.S. calls for end to airstrikes in Yemen while it continues to provide Saudis with military support
The Guardian reports: The US has called for an end to airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen at a UN security council meeting, but critics pointed out that Washington continues to supply arms and provide other military support to Saudi Arabia.
The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, condemned missile attacks by Yemeni Houthi rebels on Saudi Arabia and said the kingdom had a right to defend itself.
But she added: “It is also incumbent on the Saudi-led coalition and the forces of the Yemeni government to refrain from taking steps that escalate this violence and to commit to the cessation of hostilities.
“After 19 months of fighting, it should be clear that there is absolutely no military solution to this conflict. Airstrikes that hit schools, hospitals and other civilian objects have to stop. In many cases these strikes have damaged key infrastructure that is essential to delivering humanitarian aid in Yemen.”
Despite severe criticism of Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK continue to supply it with munitions and provide airborne refuelling for its warplanes. Over eight years, the Obama administration has offered a total of $115bn (£94bn) in arms sales to the kingdom.
Louis Charbonneau, the UN director of Human Rights Watch, said: “The US ambassador’s call for an end to indiscriminate airstrikes in Yemen would be more compelling if the US didn’t provide Saudi Arabia with some of the weapons that end up being used in these strikes.” [Continue reading…]
ABC News reports: The emaciated frame of 18-year-old Saida Ahmad Baghili lies on a hospital bed in the Red Sea port city of Hodaida, her suffering stark evidence of the malnutrition spread by Yemen’s 19-month civil war.
Baghili arrived at al-Thawra hospital on Saturday. She is bedridden and unable to eat, surviving on a diet of juice, milk and tea, medical staffers and a relative said.
“The problem is malnutrition due to [her] financial situation and the current (war) situation at this time,” said Asma al-Bhaiji, a nurse at the hospital.
Baghili is one of more than 14 million people, over half of Yemen’s population, who are short of food, with much of the country on the brink of famine, according to the United Nations.
The U.N.’s World Food Program notes that the conflict in Yemen “has left thousands of civilians dead and 2.5 million internally displaced” over the past year.
President Barack Obama has received criticism for not cutting back on U.S. support for the government of Saudi Arabia, which has been bombing Houthi rebels in Yemen since March 2015 in an effort to strengthen its foothold in the region. [Continue reading…]
Khalid Al-Karimi writes: Yemen’s economy has been severely crippled by the conflict. Many of its businesses have shuttered, and many people have lost their job. Today, the labour force has one field in which work is guaranteed: on the battleground.
Funds allocated to the war are available in abundance. Instead of dying of hunger, these men die on mountains, hills, plains, valleys or on their armored vehicles with full stomachs and pockets. Poverty in Yemen is chronic, and it has grown to alarming levels over the 19-month long conflict.
According to the UN World Food Programme, almost 14.4 million people in Yemen are food insecure, of whom seven million people in desperate need of food assistance. The agency points out that one in five people are “severely food insecure” and in urgent need of food assistance.
This state of food crisis pushes thousands of men to the precipice of war. While financial gain is not everyone’s motive, a considerable number have joined the combat for financial gains that can help them and their families survive in the face of lethal poverty. [Continue reading…]
Middle East Eye reports: Former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki said that the campaign to liberate Islamic State-occupied Mosul would be only the first step to liberating other cities as far away as Syria and Yemen.
“Today, Iraq has launched an operation to liberate Mosul, but it is also one to liberate other cities,” Maliki said at a conference in Baghdad. “The ‘We are coming Nineveh’ operation also means, ‘We are coming Raqqa’; ‘We are coming Aleppo’; ‘We are coming Yemen’.”
The ex-prime minister was referring to the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh where Mosul is located.
“We are coming to all places where Muslims are being killed, where Islamic thought is being renounced,” he said. [Continue reading…]
Middle East Eye reports: A 72-hour ceasefire in Yemen will go into effect starting Thursday, the United Nations announced on Monday.
A cessation of hostilities that first went into effect in April “will re-enter into force at 23:59 Yemen time on 19 October 2016, for an initial period of 72 hours, subject to renewal,” the UN’s special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said in a statement.
The ceasefire opens the door for negotiations to find a political solution to the conflict. April’s truce was followed by repeated rounds of talks in Kuwait between the warring sides, which did not come to fruition.
Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi had agreed to the truce earlier in the day. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: He has slashed the state budget, frozen government contracts and reduced the pay of civil employees, all part of drastic austerity measures as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is buffeted by low oil prices.
But last year, Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince, saw a yacht he couldn’t resist.
While vacationing in the south of France, Prince bin Salman spotted a 440-foot yacht floating off the coast. He dispatched an aide to buy the ship, the Serene, which was owned by Yuri Shefler, a Russian vodka tycoon. The deal was done within hours, at a price of approximately 500 million euros (roughly $550 million today), according to an associate of Mr. Shefler and a Saudi close to the royal family. The Russian moved off the yacht the same day.
It is the paradox of the brash, 31-year-old Prince bin Salman: a man who is trying to overturn tradition, reinvent the economy and consolidate power — while holding tight to his royal privilege. In less than two years, he has emerged as the most dynamic royal in the Arab world’s wealthiest nation, setting up a potential rivalry for the throne.
He has a hand in nearly all elements of Saudi policy — from a war in Yemen that has cost the kingdom billions of dollars and led to international criticism over civilian deaths, to a push domestically to restrain Saudi Arabia’s free-spending habits and to break its “addiction” to oil. He has begun to loosen social restrictions that grate on young people.
The rise of Prince bin Salman has shattered decades of tradition in the royal family, where respect for seniority and power-sharing among branches are time-honored traditions. Never before in Saudi history has so much power been wielded by the deputy crown prince, who is second in line to the throne. That centralization of authority has angered many of his relatives. [Continue reading…]
Paul Mason writes: To single day of fighting in June 1859, among the vineyards and villages near Lake Garda, left 40,000 Italian, French and Austrian soldiers dead or wounded. The Battle of Solferino might have been remembered simply for its carnage, but for the presence of Henry Dunant. Dunant, a Swiss traveller, spent days tending the wounded and wrote a memoir that led to the founding of the Red Cross and to the first Geneva convention, signed by Europe’s great powers in 1864.
Solferino inspired the principle that hospitals and army medical personnel are not a legitimate target in war. Today, with the bombing of hospitals by the Russians in Syria, the Saudis in Yemen and the Americans in Afghanistan, those who provide medical aid in war believe that principle is in ruins.
So far this year, according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), 21 of their supported medical facilities in Yemen and Syria have been attacked. Last year an MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan was destroyed by a US attack, in which those fleeing the building were reportedly gunned down from the air, and 42 patients and staff died.
A UN resolution in May urged combatants to refrain from bombing medical facilities. MSF says that the resolution “has made no difference on the ground”. Four out of the five permanent members of the UN security council, it says, are actively involved in coalitions whose troops have attacked hospitals.
To understand the renewed popularity of killing sick people in hospital beds, it’s not enough to point – as MSF does – to the new techniques of war, such as drones and special forces. Something has been eroded about our perception of humanitarian principles. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: More than 1,000 mourners were packed into the funeral hall, including some of the most powerful figures in Yemen’s rebel movement. Ali al-Akwa, who was just about to start reciting the Quran, heard warplanes overhead — but that wasn’t strange for wartime Sanaa. Surely a funeral would be safe, he thought.
Moments later, a huge explosion struck, tearing bodies apart. The ceiling collapsed, walls fell in and a fire erupted. As people scrambled frantically to get out, a second missile struck, killing more of them.
Nearly 140 people were killed and more than 600 wounded in Saturday’s airstrike — one of the deadliest since Saudi Arabia and its allies began an air campaign in Yemen in March 2015. The coalition is trying to uproot the Shiite Houthi rebels who took over the capital and much of northern Yemen from the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
The coalition seems to have been hoping to take out a significant part of the Houthis’ military leadership and its allies, who were expected at the funeral. Instead, the attack is likely to deepen the stalemate in a war that has already pushed the impoverished country into collapse.
The bloodshed has eclipsed new U.N. efforts to secure even a brief cease-fire. Amid popular anger, the coalition has lost potential tribal allies. In an attempt to expand the war, the Houthis have retaliated by firing rockets into neighboring Saudi Arabia and at U.S. warships.
The only hope for progress toward a resolution, many Yemenis say, is if the strike prompts Saudi Arabia’s top ally, the United States, and other Western nations to halt arms sales, pressure Riyadh to ease the war and move toward negotiations. [Continue reading…]
Akbar Shahid Ahmed writes: In the public consciousness, this brutal conflict blurs into the other bloody wars across the Middle East, each of them marked by its own complicated mix of players, incentives and grievances that make peace unlikely.
But Yemen is different. Here, Obama could single-handedly cause a major drop in the bloodshed, experts say. He simply doesn’t seem to want to do it.
Per Obama’s orders, planes belonging to the Saudis and others involved in their coalition currently receive aerial refueling from American planes, a defense official confirmed to The Huffington Post this week. U.S. military personnel stationed in Saudi Arabia offer intelligence and logistical support to the coalition, but don’t decide where it bombs, the official said. And the Obama administration has greenlit three new transfers of weapons ― ammunition, bombs, air-to-ground missiles and tanks ― to the kingdom to replenish stocks used in Yemen, according to arms trade expert William Hartung.
Obama could stop all of that at any time. [Continue reading…]
In September, The Atlantic reported: Obama has said little about the war in Yemen. With mere months left in his presidency, there is scarce indication that he will. Increasingly skeptical of America’s ability to shape events on the ground in the Middle East, Obama sees little incentive to overturn the status quo, even if that means supporting the apparently reckless military forays of a [Saudi] government he disdains.
A U.S. official who briefs the White House on regional national security matters summed up the Obama administration’s prevailing attitude. Yemen was already a “complete shit show” before the war, he argued, echoing Obama’s use of a phrase he is said to use privately to describe Libya. The Houthis are a nasty militia who deserve no favors and Yemen would be a “shit show” whatever the United States does. So why further degrade a sometimes-unpleasant, but necessary relationship with the Saudis to produce the same end result?
After a joint U.S.-Russian press conference held in Geneva to announce the abortive Syria ceasefire this month, journalists were served vodka from the Russians and pizza courtesy of the Americans. Yemen wasn’t even worth the takeout order, al-Muslimi said: “There is no pizza or vodka when it comes to Yemen. Only cluster bombs and arms deals.” [Continue reading…]
Simon Tisdall writes: The brazen attempt by Houthi rebels to sink a US warship patrolling off Yemen marks a potentially significant escalation of a conflict that has been alternately fuelled and ignored by the western powers. The attack by the Houthis, whose main backer is Iran, coincides with an unprecedented ballistic missile strike 325 miles inside Saudi territory and suggests a spreading, region-wide conflagration could be nearer at hand than previously thought.
Insurrection and revolt have been endemic in Yemen since the early part of this century. But the conflict intensified in March last year when Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main rival, launched a large-scale intervention, backed by a coalition of Arab states.
Since then an estimated 10,000 Yemenis have died and many more have been injured, displaced or have faced famine conditions. The US and Britain back the Saudi coalition and have provided limited practical support such as intelligence-sharing and training, but have eschewed direct involvement in Yemen. The exception is the CIA’s repeated drone strikes, including those against alleged Islamic State and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula terrorists.
As in Syria, the Obama administration has favoured a hands-off approach, preferring to act through proxies rather than engage directly. This diffidence stems from Barack Obama’s fear of the US being sucked into more Middle East wars. It is also the byproduct of his controversial attempt to mend fences with Iran through last year’s landmark nuclear deal. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, on Monday condemned a weekend airstrike on a funeral ceremony in the Yemeni capital, Sana, as well as the Saudi-led bombing campaign believed to be responsible for it.
Mr. Ban said he supported demands for an international inquiry into whether the attack, which killed at least 140 people, was a war crime.
“Despite mounting crimes by all parties to the conflict, we have yet to see the results of any credible investigations,” he said. “This latest horrific incident demands a full inquiry.”
Brushing aside Saudi Arabia’s initial denials of responsibility, he said reports from the site of the attack indicated that it was carried out by the Saudi-led coalition.
According to witness accounts cited by United Nations human rights investigators, two airstrikes struck the Al Kubra community hall in Sana, seven to eight minutes apart. It was packed with families attending the funeral of a leader of the Houthi rebel movement, which is battling the Saudi-backed government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi for control of the country. Many prominent military and political leaders associated with the Houthis were in the hall and were killed in the assault, the United Nations said. [Continue reading…]
The Intercept reports: Fragments of what appear to be U.S.-made bombs have been found at the scene of one of the most horrific civilian massacres of Saudi Arabia’s 18-month air campaign in Yemen.
Aircraft from the Saudi-led coalition on Saturday bombed a community hall in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital city, where thousands of people had gathered for a funeral for Sheikh Ali al-Rawishan, the father of the rebel-appointed interior minister. The aircraft struck the hall four times, killing more than 140 people and wounding 525. One local health official described the aftermath as “a lake of blood.”
Multiple bomb fragments at the scene appear to confirm the use of American-produced MK-82 guided bombs. One fragment, posted in a picture on the Facebook page of a prominent Yemeni lawyer, says “FOR USE ON MK-82 FIN, GUIDED BOMB.” [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: The Obama administration went ahead with a $1.3 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia last year despite warnings from some officials that the United States could be implicated in war crimes for supporting a Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians, according to government documents and the accounts of current and former officials.
State Department officials also were privately skeptical of the Saudi military’s ability to target Houthi militants without killing civilians and destroying “critical infrastructure” needed for Yemen to recover, according to the emails and other records obtained by Reuters and interviews with nearly a dozen officials with knowledge of those discussions.
U.S. government lawyers ultimately did not reach a conclusion on whether U.S. support for the campaign would make the United States a “co-belligerent” in the war under international law, four current and former officials said. That finding would have obligated Washington to investigate allegations of war crimes in Yemen and would have raised a legal risk that U.S. military personnel could be subject to prosecution, at least in theory.
For instance, one of the emails made a specific reference to a 2013 ruling from the war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor that significantly widened the international legal definition of aiding and abetting such crimes.
The ruling found that “practical assistance, encouragement or moral support” is sufficient to determine liability for war crimes. Prosecutors do not have to prove a defendant participated in a specific crime, the U.N.-backed court found.
Ironically, the U.S. government already had submitted the Taylor ruling to a military commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to bolster its case that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other al Qaeda detainees were complicit in the Sept 11, 2001 attacks. [Continue reading…]