‘Trapped by all the sides’ in Yemen’s largely ignored war

The Washington Post reports: The streets are eerily ­silent in this front-line enclave near Taiz’s Freedom Square, where thousands of protesters rose up against Yemen’s government five years ago.

The presidential palace nearby survived the demonstrations but not the war that followed. It is now a concrete carcass, pummeled by airstrikes. Shops are shuttered and homes are empty. The only people who remain cannot afford to go anywhere else.

By day, snipers strike down residents. At night, the gunfire and artillery shelling start.

“We’re trapped by all the sides,” said Ghulam Sayed, a former bus driver.

For weeks, Yemen’s warring factions have held peace talks to end their 16-month civil war, bringing a sense of calm to much of the country. But in the southwestern city of Taiz the conflict rages on, defying a U.N.-backed cease-fire. Civilians are indiscriminately killed or wounded daily. Thousands languish in ragged displacement camps. Humanitarian groups are blocked from adequately helping victims.

On one side of the war is an alliance of Shiite Houthi rebels and loyalists of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. They have seized the capital, Sanaa, and control the northern half of the country.

On the other side is the government, backed by the United States, Saudi Arabia and other regional powers. It controls only portions of the south, including the port of Aden. The rest is lawless or ruled by radical Islamists. [Continue reading…]

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HRW and Amnesty call on UN to suspend Saudi Arabia from Human Rights Council

Human Rights Watch: The United Nations General Assembly should immediately suspend Saudi Arabia’s membership rights on the UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today. A two-thirds majority of the General Assembly may suspend the membership rights of any Human Rights Council member engaged in “gross and systematic violations of human rights.”

Saudi Arabia, as the leader of the nine-nation coalition that began military operations against the Houthis in Yemen on March 26, 2015, has been implicated in numerous violations of international humanitarian law. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented 69 unlawful airstrikes by the coalition, some of which may amount to war crimes, killing at least 913 civilians and hitting homes, markets, hospitals, schools, civilian businesses, and mosques. The two organizations have also documented 19 attacks involving internationally banned cluster munitions, including in civilian areas. Saudi Arabia should be suspended from the Human Rights Council until it ends unlawful attacks in Yemen and conducts credible investigations that meet international standards or agrees to and cooperates with an independent international inquiry. [Continue reading…]

 

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Severe food insecurity widespread in Yemen

FAO-WFP reports: Vast swathes of Yemen – 19 out of 22 governorates – are facing severe food insecurity according to a new joint assessment by the UN and partners, which warns that the situation within affected areas is likely to deteriorate if conflict persists.

The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis confirms that over half the country’s population is living in “crisis” or “emergency” levels of food insecurity, with some governorates seeing as much as 70 percent of their population struggling to feed themselves.

At least 7 million people – a quarter of the population – are living under Emergency levels of food insecurity (Phase 4 on the five-tiered IPC scale). This reflects a 15-percent increase since June 2015. A further 7.1 million people are in a state of Crisis (Phase 3). [Continue reading…]

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Saudis used financial threats to coerce UN in effort to cover up war crimes in Yemen

The New York Times reports: The United Nations secretary general is supposed to answer to every nation on earth — and no nation at all.

So the unusually frank admission by the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, on Thursday that he had essentially been coerced into removing a Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen from an ignoble list of armies that kill and maim children was a rare window into the limits of his moral and political authority — and an object lesson for whoever succeeds Mr. Ban next year.

On Thursday, Mr. Ban told reporters that he had been threatened with the loss of financing for humanitarian operations in the Palestinian territories, South Sudan and Syria if he did not temporarily delete the Saudi-led coalition from the list.

The coalition has been accused of indiscriminately bombing civilian and nonmilitary targets in its battle against Houthi rebels in Yemen for more than a year. The coalition, which is backed by the United States, has consistently denied the accusations.

Mr. Ban’s office issued a report last week on violations of children’s rights in war zones, and it cited deadly coalition attacks that had hit schools and hospitals. By Monday, however, the coalition was taken off the list, after lobbying by Saudi Arabia and some of its wealthiest allies who help finance United Nations humanitarian operations. [Continue reading…]

Human Rights Watch: “The secretary-general’s decision flies in the face of overwhelming evidence that violations by the Saudi-led coalition have killed and maimed hundreds of children in Yemen,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Allowing governments that commit abuses against children to bully their way off the list makes a mockery of the UN’s children protection efforts.”

The UN has verified that at least 785 children have been killed and 1,168 injured in Yemen during fighting in 2015, with 60 percent of the casualties attributed to the Saudi-led coalition, the secretary-general’s report said. The UN also verified 101 attacks against schools and hospitals, attributing nearly half of the attacks to the Saudi-led coalition. Nongovernmental organizations have made similar findings. [Continue reading…]

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Global violence worsens, driven by Middle East conflicts

Reuters reports: The world has become increasingly violent with deaths from conflict at a 25-year high, terrorist attacks at an all-time high and more people displaced than at any time since World War Two, the 2016 Global Peace Index showed on Wednesday.

The annual index, which measures 23 indicators including incidents of violent crime, countries’ levels of militarisation and weapons imports, said intensifying conflicts in the Middle East were mostly to blame.

But beyond the Middle East, the world was actually becoming more peaceful, researchers behind the index said.

“Quite often, in the mayhem which is happening in the Middle East currently, we lose sight of the other positive trends,” said Steve Killelea, founder of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), which produces the index.

“If we look in the last year, if we took out the Middle East … the world would have become more peaceful,” Killelea told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. [Continue reading…]

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UN includes — then removes — Saudi coalition from list of child violators in Yemen

At Human Rights Watch, Kristine Beckerle writes: Every year, the United Nations secretary-general releases a “list of shame” of government forces and armed groups that have committed grave violations against children during armed conflict. This year, the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen was listed for the first time, identified as being responsible for killing and maiming children in Yemen and for attacks on schools and hospitals.

There was a six-fold increase in the killing and maiming of children in Yemen during 2015, with at least 785 children killed and 1,168 injured, according to the secretary-general’s report. The Saudi-led coalition was responsible for 60 percent of these child deaths and injuries.

The UN recorded 101 attacks on schools and hospitals in Yemen, double the number of attacks recorded in 2014. The Saudi-led coalition was responsible for nearly half of these attacks. Almost all caused the partial or complete destruction of facilities. [Continue reading…]

The Associated Press reports: Following a vehement protest from Saudi Arabia, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday removed the Saudi-led coalition fighting Shiite rebels in Yemen from a list of government forces that committed grave violations against children last year, pending a joint review of cases.

Saudi Arabia’s U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi insisted “the removal is unconditional and irreversible,” explaining that the government has no problem with a review and is confident it will conclude that the coalition was “wrongly placed on the list.”

Earlier, he asked for an immediate correction saying Saudi Arabia’s inclusion on the list was based on “inaccurate and incomplete” information. [Continue reading…]

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Peace talks in Kuwait: Will they solve Yemen’s crisis?

Helen Lackner writes: Thirteen months into the full scale war which has encompassed the country, negotiations started in Kuwait on 21 April between the Saleh-Huthi alliance who control the Yemeni northern highlands and the capital Sana’a and the internationally recognised government of president Hadi who was elected in 2012, and has been in exile in Riyadh for most of the last year.

A month into the talks, their main achievement is that they have not definitively broken down. Insofar as any negotiations are taking place, it is thanks to the systematic interventions from the Shaikh of Kuwait or other senior figures from different countries to bring one or the other side back to the table after their routine almost daily walk outs. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the UN special adviser and his team do their best and this time, at least, have real support from the international community.

While naïve observers might think that the ongoing and worsening suffering of 25 million Yemenis might have brought the warring parties to their senses to seek a solution without imposing further starvation, thirst, destitution and death, it would seem they consider this irrelevant.

Ensconced in their luxury hotels in Riyadh or their protected environments in Sana’a, living conditions of the population appear to be the least of their concerns. Instead, their petty rivalries, long-standing feuds and greed for power and control determine their tactics. Any planning they may be doing for the future may well focus more on how they will appropriate future external humanitarian and development funding.

So, why are these negotiations taking place? Answering this question may also help to understand their likely outcome. In addition to the military stalemate, and the collapsed economy, the role of external actors is as relevant today as it was to reach the Gulf Cooperation Council Agreement of 2011 and the transitional regime which followed it. [Continue reading…]

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As war strangles Yemen, many fear the grip will never break

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The New York Times reports: The familiar thud of shelling echoed off the mountains that cradle this besieged and ravaged city. For a few terrifying minutes, a warplane circled over neighborhoods and humming afternoon markets before dropping a bomb that momentarily silenced the guns.

But the fighting never stops for long in Taiz, or across Yemen for that matter, a country that has endured 14 months of shattering civil war.

Yemen’s government and its main opponents, the Houthi rebels, have been negotiating for weeks to end the conflict, under intense pressure from the United States and from other Western nations alarmed that Al Qaeda’s local affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is gaining recruits, weapons and money in the midst of the country’s collapse.

A frenzied escalation of violence over the last few days is threatening a nationwide cease-fire that was supposed to build confidence for the talks. The bloodshed has laid bare the furious rivalries — between aging warlords, tribes, Islamist groups and regional powers — that are making Yemen’s hostilities almost impossible to stop.

Even if the negotiations somehow succeed, Yemenis scarred by the vicious fighting, past broken promises and deepening divisions say they fear that any truce would just be a prelude to an even uglier war, fought between regions, religious sects — even neighbors. [Continue reading…]

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Court papers reveal Anwar al-Awlaki’s work as trainer and bomb expert

The New York Times reports: The Qaeda bomb-making instructor carefully demonstrated for his student how to mix the chemicals to make a volatile powder, then supervised a test explosion and added a sinister final tip: tape bolts around the homemade bomb to produce lethal shrapnel.

The explosive expert’s identity, revealed by a Qaeda operative facing sentencing next week, came as a surprise: He was Anwar al-Awlaki, the American imam who had joined Al Qaeda in Yemen and become the terrorist network’s leading English-language propagandist.

Mr. Awlaki had long been known for public oratory on behalf of Al Qaeda before he was killed in a drone strike in 2011 on President Obama’s orders, making him the first American citizen killed without criminal charges or trial in the campaign against terrorism.

But new court filings in New York offer the most detailed account yet of a hidden side of Mr. Awlaki’s work inside Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen — as a hands-on trainer who taught recruits how to make bombs, gave them money for missions and offered suggestions about how to carry out suicide attacks.

The papers, part of a sentencing memorandum submitted by the government, were filed Tuesday in Federal District Court in Manhattan in the case of Mr. Awlaki’s former bomb-making student, Minh Quang Pham, a Vietnamese-British convert to Islam. He has pleaded guilty to three terrorism-related counts and is to be sentenced Monday.

In their papers, federal prosecutors suggested that 50 years would be an appropriate sentence for Mr. Pham, who is in his early 30s and traveled secretly to Yemen in 2010, where he swore allegiance to Al Qaeda’s affiliate there and worked on the group’s online propaganda publication, Inspire.

The court papers make it clear that Mr. Pham admired Mr. Awlaki. He “visibly teared up” when discussing Mr. Awlaki, and he repeatedly referred to Mr. Awlaki with the honorific title “sheikh,” prosecutors wrote. [Continue reading…]

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UK’s claim Saudi Arabia hasn’t breached humanitarian law in Yemen adds to ‘anything goes’ attitude, say MPs

The Guardian reports: The British government’s claim that Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen has not breached international humanitarian law is “deeply disappointing” and contributes to an “anything goes” attitude from the opposing sides in the conflict, the international development select committee has said.

The finding comes as a rebuke to the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, who made the assessment despite a UN-sponsored report and many charities presenting evidence to the contrary. The Conservative-dominated committee said the Saudi inquiry into the Yemen campaign, supported by the Foreign Office, was inadequate and called for an independent inquiry.

“It is deeply disappointing that the UK government does not accept that breaches of international humanitarian law have taken place in Yemen,” the committee said in a report. “The failure to hold parties to the conflict to account for their actions appears to have contributed to an ‘anything goes’ attitude by both sides to this conflict.” [Continue reading…]

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Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan: The world’s most-needed hospitals are under attack

The Washington Post reports: The al-Quds hospital in Aleppo targeted in Wednesday night’s attacks was one of 150 hospitals supported by Doctors Without Borders in Syria. The organization directly runs six in the country, but provides funding and medical supplies to other medical facilities.

The international charity group, also referred to as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in French, said the medical facility was directly hit and reduced to “rubble.” The organization has condemned the overnight attack, which also claimed the life of one of the area’s last pediatricians.

“Where is the outrage among those with the power and obligation to stop this carnage?” said Muskilda Zancada, the MSF head in Syria, in an online statement.

The United Nations estimates that at least half of Syria’s hospitals have been destroyed, and the spark of attacks on hospitals is an especially disturbing trend. In armed conflict, hospitals are protected by international law. Yet the facilities supported and run by the Nobel Prize-winning organization have frequently come under attack. And it’s not only medical structures. The group said five rescue workers from the Syrian Civil Defense organization have also been killed. [Continue reading…]

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‘America treats us worse than animals’ — victims of Obama’s secret drone war speak out

The Guardian reports: Because US drone strikes are cloaked in secrecy, occur in remote or dangerous locales and target people presumed to be terrorists, Americans rarely hear from survivors or their relatives. But a theme emerges in interviews the Guardian has conducted with more than half a dozen drone survivors: the pain from the strike never ends, as the apparatus of secrecy renders closure unobtainable.

According to six people in Pakistan and Yemen who have lost their brothers, sons and grandparents to drone strikes, the strike lasts a moment and the consequences last a lifetime. Most of them have never told their stories to an American reporter. Some of them have theories about whom the US was targeting, while others are left guessing. The interviews were facilitated by the human rights group Reprieve and the Foundation for Fundamental Rights and conducted in translation.

The people are left impoverished, anguished and infuriated. Justice, let alone apologies, never arrive, even as a modest amount of blood money flows from the local governments. The United States, which styles itself a force for justice in the world, is to them the remote force that introduced death into their lives and treats them like they are subhuman, fit only to be targeted. At any moment, they fear, another drone could come for them.

The White House has said it will soon release of a tally of drone deaths. Relatives of the dead and survivors of the attacks expect little of it to include the truth, and doubt it will lead to the public apologies they desire – particularly since a senior aide to Barack Obama recently told the Atlantic that the president “has not had a second thought about drones”.

The CIA would not comment for this piece. An Obama administration official said: “It is certainly not the case that lives of a certain nationality are more valuable to us than those of any other. What is true, however, is that the president has said … that the American people need information to hold their government accountable. That is in part why we have been especially transparent when it comes to the deaths of US citizens.”

Nabila’s father, and Mamana’s son, Rafiq ur-Rehman, took a different view. “If America kills any westerner, one of their own, white people, they apologize and compensate. But if it’s Pakistanis like us, they don’t care. In my opinion, America treats us worse than animals.” [Continue reading…]

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Saudi-led air strikes with U.S. support responsible for two thirds of civilian deaths in Yemen conflict

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Reuters reports: U.N. investigators say that air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition are responsible for two thirds of the 3,200 civilians who have died in Yemen, or approximately 2,000 deaths. They said that Saudi forces have killed twice as many civilians as other forces in Yemen.

On the ground, Saudi-led forces have often struggled to achieve their goals, making slow headway in areas where support for Iran-allied Houthi rebels runs strong.

And along the Saudi border, the Houthis and allied forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh have attacked almost daily since July, killing hundreds of Saudi troops.

Instead of being the centrepiece of a more assertive Saudi regional strategy, the Yemen intervention has called into question Riyadh’s military influence, said one former senior Obama administration official. “There’s a long way to go. Efforts to create an effective pan-Arab military force have been disappointing.”

Behind the scenes, the West has been enmeshed in the conflict. Between 50 and 60 U.S. military personnel have provided coordination and support to the Saudi-led coalition, a U.S. official told Reuters. And six to 10 Americans have worked directly inside the Saudi air operations centre in Riyadh. Britain and France, Riyadh’s other main defence suppliers, have also provided military assistance.

Last year, the Obama administration had the U.S. military send precision-guided munitions from its own stocks to replenish dwindling Saudi-led coalition supplies, a source close to the Saudi government said. Administration officials argued that even more Yemeni civilians would die if the Saudis had to use bombs with less precise guidance systems. [Continue reading…]

William D Hartung writes: When President Obama visits Saudi Arabia this week for a meeting with representatives from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, he should avoid doing what he did at Camp David last May, the last time he met with them: promise more arms sales. Since Mr. Obama hosted that meeting, the United States has offered over $33 billion in weaponry to its Persian Gulf allies, with the bulk of it going to Saudi Arabia. The results have been deadly.

The Saudi-American arms deals are a continuation of a booming business that has developed between Washington and Riyadh during the Obama years. In the first six years of the Obama administration, the United States entered into agreements to transfer nearly $50 billion in weaponry to Saudi Arabia, with tens of billions of dollars of additional offers in the pipeline.

The Pentagon claims that these arms transfers to Saudi Arabia “improve the security of an important partner which has been and continues to be an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.” Recent Saudi actions suggest otherwise. [Continue reading…]

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Britain’s covert war in Yemen

Vice News reports: In a rural valley in southern Yemen lies Wadi Rafad, a collection of farms 50 miles from the provincial capital of Ataq. Amid an arid landscape dotted with lemon orchards and cornfields, villagers were used to the peace being disturbed by the buzzing of US drones flying overhead. But on the afternoon of May 6, 2012, something changed.

Around 4.30pm an aircraft came into view, its white fuselage clearly visible against the stark blue sky. Rather than overfly the valley, the CIA drone fired Hellfire missiles straight at Fahd al-Quso, who was working his land. He was killed instantly — but shrapnel from the blast also engulfed Nasser Salim Lakdim, a 19-year-old student who had just returned home to tend his family’s plantation. Nasser’s father came rushing back to the farm to find his son in pieces. “It was horrifying, I can barely describe it,” he told VICE News.

The strike was among the foremost successes of the US counterterrorism effort in Yemen. Al-Quso, its target, was a senior field commander in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). He had participated in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and had threatened to attack American embassies.

It was also an example of successful cooperation between British and American intelligence agencies. The US had hunted al-Quso for half a decade, and the intelligence that led to this strike came from a British agent working for the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) — commonly known as MI6 — who had infiltrated AQAP.

Far from being a one-off tip, a VICE News investigation can exclusively reveal that this was a high point in systemic collaboration between SIS and the CIA to degrade AQAP through a combination of special forces operations and drone strikes.

A former senior CIA official responsible for operations in Yemen told VICE News that “the most important contribution” to the intelligence for the strike came from “a very important British capability.” The UK agent provided the CIA with al-Quso’s position, allowing a drone to track his car. “That was quite unique,” the former official explained, “it was something we didn’t have.”

The use of drones in Yemen has long been characterized as a unilateral US policy. In response to a 2014 parliamentary question on Britain’s role in the US drone program, UK Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hugh Robertson said: “Drone strikes against terrorist targets in Yemen are a matter for the Yemeni and US governments.”

However, following interviews with more than two dozen current and former British, American, and Yemeni officials, VICE News can reveal that the UK played a crucial and sustained role with the CIA in finding and fixing targets, assessing the effect of strikes, and training Yemeni intelligence agencies to locate and identify targets for the US drone program. The US-led covert war in Yemen, now in its 15th year, has killed up to 1,651 people, including up to 261 civilians, according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. [Continue reading…]

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Cash, candy, and ‘collateral damage’: An anatomy of a CIA-MI6 drone assassination

Vice News reports: “I was on my way to play football with my friends when the airstrike hit,” Amin Ali al-Wisabi told VICE News, recounting the day when a CIA drone struck his hometown of Azzan in Yemen. “We had stopped to sit down and plan the match when all of a sudden an explosion hit a passing al-Qaeda car.”

Recovering from his shock, 13-year-old Amin realized he had been hit by shrapnel. “Blood was pouring from my leg.”

Next to Amin, his friend Hamza Khaled Baziyad lay unconscious. In total, five children aged between 10 and 14 were injured as they gathered close to the local mosque.

Though the number of people injured in covert US strikes is not officially recorded, they play a crucial role in the struggle for hearts and minds across Yemen’s southern hinterland. Bystanders and family rushed the children to a local clinic, where Hamza awoke while shrapnel was extracted from his chest. All of the children survived. [Continue reading…]

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