UN Envoy to Submit to Hadi New Initiative for Crisis Resolution

UN Secretary-General Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed speaks to media after the Yemen peace talks in Switzerland in Bern

Jeddah – UN Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is expected to arrive in Saudi Arabia on Saturday to meet with Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and ministers in the Yemeni government, to present highlights of his new initiative for a political solution in the war-torn country.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdul Malek al-Mekhlafi told Asharq al-Awsat that during the upcoming meetings, the government would only listen to Ould Cheikh’s ideas then agree on the next measures to be taken. He noted that the government had not received any details about the new initiative.

He also said that the UN envoy would meet during his visit to Saudi Arabia with the ambassadors of the permanent members of the Security Council, and would hold another round of meetings with the Saudi side, noting that talks would focus on the new ideas for the solution in Yemen.

Yemeni sources said that optimism of Yemeni political leaders and the public opinion with the ability of the United Nations to reach a solution to the crisis is gradually diminishing in light of the failure of many previous initiatives and proposals, the latest of which was putting the port of Hodeidah under UN administration and lifting the siege on Taiz.

The UN envoy’s visit to Saudi Arabia comes two weeks after the UN issued its annual report on the situation of children in armed conflicts, in which it accused the Saudi-led coalition of breaching children’s rights in Yemen.

The report was met with a wave of international condemnation for containing inaccurate information and figures, which were based on unreliable sources. This issue will also be tackled during Hadi’s meeting with Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

Yemen Cautiously Welcomes New UN Initiative

Yemen

Jeddah – Yemen’s Deputy Premier and Foreign Affairs Minister Abdul-Malek al-Mekhlafi said that the new initiative put forward by UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed for a political solution in Yemen was unclear.

“We haven’t received any details about it,” Al-Mekhlafi said, describing the initiative as “mere intentions to conceal the failures of the United Nations.”

However, the deputy premier said the legitimate government would consider the proposal should it respect the previous references.

In a phone conversation with Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Mekhlafi said: “The new proposal is an attempt to address the fiasco of the international community, which has failed to put pressure on the coup; it is also a mean to escape forward by talking about a new plan.”

He added: “The information reached confirms that there are no specific lines or ideas so far … but just intentions with which we will deal according to the references,” referring to the outcome of national dialogue, the Gulf Initiative and UN Security Council Resolution 2216.

“The Yemeni government will go in all directions, including the option of basic peace… we will respond to every initiative by the international community. We are working in this framework and this will remain the most important option for the government,” Al-Mekhlafi said.

Commenting on the recent report by the United Nations, which accused the Arab coalition of violating children’s rights in the armed conflict, the foreign minister said: “The Yemeni government has clearly condemned this report. We believe that this statement was unfair and was based on inaccurate and biased information by some UN staff.”

“We call on the United Nations to remove the Yemeni government and the Arab coalition from this report. We maintain communication with the United Nations and we will achieve the desired goal,” the deputy premier said, adding: “Attempts under the pretext of neutrality will be uncovered soon and the truth will be revealed.”

Human Rights Violations Increased in Houthi-Militia Controlled Areas

Jeddah – A number of areas under the control of the Yemeni insurgents, especially in the capital Sana’a and the province of Tihama, have witnessed a significant increase in cases of violations of the rights of civilians, amounting to approximately 120 cases per month, including killings, torture and armed robbery of properties and closing of Quran memorization institutes in some cities.

Civil rights organizations called for the speedy intervention of international bodies to stop these violations, which have increased with the progress of the National Army on a number of fronts near Sana’a, demanding the need to put pressure on the militias to stop recruiting children and abducting them from their homes.

According to the Yemeni Minister of Human Rights, 20,000 children from different cities were taken by the militias to the front lines.

Human rights activist in the province of Tihama Abdul Hafiz al-Hattami said that Houthi-Saleh militias have escalated the pace of violations against citizens and their private and public rights to intimidate them and prevent a possible revolution against them in a clear absence of many international organizations in this regard.

“The Yemeni citizen has become exposed to killing and torturing in the prisons of the insurgents; many teachers have not been released recently from prison and were subject to torture and murder in many cases. The most recent case was the killing of a family consisting of a mother and son, whose father works in the education sector,” Hattami added.

He pointed out that according to human rights reports, Dhamar city recorded in September 120 cases of violations of public and private properties, including recruiting children and forcing them to fight in the war without taking their parents’ permission and returning their corps.

Ibb city also recorded around 100 violations in September, represented in abducting, killing, stealing, raiding houses, attacking public sector employees and recruiting children by force, according to Hattami.

Hattami added that Hodeidah province, for its part, recorded 50 violations, including the killing of children, torturing, oppressing, stealing revenues of Hodeidah port and the costumes that amounted to nine billion in one month, imposing additional fees on the citizens and looting humanitarian aids.

Al-Mekhlafi to Asharq Al-Awsat: Tehran Resorts to Blackmail to Link Syrian, Yemeni Files 

Jeddah- The Yemeni government reiterated on Tuesday that it rejects Iran’s efforts to internationalize the Yemeni file by linking it to the Syrian crisis.

“Iran is trying to link the Syrian and Yemeni files in order to blackmail the legitimate government in Yemen and neighboring countries, including Saudi Arabia,” Yemeni Foreign Minister and deputy Prime Minister Abdulmalek al-Mekhlafi told Asharq Al-Awsat on Tuesday.

Mekhlafi asserted that such attempts would fail because the international community, which is divided concerning the Syrian and Libyan files, has a combined position towards the Yemeni file.

“What is happening in Yemen is between the legitimate government and rebels and not a civil war,” the foreign minister said.

He also confirmed that the Yemeni file is very different from other regional files, which haven’t been closed yet for several reasons.

During his meetings in the US, Mekhlafi said US officials expressed their support to the Yemeni legitimate government and praised the role of the cabinet in accepting all demands related to peace and in facilitating the delivery of international aid in Yemen.

Commenting on the issue of handing over Hodeidah, the foreign minister said that rebels do not wish to reach peace or to lessen the sufferings of the Yemeni people. “Our government accepted the plan to solve the Hodeida issue and we also showed strong flexibility in this regard by not insisting on a comprehensive solution. However, the insurgents’ objection revealed the true and horrible face of those militias,” he said.

In August, UN special envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed spoke about a new UN roadmap in Hodeidah as the start of a comprehensive solution to the Yemeni crisis.

There were several requests to place the coastal city under UN supervision to facilitate the flow of humanitarian supplies to the Yemeni people, and end the use of the port for weapons smuggling and people trafficking.

Commenting on the existing channels with Russian officials, Mekhlafi said: “There is continuous dialogue with the Russian side and I am planning to visit Moscow soon.”

He added that the Russians are seeking to send a clear message to the rebels to abide by the peace requirements.

Yemeni Forces Control Insurgents’ Military Sites in Mokha

Jeddah – Yemeni popular resistance, backed by the fourth military region and Arab coalition, controlled Hamli area, one of insurgents’ most important military sites near Makha on the western coast.

The popular resistance succeeded in liberating the area following heavy clashes with Houthi and Saleh militias.

Meanwhile, Yemeni army advanced on several major axes in Tuhama region including Baqem which brought the army closer to Dahyan directorate, major city towards Saada, the hometown of Houthis’ leader.

Hodeidah Undersecretary Walid al-Qadimi stated that over the past few hours, military forces loyal to the legitimacy, army, and popular resistance, succeeded in controlling and advancing towards several areas, most importantly al-Hamli.

Hamli is one of insurgents’ most important barrack where they hide different weapons and missiles and use the area to launch their attacks against the army.

The undersecretary explained that Hamli area used to be a residential area, but insurgents turned it into a military area.

Qadimi confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the army and popular resistance are advancing on major fronts especially Midi and Haradh. He added that the coalition air force targeted insurgents major sites in those areas.

He stated that during the army’s military operations, several insurgents were captured and will be put under investigation for further military details. Such information benefits the army in locating sites and weapons’ hidden by the insurgents all over Tuhama.

The undersecretary pointed out that the coalition forces are backing the army and popular resistance to restore legitimacy in the country. He reiterated that the efforts of coalition forces are very important and pivotal in restoring stability.

Qadimi said that insurgents had established new checkpoints especially on Nahm and Bani Hashish frontlines. He claimed that the checkpoints were to prevent their fighters from escaping the battlefield as the national army and resistance advance.

He added that those apprehended are either sent back to their stations or deported to other areas where he is sent to jail and later killed for treason.

Kurdish Referendum: Between Turkish Threats and Iranian Caution

Ankara and Erbil- President of the northern Iraqi Kurdish region Masoud al-Barzani has rejected international, regional and Iraqi pressure to cancel a planned independence referendum, stressing that the Kurdish people are prepared to pay the price for their freedom.

This comes as the Turkish National Security Council called Barzani to stop the referendum.

Barzani concluded his tour to support the independence referendum in the Kurdistan capital, Erbil, on Friday afternoon.

Addressing a rally of thousands of people, Barzani said that Erbil is open to have serious and friendly talks with Baghdad after the September 25 vote, but it is now too late to postpone it.

He stressed that Kurdistan is not a threat to its neighbors, as has been demonstrated over the past 25 years, but warned the Peshmerga would not allow anyone to feel “comfortable” and invade Kurdistan.

He directed the Peshmerga to be prepared to “pay whatever cost” necessary to protect Kurdistan, because they will not allow the region to fall to the enemy.

The president called upon all Kurdish people to head to the polls on Monday and decide their future, saying the road ahead is difficult but worth it.

“Either we live a life of subordination, or a free life,” Barzani told the rally adding that if they must die to achieve freedom, they will “die with honor.”

Barzani said that the “free union” described in the Iraqi constitution has failed and that the path ahead is for the Iraqi and Kurdish nations to part.

Describing how Iraqi officials did not respect partnership in the new Iraq established after the 2003 US-led invasion, Barzani declared, “We won’t go back to a failed experience,” reiterating: “We can no longer live with Baghdad.”

Addressing a UN Security Council statement asking Kurdistan to postpone the vote out of fear it may affect the war on ISIS and the return of one million or displaced Iraqis who are currently in the Kurdistan Region, Barzani said Kurdistan’s coordination with Iraqi and global forces will continue.

“We will be more insistent in the fight against ISIS and will fight even stronger,” he said.

He also said the displaced Iraqis are the guests of Kurdistan.

Addressing Turkey and Iran, Barzani said: “You have punished us for 100 years. Are you not tired yet?”

He explained that it was too late to call off the vote despite global pressure, adding that he would not postpone the referendum to please foreign capitals.

Meanwhile, negotiations are still taking place to persuade Barzani on postponing any referendum, according to officials close to the discussions.

“Nothing is definitive yet. Discussions are continuing to try to offer him serious guarantees that will convince him to change his mind,” said one official who did not wish to be identified.

On the Iranian front, AFP quoted a top official as saying that Major General Qassem Soleimani of the Revolutionary Guards’ al-Quds Force returned to Kurdistan and met several officials.

The source said that Soleimani was in Sulaimaniyyah and will head to Erbil later.

“It’s his last visit before the referendum to advise Kurdish officials that Iran is seriously hostile to it and warn them to call it off,” the source said, adding that Soleimani promised Kurdish officials during his last visit that Iran is pressuring the Iraqi leadership so it accepts Kurdish demands and solves the issues of the budget, Peshmerga salaries and disputed areas.

In 2014, Baghdad decided to suspend payments to Barzani’s Kurdish regional government of 17 percent of Iraq’s national budget, worth about $12 billion, because of a dispute over oil exports.

Wages, along with those of Kurdish peshmerga fighters, made up 80 percent of the region’s budget revenues.

On Thursday, the UN Security Council warned that the referendum was potentially destabilizing, urging warring parties to dialogue and compromise to address differences between the Iraqi government and the regional authorities.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi rejected the independence referendum under any form, even non-binding.

At a press conference in Baghdad, Abadi said that the poll was “rejected, whether today or in the future.”

Barzani also rejected an initiative from Iraqi President Fuad Massum, a Kurd, for negotiations.

In a document seen by AFP, Massum suggested starting UN-backed talks towards a deal with Baghdad.

An official of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Tuz Khurmatu, of Salaheddine, Atef Annajar said he will not allow the poll.

“We’re ready for a fight to the death,” said, adding however that “the leadership is trying to calm the situation.”

Also, US presidential envoy to the coalition fighting ISIS Brett McGurk said on Friday that a referendum on Kurdish independence in northern Iraq “carries a lot of risks”, according to Reuters.

McGurk told reporters: “The (Kurdish) referendum just carries an awful lot of risks and that’s not something the United States can control. In terms of the consequences of the referendum it’s not something that we can fully control, (it) just carries a lot of risks.”

Meanwhile in Russia, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim al-Jaafari that Moscow supported Iraq’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

“The Russian side confirmed its constant support for the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq,” the ministry said in a statement.

Following his return from the 72nd UN General Assembly, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held back-to-back meetings of Turkey’s cabinet and National Security Council during which the Kurdish referendum was discussed.

On Saturday, Turkish parliament will also convene to discuss the response to the referendum.

The council called on Barzani to stop the referendum. It warned the Kurdish government against holding a referendum on independence, saying such a move would create grave results.

In a statement released following a meeting at the presidential complex in Ankara, the council said that Turkey reserves all options arising from bilateral and international agreements if the referendum is held on September 25.

”It is strongly emphasized that this attempted Kurdish referendum is a grave mistake which directly threatens the security of Turkey and the peace, security and stability of the region as well as Iraq’s territorial unity and territorial integrity,” the statement said.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the referendum was a matter of national security for the country and Ankara would never accept a change of status in Iraq or Syria.

“An action that will change the status in Syria and Iraq is an unacceptable result for Turkey, and we will do what is necessary,” Yildirim said.

$20 Billion Sino-Saudi Agreements, 11 Investment Licenses

sino

Jeddah- Saudi Arabia and China sealed 11 new deals worth around $20 billion to reinforce strategic partnership between the two countries. The kingdom also granted 11 investment licenses to four firms.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih announced on Thursday in Jeddah signing a MoU between the Sino-Saudi governments to establish a joint investment fund, expressing hope that Saudi Arabia would get the lion’s stake.

He added during the inauguration of the Sino-Saudi Investment Forum that 11 business agreements worth about $20 billion were signed, following 60 MoUs already signed between the two sides worth $70 billion.

Falih called on companies to urge their private sectors to seek opportunities in Saudi Arabia and to consider the kingdom as a platform for them to grow and access promising and developing markets.

He noted that the kingdom welcomes Chinese firms’ investments and contributions within its pursuit towards economy diversification through promising sectors such as infrastructure, transport projects and various industries.

Minister of Commerce and Investment Majed al-Qasabi stated that the kingdom had launched Saudi Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program along with 12 development programs to form a global investment power.

“We hope that Saudi Arabia becomes the first investment partner of China in the region,” he added.

Qasabi told Asharq Al-Awsat that granting licenses for Chinese firms was subsequent to these meetings, since forums reinforce ties and unveil investment opportunities.

Deputy Minister of Economy and Planning Mohammed al-Tuwaijri told Asharq Al-Awsat that the investment fund would be a large stride.

He added that there is a wish to get funding from various banks, in a step to diversify financial strategies, noting that there is a future meeting to be held to coordinate with Sino firms as well as weekly meetings in the kingdom to enhance efficiency and practicability.

700 Qatari Pilgrims Crossed the Saudi Borders

Makkah– The supervisor of the General Secretariat of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ Program for Hajj and Umrah, Abdullah Al-Madlej, said that the “Communications” Center has received a flood of telephone calls from Qatari citizens to inquire about many issues related to the performance of the Holy Hajj.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, the Saudi official noted that a number of committees working in the Programs’ main locations that are dedicated to receiving guests in Makkah , have been contacted by Qatari citizens, who arrived in Saudi Arabia wishing to perform Hajj.

Madlej said that the number of Qatari pilgrims has not been completed for many reasons, including that the majority of GCC worshipers start coming to Saudi Arabia as of the fifth and sixth day of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah, pointing out the difficulty of determining the exact number of Qatari pilgrims at the moment.

He noted, however, that 600 Qatari citizens have so far entered the Kingdom to perform the Hajj and to meet the invitation launched by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz.

The Saudi authorities have announced that the number of pilgrims, who crossed the Salwa border with Qatar, until Thursday, have reached 700.

All the sites were provided with the necessary equipment to receive the Qatari pilgrims, including 50 buses and small transport vehicles, Madlej said, adding that hotels in Makkah have also been specified to accommodate the worshipers.

He also stressed that immediately after the issuance of the order to host Qatari pilgrims at the expense of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs – the authority overseeing the program – has quickly completed all procedures in coordination and cooperation with the relevant authorities in the Kingdom.

The Saudi official said that the ministry had representatives in the port of Salwa, and others in Dammam, and Al-Ahsa, in order to provide the necessary services upon the arrival of Qataris to Saudi Arabia.

On a different note, Madlej said that King Salman has hosted 1000 families of martyrs from the Egyptian army and police during the current Hajj season, upon the request of the Saudi Embassy in Egypt.

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques also hosted about 350 families of martyrs in the Sudanese army, who had participated in the “Decisive Storm” Operation.

Saudi Arabia Can Receive Six Million Pilgrims Next Hajj Seasons

Hajj

Jeddah- Specialists in Hajj affairs assured that Saudi Arabia has all requirements to receive more than six million pilgrims during the coming seasons, based on its solid infrastructure, size of projects executed in the holy sites, its national cadre and economic power.

The kingdom succeeded during the current Umrah season in hosting more than 6,750 million pilgrims, an increase of more than 400,000 pilgrims, coming from all over the world based on statistics of Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.

The ministry’s statistical report also revealed that the number of Pakistani pilgrims was the highest (1.4 million), then Indonesians (875,958) while Iraqis’ number was the highest among Arab states (264, 878).

Specialists stated that the constant dealing with more than nine million Hajj and Umrah pilgrims throughout the year has enabled Saudi Arabia to put plans to increase the number of pilgrims as the new projects reach an end.

Chairman of the Kingdom’s National Committee for Hajj and Umrah Marwan Shaaban told Asharq Al-Awsat that King Salman’s government pays huge attention to serving pilgrims in a way that suits the religious value of the Two Holy Mosques.

Shaaban added that the kingdom carries out new projects and services every year worth millions of dollars to facilitate performance of rituals and assimilate the expected increase in number of pilgrims.

In a related matter, economists see that the annual increase in pilgrims’ number – in tandem with Saudi Vision 2030 – will directly reflect on sectors of hotels and transportation during the coming period.

“All indicators prove that there is a remarkable investment growth in hotels for several factors including the Saudi strategy to expand investment to all segments,” said economist Dr. Louay Tayar.

Yemen: Security Services Arrest Terror Rings in Shabwa, Hadhramaut

National security servicemen deployed in Shabwa province

Jeddah- Yemen’s interior ministry announced on Friday foiling a number of plots targeting several liberated cities.

Most of the attacks were aimed at undermining the internationally-recognized government’s interests.

Terror rings were arrested in each of Shabwa, Hadhramaut and the interim capital Aden, said interior minister Major General Hussein Arab.

Such plotting is believed to be spurred by vengeance against the constitutionally elected government, which recently announced holding the first parliamentary session after securing necessary quorum and representation for all national blocs.

Some of the terrorist cells were found affiliated with Al-Qaeda and ISIS, and others supported by coup-run Sana’a.

In his interview with Asharq al-Awsat as Maj. Gen. Hussein Arab said some of these groups receive direct support from Tehran.

He also said that these rings are involved with smuggling of drugs to a number of neighboring countries, and ransom-driven kidnaps.

The Yemeni interior minister also pointed out that “great cooperation runs between the pro-government forces and the Saudi-led Arab coalition,” and said that it played a great role in arresting those terror groups.

Exchange of intelligence and co-led operations were some of the few collaborations among the two forces which helped in neutralizing many threats and fortifying stability.

“Arrested cells in Shabwa, Hadhramaut and the interim capital of Aden was preceded by full coordination and joint action,” said Maj.Gen. Arab.

He also stressed the importance of continuing this cooperation in order to block these groups.

Maj.Gen. Arab said that all the cells working to undermine legitimacy forces, are driven by a mixture of “Al-Qaeda and ISIS” ideologies, and others follow Tehran’s agenda aiming to destabilize the region by spurring acts of sabotage.

Yemen’s security services work in coordination with all concerned parties and intelligence agencies in neighboring countries, Maj.Gen. Arab said.

“These operations are considered a security achievement and a painful blow to extremist groups, which are now aware that the security services are tightening their grip, unlike pastimes.”