Downgrading U.S.-Saudi ties would be ‘grave mistake’: Pompeo

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pauses during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, U.S., November 20, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Doina Chiacu and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that downgrading U.S. ties with Saudi Arabia over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi would be a mistake for national security and would not push Saudis in a better direction at home.

After repeated calls from members of Congress for a strong U.S. response, Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis were briefing the U.S. Senate behind closed doors about Saudi Arabia and the Oct. 2 murder of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, as well as the civil war in Yemen.

In a blog post, Pompeo said: “The October murder of Saudi national Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey has heightened the Capitol Hill caterwauling and media pile-on. But degrading U.S.-Saudi ties would be a grave mistake for the national security of the U.S. and its allies,” Pompeo wrote.

In his remarks for the briefing, which were released as it got underway, Mattis said that pulling back U.S. military support in Yemen and stopping weapons sales to important partners would be misguided.

“Our security interests cannot be dismissed, even as we seek accountability for what President (Donald) Trump described as the “unacceptable and horrible crime” of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, a crime which “our country does not condone,” Mattis said in his prepared remarks.

Pompeo made the case that the Saudis are too important an ally to lose, citing the country’s help to contain Iran in the region, secure democracy in Iraq and fight the Islamic State and other militant groups.

“The kingdom is a powerful force for stability in the Middle East,” he wrote. “Saudi Arabia, like the U.S. – and unlike these critics – recognizes the immense threat the Islamic Republic of Iran poses to the world.”

Pompeo also said the United States would provide an additional $131 million for food aid in Yemen.

The nearly four-year-long war in Yemen, which has killed more than 10,000 people and triggered the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis, is seen as a proxy war between Saudia Arabia and Iran.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)

Cholera claims unborn children as epidemic spreads Yemen misery

Children wait to be treated at a cholera treatment center in Sanaa, Yemen May 15, 2017. Picture taken May 15, 2017.

By Abduljabbar Zeyad

HODEIDAH, Yemen (Reuters) – One of the latest victims of the cholera epidemic that has killed more than 2,000 people in Yemen had yet to even take her first breath.

Her mother Safaa Issa Kaheel, then nine months pregnant, was brought into a crowded clinic in the Western port city of Hodeidah by her husband, who had to borrow the travel fare from a neighbor. “My stomach started hurting more and more,” said Kaheel, 37, a hydrating drip hooked into her arm.

Once there, she was referred by nurse Hayam al-Shamaa for an ultrasound scan which showed her baby had died of dehydration – one of 15 to perish in the womb due to cholera in September and October, according to doctors at the city’s Thawra hospital.

“I felt like death,” Kaheel said, her voice strained. “Thank god I survived the (delivery), but my diarrhea hasn’t stopped.”

The Red Cross has warned that cholera, a diarrheal disease that has been eradicated in most developed countries, could infect a million people in Yemen by the end of the year.

Two and a half years of war have sapped Yemen of the money and medical facilities it needs to battle the contagion, to which aid agencies and medics say the poor, the starving, the pregnant and the young are most vulnerable.

The cholera ward is full of children – some writhing in agony, others eerily still. The blanket over one boy too weak to move rises and falls with his shallow breathing.

Save the Children said in August that children under 15 represent nearly half of new cases and a third of deaths, with malnourished children more than six times more likely to die of cholera than well-fed ones.

Millions of Yemenis are struggling to find food and the baking desert plains around Hodeidah are hotspots both of hunger and sickness.

Yemen’s war pits the armed Houthi movement against the internationally recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition that has launched thousands of air strikes to restore him to power.

At least 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

The country’s health sector has been badly battered while a struggle over the central bank has left public sector salaries for doctors and sanitation workers unpaid.

Soumaya Beltifa, spokesperson for the Red Cross in Sanaa, warned that a lack of funds and health personnel were blunting efforts to eradicate the disease, making it unlikely Yemen would be healthy again soon.

“The cholera epidemic has become a norm, leading to complacency in dealing with the disease, not only by civilians but also from the various (aid) organizations,” she warned.


Veteran aid expert Egeland warns of ‘Biblical’ famine in Yemen

A family eat breakfast outside their hut at a camp for people displaced by the war near Sanaa, Yemen September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – Yemen faces a “famine of Biblical proportions”, veteran aid expert Jan Egeland warned on Wednesday during a visit to the war-battered nation, expressing fury over the failure of the “men with guns and power” to end the crisis.

Yemen’s two years of civil war have pitted the Iran-aligned Houthi rebel group against a Saudi-backed coalition, causing economic collapse and severely restricting the food and fuel imports on which Yemen traditionally depends.

The United Nations conservatively estimates that more than 10,000 people have been killed, according to data from the health facilities that are still functioning. Experts fear the real figure is much higher.

Egeland, who heads the Norwegian Refugee Council and also advises the U.N. on Syrian humanitarian operations, told Reuters by telephone from the Yemeni capital Sanaa that although Yemen’s war was smaller than Syria’s, it had led to an epic disaster.

“All our efforts through the World Food Programme reached 3.1 million of 7 million people who are on the brink of famine. So it means basically that 4 million people got nothing in April and these people are staring into the naked eye of starvation.

“We will have a famine of Biblical proportions, if it continues like now with only a portion of those in greatest need getting humanitarian relief,” he told Reuters after visiting Sanaa, the port of Aden and the town of Amran.

Egeland, a former head of the U.N. humanitarian office, said the crisis was not getting the international attention it needed because few journalists or diplomats could get into the country.


“I’m coming out of here angry with those men with power and guns, inside Yemen, in regional capitals and international capitals who are not able to fix this man-made crisis,” Egeland said. “It’s not rocket science.”

Half a million children could die at any time, and many are already doing so “quietly and tragically” in their homes, he added.

Egeland urged the United States and Britain to help stop the war. They are allies of Saudi Arabia, leader of the alliance seeking to restore the internationally recognized Aden-based government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

In a separate statement, he also appealed to Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates to stop adding “fuel to this fire”. The Sunni Muslim Gulf Arabs see Shi’ite Iran, their arch foe, as bent on regional domination, something Tehran denies.

Egeland said all relevant countries should work toward securing a ceasefire and “meaningful peace talks” as well as the lifting of economic restrictions and sanctions that have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis.

Last month a U.N. pledging conference for Yemen raised promises of $1.1 billion, about half of what is needed for the year. Without an immediate and massive injection of new cash, Egeland said, the aid flow will halt by July.

But the key to ending the humanitarian crisis is reviving the shattered, economy, as it is not possible to maintain a nation of 27 million people with aid injections, he said.

“When people have no income and the prices of food in the market have tripled, hungry people can only afford to look at the food in the market. They cannot afford to buy it,” Egeland said, adding that there were no food stocks left in Yemen.

“There are no reserves, there are no warehouses there like in many of the other wars I have visited. Everything goes straight into hungry mouths,” he said.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Gareth Jones)

No famine in Yemen but over half on the brink: U.N.-backed report

A malnourished boy lies on a bed outside his family's hut in al-Tuhaita district of the Red Sea province of Hodaida, Yemen September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – A U.N.-backed report on Yemen has found no full-blown famine in the country but said 60 percent of Yemenis, or 17 million people, are in “crisis” or “emergency” food situations, 20 percent more than in June.

The World Food Programme said in a statement on Wednesday that the governorates of Taiz and Hodeidah along the Red Sea risked slipping into famine if they did not receive more aid. Both have long traditions as food-producing regions.

The crisis follows two years of civil war pitting the Iran-allied Houthi group against a Saudi-backed coalition, which has caused economic collapse and severely restricted the food and fuel imports on which Yemen depends.

“If humanitarian actors do not access all the people in need by the coming months, the situation may deteriorate dramatically,” the report said.

Taiz and Hodeidah governorates, home to important Yemeni ports, “have the highest rates of global acute malnutrition in the country, ranging from 17 percent in Taiz City to 25 percent in Hodeidah,” the WFP said.

“The emergency threshold set by the World Health Organization is 15 percent,” it added.

The report was written by an expert team using the globally recognized IPC methodology. The IPC, or Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, is a system of analyzing food security on a five-point scale, where five is “famine”.

The report, drawing on analysis from 69 experts from Yemen’s government and regions, the United Nations and non-governmental institutions, said 10.2 million people were at phase three, or “crisis”, and 6.8 million at phase four, or “emergency”.

The worst affected governorates – those in the emergency phase – were Lahej, Taiz, Abyan, Sa’ada, Hajjah, Hodeidah and Shabwah, it said. Taiz, where heavy fighting looks likely to continue, has seen its biggest spike in livestock and commodity prices since the war escalated in 2015.

Yemen is one of four current famine or near-famine situations, along with South Sudan, northeast Nigeria and Somalia, with more than 20 million people at risk of starvation in the next six months.

Last month the U.N. said more than $4 billion was needed by the end of March to stave off starvation in the four countries on the brink of starvation.

U.N. officials say that once a famine is officially declared, it is usually too late because large numbers of people have already died.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Plane strike hits Yemen mourners, killing 9 women, 1 child: residents

Yemen rubble after air strike that killed women and child

SANAA (Reuters) – Warplanes of the Saudi-led coalition struck a house north of Yemen’s capital where a crowd of mourners was gathered, residents said on Thursday, killing nine women and a child and injuring dozens.

The Saudi-led coalition said it was investigating reports of civilian casualties in the area.

The air strike hit the house of a local tribal leader in Ashira, a village north of Sanaa, on Wednesday night, a resident told Reuters. Mourners had gathered there to offer condolences after a woman died.

“People heard the sound of planes and started running from the house but then the bombs hit the house directly. The roof collapsed. Blood was everywhere,” a second resident of Ashira, who gave his name as Hamid Ali, told a Reuters cameraman.

Pictures published by local media showed tribesmen searching through the rubble of a destroyed house said to belong to Mohammed al-Nakaya, a tribal leader allied with Yemen’s Houthi movement.

One showed a man kneeling in the dust cradling the body of an elderly woman.

It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity of the pictures.

“We are aware of media reports that Houthi rebels are claiming that Yemeni civilians were killed in an air raid overnight near Sanaa,” the coalition said in statement.

“There has been fighting between Yemeni armed forces and rebels in this area in recent days. We are investigating the reports.”

In October the alliance of mainly Gulf Arab states was heavily criticized after launching an air strike on a funeral gathering in Sanaa that killed 140 people, according to one U.N. estimate.

The death toll from that strike was one of the highest in any single incident since the alliance began military operations in March 2015 to try to restore the administration of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who the Houthis ousted.

The White House said at the time it might consider cutting its support to the Saudi-led campaign which has been providing air support for Hadi’s forces in a civil war that has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced millions.

The alliance, which says it does not target civilians, blamed the October funeral attack on incorrect information it said it received from the Yemeni military that armed Houthi leaders were in the area.

(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Tom Finn and Sami Aboudi,; Editing by Toby Chopra and John Stonestreet)

Islamist militants exploit chaos as combatants pursue peace in Yemen

Followers of Houthi movement

By Mohammed Ghobari and Noah Browning

CAIRO/DUBAI (Reuters) – Islamic State efforts to exploit chaos may have brought Saudi-backed forces and Iran-allied Houthis tentatively closer at peace talks in Yemen’s civil war, but a deal seems unlikely in time to avert collapse into armed, feuding statelets.

Ferocious conflict along Yemen’s northern border between Saudi Arabia and Iran-allied Ansurallah, a Shi’ite Muslim revival movement also called the Houthis, defied two previous attempts to seal a peace. But a truce this year and prisoner exchanges mean hopes for a third round of talks are higher.

The threat from an emerging common enemy may be galvanizing their efforts. Islamic State appears to be behind a dizzying uptick in suicide attacks and al Qaeda fighters continue to hold sway over broad swathes of the country that abuts Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Thursday the kingdom sought to prioritize fighting militants in Yemen over its desultory arm-wrestle with entrenched Houthi insurgents.

“Whether we agree or disagree with them, the Houthis are part of the social fabric of Yemen … The Houthis are our neighbors. Al Qaeda and Daesh are terrorist entities that must be confronted in Yemen and everywhere else,” Jubeir tweeted, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

Now largely stalemated, the conflict has killed at least 6,200 people – half of them civilians – and sent nearly three million people fleeing for safety.

Despite the relative lull during talks, hostility continues. Saudi Arabia has pounded its enemies with dozens of air strikes. Houthis have responded with two ballistic missile launches.

If the parties seize the opportunity, an unlikely new status quo may reign by which Houthis and Saudis depend on each other for peace.

“This could mean a massive re-ordering of Yemen’s political structure, and the conflict so far has already produced some strange bedfellows,” said Adam Baron, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

The Houthis ousted the internationally recognized government in 2014 in what it hailed as a revolution but which Sunni Gulf Arab countries decried as a coup benefiting Shi’ite rival Iran.

Pounding the Houthis and their allies in Yemen’s army with air strikes beginning on March of 2015, a Saudi-led alliance soon deployed ground troops and rolled back their enemies toward Sanaa, held by the Houthis.

A near-blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition and frontlines which ebb and flow across villages and towns have deprived nearly 20 of 25 million people of access to clean water and put yet more in need of some form of humanitarian aid.


Of the countries where pro-democracy “Arab Spring” uprisings in 2011 ultimately led to outright combat, Yemen’s United Nations-sponsored peace process arguably shows the most promise.

Unlike with Libya and Syria, representatives of Yemen’s warring sides meet daily in Kuwait and argue over how to implement U.N. Security Council resolutions and share power.

But while keeping Yemen’s parties talking for this long was an accomplishment, getting them to live together in Sanaa and share power remains a distant dream.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdel-Malek al-Mekhlafi accused the Houthis of resisting a U.N. Security Council Resolution from last April to disarm and vacate main cities.

“There is a wide gap in the debate, we are discussing the return of the state … they are thinking only of power and demanding a consensual government,” he told Reuters.

Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Salam said on his facebook page: “The solution in Yemen must be consensual political dialogue and not imposing diktats or presenting terms of surrender, this is unthinkable.”

But a diplomatic source in Kuwait said that through the fog of rhetoric, a general outline of a resolution has been reached.

“There is an agreement on the withdrawal from the cities and the (Houthi) handover of weapons, forming a government of all parties and preparing for new elections. The dispute now only centers around where to begin,” the source said.


All parties will be aware the danger of a collapse into feuding statelets is growing. The Houthis are deepening control over what remains of the shattered state it seized with the capital in 2014.

Footage of the graduation ceremony of an elite police unit last week showed recruits with right arms upraised in an erect salute, barking allegiance not just to Yemen but to Imam Ali and the slain founder of the Houthi movement – a move critics say proves their partisan agenda for the country.

Meanwhile the Houthis’ enemies in the restive, once independent South agitate ever more confidently for self-rule.

Militiamen in Aden last week expelled on the back of trucks more than 800 northerners they said lacked proper IDs and posed a security risk.

The tranquility amid the gardens and burbling fountains of the Kuwaiti emir’s palace hosting the talks have not impressed residents of Yemen’s bombed-out cities, who despair whether armed groups can ever be reined in.

“All the military movements on the ground suggest the war will resume and that both parties are continuing to mobilize their fighters on the front lines,” said Fuad al-Ramada, a 50-year old bureaucrat in the capital Sanaa.

(Writing By Noah Browning; editing by Ralph Boulton)