Aid agencies say Yemen blockade remains, Egeland calls it ‘collective punishment’

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The Saudi-led coalition’s blockade of Yemen, which has cut off food imports to a population where 7 million people are on the brink of famine, is “illegal collective punishment” of civilians, a prominent aid official said on Thursday.

Major agencies said aid was still blocked a day after the Saudi-led military coalition said it would let humanitarian supplies in.

The U.S.-backed coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen said on Wednesday it would allow aid in through the port of Hodeidah, as well as U.N. flights to the capital Sanaa, more than two weeks after blockading the country.

“We have not yet had any movement as of now,” said Jens Laerke, spokesman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance.

Jan Egeland, a former U.N. aid chief who now heads the Norwegian Refugee Council, said of the blockade: “In my view this is illegal collective punishment.”

Egeland, whose group helps 1 million Yemenis, welcomed the coalition announcement as a “step in the right direction”, but added: “We only have it in writing now and haven’t seen it happen.”

The coalition closed air, land and sea access on Nov. 6 to stop the flow of arms to the Houthis from Iran. The action came after Saudi Arabia intercepted a missile fired toward Riyadh. Iran has denied supplying weapons.

“Sending a missile in the direction of Riyadh is really very bad. But those who are suffering from the blockade had nothing to do with this missile,” Egeland told Reuters while in Geneva.

“Even if both the flights and humanitarian shipments will go through now, it is not solving the underlying crisis that a country that needs 90 percent of its goods imported is not getting in commercial food or fuel.”

Houthi authorities who control the capital Sanaa were also imposing restrictions on access for aid workers, he said.

The United Nations says some 7 million Yemenis are on the brink of famine and 945,000 have been infected since April with cholera. More than 2,200 people have died.

U.N. officials have submitted requests to the coalition for deliveries via Hodeidah and Sanaa, and the “hope and expectation” was that the vital aid pipelines would re-open on Friday, the U.N.’s Laerke said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was vital to get commercial traffic resumed.

“Yemenis will need more than aid in order to survive the crisis and ward off famine,” spokeswoman Iolanda Jaquemet said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Famine survey warns of thousands dying daily in Yemen if ports stay closed

Famine survey warns of thousands dying daily in Yemen if ports stay closed

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – A U.S.-funded famine survey said on Tuesday that thousands of Yemenis could die daily if a Saudi-led military coalition does not lift its blockade on the country’s key ports.

The warning came a day after the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said 2.5 million people in Yemen’s crowded cities had no access to clean water, raising the risk that a cholera epidemic will spread.

Using the internationally recognized IPC 5-point scale for classifying food security, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) said that even before the current blockade, 15 million people were in “crisis” (IPC Phase 3) or worse.

“Therefore, a prolonged closure of key ports risks an unprecedented deterioration in food security to Famine (IPC Phase 5) across large areas of the country,” it said.

It said famine is likely in many areas within three or four months if ports remain closed, with some less accessible areas at even greater risk. In such a scenario, shortages of food and fuel would drive up prices, and a lack of medical supplies would exacerbate life-threatening diseases.

“Thousands of deaths would occur each day due to the lack of food and disease outbreaks,” said FEWS NET, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Famine remained likely even if the southern port of Aden is open, its report said, adding that all Yemeni ports should be reopened to essential imports.

The United Nations has said the Saudi-led coalition must allow aid in through Hodeidah port, controlled by the Houthis, the Saudis’ enemies in the war in Yemen.

U.N. humanitarian agencies have issued dire warnings about the impact of the blockade, although U.N. officials have declined to directly criticize Saudi Arabia.

Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council and a former U.N. aid chief, was blunt in his criticism, however.

“US, UK & other allies of Saudi has only weeks to avoid being complicit in a famine of Biblical proportions. Lift the blockade now,” he wrote in a tweet.

Last year Saudi Arabia was accused by then U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of exerting “unacceptable” undue pressure to keep itself off a blacklist of countries that kill children in conflict, after sources told Reuters that Riyadh had threatened to cut some U.N. funding. Saudi Arabia denied this.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Catherine Evans)

U.N. pleads for end of Yemen blockade or ‘untold thousands’ will die

U.N. pleads for end of Yemen blockade or 'untold thousands' will die

GENEVA (Reuters) – The heads of three U.N. agencies issued a fresh plea on Thursday for the Saudi-led military coalition to lift its blockade on Yemen, warning that “untold thousands” would die.

The coalition closed all air, land and sea access to Yemen last week following the interception of a missile fired toward the Saudi capital, saying it had to stem the flow of arms from Iran to its Houthi opponents in the war in Yemen.

Yemen already has 7 million people on the brink of famine, but without the reopening of all ports that number could grow by 3.2 million, the statement said.

“The cost of this blockade is being measured in the number of lives that are lost,” David Beasley, Antony Lake and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the heads of the World Food Programme, UNICEF and the World Health Organization, said in the statement.

“Together, we issue another urgent appeal for the coalition to permit entry of lifesaving supplies to Yemen in response to what is now the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”

Saudi Arabia has since said that aid can go through “liberated ports” but not Houthi-controlled Hodeidah, the conduit for the vast bulk of imports into Yemen.

For months, the U.N. has warned that the closure of Hodeidah would dramatically escalate the crisis.

“Without fuel, the vaccine cold chain, water supply systems and waste water treatment plants will stop functioning. And without food and safe water, the threat of famine grows by the day,” the U.N. agency heads said in the statement.

At least one million children are at risk if a fast-spreading diphtheria outbreak is not stopped in its tracks, and there is also the risk of a renewed flare-up in cholera, which was on the wane after the most explosive outbreak ever recorded – with over 900,000 cases in the past six months.

“If any of us in our daily lives saw a child whose life was at immediate risk, would we not try to save her? In Yemen we are talking about hundreds of thousands of children, if not more,” the joint statement said.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Hezbollah says Saudi declares war on Lebanon, detains Hariri

Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is seen on a video screen as he addresses his supporters in Beirut, Lebanon November 10,

By Tom Perry and Ellen Francis

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Hezbollah’s leader said on Friday that Saudi Arabia had declared war on Lebanon and his Iran-backed group, accusing Riyadh of detaining Saad al-Hariri and forcing him to resign as Lebanon’s prime minister to destabilize the country.

Hariri’s resignation has plunged Lebanon into crisis, thrusting the small Arab country back to the forefront of regional rivalry between the Sunni Muslim monarchy Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite revolutionary Islamist Iran.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said Saudi Arabia’s detention of Hariri, a long-time Saudi ally who declared his resignation while in Riyadh last Saturday, was an insult to all Lebanese and he must return to Lebanon.

“Let us say things as they are: the man is detained in Saudi Arabia and forbidden until this moment from returning to Lebanon,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech.

“It is clear that Saudi Arabia and Saudi officials have declared war on Lebanon and on Hezbollah in Lebanon,” he said. His comments mirror an accusation by Riyadh on Monday that Lebanon and Hezbollah had declared war on the conservative Gulf Arab kingdom.

Riyadh says Hariri is a free man and he decided to resign because Hezbollah was calling the shots in his government. Saudi Arabia considers Hezbollah to be its enemy in conflicts across the Middle East, including Syria and Yemen.

Western countries have looked on with alarm at the rising regional tension.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned other countries and groups against using Lebanon as vehicle for a larger proxy fight in the Middle East, saying Washington strongly backed Lebanon’s independence and respected Hariri as a strong partner of the United States, referring to him as prime minister.

“There is no legitimate place or role in Lebanon for any foreign forces, militias or armed elements other than the legitimate security forces of the Lebanese state,” Tillerson said in a statement released by the U.S. State Department.

The French foreign ministry said it wanted Hariri to be fully able to play what it called his essential role in Lebanon.

Hariri has made no public remarks since announcing his resignation in a speech televised from Saudi Arabia, saying he feared assassination and accusing Iran and Hezbollah of sowing strife in the Arab world.

Two top Lebanese government officials, a senior politician close to Hariri and a fourth source told Reuters on Thursday that the Lebanese authorities believe Hariri is being held in Saudi Arabia.

Nasrallah said Saudi Arabia was encouraging Israel to attack Lebanon. While an Israeli attack could not be ruled out entirely, he said, it was unlikely partly because Israel knew it would pay a very high price. “I warn them against any miscalculation or any step to exploit the situation,” he said.

“Saudi will fail in Lebanon as it has failed on all fronts,” Nasrallah said.

Riyadh has advised Saudi citizens not to travel to Lebanon, or if already there to leave as soon as possible. Other Gulf states have also issued travel warnings. Those steps have raised concern that Riyadh could take measures against the tiny Arab state, which hosts 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

 

AOUN TELLS SAUDI ENVOY HARIRI MUST RETURN

Hariri’s resignation unraveled a political deal among rival factions that made him prime minister and President Michel Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, head of state last year.

The coalition government included Hezbollah, a heavily armed military and political organization.

Hariri’s resignation is being widely seen as part of a Saudi attempt to counter Iran as its influence deepens in Syria and Iraq and as Riyadh and its allies battle Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Aoun told Saudi Arabia’s envoy on Friday that Hariri must return to Lebanon and the circumstances surrounding his resignation as prime minister while in Saudi Arabia were unacceptable, presidential sources said.

An “international support group” of countries concerned about Lebanon, which includes the United States, Russia and France, appealed for Lebanon “to continue to be shielded from tensions in the region”. In a statement, they also welcomed Aoun’s call for Hariri to return.

In the first direct Western comment on Hariri’s status, France and Germany both said on Friday they did not believe Hariri was being held against his will.

“Our concern is the stability of Lebanon and that a political solution can be put in place rapidly,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Europe 1 radio.

“As far as we know, yes: we think (Hariri) is free of his movements and it’s important he makes his own choices,” he said.

Tillerson told reporters on Friday there was no indication that Hariri was being held in Saudi Arabia against his will but that the United States was monitoring the situation.

Posters depicting Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who has resigned from his post, are seen in Beirut, Lebanon, November 10, 2017.

Posters depicting Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who has resigned from his post, are seen in Beirut, Lebanon, November 10, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

STUCK BETWEEN ANTAGONISTIC INTERESTS

On Thursday, Hariri’s Future Movement political party said his return home was necessary to uphold the Lebanese system, describing him as prime minister and a national leader.

Aoun has refused to accept the resignation until Hariri returns to Lebanon to deliver it to him in person and explain his reasons.

Top Druze politician Walid Jumblatt said it was time Hariri came back after a week of absence “be it forced or voluntary”.

Jumblatt said on Twitter there was no alternative to Hariri.

In comments to Reuters, Jumblatt said Lebanon did not deserve to be accused of declaring war on Saudi Arabia. “For decades we’ve been friends,” he said.

“We are a country that is squeezed between two antagonistic interests, between Saudi Arabia and Iran,” he said. “The majority of Lebanese are just paying the price … Lebanon can not afford to declare a war against anybody.”

The Saudi foreign minister accused Hezbollah of a role in the launching of a ballistic missile at Riyadh from Yemen on Saturday. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Iran’s supply of rockets to militias in Yemen was an act of “direct military aggression” that could be an act of war.

Nasrallah mocked the Saudi accusation that Iran and Hezbollah were behind the firing of the missile from Yemen, saying Yemenis were capable of building their own missiles.

 

(Reporting by Dominiqu Vidalon and John Irish in Paris, Sarah Dadouch, Lisa Barrington, Laila Bassam and Tom Perry in Beirut; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Peter Graff)

 

Middle East tensions loom over Dubai aerospace pageant

Al Fursan, the UAE Air Force performs during Dubai Airshow November 8, 2015. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/File Photo

By Alexander Cornwell and Tim Hepher

DUBAI (Reuters) – Rising Middle East tensions and a corruption crackdown in Saudi Arabia will cast a shadow over next week’s Dubai Airshow, as military and aerospace leaders try to gauge whether they might prolong a weapons-buying spree in the region.

Fraying business confidence since the summer, when a sudden rift emerged between Arab powers, means the recent rapid growth of major Gulf airlines will also be under scrutiny when the Middle East’s largest industry showcase opens on Sunday.

The biennial gathering has produced a frenzy of deals in the past, especially four years ago when Dubai’s Emirates and Qatar Airways opened the show with a display of unity as they unveiled a headline-grabbing order for passenger jets.

But highlighting the current rift between Qatar and Arab nations including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar Airways’ outspoken chief executive will not be at the show, which has also been overshadowed by political upheaval in Saudi Arabia.

Distrust between Arab Gulf states, on top of escalating tensions between regional arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, is likely to keep defense spending high on the agenda at the Nov 12-16 event, to be attended by dozens of military delegates.

Saudi Arabia and allies are exploring increases in missile defenses following ballistic missile tests in Iran, which have been heavily criticized by Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Iran views its ballistic missile program as an essential precautionary defense.

“The hot area for the Middle East has been air defense,” said Sash Tusa, aerospace analyst at UK-based Agency Partners.

“While the issue of Iran’s missile tests is new, demand from the Emirates and Saudi Arabia already reflects the fact that they have been at war, in some cases on two fronts, for over two years.”

Saudi Arabia and Iran are facing off in proxy wars in Yemen and Syria. Saudi Arabia, which recently committed to tens of billions of dollars of U.S. equipment, says it has intercepted a missile fired from Yemen over Saudi capital Riyadh.

 

SAUDI CRACKDOWN

Few defense deals get signed at the show itself, but it is seen as a major opportunity to test the mood of arms buyers and their mainly Western suppliers.

But analysts say the way of doing business is up for discussion after an unprecedented crackdown on corruption in Saudi Arabia that erupted days before the show’s opening.

“The big question on many multinational company minds now … {is} will they will change the way in which decision making works when it comes to purchases of their equipment and services,” said Sorana Parvulescu, partner at Control Risks in Dubai.

Those detained in the crackdown include billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, whose Kingdom Holding part owns Saudi Arabia’s second biggest airline flynas, and Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, head of the country’s elite internal security forces.

“There will be questions around how does this impact their (foreign firms) model of operations in the country and their market share and their market position,” Parvulescu said.

Airbus and Boeing will be pushing hard for new deals on the civil side of the show at Dubai’s future mega-airport, after a pause for breath at the last edition in 2015. Boeing goes into the event with a wide lead in this year’s order race.

Emirates, the region’s biggest carrier, is expected to finalize an additional order for Airbus A380s, which if secured could be crucial to extending the costly superjumbo program.

After years of expansion, some analysts are questioning the viability of the Gulf hub model, which has seen three airlines, Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways, emerge as some of the world’s most influential after taking advantage of their geographic location of connecting east and west.

Leasing executives have also raised doubts over whether the Big Three will take delivery of all of the more than 500 wide-body jets currently on order from Airbus and Boeing.

In September, Middle Eastern carriers saw their slowest rate of international demand growth in over eight years.

 

(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell and Tim Hepher; Editing by Mark Potter)

 

Deep in Yemen war, Saudi fight against Iran falters

Deep in Yemen war, Saudi fight against Iran falters

By Noah Browning

MARIB, Yemen (Reuters) – At a hospital in the Yemeni city of Marib, demand for artificial limbs from victims of the country’s war is so high that prosthetics are made on site in a special workshop.

A soldier with an artificial arm hitches up his robe to reveal a stump where his leg once was. He is angry that authorities have done little to help him since he was wounded.

“I was at the front and a mortar exploded near me. We fought well, but now I get no salary, no support from the government or anyone. They just left us,” said Hassan Meigan.

More than two years into a war that has already left 10,000 dead, regional power Saudi Arabia is struggling to pull together an effective local military force to defeat the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement that has seized large parts of Yemen.

The dysfunction is a reminder to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that his campaign to counter arch-enemy Iran in the Middle East, including threats against Tehran’s ally Hezbollah, may be hard to implement.

During a rare visit to a large area of Yemeni territory controlled by the pro-Saudi government, journalists saw a patchwork of mutually suspicious army units, whose loyalty to disparate regions and commanders has hindered their war against Houthi fighters.

Some soldiers appeared to be hunkering down in their bases rather than joining the fight. Those who do fight say salaries go unpaid for months. The front lines have barely moved for months.

Saudi Arabia has sought to create a unified military force based in Marib, but these troops have failed to eject the Houthis from the nearby capital Sanaa, where the Saudis see the rebels as a threat to their national security.

With Saudi politics in turmoil after a wave of high-profile arrests and Iranian influence growing, Yemeni officers recognize the importance of an effective army but acknowledge that success still eludes them.

“Empowering the National Army and unifying all weapons and authority under it is our goal. This is what we’re trying to accomplish so we can end the war with a military victory,” Brigadier General Marzooq al-Seyadi, a top Yemeni commander, told Reuters.

“The difficulties until now in achieving this in the face of local and ideological factors have posed problems … but with the aid of the Arab Coalition and the United States, which provides daily advice and support to our side, we will succeed.”

A coalition spokesman, Colonel Turki al-Malki, said in September that the mission was to back Yemen “whether it’s inside the country by supporting the Yemeni National Army or defending the borders and territory of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”.

Sunni Saudi Arabia has led the mostly Gulf Arab coalition against the Shi’ite Houthis, since they seized the Yemeni capital and fanned out across the country.

But the Houthis’ rump state in Yemen’s Western highlands has weathered thousands of Saudi-led air strikes that have been aided by refueling and intelligence from the United States.

Denying they are a pawn of Iran, the Houthis say they are fighting to fend off a mercenary army in the thrall of the Gulf and the West.

The group launched a missile toward Riyadh’s main airport on Saturday, which Saudi Arabia said was a declaration of war by Tehran.

But after years of fighting that have ravaged the deeply poor country with hunger and disease, even some of Saudi Arabia’s staunchest allies in Yemen say they are angry at being manipulated from abroad.

“We’re fighting as proxies … (Western powers) can end the war in Yemen. They can pressure Iran and Saudi Arabia, solve their issues and their differences,” said Ali Abd-Rabbu al-Qadhi, a lawmaker and tribal leader from Marib.

“It’s Yemeni blood that’s being shed … We’re one society with common roots and one religion, but the international conflict has brought us to where we are,” said al-Qadhi, who wore a holstered pistol over his traditional Yemeni sarong.

ONWARD TO SANAA

Despite the lack of progress on the battlefield, some soldiers on the dusty streets of Marib appeared eager to fight.

“Onward to Sanaa, God willing!” smiled Abdullah al-Sufi, 20, whose khaki fatigues hung loose on his gangly frame.

“We know there are foreign conspiracies on Yemeni soil, there are problems, there are setbacks. But we are fighting for our country and for our homes, that’s the important thing.”

As war started in March 2015, after Saudi Prince Mohammed sent in troops, Yemen’s most powerful units had already sided with Houthi militiamen to rain rockets and tank fire on Marib, which the fledgling new army and allied tribes repelled.

In the most ambitious military adventure in their history, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates took part in that fight, but were stung by scores of combat deaths.

The Arab forces have largely pulled back to a support role in bases far from the front line.

Now units trained by Saudi Arabia fight in scattered theaters with little obvious coordination, loyal to different parties and local leaders in a society awash with guns and notorious for its fickle politics.

The kingdom supports brigades adhering to Sunni Islam’s puritanical Salafi school in Western Yemen, while also backing the Muslim Brotherhood around Marib and loyalists of exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in the south.

Additionally, the United Arab Emirates, – the other key Gulf power in the anti-Iran war effort in Yemen – has armed and trained formidable units across southern and eastern Yemen.

To add to the confusion, these fighters despise the Houthis as well as pro-Saudi units in northern Yemen.

YOUNG MARTYRS

Displayed on walls all over Marib, portraits of slain soldiers are captioned with poems praising them as “martyrs” and “lions.”

“My son is sixteen. He said ‘dad, give me a gun, I want to fight.’ He goes to the front now. No father is happy with this, but what can we do? This is a war, this is the situation we’re in,” said one Marib veteran.

Yemen’s government also appears to be living through difficult times.

President Hadi has been in Riyadh since being ejected from his country by the Houthis, and sources said his hosts have banned him from traveling for over a month, citing poor security in Yemen. Officials in his office denied the reports.

But the Saudi response this week to the Houthi ballistic missile – to close all ports, borders and airspace, the majority of which are nominally under Hadi’s control – appeared to deal an unprecedented rebuke to their ally.

Activist Khalid Baqlan expressed the fear of many young people and professionals that the errors of a weak government and foreign powers were hollowing out Yemeni society.

“What we’re seeing is not the building of real state institutions but the empowerment of groups with competing agendas who could fight in the future, benefiting no one,” said Baqlan, from the Saba Youth Council, a civil society group.

“There has to be a political solution, it’s the only way to save the country.”

Yemen’s stalemated war: http://tmsnrt.rs/2zshXBc

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

White House condemns missile attacks on Saudi by Yemen’s Houthis

White House condemns missile attacks on Saudi by Yemen's Houthis

BEIJING (Reuters) – The White House on Wednesday condemned missile attacks by Yemen’s Houthi militias on Saudi Arabia, saying they threatened the region’s security and undermined efforts to halt the conflict.

Saudi Arabia said its air defense forces intercepted a ballistic missile fired from warring Yemen over the capital Riyadh on Saturday. The rocket was brought down near King Khaled Airport on the northern outskirts of the capital.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Iran’s supply of rockets to militias in Yemen was an act of “direct military aggression” that could be an act of war.

“Houthi missile attacks against Saudi Arabia, enabled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, threaten regional security and undermine UN efforts to negotiate an end to the conflict,” the White House said in a statement as U.S. President Donald Trump began a visit to the Chinese capital.

“These missile systems were not present in Yemen before the conflict, and we call upon the United Nations to conduct a thorough examination of evidence that the Iranian regime is perpetuating the war in Yemen to advance its regional ambitions,” the statement added.

It said the United States would continue working with other “like-minded” partners to respond to such attacks and expose what it called Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region.

Iran denied it was behind the missile launch. On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said missile attacks from Yemen were a reaction to what he called Saudi aggression.

In reaction to the missile, the Saudi-led coalition closed all air, land and sea ports to the impoverished country. It also intensified air strikes on areas controlled by the Houthis including the capital Sanaa.

The war has killed more than 10,000 people and triggered one of the worst man-made humanitarian disasters in recent history.

The United Nations on Tuesday called on the coalition to re-open an aid lifeline into Yemen, saying food and medicine imports were vital for 7 million people facing famine.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard, writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi, Editing by William Macldan)

U.N. calls for Saudi-led coalition to re-open aid lifeline to Yemen

U.N. calls for Saudi-led coalition to re-open aid lifeline to Yemen

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations urged the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen to re-open an aid lifeline to bring imported food and medicine into Yemen, whose 7 million people are facing famine in a country that is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi movement in Yemen said on Monday it would close all air, land and sea ports to the Arabian Peninsula country to stem the flow of arms from Iran.

The Saudis and their allies say the Houthis get weapons from their arch-foe, Iran. Iran denies the charges and blames the conflict in Yemen on Riyadh.

Humanitarian operations – including U.N. aid flights – are currently “blocked” because air and sea ports in Yemen are closed, Jens Laerke of the U.N. Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told a news briefing on Tuesday.

The Saudi-led coalition has told the world body to “inform all commercial vessels at Hodeidah and Saleef ports to leave”, he said, referring to Red Sea ports controlled by the Houthis.

“We call for all air and sea ports to remain open to ensure food, fuel and medicines can enter the country,” Laerke said.

“The situation is catastrophic in Yemen, it is the worst food crisis we are looking at in the world today, 7 million people are on the brink of famine, millions of people being kept alive by our humanitarian operations,” he said.

The price of fuel jumped 60 percent “overnight” in Yemen and the price of cooking gas doubled, as long lines of cars are reported forming at petrol stations, he added.

“We hear reports this morning of prices of cooking gas and petrol for cars and so on is already spiraling out of control,” he said. “So this is an access problem of colossal dimensions right now.”

Rupert Colville, U.N. human rights spokesman, said the office would study whether the blockade amounted to “collective punishment”, banned under international law but hoped that it would be temporary.

The U.N. human rights office was deeply concerned at a series of attacks in Yemen over the past week that have killed dozens of civilians, including children, at markets and homes, he said.

These included at least nine air strikes on the Houthi-held city of Sanaa since Saturday, when a missile was fired from Yemen toward the Saudi capital of Riyadh, he said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also called for medical aid to be allowed to enter Yemen to combat a cholera epidemic which has caused 908,702 suspected cases and 2,194 deaths since the outbreak began in April, WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay,; editing by Larry King)

Purge of Saudi princes, businessmen widens, travel curbs imposed

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud poses for a photo with National Guard Minister Khaled bin Ayyaf and Economy Minister Mohammed al-Tuwaijri during a swearing-in ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 6, 2017. Saudi Press

By Stephen Kalin and Reem Shamseddine

RIYADH (Reuters) – A campaign of mass arrests of Saudi Arabian royals, ministers and businessmen widened on Monday after a top entrepreneur was reportedly held in the biggest anti-corruption purge of the kingdom’s affluent elite in its modern history.

The arrests, which an official said were just “phase one” of the crackdown, are the latest in a series of dramatic steps by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to assert Saudi influence internationally and amass more power for himself at home.

The campaign also lengthens an already daunting list of challenges undertaken by the 32-year-old since his father, King Salman, ascended the throne in 2015, including going to war in Yemen, cranking up Riyadh’s confrontation with arch-foe Iran and reforming the economy to lessen its reliance on oil.

Both allies and adversaries are quietly astonished that a kingdom once obsessed with stability has acquired such a taste for assertive – some would say impulsive – policy-making.

“The kingdom is at a crossroads: Its economy has flatlined with low oil prices; the war in Yemen is a quagmire; the blockade of Qatar is a failure; Iranian influence is rampant in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq; and the succession is a question mark,” wrote ex-CIA official Bruce Riedel.

“It is the most volatile period in Saudi history in over a half-century.”

The crackdown has drawn no public opposition within the kingdom either on the street or social media. Many ordinary Saudis applauded the arrests, the latest in a string of domestic and international moves asserting the prince’s authority.

But abroad, critics perceive the purge as further evidence of intolerance from a power-hungry leader keen to stop influential opponents blocking his economic reforms or reversing the expansion of his political clout.

Prominent Saudi columnist Jamal Kashoggi applauded the campaign, but warned: “He is imposing very selective justice.”

“The crackdown on even the most constructive criticism – the demand for complete loyalty with a significant ‘or else’ – remains a serious challenge to the crown prince’s desire to be seen as a modern, enlightened leader,” he wrote in the Washington Post.

“The buck stops at the leader’s door. He is not above the standard he is now setting for the rest of his family, and for the country.”

 

ACCOUNTS FROZEN

The Saudi stock index initially fell 1.5 percent in early trade but closed effectively flat, which asset managers attributed to buying by government-linked funds.

Al Tayyar Travel <1810.SE> plunged 10 percent in the opening minutes after the company quoted media reports as saying board member Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar had been detained in the anti-corruption drive.

Saudi Aseer Trading, Tourism and Manufacturing <4080.SE> and Red Sea International <4230.SE> separately reported normal operations after the reported detentions of board members Abdullah Saleh Kamel, Khalid al-Mulheim and Amr al-Dabbagh.

Saudi banks have begun freezing suspects’ accounts, sources told Reuters.

Dozens of people have been detained in the crackdown, which have alarmed much of the traditional business establishment. Billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, Saudi Arabia’s best-known international investor, is also being held.

The attorney general said on Monday detainees had been questioned and “a great deal of evidence” had been gathered.

“Yesterday does not represent the start, but the completion of Phase One of our anti-corruption push,” Saud al-Mojeb said. Probes were done discreetly “to preserve the integrity of the legal proceedings and ensure there was no flight from justice.”

Investigators had been collecting evidence for three years and would “continue to identify culprits, issue arrest warrants and travel restrictions and bring offenders to justice”, anti-graft committee member Khalid bin Abdulmohsen Al-Mehaisen said.

 

“THE NOOSE TIGHTENS”

The front page of leading Saudi newspaper Okaz challenged businessmen to reveal the sources of their assets, asking: “Where did you get this?”

Another headline from Saudi-owned al-Hayat warned: “After the launch (of the anti-corruption drive), the noose tightens, whomever you are!”

A no-fly list has been drawn up and security forces in some Saudi airports were barring owners of private jets from taking off without a permit, pan-Arab daily Al-Asharq Al-Awsat said.

Among those detained are 11 princes, four ministers and tens of former ministers, according to Saudi officials.

The allegations against the men include money laundering, bribery, extortion and taking advantage of public office for personal gain, a Saudi official told Reuters. Those accusations could not be independently verified and family members of those detained could not be reached.

A royal decree on Saturday said the crackdown was launched in response to “exploitation by some of the weak souls who have put their own interests above the public interest, in order to, illicitly, accrue money”.

The new anti-corruption committee has the power to seize assets at home and abroad before the results of its investigations are known. Investors worry the crackdown could ultimately result in forced sales of equities, but the extent of the authorities’ intentions was not immediately clear.

 

“OVERKILL”

Among those detained is Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, who was replaced as minister of the National Guard, a pivotal power base rooted in the kingdom’s tribes. That recalled a palace coup in June which ousted his elder cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, as heir to the throne.

The moves consolidate Prince Mohammed’s control of the internal security and military institutions, which had long been headed by separate powerful branches of the ruling family.

Consultancy Eurasia Group said the “clearly politicized” anti-corruption campaign was a step toward separating the Al Saud family from the state: “Royal family members have lost their immunity, a long standing golden guarantee”.

Yet many analysts were puzzled by the targeting of technocrats like ousted Economy Minister Adel Faqieh and prominent businessmen on whom the kingdom is counting to boost the private sector and wean the economy off oil.

“It seems to run so counter to the long-term goal of foreign investment and more domestic investment and a strengthened private sector,” said Greg Gause, a Gulf expert at Texas A&M University.

“If your goal really is anti-corruption, then you bring some cases. You don’t just arrest a bunch of really high-ranking people and emphasize that the rule of law is not really what guides your actions.”

Over the past year, MbS has become the top decision-maker on military, foreign and economic policy, championing subsidy cuts, state asset sales and a government efficiency drive.

The reforms have been well-received by much of Saudi Arabia’s overwhelmingly young population, but resented among some of the more conservative old guard.

The crown prince has also led Saudi Arabia into a two-year-old war in Yemen, where the government says it is fighting Iran-aligned militants, and into a dispute with Qatar, which it accuses of backing terrorists, a charge Doha denies. Detractors of the crown prince say both moves are dangerous adventurism.

The Saudi-led military coalition said on Monday it would temporarily close all air, land and sea ports to Yemen to stem the flow of arms from Iran to Houthi rebels after a missile fired toward Riyadh was intercepted over the weekend.

Saudi Prince Alwaleed’s investments: http://tmsnrt.rs/2j5fE04

 

(Reporting By Stephen Kalin, Editing by William Maclean)

 

MSF says closing most cholera centers in Yemen as epidemic wanes

MSF says closing most cholera centers in Yemen as epidemic wanes

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) is closing most of its 37 cholera treatment centers in Yemen, saying the epidemic appears to have peaked.

Some 884,368 suspected cholera cases have been recorded in the war-torn country in the past six months, including 2,184 deaths, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO). The case fatality rate is now 0.25 percent.

“The number of cholera cases reported in MSF treatment centers has significantly decreased since the peak of the outbreak. As a result, the medical organization is closing the majority of its cholera treatment centers or reducing their capacity,” MSF said in a statement late on Monday.

Some 567 new patients sought treatment for suspected cholera at MSF’s centers in nine governorates of Yemen during the second week of October, down from 11,139 at the peak in the third week in June, it said.

“Only 9 percent of patients admitted by MSF last week needed to be hospitalized and a limited number of patients have symptoms that correspond with the cholera case definition (acute watery diarrhea with or without vomiting),” it said. “The remaining cases are believed to be due to other pathogens.”

Ghassan Abou Chaar, MSF head of mission in Yemen, said: “The cholera outbreak is not over but it is no longer our medical priority in Yemen. However, this should not eclipse the dire health situation of millions of Yemenis who are unable to access basic primary healthcare.”

Civil war in Yemen has killed more than 10,000 people since it began in March 2015. Yemen’s war pits the armed Houthi movement that controls the capital 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.

Cholera epidemics usually subside once the disease passes through a population, but aid agencies say the Yemen epidemic lasted longer and spread wider than they initially expected because of the war’s toll on health care.

U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said on Sunday that an aid effort by the World Health Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF, the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) and other agencies had managed to “largely contain the devastating cholera epidemic”, but warned it could flare up again without urgent investment in health, water and sanitation.

ICRC said last month that the humanitarian situation in Yemen is a “catastrophe”, and cholera cases could reach a million by the end of the year.

Alexandre Faite, head of the ICRC delegation in Yemen, said at the time that the “health sector is really on its knees in Yemen … the health staff is on its knees as well because they are not paid.”

“Preventable illnesses and deaths are increasing in Yemen, and this can be partly attributed to the salary crisis,” MSF said, noting that doctors, nurses and other public health workers had not been paid in 13 months.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Peter Graff)