Houthis shoot down MQ-9 Reaper drone as Red Sea tensions escalate

Drone-Debris

Important Takeaways:

  • Houthi rebels release video of $30 million US drone shot down in Yemen – the second they’ve destroyed in months – as Red Sea tensions escalate
  • Houthi rebels released footage of what they claim is a $30 million US drone they shot down in Yemen – the second they’ve destroyed since late last year- as Red Sea tensions escalate.
  • The Houthis released video Tuesday of a surface-to-air missile bringing down a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone off the coast of Hodeida, a Yemeni port city they hold on the Red Sea.
  • The footage included a video of men dragging pieces of debris from the water onto a beach.
  • Meanwhile, the Houthis claimed an attack on the Sea Champion, a Greek-flagged, U.S.-owned bulk carrier full of grain bound for Aden, Yemen, carrying grain from Argentina.

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Yemen government warns Houthis may target global internet cables following recent post

Internet-Cables-Red-Sea

Important Takeaways:

  • How the Houthis could get revenge on the U.S. for airstrikes by cutting a FIFTH of the world’s internet
  • Iranian-backed Houthi militants in Yemen could try to sabotage internet cables in the Red Sea carrying nearly one fifth of the world’s web traffic, according to a spate of new warnings.
  • Yemen’s government warned that the Red Sea is ‘one of the three most important meeting points for cables’ on the globe and the Houthis pose a ‘serious threat to one of the most important digital infrastructures in the world.’
  • It came after a Houthi social media channel published a map showing the routes of various cables through the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Arabian Sea.
  • The map was accompanied with the ominous message: ‘It seems that Yemen is in a strategic location, as internet lines that connect entire continents – not only countries – pass near it.’
  • The average depth of the Red Sea is 450 meters but some are at depths of as little as 100 meters.
  • There are 16 cables passing through including a sprawling 15,000-mile long one called Asia Africa Europe-1 (AAE-1) which supplies broadband to Asia and Europe.
  • It connects a litany of countries including France, Italy and Greece, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, India and Pakistan.

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Expect higher prices: 45% of freight being detoured around the Horn of Africa

Suez-Canal-Ship

Important Takeaways:

  • Freight through Suez Canal sinks 45% amid Houthi attacks
  • About 39% fewer ships have passed through the canal than at the start of December, leading to a 45% decline in freight tonnage
  • UNCTAD, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, which supports developing countries in global trade, says that 39% fewer ships than at the start of December transited the canal, leading to a 45% decline in freight tonnage.
  • Container shipments through the canal tumbled 82% in the week to January 19 from early December, while for liquified natural gas (LNG), the decline was even greater. The drop-off for dry bulk was smaller, and crude oil tanker traffic was very slightly higher, the agency said, according to Reuters.
  • The Suez Canal is a critical shipping lane, given that it offers vessels a direct route between the North Atlantic and northern Indian oceans via the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.
  • About 15% of world shipping traffic, including 30% of global container trade, passes through the Suez Canal. But to avoid being attacked or having their cargo stolen, many ships are instead sailing around the Cape of Good Hope, which is a much longer way around the continent of Africa.

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Suspicion as US owned container ship hit by missile from Yemen: Fingers pointing at Houthis

Galaxy-Leader-Cargo-Ship

Important Takeaways:

  • U.S.-owned ship hit by missile from Yemen in Gulf of Aden
  • The condition of the ship and the extent of the damage caused by the missile strike are still undisclosed
  • A missile fired from Yemen struck a U.S.-owned ship in the Gulf of Aden on Monday, according to reports from the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations and private security firms.
  • Ambrey and Dryad Global identified the vessel as the Eagle Gibraltar, a Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier owned by Eagle Bulk, a firm based in Stamford, Connecticut, and traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
  • While no group has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, suspicion is firmly pointed at Yemen’s Houthi rebels, known for their recent involvement in almost daily maritime incidents in the region.
  • U.S. Central command said on X that the ship has reported no injuries or significant damage and is continuing its journey.

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Unprotected Red Sea shipping could lead to supply chain crisis as Arab countries are unwilling to do more to protect world’s shipping lane

Houthis-fists-raised

Important Takeaways:

  • ‘Coalition of the Unwilling’: U.S. Won’t Attack Houthis, Can’t Get Major Arab Countries to Join Effort Openly
  • The “coalition” of countries formed by the U.S. to deter Houthi attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea and the Bab-el-Mandeb strait excludes Israel. It also omits Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two of the other countries directly affected by the threat.
  • The list of participants in “Operation Prosperity Guardian,” as Time magazine notes, includes “Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, the Seychelles, and the United Kingdom.” A few are involved in shipping. A few barely have a navy.
  • Kirby cited a “joint statement” that was signed by 44 countries as proof that the U.S. was not “isolated” on the issue. But while the U.S. could summon its allies to sign a piece of paper, it could not convince them to send forces to protect Red Sea shipping. Nor could it muster the will to take out a primitive militia from one of the world’s poorest countries with long supply lines to Iran.
  • Kirby also said that the U.S. is now conducting a “review” about whether to re-designate the Houthis as a terror group, after President Joe Biden delisted them within days of taking office in 2021. Meanwhile, it leads a “coalition of the unwilling.”

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Yemen famine could threaten opportunity for peace, U.N. warns

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A massive famine could wipe out a new opportunity, created by renewed U.S. engagement, to end the war in Yemen, top U.N. officials told the Security Council on Thursday.

U.N. Yemen mediator Martin Griffiths also called for a stop to an offensive by the Houthi movement on the government-held city of Marib, warning “the quest for territorial gain by force threatens all of the prospects of the peace process.”

U.S. President Joe Biden has made ending the conflict in Yemen a priority since taking office last month, appointing a special envoy and ending U.S. support for offensive operations by Saudi Arabia in neighboring Yemen.

“International support for ending the conflict is indispensable, and this offers us a new opportunity to reopen space for a negotiated solution,” Griffiths told the 15-member Security Council.

However, U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock then warned: “There’s an important opportunity right now to help Yemen move towards lasting peace … but that opportunity will disappear, it will be wasted, if Yemen tips into a massive famine.”

The United Nations describes Yemen as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 80% of the people in need of help.

A Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Iran-aligned Houthis. The more than six-year-long conflict is widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Griffiths visited Tehran this month for the first time since becoming the U.N. envoy three years ago. He made no reference to his visit during his public Security Council statement.

He said the warring parties needed to immediately agree to a nationwide ceasefire, allow the unhindered flow of fuel and other commodities into Hodeidah port and permit international commercial traffic to use Sanaa airport. Griffiths said these issues had been discussed regularly for the past year.

“What is needed is simply and fundamentally the political will to end this conflict. We know need a decision,” he said.

Lowcock said some $4 billion was needed in 2021 to fund humanitarian operations as “Yemen is speeding towards the worst famine the world has seen in decades.” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Switzerland and Sweden plan to convene a pledging conference on March 1 to raise funds for Yemen.

When famine loomed in 2019, Lowcock said it was averted after the United Nations received about 90 percent of the $4 billion it requested. But last year the world body only received about $1.9 billion, about half of what it needed.

Lowcock said some 16 million people in Yemen were going hungry and 5 million of those people are “just one step away from famine.”

Some 400,000 children under the age of 5 are severely malnourished, he said. “Those children are in their last weeks and months,” he warned. “They are starving to death.”

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Cynthia Osterman)

Saudis seek buffer zone with Yemen in return for ceasefire, sources say

By Aziz El Yaakoubi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has told Yemen’s Houthis in high-level back channel talks it would sign a UN proposal for a nationwide ceasefire if the Iran-aligned group agrees to a buffer zone along the kingdom’s borders, three sources familiar with the matter said.

If a deal is struck, it would mark the biggest breakthrough in efforts to reach a political settlement since the conflict – widely seen as a proxy war between arch-enemies Saudi Arabia and Iran – began in 2014.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden pledged in his election campaign to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the Middle East’s biggest buyer of American weapons, to pressure Riyadh to end the war that has caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

But the Houthis, who control northern Yemen and its biggest populated areas, may be less willing to cooperate with Saudi Arabia if President Donald Trump carries out threats to designate them as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) before leaving office, the sources said.

Washington and Riyadh see the Yemeni group as an extension of Iranian influence in the region.

A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis’ spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Recently the two parties, holding virtual discussions, raised the level of representation in the talks, with Mohammed Abdulsalam, the Houthis’ chief negotiator, and a more senior Saudi official, two of the sources said.

Riyadh has demanded more security assurances from the Houthis, including a buffer zone along the borders with northern Yemen until a U.N.-backed transitional government is formed, the sources said.

Riyadh wants Houthi forces to leave a corridor along the Saudi borders to prevent incursions and artillery fire.

In exchange, the kingdom would ease an air and sea blockade as part of the U.N. proposal for a ceasefire, which already includes an end to cross-border attacks.

Last year, Riyadh launched indirect talks with the Houthis, as it seeks a way out of the conflict that has drawn criticism from Biden, killed tens of thousands of people and tarnished the reputation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The talks have stalled over the last two months, the sources said, as fighting escalated in the gas-rich region of Marib, where the Houthis have launched an offensive to drive out Saudi-backed forces.

Marib is the last stronghold of the internationally-recognized government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which was ousted from power in the capital, Sanaa, by the Houthis in late 2014.

That prompted the Saudi-led coalition, which also includes the United Arab Emirates, to intervene.

Complicating matters, the fighting fragmented, spawning a multi-layered war that has lasted nearly six years.

‘CONSULTATIONS ON IRAN’

Trump’s administration, to support the Saudis, has exerted pressure on the Houthis by threatening to designate the group as a terrorist organization, said two of the three sources, who declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Any decision by Washington to blacklist the Houthis, part of its “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran, would be “devastating” after years of peace efforts led by U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and other Western ambassadors, they added.

One of the sources said that experts in the U.S. administration have advised Trump against an FTO designation.

The State Department did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The discreet talks between the kingdom and the Houthis have dragged on for more than a year, in parallel with Griffiths’ efforts to reach an agreement on a ceasefire.

The U.N. is working to secure a face-to-face meeting before the end of the year, as well as an agreement on a joint declaration that would halt all air, ground and naval hostilities, two of the sources said.

Europe would be a logical venue for them to meet, one of the sources said, as the U.N. seeks neutral grounds for the talks. Griffith’s office declined to comment.

(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

Yemen’s warring parties agree to Hodeidah ceasefire at end of peace talks

Head of Houthi delegation Mohammed Abdul-Salam (R) and Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yaman (2 L) shake hands next to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom (L), during the Yemen peace talks closing press conference at the Johannesberg castle in Rimbo, near Stockholm December 13, 2018. TT News Agency/Pontus Lundahl via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. SWEDEN OUT.

By Aziz El Yaakoubi and Johan Sennero

RIMBO, Sweden (Reuters) – Yemen’s warring parties agreed to a ceasefire in the Houthi-held port city of Hodeidah and placing it under local control at the close of talks on Thursday in a breakthrough for U.N.-led peace efforts to end the war.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that a framework for political negotiations would be discussed at the next round of talks between the Iranian-aligned Houthis and the Saudi-backed government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Western nations, some of which supply arms and intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in Yemen in 2015, have pressed the two sides to agree confidence-building steps to pave the way for a wider truce and a political process to end the war that has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed Yemen to the verge of starvation.

The Houthis control most population centers including the capital Sanaa, from where they ousted Hadi’s government in 2014. It is now based in the southern port of Aden.

“You have reached an agreement on Hodeidah port and city, which will see a mutual re-deployment of forces from the port and the city, and the establishment of a Governorate-wide ceasefire,” Guterres said.

“The UN will play a leading role in the port,” he told a news conference in Rimbo, outside Stockholm.

U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths said armed forces of both parties would withdraw “within days” from Hodeidah port, the main entrypoint for most of Yemen’s commercial imports and vital aid supplies, and later from the city, where coalition troops have massed on the outskirts.

The withdrawal of armed forces would also include Salif port, used for grains, and that of Ras Isa, used for oil, which are both currently under Houthi control.

BREAKTHROUGH

“This is a minor breakthrough. They have been able to achieve more than anyone expected,” said Elizabeth Dickinson, Senior Analyst, Arabian Peninsula at International Crisis Group.

“Saudi Arabia has taken a firmer hand with the Hadi government, which has in turn been more cooperative.”

Riyadh has come under increased Western scrutiny over the Yemen war and its activities in the region following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate in October.

The Sunni Muslim Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened in the war in 2015 to restore Hadi’s government but has been bogged down in a military stalemate for years and wants to exit the costly war.

“Important political progress made including the status of Hodeida,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeted.

He attributed the “significant breakthrough” to pressure brought on the Houthis by the offensive on Hodeidah, the group’s main supply line.

Guterres said the parties had made “real progress” and that the United Nations would pursue pending issues “without interruption”.

His envoy had also been seeking agreement on reopening Sanaa airport and shoring up the impoverished Arab country’s central bank. Most basic commodities are out of reach for millions of Yemenis.

Griffiths said he hoped a deal would be struck on reopening the airport over the next week following discussions in Sweden on whether flights would be inspected in government-held airports before flying in and out of Sanaa.

(Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Yemeni Houthis halt missile attacks on Saudi coalition, raising peace prospects

FILE PHOTO: A Houthi militant sits guard on the roof of a building overlooking fellow Houthis rallying to denounce the rapid devaluation of the Yemeni Rial in Sanaa, Yemen October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo

By Aziz El Yaakoubi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Houthi rebels in Yemen said on Monday they were halting drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their Yemeni allies, responding to a demand from the United Nations.

The Iranian-aligned group, which has been battling the Saudi-backed government for nearly four years, also said it was ready for a broader ceasefire if the Saudi-led coalition “wants peace”.

The Houthis’ decision to halt missile attacks could be a turning point in peace efforts as it ends a direct threat to Saudi Arabia. It is by far the biggest concession from the movement since it left the southern port city of Aden in 2015.

International pressure has mounted on Yemen’s warring parties to end the war that has killed more than 10,000 people and pushed the country to the verge of starvation.

The move from the Houthi group came after the coalition ordered a halt in its offensive against Yemen’s main port city Hodeidah, which has become the focus of the war.

“We announce our initiative…to halt missile and drone strikes on the countries of aggression,” Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, said in a statement.

The decision was based on discussions with U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths to show “good faith” and support peace efforts, he said.

Griffiths welcomed the Houthi announcement and called on all parties continue to show restraint “to create a conducive environment for convening the consultations”.

The envoy is trying to salvage peace talks after a round in September collapsed when the Houthis did not show up. He hopes to convene talks before the end of the year in Sweden to agree on a framework for peace under a transitional government.

Yemen’s parties have given “firm assurances” they are committed to attending peace talks, Griffiths told the U.N. Security Council on Friday, with Britain asking the council to back a humanitarian truce in Yemen on Monday.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Monday reiterated the kingdom’s support for U.N. efforts to end the war. The Riyadh-backed government also announced its willingness to take part in the next round of consultations.

TIRED OF WAR

Yemenis cautiously welcomed the announcement on Monday.

“We pray that this will be the real beginning of peace in Yemen, we are all tired of this war,” said Mona Ibrahim, a teacher in the capital Sanaa, which has been under Houthi control since September 2014.

“We just want to live like other humans,” Mohammed al-Ahdal, a resident of Hodeidah said.

The Houthi defense ministry said it would respond to any hostilities from the coalition.

Graham Griffiths, a senior analyst at Control Risks Middle East, said the announcement was potentially important as it comes in response to the coalition’s pausing of operations around Hodeidah.

“Efforts to resume the peace process remain fragile … given the mutual distrust between the warring parties. Nevertheless, given the renewed pressure from the international community, there is a real chance to begin to move the conflict toward a durable de-escalation,” he said.

Houthi-run Al Masirah TV reported on Monday that Houthi forces fired a ballistic missile on Saudi-backed forces in the desert of Midi, bordering Saudi Arabia.

The Houthis say their missile attacks on Saudi Arabia are in retaliation for air raids on Yemen by the Western-backed coalition, which entered Yemen’s war in 2015 to try to restore the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The coalition has carried out thousands of air strikes in the impoverished country that have hit schools, markets and hospitals, killing hundreds of people – though it says it does not target civilians.

Western allies including the United States have called for a ceasefire ahead of the renewed U.N. efforts.

Western countries have provided arms and intelligence to the Arab states in the alliance, but have shown increasing reservations about the conflict since the murder of U.S.-based Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Aden, Hesham Hajali in Cairo and Asma Alsharif in Dubai; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Calls for end to Yemen war offer little hope for hungry children

Malnourished Ferial Elias, 2, gestures as she is being weighed at a malnutrition treatment ward at al-Thawra hospital in Hodeidah, Yemen November 3, 2018. Picture taken November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad

TAIZ, Yemen (Reuters) – Lying on a dust-covered bed in a hospital ward in the Yemen city of Taiz, 10-year-old Ghazi Mohammed barely has enough energy to watch doctors and nurses examine his emaciated body.

The boy weighs 8.5 kg (18 lb), less than a third of the average weight of a child his age. He fled hunger and poverty in his mountain village last year to find only more suffering in Yemen’s third largest city Taiz.

A doctor checks malnourished Ghazi Ahmad, 10, at a hospital in Taiz, Yemen October 30, 2018. Picture taken October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Anees Mahyoub

A doctor checks malnourished Ghazi Ahmad, 10, at a hospital in Taiz, Yemen October 30, 2018. Picture taken October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Anees Mahyoub

“This shows that the humanitarian aid that comes to Yemen does not reach people who really need it. Distribution remains random,” said his doctor, Amen al-Asli.

Western powers who have for three years provided arms and intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition waging war against Houthi insurgents in Yemen are now pressing for an end to a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people and pushed the country to the brink of famine.

The West toughened its stance after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi policy, at Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

His death sparked a global outcry and exposed Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on dissent and aggressive foreign policy, including its role in the war in Yemen, which has been criticized by human rights groups and U.S. lawmakers.

But calls for an end to the fighting have come far too late for millions of Yemeni civilians, including children, who face acute malnutrition and hunger in a complex, multi-sided war.

A worker gives a boy bread at a Mercy charitable bakery in Sanaa, Yemen November 9, 2018. Picture taken November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

A worker gives a boy bread at a Mercy charitable bakery in Sanaa, Yemen November 9, 2018. Picture taken November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

“They need a complete care, here in the hospital and later at home. Of course, it depends on the parents’ financial condition as malnutrition can hit the whole family,” said Youssef al-Salawi, another doctor.

In Taiz, children fighting for their lives in hospitals are traumatized by daily artillery fire, rockets, and anti-aircraft guns as Saudi-backed government forces battle the Iran-aligned Houthis along pulverized streets.

The United Nations says out of 29 million Yemenis, 22 million need some form of humanitarian assistance, almost 18 million are considered hungry and 8.4 million are severely hungry.

“We do hope that talk about getting the peace process back on track, that gives us hope, but it is very imperative for the people of Yemen that this conflict stops as soon as possible,” said Stephen Anderson, the World Food Program’s (WFP) country director in Yemen.

OFFENSIVE ON PORT

U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths hopes to bring the warring parties together before the end of the year.

After seizing the southern port of Aden in 2015, the coalition has made little progress. While it has air supremacy, the Houthis have proved better at guerrilla warfare.

The Houthis still control Yemen’s most populated areas, including the capital Sanaa and the port city of Hodeidah.

The Sunni Muslim alliance led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has renewed its offensive on Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis, as Washington and London called for a ceasefire.

Aid groups fear an attack on Hodeidah port would disrupt its operations and endanger more civilians as it remains the main source of food imports as well as much-needed humanitarian aid.

Street fighting and air strikes resumed late on Tuesday in Hodeidah despite a lull in battles as U.N. officials visited the Red Sea city to assess food security.

A resident told Reuters calm descended on Hodeidah on Wednesday after heavy clashes and air strikes rocked the city. “It is very surprising,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Aden; Writing By Aziz El Yaakoubi, Editing by Michael Georgy, Matthew Mpoke Bigg, and Angus MacSwan)