Archive for February 24, 2015

February 23, 2015

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen’s Shiite rebels on Monday threatened to arrest and try for treason the prime minister and all Cabinet members if they fail to return to work, as thousands took to the streets in the capital, Sanaa, to denounce the rebels and show support for the country’s embattled president.

The developments were the latest in Yemen’s escalating crisis in the wake of the power grab by the Shiite rebels known as the Houthis. The rebels’ expansion has threatened to fracture this impoverished Arabian Peninsula country along sectarian and regional fault lines.

The Houthis swept into Sanaa last September, after battling their way from the northern Shiite heartland and imposing control over at least nine provinces. Since taking over the country, they also disbanded the parliament and empowered their security arm, known as the Revolutionary Committee, to act as the country’s top decision-makers.

Monday’s protesters in Sanaa chanted in support of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who over the weekend fled the capital, where he had been held under house arrest by the Houthis. Hadi arrived in the southern port city of Aden and from there, called on the Houthis to leave the capital and announced on Sunday that he is still the legitimate leader of Yemen.

The United Nations has tried to resolve the crisis and has held several rounds of talks with the main political parties, with apparently no headway. Seven key parties sent representatives Monday to Aden for a meeting with Hadi, according to Ahmed Lakaz, spokesman of the Unionist Gathering Party.

The Al-Masirah TV channel, which is run by the Houthis, reported on Monday that the rebels would arrest and try Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and all Cabinet members who failed to return to work. On Sunday, the officials were ordered back to work, but they declined.

Bahah and the ministers were placed under house arrest by the rebels in January. They resigned en masse in a gesture of protest and the Houthis subsequently declared they have taken over the country. Later Monday, Al-Masirah TV said that 17 Cabinet members had agreed to resume their posts. The report could not be immediately confirmed and none of the Cabinet ministers could be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, Sunni tribesmen in control of eastern Marib province, where Yemen’s oil infrastructure is based, threatened to cut fuel supplies to Sanaa if the Houthis tried to pressure them by halting the payments of their salaries from the capital.

The Marib governor, Sultan al-Arada, said in a statement obtained by The Associated Press that the Sunni tribes were “making all effort to avert confrontation and warfare.” In western Ibb province, thousands marched behind the coffin of a protester killed there Sunday when Houthis were dispersing a rally. Other anti-rebel demonstrations were held in the central provinces of Taiz and Dhamar, also in a show of support for Hadi.

In the wake of the Houthis power grab, most countries have closed their embassies in Sanaa and moved diplomats and staffers out of the country. On Monday, Egypt closed its mission and withdrew its diplomats.

February 11, 2015

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — The United States, Britain and France moved to close their embassies in Yemen on Wednesday, increasing the isolation of Shiite rebels who have seized power. In a show of bravado against the Americans, the rebels seized the cars of U.S. diplomats left at the airport on the way out.

At the same time, the rebels — known as the Houthis — attacked demonstrators holding protests against their power grab in various parts of the capital, Sanaa, witnesses said. The fighters beat protesters and stabbed them with knives, arrested more than a dozen.

The increasing turmoil comes almost four years to the day since the start of Yemen’s 2011 Arab Spring uprising that ousted the longtime autocratic ruler but then opened a political transition that crumbled between the country’s grinding forces of tribal politics, sectarian divisions, al-Qaida militancy and succession movements.

The crisis reached a new peak when the Houthis — widely believed to have Iranian support — overran the capital Sanaa late last year. They have since taken over larger parts of the country. In January, the rebels put U.S.-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and all his Cabinet ministers under house arrest, leading to their resignations. Subsequently, the Houthis, who are followers of the Shiite Zaydi sect in the Sunni-majority Yemen, dissolved parliament and declared they were taking over the government.

The embassy closures were a signal that world powers see little chance the rebels’ advances will roll back soon. On Tuesday, the State Department announced it suspended operations at the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa and relocated remaining diplomatic personnel “due to the ongoing political instability and the uncertain security situation.” The embassy had been operating with only a skeleton staff for some weeks amid deteriorating conditions.

More than 25 vehicles abandoned by departing American embassy staffers at Sanaa airport were seized by the rebels, according to airport officials. The rebels also took weapons that were left in the vehicles, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

The embassy’s Marine detachment, which escorted the cars, left their personal sidearms behind since they would be unable to take them on the commercial flights they were leaving on, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters in Washington. They destroyed their heavier weapons — automatic weapons and machine guns — before leaving the embassy, he said.

Yemeni officials said Wednesday that embassy staffers also destroyed files before leaving and handed over Sanaa’s Sheraton Hotel, where they resided, to the United Nations. U.S. officials said the embassy’s closure would not affect counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida’s Yemen branch. Yemeni officials, however, say the move was likely to curtail U.S. military operations in the country. Washington has long considered the Yemeni branch to be the world’s most dangerous offshoot of the global terror group, and it claimed to be behind last month’s attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Also Wednesday, Britain’s Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood urged British citizens still in Yemen to “leave immediately” as his country’s embassy evacuated its staff. The French Embassy said it would close on Friday.

Germany urged its citizens to leave Yemen, Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said Wednesday. The diplomatic missions of many Gulf Arab countries, which backed Hadi and opposed the Houthis, have already evacuated their staff.

In Sanaa, the Houthis patrolled the streets armed with Kalashnikov rifles and dressed in a mix of police uniforms and civilian clothes. They sealed off main boulevards and drove around in pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns. Shops closed early and people mostly stayed home.

The rebels violently dispersed several scattered anti-Houthi protests, beating the demonstrators and stabbing them with knives as they tried to march toward the U.N. offices, according to witnesses. At least 14 were arrested including four top members of the Sunni Islamist party Islah, a rival to Houthis, the party said.

The Yemeni officials and witnesses spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media. Later Wednesday, thousands of Houthi supporters marched in Sanaa, chanting, “Death to America, Death to Israel” — echoing similar slogans from Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. The Houthis, traditionally based in northern Yemen along the border with Saudi Arabia, deny they are backed by the Shiite powerhouse Iran.

On Tuesday, the rebels’ leader, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, warned critics not to stand in the way of his movement and denounced foreign governments for removing their diplomats. “Whoever harms the interest of this country could see that their interests in this country are also harmed,” al-Houthi said, speaking on the rebels’ Al-Masirah TV network.

Away from Sanaa, the Houthis pressed on with their power grab after taking control the previous day of the central province of Bayda, a gateway to the south. The Houthis now control 10 out of 22 provinces in Yemen.

The Houthis have also been fighting Yemen’s al-Qaida branch and Sunni tribes allied to it. In addition, the Houthis have yet to take the oil-rich eastern Maarib province, where some tribes are fiercely against the rebels.

Thousands flocked to the streets in Yemen’s third largest city, Taiz, to denounce the rebels. The southwestern city remains out of Houthi control. The rise of the Houthis began last year when they descended from their heartland in northern Saada province, fighting their way toward the capital and defeating tribal and military rivals along the way. In September, they flooded into Sanaa. They won the backing of ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh — who is himself a Shiite Zaydi but who as president fought repeated wars against the Houthis. His loyalists in the military are suspected of enabling the Houthis’ advances.

February 06, 2015

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen’s Shiite rebels proclaimed a formal takeover of the Arab nation Friday, dissolving parliament in a dramatic move that completes their power grab in the region’s poorest nation where an al-Qaida terrorist offshoot flourishes.

Angry demonstrators protested the rebels’ move in street rallies in several cities, raising fears of a full-blown sectarian conflict between Yemen’s new Shiite tribal rulers, known as Houthis, and the disenfranchised Sunni majority.

The unrest could strengthen Yemen’s al-Qaida branch, considered the world’s most dangerous wing of the terror movement, and complicate U.S. counter-terrorism operations in Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbor. While Houthi rebels are bitter enemies to al-Qaida, they also are hostile to the United States, and frosty to the predominantly Sunni Saudis. The region’s Shiite powerhouse, Iran, looms as a potential key backer.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the United States was “deeply concerned with this unilateral step,” but insisted the Houthis’ declaration as the true government of Yemen following a four-month insurrection would not affect U.S. counterterrorism efforts there.

Houthi supporters filled the central square in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, to celebrate the culmination of their coup. They exploded firecrackers and waved banners bearing their slogan “Death to America, death to Israel, a curse on the Jews and victory to Islam.” The menacing message is similar to those chanted by Shiite militants in Iraq and Lebanon’s dominant Shiite militia, Hezbollah.

Houthi leaders declared that their Revolutionary Committee — a panel of top security and intelligence officials — was Yemen’s new supreme governing authority. The declaration, read on the rebels’ Al-Masseria TV network, envisaged “a new era that will take Yemen to safe shores.”

But the Houthis, traditionally based in Yemen’s north bordering Saudi Arabia, do not control the entire country. Secessionist forces and powerful tribes in the largely Sunni south are likely to confront with violence any effort by the Houthis to exert control there.

The most prominent secessionist figure, Saleh Yahia Said, declared that his aim was to secure an independent state of South Yemen. The leaders of several southern cities said they would never take orders from Sanaa in the country’s center.

The Houthis’ rebellion began in September, when they advanced on the capital and seized control of much of Yemen. In January they raided the presidential palace and besieged the residence of then-President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Within days he and his Cabinet resigned. They remain under Houthi house arrest today.

The Houthis had called on Yemen’s many factions to negotiate a new governing coalition, but that idea never got off the ground before the Houthis’ self-declared deadline expired Wednesday. Several rounds of multi-party talks overseen by the United Nations’ envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, came to nothing.

The Houthis’ Revolutionary Committee is led by Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a cousin of the Houthis’ leader, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi. It is expected to form a new parliament and a five-member presidential council to succeed Hadi.

The Houthi statement gave no timetable for elections, nor any indication of Hadi’s fate. The nature of the new government raised suspicions that the Houthis intend to rule along Iranian-style lines, mirroring the Iranian Revolution of 1979, when Islamists toppled a pro-Western government and imposed rule based on a council of senior religious figures.

Saudi Arabia, which long has provided an economic lifeline to Yemen, slashed aid following the Houthis’ September insurrection and shows no sign of restoring it. The Houthis’ political critics forecast that Friday’s gambit would only fuel conflict between the Houthis — who are Zaydis, a Shiite minority sect representing a third of Yemen’s population — and the overwhelmingly Sunni rest of the country.

Mohammed al-Sabri, a senior Yemeni political figure who leads a multi-party alliance of opposition parties, said the Houthis would be unable to govern the country and would only fuel its international isolation.

“They are a militia, not a political group,” he said. Rageh Badi, a spokeman for the overthrown Hadi government, predicted that the Houthis’ formal declaration of power “will take Yemen to a dangerous slope, including a civil war.”

Ali al-Bukhiti, a former member of the Houthis’ political arm, called the takeover an insane “horror movie” that would end in Yemen’s fragmentation. “Goodbye Yemen,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Thursday 5 February 2015

Al-Qaeda said Thursday that four of its members had died in an American drone strike in Yemen, accusing the Shiite Houthi militia of becoming ‘faithful US partners’.

The four militants were killed in a January 31 “crusader American drone strike against their car” in the southern Shabwa province, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said on Twitter.

AQAP named one of its senior figures, Harith al-Nadhari, among the dead as well as Said Bafaraj, Abdelsamie al-Haddaa and Azzam al-Hadrami.

Tribal sources had said at the time that four suspected militants were left charred in their car after a drone strike.

Nadhari had urged more attacks on France like those on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in Paris that killed 17 people.

“It is better for you to stop your aggression against the Muslims, so perhaps you will live safely,” Nadhari was quoted saying in a January 10 video after the attacks.

Four days later, AQAP ideologue Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi claimed the Charlie Hebdo assault on behalf of the group.

Despite an ongoing political crisis in Yemen, US President Barack Obama vowed on January 25 not to let-up in Washington’s campaign against militants there.

He ruled out deploying troops, but said Washington would continue “to go after high value targets inside Yemen”.

At least 11 suspect Al-Qaeda militants have been killed in drone strikes in central and southern Yemen since then.

Western governments say it is unclear if AQAP directly orchestrated the Charlie Hebdo attack, although they do believe one or both of the perpetrators, brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, spent time with militants in Yemen.

AQAP was formed in 2009 after a merger between militants in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

‘Houthis have become faithful US partners’

According to the New America Foundation, the United States has carried out more than 110 strikes in Yemen since 2009, mostly using drones.

In September 2011, a drone strike killed US-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi.

That latest attack followed “statements by US officials on further intelligence cooperation with the Houthis on fighting terrorism,” AQAP said Thursday, referring to the powerful Shiite militia that seized Yemen’s capital in September and has clashed with Sunnis since then.

“Houthis have become faithful US partners in preserving its interests and implementing its plans in the Arabian Peninsula,” said AQAP, vowing to continue fighting “Americans, crusaders and Houthis.”

The Houthis seized the presidential palace and key government buildings on January 20, plunging the country deeper into crisis and prompting President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and his premier to resign.

Since they overran the capital and towns further south, they have met resistance not only from Al-Qaeda but also Sunni tribesmen.

The Pentagon has said US officials were holding discussions with representatives of the militia but were not sharing intelligence.

“Given the political uncertainty, it’s fair to say that US government officials are in communication with various parties in Yemen about what is a very fluid and complex political situation,” said Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby.

US ‘military objective’ is hitting AQAP, not Houthis

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry Monday praised Qatar for its help in trying to resolve the crisis in Yemen.

Meeting with Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah at the State Department on Monday, Kerry said he was grateful for the “many ways in which Qatar, the emir, and Dr. Attiyah have made themselves available in order to be of assistance.”

“Most recently, they were particularly helpful with respect to Yemen and our efforts in the last few days to deal with some of the adjustments necessary to what has been happening there.”

Asked later at a forum at the Atlantic magazine what Kerry meant, Attiyah did not go into details.

“We’ve been closely talking to our friends about the GCC initiative and how we can enhance the solution,” the minister said.

In 2011, the monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) urged the then president to sign a power transfer plan ending the country’s political turmoil.

But the new crisis has raised fears that impoverished Yemen, which lies next to oil-rich Saudi Arabia, could become a failed state.

The Wall Street Journal last week reported that US officials were in touch with Houthi fighters largely through intermediaries.

“We have to take pains not to end up inflaming the situation by inadvertently firing on Houthi fighters,” a senior US official told the Journal.

“They’re not our military objective. It’s AQAP and we have to stay focused on that.”

Source: Middle East Eye.


25 January 2015 Sunday

Yemen’s Socialist Party, a component of the current government, said on Sunday that it had suspended dialogue with the Shiite Houthi movement after movement militants had kidnapped a group of party student members in Yemeni capital Sanaa.

“The party’s leadership has borne the brunt of making the dialogue a success to save Yemen from slipping into an uncertain future,” the party said on its website.

“Violence does not, however, lead to political solutions,” it added.

The Socialist Party denounced a Houthi attack earlier on Sunday on a protest in capital Sanaa by a group of party student members.

It said Houthi militants had kidnapped some of these student protesters.

It also condemned the Houthis’ ongoing siege of the residence of Yemen’s Prosecutor-General.

“We repeatedly asked the Houthis to go away from the Prosecutor-General’s house,” the party said.

“Repeated attempts, however, by the Houthis to break into the house of the official reflect their desire not to reach a political settlement,” it added.

The Anadolu Agency could not immediately obtain comments from Houthis on the remarks made by the Socialist Party.

Earlier on Sunday, Houthi militants forcefully dispersed an anti-Houthi protest in Sanaa and kidnapped several protesters along with two photographers.

The Houthi militants were seen firing live rounds in the air and using batons to scare the demonstrators away.

They also chased the protesters into streets in the vicinity of the Al-Taghyeer (Change) Square in Sanaa, where the protest was to be staged.

The demonstrators chanted slogans critical of what they described as the “Houthi coup” against Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

Hadi tendered his resignation to parliament on Thursday shortly after Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and his government quit to protest the Shiite militants’ takeover of the capital.

Last week, Sanaa was rocked by deadly clashes between Houthi militants and presidential guards amid an apparent push by the Shiite militants to consolidate their control over the country.

The Houthis seized control of Sanaa in September before moving on to establish control over other parts of the country as well.

The rise of the Houthis has pitted the Shiite group against local Sunni tribes and Al-Qaeda, the latter of which is said to remain active in Yemen.

Yemen has remained in the throes of turmoil since President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down in 2012 under pressure from a months-long popular uprising against his 33-year rule.

Source: World Bulletin.


January 23, 2015

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen’s U.S.-backed president quit Thursday under pressure from rebels holding him captive in his home, severely complicating American efforts to combat al-Qaida’s powerful local franchise and raising fears that the Arab world’s poorest country will fracture into mini-states.

Presidential officials said Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi submitted his resignation to parliament rather than make further concessions to Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, who control the capital and are widely believed to be backed by Iran.

The prime minister and his cabinet also stepped down, making a thinly veiled reference to the Houthis’ push at gunpoint for a greater share of power. Houthis deployed their fighters around parliament, which is due to discuss the situation on Sunday.

Yemeni law dictates that the parliament speaker — Yahia al-Rai, a close ally of former autocratic ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh — will now assume the presidency. Saleh still wields considerable power and is widely believed to be allied with the Houthis.

There were conflicting reports suggesting that authorities in Aden, the capital of southern region of Yemen, would no longer submit to the central government’s authority. Even before the Houthis’ recent ascendance, a powerful movement in southern Yemen was demanding autonomy or a return to the full independence the region enjoyed before 1990. Southerners outrightly reject rule by the Houthis, whose power base is in the north. The Houthis are Zaydis, a Shiite minority that makes up about a third of Yemen’s population.

Concerns were also mounting about an economic collapse. Two-thirds of Yemen’s population are already in need of humanitarian aid, according to reported U.N. figures. Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia, which has long been Yemen’s economic lifeline, cut most of its financial aid to Yemen after the Houthis seized the capital in September. The Houthis deny receiving any Iranian support.

The Houthis’ recent encroachments on Sunni areas have also fanned fears of a sectarian conflict that could fuel support for al-Qaida, a Sunni movement that has links to some of the country’s tribes and is at war with both the Shiites and Hadi’s forces. U.S. officials say the developments are already undermining military and intelligence operations against al-Qaida’s Yemen-based affiliate, which made its reach felt in this month’s deadly Paris attacks.

Hadi’s resignation comes four months after President Barack Obama cited Yemen as a terrorism success story in a September speech outlining his strategy against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, which involves targeted U.S. strikes on militants with the cooperation of a friendly ground force. Obama called it an approach “that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”

In Washington on Thursday, a senior State Department said the U.S. Embassy remains open and will continue to operate as normal, although with reduced staff. The official says the U.S. is continuously reassessing the situation on the ground.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to publicly discuss embassy security. The resignations mark the collapse of an internationally backed transition that compelled Saleh, who ruled for three decades, to resign in 2012 following months of Arab Spring protests.

Hadi’s rule was deeply undermined by Saleh loyalists who retained posts in state institutions and the security apparatus. Last year the U.N. Security Council imposed targeted sanctions on Saleh and two top Houthi leaders, accusing them of obstructing the political transition.

Despite widespread fears, some observers said Thursday’s resignation of the elected president could encourage Yemenis to take to the streets just as they did in 2011 in against Saleh. “The coming hours will be decisive for Yemen for decades to come. Either they will usher in a new path, new openings, or we say our death prayers,” said Yemeni writer Farea Al-Muslimi.

Shortly after Hadi’s resignation, the Supreme Security Committee, the top security body in Aden, the capital of the south, issued orders to all military bases, security bodies and popular committees composed of armed civilians to be on a state of alert and take orders only from Aden central command.

It was not immediately clear how much mandate the security authorities have over the southern region, and analysts predicted that internal conflict among southern secessionist leaders would probably delay action toward a split with the north.

The greater threat, they said, is fragmentation of other regions. “We are not talking here about split of north and south, but the fracture of the state to small pieces where each tribal region disintegrates,” said Al-Muslimi.

Hadi’s resignation came despite efforts by U.N. envoy Jamal Benomar to implement a deal reached Wednesday to resolve the crisis. “We reached a deadlock,” Hadi said, according to a copy of his letter of resignation obtained by The Associated Press. “We found out that we are unable to achieve the goal, for which we bear a lot of pain and disappointment.”

Presidential adviser Sultan al-Atawani told AP that the Houthis refused to withdraw from the presidential palace, the republican palace where the prime minister lives or from the president’s house. They also refused to release a top aide to Hadi whose abduction earlier this week set the violence in motion.

Military officials close to the president said the Houthis also pressured Hadi to deliver a televised speech to calm the streets. They said the Houthis also demanded appointments in his own office, the Defense Ministry and provincial capitals. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Shortly before Hadi’s resignation, Prime Minister Khaled Bahah submitted his own resignation, saying he feared “being dragged into an abyss of unconstructive policies based on no law.” Three ministers of his cabinet told AP that they were subjected to heavy pressures from Houthi gunmen who visited them in their homes with list of names of people they want to appoint in their ministries. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

21 January 2015 Wednesday

Yemeni Prime Minister Khaled Bahah has departed the presidential palace in Sanaa – where he had been held by Shiite Houthi militants for three days – for a safe location, a senior government official has said.

The official, who requested anonymity, told The Anadolu Agency on Wednesday that Bahah had left for a “safe location” after leaving the presidential palace.

On Tuesday, violent clashes erupted between presidential guard units and militants from the Shiite Houthi movement, which had earlier captured the presidential palace in Sanaa.

The Houthis have remained in control of Sanaa since last September. They have since moved to extend their influence to other provinces, especially in central Yemen.

President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi is currently inside his home in downtown Sanaa.

Source: World Bulletin.


January 21, 2015

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen’s Shiite rebels pressed ahead Wednesday with their power grab in the capital, Sanaa, capturing a military base that houses ballistic missiles overlooking the city and posting guards outside the president’s home only a day after they shelled the residence.

The developments further erode the powers of U.S.-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who was unharmed during the shelling Tuesday but remained inside the house. The embattled Hadi appears to have run out of options amid what some have described as a coup by the Houthis.

Early Wednesday, the Houthis seized the country’s largest missile base on a hilltop above Sanaa, consolidating their grip over the city, which they seized in September after spreading out from their strongholds in the north.

Meanwhile, a lull settled over Sanaa after two days of fierce gunbattles between government forces and the Houthis during which the rebels swept into the presidential palace and looted its weapons depots, took over the TV building and the country’s official news agency, and besieged the house of Prime Minister Khaled Bahah.

The rebels’ leader, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, described the dramatic escalation in an address to the nation broadcast late Tuesday as a “revolutionary” move aimed at forcing Hadi to implement a U.N.-brokered deal that effectively grants the Houthis a bigger share of power.

Yemeni military officials said there was no resistance as the Houthis took the base housing ballistic missiles in western Sanaa. The rebels demanded that the commanders hand over control of the base to them, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.

In his speech, al-Houthi listed as his main demand the shakeup of a commission tasked with writing a review of a new, draft constitution to ensure bigger representation for his group. The draft has proposed a federation of six regions, something the Houthis reject.

The Houthis are a group within the Shiite sect of Zaydism, whose followers make up a third of Yemen’s population of 25 million and live mainly in the north. The rebels are believed to have the backing of Shiite powerhouse Iran, a claim they reject. Sunni Yemenis live mostly in the country’s south and make up two thirds of the population.

The chaos in Sanaa prompted the U.N. Security Council to hold an emergency meeting Tuesday to condemn the violence and call for a lasting cease-fire. In a statement approved by all 15 members, the Council asserted that Hadi “is the legitimate authority” in Yemen.

However, deep uncertainty loomed over the city and Hadi’s future. Outside his house, security guards that previously manned a post made up of sandbags and metal barricades had disappeared and were replaced by Houthis, armed with Kalashnikov rifles, standing at the gates. Other rebels stood outside shuttered shops or monitored traffic.

Analysts say the Houthi sweep could further fracture Yemen, and incite other disenchanted and rival groupings across the Sunni-Shiite divide. Also Wednesday, authorities in Aden, the regional capital of southern Yemen, closed the airport there, the country’s second-largest, in protest to what their local authorities described as Houthi “coup” against “national sovereignty.”

Airport chief in the port city of Aden, Tarek Abdu, said the shutdown went into effect at 7 a.m. Wednesday and would last “until further notice,” following orders from the governor. Local authorities also closed the port, a major hub in the Gulf of Aden.

Associated Press writer Maggie Michael contributed to this report from Cairo.

February 22, 2015

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Hundreds of Turkish troops backed by tanks took part in an overnight operation into neighboring Syria to evacuate dozens of besieged soldiers guarding an Ottoman tomb and remove the remains amid fears the shrine was threatened by Islamic State militants.

The mission late Saturday, saving Turkish soldiers reportedly stuck for months at the tomb of the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, was the first such major military incursion by Turkey since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said nearly 600 Turkish soldiers on some 100 tanks and armored personnel carriers crossed into Syria near the border town of Kobani late Saturday, as drones and airplanes flew reconnaissance missions overhead.

One group traveled to the tomb, some 35 kilometers (22 miles) from Turkey on the banks of the Euphrates River in Syria’s embattled Aleppo province, he said. Another group seized an area only 200 meters (yards) from the Turkish border in Syria’s Ashma region to be the new home for the tomb, according to a statement from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office.

One soldier was killed in an “accident” during the operation, Turkey’s military said. “Before the Turkish flag was lowered at (the tomb), the Turkish flag started to be waved at another location in Syria,” Davutoglu said. He said troops destroyed the complex once housing the tomb.

Turkish media later showed nationalistic images of three Turkish soldiers raising the country’s flag at the new site. The U.S.-led coalition forces were informed of the Turkish operation after its launch to prevent any casualties, Davutoglu said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, while in London, spoke by telephone Sunday with Turkey’s foreign minister and expressed condolences over the Turkish soldier killed during the operation, the State Department said. It said the U.S. and Turkey were in close and continuing coordination on developments in Syria, including intelligence sharing.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry denounced the Turkish operation, calling it a “flagrant aggression.” In a statement carried by the state news agency, it also said that the mission demonstrated “the depth of ties” between Turkey and the Islamic State group. Syria routinely accuses Turkey of supporting the extremist group.

The ministry said Ankara informed the Syrian Consulate in Istanbul ahead of the operation but did not wait for approval from Damascus. Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, said there is no justification for Turkey’s military action. Tehran is a close ally of Syria.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara had notified Syria before the operation that it was vacating the tomb temporarily, and that it would return to the area when it is “ready” to do so.

“We got permission from no one, we conducted it with our own initiative,” he said. Rumors had swirled for months that the soldiers stationed at the tomb had been besieged by militants from the Islamic State group, which hold a third of Syria and neighboring Iraq in their self-declared caliphate. Some 40 Turkish soldiers once guarded the tomb, making them a target for IS and other militant groups in Syria’s long-running civil war, though the overnight operation apparently saw no fighting.

The tomb housed the remains of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire. The site along the Euphrates River is revered by Turkey, a strongly nationalist country whose rights there stem from a 1921 treaty with France, then the colonial power in Syria. The Ottoman Empire collapsed in the early 20th century after World War I.

In the 1970s, Turkey moved the mausoleum to its last location because the old site at a castle further south in Syria was to be inundated by the waters of a new dam. Shah, a Turkic leader, is believed to have drowned in the Euphrates in the 13th century. His followers headed north into what is today Turkey, where they established the Ottoman Empire. Some historians question official accounts about Shah’s tomb, saying they might have been retrospectively concocted to enrich an imperial identity for Turks.

Turkey has wanted Syrian President Bashar Assad overthrown and has backed some rebels fighting against him. Earlier this week, Turkey signed an agreement with the U.S. to train and arm Syrian rebels fighting the Islamic State group.

With its 1,200-kilometer (750-mile) border with Syria, Turkey could be a major player in the fight against the Islamic State group. But negotiations with the U.S. over what to do about the militants have been fraught with disagreement — with Turkey insisting that the coalition needs to also target the Assad government.

Turkey also has had concerns over some of the Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State group in Kobani. It views the Kurds fighting in Syria as an extension of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, which has waged a 30-year insurgency against the Turkish government and is designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. and NATO.

Associated Press writers Ryan Lucas in Beirut and Bradley Klapper in Geneva contributed to this report.

By David Harding

Doha (AFP)

Feb 19, 2015

Qatar recalled its ambassador to Egypt Thursday following a row over Cairo’s air strikes on jihadist targets in Libya, threatening fresh divisions among Western-allied Arab states.

A foreign ministry official said Doha was recalling its envoy for consultation after Egypt’s delegate to the Arab League accused Qatar of supporting “terrorism”, during discussions on Libya.

Egypt’s latest spat with Qatar, which was backed by its Gulf neighbors, came as Libyan officials urged the UN Security Council to lift an arms embargo to allow the country’s military to fight jihadists.

Qatar and most other Gulf Arab nations have joined the US-led coalition which is waging air strikes against the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria.

Cairo is also an ally of Washington, and a regional rift would complicate efforts to forge a united front against IS in Egypt’s neighbor Libya, where jihadists are trying to establish another stronghold.

US President Barack Obama urged Muslim leaders Wednesday to unite and reject the “false promises of extremism” and jihadists’ claims to represent Islam.

Cairo envoy Tariq Adel made his accusation, according to Egyptian media, after Doha’s representative expressed reservations over a clause in a communique welcoming the air strikes on IS targets in Libya.

The communique was released at the end of an ambassador-level Arab League meeting in the Egyptian capital.

Egyptian F-16s bombed militant bases in the eastern Libyan city of Derna Tuesday, after IS in Libya released a gruesome video showing the beheadings of a group of Egyptian Coptic Christians who had gone to the North African country seeking work.

Qatar’s director of Arab affairs in the foreign ministry, Saad bin Ali al-Mohannadi, said Doha had expressed reservations over welcoming the raids, stressing the need for “consultations before any unilateral military action against another member state”.

The ministry denounced the “tense” statement by Egypt’s representative to the Arab League, saying it “confuses the need to combat terrorism (with)… the brutal killing and burning of civilians.”

Mohannadi added though that Qatar “is supportive and will always remain supportive of the will and stability of the Egyptian people”.

There was no immediate response from Egypt, but Qatar did receive the backing of its Gulf neighbors Thursday.

Gulf Cooperation Council secretary general Abdullatif al-Zayani said in a statement that the GCC “rejects accusations by Egypt’s permanent envoy at the Arab League that Qatar supports terrorism”.

Ties between Doha and Cairo have been strained in recent years amid a spat over Qatar’s backing for ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.

Ties reached a low point after Morsi was toppled by the army in 2013.

Qatar has repeatedly denounced Morsi’s removal and still provides shelter for many leaders of his Muslim Brotherhood.

In December, however, there was an apparent thaw after Qatar gave its full support to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief who overthrew Morsi and was then elected to office.

– ‘A decisive stance’ –

Mohannadi’s statement also made clear that Qatar does not want a Libyan arms embargo lifted on “the principle of not strengthening one conflict party against another before the end of the dialogue and the formation of a national unity government”.

Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Dairi had appealed to the UN Security Council Wednesday to lift the embargo.

“Libya needs a decisive stance from the international community to help us build our national army’s capacity and this would come through a lifting of the embargo on weapons, so that our army can receive material and weapons, so as to deal with this rampant terrorism,” he said.

The UN embargo was imposed in 2011 after the uprising that ousted longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

There is increasing concern that some militias inside Libya have pledged allegiance to IS, following the beheading of 21 Copts.

Obama said Wednesday that more had to be done to prevent groups like IS from growing stronger.

At a White House summit on radicalism, he said the battle was as much about winning hearts and minds as waging a military campaign.

The “ideologies, the infrastructure of extremists, the propagandists, the recruiters, the funders”, must all be tackled, Obama said.

On Thursday, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told a press conference in Algeria that an “inclusive political solution” was needed in Libya, not military action.

Source: Space War.