More than 100 killed in Yemen missile, drone attack

19/01/20

  • The Houthis attacked a mosque in a military camp in the central province of Marib
  • The Iran-backed militia has not made any immediate claim of responsibility

DUBAI: More than 100 people were killed and dozens wounded in a missile and drone attack blamed on Houthi militia in central Yemen, officials said Sunday.
Saturday’s strike follows months of relative calm in the war between the Iran-backed Houthis and Yemen’s internationally recognized government, which is supported by an Arab coalition.
The Houthis attacked a mosque in a military camp in the central province of Marib — about 170 kilometers (105 miles) east of the capital Sanaa — during evening prayers, military sources told AFP.
“We strongly condemn the terrorist attack on a mosque by the Houthi militias… which left more than 100 dead and dozens injured,” the Yemeni foreign ministry said on Twitter.
An army spokesman said that the dead included soldiers and civilians, and that the Houthis would face a “ruthless” retaliation to the strike.
The victims were transported to a Marib city hospital, where a medical source earlier gave a toll of 83 dead and 148 injured.
Death tolls in Yemen’s grinding conflict are often disputed, but the huge casualty list in Marib represents one of the bloodiest single attacks since the war erupted in 2014 when the terrorist militia seized Sanaa.
The Houthis did not make any immediate claim of responsibility.
Saudi-owned Al-Hadath television broadcast a video that it said showed the gruesome aftermath of the attack.
Body parts can be seen on the floor among shredded debris. Blood is pooled on the carpet and spattered against the walls.
The drone and missile strike came a day after coalition-backed government forces launched a large-scale operation against the Houthis in the Nihm region, north of Sanaa.
Fighting in Nihm was ongoing on Sunday, a military source said according to the official Saba news agency.
“Dozens from the (Houthi) militia were killed and injured,” the source added.
Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi denounced the “cowardly and terrorist” attack on the mosque, Saba reported.
“The disgraceful actions of the Houthi militia without a doubt confirm its unwillingness to (achieve) peace, because it knows nothing but death and destruction and is a cheap Iranian tool in the region,” it quoted Hadi as saying.
United Nations envoy Martin Griffiths condemned the aerial attack and what he said was the escalation of military activities in three governorates “where airstrikes, missiles and ground attacks reportedly took place.”
“I have said before that the hard-earned progress that Yemen has made on de-escalation is very fragile. Such actions can derail this progress,” he said in a statement.
“I urge all parties to stop the escalation now and to direct their energy away from the military front and into the politics.”
Just last week Griffiths had welcomed what he described as “one of the quietest periods of this conflict,” in a briefing to the UN Security Council in which he warned the lull could not be sustained without political progress.
A year after Yemen’s warring sides agreed to a UN-brokered truce for the key Red Sea port city of Hodeidah and its surroundings, fighting in the province has subsided, but the slow implementation of the deal has quashed hopes for an end to the conflict.
The landmark agreement signed in Sweden in December 2018 had been hailed as Yemen’s best chance so far to end the fighting that has pushed the country to the brink of famine.
Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced in the war that has ravaged the country, triggering what the UN describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The Arab coalition and its allies intervened in the conflict to back the government against the Houthis in March 2015, shortly after the militia seized control of Sanaa.
A senior UN official warned Thursday that certain key factors that threatened to trigger a famine in Yemen last year were once again looming large, including a plunge in the value of the national currency.
“With a rapidly depreciating rial and disrupted salary payments, we are again seeing some of the key conditions that brought Yemen to the brink of famine a year ago,” Ramesh Rajasingham, who coordinates humanitarian aid in Yemen, told the UN Security Council.
“We must not let that happen again,” he said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visits Mada’in Saleh

19/01/20

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, left, visits Mada’in Saleh with Gerard Mestrallet, chairman of the French Agency for AlUla.
  • The French Agency for AlUla was founded in Paris in July 2018 to support Saudi Arabia in the economic, touristic and cultural development of AlUla.

RIYADH: French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian and Gerard Mestrallet, chairman of the French Agency for AlUla, visited Mada’in Saleh in AlUla governorate.
Le Drian, on a two-day visit to the Kingdom, earlier met Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir and Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan in Riyadh.
In separate meetings, they reviewed bilateral relations and ways of enhancing aspects of cooperation between the two countries. They also exchanged views with regard to the latest developments in the region, and discussed a number of international issues of common interest.
The French Agency for AlUla was founded in Paris in July 2018 to support Saudi Arabia in the economic, touristic and cultural development of AlUla. The historic cooperation between the two nations aims to strengthen Saudi cultural and historic outreach and make the AlUla region a world-class destination.
Mestrallet said that Saudi Arabia and France shared a vision to implement a new economic and touristic development model, focused on the absolute preservation of the environment, respectful of history, and inclusive of local populations.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia offers ‘full support’ to Cyprus amid Eastern Mediterranean tensions

19/01/20

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman meets Cypriot Foreign Minister, Nikos Christodoulides, in Riyadh during his official visit to the Kingdom. (SPA)
Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah, meets his Cypriot counterpart Nikos Christodoulides in Riyadh, during his official visit to the Kingdom. (SPA)
  • King Salman met Cyprus’ Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides.
  • ‘The Kingdom is following with great interest the current developments in the Eastern Mediterranean’.

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman received on Sunday the Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides.
They discussed bilateral relations between the two countries and ways of enhancing and developing them. They also reviewed regional and international issues of common concern.
Christodoulides also met with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah, in his office at the foreign ministry in Riyadh.
Prince Faisal stressed the depth of relations between the two countries, and the keenness to develop them in several fields to serve the common interests.
“The Kingdom is following with great interest the current developments in the Eastern Mediterranean region, is showing its concern for security and stability there, and stresses its full support for the sovereignty of Cyprus over its territories.”
He said Saudi Arabia “calls on all parties to abide by and adhere to Security Council resolutions to resolve disputes, to avoid escalation, to respect the rules of international law and not to interfere in the internal affairs of states or attempts to impose the status quo by force, as that does not serve international peace, security and stability in this region.”
Cyprus has been angered by Turkey’s bid to drill for natural gas amid heightened tensions over energy reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.
On Sunday, Cyprus accused Turkey of flouting international law as in sent ships to drill inside an exploration area that’s already licensed to energy companies Eni of Italy and Total of France.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Prince Khalid bin Salman attends Egypt’s Berenice military base opening

Time: 17 January, 2020

Prince Khalid bin Salman said the Berenice military base is a major axis to confront threats in the Red Sea and secure global navigation. (Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Defense)
  • Prince Khalid bin Salman discussed the importance of the military base and Egypt’s developing military systems

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman headed the Kingdom’s delegation in the opening ceremony of Egypt’s Berenice military base located south of Red Sea, Saudi local press reported on Thursday.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi inaugurated the military base and was accompanied by Prince Khalid bin Salman, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed, Commander of the Royal Guard in Bahrain Nasser bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, Prime Minister of Bulgaria Boyko Borissov, and a number of ministers and senior leaders of the armed forces.

Prince Khalid bin Salman discussed the importance of the military base and Egypt’s developing military systems, saying it is a major axis to confront threats in the Red Sea and secure global navigation.

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Princess Reema bint Bandar and Prince Fahd bin Jalawi bin Abdul Aziz bin Musaid attend International Olympic Committee meetings

Time: 15 January, 2020

 

Princess Reema bint Bandar and Prince Fahd bin Jalawi bin Abdul Aziz bin Musaid attended the meeting in Lausanne. (Photo Supplied/Greg Martin)
  • Princess Reema expressed her delight that Saudi Arabia had made considerable recent progress in its efforts to encourage all segments of society “to embrace sports as a way of life”

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s representatives to various commissions of International Olympic Committee (IOC) attended the IOC’s annual meetings in Lausanne, Switzerland this week. The meetings coincide with the Winter Youth Olympics, which are currently being held in Lausanne and end on Jan. 22.
Two board members of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee — Princess Reema bint Bandar (Women in Sports Commission) and Prince Fahd bin Jalawi bin Abdul Aziz bin Musaid (Public Affairs and Social Development Through Sports Commission) — represented the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia has three representatives in the IOC, with Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal on the Marketing Committee.
Among the topics discussed during the Women in Sports Committee’s meeting were gender equality in sports, the participation of women in community sports, and the prevention of harassment.

SPEEDREAD

• Among the topics discussed during the event were gender equality in sports, the participation of women in community sports, and the prevention of harassment.

• Saudi Arabia has made considerable recent progress in its efforts to encourage all segments of society to embrace sports as a way of life.

“We work closely with all members of the Olympic family through the IOC Women in Sports Committee to support the participation of women at all levels of sports,” Princess Reema said after the meeting. “We discussed all the advances that have been achieved in this area, as well as some of the key challenges that are facing women currently.”
She also expressed her delight that Saudi Arabia had made considerable recent progress in its efforts to encourage all segments of society “to embrace sports as a way of life.”
Prince Jalawi said that, given Saudi Arabia’s preeminence in the region, the Kingdom has made its presence felt in the Olympic family. “At the Public Affairs and Social Development through Sport Committee, we work to harness the power of sports to serve all communities and help to build cultural bridges between them. Sport is a very powerful tool to realize these goals,” he said.

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Saudi Arabia rises in Human Development Index

Time: 15 January, 2020

In this March 9, 2018, file photo, an aerial view of Riyadh city is seen from Mamlaka tower, a 99-story skyscraper, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AP)
  • “Saudi Arabia’s 2018 HDI of 0.857 is below the average of 0.892 for countries in the very high human development group and above the average of 0.703 for countries in Arab States

RIYADH: The Kingdom ranks second in the Arab World and 36th globally among countries with very high human development, according to a UN index.
The Human Development Index aims to measure prosperity levels in order to enable comparisons between the ability of countries and societies to achieve equality, justice and welfare for their populations.
It stated that Saudi Arabia was ranked 36 among 189 countries, inching up three places from 2018.
It added that the Kingdom’s development index achieved remarkable progress in the period 1990-2018, as the Kingdom’s index was 0.698 points in 1990 and reached 0.857 in 2018, and that the Kingdom’s development index achieved 10th place among the G20 countries.
“Saudi Arabia’s 2018 HDI of 0.857 is below the average of 0.892 for countries in the very high human development group and above the average of 0.703 for countries in Arab States. From Arab States, countries which are close to Saudi Arabia in 2018 HDI rank and to some extent in population size are Iraq and Syrian Arab Republic, which have HDIs ranked 120 and 154 respectively,” the report said.

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Saudi-led committee strikes deal between government and separatists in Yemen

Time: 14 January, 2020

Yemeni Southern Transitional Council member and former Aden Governor Nasser Al-Khabji, left, and Yemen’s deputy Prime Minister Salem Al-Khanbashi sign a power-sharing deal in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. (File/Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP)
  • Griffiths hailed the steps taken so far under the Riyadh Agreement
  • The PM will return to Aden, while military units will retreat to positions they held before

AL-MUKALLA: A Saudi-led military committee tasked with enforcing the arrangements of the Riyadh Agreement made a significant breakthrough on Monday, convincing Yemeni military commanders to reposition their forces in the south of Yemen, officials said on Tuesday.
The committee visited military bases in Aden, Lahi and Abyan, meeting with commanders from both the government and the separatists to discuss accelerating the redeployment of forces.
A senior government official — who spoke to Arab News on condition of anonymity — said that two government military brigades that took part in fighting against forces loyal to the separatist Southern Transitional Council last year would be deployed in the Thubab area near the Red Sea and Abyan’s Lawder district, while separatists agreed to withdraw some forces from Aden.
“Under the arrangements approved yesterday, the Presidential Protection Forces will enter Aden and will be assigned to protect the presidential palace,” the official said. “Al Zamik’s brigade will go to Thubab and Al Subaihi’s will be deployed in Lawder,” he added, referring to Brig. Lou’i Al-Zamiki, the commander of the 3rd Presidential Protection Forces Brigade, and brigadier Abdullah Al-Subaihi, the commander of the 39th Armored Brigade.
The two brigades will reinforce government forces battling Houthis in Baydha, Hodeida and Taiz. The separatist Southern Transitional Council, the official said, will send back soldiers that came to Aden in August to their bases in Lahj’s Radfan district.
In November, Saudi Arabia brokered a deal between the Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council aimed at defusing tensions between the two parties following heavy clashes in Aden, Abyan and Shabwa last year.
Under the deal, the prime minister will return to Aden, while military units will retreat to the positions they held before August — handing over heavy weapons to a team from the Saudi-led coalition. Those weapons will be distributed to military units battling the Iran-backed Houthis. Yemen’s president will then appoint new governors and security chiefs for Aden, Lahj and Dhale, and name a new coalition government. The official said the next step would be to discuss the situation in the province of Shabwa.
“They will start implementing arrangements for Aden and Abyan. All heavy weapons — including tanks, anti-aircraft guns and artillery — will be collected in one place,” the official said, adding that pro-government Abu Misha’al Al Zamiki, Abyan’s chief of security, will return to the town of Zinjibar to replace the separatist’s own security measures in the near future.
Speaking to Arab News on Monday night about the joint military committee’s visit to the Southern Transitional Council’s military base, Nizar Haytham, a spokesperson for the council, said. “This is a positive step. We hope it will be followed by the government’s withdrawal from Shabwa and Abyan.” Haytham also said that the council had swapped eight prisoners with the government in exchange for 35 separatists taken prisoner in August.
At a meeting with Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Tuesday, the United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths hailed the steps taken so far under the Riyadh Agreement and expressed his hope that more will follow, leading to a comprehensive peace deal. Hadi reiterated his commitment to the UN-led peace process in Yemen.

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Film festival breakthrough for five female Saudi directors

14/01/20

The project provides first-person accounts of contemporary life in Saudi Arabia, at a time of fascinating change, says the festival director. (Supplied)
  • Funded by the Red Sea International Film Festival and produced by the Jeddah production house Cinepoetics Pictures, the film will have its premiere at the inaugural festival in March

JEDDAH: Film festival organizers have given their backing to five female Saudi directors for a unique new movie project.
Hind Alfahhad, Jowaher Alamri, Noor Alameer, Sara Mesfer and Fatima Al-Banawi will make five short films that will be combined into an omnibus documentary feature, with the award-winning Palestinian filmmaker Suha Arraf selected as screenwriting supervisor.
Funded by the Red Sea International Film Festival and produced by the Jeddah production house Cinepoetics Pictures, the film will have its premiere at the inaugural festival in March.

FASTFACT

Hind Alfahhad, Jowaher Alamri, Noor Alameer, Sara Mesfer and Fatima Al-Banawi will make five short films that will be combined into an omnibus documentary feature.

“This project provides powerful first-person accounts of contemporary life in Saudi, from Saudi women, at a time of fascinating change,” festival director Mahmoud Sabbagh said.
“We believe in film’s capacity to advance diversity and integration. Supporting innovative new works is central to this mission. There is no better way to work toward this than by creating opportunities for Saudi filmmakers to tell their own stories.”
Each women-centered narrative is an intimate character portrait. Together, their varied settings and storylines display the diversity of the Saudi contemporary film scene, with the directors hailing from throughout the Kingdom and the films set in cities including Makkah, Madinah, Jeddah, and Riyadh.
“It has been a unique experience participating in a film alongside fellow Saudi women directors, all telling stories around womanhood in distinctive ways,” director Alfahhad said.

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Japan PM Shinzo Abe’s visit puts Saudi Arabia’s AlUla treasures in focus

13/01/20

The ancient Nabataean city of Hegra in the AlUla Valley, a center of power at the core of the trade routes across the Arabian Peninsula, dates, like its famous twin city Petra, in Jordan, from around the fourth century BC. (Supplied)
  • Visit is Abe’s last stop in his visit to the Kingdom before he continues his journey to the UAE and Oman
  • Arab News has created an interactive titled “The Rebirth of AlUla” in both English and Japanese

RIYADH: The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s tour of AlUla during his visit to Saudi Arabia casts a spotlight on the ancient Nabataean site as it prepares to open its doors to the public later this year.

AlUla, the last stop in Abe’s visit to the Kingdom before he continues his journey to the UAE and Oman, is full of archaeological treasures nestling amid beautiful desert landscapes.

Saudi Arabia’s move to open up Hegra city and the AlUla Valley is restoring a missing chapter in the history of the Arabian Peninsula and the entire world.

Bearing the name Mada’in Salih in the post- Islamic era, the lost city of Hegra was built by the Nabataeans, like its famous twin Petra in Jordan. They controlled the profitable trade routes that crossed the Arabian Peninsula from east to west and north to south from about the fourth century BC to 106 AD.

Arab News has created an interactive “The Rebirth of AlUla” — arabnews.com/alula — that dives deep into its history, blending compelling storytelling and journalism with stunning video footage, beautiful photography, animated graphics and rare footage and interviews – in both English and Japanese.

“The Rebirth of AlUla” throws light on the work of the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), established in 2017, which is working with the French Agency for AlUla Development (Afalula) on “the transformation of the AlUla region into a worldwide cultural and touristic destination.”

The site is currently hosting the second Winter at Tantora festival, a spectacular celebration of art, music and heritage that is drawing the world once again to AlUla from Dec. 19 to March 7.

Over 12 weekends of festivities, visitors are being treated to an eclectic mix of performers, including the Gipsy Kings, Lionel Richie, Enrique Iglesias, Craig David and Jamiroquai.

Returning to Winter at Tantora will be Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, Greek pianist Yanni and Egyptian composer Omar Khairat.

The festival is also showcasing the newly constructed Maraya Concert Hall in AlUla, which is surrounded by mountains, combining modernism and antiquity.

The concert hall was built as an architectural extension of the environment that surrounds it at its site in Ashar, situated in the volcanic foothills of Harrat ‘Uwayrid.

In 2007, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, under its Secretary-General Prince Sultan bin Salman, nominated AlUla for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The application was accepted, and Hegra became the first World Heritage property to be inscribed in the Kingdom.

In an interview with Leaders magazine in February 2019, the RCU’s CEO Amr Al-Madani said AlUla is “full of archaeological treasures from the Dadanite, Nabataean, Roman and Islamic civilizations, nestled amongst the staggeringly beautiful desert landscapes.”

A cornerstone of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 blueprint for the nation’s sustainable development, the project aims to create opportunities for the community and boost the local economy in AlUla.

Afalula will support the growth of infrastructure, archaeology and tourism in the area, with the aim of attracting 2 million visitors per year to the site by 2035, in the process creating 35,000 jobs for the residents of AlUla.

The RCU’s task is to contribute SR120 billion ($32 billion) to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product by 2035. It currently employs 374 people, of which 134 are based in AlUla.

The RCU is also engaging the local community through programs such as Hammaya, in which 2,500 residents will train to be advocates for AlUla’s natural and human heritage.

The emphasis on local identity and heritage is unmistakable. About a 45-minute drive from Hegra is the Sharaan Nature Reserve, a territory of 925 sq. km within AlUla that features some of the region’s most striking rock formations and desert habitats, managed by local rangers trained by international specialists.

“We’ve reintroduced Idmi gazelles, Nubian ibexes and red-necked ostriches into the reserve, and they’re thriving and doing well,” said Dr. Ahmed Al-Malki, head of the reserve.

The Arabian leopard may soon follow. In April this year, two cubs were born as part of a breeding program to preserve and eventually reintroduce the critically endangered species back into the wild in northwest Saudi Arabia.

Central to AlUla’s vision is the incorporation of art and cultural initiatives. The RCU’s cultural manifesto says: “AlUla will become known worldwide as a place to dream, where the greatest artists and thinkers of our time gather to stretch their creative capabilities and realize some of their most ambitious artworks and arts experiences — an evolving cultural crossroads for today and the future.”

Just as the caravans of antiquity once came to trade in this land, so AlUla, with an ancient Hegra reborn, will once again attract travelers from all corners of the world.

This article was first published in Arab News

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