image Photo: Reuters

Saudis foil alleged Houthi strikes

Saudi Arabia announced that a series of attacks on its soil have been successfully thwarted.

The state-run Al Ekhbariyah channel and Saudi-owned Al Hadath news agency reported that the most recent attempted strike was aimed at the capital Riyadh on Saturday, when the Saudi-led coalition battling Yemen’s Houthi movement successfully intercepted and destroyed an “enemy air target.”

The alliance intervened in Yemen in 2015 after an armed insurgency by the Islamic Houthis ousted the internationally recognized government from power in the capital, Sanaa. The conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran – which is aligned with the Houthis, who frequently launch cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities.

A Houthi spokesman denied the Saturday strike, saying the movement had not carried out any operations against coalition countries over the past 24 hours.

A hitherto unknown group calling itself Alwiya Alwaad Alhaq (roughly translating into Arabic as ‘The True Promise Brigades’) issued a statement late on Saturday claiming responsibility via messaging platform Telegram. TV7 has been unable to independently verify authenticity of the group or the claim.

The Saudi-led coalition declared it has also been able to prevent two Houthi attacks involving an armed drone launched towards Saudi Arabia and an explosive-laden boat in the southern Red Sea on Friday.

In related developments, 22 aid groups working in Yemen are calling on United States President Joe Biden to rescind the designation of the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), claiming it puts millions of lives and the peace process at risk. Signatories of a joint statement include Mercy Corps, the Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam, Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee.

The FTO designation imposed by the outgoing-Trump administration came into effect on 19 January – just one day before Biden took office. The move froze all US-related assets of the Houthis, bans Americans from doing business with them and makes it a crime to provide support or resources to the movement.

Even though the United Nations, Red Cross and the export of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices are exempted by Washington’s designation, the aid organizations insist the legal implications remain unclear and that not enough of the commercial sector has been covered by exemptions.

“The licenses and associated guidance do not provide sufficient guarantees to international banks, shipping companies and suppliers that still face the risk of falling foul of US laws. As a result, many in the commercial sector will likely feel the risk is too high to continue working in Yemen,” said the signatories, stressing that, “This designation comes at a time when famine is a very real threat to a country devastated by six years of conflict, and it must be revoked immediately. Any disruption to lifesaving aid operations and commercial imports of food, fuel, medicine and other essential goods will put millions of lives at risk.”

More than 100,000 people have been killed in the six-year war, which led to what the UN describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis with millions facing starvation. The world body has been trying to revive peace talks to end the conflict, including the sponsoring of another prisoner exchange between Yemen’s government and the Houthis that got underway in Jordan yesterday.

4 Houthi officials were flown aboard a UN-chartered plane four from Sanaa to Amman on Saturday. Mohammad Fadayel, who heads Yemen’s prisoners committee, confirmed that the government also sent four representatives. Discussion is centered on the release of 300 captives, among which are high-ranking officials including the brother of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The negotiations are part of confidence-building measures ahead of the prospective resumption of peace talks, the last round of which was conducted in Sweden in December 2018. At that time, the sides agreed to exchange 15,000 detainees. An estimated 1,000 prisoners were exchanged in 2020.

Ismini Palla, Spokeswoman for UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, issued a statement yesterday urging the parties to discuss and agree on names “beyond the Amman meeting lists to fulfill their Stockholm commitment of releasing all conflict-related detainees as soon as possible.”