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  • News in Brief 31 May 2017 (PM)

    Occupation policies remain key cause of Palestinian humanitarian needs

    The on-going practices and policies of Israeli occupation are the main reason why Palestinians continue to be in need of major humanitarian assistance.

    That’s according to the UN Humanitarian Affairs Office OCHA’s 2016 Annual Report for the occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt), published on Wednesday.

    The report states that the internal Palestinian divide between the authorities controlling the West Bank and Hamas extremists, who hold sway over Gaza, is also a “serious contributing factor.”

    Here’s UN Spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric.

    “The new report observes that, in 2016, Palestinian fatalities from conflict-related violence in the oPt and Israel declined by 37 per cent compared with 2015, while the decline in Israeli fatalities was 48 per cent. Palestinian injuries declined by about 80 per cent compared with 2015, with the vast majority recorded in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”

    The International Labour Organization (ILO) also reports in its latest edition of ‘the Situation of Workers of the occupied Arab territories’ that stringent constraints on movement, the longstanding blockade of the Gaza Strip, and the stalled peace process were also contributing to a worsening economic outlook for Palestinian workers.

    Suspected cholera cases rise by 10,000 in just 72 hours across Yemen

    Suspected cases of cholera in Yemen have risen by 10,000 in just three days, said the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Wednesday.

    More than 1,000 children have reported to health facilities each day suffering from acute watery diarrhoea, and in the past month, the water-borne disease has killed at least 532 people across the war-torn country, the agency reported.

    Actual figures are expected to rise significantly but 109 children are among the confirmed dead.

    Here’s the UN Spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, again.

    “Together with its partners, UNICEF is working around the clock by supporting oral rehydration centres and diarrhoea treatment centres, as well as by providing chlorinated drinking water and disinfecting wells and water reservoirs. UNICEF’s Representative in Yemen Dr. RelaAo warned that the situation in Yemen is teetering on the verge of disaster, and that the biggest victims of this man-made tragedy are Yemen’s most vulnerable people � its children.”

    The two-year conflict in Yemen between Houthi rebels and a Saudi-backed government coalition has pushed millions to the brink of famine.

    Three planes carrying more than 40 tonnes of lifesaving supplies have been provided by UNICEF, but the agency warns that more than 27 million Yemenis are “staring at an unforgiving humanitarian catastrophe,” with no peace deal in sight.

    UN chief condemns terrorist attack in Kabul

    UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed his abhorrence at the terrorist attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, which news reports say killed at least 90 people, and wounded around 400.

    The large suicide truck bomb exploded during rush hour in the capital’s diplomatic district on Wednesday morning.

    The UN chief said it underlined the need to “reinforce the fight against terrorism and violent extremism.”

    He called on those responsible to be brought to justice, and expressed the solidarity of the United Nations with the people and government of Afghanistan.

    Source: United Nations Radio


    NEW YORK, The UN Envoy to Yemen affirmed on Tuesday that they are not close to a comprehensive agreement in Yemen, as the reluctance of the key parties to embrace peace remains extremely troubling.The UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed …

  • Gulf Arab Row Rattles Trump’s Anti-Iran Axis

    DUBAI/DOHA � Just 10 days after President Donald Trump called on Muslim countries to stand united against Iran, a public feud between Qatar and some of its Gulf Arab neighbors is jolting his attempt to tip the regional balance of power against Tehran.

    Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are incensed by Qatar’s conciliatory line on Iran, their regional archrival, and its support for Islamist groups, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, which they regard as a dangerous political enemy.

    The bickering among the Sunni states erupted after Trump attended a summit of Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia where he denounced Shi’ite Iran’s “destabilizing interventions” in Arab lands, where Tehran is locked in a tussle with Riyadh for influence.

    The spat shows no sign of abating, raising the prospect of a long breach between Doha and its closest allies that could have repercussions around the Middle East.

    Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani visits Kuwait on Wednesday for talks with his counterpart Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah that are expected to address the rift. Kuwait, a past mediator between Gulf states, has offered to help ease tensions.

    But few expect an early end to what is not their first feud. Three years ago Saudi Arabia and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Doha for similar reasons, although they returned after less than a year.

    Analysts point to the unusual willingness of Qatari state-backed media on one side, and Saudi and Emirati media on the other, to trade rhetorical broadsides in public.

    This suggests that point-scoring is taking priority over displays of unity among some members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a Saudi-dominated club of states that presents itself as an outpost of stability in a turbulent region.

    In the Gulf’s tightly-controlled media scene, attacks made by news outlets tend to be authorized by governments.

    “The GCC could harm it own interests in this fight and is at risk of becoming more vulnerable to Iranian encroachment,” said a Western diplomat based in Doha.

    Emboldened by Trump

    The spat’s immediate cause was a purported Qatari state media report that the emir had cautioned against confrontation with Iran, as well as defending the Palestinian group Hamas and Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shi’ite movement allied to Tehran.

    Qatar denied the report, saying its news agency had been hacked, but Saudi Arabia and the UAE allowed their state-backed media to continue running it, angering Doha.

    The squabble revives old accusations that Qatar backs the Brotherhood, which is present across most of the Muslim world and whose political ideology challenges the principle of dynastic rule. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi also suspect Doha is complacent about Iranian expansionism.

    Some analysts speculate Riyadh and Abu Dhabi felt confident to authorize criticisms of Qatar by their deepening friendship with Trump, confident that his opposition to Iran and all Islamist armed groups reflects their views more than Qatar’s.

    “When Trump gave fulsome support in Riyadh and said, ‘let’s isolate Iran’ that sent a signal to the UAE and Saudi, which felt emboldened and said: let’s let loose everything we have on Qatar,” said Gerd Nonneman, professor of International Relations and Gulf Studies at Georgetown University in Qatar.

    Acknowledging the tensions, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, wrote on Twitter on Sunday that the GCC countries “are passing through a new sharp crisis that carries within it a great danger”.

    Gulf officials and commentators outside Qatar said it did not matter whether the remarks were fake because they reflected Qatar’s sympathies anyway.

    “Doha’s insistence in denying the issue is marginal because in reality, on the ground, Qatar confirms it adopts the policies that it is now trying to deny,” an editorial in Saudi-owned newspaper Al-Hayat on Monday said.

    Rifts have ramifications

    A Gulf Arab official said patience had run out. “What is certain is the Gulf states led by Riyadh are not likely to tolerate such a deviation, if intentional, especially at this junction in our relationship with our hostile neighbor Iran.”

    Al Raya, a government-owned Qatari daily, hit back at Emirati reports on Friday by publishing pictures on its front page of UAE journalists it called “mercenaries”.

    Such animosities can have ramifications across the Middle East, where Gulf states have used their financial and political clout to influence events in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Yemen amid upheaval caused by the Arab Spring.

    Nonneman said Kuwait and Oman clearly did not want a major rift. “It’s not in the interests of anyone for this to grow into a clash beyond a media campaign – but sometimes these things take on a life of their own,” he said.

    Iran, which denies Arab accusations that it is engaged in subversion of Arab countries, appears to be gloating. Kayhan, a newspaper closely associated with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Tuesday the rift reflected Saudi Arabia’s inability to “form an alliance against Tehran.”

    Source: Voice of America


    UNITED NATIONS, The situation in Yemen is spiralling towards total social, economic and institutional collapse with more than 17 million people food-insecure and almost seven million one step away from famine. This was the candid assessment shared with…

  • Act before time runs out, urges UNICEF, as Yemen grapples with ‘unprecedented’ cholera outbreak

    Amid an unprecedented increase in suspected cholera cases in war-torn Yemen � where medical facilities are teetering on the edge of collapse � the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has stepped up its response but warned that time may be running out.

    More and more children die every day in Yemen from preventable causes like malnutrition and cholera, said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, in a statement yesterday.

    Anyone with a heart for children cannot let the situation continue. Stop the conflict [now], he urged.

    According to the UN agency, more than 65,000 suspected cases of the deadly disease have been reported in the country, of which about 10,000 were reported in the past 72 hours alone.

    Some 532 people, including 109 children have succumbed to the disease over the past month. The numbers are feared to rise as more cases are verified.

    Responding to the outbreak, UNICEF has sent in three aircrafts carrying over 40 metric tonnes of lifesaving supplies including medicines, oral rehydration salts (ORS), diarrhoea disease kits and intravenous fluids to treat more than 50,000 patients.

    It is also helping provide chlorinated drinking water, disinfect wells and set up water filling stations and storage.

    But needs continue to increase, with medicines and other vital medical equipment in short supply, said UNICEF.

    This latest crisis comes as the country has been reeling under the effects of a conflict, now into its third year, that has rendered water treatment plants barely functional and water sources severely contaminated by sewage and uncollected garbage.

    Half of the country’s health facilities aren’t working, and medical staff haven’t been paid for over eight months.

    The situation in Yemen is teetering on the verge of disaster [] over 27 million Yemenis are staring at an unforgiving humanitarian catastrophe. The biggest victims of this man-made tragedy are Yemen’s most vulnerable population � its children, underscored Meritxell RelaAo UNICEF Representative in Yemen.

    The international community needs to support long-term investments in social services like water and sanitation. Otherwise, deadly disease outbreaks will strike again and kill many more.

    Source: UN News Centre

  • Indications Iran Doubling Down on Use of Proxy Forces

    WASHINGTON � An influx of cash that was the byproduct of the deal Iran struck with a group of world powers to curtail its nuclear program may not be changing the way Iran goes about wielding influence across the Middle East and beyond.

    A top U.S. military official says rather than using any additional monies to invest more heavily in conventional forces, there are indications Tehran continues to focus on cultivating special operators to help lead and direct proxy forces.

    If anything, increased defense dollars in Iran are likely to go toward increasing that network, looking for ways to expand it, U.S. Special Operation Forces Vice Commander Lieutenant General Thomas Trask told an audience in Washington late Tuesday.

    We’ve already seen evidence of them taking units and officers out of the conventional side that are working with the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) in Syria, Trask added. We’re going to stay focused on these proxies and the reach that Iran has well past Syria and Yemen but into Africa, into South America, into Europe as well.

    The 2015 nuclear deal, also known as the JCPOA, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, gave Tehran access to an estimated $50 billion to $150 billion in previously frozen assets. It also cleared the way for Iran to seek new investment to boost its economy.

    Critics of the deal feared Iran would take a large portion of that money to boost its military and expand its influence across the Middle East.

    Yet despite Iran’s heavy involvement in Syria to help prop up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, U.S. military officials see no indications much of that money has been set aside for bolstering Tehran’s conventional forces.

    Nor do they see that as a likely scenario, even though the latest estimates from the U.S. intelligence community warn Iran is trying to develop a range of new military capabilities, including ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and armed drones.

    That takes a long time to change. You’ve really got to build a significant infrastructure, Trask said during the event at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

    We’re going to continue to plan primarily against that network of proxies and unconventional warfare that Iran pushes out to create that buffer for the regime, he said.

    Already, Iran is supplementing its own forces inside Syria by providing arms, financing and training for as many as 10,000 Shia militia fighters, including units from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

    Military and intelligence officials further worry about the sway Iran has over tens of thousands of additional fighters who are part of Shia militias fighting in Iraq. And there are concerns Iran is trying to employ the same type of model in Yemen, where U.S. officials say it has been supplying arms and other help to Houthi forces.

    Everywhere you look, if there is trouble in the region, you find Iran, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last moth during a visit to Saudi Arabia, when asked about Yemen. We’ll have to overcome Iran’s efforts to destabilize yet another country and create another militia in their image of Lebanese Hezbollah.

    And some analysts say that Iran will persist, even if the results are not immediate.

    You’ve seen this slow ratcheting up of what they’ve been able to do in Syria and it’s not sufficient, said J. Matthew McInnis, a resident fellow at AEI and author of a new report on Iran’s security policy, noting Tehran’s reliance on Russian air support.

    Still, Tehran has shown no signs of backing down, he said, willing to wait out its adversaries.

    We underestimated the degree to which Iran was committed to Assad, McInnis said. They’re going to fight as long as it takes in Syria.

    Source: Voice of America

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