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EU blacklists Houthies as GCC offers to host peace talks among Yemeni factions

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BRUSSELS/ AL-MUKALLA: The European Union (EU) has added the Iran’s backed Yemeni Houthi militia to the black list of the union, after Houthi militia, lately, carried out attacks that injured civilians and damaged infrastructure in Yemen. UN has stressed that $4.3bn is needed to address Yemen’s food shortages this year and prevent 19 million people from going hungry, and it hopes that attendees at the conference will meet that goal on Wednesday in Geneva.

While The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is sponsoring unprecedented and comprehensive peace talks between warring factions in Yemen, including the Houthis, that could begin in Riyadh before the end of this month.

The EU also obstructed the delivery of humanitarian aid, applied sexual violence and oppression against women, recruited and used children, used random landmines, attacked commercial ships on the Red Sea with bombs and underwater mines.
The union, under this step, decided to freeze the militia’s assets and ban its finance, where this decision matches a previous resolution issued by the UN Security Council on Feb. 28, 2022.
The black list of the EU was made in 2014 under sanctions targeting the war in Yemen. 

Meanwhile, a senior government official told Arab media. The talks might start on March 27 and would continue for at least one week, they added.

“The Gulf Cooperation Council will invite all Yemeni components, both supporters and oppositions, and the putschist Houthis would have some seats in the talks.”

Former Yemeni government ministers and outspoken politicians such as Ahmed Al-Maysari, Saleh Al-Jabwani, and Abdul Aziz Al-Jubari would be invited. “Almost no one will be excluded,” the official said.

Meanwhile, a car bomb attack on Tuesday on a convoy in which a Yemeni southern military commander was traveling in Abyan province killed two soldiers and seriously injured two more, according to a Reuters report that quoted a military official.

Brig Gen Abdul Latif Al-Sayed survived the assassination attempt, said Mohammed Al-Naqib, spokesman for the Southern Armed Forces. Two assailants were also killed, he added.

Al-Sayed is the commander in Abyan of the Security Belt, the military forces of the separatist Southern Transitional Council. In October last year, the governor of Aden, who is a member of the STC, survived a car bomb attack in the port city that killed six people.

The announcement of the proposed GCC-sponsored peace talks came the day after Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi met Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf, the council’s secretary-general, in Riyadh. SABA, the official Yemeni news agency, reported that the two men discussed GCC support for moves to end the war in Yemen and the Houthi coup, based on peace talks, continuing efforts to fully implement the Riyadh Agreement, and other issues.

They also reportedly discussed the GCC’s financial support for the devalued Yemeni riyal, to address deteriorating services and to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people.

Yemeni officials said the peace talks are contingent on the Houthis accepting the invitation. They added that the rebels might intensify their military operations across the country, and in particular outside the besieged central city of Marib, in an attempt to improve their negotiating position if they agree to participate.

“They will carry out major military operations in Marib and on other fronts to thwart any agreement (and force acceptance of) their onerous conditions that they have repeatedly floated during previous talks,” the official said.

The Houthis have rejected previous peace proposals, including the Saudi initiative, and insist that the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen must first halt its airstrikes and lift alleged restrictions on Sanaa airport and Hodeidah seaport.

Najeeb Ghallab, undersecretary at Yemen’s Information Ministry, told Arab News that the internationally recognized government of Yemen would strongly support any Arab initiative to end the war, but warned that Houthi resistance could sabotage the proposed peace talks.

“We are most supportive of any Arab role to bring Yemenis together under the umbrella of the Gulf Cooperation Council,” he said.

However, he added that powerful factions inside the Houthi movement, which benefit from the war, and Iran, which uses the rebels as its stooge, would reject any calls for peace.

“The Houthis believe that gathering Yemenis under one umbrella will weaken their role,” said Ghallab.

United Nations (UN) officials said ahead of a high-level pledging conference that aims to raise funds for the war-torn country.

Three out of four Yemenis will depend on food assistance in 2022.

“As of now, funding is drying up and agencies are stopping their work in Yemen,” UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths said on Tuesday. “We need to replenish the food pipeline, provide shelter and send a message to Yemenis that we do not forget them.”

Officials have described a looming catastrophe in the Middle Eastern country, which is entering its seventh year of conflict.

At the beginning of the year, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) was forced to reduce food rations for eight million people due to a funding shortage, with households receiving barely half of the WFP standard daily minimum food basket. Now the shortage of funds is putting five million more at risk of slipping into famine-like conditions

Griffiths, the former UN special envoy to Yemen, said the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen may get worse, as wheat imports from Ukraine, which supplies some 40 percent of Yemen’s grains, may come to a halt.

“Ukraine is a breadbasket for many countries and needs to remain so,” said Griffiths, warning of the knock-on effects the Russian war on Ukraine may bear on other conflict areas that depend on the country’s wheat production.

In a report published on Monday, the UN’s WFP, its Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and its United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that the humanitarian situation in Yemen is poised to get worse between June and December 2022.

Some 19 million people are projected to be in need of food assistance, an increase from the current 17.4 million. Of these, 7.3 million people will be facing emergency levels of hunger.

The report also shows a persistently high level of acute malnutrition among children under the age of five. Across the country, some 2.2 million children are acutely malnourished, including more than half a million children facing severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening condition.

In addition, around 1.3 million pregnant or nursing mothers are acutely malnourished. New data also shows that the number of people experiencing famine conditions is projected to increase fivefold, from the current 31,000  to 161,000 in the second half of 2022.

“Peace is required to end the decline,” said UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen David Gressly in a statement on Tuesday. “The parties to the conflict should lift all restrictions on trade and investment for non-sanctioned commodities. This will help lower food prices and unleash the economy.”

Yemen’s economy has collapsed amid a Saudi-led coalition blockade of its main ports, which is limiting access to food and fuel, as well as non-essential commodities entering the country. Parties to the conflict, including the Houthis and the Yemeni government, have also restricted the transfer of fuel and goods across the country.

Food prices have more than doubled in 2021, while during the same period many salaries have not been paid and remittances have stagnated due to Covid-19.

“We need to inject liquidity, lift restrictions on imports and remove the blockade of the main ports as well as resume flights into the country,” said Griffiths. “While I understand there is a UN Security Council arms embargo and shipments need to be checked and inspected, we have to let in food and fuel.”

Answering questions about accusations of aid diversion by the Houthi rebels in Sanaa, and mounting criticism of UN funds mismanagement, officials acknowledged that they faced problems, but that they had to negotiate with authorities on the ground.

“There are obstacles and we are pushing to improve the operating environment,” said Deputy Director-General at the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs Carl Skau, one of the organisers of the pledging conference. “However, humanitarian assistance is a lifeline and makes all the difference … the obstacles cannot be used as an excuse not to deliver aid.”

The UN response system has faced criticism, including from the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen, and former UN workers. This criticism has highlighted incidents where aid has allegedly been diverted by the Houthis in areas under their control, and did not reach the most vulnerable.

“We are aware of nine instances which are being investigated,” admitted Griffiths. “Delivering assistance is hard because of the detailed negotiations with all kinds of actors on the ground. But I don’t see a single crisis where this is not happening.”

So far only 60.9 percent of Yemen’s 2021 response plan, amounting to $3.9bn, has been funded, leaving a funding gap of $1.5bn. Amongst the top donors in 2021 were the United States, Saudi Arabia, Germany, the United Arab Emirates, and the European Union.

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