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Middle East

Former Yemen president Saleh ‘killed in fresh fighting’ (VIDEO)



Saudi-led coalition war planes bombed Yemen’s capital on Monday as Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, blew up the house of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, prompting unconfirmed reports that he had been killed.

The radio station of the Houthi-run interior ministry said Saleh – a former ally of the rebels who switched sides in recent days – had been killed by militiamen after his house was destroyed in fierce fighting in the capital, Sana’a.

Unverified video footage circulated by Yemeni social media users and a Houthi-run TV station appeared to a show the corpse of a man resembling Saleh.

More than 125 civilians have been killed and 238 injured in clashes in Sana’a in the last five days, in the latest disastrous turn for Yemen’s three-year civil war. The fresh violence comes after the sudden collapse of the political and military alliance between the Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Saleh. The two groups had held Sana’a for the past two years.

The high casualty figures were given by the International Red Cross, which also warned it was struggling to keep the hospital functioning in Sana’a and access its warehouse of medical supplies.

The distribution of humanitarian aid across the country is already fraught, with seven million people dependent on aid in what the UN has described as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. The civil war has so far claimed 10,000 lives.

On Saturday, Saleh gave a televised address in effect announcing that he was swapping sides in the civil war, and would be seeking a dialogue with the Saudi and United Arab Emirates-led coalition that he had been fighting alongside the Houthis since 2015. The Saudis have sought to reinstall the UN-recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and defeat the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in a Middle East-wide power struggle that has the potential to envelop the whole region in a war.

It is widely thought that UAE diplomats persuaded the 75-year-old Saleh to swap sides.

“Yemeni citizens have tried to tolerate the recklessness of the Houthi over the last two-and-a-half years but cannot anymore,” Saleh said in his TV address, and ordered forces loyal to him in the capital to stop taking instructions from the Shia Houthi rebels.

The alliance of convenience between Saleh and the Houthis has been close to collapse for months, with claims that Houthis tried to kill Saleh’s son.

Hadi also ordered forces loyal to him – mainly based in the southern city of Aden – to capitalise on the disarray in the opposition and advance north to Houthi positions. Hadi’s staff also said they will offer an amnesty to anyone that has collaborated with the Houthi regime.

Saleh’s conversion was immediately welcomed by the Saudis and the UAE.

It is widely thought that they had been engineering his conversion for months after they became disillusioned with Hadi’s leadership, and looked for a new way to break the political and military deadlock. Hadi has been living in exile in Riyadh, and there are reports that he now has little independence from Saudi control.

Neither the UAE nor Saudi Arabia foresaw that their intervention in Yemen would prove so costly or protracted, so Saleh’s volte face could represent a political breakthrough if his forces do not capitulate to the Houthi militia in Sana’a.

Saudi-led coalition planes have been targetting Houthi-held positions in the capital for two days in a bid to force the Houthis back. Targets have included Houthi bases near the airport and the interior ministry. But the loss of Saleh’s house suggests Saudi air power is not enough to win the battle in the streets.

Riyadh’s determination to crush the Houthis hardened last month after an Iranian-made missile was fired from Houthi positions at Saudi Arabia’s international airport in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia responded by mounting a three-week long blockade of goods entering Houthi-controlled ports, prompting widespread shortages.

Middle East

Is Qatar taking advantage of Somalia – UAE dispute?



As Somalia seeks to ease tensions with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar which is seen to be at the center of the fallout of the two nations, has donated 30 buses and two cranes to Mogadishu regional officials.

Relations between UAE and Somalia have been steadily declining since the latter’s decision not to cut ties with Qatar, preferring to take a neutral position in the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

In March, Somalia banned UAE’s DP World from doing business in the country after it nullified an agreement the company had entered into with Ethiopia and Somaliland for the management of Berbera port.

Diplomatic row

One week ago, Somalia intercepted a plane chartered by UAE diplomats and confiscated $9.6m cash, saying it would investigate the intended purpose of the funds.

UAE retaliated with a scathing statement describing the seizure of the money as a breach of diplomatic protocols.

Both countries have separately issued statements ending a military cooperation program that was started in 2014, where UAE was training and paying some members of the Somali army.

Voice of America (VOA) journalist, Harun Maruf also reported that the UAE-run Sheikh Zayed hospital in Mogadishu had suspended its operations until further notice.

On Monday, it was reported that another UAE plane had been prevented from leaving Bosaso airport by Somali officials after Emirati military trainers refused to hand over their luggage to be scanned and searched.

Reconciliation talks
VOA has also reported that the Somali government on Monday opened conciliatory talks with UAE leaders.

Somali Foreign Minister Ahmed Isse Awad is quoted to have said that ‘talks have begun between the top leadership from the two countries and are progressing well.’

According to the minister, UAE had explained the purpose of the funds and will work with federal government of Somalia on their utilisation.

Mohamed Moalimuu, Secretary General of National Union of Somali Journalists, tweeted on Tuesday evening that the country’s legislators had been summoned to return to duty, supposedly to discuss the UAE dispute.

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Briefing Room

Diplomatic leaks: UAE dissatisfied with Saudi policies



AL JAZEERA — Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) is working on breaking up Saudi Arabia, leaked documents obtained by Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar revealed.

Al Akhbar said that the leaked documents contained secret diplomatic briefings sent by UAE and Jordanian ambassadors in Beirut to their respective governments.

One of the documents, issued on September 20, 2017, disclosed the outcome of a meeting between Jordan’s ambassador to Lebanon Nabil Masarwa and his Kuwaiti counterpart Abdel-Al al-Qenaie.

“The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed is working on breaking up the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Jordanian envoy quoted the Kuwait ambassador as saying.

A second document, issued on September 28, 2017, reveals meeting minutes between the Jordanian ambassador and his UAE counterpart Hamad bin Saeed al-Shamsi.

The document said the Jordanian ambassador informed his government that UAE believes that “Saudi policies are failing both domestically and abroad, especially in Lebanon”.

“The UAE is dissatisfied with Saudi policies,” the Jordanian envoy said.

The Qatar vote
According to the leaks, UAE ambassador claims that Lebanon voted for Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari in his bid to become head of UNESCO in October 2017.

“[Lebanese Prime Minister Saad] Hariri knew Lebanon was voting for Qatar,” the UAE ambassador said in a cable sent to his government on October 18, 2017.

In November last year, Hariri announced his shock resignation from the Saudi capital Riyadh.

He later deferred his decision, blaming Iran and its Lebanese ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, for his initial resignation. He also said he feared an assassination attempt.

Officials in Lebanon alleged that Hariri was held hostage by Saudi authorities, an allegation Hariri denied in his first public statement following his resignation speech.

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Middle East

Saudi billionaire Alwaleed to walk free ‘within days’



AL JAZEERA — Prominent Saudi businessman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, says he expects to soon be released after two months of detention on allegations of corruption.

Prince Alwaleed, who was arrested among dozens of other royal family members, ministers, and top businessmen, said in an exclusive interview with Reuters news agency on Saturday that he expected to be cleared of charges and released from custody within the next few days.

“There are no charges. There are just some discussions between me and the government,” the 62-year-old said.

“I believe we are on the verge of finishing everything within days.”

He and his counterparts were arrested in early November during the kingdom’s “anti-corruption purge”, and were held collectively in the country’s Ritz Carton hotel.

In his interview, Prince Alwaleed said he was continuing to maintain his innocence of any corruption in talks with authorities. He also said he expected to remain in full control of his global investment firm, without being required to give up assets to the government.
During a previous interview with Reuters, a Saudi official said charges against the billionaire prince included money laundering, bribery and extorting of officials.

Also speaking to officials in the kingdom, the Reuters news agency said Saudi authorities were asking detainees to hand over assets and cash in return for their freedom.

The deals involve separating cash from assets, such as property and shares, and looking at bank accounts to assess cash values, one source told Reuters.

Prince Alwaleed appeared frail in comparison to his last public appearance in a televised interview last October, but confirmed that he was being treated well, dismissing rumors that had said otherwise.

Showing off his private office, dining room and kitchen in his hotel suite, Prince Alwaleed said he agreed to the interview mainly to prove that such rumours were false.

The release of Prince Alwaleed, whose net worth has been estimated by Forbes magazine at $17bn, may reassure investors in his business empire. Directly or indirectly through his firm, Kingdom Holding, he holds stakes in companies such as Twitter Inc and Citigroup Inc,

He has also invested in top hotels around the world, including the George V in Paris and the Plaza in New York City.

Saudi authorities said they aimed to reach financial settlements with most suspects and believed they could raise some $100bn for the government this way.

In recent days, there have been signs the purge is winding down; several other prominent businessmen, including Waleed al-Ibrahim, owner of regional television network MBC, have reached financial settlements with authorities, an official source told Reuters on Friday, though terms were not revealed.

Prince Alwaleed said his own case was taking longer to conclude because he was determined to clear his name completely, but he believed the case was now 95 percent complete.

“There’s a misunderstanding, and it’s being cleared. So I’d like to stay here until this thing is over completely and get out and life goes on,” he said, adding that he plans to live in the kingdom after his release.

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