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Yemen’s looming famine is on 20th-century scale

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FINANCIAL TIMES — Famine has killed at least 105m people since 1870, according to research conducted by the World Peace Foundation.

The vast majority were victims of political decisions and acts of war rather than drought. But by the turn of the millennium such man-made disaster had diminished to the extent that experts in the field, such as the UK academic and writer Alex de Waal, felt mass starvation might be a thing of the past.

This year that progress has dramatically reversed. The renewed use of starvation as a weapon of war is threatening millions of lives in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. The situation in Yemen is the most catastrophic.

The conflict there descended into a new circle of hell after Saudi Arabia committed its air force to defeating Houthi rebels in March 2015. In the process, roads, bridges and markets have been destroyed, the container docks at the port of al-Hudaida were bombed, and other infrastructure ruined. At Riyadh’s insistence and with the backing of Britain and the US, the UN Security Council imposed a blockade on the country.

Its purpose is to prevent weapons reaching the rebels and in theory food is exempted. In practice, laborious inspection procedures mean food is reaching hungry mouths fatally slowly. And that was before a recent decision by Saudi Arabia to block humanitarian aid in retaliation for a missile fired at Riyadh earlier this month.

The consequences are terrifying. The UN says two-thirds of Yemen’s 28m population face shortages of food and clean water. A staggering 7m are now on the brink of famine.
A cholera epidemic is raging. The war itself has claimed an estimated 10,000 people. But as was the case in most of the worst 20th-century conflicts, starvation is certain to be a greater killer. Mark Lowcock, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, last week said the continued closure of borders to aid shipments would threaten “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades”. The blockade, which Saudi Arabia appears to have partially lifted at the weekend, is tantamount to a war crime. And Riyadh’s allies should be wary of complicity.

Before he was forced to resign last month over allegations of sexual harassment, Sir Michael Fallon, then the UK’s defence secretary, begged MPs to cease all criticism of the kingdom.

This risked jeopardising BAE Systems’ £4bn deal to sell the kingdom fighter jets, he said. Sir Michael showed similar blindness about what is morally acceptable in his public evidence to the defence committee. He is gone. But sadly, his posture reflected that of a government which in its dealings with Saudi Arabia treats human rights as little more than a commercial inconvenience.

Donald Trump’s administration has been more craven still in encouraging Saudi Arabian over-reach. Washington’s silence over the tragedy unfolding in Yemen is as deafening as it is strategically misguided.

The intervention in Yemen was supposed to mark the arrival of a more assertive Saudi Arabia, rallying Sunni and other allies to counter Iranian, and Shia, influence. Instead, Saudi forces have proved as ineffectual as they are brutish. Even before Iran was actively involved, Riyadh was unable to defeat the rag-tag rebels. There is little sign they are any closer now.

There is also little doubt that without a change of heart in Riyadh, Yemenis will starve on a scale the 21st century has yet to see. In such circumstances, the US and Britain would be found guilty of complicity in crimes committed in the name of Saudi hubris.

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Russia’s Putin visits Syria airbase and orders start of pullout

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BBC — President Vladimir Putin has ordered the partial withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria, during an unannounced visit there on Monday.

Mr Putin was met by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as he arrived at the Russian Hmeimim airbase, near Latakia.

Russian military support has been crucial in turning the tide of Syria’s civil war in Mr Assad’s favour.

Mr Putin made a similar withdrawal announcement last year, but Russian military operations continued.

“I order the defence minister and the chief of the general staff to start withdrawing the Russian group of troops to their permanent bases,” Mr Putin said on Tuesday, according to the Russian RIA Novosti news agency.

“I have taken a decision: a significant part of the Russian troop contingent located in Syria is returning home to Russia,” he added.

Mr Putin said that if “terrorists raise their heads again”, Russia would “carry out such strikes on them which they have never seen”.

“We will never forget the victims and losses suffered in the fight against terror both here in Syria and also in Russia,” he said.

He told President Assad that Russia wanted to work with Iran, the government’s other key ally, and Turkey, which backs the opposition, to help bring peace to Syria.

Last week, Mr Putin announced the “total rout” of jihadist militants from so-called Islamic State (IS) along the Euphrates river valley in eastern Syria.
Russia launched an air campaign in Syria in September 2015 with the aim of “stabilising” Mr Assad’s government after a series of defeats.

Officials in Moscow stressed that it would target only “terrorists”, but activists said its strikes mainly hit mainstream rebel fighters and civilians.

The campaign has allowed pro-government forces to break the deadlock on several key battlefronts, most notably in Aleppo.

The Syrian and Russian air forces carried out daily air strikes on the rebel-held east of the city before it fell in December 2016, killing hundreds of people and destroying hospitals, schools and markets, according to UN human rights investigators.

Moscow has consistently denied that its air strikes have caused any civilian deaths.

However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Sunday that Russian air strikes had killed 6,328 civilians , including 1,537 children.

The UK-based monitoring group has documented the deaths of 346,612 people in total since the start of the uprising against Mr Assad in 2011.

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US Jerusalem move: Fury spreads from Jakarta to Rabat

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AL JAZEERA — A wave of anger against a US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has spread from Asia, through the Middle East, to North Africa, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets to denounce the controversial move.

Protesters filled central avenues and squares in a number of major international cities on Sunday, waving the flag of Palestine and shouting slogans to express their solidarity with the Palestinians, who see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

US President Donald Trump’s announcement on Wednesday drew near-universal condemnation from world leaders and inflamed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with violence flaring up in the occupied Palestinian territories for a fifth day.

According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, 157 people were injured on Sunday in confrontations with Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.

At least four Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the US declaration.
Clashes also erupted on Sunday at a protest in Beirut, where demonstrators fought with security forces outside the US embassy in the Lebanese capital.

Demonstrators set fires in the street, torched US and Israeli flags and threw stones at police officers, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.

Adnan Abdullah, a protester in Beirut, said Trump’s Jerusalem decision “will not happen as long as there are people like us”.

Another demonstrator, whose face was hidden behind a black mask, held up a tear gas canister and condemned Lebanese forces for “defending America”.

He went on to add, “There is no one by our side. None of the Arab countries. Oh God, we will raise the Palestinian flag”

Arab foreign ministers, in a resolution on Sunday, urged Trump to rescind the decision and have called for a UN Security Council condemnation of the shift in US policy.

Meanwhile, more than 5,000 Indonesians rallied outside the US embassy in Jakarta to vent their anger for a second day. Protesters carried Palestinian flags and banners saying “Pray for Palestine”.

“We are not satisfied with just official statements,” said Nurjannah Nurwani, one of the lead organisers of the gathering. “We need follow-up, international lobbying which could pressure them into withdrawing their decision.”

Another female protester in Jakarta urged Trump to “use his brain” and “withdraw from Jerusalem”.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has condemned Trump’s decision. On Thursday, he ordered the US ambassador in Jakarta to be summoned over the move.

In Turkey’s Istanbul, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets again, transforming the city’s Yenikapi Square into a sea of Turkish and Palestinian flags.

“I feel like I should defend Palestine because I don’t know any other way to defend them,” said Ananda Sereka, who was at the protest. “So this is what I can do. This is the least I can do.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, one of the most vocal critics of Trump’s move, has called the declaration “null and void” and vowed to fight it.

He has also called a summit of Islamic countries to discuss the move on Wednesday.

In Rabat, Morocco’s capital, protesters yelled slurs against Trump and carried banners saying Jerusalem belonged to Palestine.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Rabat, said the protest was “a show of solidarity with the Palestinian people but also an opportunity to express anger” over Trump’s decision.

“The protesters came from all walks of life,” he said. “Government officials, members of the opposition, seculars and conservatives – all denouncing what they consider to be a decision that could destabilise the region.”

Mohamed Boussaid, Morocco’s finance minister, said the demonstration was a way “to express our indignation and un-satisfaction” and to show that “we refuse completely the decision taken by the president of the US”.

Protester Mohamed Alghram agreed.

“We totally reject the decision that targets the most sacred place for us and we say no,” he said. “Jerusalem is a red line.”

Jerusalem is home to Islam’s third holiest site and its status is deeply sensitive for Muslims.

In Indian-administered Kashmir, protesters took a different approach.

Residents of the capital Srinagar, home to 1.1 million people, closed their shops and abandoned the streets in protest. Salman Khan, a Srinagar resident, told the ANI news agency that Trump’s decision was “completely unjust”.

Muslim solidarity with Palestine also spread to the war-torn nations of Yemen and Syria.

Further protests were held in Egypt, where students and professors demonstrated at the Al-Azhar university.

In Pakistan’s Karachi, hundreds of protesters marched towards the US Consulate in the city, but were turned back by riot police.

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Erdogan: Israel a ‘terrorist state’ that kills children

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President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has described Israel as a “terror state,” while urging leaders of Arab countries to act following U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“Israel is a state of occupation and a terror state,” Erdoğan said in a speech in the Central Anatolian province of Sivas on Dec. 10, vowing that Turkey “will not leave Jerusalem to the consciousness of a child-killer state.”

“Jerusalem is the light of our eyes. We won’t leave it to the conscience of a state that only values occupation and looting. We will continue our struggle decisively within the law and democracy,” he added.

On Dec. 6, Trump announced the U.S.’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided” capital, saying the U.S. Embassy would relocate from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in a dramatic shift in Washington’s Jerusalem policy.

While demonstrations in the occupied Palestinian territories, Turkey and other Muslim-majority countries have been ongoing since the recognition, Erdoğan has been one of the most vocal leaders to slam Washington’s move.

“Palestine is oppressed and a victim. Israel is absolutely a state of occupation. Israel has never recognized any decision adopted concerning it, especially United Nations decisions, and it will never do so,” Erdoğan said, also presenting a series of maps showing how Israel has expanded its borders by occupying Palestinian territories since 1947.

“Look at this scene, do you see this treachery?” he said, pointing to Israeli expansion.

Erdoğan also showed a picture of a 14-year-old blindfolded Palestinian boy surrounded by Israeli soldiers.

“Look at how these terrorists are dragging a 14-year-old blindfolded child,” he said, describing Trump’s statement on Jerusalem as “null and void” for Turkey.

“We will continue to stand with the oppressed. We will use every opportunity we have for our first qibla, Jerusalem. We’ve been carrying out intense phone diplomacy since the dire decision of the U.S. I’ve held phone calls with the heads of many governments and states, including the Pope. We’ve told them that this issue is not one that only concerns Muslims; it is also the seizure of the rights of Christians. But I must say clearly that this step of the U.S. is completely an Evangelist understanding,” he added.

An extraordinary meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is scheduled to be held in Istanbul on Dec. 13, hosting the leaders of Muslim-majority countries.

“With the roadmap that we will determine [at the OIC meeting], we will show that the realization of this decision [moving of the embassy] will not be easy at all,” he added.

Earlier on, Erdoğan urged Arab leaders and Muslim countries to present a “united stance” on the issue.

“The Arab League will be present at the meeting on Dec. 13. Its term president, Jordanian King Abdullah II, thinks the same as us. Islamic countries must present a united stance on this issue,” he said.

“The dividedness and internal problems of the Islamic world have made it easier for the U.S. to adopt such a decision. What’s happening in Iraq and Syria are also out in the open. Libya, Egypt and Yemen are also experiencing serious problems. This Jerusalem step shows how some have been taking advantage of this situation. We need to be vigilant as Muslims,” Erdoğan added.

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