Saudi King Salman Admitted To Hospital – Report

This file handout photo taken on March 5, 2020, provided by the Saudi Royal Palace, shows King Salman bin Abdulaziz during a meeting in the capital Riyadh. Saudi Arabia's 84-year-old ruler King Salman has been admitted to hospital in the capital Riyadh for gall bladder inflammation, the royal court said. Bandar AL-JALOUD / Saudi Royal Palace / AFP
This file handout photo taken on March 5, 2020, provided by the Saudi Royal Palace, shows King Salman bin Abdulaziz during a meeting in the capital Riyadh.  AFP

 

Saudi Arabia’s ageing King Salman has been admitted to hospital for unspecified tests, state media reported Sunday.

The kingdom has generally sought to quell speculation over the health of the 86-year-old monarch, who has ruled the top oil exporter and the Arab world’s biggest economy since 2015.

He entered King Faisal Specialist Hospital in the coastal city of Jeddah on Saturday “to conduct some medical examinations”, according to an official report, citing a royal court statement.

“May God preserve the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and may he enjoy health and wellness,” the statement said.

It is rare for the secretive kingdom to report on the health of the monarch.

In 2017, Saudi Arabia dismissed reports and mounting speculation the king was planning to abdicate in favour of his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler.

King Salman underwent surgery to remove his gall bladder in 2020.

He was most recently hospitalised in March, for what state media described as “successful medical tests” and to change the battery of his pacemaker.

Under his rule, Saudi Arabia has launched ambitious economic reforms for a post-oil era and given more rights to women, while adopting a more assertive foreign policy including entering a war in neighbouring Yemen.

AFP

Saudi Arabia To Allow One Million Hajj Pilgrims This Year

Worshippers perform the al-Adha prayers on the first day of the feast around the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, at the Grand mosque in the holy Saudi city of Mecca, on July 19, 2021.  (Photo by – / AFP)

 

 

Saudi Arabia said Saturday it will permit one million Muslims from inside and outside the country to participate in this year’s hajj, a sharp uptick after pandemic restrictions forced two years of drastically pared-down pilgrimages.

The move, while falling short of reinstating normal hajj conditions, offered hopeful news for many Muslims outside the kingdom who have been barred from making the trip since 2019.

One of the five pillars of Islam, the hajj must be undertaken by all Muslims with the means at least once in their lives. Usually one of the world’s largest religious gatherings, about 2.5 million people took part in 2019.

But after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Saudi authorities allowed only 1,000 pilgrims to participate.

The following year, they upped the total to 60,000 fully vaccinated Saudi citizens and residents chosen through a lottery.

This year the Saudi hajj ministry “has authorised one million pilgrims, both foreign and domestic, to perform the hajj,” it said in a pre-dawn statement Saturday.

– Age cap criticised –
The pilgrimage, which will take place in July, will be limited to vaccinated Muslims under age 65, the statement said.

Those coming from outside Saudi Arabia, who must apply for hajj visas, will this year also be required to submit a negative Covid-19 PCR result from a test taken within 72 hours of travel.

The government wants to promote pilgrims’ safety “while ensuring that the maximum number of Muslims worldwide can perform the hajj”, the statement said.

The hajj consists of a series of religious rites that are completed over five days in Islam’s holiest city, Mecca, and surrounding areas of western Saudi Arabia.

Authorities took a number of special measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus last year, including dividing pilgrims into groups of 20 and handing out disinfectants, masks and sterilised pebbles for the “stoning of Satan” ritual.

But the relatively small crowds were distressing to Muslims abroad.

“We have been in great sadness and pain in the past two years because of the small number of pilgrims. The scene was horrible,” 36-year-old Cairo resident Mohamed Tamer said Saturday.

“I am very happy that the hajj will return to normality to some extent,” he added, though he also expressed worry about rising costs including for flights and hotels.

Reactions to Saturday’s announcement were generally positive on social media, though some Twitter users criticised the age cap.

“Such great news, but imposing age restrictions is heartbreaking for many aged hajj aspirants,” one user wrote in response to the hajj ministry’s announcement.

Others voiced concern about what would happen to pilgrims who financed trips to Mecca — only to have their plans ruined by a positive Covid-19 test.

– Matter of prestige –
Hosting the hajj is a matter of prestige for Saudi rulers, as the custodianship of Islam’s holiest sites is the most powerful source of their political legitimacy.

Before the pandemic, Muslim pilgrimages were key revenue earners for the kingdom, bringing in some $12 billion annually.

The kingdom of approximately 34 million people has so far recorded more than 751,000 coronavirus cases, including 9,055 deaths, according to health ministry data.

In early March it announced the lifting of most Covid restrictions including social distancing in public spaces and quarantine for vaccinated arrivals, moves that were expected to facilitate an increase in Muslim pilgrims.

The decision included suspending “social distancing measures in all open and closed places” including mosques, while masks are now only required in closed spaces.

Turkey Confirms Transfer Of Khashoggi Murder Trial To Saudi Arabia

In this file photo taken on December 15, 2014, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi attends a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama. (Photo by MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH / AFP)

 

A Turkish court on Thursday confirmed a halt to the trial in absentia of 26 suspects linked to the killing of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi and its transfer to Riyadh, a decision that has angered rights groups.  

The 59-year-old journalist was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, in a gruesome murder that shocked the world.

A Turkish court began the trial in 2020 with relations tense between the two Sunni Muslim regional powers.

But with Turkey desperate for investment to help pull it out of economic crisis, Ankara has sought to heal the rift with Riyadh.

READ ALSO: EU Court Rules In Favour Of Mubarak Family On Assets Freeze

The judge told the court: “We decided to halt and hand over the case to Saudi Arabia.”

The court decision comes almost a week after Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said that he would approve a Turkish prosecutor’s request to hand the case over to Saudi Arabia, at the latter’s demand.

The prosecutor said the case was “dragging” because, as the defendants were foreigners, the court’s orders could not be carried out.

‘Entrusting lamb to wolf’

Defence lawyer Ali Ceylan told the court on Thursday that there would not be a fair trial in Saudi Arabia.

“Let’s not entrust the lamb to the wolf,” he said, using a Turkish saying.

Another defence lawyer, Gokmen Baspinar, said that the justice ministry’s move was “against the law.”

“There is no prosecution going on in Saudi Arabia at the moment,” he said. “Saudi authorities have concluded the trial and acquitted many suspects.”

He said the decision to hand over the case to Riyadh would be tantamount to a “breach of Turkish sovereignty” and “an example of irresponsibility against Turkish people”.

The decision has deeply angered rights groups.

The Istanbul tribunal “agreed to transfer the case to the Saudi authorities — in one sentence, just like that. Didn’t even bother to state the lawyers’ requests are rejected,” Milena Buyum, of Amnesty International, said.

She tweeted: “Appalling and clearly political decision.”

Five people were sentenced to death by the kingdom over Khashoggi’s killing, but a Saudi court in September 2020 overturned the sentences, handing jail terms of up to 20 years to eight unnamed defendants following secretive legal proceedings.

Appeal

Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz, who was present at the hearing on Thursday, said that she would appeal the decision.

Turkey “is not ruled by a family like in Saudi Arabia. We have a justice system that addresses citizens’ grievances,” she told journalists outside Istanbul’s main court.

“We will appeal the decision in line with our legal system”.

Speaking to AFP, she vowed to “continue to fight. Whoever gives up has given up. I will continue. Sometimes the legal battle itself is more important than the results.”

To Riyadh’s dismay, Turkey pressed ahead with the Khashoggi case and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had, at the time, said the order to kill him came from the “highest levels” of government.

Subsequently, Saudi Arabia sought unofficially to put pressure on Turkey’s economy, with a boycott on Turkish imports.

Last year, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited Riyadh to mend fences with the kingdom.

Transferring the case to Riyadh removes the last obstacle to a normalisation of ties.

In an interview with AFP in February, Cengiz urged Ankara to insist on justice despite the rapprochement with Saudi Arabia.

“In order for such a thing to not happen again…(Turkey) should not abandon this case,” she said.

Cengiz had been waiting outside the consulate for Khashoggi when he was murdered. He had gone there to obtain paperwork to marry her. His remains have never been found.

Erdogan has sought to improve ties with regional rivals including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in the face of increasing diplomatic isolation that has caused foreign investment to dry up — particularly from the West.

In January, he said he was planning a trip to Saudi Arabia as the economy went through a tumultuous period.

Turkey’s annual inflation has soared to 61.1 percent, according to official data Monday.

 

AFP

Premier League Can Cope Without Russian Cash, Says Minister

In this file photo taken on September 13, 2011, a general view of Stamford bridge is pictured before the start of the UEFA Champions League Group E football match between Chelsea and Bayer Leverkusen at Stamford Bridge in London.  Ian KINGTON / AFP

 

UK Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston on Tuesday called for a “more robust” approach to the test for Premier League owners and directors and said football could manage “perfectly well” without Russian investment.

Britain last week sanctioned Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich — described by the government as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle — following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It has reignited the debate over the ownership of English clubs five months after a Saudi-led consortium bought Newcastle despite concerns raised by Amnesty International over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

A fan-led review launched by the government has indicated that an independent regulator is needed to protect the future of key aspects of the English game.

Appearing before lawmakers on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, Huddleston said: “We recognise and the Premier League recognise that the owners’ and directors’ test needs further work, it needs to be more robust.

READ ALSO: Ukraine Economy Could Collapse If War Drags On – IMF

“I think we’re at a turning point for English football. The fan-led review is pivotally important. We recognise there are failures in the structure and governance of English football.

“If it was all working perfectly we’d never have needed the fan-led review which will be pivotal because it will contain an independent regulator.”

Russian billionaire Abramovich has had his British assets — including Chelsea — frozen but Huddleston said he did not want the European and world club champions, operating under a special government licence, to go bust.

“The action we’ve taken is precisely to stop that from happening because what we’ve enabled is for Chelsea to continue to operate and play and for staff to be paid,” he told the MPs.

“We are working with Chelsea and the fans that the measures we have put in place primarily impact Roman Abramovich and make sure he does not benefit. We want to make sure the sanctions hit those we intend to hit and not others.”

The parliamentary evidence session was convened to examine the role of Russian money in both the ownership and sponsorship of football clubs but Huddleston said there were “plenty of other” potential investors.

Russian Investment 

“Globally, there’s a lot of money in sport and a lot of money in football and I think we can manage perfectly well without Russian investment overall,” he said.

“I really cannot see circumstances for quite a long period of time where we’re going to welcome that money back, I genuinely can’t.”

Russia’s clubs and national sides have been excluded from European and global competitions, while several other sports bodies have elected to suspend the country’s teams.

Individual Russian sportsmen and women may be asked to provide guarantees they will not fly their national flag while competing on British soil.

When asked specifically whether US Open men’s singles tennis champion Daniil Medvedev would be allowed to take part at Wimbledon this year, Huddleston said: “Absolutely nobody flying the flag for Russia should be allowed or enabled.

“We need some potential assurance that they are not supporters of Vladimir Putin. We’re considering what requirements we may need. Would I be comfortable with a Russian athlete flying the Russian flag? No.”

AFP

UN Rights Chief Condemns Saudi ‘Mass Execution’

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet delivers a speech at the opening of a session of the UN Human Rights Council on February 28, 2022 in Geneva. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

The UN human rights chief on Monday condemned Saudi Arabia’s execution of a record 81 people in a single day, and urged the kingdom to stop using the death penalty.

Michelle Bachelet said war crimes may have been committed if people were beheaded following court cases that do not offer proper fair trial guarantees.

Saudi Arabia said Saturday it had executed a record 81 people in one day for terrorism-related offences, exceeding the total number killed in the whole of 2021 and sparking criticism from rights activists.

All had been “found guilty of committing multiple heinous crimes”, the official Saudi Press Agency reported, saying they included convicts linked to the Islamic State jihadist group, Al-Qaeda, Yemen’s Huthi rebel forces or “other terrorist organisations”.

“I condemn Saudi Arabia’s mass execution on Saturday of 81 people on terrorism-related charges,” Bachelet said in a statement.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that among those beheaded, 41 belonged to the Shiite minority, and had taken part in anti-government protests in 2011-2012. A further seven were Yemenis and one was a Syrian national.

“Our monitoring indicates that some of those executed were sentenced to death following trials that did not meet fair trial and due process guarantees, and for crimes that did not appear to meet the most serious crimes threshold, as required under international law,” Bachelet said.

“I am also concerned that some of the executions appear to be linked to the ongoing armed conflict in Yemen.

“Implementation of death sentences following trials that do not offer the required fair trial guarantees is prohibited by international human rights and humanitarian law and may amount to a war crime.”

The Saudi authorities should return the bodies of those executed to their families, the former Chilean president said.

“I am concerned that Saudi legislation contains an extremely broad definition of terrorism, including non-violent acts that supposedly ‘endanger national unity’ or ‘undermine the state’s reputation’,” she added.

“This risks criminalising people exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”

Bachelet said that Saudi Arabia was among 38 countries that continues to implement the death penalty.

The wealthy Gulf country has one of the world’s highest execution rates, and has often carried out previous death sentences by beheading.

“I call on the Saudi authorities to halt all executions, immediately establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, and commute the death sentences against those on death row,” Bachelet said.

“I also urge the Saudi authorities to bring the country’s counter-terrorism laws fully into line with international standards.”

AFP

Saudi Arabia Executes Record 81 In One Day For Terrorism

Saudi-Arabia-Map
Saudi Arabia, officially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is a country on the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia. Google Maps

 

Saudi Arabia said Saturday it executed a record 81 people in one day for a variety of terrorism-related offences, exceeding the total number it sentenced to death in total last year.

All had been “found guilty of committing multiple heinous crimes”, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported, saying they included convicts linked to the Islamic State group, or to Al-Qaeda, Yemen’s Huthi rebel forces or “other terrorist organisations”.

Those executed had been plotting attacks in the kingdom — including killing “a large number” of civilians and members of the security forces, the SPA statement read.

“They also include convictions for targeting government personnel and vital economic sites, the killing of law enforcement officers and maiming their bodies, and planting land mines to target police vehicles,” the SPA said.

READ ALSO: Saudi Arabia Suspends Social Distancing, Other COVID-19 Restrictions

“The convictions include crimes of kidnapping, torture, rape, smuggling arms and bombs into the kingdom,” it added.

Of the 81 people killed — the kingdom’s highest number of recorded executions in one day — 73 were Saudi citizens, seven were Yemeni and one was a Syrian national.

SPA said all those executed were tried in Saudi courts, with trials overseen by 13 judges, held over three separate stages for each individual.

“The kingdom will continue to take a strict and unwavering stance against terrorism and extremist ideologies that threaten stability,” the report by SPA added.

The wealthy Gulf country has one of the world’s highest execution rates, and has often carried out previous death sentences by beheading.

Record number of executions

Saudi has been the target of a series of deadly shootings and bombings since late 2014 carried out by Islamic State group fighters.

Saudi Arabia is also leading a military coalition that has been fighting in Yemen since 2015 to support the government against Iran-backed Huthi rebels, and who have launched strikes in return on the kingdom.

Saturday’s announcement of 81 deaths marks more than the total of 69 executions in all of 2021.

Around 50 countries worldwide continue to use the death penalty.

In 2020, 88 percent of all 483 reported executions took place in just four countries: Iran, with 246, followed by Egypt with 107, Iraq with 45, and then Saudi Arabia, who carried out 27 that year, according to Amnesty International.

The executions on Saturday were announced a day after the release of Saudi blogger and human rights activist Raif Badawi, who had been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years’ prison on charges of insulting Islam.

But Badawi, who received only 50 lashes before the punishment was halted following global condemnation, is now subject to a 10-year travel ban, officials confirmed to AFP on Saturday.

It means the 38-year-old is unable to rejoin his wife Ensaf Haidar and their three children in Canada, where they fled following his arrest.

 

AFP

Saudi Arabia Suspends Social Distancing, Other COVID-19 Restrictions

Pilgrims Arrive In Mecca For Second Pandemic Hajj
FILE PHOTO: Pilgrims arrive at the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca, at the start of the Hajj season, on July 17, 2021. PHOTO:AFP

 

Saudi Arabia said Saturday it was lifting most COVID-19 restrictions including social distancing in public spaces and quarantine for vaccinated arrivals, moves that could facilitate the arrival of Muslim pilgrims.

The decision includes suspending “social distancing measures in all open and closed places” including mosques, the official Saudi Press Agency cited an interior ministry source as saying.

Masks will only be required in closed spaces, according to the decision, which came into effect on Saturday.

READ ALSO: Russian Shops To Limit Food Sales To Counter Black Market

The Saudi Kingdom, which is home to Islam’s two holiest places in Mecca and Medina, will no longer require vaccinated travellers to provide a negative PCR or rapid test before their arrival in the kingdom or to quarantine, SPA said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hugely disrupted Muslim pilgrimages, which are usually key revenue earners for the kingdom, bringing in some $12 billion annually.

Hosting the pilgrimages is a matter of prestige for Saudi rulers, for whom the custodianship of Islam’s holiest sites is their most powerful source of political legitimacy.

In 2021, the coronavirus outbreak forced Saudi authorities to dramatically downsize the hajj for a second year, and just 60,000 fully vaccinated citizens and residents of the kingdom took part.

Since the start of the pandemic, Saudi Arabia has registered more than 746,000 coronavirus cases, 9,000 of them fatal, in a population of some 34 million.

AFP

12 ‘Hurt’ In Yemen Rebel Drone Attack On Saudi Airport

Yemeni pro-government fighters man a position near al-Muhsam camp during fighting to drive the pro-Iran Huthi rebels from the area of Harad, in Yemen’s Hajjah province on February 4, 2022. Dozens of Yemeni pro-government fighters have been killed in a new offensive to take a rebel-held city, loyalist sources said, following a surge in violence including missile attacks on the United Arab Emirates. AFP

 

Twelve people were injured by falling debris Thursday as the Saudi military blew up a Yemeni rebel drone targeting an airport close to the border, officials said.

Fragments fell to the ground after the interception of the drone over Abha International Airport, which has previously been targeted in similar assaults by the Iran-backed insurgents.

The Huthis claimed responsibility for the attack in a tweet, saying they had targeted an airport “used for military action against Yemen” and warning citizens to “stay away” from such sites.

The United States was quick to condemn the attack, and pledged to work with Saudi Arabia to hold the Huthis “accountable”.

The Huthis, fighting a Saudi-led coalition since 2015, have frequently launched drone attacks at targets in the kingdom including airports and oil installations.

In recent weeks, they have also launched deadly cross-border attacks for the first time against fellow coalition member, the United Arab Emirates, after suffering a series of battlefield defeats at the hands of UAE-trained pro-government forces.

“Saudi defence forces destroyed a drone launched towards Abha International Airport,” the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.

The SPA said “12 civilians” were hurt when the unmanned aircraft was intercepted, including citizens of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, as well as two Saudis.

‘War Crime’

In response, the Saudi-led coalition said it would strike positions from which the Huthis launch drones in Sanaa, the rebel-held capital of Yemen.

“We ask civilians in Sanaa to evacuate civilian sites used for military purposes for the next 72 hours,” it said, quoted by SPA.

“As a result of the interception process, some shrapnel of the drone was scattered after its interception inside the internal perimeter of the airport,” coalition spokesman Brigadier General Turki al-Maliki told SPA.

He said Abha was a “civilian airport that is protected under international humanitarian law” and accused the rebels of a “war crime”.

President Joe Biden’s national security advisor Jake Sullivan said the “United States strongly condemns today’s terrorist attack”.

On Wednesday, Biden reaffirmed in a phone call with Saudi King Salman the “US commitment to support Saudi Arabia in the defence of its people and territory” from Huthi attacks.

UAE on Alert

Border provinces of Saudi Arabia have come under frequent drone or missile attack by the rebels, in what the Huthis say is retaliation for a deadly bombing campaign carried out by coalition aircraft against rebel-held areas.

Most have been safely intercepted by Saudi air defences, but in late December an attack on Jizan province on the Red Sea coast saw two people killed and seven wounded.

In December, the coalition said the Huthis had fired more than 400 ballistic missiles and launched over 850 attack drones at Saudi Arabia in the past seven years, killing a total of 59 civilians.

The UAE has also been on alert since a drone and missile attack killed three oil workers in Abu Dhabi on January 17.

The attack was the first deadly assault on the UAE claimed by the Huthis, opening a new phase in the Yemeni war and puncturing the Gulf state’s image as a regional safe haven.

The UAE-trained Giants Brigades has this year inflicted heavy losses on the Huthis, disrupting their efforts to seize Marib city, the government’s last major stronghold in the rebel-dominated north.

Yemen’s civil war broke out in 2014 when the Huthis seized Sanaa, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to intervene the following year to prop up the internationally recognised government.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed directly or indirectly in the conflict, while millions have been displaced in what the UN calls the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.

On Thursday, the Norwegian Refugee Council said civilian deaths and injuries in the war have almost doubled since UN human rights monitors were controversially removed in October.

“The removal of this crucial human rights investigative body took us back to unchecked, horrific violations,” NRC’s Yemen country director Erin Hutchinson said.

‘New Chapter’: Ighalo Excited By Al-Hilal Move

Ighalo did not join the Nigerian team for the 2021 AFCON. Photo: [email protected]

 

Super Eagles forward, Odion Ighalo, is excited over his recent move to Saudi Arabia club, Al-Hilal, describing it as a new chapter in his career.

“Those that leave everything in God’s hand will eventually see God’s hand in everything…New Chapter,” the player wrote in a post on social media, hours after the team confirmed his signing.

 

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Ighalo joined the side from Al Shabab for an undisclosed fee, almost two years after teaming up with them on a two and half year contract. Before the recent move, the former Watford man had scored 12 goals this season, making him the leading scorer in the league. Since joining Al Shabab in February 2021, he has netted 20 goals in 30 appearances.

The player is expected to continue his fine form with his new team who are fourth on the league log. Al-Hilal finished as champions last season but are four points behind table-toppers Al Nassr although with a game at hand.

He joined Al Shabab after a loan spell with English Premier League club, Manchester United. It is also unclear if his recent switch had anything to do with Al Shabab’s refusal to release him for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) where Nigeria were knocked out by Tunisia in the Round of 16.

Saudi-Led Coalition Denies Yemen Prison Air Strike That Killed 70

This image grab from a handout video made available by the Ansarullah Media centre on January 21, 2022 shows destruction at a prison in the Huthi rebel stronghold of Saada in northern Yemen after it was hit in an air strike leaving many dead or wounded. Ansarullah media center / AFP
This image grab from a handout video made available by the Ansarullah Media centre on January 21, 2022 shows destruction at a prison in the Huthi rebel stronghold of Saada in northern Yemen after it was hit in an air strike leaving many dead or wounded. Ansarullah media center / AFP

 

The Saudi-led coalition on Saturday denied carrying out an air strike on a prison in Yemen’s rebel-held north that aid groups said killed at least 70 people, including migrants, women and children.

Claims the military coalition ordered the raid, which reduced buildings to rubble and left rescuers scrabbling for survivors with their bare hands, were “groundless”, the alliance said.

The attack, which coincided with a coalition strike on Hodeida that killed three children and knocked out the impoverished country’s internet, was condemned by the United Nations secretary-general.

READ ALSO: More Than 70 Dead In Fighting After Syria Jail Attack

But “these claims adopted by the militia are baseless and unfounded”, said coalition spokesperson Turki al-Malki, referring to the Iran-backed Huthi insurgents.

The latest violence in Yemen’s intractable, seven-year war came after the Huthis claimed their first deadly attack on Abu Dhabi, capital of coalition partner the United Arab Emirates, on Monday.

This week has witnessed a dramatic upswing in the conflict that has already killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions, creating what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The rebels seized the capital Sanaa in 2014, prompting the Saudi-led intervention — supported by the US, France and Britain — in March 2015. It was intended to last just a few weeks.

The internet blackout, which went into its second day on Saturday according to web monitor NetBlocks, complicated rescue work and media reporting as information slowed to a trickle.

Unverified footage released by the Huthis revealed gruesome scenes at the bombed-out prison facility as rescue workers scrabbled to dig out bodies and mangled corpses were placed in piles.

‘Horrific act of violence’

Eight aid agencies operating in Yemen said in a joint statement that the prison in Saada, the rebels’ home base, was used as a holding centre for migrants, who made up many of the casualties.

They said they were “horrified by the news that more than 70 people, including migrants, women and children, have been killed… in a blatant disregard for civilian lives”.

Hospitals were overwhelmed as hundreds of casualties flooded in, aid workers said.

“It is impossible to know how many people have been killed. It seems to have been a horrific act of violence,” said Ahmed Mahat, Doctors Without Borders’ head of mission in Yemen.

The strikes came after the Huthis took the seven-year war into a new phase by claiming the drone and missile attack on Abu Dhabi that killed three people on Monday.

The UAE threatened reprisals after the attack, which was the first deadly assault it has acknowledged inside its borders that was claimed by the Huthis.

Meeting on Friday, the UN Security Council unanimously condemned the “heinous terrorist attacks” on Abu Dhabi, but the council’s Norwegian presidency also denounced the strikes on Yemen.

In a later statement, the UN chief Antonio Guterres “reminds all parties that attacks directed against civilians and civilian infrastructure are prohibited by international humanitarian law”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for “all parties to the conflict to de-escalate” and “abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law”.

However, the Huthis warned foreign companies to leave the “unsafe” UAE, a veiled threat of revenge attacks after Friday’s strikes.

“We advise the foreign companies in Emirates to leave because they invest in an unsafe country and the rulers of this country continue in their aggression against Yemen,” tweeted military spokesperson Yahya Saree.

 

AFP

14 Dead As Coalition Bombs Yemen After UAE Attack

Yemenis inspect the damage following overnight air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition targeting the Huthi rebel-held capital Sanaa, on January 18, 2022. MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP
Yemenis inspect the damage following overnight air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition targeting the Huthi rebel-held capital Sanaa, on January 18, 2022. MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP

 

The UAE, part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-backed rebels, had vowed a tough response to Monday’s attack, the first deadly assault acknowledged inside its borders and claimed by the Yemeni insurgents.

The attack on the renowned Middle East safe haven of UAE, which opened a new front in the seven-year war, followed a surge in fighting in Yemen including battles between the rebels and UAE-trained troops.

Crude prices soared to seven-year highs partly because of the Abu Dhabi attacks, which exploded fuel tanks near storage facilities of oil giant ADNOC. The Huthis later warned UAE residents to avoid “vital installations”.

READ ALSO: Crude Oil Hits 7-year High On Recovery Hope But Equity Rally Runs Out

Yemen, whose nearly seven-year-old war has killed hundreds of thousands, occupies a strategic position on the Red Sea, a vital conduit for oil from the resource-rich Gulf.

After the attacks, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed agreed in a phone call to “jointly stand up to these acts of aggression”, UAE state media said.

‘No end in sight’

The Abu Dhabi attack marked a new phase in the Yemen war and further reduced hopes of any resolution to the conflict, which has displaced millions in what was already the Arabian peninsula’s poorest country.

The United States pledged to hold the Huthis accountable, while Britain, France and the European Union also condemned the assault.

The targeting of Abu Dhabi followed intense clashes in Yemen, including advances by the UAE-trained Giants Brigade, who drove the rebels out of Shabwa province.

The defeat dealt a blow to the Huthis’ months-long campaign to capture neighbouring Marib, the government’s last stronghold in the north.

Earlier this month, the Huthis hijacked the UAE-flagged Rwabee in the Red Sea, charging that it was carrying military equipment — a claim disputed by the coalition and the UAE.

The ship’s 11 international crew are being held captive.

Yemen’s civil war began in 2014 when the Huthis seized the capital Sanaa, prompting Saudi-led forces to intervene to prop up the government the following year.

The conflict has been a catastrophe for millions of its citizens who have fled their homes, with many on the brink of famine in what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The UN has estimated the war killed 377,000 people by the end of 2021, both directly and indirectly through hunger and disease.

“There is no end in sight for the Yemen war,” Elisabeth Kendall, a researcher at the University of Oxford’s Pembroke College, told AFP.

“Rather, the conflict is escalating and new fronts are opening up, both domestically and now regionally.”

AFP

Omicron: FG Asks Saudi Arabia To Lift Travel Restrictions On Nigeria

File photo of passengers at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja following the resumption of international flights on September 7, 2020. Photo: Sodiq Adelakun/ Channels Television

 

The Federal Government has asked Saudi Arabia to lift the travel restrictions it imposed on Nigerian travellers following the outbreak of the omicron variant of the COVID-19 in South Africa that was later discovered among some travellers said to have visited Nigeria.

Ambassador Zubairu Dada, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, made the appeal on Saturday when he met with the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Nigeria, Ambassador Faisal bin Ebraheem Al-Ghamdi.

Dada in a statement by his spokesman Ibrahim Aliyu urged the Saudi Authorities to review the travel restrictions its placed on Nigerians over the Omicron outbreak as already done by many countries who have earlier banned Nigeria but have since reversed their stands having studied the achievements of Nigeria so far in the fight against the Omicron variant and the Coronavirus pandemic in general.

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While commending the cordial relationship that existed for years and continues to exist between the two countries, the Minister expressed optimism for a timely response to Nigeria’s request from Saudi Arabia.

This is as he pledged to continue to give every necessary support and cooperation to the ambassador in the discharge of his responsibility.

In his remarks, Ambassador Al-Ghamdi expressed satisfaction with the effort the government is making to contain the spread of Omicron and promised to convey Nigeria’s message to the relevant authorities back home in Saudi Arabia

According to the diplomat, Saudi Arabia also has similar agencies that are responsible for monitoring and recommendations on the issues of the corona.

He equally lauded the Minister for his commitment to improved bilateral relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia imposed a temporary ban on flights from Nigeria in December amid the Omicron variant of COVID in Nigeria.