Houthis' Escalating Threat to Shipping Lines Signals Red Sea Militarization

Houthis seized the Galaxy Leader ship, claiming it was an Israeli tanker (EPA)
Houthis seized the Galaxy Leader ship, claiming it was an Israeli tanker (EPA)
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Houthis' Escalating Threat to Shipping Lines Signals Red Sea Militarization

Houthis seized the Galaxy Leader ship, claiming it was an Israeli tanker (EPA)
Houthis seized the Galaxy Leader ship, claiming it was an Israeli tanker (EPA)

Fears among Yemenis are mounting over the militarization of the Red Sea as the French, US, and British navies join forces to counter Houthi attacks in one of the world's most vital trade routes.
On Sunday, the French navy announced the destruction of two Houthi drones in the Red Sea that were heading towards the frigate "Languedoc" operating in the Red Sea.
"The interception and destruction of these two identified threats" were carried out late Saturday by the frigate Languedoc, which operates in the Red Sea, the general staff said in a press release.
Amid the Gaza conflict, the Houthi group saw an opportunity to divert attention from its internal crisis, recently escalating threats to target all international ships in the Red Sea heading to Israel.
The group, which the Yemeni government accuses of being an Iranian proxy, seized the Galaxy Leader vessel last month and transported it to the Hodeidah coast.
Yemeni politicians are skeptical about the effectiveness of the latest US sanctions.
They doubt Washington will engage in a decisive military confrontation with the group and are skeptical the Houthis would launch a significant attack that would pose a real threat to US or international forces in the Red Sea.
Washington recently announced sanctions against 13 individuals and entities. It accused them of providing tens of millions of dollars from the sale and shipment of Iranian goods to support the Houthis, with assistance from Iran's al-Quds Force.
- Intervention serves Houthis
Yemeni journalist Abdullah al-Sunami believes that France's involvement in the military action against the Houthis in the Red Sea could inadvertently benefit the group.
Sunami explained to Asharq Al-Awsat that defensive military actions in the Red Sea would further inflame the situation because any military operation in the international shipping lane affects it.
He noted that Houthis will then benefit from the situation and claim the West supports Israel.
According to the journalist, the gradual and successive Houthi escalation, including the announcement of targeting any ships to and from Israel, will usher the conflict in the region into a new phase, which is expected based on the geopolitical conflict history over Yemen's geography.
The complexities of global events, such as the conflict in Ukraine, the situation in China, the US debt issue, and the conflict in Palestine, all hinder any effective action against the Houthis, said Sunami.
He believes the situation may remain as it is, which will not have a significant impact, as long as Bab al-Mandab is relatively far from the Houthis.
He does not rule out the possibility of a military conflict over Bab al-Mandab, a Houthi strategic target.
The conflict in Yemen is approaching the "important" stage of controlling the shipping lane in the Red Sea.
Sunami believes that peace efforts will be significantly affected by the events. However, given the intertwining of interests and goals, it is a false cover for what each party wants.
- International threat
Yemeni political analyst and journalist Ramah al-Jabri believes that the French presence in the Red Sea confirmed that the international community is sensing the danger of the Houthi group.
Jabri remarked that throughout the years of conflict in Yemen, particularly under the stewardship of UN Envoy Martin Griffiths and, subsequently, the Biden administration, the Houthis were afforded numerous incentives that fueled their ambitions for governance in Yemen.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat that it began with acknowledging them as a political entity and a de facto authority, along with the revocation of their classification as a terrorist organization.
The group enjoyed international leniency despite perpetrating ongoing war crimes and acts against humanity, he noted, adding that the clemency persists even as the group hinders global peace initiatives.
Jabri remarked that the international community will pay the price for its misguided policy in dealing with the Houthi group, and Yemenis will pay an additional price as the Yemeni coasts and territorial waters may become a battlefield for global conflict.
Jabri believes that if the Houthi threat becomes strong enough to endanger the interests of major countries, the international community will be forced to engage in a military operation in Yemen.
They could aim to liberate Hodeidah and the west coast up to the port of Midi in Hajjah to protect maritime navigation and international trade.
According to Jabri's assessment, the scenario may not align with the current regional reluctance to return to war.
Yemeni parties may currently reach an agreement and a prolonged truce, which would primarily benefit the Houthis, said Jabri.
- Deterrent Measures
Yemen's Undersecretary Minister of Information Fayyad al-Numan emphasized the need for deterrent measures against what he calls "Houthi terrorism," threatening Yemen, the region, and the world.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Numan called for adopting a system of deterrent measures by influential countries in the region.
Actions should not be limited to sanctions against Houthi figures and their supporters, he said, adding that the group should be stopped according to international law, preventing threats to national security and maritime navigation in the Red Sea.

Numan also called on concerned countries to counter the Houthi threat and boost international and regional cooperation to protect vital maritime routes from terrorist acts.
The Yemeni official noted that the Yemeni crisis is a significant card in the regional portfolio, and the Houthi practices have a substantial impact on efforts to revive the UN-sponsored peace process.
While Houthis may have ignited the Yemeni war, Numan asserted that they could not be a party in achieving a comprehensive peace.



Two PKK-linked Fighters Killed In Iraq Strike Blamed On Türkiye

A member of the PKK carries an automatic rifle on a road in Iraq's Qandil Mountains in 2018. (AFP)
A member of the PKK carries an automatic rifle on a road in Iraq's Qandil Mountains in 2018. (AFP)
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Two PKK-linked Fighters Killed In Iraq Strike Blamed On Türkiye

A member of the PKK carries an automatic rifle on a road in Iraq's Qandil Mountains in 2018. (AFP)
A member of the PKK carries an automatic rifle on a road in Iraq's Qandil Mountains in 2018. (AFP)

A Turkish drone strike in northwestern Iraq killed two members of a group affiliated to Türkiye's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) Thursday, said Kurdish authorities.

The fighters were members of the Sinjar Resistance Units, a group founded among the district's Yazidi community in response to a brutal occupation by the ISIS group nearly a decade ago.

There was no immediate word from the Turkish military, which has conducted deadly strikes against PKK targets in Iraq and neighbouring Syria but rarely comments on individual strikes, AFP reported.

"A Turkish army drone targeted a vehicle of the Sinjar Resistance Units in the region of Wardiya in southern Sinjar, killing an official and a fighter who was escorting him," the counterterrorism services of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region said in a statement.

Another fighter was injured.

Sinjar and its adjacent mountains are one of the heartlands of Iraq's Yazidi community.

The Sinjar Resistance Units were formed in 2014 with help from fellow Kurds of the PKK, which Ankara and its Western allies consider a "terrorist" organization.

Türkiye frequently carries out ground and air offensives on positions of the PKK -- which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state -- in northern Iraq.

It also has over the past 25 years operated several dozen military bases in northern Iraq in its war against the PKK.


Libya Repatriates 144 Irregular Migrants to Bangladesh

Libya repatriated a group of 144 irregular migrants from Libya to Bangladesh (International Organization for Migration)
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Libya Repatriates 144 Irregular Migrants to Bangladesh

Libya repatriated a group of 144 irregular migrants from Libya to Bangladesh (International Organization for Migration)

Libya repatriated a group of 144 irregular migrants to Bangladesh via the UN-sponsored voluntary return program, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The IOM Libya office said in a press release on Thursday “144 vulnerable migrants in need were able to return home safely form Benghazi, Libya to Dhaka, Bangladesh with support from IOM Libya’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return Assistance program.”

In Dhaka, the migrants will continue to receive reintegration assistance, the release said.

Amid the frequent return of irregular migrants from Libya to their home countries via the UN Voluntary Return Program, experts question whether their deportation contributes to the reduction of their numbers in Libyan cities.

Last week, the IOM said that in 2024, it assisted over 9,300 migrants for safe, voluntary returns home, including counseling, medical care, and protection upon departure.

However, Libyan human rights observers say that the mechanism adopted by IOM to repatriate the irregular migrants remains not sufficient to address the migration file, which constitutes a challenge for most successive Libyan governments.

Meanwhile, a report conducted by Frontex, responsible for coordinating Europe's border guards, showed that from 2009 to 2023, at least 70,906 Bangladeshis have entered Europe via the Central Mediterranean route from Libya.

The secretary-general of the National Organization for Human Rights (NOHR), Abdel Moneim El-Hor, acknowledges that the IOM Libya’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return Assistance program, which finances and manages the repatriation of irregular migrants, helps the Libyan State to address this file.

However, he said, the IOM efforts “target only a specific category of migrants, who are present in official detention centers.” He explained that this category constitutes only a small part of the total number of irregular migrants residing in Libya.

El-Hor said there are 29 detention centers for irregular migrants in Libya while the IOM estimates the presence of around 700,000 migrants across the country.

Also, while thousands of migrants have been repatriated from Libya to their home countries, a source from the irregular migration service in Tripoli, told Asharq Al-Awsat that based on numbers published by the Italian news agency Agenzia Nova, a total of 51,700 irregular migrants were capable to land on the Italian coast last year.

The same source defended the efforts of the anti-migration agencies in Libya, saying that they already arrested dozens of human trafficking rings.


Deaths in Gaza Pass 30,000, Witnesses Say Israeli Forces Fire on Crowd Waiting for Aid

People mourn following an early morning incident when Israeli forces opened fire on crowds rushing at an aid distribution point in Gaza City on February 29, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
People mourn following an early morning incident when Israeli forces opened fire on crowds rushing at an aid distribution point in Gaza City on February 29, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
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Deaths in Gaza Pass 30,000, Witnesses Say Israeli Forces Fire on Crowd Waiting for Aid

People mourn following an early morning incident when Israeli forces opened fire on crowds rushing at an aid distribution point in Gaza City on February 29, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
People mourn following an early morning incident when Israeli forces opened fire on crowds rushing at an aid distribution point in Gaza City on February 29, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

Israeli troops fired on a large crowd of Palestinians racing to pull food off an aid convoy in Gaza City on Thursday, witnesses said. More than 100 people were killed, bringing the death toll since the start of the Israel-Hamas war to more than 30,000, according to health officials.

Israeli officials acknowledged that troops opened fire, saying they did so after the crowd approached in a threatening way. The officials insisted on anonymity to give details about what happened, after the military said in a statement that “dozens were killed and injured from pushing, trampling and being run over by the trucks.”

Gaza City and the surrounding areas in the enclave's north were the first targets of Israel’s air, sea and ground offensive, launched in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.

While many Palestinians fled the Israeli invasion in the north, a few hundred thousand are believed to remain in the area, which has suffered widespread devastation and has been largely isolated during the conflict.

Trucks carrying food reached northern Gaza this week, the first major aid delivery to the area in a month, officials said Wednesday.

Aid groups say it has become nearly impossible to deliver humanitarian assistance in most of Gaza because of the difficulty of coordinating with the Israeli military, ongoing hostilities and the breakdown of public order, with crowds of desperate people overwhelming aid convoys. The UN says a quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians face starvation; around 80% have fled their homes.

Kamel Abu Nahel, who was being treated for a gunshot wound at Shifa Hospital, said he and others went to the distribution point in the middle of the night because they heard there would be a delivery of food. “We've been eating animal feed for two months,” he said.

He said Israeli troops opened fire on the crowd as people pulled boxes of flour and canned goods off the trucks, causing them to scatter, with some hiding under cars. After the shooting stopped, people went back to the trucks, and the soldiers opened fire again. He was shot in the leg and fell over, and then a truck ran over his leg as it sped off, he said.

Alaa Abu Daiya, a witness to the violence, said Israeli troops opened fire and also that a tank fired a shell.

Medics arriving at the scene on Thursday found “dozens or hundreds” lying on the ground, according to Fares Afana, the head of the ambulance service at Kamal Adwan Hospital. He said there were not enough ambulances to collect all the dead and wounded and that some were being brought to hospitals in donkey carts.

Another man in the crowd — who gave only his first name, Ahmad, as he was being treated at a hospital for gunshot wounds to the arm and leg — said he waited for two hours before someone with a horse-pulled cart had room to take him to Shifa.

Dr. Mohammed Salha, the acting director of the Al-Awda Hospital, said the facility received 161 wounded patients, most of whom appeared to have been shot. He said the hospital can perform only the most essential surgeries because it is running out of fuel to power emergency generators.
In addition to at least 104 people killed, around 760 were wounded, Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said. The Health Ministry described it as a “massacre.”
Separately, the Health Ministry said the Palestinian death toll from the war has climbed to 30,035, with another 70,457 wounded.


Austrian FM Urges Israel, Hezbollah Against Escalating the Conflict

Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib, right, meets with his Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib, right, meets with his Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
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Austrian FM Urges Israel, Hezbollah Against Escalating the Conflict

Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib, right, meets with his Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib, right, meets with his Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Austria’s foreign minister on Thursday urged Israel and Hezbollah against escalating the conflict along the Israel-Lebanon border.
The Middle East has witnessed enough devastation and cruelty, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said after meeting his Lebanese counterpart in Beirut.
Schallenberg said he came to Lebanon after visiting Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Since the Israel-Hamas war started on Oct. 7, Hezbollah started attacking Israeli posts, drawing return fire from Israel in daily exchanges. More than 210 Hezbollah fighters and nearly 40 civilians have been killed since then on the Lebanese side.
In Israel, nine soldiers and nine civilians have been killed in Hezbollah attacks since Oct. 7.
“Everybody is asked not to escalate and it always takes two sides,” Schallenberg said.
“The region has accounted enough devastation, enough cruelty and we should try to solve the problems and not create further problems,” he added.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib called for a deal for a disputed stretch of the Israel-Lebanon border, similar to the deal reached through US mediation in 2022 over the two countries' disputed maritime border. He said the problem can be solved when Israel withdraws from disputed areas, including Shebaa Farms, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967.
“Israel would return all the Lebanese land to us and then the problem of Hezbollah and Israel will be at least partly solved,” Bouhabib said.


Israeli Strike Hits Hezbollah Truck Near Lebanese-Syrian Border, Kills at Least One Fighter

A damaged building following a missile strike in Damascus, Syria, 21 February 2024. EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI
A damaged building following a missile strike in Damascus, Syria, 21 February 2024. EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI
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Israeli Strike Hits Hezbollah Truck Near Lebanese-Syrian Border, Kills at Least One Fighter

A damaged building following a missile strike in Damascus, Syria, 21 February 2024. EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI
A damaged building following a missile strike in Damascus, Syria, 21 February 2024. EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI

An Israeli strike hit a Hezbollah truck near the Lebanese-Syrian border on Thursday killing at least one fighter, a security source familiar with the Iran-aligned group told Reuters.

Israel has been carrying out an unprecedented wave of deadly strikes in Syria targeting cargo trucks, infrastructure and people involved in Iran's weapons lifeline to its proxies in the region, sources with direct knowledge of the matter had previously told Reuters.

The sources said Israel had shifted strategies following the Oct. 7 rampage by Hamas fighters into Israeli territory and the ensuing Israeli bombing campaigns in Gaza and Lebanon.


Israel Says it's Still Reviewing Access to Al Aqsa During Ramadan

A Muslim woman uses her phone to take a picture of the Dome of the Rock shrine, at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
A Muslim woman uses her phone to take a picture of the Dome of the Rock shrine, at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
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Israel Says it's Still Reviewing Access to Al Aqsa During Ramadan

A Muslim woman uses her phone to take a picture of the Dome of the Rock shrine, at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
A Muslim woman uses her phone to take a picture of the Dome of the Rock shrine, at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Israel is reviewing possible curbs on access to Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem over the upcoming Ramadan fasting month, a government spokesperson said after media reports that the far-right minister for police might be overruled on the issue.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said last week there would be a quota for members of Israel's 18% Muslim minority who wish to take part in peace prayers at Al Aqsa.

That would compound the clampdown Israel has already placed on Palestinians since the Hamas' cross-border rampage from the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7, codenamed "Al Aqsa Flood", which triggered the ongoing Gaza war.

But Israel's top-rated Channel 12 TV reported on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would overrule Ben-Gvir.

"The specific issue of prayer on the Temple Mount, in Al Aqsa, is currently still under discussion by the cabinet," government spokesperson Avi Hyman said in a briefing on Thursday.

He added that a final decision would take security and public health, as well as the freedom of worship, into account.

A Ben-Gvir spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. On Wednesday, Ben-Gvir posted on X that any attempt to override his authority would amount to a "capitulation to terror", and urged Netanyahu to deny the Channel 12 report.


US Concerns Rising of an Israeli Ground Incursion into Lebanon

Smoke rises from a site hit by an airstrike after, what Lebanon's state media said, was a series of Israeli strikes, near the town of Ghaziyeh on Lebanon's coast around 60 km north of the border with Israel, Lebanon February 19, 2024. REUTERS/Hassan Hankir
Smoke rises from a site hit by an airstrike after, what Lebanon's state media said, was a series of Israeli strikes, near the town of Ghaziyeh on Lebanon's coast around 60 km north of the border with Israel, Lebanon February 19, 2024. REUTERS/Hassan Hankir
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US Concerns Rising of an Israeli Ground Incursion into Lebanon

Smoke rises from a site hit by an airstrike after, what Lebanon's state media said, was a series of Israeli strikes, near the town of Ghaziyeh on Lebanon's coast around 60 km north of the border with Israel, Lebanon February 19, 2024. REUTERS/Hassan Hankir
Smoke rises from a site hit by an airstrike after, what Lebanon's state media said, was a series of Israeli strikes, near the town of Ghaziyeh on Lebanon's coast around 60 km north of the border with Israel, Lebanon February 19, 2024. REUTERS/Hassan Hankir

Officials in the US administration and intelligence voiced concerns over a possible Israeli plan to carry out a land inclusion into Lebanon in the late spring or early summer if diplomatic efforts with Hezbollah fail to make it retreat from Israel’s north border.
CNN quoted a senior Biden administration official as saying: “We are operating on the assumption that an Israeli military operation is in the coming months. Not necessarily imminently in the next few weeks but perhaps later this spring. An Israeli military operation is a distinct possibility”, he said.
“I think what Israel is doing is they are raising this threat in the hope that there will be a negotiated agreement,” said the senior official, who has heard differing opinions within the Israeli government about the need to go into Lebanon.
“Some Israeli officials suggest that it is more of an effort at creating a threat that they can utilize. Others speak of it more as a military necessity that’s going to happen,” the official said.
Another senior official in the Biden administration said some officials in the Israeli government and army support a ground incursion into Lebanon.
Since October, around 80 thousand Israelis have been displaced from North Israel.
“The State of Israel will not return to the pre-war status quo in which Hezbollah poses a direct and immediate military threat to its security along the Israel-Lebanon border”, the Israeli embassy in Washington wrote.
Another person familiar with the US intelligence said: “There are fears this will grow to an expansive air campaign reaching much further north into populated areas of Lebanon and eventually grow to a ground component as well”.
Israel‘s top general Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi visited the northern border Tuesday and said that Hezbollah “must pay a heavy price” for its actions since October 7.


Egypt's President Praises Gulf Support

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi during the "Differently Abled" event in New Cairo (Egyptian presidential website)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi during the "Differently Abled" event in New Cairo (Egyptian presidential website)
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Egypt's President Praises Gulf Support

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi during the "Differently Abled" event in New Cairo (Egyptian presidential website)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi during the "Differently Abled" event in New Cairo (Egyptian presidential website)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi thanked the UAE and its President, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, for the vast Emirati investment deal as part of the Ras el-Hekma project.
On Friday, Egypt signed an investment partnership agreement with the United Arab Emirates to develop the Ras al-Hikma peninsula west of Alexandria, with investments worth $150 billion. It includes pumping about $35 billion in direct foreign investment into the Egyptian treasury within two months.
"I want to thank our brothers in the UAE, led by my brother, his Excellency the President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed," Sisi said while attending a "Differently Abled" event in New Cairo.
"I want to tell you it is not easy for anyone to deposit $35 billion over two months; there is nothing like that in the world ... This is a form of support and standing (with us), clearly," Sisi added.
He pointed out that every measure, problem, or crisis that occurs anywhere in the world has an impact on Egypt, referring to the COVID-19 crisis, which was followed by the Russian-Ukrainian crisis and then the Israeli war against the Gaza Strip.
Egypt is struggling to provide the foreign currency necessary to import goods and has to meet the deadlines for foreign debt maturities and a budget deficit.
Sisi announced that the Central Bank received the first tranche of UAE's multi billion-US dollar investment on Tuesday, and the second tranche will arrive on Friday.
According to the Egyptian Official Gazette, Sisi issued a presidential decree allocating a plot of state-owned land with an area of 170.8 million square meters in the Matrouh governorate to develop Ras el-Hekma city.
Egypt hopes this project will become "the largest tourism project on the Mediterranean."
- Difficult challenges
The Egyptian President stated that the world and region face numerous challenges and crises, necessitating unity, resilience, and action.
"We have chosen the path of patience, sacrifice, and confidence in our abilities, inspired by the determination and success of our people, especially our children."
- Egypt did not close Rafah crossing
Sisi asserted that his country has always kept the Rafah border crossing with Gaza open.
"Egypt has never closed the crossing, but to be able to act in a fighting situation, we have to be cautious not to cause a problem," he said.
"From the first day, we have been very keen that the Rafah crossing becomes an avenue to deliver aid."


Germany Attacks Houthi Targets for the First Time

The US and the UK launched hundreds of air strikes against Houthis targets (Reuters)
The US and the UK launched hundreds of air strikes against Houthis targets (Reuters)
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Germany Attacks Houthi Targets for the First Time

The US and the UK launched hundreds of air strikes against Houthis targets (Reuters)
The US and the UK launched hundreds of air strikes against Houthis targets (Reuters)

Germany deployed a naval frigate to the Red Sea for the first time to confront Houthi attacks, becoming the second European country, after France, to carry out such operations.
Since Jan. 12, the United States and the UK began launching strikes against the Houthis, who say they are launching attacks in support of the Palestinians in Gaza and to prevent the navigation of ships linked to Israel.
The Western strikes have included over 300 raids targeting Houthi sites in Sanaa, Hodeidah, Taiz, Hajjah, Saada, and Dhamar.
However, the Houthi group said they did not impact its military capabilities, saying the strikes were merely to "save face."
The German army said in a statement on the "X" platform that the Hessen frigate of the Navy shot down two drones at two separate times without any casualties.
On Feb. 19, the European Union launched Operation "Aspides" to preserve freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
Meanwhile, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed in a statement that the US aircraft and a coalition warship shot down five Iranian-backed Houthi unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in the Red Sea.
CENTCOM forces identified these UAVs originating from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined they presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and the US Navy and coalition ships in the region.
"These actions will protect freedom of navigation and make international waters safer and more secure for US Navy and merchant vessels."
The UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKTMO) said it had received a report of an incident 60NM west of Hodeidah. The vessel and the crew are reported to be safe and proceeding to the next port of call.
The rocket was sighted on the vessel's starboard side, which then exploded 3-4NM from the port bow, read the statement.
Meanwhile, the Houthi media reported that the US and the UK targeted the group's site on Labwan Island in Hodeidah.
- British warning
On Wednesday, Britain warned of an environmental catastrophe as a result of the Houthi attack on the MV Rubymar vessel, which is now at risk of leaking into the Red Sea.
"Despite years of international effort to avert a crisis with the FSO SAFER, the Houthis are threatening another environmental disaster with the reckless attack on the MV Rubymar," said UK on X platform.
The Yemeni government called on international aid to prevent the ship from sinking in the Red Sea, as this threatens an environmental disaster.
Yemeni officials said the vessel is at risk of drowning within days as water leaks into it.
The government asserted that Western strikes against the Houthis would be of no use in limiting the military group's capabilities and that the alternative is to support the legitimate forces to restore the state.
Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak denied the Houthi narrative regarding the naval attacks.
According to official media, bin Mubarak believes the Houthi attacks have nothing to do with supporting the Palestinian people and their just cause.
The Houthis admitted that 22 militants were killed in the Western strikes, in addition to ten who were killed on Dec. 31 in the Red Sea, after the US Navy destroyed their boats in response to their attempt to seize a vessel.
Last December, Washington launched Operation Prosperity Guardian to protect navigation in the Red Sea before launching 25 strikes against the Houthis and carrying out dozens of operations to confront Houthi missiles, drones, and explosive boats.
 


US Appoints New Envoy to Sudan Amid Conflicting Responses

Sudanese refugees escaping conflict regions (AFP)
Sudanese refugees escaping conflict regions (AFP)
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US Appoints New Envoy to Sudan Amid Conflicting Responses

Sudanese refugees escaping conflict regions (AFP)
Sudanese refugees escaping conflict regions (AFP)

The US administration is striving to contain growing criticism of its attempts at controlling the situation in Sudan amid increasing concerns about deteriorating security and humanitarian conditions.

Washington responded to the persistent demands of US lawmakers and appointed Tom Perriello as the seventh envoy to Sudan in 23 years.

US President Joe Biden's allies and the National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, welcomed the new appointment.

Sullivan quickly highlighted the administration's "deep commitment to ending the conflict and addressing the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Sudan and the region."

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed that the Special Envoy will coordinate the US policy on Sudan and "advance our efforts to end the hostilities, secure unhindered humanitarian access, and support the Sudanese people as they seek to fulfill their aspirations for freedom, peace, and justice."

- Challenges and obstacles

IISS analyst and consultant on African peace, security, and governance issues Cameron Hudson believes appointing a special envoy to Sudan may be the right diplomatic step.

However, it would only be effective if his efforts were boosted to lead the track of the US government and diplomatic talks with Sudan and stakeholders there.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Hudson warned that if the appointment was merely an attempt to contain the ongoing criticism of Washington for not working enough to solve the crisis, it would fail and the situation would be much worse.

The former Charge d'Affaires of the US Embassy in Sudan, Alberto Fernandez, voiced Hudson's approach, telling Asharq Al-Awsat that he doubts appointing special envoys in general yields results.

Fernandez explained that appointing envoys embodies Washington's attempt to appear as if it cares about a specific issue without actually achieving much.

Both Hudson and Fernandez's analysis reflects the fears of many officials who have been calling since the outbreak of the crisis to intensify diplomatic efforts and push for Congress-approved sanctions against the parties responsible for the conflict.

Most US legislators demand a presidential envoy with powers to carry out his duties.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Jim Risch said the temporary appointment of a special envoy to Sudan, ten months into the war, "shouldn't be viewed as recognition by the Biden Admin of the significance of this crisis. Instead, it demonstrates another failure in its response. Sudan must be a higher priority."

Risch and other Senators released the following statement on the Biden Administration's temporary appointment of Perriello as special envoy for Sudan.

The statement explained the approach of the legislators who called on the administration to appoint a presidential envoy subject to the approval of Congress to give him sufficient powers to deal with the file.

It warned that the war has significant consequences for innocent Sudanese and the entire region.

"As such, Congress began calling for a special envoy who reports directly to the president on a bipartisan basis immediately after the war began. We regret that after all these months, the administration still failed to appoint a more permanent presidential envoy."

They addressed issues of bureaucracy, saying the Department will argue it chose to avoid Senate confirmation due to the urgency of the situation, "it sat on this decision as the interagency argued about resources, reporting lines, and how this position will be used."

Former special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Donald Booth explained to Asharq Al-Awsat that the special envoy must be the primary person to engage and discuss with the warring parties, those affected by the conflict, and external involved parties.

Regarding Sudan, Booth noted that it would be easier to see the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces agreeing to commit to a political path once their supporters are prepared to pressure them.

- Molly Phee and her "obstructing role"

Sources in Congress, who refused to be named, discussed the "obstructive" role of Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee in Sudan.

The sources noted that Phee controlled the Sudanese file and refused anyone else assuming the role.

However, Fernandez did not hesitate to criticize Phee publicly, voicing his belief that her role was very harmful to Sudan since the military coup in October 2021.

The expert added that Perriello's appointment begs the question of who will have the final decision in the Sudan file and whether it would be the new envoy or the official who has more influence in the State Department, meaning Phee.

Fernandez feared Perriello will have to spend most of his time facing bureaucratic issues in Washington instead of working to stop the actual war in Sudan.

Hudson believed that the failure of high-level officials, such as the Secretary of State, to resolve the conflict in Sudan and the assignment of people like Phee led to the absence of a solution to the crisis.

He indicated the file should not have been handed to mid-level diplomats, who need to gain experience in managing transitional processes or have weak records in responding to conflicts.

- Consecutive resignations

Critics of Phee's role point to the successive resignations of officials in the Sudan file.

Hudson stated that Washington has shown weakness in commitment in naming the diplomats assigned to Sudan, threatening its efforts for peace in the country.

Fernandez explained that he worked with three special envoys in Sudan, noting that there are many challenges facing the official, such as his knowledge and experience, the time and effort that he will devote to the file, and the administration's support, which is essential.

The expert concluded that there could be good policies and bad envoys, but the truth usually reflects the opposite reality: policies are unclear or unrealistic, and the envoy's qualities do not matter because the problem is politics.

However, Booth pointed out that the special envoy's duties include coordinating Washington's approach to resolving the conflict, adding that he needs to be involved in the talks that formulate policies and enjoy the support of high-ranking officials to ensure a succeeded mission.