Tuesday, October 6, 2015

#YemenCrisis - Starving civilians in Yemen wish for death to escape horrors of war

By Nawal Al-Maghafi

Civilians have been devastated by war in which the Saudi-led coalition and Houthis are accused of committing war crimes.

“They deprived me of my sons,” Khadija Al-Bayna told me. “They were our breadwinners; now I don’t know whether I should be crying in mourning or because I no longer know how we will pay for tomorrow’s meal.”
Mohammed and Ahmed died two days earlier, killed by an airstrike that hit the Al-Sham water-bottling plant, where they had been working for two years. They were minutes away from finishing their shift for the day.
The plant was located deep in the Hajjah desert province, off Yemen’s western coast. As most of the locals have been pointing out in the days since, it was the only business outlet of note for miles around.
In total, 12 families lost at least one son to the airstrike. The Al-Baynas lost two, both of who were their breadwinners and livelihood. The strike was the latest episode in a six-month air campaign by a Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Arab states who have been trying since March, with mixed results, to defeat the Houthi militiamen who seized the capital, Sanaa, more than a year ago.
From the very start, the military campaign has had an unquestionably sectarian character to it. Saudi Arabia’s stated objective has been to roll back the gains secured by Zaidi Shia Houthis in the past year and reinstate the rule of Yemen’s deposed president, Abdu Mansour Hadi, who fled to Riyadh in March as the Houthi insurgency pursued him to the port city of Aden.
As in most conflicts, civilians caught in the middle have had to bear the brunt of the cost, with thousands falling victim to indiscriminate targeting - whether from coalition airstrikes or heavy weaponry shelling by the Houthis. While estimates vary, many believe the death toll for the first six months of the coalition campaign has already surpassed the 4,500 mark.
“That’s it! Everything is gone, the business, the people,” the plant manager, Mohammed Al-Razoom, cried as he walked us around what was left of his factory in Hajjah, a desolate landscape of burnt bottles and machinery.
Speaking to Reuters, the coalition commander, Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, insisted that the plant was not a bottling factory but had been used by the Houthis to make explosive devices.
When asked about Asseri’s comment, Al-Razoom picked a water bottle up and cried in dismay: “These are the weapons and missiles the Saudis are targeting?”

'There is absolutely no one helping us'

Now, a few kilometres away from the site of the strike - on the outskirts of Hajjah’s Beni Hassan district - shanty tents sprawl across the desert expanse, a makeshift Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp housing thousands of people who had fled their homes.
Most say they’re seeking a place of refuge from the violence, but, in truth, such a place no longer exists in Yemen. On the day we visited the camp, four airstrikes struck; the force of their impact lifted everyone off the ground and threw them a few feet away.
“We thought we would be safe here, but the airstrikes follow us wherever we go,” Khadija Ahmed, who had fled to the camp with her husband and four children, told MEE.
“At least at home we had food, we had our farmland, we had our goats. Here, we are starving. There is absolutely no one helping us.”
Despite the ferocity of the bombing campaign, a bigger burden on the country’s civilians has been the blockade imposed by the coalition since March. While this is officially aimed at cutting-off arms supplies to the Houthis, the blockade has had a disastrous impact on a civilian population relying on imports for 90 percent of its staple food needs.
According to the UN, Yemen is now on the brink of famine yet this continues to be one of most underfunded – and underreported - humanitarian crises in the world.
Meanwhile, the mood in Sanaa, which had been relatively calm for weeks, was soured by news of the killing of 45 soldiers from the UAE by Houthi forces near Marib, 120km to the east of the capital.
“Sanaa will pay the price tonight!” a distraught Sanaanite friend predicted when we received the news. Ominously, we heard coalition jets roaring above us moments later - a terrifying sound - especially when one knows the jets can, and will, strike at any moment.
Airstrikes by the UAE air force were predictably ferocious, striking targets in Sanaa but also in Marib and the Houthis’ stronghold, Saada. The civilian death-toll reached over 30 casualties that night alone. The cycle of violence had been the same for weeks: every time the Houthis engaged in fighting against coalition ground troops in Marib, or at the Saudi border, civilians all over Yemen braced themselves for the inevitable, seemingly indiscriminate, retaliatory airstrikes by the coalition.
Needless to say, the coalition’s repeated assurances that its air campaign has been strictly confined to high-precision targeting of military Houthi positions have been invariably greeted with a great deal of scepticism by most Yemenis.
The scepticism seems amply justified: In the past six months of fighting alone, coalition airstrikes have hit a busy marketplace, IDP camps, residential complexes, the port of Sanaa as well as the Old City (a UNESCO world heritage site) to name but a few.

Sanaa devastated by bombing campaign

The next morning, we went on a tour of civilian areas that had been hit by overnight airstrikes, including two apartment complexes and a university building in Sanaa. One of the apartment complexes was home to a Syrian family that had fled their own civil war two years earlier. “The airstrikes followed them from Syria to Sanaa; it’s Qadar (divine fate)!” exclaimed the buildings’ owner as he surveyed the heap of rubble where his building used to stand; teddy bears and charred laundry still visible among the rocks and dirt.
As we drove through Sanaa, the city was unrecognisable. The town’s famous Diplomatic Quarter was now a ghost town; unsurprising considering its location at the foot of the Faj Attan mountain, which has seen the most intensive bombings of the air campaign.
Nearby, a school was closed: it had been hit twice. The longer we drove, the more it became evident that this was the fate of most of the town’s civilian infrastructure: Dozens of schools, homes, shops, and restaurants were all hit by either coalition airstrikes or Houthi shelling. At site after site, devastation had descended everywhere. Meanwhile, the stories of the residents kept coming; an endless flow that was both compelling and overwhelming.
Reaching the Old City, we discovered it was also hit; at the time of our visit the Saudi coalition denied it was responsible for the airstrike that hit the site but only days after we left it was hit again - airstrikes killed 15 civilians from three families and left two gaping holes at the centre of what used to be an area of picturesque serenity.

Airstrikes are 'war crimes'

Human rights groups have been vocal in insisting that the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes amount to war crimes. According to the UN, more than a thousand civilians are believed to have died as a result of the strikes alone, a number which continues to rise steadily yet has, so far, generated little international attention or outrage.
Last week, the UN Human Rights chief, Jordanian Prince Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, called for an independent inquiry into violations, both by coalition and Houthi forces. He also welcomed plans announced by President Hadi, who has returned to Aden, at least briefly, to “investigate all violations”. Several international human rights organisations, however, promptly expressed doubts over whether a government in exile, one utterly dependent on political and military Saudi patronage, can be trusted to conduct an impartial inquiry.
In the meantime, the coalition’s relentless bombing campaign continues to fuel popular anger and resentment against Saudi Arabia and its allies, including Western arms exporters such as the United States and the United Kingdom. The UK, in particular, has been one of the leading arms suppliers to Saudi Arabia, granting the kingdom 37 export military licenses since the beginning of its Yemeni campaign in March.
“The UK Government is quietly fuelling the Yemen conflict and exacerbating one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, potentially in breach of both domestic and international laws on the sales of arms," Oxfam said in a statement earlier this month.
The legal framework governing the arms trade prohibits deals where there is a clear risk that weapons might be used to commit war crimes or human rights abuses. Human rights groups have accused the Saudi-led coalition of potential war crimes, pointing to a pattern of airstrikes in civilian areas that included no obvious military targets.
Concerns over the effectiveness and rationale of the coaliton’s strategy extend beyond human rights considerations.
Prior to the start of the campaign, the United States’ main fight in the region was its decade-long counter-terrorism effort against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). However, many believe the current campaign has not only strengthened AQAP but also provided the catalyst for the emergence of an Islamic State group offshoot in Yemen.
The latter is now openly competing with AQAP by launching its own offensive against Yemen’s Zaidi Shia community, including an attack earlier this month on a Houthi mosque that killed 20 people.

Civilian desperation

“The first bomb wasn’t so bad,” Mohammed, one of the survivors, told MEE. “At first, we didn’t realise it was a suicide bomber, but as we all gathered to rescue the injured I became suspicious of a car parked outside. I screamed for everyone to run but the bomb blew up before most could do so.”
As he spoke, Mohammed picked up a ball-bearing from the ground – a macabre remnant of the suicide-bomber’s vest – holding it in his hand. “This is all Saudi Arabia and America’s doing,” he cried. “They brought this to us. We used to pray in peace and safety. Now we pray knowing we might not return home.”
According to the UN, 80 percent of Yemen’s 25 million inhabitants are today on the brink of famine. In a visit to the Al-Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, we met Randa Ahmed, a young mother holding her two-year-old boy, Hameed.
“They tell me to eat well so I can breastfeed him. But with this crisis, my husband is stuck at home and we just cannot afford food.” That morning, her son desperately needed oxygen but, because of the blockade, the hospital had no basic supplies on its premises. Hameed made it through that day but Randa had to be sent home two days later; the hospital had been forced to close down.
Amidst the mayhem and desperation, there are sadly no indications things will improve anytime soon. The coalition forces and Hadi loyalists are currently conducting military training exercises in Marib, in preparation for a ground offensive on Sanaa. This presages dark days, possibly weeks or months, ahead for a population already facing calamitous food and medicine shortages.
As we prepared to leave her, Khadija Ahmed held her remaining three children tightly towards her and whispered, “I wish an airstrike would just kill us all - all of us - in an instant! As least I wouldn’t have to see them afraid and hungry anymore.”
As she spoke, her son suddenly looked up to the sky, a terrified look spreading across his face: the airplanes overhead had returned. 

- See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/starving-civilians-yemen-wish-death-escape-horrors-war-2009186171#sthash.3ozXvQYT.dpuf

Saudi Arabia and al-Qaeda Unite in Yemen

By   - 

In viewing Yemen as an important battleground in the grander struggle against Iran's expanding regional influence, Saudi Arabia has united with a variety of Yemeni Sunni factions in an effort to crush the Houthi insurgency. This has entailed the kingdom cooperating with Sunni Islamist groups that Saudi Arabia--along with other Arab and Western governments--have designated as "terrorist" organizations. However, as the U.S. continues to wage its War on Terror in Yemen, Riyadh's strategy is complicating the kingdom's already chilly relationship with Washington.
Saudi Arabia's alignment with "terrorist" groups in Yemen was highlighted in June when the Saudi-backed exiled Yemeni government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi sent Abdel-Wahab Humayqani to Geneva as one of its delegates in the failed UN-sponsored roundtable talks. In December 2013, the U.S. Treasury Department designated Humayqani a "Specifically Designated Global Terrorist," having allegedly served as a recruiter and financier for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and having orchestrated a car bombing in March 2012 that targeted a Yemeni Republican Guard base, killing seven.
Despite the international community's condemnation of Saudi Arabia's bombing of civilian areas in Yemen, recent victories on the part of Riyadh-sponsored forces in Aden and elsewhere seem to have inspired greater confidence in the kingdom that the Sunni Arab coalition can crush the Houthi insurgency through a prolonged military campaign. Yet, Saudi Arabia's embrace of such extremists raises questions about whether the kingdom will attempt to achieve victory over the Houthis--viewed in Riyadh as a proxy of Iran--at any price, and serves to reemphasize concerns that many in the West have had about the company Riyadh chooses to keep.
Historical Context
After thousands of Yemeni nationals who had joined ranks with Osama bin Laden in the Soviet-Afghan War returned to Yemen in 1980s, the Saudi-backed Yemeni regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh sponsored such militants in the fight against South Yemen's Marxist regime, and later in a campaign to defeat southern secessionists. During the 1990s, Yemen became a central location for militant Salafist groups such as AQAP's predecessors, including Islamic Jihad in Yemen, Army Aden Abyan and al-Qaeda in Yemen (AQY).
By the early 2000s, AQY had weakened as a result of a declining membership, but Saudi Arabia's crackdown on its own local al-Qaeda branch prompted many Saudi members to flee to Yemen. By 2009, the Saudi and Yemeni branches had merged into AQAP. In addition to targeting the central state of Yemen, Houthi insurgents, and Western nationals/interests in Yemen, AQAP has also made clear its intention to topple the ruling Saudi family, accusing it of maintaining an "unholy" alliance with the U.S.
In August 2009, then-Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayif (currently the kingdom's Crown Prince) met with members of the public as part of a Ramadan celebration, including Abdullah Hassan Taleh al-Asiri, a militant from AQAP who claimed to have renounced terrorism and had asked to repent before the Prince. Al-Asiri's real intentions were made clear after he entered a room with Mohammed bin Nayif and detonated an improvised explosive device carried inside him. The explosion killed Asiri but failed to assassinate the prince, leaving him with only minor injuries. It is indeed remarkable that Saudi Arabia appears to be teaming up with the group that only six years ago carried out that failed assassination attempt on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayif.
The de facto partnership between Riyadh and AQAP is made further evident by the fact that the Saudi-led military coalition has entirely avoided bombing AQAP targets, despite its aggressive bombing of other territories under Houthi control. While doubtful that AQAP has abandoned its objective of overthrowing the Saudi monarchy, Riyadh likely perceives its tacit alliance with AQAP as a short-term venture and is focused on the immediate task at hand.
Perhaps under the pretext of countering Wilayat al-Yemen (Yemen's Daesh--also known as the "Islamic State"--division), Riyadh perceives strategic value in working with its rival, AQAP. Although Wilayat al-Yemen and AQAP have thus far not waged any large-scale armed campaigns again each other, their competition for recruits and the mantle of Yemen's dominant Sunni Islamist militia lead some analysts to expect their conflicting interests to eventually pit the two groups against each other. Concerned that the Houthi takeover of swathes of Yemeni territory is aiding Wilayat al-Yemen's ability to lure greater Sunni support through its highly sectarian and ultra-violent agenda, countering the group's ability to gain further traction likely contributes to Riyadh's evolving relationship with AQAP.
Implications for the West
The Obama Administration has identified AQAP as the world's most dangerous al-Qaeda branch, and the gravest terrorist threat to U.S. national security. In 2000, al-Qaeda orchestrated the attack against the USS Cole, and two years later the group waged a suicide bombing that targeted the French oil tanker M/V Limburg. Both attacks were carried out by individuals who would come to hold prominent roles in AQAP.
Throughout 2008 and 2009, AQY/AQAP attacked Western embassies, in addition to Belgian and Korean tourists in Yemen. On Christmas Day in 2009, an AQAP affiliate unsuccessfully attempted to bomb a Detroit-bound jet, and ten months later the group made another attempt to strike the U.S. homeland by bombing two Chicago-bound cargo planes (the plot was intercepted by Saudi intelligence officials). Additionally, while AQAP's role in the January 2015 Charlie Hedbo massacre in Paris remains a source of debate in intelligence circles, the organization claimed responsibility.
In June of this year, Washington officials voiced concern about Humayqani's role in the Geneva talks, underscoring the U.S. and Saudi Arabia's conflicting strategies toward the Yemeni crisis. Although Washington has provided logistical and intelligence support for the Saudi-led military campaign against the Houthis, the U.S. military's direct involvement in Yemen since Riyadh waged Operation Decisive Storm in March has been exclusively striking AQAP targets with Washington's controversial drone program.
Despite Saudi Arabia's official lukewarm endorsement of the Iranian nuclear deal, Riyadh is gravely concerned about the geopolitical implications of a gradual improvement in the West's relationship with Iran. Unsettled by the idea that Tehran will more forcefully assert its influence in the Arab world by providing more support to Iranian-backed paramilitary groups with newly available funds derived from sanctions relief, Saudi Arabia is flexing its muscles in Yemen. Viewing the Houthi insurgents as an Iranian proxy committed to establishing a client state for the Islamic Republic on Saudi Arabia's southern border, officials in Riyadh clearly perceive a graver threat from the Houthis than from Sunni Islamist militias such as AQAP.
From Washington's perspective, the Riyadh-led campaign in Yemen is contributing to chaotic unrest in Yemen that provides fertile ground for the local al-Qaeda branch and creates a magnet for other extremist groups. Having seized control of the Riyan airport and Mukalla (an oil rich city with a major sea port and a population of 300,000) in April, AQAP has emerged as an increasingly influential actor amidst the bloody turmoil and humanitarian crises that have spiraled out of control since the Saudi-led coalition began bombing Yemen in March. By positioning itself as a disciplined Sunni force capable of effectively countering the Houthi insurgents, AQAP has unquestionably established itself as a de facto partner of the U.S.-backed Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, despite being the primary impetus for Washington's ongoing drone campaign there.
Ties between elements of Saudi Arabia's ruling monarchy and global jihadist terror groups are not new. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, questions regarding the costs and benefits of maintaining a strong alliance with Riyadh resulted in spirited debate in the U.S. By having deep economic relations with Western nations and being the world's top crude oil exporter, Riyadh has long used its powerful influence in the Middle East's geopolitical order and international energy markets to foster ties with groups like AQAP with minimal objection from the kingdom's Western allies.
In the case of Yemen, analysts contend that the Obama Administration's support for Riyadh's war against the Houthis has occurred within the context of Washington's efforts to secure Saudi support for the Iranian nuclear agreement, despite U.S. reservations over the kingdom's policies. Paris has been a strong backer of Riyadh's campaign in Yemen, largely due to France's interest in becoming the kingdom's leading arms dealer. Over time, however, Riyadh's de facto alliance with AQAP should raise further questions in the U.S. and France about whether the kingdom is a genuine partner in the global War on Terror or is a direct sponsor of groups affiliated with those who perpetrated the 9/11 and Charlie Hebdo attacks.
In Syria, where Saudi Arabia's support for hardline jihadist militias is fueling tension in Riyadh's relations with Western governments, the means and objectives of the kingdom are increasingly at odds with those of American and European officials. As the U.S. explores diplomatic opportunities with the Houthis in Yemen, and as EU officials begin eyeing Iran as a potential partner in regional security crises, there is a widening gulf between Western and Saudi perceptions about security considerations in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia's Blowback in Yemen?
Beyond implications for Saudi relations with the West, the kingdom is playing a risky high stakes game of poker by incorporating a short-term alliance with AQAP into a larger strategy of countering Iran's alleged hegemonic aims in the Middle East. If history can serve as any guide, groups such as AQAP are unlikely to maintain any loyalty to state or other non-state sponsors that serve as allies of convenience. Riyadh has in the past sponsored jihadist movements in foreign countries--most notably Afghanistan and Pakistan--that later turned their guns on the kingdom. As the conflict in Yemen is extremely fluid, and complicated by the vast array of armed groups with a broad range of objectives and ideologies, the nation's future political landscape is entirely unpredictable. Riyadh is taking a big risk by cooperating with armed groups on its borders that have previously exposed their hostility toward the kingdom and its Arab/Western allies.
Last month U.S. officials and local Yemeni sources reported that AQAP militants were closing in on Aden. According to unconfirmed media reports, al-Qaeda's flag flew over an administrative building with the group patrolling some of the city's neighborhoods. If the al-Qaeda franchise were to seize control of Yemen's second largest city, such a dangerous development would certainly create new security dilemmas for locals already enduring a grave humanitarian crisis. It could also pose a serious threat to international traders if jihadist terrorist groups were to usurp control of both the Yemeni and African sides of the narrow Bab-el-Mandab--one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, linking the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.
Saudi Arabia finds its own security further imperiled by Daesh-affiliated cells that have carried out attacks against police officers, Shi'ite mosques, and Western expatriates in recent months, and with the "caliphate" leadership vowing to topple the ruling Al Saud family. Therefore, Riyadh may very well regret having pursued a short-term foreign policy that is creating conditions in Yemen in which AQAP gains the most from the nation's chaotic and ungovernable environment. Saudi Arabia would benefit from having the same long-term orientation toward Sunni extremism as it does toward the global oil landscape.

Britain urged to stop providing weapons to Saudi Arabia


Amnesty calls for suspension of arms transfers as group says it has evidence of war crimes in Yemen conflict.
 Britain is being urged to halt the supply of weapons to its ally Saudi Arabia in the light of evidence that civilians are being killed in Saudi-led attacks on rebel forces in Yemen.
Amnesty International has warned that “damning evidence of war crimes” highlights the urgent need for an independent investigation of violations and for the suspension of transfer of arms used in the attacks.
Amnesty said it found a pattern of “appalling disregard” for civilian lives by the Saudi-led coalition in an investigation of 13 air strikes in north-eastern Saada governorate during May, June and July: these killed some 100 civilians – including 59 children and 22 women and injured a further 56, including 18 children.
“In at least four of the airstrikes investigated … homes attacked were struck more than once, suggesting that they had been the intended targets despite no evidence they were being used for military purposes,” it said.
The complexities of the war in Yemen – overshadowed by the larger and more familiar conflict in Syria – were underlined again on Tuesday when a new affiliate of Islamic State claimed responsibility for four suicide bombings in the port city of Aden that killed at least 15 people including Saudi, Emirati and Yemeni troops.
The UAE and other Gulf states are also taking part in the campaign against Yemeni Houthi rebels of the Zaydi sect who are widely seen as being supported by Iran, Saudi Arabia’s strategic rival. The declared aim is to restore the internationally recognised government of president Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is currently in Aden, having fled the capital, Sana’a, when the Houthis took over.
Since last March coalition air strikes have hit homes, schools, markets and other civilian infrastructure, as well as miltiary objectives. Saada, a Houthi stronghold, has been badly hit. Thousands who remain in the governorate “live in constant fear of the airstrikes and dire humanitarian conditions”, Amnesty says.
UN efforts to broker negotiations between the combatants are due to resume in the next couple of weeks, while NGOs warn of a looming disaster in the poorest country in the Gulf and the wider Arab world.
According to the UN, the Yemen conflict has killed about 5,000 people and wounded 25,000, among them many civilians. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said more than 114,000 people had fled and predicted the figure could reach 200,000 by the end of 2016.
“The conflict and restrictions imposed by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition on the import of essential goods have exacerbated an already acute humanitarian situation resulting from years of poverty, poor governance and instability,” Amnesty says. Currently 80% – or four in five of all Yemenis – need some form of humanitarian assistance.
The call to the UK is made because it is a major supplier of weapons to Saudi Arabia, including a recent consignment of 500lb Paveway IV bombs, used by Tornado and Typhoon fighter jets, which are manufactured and supplied by the UK arms company BAE Systems. Both aircraft have been used in Yemen. UK ministers have said that Saudi Arabia has provided it with assurances of their proper use. 
“The UK government has previously claimed its arms are being properly used in Yemen, but what on earth is it basing this on?” said Amnesty International UK’s arms control programme director Oliver Sprague. “It seems to be no more than claims from the Saudi Arabian authorities themselves. With mounting evidence of the reckless nature of the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign in Yemen, the government must urgently investigate whether UK-supplied weaponry has killed civilians in places like Saada.”
The US is also a major arms supplier to Saudi Arabia. Amnesty also said coalition forces have repeatedly launched strikes using internationally banned cluster bombs.

How Saudi Arabia Uses Influence to Quash Human Rights Investigations

By Shane Dixon Kavanaugh
The United Nations' top human rights body torpedoed plans this week for an international inquiry into human rights violations by all parties involved in Yemen's escalating war, even as an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States carried out its deadliest attack on civilians in the country to date.
On the same day, a group of leading American politicians, including two former presidential nominees ducked questions about the Saudi-led air campaign, which the UN's High Commissioner For Human Rights says is responsible for two-thirds of the 2,300 civilians killed since March.
At best, these incidents underscore how the international community and U.S. leaders have refused to confront Saudi Arabia over its conduct in the Arab world's poorest nation, despite a track record that continues to exact a punishing toll on innocentlives. On Monday, Saudi-led aircraft allegedly fired upon a wedding party in Taiz,killing 130 people in what is the deadliest single event of Yemen's civil war. At least 80 of the victims were women, according to reports.
"I saw no body intact," Ahmed Altabozi, whose niece was killed in the airstrike, toldthe New York Times.
Saudi Arabia later denied that its coalition carried out the airstrikes at the wedding party, suggesting instead that local militias, who, like the Saudis, are fighting Houthi rebels, had fired rockets at the reception.
Two days later, on Wednesday, the UN's Human Rights Council halted its inquiry into the Yemen war. The proposal, which was introduced by the Netherlands, would have also called for warring parties to allow humanitarian groups to deliver food, medicine and other aid into the country, which has been hampered by a Saudi-led naval blockade.
The proposal faced stiff opposition from Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners. The United States, Great Britain and France remained virtually silent on the issue, to the dismay of human rights groups.
"By failing to set up a serious UN inquiry on war-torn Yemen, the Human Rights Council squandered an important chance to deter further abuses," said Philippe Dam, a deputy director for Human Rights Watch.
Meanwhile, several American politicians at a forum in Washington DC appeared reluctant to speak critically of the high number of Yemeni civilian casualties caused by Saudi-led airstrikes.
"Nice to see you," Mitt Romney told Lee Fang, a reporter with The Intercept, when asked whether he had concerns about the bombing campaign in Yemen. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a Democrat who founded the Human Rights Caucus in his chamber, ignored Fang's questions about Saudi Arabia. So did Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat.
Fang did manage to get a detailed response on Saudi Arabia and Yemen from Arizona's John McCain, who chairs the Senate's Armed Services Committee and was the Republican's presidential nominee in 2008. McCain first insisted that Saudis had not bombed innocent civilians, calling the statement "not true." He then claimed that the Houthis had killed more civilians, which contradicts official UN tallies.

New Saudi Rules Could Mean Execution for Internet 'Rumor-Mongers'

In a shocking decision, Saudi Arabia has reportedly warned social media users that spreading rumors about the government could face an Internet ban – or execution.

Already heavily criticized for its human rights record, Saudi Arabia is now taking things even further. With a law aimed at “rumor-mongers” who “cause confusion in societies,” the Kingdom could begin punishing people for comments made on Facebook and Twitter.
Punishments will range from a social media ban to execution.

The news comes from an anonymous source within the Saudi Ministry of Justice, who conducted an interview with Makkah Online. According to a translation by human rights group Reprieve, sentencing decisions would be determined by a senior judge.

It remains unclear what type of post would result in a death sentence, but similar laws already in place could provide some indication. According to Saudi Arabia’s Basic Law of Governance, "it is prohibited to commit acts leading to disorder and division, affecting the security of the state and its public relations, or undermining human dignity and rights."

"This looks like yet another heavy-handed attempt to crush dissent in Saudi Arabia, especially among the young," Maya Foa, director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, told the Daily Mail.

The decision comes as Ali Mohammed al-Nimr awaits crucifixion. Jailed in 2012 for taking part in an anti-government protest, the then-17-year-old was sentenced to death.

"The Kingdom is executing people at double the rate of last year, with many of those facing the swordsman’s blade sentenced to death for drug offences, attending protests or exercising their right to free speech," Foa said.
If al-Nimr’s execution is carried out, despite international outrage, it will be the latest in what has been violent year for the Saudi government. As of September 28, at least 102 people have been put to death by the Kingdom, most by beheading.

"The way that the whole justice system operates in Saudi Arabia means that there is very little transparency and accountability to these types of decisions. So nobody knows anything," Sevag Kechichian, a researcher for Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program, told Sputnik.

The record-high execution rate comes amid a slew of other human rights abuses. The government has been accused of mismanaging Mecca, resulting in the stampede which killed over 1,000 last month. The Saudi-led coalition bombing Yemen also resulted in the deaths of 131 civilians in a wedding party last month.

Throughout all of this, the Kingdom’s Western allies have remained largely silent.

"So far, neither the UK nor the US – both key allies of Saudi Arabia – have taken a strong line against this appalling behavior," Foa said.

Still, executing people for Internet posts is a drastically different kind of human rights abuse.
"It is unthinkable that people could face a death sentence for a simple tweet," Foa added.

Read more: http://sputniknews.com/middleeast/20151007/1028127829/Saudi-Social-Media-Executions.html#ixzz3nqJJnAsN

'Putin Universe' exhibition opens in Moscow for his birthday

Video Report - 'We don’t want Syria to be terrorist black hole, let us deal with ISIS'–Russia's Foreign Ministry

Video - Russian helicopters in Syrian skies for anti-ISIS campaign

IS terrorists may blast mosques in Syria to blame Russia — Defense Ministry

Terrorists may blast mosques and then demonstrate fake photo and video materials with accusations against Russian aircraft on the territory of Syria, defense ministry spokesman says.The Russian Defense Ministry does not rule out that Islamic State terrorists may blast mosques in Palmyra and other settlements in Syria to blame Russian military aircraft, ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Tuesday."We don’t rule out that terrorists may be preparing provocations in this and other settlements — to blast mosques and then demonstrate fake photo and video materials with accusations against Russian aircraft on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic," the general said.Earlier on Tuesday, Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov told reporters that Islamic State gunmen were hiding from Russian airstrikes in mosques. He explained that terrorists knew very well that Russia would "on no condition strike at not military targets".
Russian Su-24M warplanes dropped guide bombs at an Islamic State munitions plant in the Syrian province of Damascus, Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov added.
The plant was located in the district Ghouta, he noted.
"The facility was hit by guide bombs. Fire followed the bombardment. Objective control data confirm complete destruction of the source supplying terrorists with explosive substances meant to kill personnel and destroy armoured vehicles," he stressed.
Apart from that, Su-25 warplanes delivered an air strike at an Islamic State stronghold at Telu-Dakua in the Damascus province.
"All Russian warplanes returned to the Hmeymim base in Syria after the combat mission," Konashenkov said.
Russia’s warplanes made about 20 sorties and hit 12 Islamic State targets in Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
"Russian Sukhoi-34, Sukhoi-24M and Sukhoi-25 warplanes flew about 20 sorties. Air strikes were delivered at twelve targets of the Islamic State logistics infrastructure, control centers and training bases," Major General Igor Konashenkov, the Defense Ministry Spokesman, said at a briefing at the National Defense Management Center.
Russia’s aerospace forces launched pinpoint strikes against the Islamic State targets in Syria on September 30. The Russian air group in Syria comprises more than 50 warplanes and helicopters. According to Russian defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, air strikes are delivered at military hardware, communications centers, transport vehicles, munitions depots and other terrorist infrastructure facilities. The military operation is conducted at the request of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Russian jets hit 12 ISIS targets in Syria, cause panic among extremists – Defense Ministry

Russian jets hit 12 Islamic State targets in the course of nearly 20 combat flights carried out in Syria on Tuesday, the Defense Ministry said. Command centers and training camps were destroyed in the attacks which threw the extremists into panic.
"Su-34, Su-24M and Su-25 have launched air strikes on 12 objects of logistic infrastructure, command posts, training camps and facilities of militants belonging to terrorist groups allied with Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL],” Igor Konashenkov, Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Russian jets destroyed an Islamic State army munitions plant outside Damascus as well as two command centers in Deir ez-Zor, according to the ministry’s statement. In the Idlib Governorate, a training camp for IS militants was eliminated, while several IS strongholds came under attack where ammunition depots were blown up.
Russia’s Su-34 fighters attacked an Islamic State stronghold near the Gmam settlement in Latakia, where “militants’ fortifications were completely destroyed,” according to Konashenkov, who also reported “numerous blazes caused by the detonation of ammunition and fuel supplies.”
Russia’s targeted airstrikes have caused “panic” among the militants, Konashenkov said, also stressing that the attacks are not conducted in residential areas or places containing landmarks.
Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry does not rule out the possibility of Islamic State preparing provocative acts in Palmyra and other Syrian cities, such as bomb attacks on mosques, to put the blame for it on Russian aviation, Konashenkov said.
The ministry published a fresh video said to show extremists positioning their hardware near a mosque.

Hmeymim airbase has been used by the Russian Air Force since Moscow launched its anti-IS operation last Wednesday, following a request from Syria’s President Bashar Assad.
READ MORE:6 Russian air strikes destroy ISIS bomb factory, command centers – Defense Ministry
The Russian combat unit is comprised of over 50 aircraft and helicopters, as well as space surveillance equipment and drones.
Moscow began carrying out airstrikes supporting the Syrian army’s ground operations on September 30. On Tuesday, Russia offered to resume talks with the US to avoid any misunderstandings concerning its air operations. A US-led air campaign started in Syria a year ago.
The Russian Defense Ministry doesn’t rule out the possibility of Islamic State preparing provocative acts in Palmyra and other Syrian cities, such as bomb attacks on mosques, to put the blame on the Russian air operations, Konashenkov said.
Russia began carrying out airstrikes supporting the Syrian army’s ground operations on September 30. On Tuesday, Moscow offered to resume talks with the US to avoid any misunderstandings concerning its airstrike operations. A US-led air campaign started in Syria a year ago.

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U.S. - Who the National Rifle Association Really Speaks For

AN angry and exasperated President Obama, speaking to the nation last Thursday after the slaughter in Roseburg, Ore., made one oblique reference to the National Rifle Association, asking gun owners to question whether their “views are properly being represented by the organization that suggests it’s speaking for you.”
It’s a fair question, and not only because the N.R.A. has single-handedly dictated the shape of the debate over guns for decades. Whether they own guns or not, Americans should understand the outsize role the N.R.A. plays, not only in thwarting sensible gun safety laws but also in undermining law enforcement by abetting gun traffickers, criminal gun dealers and criminal gun users.
The N.R.A., which claims some 4.5 million members, often professes to speak for all gun owners — hunters, sportsmen, collectors and ordinary Americans who keep guns for self-defense. But on some issues, most gun owners clearly reject the party line.
In 2012, the Republican pollster Frank Luntz found that 87 percent of gun owners supported criminal background or “Brady” checks for all gun purchases. Following the December 2012 massacre of 20 children in Newtown, Conn., another poll showed that 92 percent of Americans supported background checks for all buyers, including those buying on the Internet and at gun shows.
But by April 2013, when the Senate considered a bill to do just that, the N.R.A. campaign to defeat it was in full swing. The N.R.A. tagged the bill as a top priority and made clear that senators who opposed it risked receiving a low N.R.A. rating, which many of its single-issue supporters use in deciding how to vote, or a flood of negative television ads.
Licensed gun dealers slated to run the new background checks would have reaped millions, as thousands of new customers would have been sent to their stores. But like many members of Congress — who cower in fear of the ratings system and negative campaign advertising — the dealers knew not to cross the N.R.A. So the measure went down, with opponents arguing that criminals don’t bother submitting to background checks.
That story wasn’t quite accurate, though. Since some background checks were first implemented in 1994, gun dealers have turned away more than two million felons, drug users, unauthorized immigrants and other “prohibited persons,” according to a report by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
When the organization’s chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, calls the N.R.A. “one of the largest law enforcement organizations in the country,” nothing could be further from the truth.
Consider, for example, the federal law requiring licensed gun dealers to notify the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when a single purchaser buys two or more handguns within five days. The A.T.F. knows that multiple purchases are an indicator of trafficking, and that traffickers can evade the law by making a single purchase from five, 10 or 20 different gun stores. So why doesn’t the A.T.F. crosscheck those purchases? Because Congress, under pressure from the N.R.A., prevents the federal government from keeping a centralized database that could instantly identify multiple sales. Gun sale records are instead inconveniently “archived” by the nation’s gun dealers at 60,000 separate locations — the stores or residences of the nation’s federally licensed gun dealers, with no requirement for digital records.
Rather than preventing crimes by identifying a trafficker before he sells guns to potentially lethal criminals, the A.T.F. has to wait until the police recover those guns from multiple crime scenes. Then law enforcement officials can begin the laborious process of tracing each gun from the manufacturer or importer to various middlemen, the retail seller, the original retail purchaser and one or more subsequent buyers.
Meanwhile, dealers who work with traffickers are protected by another N.R.A.-backed measure that ensures that firearms dealers do not have to maintain inventories.
Think about that: A car dealer keeps an inventory to know when cars go missing so the police can track them down as quickly as possible. Why the lack of curiosity among gun dealers? Well, gun dealers must report lost and stolen guns to the A.T.F. because large numbers of missing weapons are a red flag for trafficking. Without an inventory requirement, it’s easier to sell guns off the books.
Do most gun owners want the N.R.A. to protect criminal dealers? I doubt it.
The A.T.F., which has helped convict tens of thousands of gun criminals, has of course been a perennial target of the N.R.A., and the lobbying group has worked relentlessly to limit the A.T.F.’s budget and strangle its operations.
Today’s A.T.F. operates with about the same number of agents as it did 40 years ago, fewer than the number of officers in the Washington, D.C., police force, yet it is charged with investigating violations of federal gun, arson, explosive and other laws nationwide.
Since the N.R.A. seems to loathe the A.T.F., one might think it would work to disband it or have its mission performed by an agency like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with its more polished and professional public image. But the N.R.A. prefers the hobbled A.T.F. just as it is, and every year it helps ensure that Congress approves legislation banning the transfer of A.T.F. operations to any other agency.
You don’t get much more cynical than that.
Since his daughter, the journalist Alison Parker, was shot dead in August while presenting an on-air broadcast, Andy Parker has been on a campaign to “shame” lawmakers whom he says are “cowards and in the pockets of the N.R.A.” Some of those lawmakers might prove to be less cowardly if they understood that the N.R.A. was no longer the voice of law-abiding gun owners, but rather a voice for criminals.

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U.S. - City of Roseburg releases statement welcoming President Obama

The city of Roseburg has released a statement in support of President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Roseburg.
“Since the announcement that President Obama may be in the Roseburg area on Friday to meet with the families that lost loved ones at Umpqua Community College, news outlets have been announcing that the president was not welcome in Roseburg,” the statement read. “These announcements have included alleged quotes from community leaders.
“... We wish to be clear that Mayor (Larry) Rich, City Council President (Tom) Ryan and the Roseburg City Council welcome the president to Roseburg and will extend him every courtesy,” the statement said.
President Obama is scheduled to visit Roseburg on Friday to visit the families of the victims from the Umpqua Community College shooting, which killed nine people at the school and injured nine others.
The statement, released shortly before noon on Tuesday, comes on the heels of recent statements made on national television that suggest the president would not be received. David Jaques, the publisher of the Roseburg Beacon, had said that President Obama would not be welcome in Roseburg.
“We’ve talked to dozens upon dozens of citizens, some family members of the victims, our elected officials,” Jaques recently told Bill O’Reilly on his show “The O’Reilly Factor.” “Our Douglas County commissioners, along with our Douglas County-elected sheriff, who is very popular, and our chief of police all came to a consensus language about him not being welcome here for political grandstanding.”
City Councilor Steve Kaser, who oversees the southeastern quadrant of the city, said the comments by Jaques were upsetting.
“When I heard his interview I was appalled. He didn’t speak for us as a council. He didn’t speak for Roseburg,” Kaser said. “We’ve united around this thing. To have somebody like Mr. Jaques make this a political thing — this is a sitting president. I don’t care who he is. You agree with him or not, you have to show respect.”
The city’s statement continued by stating, “Unfortunately, individuals have been claiming to be speaking on behalf of the city of Roseburg. Please be advised that any statements made by individuals other than our elected city of Roseburg officials or our appointed City Manager (Lance) Colley and Police Chief (Jim) Burge are misrepresentations.”
The statement concluded, “Please keep the families of the victims and those impacted by this tragedy in your thoughts and prayers.”