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US says Iranian operatives in Yemen aiding Houthi attacks

US says Iranian operatives in Yemen aiding Houthi attacks
The Houthi attacks have had a significant effect on traffic through the busy Red Sea shipping route. (AFP/File)
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Updated 28 February 2024

US says Iranian operatives in Yemen aiding Houthi attacks

US says Iranian operatives in Yemen aiding Houthi attacks

WASHINGTON: Operatives from Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah are working inside Yemen to support Houthi insurgents’ attacks on international shipping, a US official said Tuesday.

Tim Lenderking, the US special envoy for Yemen, told a Senate subcommittee that Iran’s clerical state was “equipping and facilitating” the Houthi attacks, which have triggered retaliatory US and British strikes on Yemen.

“Credible public reports suggest a significant number of Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah operatives are supporting Houthi attacks from inside Yemen,” Lenderking said.

“I can’t imagine the Yemeni people want these Iranians in their country. This must stop,” he said.

The White House said in December that Iran was “deeply involved” in planning the attacks, which the Houthis say are acts of solidarity with the Palestinians in the Israel-Hamas war.

Lenderking, who has dealt with the Houthis since the start of President Joe Biden’s administration as he helped diplomacy to freeze a brutal civil war, acknowledged that the rebels have not been deterred.

“The fact that they continue this, and have said publicly that they will not stop until there’s a ceasefire in Gaza, is an indication that we’re not yet at the point, unfortunately, where they do intend to dial back,” Lenderking said.

The bombing campaign drew skepticism from some senators from Biden’s Democratic Party.

Chris Murphy, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Middle East, agreed that the United States has “an obligation to respond” to attacks on shipping but added, “I do worry about the efficacy.”

The Houthis, who control war-torn Yemen’s most populated areas, have previously reported the death of 17 fighters in Western strikes targeting their military facilities.

The Houthi attacks have had a significant effect on traffic through the busy Red Sea shipping route, forcing some companies into a two-week detour around southern Africa.

Last week, Egypt said Suez Canal revenues were down by up to 50 percent this year.


UN urges probe into Libyan activist’s death in custody

UN urges probe into Libyan activist’s death in custody
Updated 21 April 2024

UN urges probe into Libyan activist’s death in custody

UN urges probe into Libyan activist’s death in custody
  • Dughman had died “while attempting to escape prison on Friday” when he fell “from a window, fracturing his skull"

TRIPOLI: The United Nations Support Mission in Libya called Sunday for an investigation into a political activist’s death while detained at an eastern military base controlled by military strongman Khalifa Haftar.
UNSMIL also demanded the “immediate release” of other prisoners it said were being detained “arbitrarily” by the war-torn country’s eastern-based authorities.
In a statement on X, the UN mission said it was “deeply saddened by the death of activist Siraj Dughman while in custody at Rajma military camp” and urged the Libyan “authorities to conduct a transparent and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death.”
Plagued by political instability and violence since the overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, Libya is split between an internationally recognized government, based in Tripoli, and a rival administration in the east backed by Haftar.
The base at Rajma, about 25 kilometers (16 miles) east of Benghazi, serves as Haftar’s headquarters.
In a video published on Saturday, the Haftar-affiliated Eastern Internal Security Agency confirmed Dughman’s death.
The agency said it had commissioned a forensic examination according to which Dughman had died “while attempting to escape prison on Friday” when he fell “from a window, fracturing his skull.”
The agency said he was arrested in October 2023 together with several others accused of “participating in a campaign” inciting the “overthrow of official state agencies” including Haftar’s forces.
UNSMIL said that Dughman “was arbitrarily arrested and detained in 2023” with other Benghazi-based staff members of the Libyan Center for Future Studies, an independent think tank, who “were never formally charged or appeared in court.”
Dughman was the director of the organization’s office in Benghazi, eastern Libya’s main city.
Extrajudicial arrests, detentions and assassinations of political dissidents, activists and human rights defenders have become common in Libya, particularly in the North African country’s east.
The Libyan Center for Future Studies said the security agency was “responsible for his death” which occurred in “obscure circumstances.”


Ukrainian and Western leaders laud US aid package while the Kremlin warns of ‘further ruin’

Ukrainian and Western leaders laud US aid package while the Kremlin warns of ‘further ruin’
Updated 21 April 2024

Ukrainian and Western leaders laud US aid package while the Kremlin warns of ‘further ruin’

Ukrainian and Western leaders laud US aid package while the Kremlin warns of ‘further ruin’
  • US House of Representatives swiftly approves $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other allies in a rare Saturday session

KYIV: Ukrainian and Western leaders welcomed a desperately needed aid package passed by the US House of Representatives, as the Kremlin claimed the passage of the bill would “further ruin” Ukraine and cause more deaths.
The House swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other US allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia’s invasion.
With an overwhelming vote, the $61 billion in aid for Ukraine passed in a matter of minutes. Many Democrats cheered on the House floor and waved Ukrainian flags.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, who had warned that his country would lose the war without US funding, said that he was grateful for the decision of US lawmakers.
“We appreciate every sign of support for our country and its independence, people and way of life, which Russia is attempting to bury under the rubble,” he wrote on social media site X.
“America has demonstrated its leadership since the first days of this war. Exactly this type of leadership is required to maintain a rules-based international order and predictability for all nations,” he said.
The Ukrainian president noted that his country’s “warriors on the front lines” would feel the benefit of the aid package.
One such “warrior” is infantry soldier Oleksandr, fighting around Avdiivka, the city in the Donetsk region that Ukraine lost to Russia in February after months of intense combat.
“For us it’s so important to have this support from the US and our partners,” Oleksandr told The Associated Press. He did not give his full name for security reasons.
“With this we can stop them and reduce our losses. It’s the first step to have the possibility to liberate our territory.”
Ammunition shortages linked to the aid holdup over the past six months have led Ukrainian military commanders to ration shells, a disadvantage that Russia seized on this year — taking the city of Avdiivka and currently inching toward the town of Chasiv Yar, also in the Donetsk region.
“The Russians come at us in waves — we become exhausted, we have to leave our positions. This is repeated many times,” Oleksandr said. “Not having enough ammunition means we can’t cover the area that is our responsibility to hold when they are assaulting us.”
Other Western leaders lauded the passing of the aid package.
“Ukraine is using the weapons provided by NATO Allies to destroy Russian combat capabilities. This makes us all safer, in Europe & North America,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg wrote on X.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that “Ukraine deserves all the support it can get against Russia.”
In Russia, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called the approval of aid to Ukraine “expected and predictable.”
The decision “will make the United States of America richer, further ruin Ukraine and result in the deaths of even more Ukrainians, the fault of the Kyiv regime,” Peskov was quoted as saying by Russian news agency Ria Novosti.
“The new aid package will not save, but, on the contrary, will kill thousands and thousands more people, prolong the conflict, and bring even more grief and devastation,” Leonid Slutsky, head of the Russian State Duma Committee on International Affairs, wrote on Telegram.
The whole aid package will go to the US Senate, which could pass it as soon as Tuesday. President Joe Biden has promised to sign it immediately.


From Karachi to Mumbai, 130-year-old Indian restaurant traces history to pre-partition era

From Karachi to Mumbai, 130-year-old Indian restaurant traces history to pre-partition era
Updated 21 April 2024

From Karachi to Mumbai, 130-year-old Indian restaurant traces history to pre-partition era

From Karachi to Mumbai, 130-year-old Indian restaurant traces history to pre-partition era
  • Opened in 1895 in Karachi, Bhagat Tarachand has over 25 branches in India
  • Founder’s family migrated to Mumbai upon the partition of British Raj in 1947

New Delhi/Karachi: Some of the first dishes cooked at the Bhagat Tarachand restaurant were the potato curries that Prakash Chawla’s grandfather prepared at a small eatery in 19th-century Karachi. Nearly 130 years later, they are still on the menu, albeit across the border in Mumbai.

Established by Tarachand Chawla in 1895, the restaurant started in the seaside megalopolis and the capital of what is now the Pakistani province of Sindh.

It served simple meals of Sindhi roti — wheat-flour bread spiced with onions and ghee — and seasonal vegetables.

Initially nameless, Chawla’s eatery soon became known by his name and the honorific “bhagat” (a noble man) that people added to it in reverence.

“My grandfather was a generous man, and he wouldn’t let anyone go hungry, whether that person had money or not. That way ‘bhagat’ was added to his name,” Prakash told ż.

Bhagat Tarachand died in Karachi in 1942, a few years before the partition of the British Raj.

In 1947, when it was split into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, his sons, including Prakash’s father, Khemchand, moved to Mumbai on the Indian side — some 900 km away.

The family became part of one of the biggest migrations in history, which forced about 15 million people to swap countries in a political upheaval that cost more than a million lives.

“It was not an easy beginning after moving to India, with my father struggling to establish the restaurant in Zaveri Bazaar,” Prakash said. “It was just a six-table eatery.”

Since then the restaurant has been officially known as Bhagat Tarachand, in memory of its founder.

The undated file photo shows popular items from the menu of Bhagat Tarachand restaurant. (Bhagat Tarachand)

Once the business started to flourish, Khemchand’s brothers opened other branches. He remained at the original location in the historical Mumbai gold market, where Prakash started to work at the age of 19.

Nearly half a century later, he is still leading the business, having expanded it into a four-story restaurant and added new dishes to the menu.

Now one of India’s leading vegetarian restaurants, Bhagat Tarachand has 25 branches led by Prakash and his cousins across the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

The most popular meal at his outlets is a vegetarian platter.

“In the veggie platter, we give three types of vegetables, lentils, chapati, rice or pilav, as per your choice, one sweet dish, one crispy item, and a pickle,” he said. “It is sufficient for two people”.

Some other flavors have been there since the Karachi times: aloo matar — potato and pea curry; and aloo methi — potato and fenugreek curry.

“Those are some of the oldest dishes that we’ve been serving since at least my father remembers,” said Vishal Chawla, Prakash’s son, who helps him run the business.

“When my great-grandfather ran the restaurant, my grandfather, and even to a certain extent my father, there was no menu card. They used to write just the dish of the day ... It depended on, you know, what were the fresh vegetables available in the market.”

Setting sights on expansion to the UAE and Singapore, both of which have significant Indian diasporas, Vishal has also been thinking about his ancestral city.

But as long as India and Pakistan have a complicated relationship, even obtaining a visa is not easy. One of his uncles has already tried, but to no avail.

“I hope that our countries have better relations in the future, at least in my lifetime ... And if that becomes a possibility, I would love to reconnect with the roots of this restaurant,” he said.

“From the perspective of our restaurant and family, they are all proud that they are able to continue this legacy.”


Maldives election day draws attention of India, China in Indian Ocean power play

Maldives election day draws attention of India, China in Indian Ocean power play
Updated 21 April 2024

Maldives election day draws attention of India, China in Indian Ocean power play

Maldives election day draws attention of India, China in Indian Ocean power play
  • Muizzu's presidency heightened the India-China rivalry as he leaned towards China, leading to the removal of Indian troops from a Maldivian islet

MALE: Maldivians voted in parliamentary elections Sunday, in a ballot crucial for President Mohamed Muizzu, whose policies are keenly watched by India and China as they vie for influence in the archipelago nation.
Both countries are seeking a foothold in the Maldives, which has a strategic location in the Indian Ocean.
Muizzu's election as president last year sharpened the rivalry between India and China, with the new leader taking a pro-China stand and acting to remove Indian troops stationed on one of the country's islets.
Securing a majority in Parliament will be tough for Muizzu because some of his allies have fallen out and more parties entered the race.
Six political parties and independent groups are fielding 368 candidates for 93 seats in Parliament. That is six more seats than the previous Parliament following adjustments for population growth.
About 284,000 people were eligible to vote and tentative results were expected to be announced late Sunday.
Muizzu's election campaign theme for president was “India out,” accusing his predecessor of compromising national sovereignty by giving India too much influence.
At least 75 Indian military personnel were stationed in the Maldives and their known activities were operating two aircraft donated by India and assisting in the rescue of people stranded or faced with calamities at sea. Muizzu has taken steps to have civilians take over those activities.
Relations strained further when Indian social media activists started a boycott campaign of Maldives tourism. That was in retaliation for three Maldivian deputy ministers making derogatory statements about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for raising the idea of promoting tourism in Lakshadweep, India's own string of islands similar to the Maldives.
According to recent Maldives government statistics, the number of Indian tourists has fallen, dropping that country from being the top source of foreign visitors to No. 6.
Muizzu visited China earlier this year and negotiated an increase in the number of tourists and inbound flights from China.
In 2013, Maldives joined China's “Belt and Road” initiative meant to build ports and highways to expand trade — and China’s influence — across Asia, Africa and Europe.


Biden avoids further Mideast spiral as Iran, Israel show restraint but for how long?

Biden avoids further Mideast spiral as Iran, Israel show restraint but for how long?
Updated 21 April 2024

Biden avoids further Mideast spiral as Iran, Israel show restraint but for how long?

Biden avoids further Mideast spiral as Iran, Israel show restraint but for how long?
  • Israel’s retaliatory strikes against Iran and Syria this week caused little damage
  • Middle East remains a delicate situation for Biden as he gears up for re-election 

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden can breathe a bit easier, at least for the moment, now that Israel and Iran appear to have stepped back from the brink of tipping the Middle East into all-out war.

Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Iran and Syria caused limited damage. The restrained action came after Biden urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to temper its response to Iran’s unprecedented direct attack on Israel last week and avoid an escalation of violence in the region. Iran’s barrage of drones and missiles inflicted little damage and followed a suspected Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus this month that killed two generals.
Iran’s public response to the Israeli strikes Friday also was muted, raising hopes that Israel-Iran tensions — long carried out in the shadows with cyberattacks, assassinations and sabotage — will stay at a simmer.
The situation remains a delicate one for Biden as he gears up his reelection effort in the face of headwinds in the Middle East, Russia and the Indo-Pacific. All are testing the proposition he made to voters during his 2020 campaign that a Biden White House would bring a measure of calm and renewed respect for the United States on the world stage.
Foreign policy matters are not typically the top issue for American voters. This November is expected to be no different, with the economy and border security carrying greater resonance.
But public polling suggests that overseas concerns could have more relevance with voters than in any US election since 2006, when voter dissatisfaction over the Iraq War was a major factor in the Republican Party losing 30 House and six Senate seats.
“We see this issue rising in saliency, and at the same time we’re seeing voter appraisals of President Biden’s handling of foreign affairs being quite negative,” said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. “That combination is not a great one for Biden.”
Biden has staked enormous political capital on his response to the Israel-Hamas war as well as his administration’s backing of Ukraine as it fends off a Russian invasion.
The apparent de-escalation of tensions between Israel and Iran also comes as the House on Saturday approved $95 billion in wartime aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, a measure that Biden has pushed for as Ukrainian forces run desperately short on arms.
House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, pushed the package forward after months of delay as he faced the threat of ouster by his party’s right flank. The legislation now awaits a vote in the Senate. The new money would provide a surge of weaponry to the front lines, giving the White House renewed hope that Ukraine can right the ship after months of setbacks in the war.
Biden also has made bolstering relations in the Indo-Pacific a central focus of his foreign policy agenda, looking to win allies and build ties as China becomes a more formidable economic and military competitor.
But Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have an argument to make that Biden’s policies have contributed to the US dealing with myriad global quandaries, said Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Washington think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Republicans have criticized Biden’s unsuccessful efforts earlier in his term to revive a nuclear deal with Iran brokered by the Obama administration and abandoned by Trump, saying that would embolden Tehran. The agreement had provided Iran with billions in sanctions relief in exchange for the country agreeing to roll back its nuclear program.
GOP critics have sought to connect Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and they blame the Obama administration for not offering a strong enough response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2014 seizure of Crimea.
“You can make an intellectual case, a policy case of how we got from Point A to B to C to D and ended up in a world on fire,” said Goldberg, a national security official in the Trump administration. “People may not care about how we got here, but they do care that we are here.”
Polling suggests Americans’ concerns about foreign policy issues are growing, and there are mixed signs of whether Biden’s pitch as a steady foreign policy hand is resonating with voters.
About 4 in 10 US adults named foreign policy topics in an open-ended question that asked people to share up to five issues for the government to work on in 2024, according to The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll published in January. That’s about twice as many as mentioned the topic in an AP- NORC poll conducted in the previous year.
Further, about 47 percent of Americans said they believe Biden has hurt relations with other countries, according to an AP-NORC poll published this month. Similarly, 47 percent said the same about Trump.
Biden was flying high in the first six months of his presidency, with the American electorate largely approving of his performance and giving him high marks for his handling of the economy and the coronavirus pandemic. But the president saw his approval ratings tank in the aftermath of the chaotic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in August 2021 and they never fully recovered.
Now, Biden finds himself dealing with the uncertainty of two wars. Both could shadow him right up to Election Day.
With the Israel-Hamas war, Republicans pillory him as not being adequately supportive of Israel, and the left wing of his party harshly criticizes the president, who has shown displeasure with Netanyahu’s prosecution of the war, for not doing more to force the Israelis to safeguard Palestinian lives.
After Israel’s carefully calibrated strikes on Iran, Middle East tensions have entered a “gray area” that all parties must navigate carefully, said Aaron David Miller, an adviser on Middle East issues in Republican and Democratic administrations.
“Does what has occurred over the last 10 days strengthen each sides’ risk-readiness or has it made them drop back from the brink and revert into risk aversion?” Miller said. “Israel and Iran got away with striking each other’s territory without a major escalation. What conclusions do they draw from that? Is the conclusion that we might be able to do this again? Or is it we really dodged a bullet here and we have to be exceedingly careful.”
Israel and Hamas appear far away from an agreement on a temporary ceasefire that would facilitate the release of remaining hostages in Hamas-controlled Gaza and help get aid into the territory. It’s an agreement that Biden sees as essential to finding an endgame to the war.
CIA Director William Burns expressed disappointment this past week that Hamas has not yet accepted a proposal that Egyptian and Qatari negotiators had presented this month. He blamed the group for “standing in the way of innocent civilians in Gaza getting humanitarian relief that they so desperately need.”
At the same time, the Biden administration has tried to demonstrate it is holding Israel accountable, imposing new penalties Friday on two entities accused of fundraising for extremist Israel settlers that were already under sanctions, as well as the founder of an organization whose members regularly assault Palestinians.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan and other administration officials met on Thursday with Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, Ron Dermer, and national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi. US officials, according to the White House, reiterated Biden’s concerns about Israel’s plans to carry out an operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where some 1.5 million Palestinians have taken shelter.
Ross Baker, professor emeritus of political science at Rutgers University, said Biden may have temporarily benefited from Israeli-Iranian tensions driving attention away from the deprivation in Gaza.
“Sometimes salvation can come in unexpected ways,” Baker said. “But the way ahead has no shortage of complications.”