International News

DUBAI: A suicide bomber killed 21 worshippers during Friday prayers in a packed Shiite mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia, residents and the health minister said, in an attack claimed by the Islamic State militant group. It was one of the deadliest assaults in recent years in the kingdom, where sectarian tensions have been frayed by nearly two months of Saudi-led air strikes on Shiite Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen.

More than 150 people were praying when the huge explosion ripped through the Imam Ali mosque in the village of Al-Qadeeh, witnesses said. A video posted online showed a hall filled with smoke and dust, with bloodied people moaning with pain as they lay on the floor littered with concrete and glass. More than 90 people were wounded, the Saudi health minister told state television.

"We were doing the first part of the prayers when we heard the blast," worshipper Kamal Jaafar Hassan told Reuters by phone from the scene. It was the first attack targeting minority Shiites since November when gunmen opened fire during a religious celebration in Al-Ahsa, also in the east where most of the group live in predominantly Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia.

Islamic State said in a statement that one of its suicide bombers identified as Abu 'Ammar al-Najdi carried out the attack using an explosives-laden belt that killed or wounded 250 people, U.S.-based monitoring group SITE said on its Twitter account. A photograph posted on social media showed the mutilated body of a young man, said to be the bomber.

Sectarian tensions
The Saudi Interior Ministry described the attack as an act of terrorism and said it was carried out by "agents of sedition trying to target the kingdom's national fabric", according to a statement carried by state news agency SPA. The agency quoted an Interior Ministry spokesman as saying that the bomber detonated a suicide belt hidden under his clothes inside the mosque.

"Security authorities will spare no effort in the pursuit of all those involved in this terrorist crime," the official said in a statement carried by state news agency SPA. A hospital official told Reuters by telephone that "around 20 people" were killed in the attack and more than 50 were under treatment at the hospital, some of them suffering from serious injuries. He said that a number of other people had been treated and sent home. In April, Saudi Arabia said it was on high alert for a possible attacks on oil installations or shopping malls.

In Beirut, Lebanon's Hezbollah, an ally of Saudi Arabia's regional rival Iran, condemned the attack but said authorities in the kingdom itself bore responsibility. "Hezbollah holds the Saudi authorities fully responsible for this ugly crime, for its embrace and sponsorship for these criminal murderers ... to carry out similar crimes in other Arab and Muslim countries," the Shiite group said in a statement.

The statement appeared to echo Iranian accusations that Saudi Arabia sponsors ultra-orthodox Sunni militant groups in the region, an allegation usually taken to refer to groups such as Islamic State and al Qaeda. Riyadh denies the allegations. In Yemen, a bomb at a Houthi mosque in the capital Sanaa yesterday was also claimed by Islamic State.- Reuters

KATHMANDU (Agencies): Powerful aftershocks rocked Nepal Sunday, panicking survivors of a quake that killed more than 2,500 and triggering new avalanches at Everest base camp, as mass cremations were held in the devastated capital Kathmandu. Terrified residents, many forced to camp out in the capital after Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude quake reduced buildings to rubble, were jolted by a 6.7-magnitude aftershock that compounded the worst disaster to hit the impoverished Himalayan nation in more than 80 years. At overstretched hospitals, where medics were also treating patients in hastily erected tents, staff were forced to flee buildings for fear of further collapses. “Electricity has been cut off, communication systems are congested and hospitals are crowded and are running out of room for storing dead bodies,” Oxfam Australia chief executive Helen Szoke told AFP. Climbers reported that the aftershock caused more avalanches at Mount Everest, just after helicopters airlifted to safety those injured when a wall of snow hit base camp on Saturday, killing at least 18 people.

Disaster
The deadliest disaster in Everest’s history comes almost exactly a year after an avalanche killed 16 sherpa guides, forcing the season to be cancelled, and as around 800 mountaineers were gathered at the start of the new season. AFP’s Nepal bureau chief Ammu Kannampilly, who was on assignment at base camp, reported that six helicopters had managed to reach the mountain on Sunday after the weather improved. A stunning image captured by the agency’s South Asia photo chief Roberto Schmidt showed a massive cloud of snow and debris cascading onto base camp, burying scores of climbers and flattening tents. “People being stretchered out as choppers land — half a dozen this morning,” Kannampilly said in a text message. “Weather clear, some snowfall.” Offers of help poured in from around the world, with dozens of nations or aid groups volunteering everything from sniffer dogs to an inflatable hospital. India dispatched 13 military aircraft to Nepal loaded with tonnes of food, blankets and other aid.

The Kathmandu-based National Emergency Operation Centre put the toll in Nepal at 2,430 while around 6,000 more people had been injured. Officials in India said the toll there now stood at 67, while Chinese state media said 18 people had been killed in the Tibet region. “We have deployed all our resources for search and rescues,” police spokesman Kamal Singh Bam told AFP. “Helicopters have been sent to remote areas. We are sifting through the rubble where buildings have collapsed to see if we can find anyone.”

The fresh aftershocks forced Kathmandu airport to close for around an hour as air traffic controllers evacuated their centre. Several flights had to be diverted in mid-air. The country’s cellphone network was working only sporadically, while large parts of the capital were without electricity  AFP correspondents in Kathmandu reported that tremors were felt throughout the day, including one strong aftershock at dawn before the 6.7-magnitude follow-up quake that struck in the afternoon.

The historic nine-storey Dharahara tower, a major tourist attraction, was among the buildings brought down in Kathmandu Saturday. Police said around 150 people were thought to have been in the tower at the time of the disaster, based on ticket sales. “At least 30 dead bodies have been pulled out. We don’t have a number on the rescued but over 20 injured were helped out,” Bishwa Raj Pokharel, a local police official, told AFP. “We haven’t finished our work there, rescue work is still continuing. Right now, we are not in a position to estimate how many might be trapped.” As rescuers sifted through the huge mounds of rubble in the capital, some using bare hands, hospitals were overwhelmed with victims who suffered multiple fractures and trauma.

Morgues were overflowing with bodies. At the city’s oldest Bir Hospital, an AFP correspondent saw grieving relatives trying to swat away flies from around a dozen bodies placed on the floor of the morgue after storage space ran out. The first mass cremations were held at the Pashupatinath district of Kathmandu, with the smoke from the funeral pyres wafting across a swathe of the city. Samir Acharya, a doctor at Nepal’s Annapurna Neurological Hospital, said medics were working out of a tent set up in a parking lot to cope with the injured, while some patients were too scared to stay in the building. Experienced mountaineers said panic erupted on Saturday at Everest base camp, which has been severely damaged, while one described the avalanche as “huge”. “We have airlifted 52 from the base camp so far, 35 have been brought to Kathmandu,” said Tulsi Gautam of Nepal’s tourism department which issues permits to climb the world’s highest mountain. “Those who are able are walking down. Others are being airlifted.” George Foulsham, a Singapore-based marine biologist, described the moment disaster struck. “I was outside, saw a white 50-storey building of white come at me. I ran and it just flattened me,” he told AFP. “I tried to get up and it flattened me again. I couldn’t breathe, I thought I was dead. When I finally stood up, I couldn’t believe it passed me over and I was almost untouched. “I saved for years to climb Everest. It feels like the mountain is saying it’s not meant to be climbed for now.” Nepal and the rest of the Himalayas are particularly prone to earthquakes because of the collision of the Indian and Eurasia plates. An 6.8 magnitude quake hit eastern Nepal in August 1988 killing 721 people, and a magnitude 8.1 quake killed 10,700 people in Nepal and India in 1934.

Sorrow
Meanwhile, His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al- Sabah sent a cable Sunday to President of Nepal Ram Baran Yadav, expressing his sorrow over the casualties that resulted from the devastating earthquake that hit his country, wishing that Nepal can overcome effects of this natural disaster. His Highness the Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah sent similar cables. Elsewhere, the European Commission on Sunday released three million euros ($3.25 million) in emergency aid for Nepal, where over 2,500 people died in a massive earthquake the previous day.

The aid is in addition to assistance offered by individual EU nations and the deployment of European Commission humanitarian aid and civil protection experts to the crisis area. “The commission’s emergency aid will go towards the most urgent needs in the worst affected areas, including clean water, medicine, emergency shelter and telecommunications,” the EU’s executive arm said in a statement. “I have mobilised all our means for emergency response to help the survivors and authorities in the aftermath of this tragedy.

What is needed most are medical teams and relief supplies. I call on all EU member states to join the coordinated European response,” said EU Commissioner for Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides. The EU Civil Protection Mechanism has been activated, via which member states including Belgium, Finland, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Poland and Sweden immediately offered search and rescue teams, water purification systems and technical assistance.

Other member states have also expressed their willingness to help, the commission statement said. Powerful aftershocks rocked Nepal Sunday, panicking survivors of the quake and triggering new avalanches at Everest base camp, as mass cremations were held in the devastated capital Kathmandu.

The International Monetary Fund said on Sunday it was ready to send a team to Nepal to evaluate financial needs after the earthquake that killed more than 2,400 people and devastated Kathmandu valley. “An IMF team stands ready to visit Nepal at short notice to help the government assess the macroeconomic situation and determine any financing needs,” managing director Christine Lagarde said in a statement.

The IMF is coordinating with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to evaluate the impact from Saturday’s quake of 7.9 magnitude, which toppled buildings in the capital Kathmandu and triggered avalanches on Mount Everest. Overwhelmed doctors moved hundreds of patients onto the streets of Kathmandu on Sunday when aftershocks rattled hospitals and buildings. Sick and wounded people lay on a dusty road outside Kathmandu Medical College while hospital workers carried more patients out of the building on stretchers and sacks. Orla Fagan, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the most serious challenge facing victims of the earthquake was worsening weather conditions at a time when people were living outdoors, afraid to go back into their earthquake- weakened homes.

SANAA: The Red Cross and UN flew medical aid into Yemen's capital yesterday after southern city Aden was battered by the heaviest night yet of Saudi-led air strikes targeting Shiite rebels. The United Nations also called for a daily "humanitarian pause" of a few hours, saying aid was desperately needed in the conflict-ravaged country. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it dispatched an aircraft to Sanaa, its first aid shipment since the international campaign against Shiite rebels began last month.

"This is the first ICRC plane to have landed in Sanaa. It is loaded with 16 tonnes of medical aid," said Marie Claire Feghali, Red Cross spokeswoman in Yemen. Residents and officials in Aden said the city was pounded after Huthi Shiite rebels and renegade soldiers loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh reached the city's northern entrance.

"The raids began at around 10:00 pm (1900 GMT) on Thursday and were the most violent since the start of 'Operation Decisive Storm'," a resident told AFP. Residents also said coalition aircraft targeted other positions, including a city centre stadium and rebel-manned checkpoints. More than two weeks of heavy bombardment by the Saudi-led alliance against opponents of exiled Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and fighting between rival militias prompted the UN call for a freeze in the violence.

Aid 'not enough'
UN humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, Johannes Van Der Klaauw, told reporters in Geneva that an "immediate humanitarian pause in this conflict" was desperately needed. He insisted that the aid delivered to date was far from enough. "The situation in Aden is extremely, extremely preoccupying if not catastrophic," he said, warning that Yemen's second largest city had fallen prey to "urban warfare" and "uncontrollable militias".

The World Health Organization said nearly 650 people have been killed and more than 2,000 injured in the fighting, but the actual number of fatalities is likely to be far higher since many people are not reaching hospitals and being buried immediately, Van Der Klaauw said.

The UN's children agency UNICEF said it had airlifted 16 tonnes of aid to Sanaa, including medical supplies for 80,000 people as well as food supplements for 20,000 children. "The supplies we have managed to bring in today can make the difference between life and death for children and their families," said UNICEF Yemen Representative Julien Harneis.

The Saudi-led coalition says it will continue its raids on Yemen until Iran-backed Huthi rebels, who seized control of Sanaa and central areas last year, retreat to their northern mountain stronghold. In the most direct American criticism yet of Tehran's backing for the rebels, Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday the United States would not accept foreign interference in Yemen. "There have been-there are, obviously-flights coming from Iran. Every single week there are flights from Iran and we've traced it and know this," he told PBS television.

Pakistan stands back
Iran's leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned that the air campaign against the Huthis must end. "This move is not acceptable in the region and I would warn that they must stop these criminal acts in Yemen," he said on his website. On Friday, Pakistan's parliament rejected calls to join the anti-Huthi coalition, turning down longstanding ally Riyadh's request for troops, ships and warplanes.

"Parliament of Pakistan... underscores the need for continued efforts by the government of Pakistan to find a peaceful resolution of the crisis," it said. Yesterday's Red Cross shipment was made up of "drugs and surgical instruments", said the ICRC. "These supplies will mean the difference between life and death for those wounded in this conflict," said Cedric Schweizer, who leads the ICRC team in Yemen.

On Wednesday, two aid boats arrived in Aden carrying supplies and personnel destined for people trapped by and wounded in ongoing battles. The UN refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday that at least 900 Yemenis had fled the violence to countries in the Horn of Africa over the past 10 days. UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged the warring factions to return to political talks, which were aimed at ending Yemen's slide into chaos since Saleh's 2012 ousting. "The last thing the region and our world need is more of the chaos and crimes we have seen in Libya and Syria," Ban said ahead of a trip to Qatar. - AFP

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama has invited leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council to Washington to discuss their security concerns over a framework agreement reached with Iran.

The five permanent members of the United Nations — Britain, China, France, Russia and the US — and Germany concluded a plan of action with Iran on Thursday, which places widespread restrictions on the country’s nuclear programme.

In return for Iran’s acceptance of these restrictions, the arrangement relaxes crippling international sanctions on Tehran.

While negotiators in Lausanne, Switzerland, were still relaxing from the fatigue of the marathon talks that led to the framework agreement, President Obama started calling world leaders to remove their concerns about the new arrangement with Iran.

In his call to King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia he reaffirmed “our commitment to the security of our partners in the Gulf”.

Mr Obama later told his nation that he was inviting the leaders of the GCC countries — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain — to “meet me at Camp David this spring to discuss how we can further strengthen our security cooperation, while resolving the multiple conflicts that have caused so much hardship and instability throughout the Middle East”.

President Obama assured the Saudi king that the nuclear understanding between the P5+1 and Iran “will not in any way lessen US concern about Iran’s destabilising activities in the region”, the White House said.

He said the months ahead would be used to finalise the technical details for a lasting, comprehensive solution that “effectively cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb and verifiably ensures the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme”. “The leaders agreed to increase consultations and remain vigilant in countering this threat,” the White House said.

In his call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netan­yahu, President Obama emphasised that the United States “remains steadfast in our commitment to the security of Israel”.

The US president told Mr Netanyahu that he had directed his national security team to increase consultations with the new Israeli government “about how we can further strengthen our long-term security cooperation with Israel and remain vigilant in countering Iran’s threats”.

It is hard to believe, but it's true. Despite all its riches, homelessness is very much a problem even in Canada.

With over $50,000 in per capita GDP, Canada is one of the richest economies. Still, on any given night, 35,000 Canadians are homeless.

Over 235,000 experience homelessness in a given year. While 180,000 are able to find space in emergency shelters, still 5,000 Canadians remain unsheltered.

Many readers in Pakistan may find these stats absurd. Their perception of the glittering West, reinforced by the electronic media, is challenged by the economic hardship and mental health challenges that manifest in homelessness.

Regardless of how rich or poor a nation may be, homelessness remains a challenge.

For low-income countries like Pakistan, a very large segment of the population is either homeless or housed in inadequate housing.

At the same time, a very large number of those who are sheltered in structurally sound housing units face overcrowding where multigenerational households are cramped into small spaces.

The initiatives to address homelessness offer several benefits. In addition to providing shelter to those who cannot afford it such investments generate economic activities and employment, spur consumer spending, and offer savings in healthcare costs. These benefits hold for both developed and developing countries.

In a study released earlier this week, the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis (CanCEA) analysed the system-wide impacts of investments in affordable housing in Toronto.

Their findings confirmed that the overall benefits of social housing far exceeded the direct benefits of housing those in need of shelter.

Toronto is Canada's largest city with a population of 2.8 million. The City boasts the second highest average housing prices in Canada.

Regrettably, the steady rise in housing prices over the years has outpaced the increase in wages and incomes. The result is the shortfall of affordable housing in Toronto.

Already 109,000 individuals are housed in 59,700 affordable housing units provided by the City. Still, another 90,000 eligible households have been waiting for years to be placed in affordable housing.

The Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC), the agency responsible for managing social housing, is in the process of constructing new affordable units and refurbishing the existing ones.

The total investment required over the 10-year period is $7.6 billion. The TCHC is trying to convince the provincial and the federal governments of the benefits of providing social housing so that they may provide the remaining $1.7 billion.

The analysis by CanCEA captures the system-wide socio-economic benefits of investments in affordable housing. CanCEA estimated that over a 30-year period, the $7.6 billion invested in affordable housing in Toronto would generate 220,000 person-years of employment.

The investment will also contribute $18.5 billion to the economy. In addition, the investments will generate $4.5 billion in provincial and federal taxes.

 

If the economic benefits of the investment in affordable housing are not enough, one can look at the social and health-related benefits.

CanCEA estimated that these investments are likely to maintain affordable housing in a state of good repair. The obvious benefit of hygienic living conditions is the lesser incidence of disease.

The Centre estimated 2.1 million fewer visits to hospital and clinics, further saving the healthcare system approximately $3.8 billion in healthcare costs. Additionally, the investments in housing will reduce the incidence of crime by 15 per cent.

Affordable housing and health improvements

 

The nature of homelessness is explicitly obvious in developing countries.

The very poor and the destitute lack access even to shelters. Their numbers are in millions and they are found sleeping on sidewalks, medians, under the bridges and in similar hideouts.

Larger groups settle as squatters and create slums in cities. Those with some resources or connections end up at shelters run by the not-for-profit sector. While the rest end up in inadequate housing.

Investing in affordable housing can revitalise the economies in developing countries. The investments in motorways disproportionately benefit the well-off cohorts by providing inter-city travel time savings.

On the other hand, investments in affordable housing will provide shelter to the housing insecure, whose health and welfare deteriorates because of inadequate housing.

The Changa Pani Project in Punjab serves as a great example of healthcare costs savings resulting from the improved quality of water supply.

Working in collaboration with government agencies, Anjuman Samaji Bahbood (ASB) helps low-income communities develop water supply schemes on a self-help basis.

The result is improved water quality that drastically reduces healthcare expenses caused by water-borne diseases. Investments in affordable housing will deliver similar benefits but at a much larger scale.

Cities without slums, and slums without cities

 

Some have argued for cities without slums.

This will remain wishful thinking. As long as there have been cities, there have been slums. Many argue that cities without slums are not possible, but slums without cities are.

Governments in Pakistan may want to review the socio-economic benefits of providing affordable housing that far exceed the direct benefit of sheltering those in need.

The public sector can act as a facilitator, rather than the owner or producer of affordable units. By facilitating the construction of urgently needed millions of housing units, the government can inadvertently fire up the economic engine.

It must think outside the Metro box.

Saudi: White House confirms support for military effort, claiming international mandate to end ‘widespread instability and chaos’ that drove Yemeni president into exile

The US has confirmed its support for an extraordinary international military alliance that is emerging to counter Houthi rebel advances in Yemen.

As Saudi Arabia began pounding the rebels with airstrikes, countries from the Middle East to Pakistan were said to be prepared to commit troops for a ground assault.

The US was providing “logistical and intelligence support” to the Saudi-led forces attacking the rebels, the White House announced. Meanwhile the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news channel said the kingdom had lined up 150,000 soldiers in preparation for a ground offensive, with Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan and Sudan also ready to commit troops.

In a sign of the broadening scope of Barack Obama’s intervention across the region, officials in Washington said the US was establishing a “joint planning cell” with Saudi Arabia to co-ordinate the air strikes on the Houthi forces seeking to overthrow the Yemeni government.

Al Arabiya also said planes from Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain were taking part in the operation.

Unidentified warplanes had earlier launched air strikes on the main airport in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, and its al-Dulaimi military airbase, residents said.

Saudi Arabia said Houthi-controlled air defences and four warplanes were destroyed. A Houthi-backed TV station said 17 civilians were killed.

Yemen shut its major seaports on Thursday in response to the operation, industry and local sources said.

Iran, which is widely believed to be backing the Houthis, demanded an immediate halt to the operation.

“The Saudi-led airstrikes should stop immediately and it is against Yemen’s sovereignty,” said Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, according to the Students News Agency. Earlier, Iran’s foreign ministry said the airstrikes were a “dangerous step” that would worsen the crisis in Yemen.

A widening Yemen conflict could pose risks for global oil supplies, and Brent crude oil prices shot up nearly 6% soon after the operation began.

Unlike recent attacks in Iraq and Syria, the US said none of its planes or troops were currently engaged in Yemen but insists the action is a legitimate response to the advances made by Houthi rebels.

The US also claims a degree of international backing for the strikes although no formal United Nations mandate has been sought.

Meehan continued: “The international community has spoken clearly through the UN security council and in other fora that the violent takeover of Yemen by an armed faction is unacceptable and that a legitimate political transition – long sought by the Yemeni people – can be accomplished only through political negotiations and a consensus agreement among all of the parties.

“We strongly urge the Houthis to halt immediately their destabilizing military actions and return to negotiations as part of the political dialogue.”

Earlier, Washington sources said Saudi forces had acted in consultation with the White House in launching air strikes against Houthi rebels to try to dislodge their grip on the port city of Aden.

In a rare press conference, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, told reporters that a 10-country coalition had joined the military campaign in a bid “to protect and defend the legitimate government” of Yemen’s president, Abd-Rabbuh Mansour Hadi. He declined to give any information on Hadi’s whereabouts.

The Saudi-led air campaign against the Houthis in Yemen has been called “Decisive Storm”.

Officials also said the operation is intended to deter the strategic threat against the Gulf states posed by the Houthi advance and Iran’s growing strategic power, with Gulf cities coming in range of rebel missiles.

The UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said on Twitter that the “difficult decision” to join the operation was necessary in light of a strategic threat to the Gulf states posed by a growing missile threat as a result of the Houthi advance.

“The strategic change in the region to Iran’s benefit, whose banner was carried by the Houthis, cannot be ignored,” he said. “The crisis in Yemen and the Houthi coup is another sign of the weakness of the Arab regional regime, and Decisive Storm is a new page of Arab cooperation to keep the region secure.”

Jubeir said the Houthis “have always chosen the path of violence”. He declined to say whether the Saudi campaign involved assistance from US intelligence.

He said the Saudis “will do anything necessary” to protect the people of Yemen and “the legitimate government of Yemen.”

Jubeir said Saudi Arabia launched the attack “in response to [a] request from the legitimate Yemen government” and insisted it would be a limited operation “designed to protect the people of Yemen and its legitimate government from a takeover by the Houthis”.

“The [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries tried to facilitate a peaceful transition of government in Yemen but the Houthis have continuously undercut the process,” he said. “Based on the appeal from President Hadi, and based on the kingdom’s responsibility to Yemen and its people, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, along with its allies within the GCC and outside the GCC, launched military operations in support of the people of Yemen and their legitimate government,” he added.


In a statement published by the Saudi press agency, the countries of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain said they would answer a request from Hadi “to protect Yemen and his dear people from the aggression of the Houthi militias which were and are still a tool in the hands of foreign powers that don’t stop meddling with the security and stability of brotherly Yemen”. Oman, the sixth member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, was not a signatory to the statement.

Egypt also said it was providing political and military support for the anti-Houthi operation.

An unnamed Houthi leader told al-Jazeera that military operations would drag the region into a wider war.

Earlier, Houthi rebels seized al-Anad airbase, which lies between Taiz – Yemen’s third largest city, which fell under rebel control last week – and Hadi’s stronghold of Aden, in a renewed push for control of the country’s south. The advance set the stage for a confrontation between Iran, which backs the rebels also known as Ansar Allah, and regional powers eager to halt the broadening of the Islamic Republic’s regional influence.

Yemen’s descent into chaos also complicates American efforts to fight al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the jihadi group that has been repeatedly targeted by US drone strikes and is also seen as an enemy by the Houthis.

The rebels, members of the Zaydi offshoot of Shia Islam, seized control of the capital, Sana’a, last year and placed Hadi under house arrest. He fled to Aden this month.

Hadi’s whereabouts were the subject of conflicting reports on Wednesday. Yemeni security and port officials told Associated Press that he had left the country with his aides on a boat from the port of Aden. They would not disclose Hadi’s destination; he is scheduled to attend an Arab summit in Egypt at the weekend.

However, Yemen’s foreign minister and presidential sources told Reuters that the president remained in Aden. Another presidential aide told AFP that he had been rushed to a “secure location”.

The US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters at a briefing: “We were in touch with him earlier today. He is no longer at his residence. I’m not in position to confirm any additional details from here about his location.”

Michael Lewis, professor at Ohio Northern University College of Law and a former navy fighter pilot who watches Yemen closely, said before the White House confirmed its involvement: “This is all about Sunni v Shia, Saudi v Iran. [The US] can’t be a disinterested observer. Nobody’s going to buy that. What we needed to do was pick a side.”

LONDON: Kuwait Embassy in London has reiterated its warning to citizens against purchasing agricultural lands in Britain that companies tried to sell for housing or investment purposes.

This is the second warning during one week for Kuwaiti citizens, the embassy said in a statement adding the embassy received over the past few days, hundreds of documents for ratification of purchased agricultural lands, First Secretary Mishaal Al- Mudhaf said.

He said a number of real estate companies in Kuwait and abroad have recently been offering land plots for sale for commercial and investment purposes, noting that these lots were agricultural lands. “These real estate companies are misguiding citizens claiming that these plots of lands will become of commercial and investment use in near future,” he added. Mudhaf called on the Kuwaiti citizens not to buy these lots which are not suitable for housing or investment and to be careful and verify the legal aspects of these deals before purchasing any land. —KUNA

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