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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

STOCKHOLM: China has eased ahead of Germany and France to become the world's number three arms exporter after the United States and Russia, a Stockholm-based think-tank said Monday.

The volume of the multi-billion dollar world arms trade rose 16 per cent during the period 2010 to 2014 over the previous five years, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute added in its annual report.

The figures show that “the United States has taken a firm lead” with 31 per cent of global exports of conventional weapons, SIPRI said, adding that Russia is second with 27 per cent.

The next three arms exporters are far behind with about five per cent each, and China is only slightly ahead of fourth-ranked Germany and fifth-ranked France.

Three Asian countries accounted for more than two-thirds of Chinese exports, with Pakistan buying 41 per cent of the total, followed by Bangladesh and Myanmar. Beijing also had 18 client nations in Africa during the period.

Russia's top client was India — the world's leading arms importer — with 70 per cent of its purchases coming from Russia.

The United States had the most diverse clientele. South Korea, its top client, accounted for only nine per cent of total US business.

Among the top suppliers, China's sales were 143 per cent the figure from the previous five years. Ukraine and Russia also saw surges in exports, while German and French exports declined.

The data reflects the volume of arms deliveries, not the financial value of the deals, SIPRI notes.

Among importers, India was far ahead of second- and third-placed Saudi Arabia and China, purchasing some 15 per cent of the total volume compared with five per cent each for the next two. African arms imports shot up 45 per cent in the period, SIPRI found.

“Algeria was the largest arms importer in Africa, followed by Morocco, whose arms imports increased 11-fold,” it said.

“Cameroon and Nigeria received arms from several states in order to fulfil their urgent demand for weapons to fight against the militant Islamist group Boko Haram,” SIPRI added.

While the arms trade has been on the rise for the past decade, the volume remains about one-third below its post-war peak reached in the early 1980s.

AFGHANISTAN: A young Afghan artist who walked through the streets of Kabul wearing a suit of armor featuring large breasts and buttocks in protest against sexual harassment has gone into hiding after receiving death threats. Kubra Khademi, 27, had walked around in the costume in central Kabul on February 26 hoping to cast a spotlight on groping and inappropriate touching of women in public spaces in Afghanistan.

The suit was fashioned at a cost of 500 Afghanis ($10) by a local blacksmith, said Khademi. She then decided to take it out for a run. After removing her coat in the street, the young artist, who was wearing a hijab, said she found herself harassed from all sides and was forced to flee after jeers and stones were hurled her way. “It did go according to what I was expecting.

The crowd was coming at me and sort of pushing me,” she told AFP on International Women’s Day, adding she had to escape the area in a taxi. Khademi said a painful event from her early childhood had evoked her bold protest. “This piece is about what happened to me when I was four or five years old. Somebody touched me and then he just walked away. I was just a female for him. He didn’t care how old I was,” she said. “I was feeling guilty. Why did it happen to me? It was my fault. And I said: ‘I wish my underwear were made of iron’.” Now in hiding in the suburbs of Kabul, Khademi lamented: “These things happen daily, every moment, every hour in my city.” She added she had received both insults and death threats over email and had been forced to leave her home.

A few days after Khademi’s performance, some male activist carried out their own unique form of protest, donning the allencompassing burqa to show solidarity with women they said were being oppressed by the garment. “We wanted to tell officials that miseries of Afghan women cannot be felt by marking Women’s Day in big halls with empty speeches. In order to feel them you have to put yourself in their shoes, come out on the streets with burqas on,” said Basir, a 29-year-old activist who goes by one name. “And we also wanted to really experience as a human being how a woman feels under a burqa.”— AFP

DUBAI: Mindshare, which is part of WPP, is a global media agency network helping clients to make collaborative and adaptive decisions across their paid, owned, and earned marketing in real-time. The agency led the pack with a staggering 17 awards at this year’s MENA Cristal Festival 2014-2015, including the prestigious title of “Media Network of the Year 2015.”

Mindshare MENA was recognized across the board for the team’s outstanding accomplishments and creative campaigns spanning the Middle East and North Africa region and representing a broad array of industries. The agency’s 17 awards put Mindshare MENA ahead of their competition with seven Cristal (Gold), seven Sapphire (Silver), and three Emerald (Bronze) prizes across segments like cultural, integrated, launch, branded, and environmental campaigns.

The judges’ panel honored Mindshare MENA for work representing a broad list of clients including Tunisie Telecom, Egypt’s National Initiative for Energy Conservation, Infiniti, Nissan, Dubai Shopping Festival, Sancella Tunisie and Gandour.

The festival is widely esteemed as one of the industry’s most prestigious awards shows and regularly recognizes Mindshare MENA for excellence in advertising and communications. “I am thrilled at Mindshare MENA’s exceptional performance at MENA Cristal Festival,” said Samir Ayoub, Mindshare MENA CEO. “We are happy to be recognized for such a diverse range of campaigns, and particularly excited to be selected as the ‘Media Network of the Year.’ This achievement would not be possible without the hard work and innovative spirit of our entire regional team as well as the support of our clients.”

Hosted in Dubai this year for the event’s 10th anniversary edition, the MENA Cristal Festival draws in large crowds of notable agency representatives every year. The awards show brought together the region’s most renowned agencies and respected experts in the marketing and advertising industry not only for the awards show but also for a special anniversary dinner and party. Since it was founded in 2005, MENA Cristal Festival has celebrated agencies that execute work that is relevant, thought-provoking, and cutting edge – characteristics that Mindshare MENA embodied in this year’s award-winning campaigns.

 

About Mindshare MENA

Mindshare is the MENA region’s premier global communications group, located in 10 countries across the GCC, Levant, and North Africa. As the first independent agency launched in the region, Mindshare MENA has been a pioneer in the field of creative communications since 1999. Each Mindshare office is dedicated to forging a competitive marketing advantage for businesses and their brands based on the values of speed, teamwork, and provocation. Mindshare is a part of GroupM, which oversees the media investment management sector for WPP, the world’s leading communications services group. 

*Source: ME NewsWire

KANO: A “ghost town” of burnt-out homes and looted properties greeted residents returning to Gamboru in northeast Nigeria for the first time since Chadian forces retook it from Boko Haram. Scores of people crossed the 300-metre bridge that forms the border with Cameroon under military escort on Friday to survey the ravaged town. Boko Haram seized Gamboru, in the violencewracked Borno state, in August last year, forcing thousands to flee across the frontier to the town of Fotokol, on the other bank of the river in northern Cameroon.

Chadian forces, who have joined the regional fight to crush the Islamist insurgency, retook Gamboru earlier this month, after intense fighting that left hundreds of insurgents dead. “We met a ghost town strewn with burnt vehicles, destroyed buildings and emptied homes,” Kachalla Moduye said by telephone from Fotokol after a two-hour tour of the town. “Many homes were burnt in the Boko Haram invasion and in the fighting to reclaim it by Chadian soldiers. Those that were spared were looted by Boko Haram in the five months they stayed in the town.”

Gamboru has been repeatedly targeted in the bitter conflict, which has left more than 13,000 people dead since 2009 and made more than one million homeless. It was the first town recaptured in the regional fight-back by troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, which was launched because of dawning fears of Boko Haram’s threat to regional security. Gamboru residents who hoped to salvage personal effects were disappointed as they found their homes empty.

“There was nothing in my house save the three wooden beds and my old cushion chairs. Every other item was stolen,” Fanna Bukar, a mother-ofthree, said. “Even my sewing machine, which I so much looked forward to salvaging, was gone.” But even though their possessions were gone, locals said the tour was reassuring. “Seeing is believing. We are now convinced our town has been liberated and we hope to come back and rebuild our lives once Boko Haram is finally wiped out,” Moduye said. “I’m sure we will return soon to start a new life,” Bukar added.

‘Seeing is believing’
Boko Haram fighters meanwhile prevented hundreds of residents from leaving a dozen villages in the nearby Marte district due west from Gamboru, as Chad conducted sweeping aerial and ground attacks. The villages affected were Kwalaram, Bukar-Mairam, Abbaganaram, Sidir, Kirta, Jibillaram, Zannari, Kutukungulla, Baranga, Kitikime, Krenuwa and Jillam. “They will not allow everyone to leave and threaten to kill anyone that attempts to flee,” Maji Zaram, who escaped from Kitikime to Fotokol, said. Zaram said he pretended he was going into the bush to gather firewood but escaped and threw away his axe.

“They (Boko Haram) said we must stay with them in good and in bad times,” he added. “They said we can’t leave them after partaking in all the booty they brought to us.” Chadian troops this week pushed deep inside Nigerian territory for the first time, bombarding Dikwa, 50 kilometers from Gamboru to the southwest, near Boko Haram’s Sambisa Forest stronghold. Nigeria’s military also said they attacked Sambisa Forest and Gwoza, where the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, first proclaimed the existence of an Islamic state inside Nigeria last year.

Maji Ariye, a Nigerian refugee in Fotokol, said the villagers were “reaping what they sow”, as many had decided to stay voluntarily when Boko Haram moved in. They said they would rather live under Boko Haram because the militants were bringing in free food and other consumables from raids elsewhere, he claimed. “Now that the table has turned against their benefactors they want to leave,” he said. “I warned several people to leave because when soldiers deployed there would be no hiding place for them but they refused to listen.”— AFP

FRANKFURT: American and British spies hacked into systems of the world’s biggest maker of phone SIM cards, allowing them to potentially monitor the calls, texts and emails of billions of mobile phone users around the world, an investigative news website reported.

The alleged hacking of Gemalto’s systems, if confirmed, would expand the scope of known mass surveillance methods available to the US and British spy agencies to include not just email and web traffic, as previously revealed, but also mobile phone communications.

The Franco-Dutch company said on Friday it was investigating whe­ther the US National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s GCHQ had hac­k­­ed into its systems to steal encryption keys that could unlock the security settings on billions of mobile phones.

The report by The Intercept site, which cites documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, could prove an embarrassment for the US and British governments.

It opens a fresh front in the dispute between civil liberties campaigners and intelligence services which say their citizens face a grave threat of attack from militant groups like Islamic State.

It comes just weeks after a British tribunal ruled that GCHQ had acted unlawfully in accessing data on millions of people in Britain that had been collected by the NSA.

A spokesman for GCHQ (Govern­ment Communication Headquarters) said on Friday that it did not comment on intelligence matters. The NSA could not be immediately reached for comment.


‘The move allowed the NSA and GCHQ to monitor voice and data mobile communications around the world without permission from govts, telecom firms or users’


The Intercept report (http://bit.ly/19E0KUK) said the hack was detailed in a secret 2010 GCHQ document and allowed the NSA and GCHQ to monitor a large portion of voice and data mobile communications around the world without permission from governments, telecom companies or users.

“We take this publication very seriously and will devote all resources necessary to fully investigate and understand the scope of such sophisticated techniques,” said Gemalto, whose shares sunk by as much as 10 per cent in early trading on Friday, following the report.

The report follows revelations from Mr Snowden in 2013 of the NSA’s Prism programme which allowed the agency to access email and web data handled by the world’s largest Internet companies, including Google, Yahoo and Facebook.

The new allegations could boost efforts by major technology firms such as Apple Inc and Google to make strong encryption methods standard in communications devices they sell, moves attacked by some politicians and security officials.

Leaders including US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have expressed concern that turning such encryption into a mass-market feature could prevent governments from tracking militants planning attacks.

Gemalto makes SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards for phones and tablets as well as “chip and pin” bank cards and biometric passports. It produces around two billion SIM cards a year and counts Verizon, AT&T Inc and Vodafone among hundreds of wireless network provider customers.

The Intercept, published by First Look Media, was founded by the journalists who first interviewed Mr Snowden and made headlines around the world with reports on US electronic surveillance programmes.

It published what it said was a secret GCHQ document that said its staff implanted software to monitor Gemalto’s entire network, giving them access to SIM card encryption keys. The report suggested this gave GCHQ, with the backing of the NSA, unlimited access to phone communications using Gemalto SIMs.

French bank Mirabaud said in a research report the attacks appeared to be limited to 2010 and 2011 and were aimed only at older 2G phones widely used in emerging markets, rather than modern smartphones. It did not name the source of these assertions.

Some analysts argue that if a highly security-conscious company like Gemalto is vulnerable, then all of its competitors are as well. Gemalto competes with several European and Chinese SIM card suppliers.

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