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Yemen Mediator Optimistic as Humanitarian Crisis Worsens

Yemenis waited to buy food and water in Taiz on Friday. The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has appealed for a two-week humanitarian truce in honor of Ramadan, which began this week.
June 19, 2015

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations mediator for Yemen peace talks said on Friday that four days of discussions had ended with no agreement for even a brief pause in fighting, but that he remained “optimistic,” as aid agencies warned that the humanitarian crisis enveloping the country had worsened.

“We feel it requires further consultation and we can achieve it pretty soon,” said the mediator, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, a Mauritanian diplomat, at a news conference in Geneva, broadcast on the United Nations website. “I remain optimistic.”

Yemen has been pummeled by Saudi-led airstrikes since late March, after Houthi rebels from the north drove the sitting president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, into exile in Riyadh. Mr. Hadi’s government insists that the Houthi rebels withdraw from the territory they have seized.

The rebels, supported by Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran and the former longtime ruler of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, have demanded a cessation of the airstrikes.

Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the United Nations mediator for Yemen peace talks, said Friday that he remained “optimistic” after four days of discussions had ended with no agreement for a cease-fire.

The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, appealed for a two-week humanitarian truce in honor of Ramadan, which began this week. Instead, some of the worst carnage broke out. At least 31 were killed in an attack claimed by the Islamic State on Shiite mosques and offices in Sana, the capital, on Wednesday.

In Geneva, on Friday, Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed said there was “a willingness” from the government and Houthi rebel delegations to discuss a cease-fire, and that he would engage in shuttle diplomacy in the coming weeks before scheduling the next round of talks. He is expected to brief the Security Council next week, where he said he would bring up the prospect of sending United Nations monitors to observe a humanitarian cease-fire.

His counterparts in the United Nations, meanwhile, raised new alarm about 20 million Yemenis — 80 percent of the population — who need food, medicine and other relief. The United Nations on Friday called for $1.6 billion to help the most vulnerable among them; most of that money is yet to be raised.

“A looming humanitarian catastrophe is facing Yemen,” the under secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, said during the introduction of the appeal aid earlier in the day in Geneva. “People across the country are struggling to feed their families. Basic services are collapsing in all regions.”

Map | Houthi Fighters Continue Steady Advance Annotated maps showing the Houthi rebels’ drive south, U.S. airstrikes and historical divisions.

Half the population of the country, which even in normal times imports most of its food, is now what the United Nations calls “food insecure.” The death toll exceeds 2,800, including at least 1,100 civilians; at least 12,500 people have suffered injuries.

The World Health Organization said the health system was near collapse, and that there’ had been a 150 percent increase in hospital admissions for malnutrition.

The suffering seemed to have little bearing on the rival leaders who met in Geneva, for talks mediated by Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

The Houthi rebels and the government team — known as the Riyadh delegation — were so far apart that they could not even meet in the same room. The Houthis brought more than twice the number of people allowed — seven per team, with three alternate members — and were still negotiating with Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed on the composition of their team, according to a United Nations official.

Yemen’s ambassador to the United Nations, Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany, said the Houthi delegation insisted on talking about what he described as “other issues than the ones we brought to the table,” and had impeded any meaningful engagement. “Really, we couldn’t understand the purpose of them coming to Geneva,” the ambassador said.

Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed, nonetheless, said he was still intent on securing an agreement for a humanitarian pause in the next few days, if not a cease-fire. “I personally come out from these few days with a certain degree of optimism,” he said.

Rick Gladstone contributed reporting.

June 19, 2015

TEL AVIV, Israel — An attacker opened fire on a civilian vehicle near a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank on Friday, killing one man and wounding another, Israel’s military said in a statement.

The gunman flagged down the car, which was carrying two Israeli hikers, and asked the occupants about a nearby spring before pulling out a weapon and shooting them both, the statement said. The hikers were taken by helicopter to a nearby hospital.

The shooting occurred on the first fasting day of Ramadan. Its timing was a grim reminder of the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teenagers last summer in the West Bank, which unleashed tensions that culminated in a devastating war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Hamas praised the attack on Friday but did not claim responsibility for it, Israeli news media reported.

Israeli radio reported that the hikers had gone to a spring close to the Jewish settlement of Dolev, which was built between two Palestinian communities. The men decided to leave after seeing Palestinians sitting there. The gunman approached their car on foot and pulled a pistol out of a plastic bag, according to local news reports.

The military said it was trying to track down the attacker.

Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, condemned the attack in a statement sent to reporters and called on “all sides to exercise the utmost restraint.”

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(via NY Times)