Gulf/United States/Iran – The US wants greater Special Forces and naval cooperation with Gulf States to counter Iran’s “destabilizing activities” in the region, a senior official said on the eve of Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia. Over the past 15 years the US has sold combat aircraft to Gulf States, but the senior American defence official said Iran’s activities “won’t be countered” in that way. Rather, “special operations forces and maritime interdiction” are needed, he said. The US is proposing to help train Gulf Special Forces and to develop their naval capacity to prevent Iran from supplying Shiite groups that it supports in the region, the official said. In “just over a six month period we and our coalition partners were able to interdict four weapon shipments off the coast of Yemen”, he said. The United States provides precision-guided weapons and intelligence support to a Saudi-led military coalition that intervened in Yemen 13 months ago to support the government against Iran-backed rebels. Royal Saudi Air Force jets, many of them US-made F-15s, have carried out intensive air strikes against the rebels and their allies. The coalition maintains a naval blockade of Yemen. The Sunni Gulf monarchies are worried after the lifting this year of international sanctions against their regional rival, Shiite Iran, under an international agreement to curb Tehran’s nuclear program. Riyadh and its neighbours fear the US-supported deal will only embolden Iran which they accuse of interference throughout the Middle East. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, who arrived in the Saudi capital on the 19 Apr 16, will meet his Gulf counterparts on the 20 Apr 16. The following day he is expected to join President Barack Obama at a summit with monarchs of the six Gulf Cooperation Council states. They will gather in an atmosphere of tension with regional leaders offended by Obama’s perceived reluctance to get involved in the region’s problems, and in particular his tilt towards Iran. Carter will also repeat to his GCC counterparts the importance of increased support for Iraq, where the government is trying to re-conquer territory seized by the Islamic State group of Sunni extremists. “We are urging them to come in... provide funds and support, both political and economic, to the Iraqi government,” the American official said. Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Iraq presented his credentials in January, re-establishing relations a quarter-century after they were cut following ex-president Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. “In a perfect world, we would see full diplomatic normalization between all Gulf countries and the Iraqi government,” the official said. “There has been some reluctance among the Gulf states”. On the 18 Apr 16 in Baghdad, Carter announced new US support for the Iraqi government, including the deployment of an additional 217 military personnel. The Gulf Cooperation Council includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman.
Iran/United States – US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reported some progress on the 19 Apr 16 on Iranian complaints that it’s not getting the sanctions relief it deserves under last year’s landmark nuclear deal. After meeting for more than 2 1/2 hours behind closed doors, the ministers emerged saying they agreed to meet again on the 22 Apr 16 on the sidelines of a high-level UN ceremony to sign the climate change agreement. At issue is implementation of the nuclear deal, which was supposed to give Iran relief from crippling economic sanctions in exchange for curbing its nuclear program. Iran says it is locked out of the international financial system and that the US isn’t fulfilling its obligations under the agreement. The White House, Treasury and the State Department have all said the US has done what is required, but US officials say the Obama administration is considering easing or formally clarifying financial restrictions that prevent US dollars from being used in transactions that enable business with Iran. The officials have ruled out granting Iran access to the US financial system or direct access to the dollar, but they have left the door open to other steps to encourage trade that is now legal under the nuclear deal. Kerry told reporters that he and Zarif are working to make sure the nuclear agreement “is implemented in exactly the way that it is meant to be, and that all the parties ... get the benefits that they are supposed to get out of the agreement.” “We worked on a number of key things today. We made some progress on it,” Kerry said. “We agreed to meet on Friday ... to sort of solidify what we talked about today.” Zarif said they focused on how to implement the deal “to make sure that we will draw the benefits that Iran is entitled to.” Both Kerry and Zarif will be at UN headquarters on Friday for a ceremony attended by more than 130 world leaders and ministers who will be signing the historic climate change agreement reached in Paris in December. In a speech Monday night, Kerry defended the nuclear agreement, in which Iran curbed its atomic program in exchange for sanctions relief, to the pro-Israel, pro-peace advocacy group J Street that supports the deal. But his comments may have put a price tag on Iran’s anger over sanctions relief. “Despite the sceptics’ most dire predictions, we are in a place that some people thought was unimaginable and others unacceptable,” Kerry said. Kerry said some presidential candidates said the amount of money Iran would get under the deal was $155 billion, which was a mistake, and others thought it would be about $100 billion. “We calculated it to be about $55 billion, when you really take a hard look at the economy and what is happening,” Kerry said. “Guess what, folks? You know how much they have received to date as I stand here tonight? About $3 billion. So what we said to people was true.”
Iran/United States – Iran has rejected a ruling by the US Supreme Court that clears the way for families of victims of the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut and other attacks linked to Iran to collect nearly $2 billion in frozen Iranian funds. The state IRNA news agency quoted on the 21 Apr 16 the spokesman of Iran’s foreign ministry, Hossein Jaberi Ansari, as saying that “such a verdict is a theft of the assets and properties of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” From the United Nations, Ansari spoke to IRNA and said Wednesday’s ruling (20 Apr 16) is “tantamount to a ridicule of justice and law.” The ruling directly affects relatives of victims, including families of the 241 US service members who died in the Beirut bombing. Iran denies any links to the attack.
Iraq – Iraq’s embattled parliament speaker on the 19 Apr 16 cancelled moderating the day’s parliament session, amid dissenting lawmakers seeking to oust him from his post. “Parliament Speaker [Salim al-Jabouri] and his two deputies… said they will not perform their tasks pertaining to managing today's session,” the statement released from the speaker’s office said. “Jabouri, however, will attend the session and he’s completely willing to answer any questions about the crisis,” the statement added. A large bloc in parliament is refusing to meet under Jabouri's chairmanship, blaming him for not holding a session where they can grill Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on his proposed cabinet line-up. Jabouri blamed the prime minister's no-show at a session he called for on the 13 Apr 16. Under street protests in Baghdad and pressure from the clergy of Iraq’s Shiite majority. Abadi announced a government overhaul in February. He initially proposed independent technocrats as candidates to try to free the ministries from the grip of a political class that built its wealth and influence on a patronage system put in place after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Abadi then modified his list to include candidates nominated by the dominant political groups, prompting protests inside parliament by lawmakers who say it will again result in corruption. Corruption and fiscal mismanagement became a major issue in Iraq after oil prices collapsed in 2014, shrinking the state budget at a time when it needed additional income to pay for the war against ISIS.
Iraq – A suicide bomber targeted Shiite worshippers at a Baghdad mosque after Friday prayers (22 Apr 16), killing at least eight people, security and medical officials said. The attack in southwest Baghdad also wounded at least 31 people, the officials said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but the ISIS carries out frequent suicide bombings targeting Shiites, whom it considers heretics.
Iraq – Several people were killed on the 23 Apr 16 in two separate car bomb attacks in Baghdad targeting security forces, police sources said, adding that the death toll could rise. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts which wounded a further 39 people, but ISIS regularly carries out attacks in the Iraqi capital, including one on the 22 Apr 16 at a Shiite Muslim mosque. The larger of the 23 Apr bombs hit a security checkpoint in the northern al-Husseiniya district, killing nine. The second targeted an army convoy in Arab al-Jabour, an area of date palm groves on Baghdad’s southern outskirts. The Iraqi government has retaken several major cities from ISIS in the past year and slowly pushed the militants back towards the Syrian border. Security has gradually improved in Baghdad, but bomb attacks against the security forces and Shiite residential or commercial areas are still a regular occurrence. The rise of the ultra-hardline Sunni group, which is battling government forces over control of vast territory in northern and western Iraq, has exacerbated a long-running sectarian conflict, mostly between Shiites and Sunnis, that emerged after the US-led invasion in 2003.
Iraq – Iraq's parliament has approved a partial cabinet reshuffle proposed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, bowing to mounting public pressure for reform, including mass protests led by an influential Shia cleric it was reported on the 26 Apr 16. Parliament spokesman Emad al-Khafaji said that lawmakers approved nominees for six ministries: health, labour and social affairs; water resources; electricity; higher education and culture. Khafaji added that Abadi has until the 28 Apr 16 to submit other names. It is unclear how many members the new cabinet will have. Thousands of followers of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who have been holding a sit-in in Baghdad's central Tahrir Square, crossed bridges on the 26 Apr to mass in front of the Green Zone, where parliament, government offices and many foreign embassies are located. They are calling for political reform and an end to corruption. The protesters back Abadi's planned reshuffle, which would hand key portfolios to independent technocrats in a bid to root out patronage and corruption that have hindered the provision of public services since the 2003 US-led invasion. In Mar 16, Abadi proposed reducing the number of cabinet ministers to 16, from the previous 21-member government. He submitted the names of independent technocrats for 14 ministerial positions, but said he would hold off on replacing the defence and interior ministers because of the tense security situation. His plans have faced opposition from Iraq's entrenched political blocs as well as dozens of lawmakers who have demanded the resignation of Abadi and other top officials, and who interrupted the parliamentary session earlier on the 26 Apr 16. The political crisis has hindered the government's efforts to address a worsening financial crisis resulting from low oil prices and combat Da’esh.
Iraq/Sadre/Green Zone – Iraq’s political crisis has intensified. Hundreds of supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr stormed the Green Zone on the 30 Apr 16 and entered the Council of Representatives (CoR) building. Sadr and Sadrist Trend leaders have urged for a peaceful demonstration but have not ordered the demonstrators to leave the area, indicating that the Green Zone may see an extended sit-in. Violence is a possibility as the security forces attempt to secure Baghdad, particularly as they are already stretched thin protecting thousands of Shi’a pilgrims descending on Kadhimiyah neighbourhood for the commemoration of the death of the Imam al-Kadhim, a major Shi’a holiday. ISIS will likely attempt to take advantage of the security breach by launching spectacular attacks against demonstrators and pilgrims. There is a potential threat to U.S. bases and infrastructure, though Sadr has ordered his followers not to approach any embassies. Iraq’s government is now at its most unstable, as the CoR is physically inaccessible to many members of government amid reports that Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi and CoR Speaker Salim al-Juburi were evacuated from the Green Zone. The political crisis in Iraq is intensifying. Hundreds of supporters of Sadrist Trend leader Muqtada al-Sadr stormed the gates of the Green Zone. They forced their way into the Council of Representatives (CoR) building following the end of the scheduled CoR session. U.S. and international facilities in Baghdad are at some increasing risk, and should the situation escalate further the deteriorating security may ultimately affect some U.S. forces and basing. The UN has closed its building in the Green Zone while the Baghdad Operations Command and the U.S. Embassy have gone on alert. The safety of Iraq’s political leadership is at risk. Security forces have also evacuated Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi and CoR Speaker Salim al-Juburi from the Green Zone, though the location to which they were evacuated is unclear. The Sadrists have begun a sit-in within the parliament and are damaging the building’s interior. At least one CoR member, Fadhila Bloc leader Ammar Tuamah, has been assaulted by Sadrist demonstrators as he attempted to leave the area. This is not the first time that Sadrist protesters have physically challenged security forces near the Green Zone. On the 18 Mar 16 Sadrist protesters charged Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) at the Republican Bridge en route the Green Zone, and the ISF removed the barrier to allow them to advance apparently under the order of the Baghdad Operations Command (BOC). The protesters did not, however, enter the Green Zone itself. Sadr himself conducted a sit-in himself thereafter in a tent in the Green Zone on the 27 Mar 16 as a continuation of the protest movement to pressure the government to conduct a cabinet reshuffle, though he ordered his supporters to remain outside of the Green Zone. The 30 Apr 16 riot and assault of the CoR building appears to have been organic rather than planned. The Sadrist Trend’s leadership initially demanded that all demonstrators immediately vacate the CoR building, though they apparently later decided simply to order the sit-in in the CoR building to be conducted in a peaceful manner, a sign that the leadership may exploit the crisis. The supervisor of the Sadrist sit-in movement had coordinated with security forces for a peaceful demonstration the night before and was physically overseeing the sit-in site in front of the Green Zone when the demonstrators began storming it, suggesting but not proving that Sadrist Trend leaders did not plan to enter the Green Zone. The violence erupted after the Council of Representatives (CoR) met on the 30 Apr 16 to select new ministers as part of the cabinet reshuffle process. Although the CoR had successfully voted in five new technocratic cabinet ministers during the 26 Apr 16 session, but the remainder of Abadi’s list has met resistance. Political blocs, including the Sunni Etihad bloc and the Kurdistan Alliance, clearly did not want to cede control over certain cabinet seats, causing deadlock in the CoR session. This prompted the members of al-Ahrar Bloc, the political wing of the Sadrist Trend, to withdraw from the session. Sadr announced a freeze of all of the Sadrist Trend’s political activity for two months, warning of the possibility of a government collapse if quotas and corruption persisted.
Indicators that the immediate crisis will de-escalate include:
- Protesters cease destroying property
- Sadr orders protesters to depart the CoR or Green Zone
- Protesters depart the CoR building
- Protesters disperse ISF regains control over the Green Zone
If these conditions are not met, the likelihood of immediate violence will continue. Indicators of further escalation will include not only failure to meet those conditions, but also:
- Sadr encouraging further protests;
- The reinforcement of Baghdad by security forces or militias from outside;
- Further violence against the compounds of other political leaders or the leaders themselves;
Violence against U.S. or international installations in Baghdad.
If these conditions are not met, the violence and mass street demonstrations will likely continue.
Sadr could attempt to leverage the physical presence of demonstrators in the Green Zone for concessions from other political blocs and the government – he could, for example, try and start a sit-in in the Green Zone itself. His most recent orders to the demonstrators called for respecting public property and not approaching embassies in the Green Zone, but did not include an order to leave the area, indicating that Sadr may attempt to keep his followers in the area to pressure PM Abadi and the government to pass a fully technocratic cabinet reshuffle. A public sit-in in the CoR building is thus possible, which places the security forces responsible for protecting the CoR building at risk of either escalating or being over-run. While an extended Sadrist sit-in would be an escalation, attempts by the security forces to evict or shut off supplies and access to the demonstrators could spark further violence in the Green Zone that would cause security in Baghdad deteriorate to untenable levels. Even the current escalation of the crisis will likely spark intensive meetings between political bloc leaders to resume in order to find a solution to the cabinet reshuffle. The U.S. and Iran will likely intensify efforts to pressure political leaders into achieving stability. Sadr will likely participate in negotiations in some capacity but continue the suspension of the Sadrist Trend’s participation in CoR sessions, effectively suspending the CoR until further notice. The demonstration comes at an extremely dangerous time – thousands of Shi’a pilgrims are descending on Kadhimiyah in north-western Baghdad from across Iraq for the commemoration of the Imam al-Kadhim on the 3 May 16 an event that has already prompted the security forces to shut many of Baghdad’s streets. ISIS has already launched an explosive attack southeast of Baghdad in the predominantly Shi’a al-Nahrawan area with a Vehicle-borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) that reportedly killed at least 23 people and wounded 48 others. ISIS also attempted IED attacks on April 29 targeted pilgrims at a railway station but were foiled by the security forces. The demonstrations thus threaten to expose civilians to ISIS attacks and will tax the security forces to their limits.
Israel – In an unnerving reminder of the terrorist attacks on buses during the second intifada more than a decade ago, 21 people were injured, two critically, when a bomb exploded on Egged bus number 12 in Jerusalem’s Talpiot industrial area on the afternoon of the 18 Apr 16 causing a huge blaze. Remarkably, no deaths were reported following the carnage on Bar-Am Street, where two Egged buses and a third vehicle were reduced to skeletons of charred steel. After initial confusion about the cause of the inferno, police spokesman said a forensics team, aided by bomb disposal experts at the site, confirmed the fires were ignited by an explosive device. Reports circulated Monday night (18 Apr 16) that one of the critically injured passengers was the one who detonated the bomb. “What we confirmed is that the remains of an explosive device were found on one of the buses,” said Rosenfeld. “We are still questioning people who are in the hospital to determine what happened moments before the explosion... We’re working carefully and cautiously to confirm whether it was a terrorist attack.” Rosenfeld said police were reluctant to confirm the explosion was a terrorist attack until an investigation by police and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) was officially finalized. A first-responder said that the fires were reported at 1745 hrs. “When the first call came in, it was involving two buses, and we immediately declared it a mass casualty incident,” said Daniel Katzenstein a witness. “We got there when the buses were fully engulfed, and it was not clear if the fire was from an explosion or some kind of [malfunction]. Volunteers from around the area rushed to scene.” At the scene, dozens of officers and IDF personnel cordoned off the area for one kilometre in all directions, while over 100 paramedics, firemen and forensics specialists secured and investigated the area.
Syria – Syria’s main opposition chief on the 19 Apr 16 lamented a crumbled truce, calling for major powers to meet on the crisis, as his group left Geneva in protest against the escalating violence. UN peace envoy Staffan de Mistura said on the 18 Apr 16 he had been informed that the US and Saudi-backed opposition group, known as the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), would suspend its "formal participation" in the talks. Riad Hijab, the head coordinator of the HNC, called on the 19 Apr for the UN Security Council to take firm actions against violators of the truce, which had been in place for about a month. Hijab told journalists later on the 19 Apr that he and other colleagues were leaving a day after the group put its participation at the talks on hold to protest escalating violence and restrictions on humanitarian access in Syria. Some delegation members will meanwhile remain in Geneva for technical discussions at their hotel with UN staff and for workshops on humanitarian issues and detainees, Hijab said. The head of the delegation for the main group within the HNC at the peace talks, Asaad al-Zoubi, told Al Arabiya English that the talks had failed to push Assad’s regime into “genuine negotiations.” “It looked that the aim was just to bring Bashar’s regime to Geneva,” said Zoubi. “We are fully convinced that international parties did not exercise enough pressure on Syrian regime and therefore we decided to halt any kind of participation until we see a better environment for discussion,” the opposition official said. Hijab, the HNC coordinator, also said a clear timetable for the political transition in Syria is a must - adding such a transition cannot include Syrian Presdient Bashar al-Assad. “There cannot be a solution in Syria while Bashar Assad is present,” he said. Ghassan Ibrahim, a Syrian analyst and chief of London-based news outlet Global Arab Network, said that the Syrian regime has continued to carry out attacks during negotiations, amid what he called Western inaction. “If we look at America, they are not doing anything – so the result of that is that the Security Council is not doing its job. So the opposition had to postpone the negotiations,” he said. “The opposition called on the Security Council to discuss the Syrian situation and they ask Mr de Mistura [the UN’s special envoy to Syria] to highlight the difficulties he is facing, because so far the regime is not cooperating,” Ibrahim added. French President Francois Hollande called the Syrian opposition’s decision to suspend participation in peace talks was “worrying.” "If the truce is broken, fighting will restart, and civilians will flee once again. There will be no hope," Hollande said after talks with Jordan’s king. Russia on the 19 Apr urged the talks to continue, according to the Kremlin, commenting on the decision by the mainstream Syrian opposition to take a pause in the negotiations. “We believe this (the peace talks) is a necessary condition,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a conference call with journalists. “The need to continue this dialogue and maintain the ceasefire regime was stressed yesterday during the telephone conversation between President Putin and President Obama.” Meanwhile, fighting intensified on the 19 Apr in northern and central Syria as government forces sought to repel rebel advances on a government stronghold. Rebels and activists reported fighting in rural parts of northern Latakia province, a government stronghold, one day after rebels launched a new offensive against government forces because of what they said were repeated ceasefire violations. Al-Manar TV, affiliated with the pro-Assad Lebanese Hezbollah group, said government forces pushed rebel forces from areas they seized a day earlier. Rebel groups posted videos of new areas they claimed were seized during their new push.
Syria/Da’esh – ISIS militants seized Syrian government-controlled territory in the eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zor on the 19 Apr 16 a war monitor and a news agency affiliated with the ultra-hardline extremist group said. ISIS took complete control of the city’s industrial district after fierce clashes with Syrian government and allied forces, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The militant group captured nearly all of Deir al-Zor province, which borders Iraq, after seizing the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2014. The Syrian government, however, still controls part of the city of Deir al-Zor, which is besieged by ISIS fighters, and an air base. Five air strikes and shelling hit the area of fighting that was moving south towards the city’s military airport, the Observatory said. The Amaq news agency, affiliated with ISIS, also said the group had taken positions previously controlled by the Syrian government in the industrial district, and was pushing south into the next district. Syrian state news agency SANA did not mention gains made by ISIS, but said Syrian forces destroyed some ISIS arms caches in the industrial neighbourhood. Syrian and allied forces, supported by Russian air support, pushed ISIS out of the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria last month, eroding links between the group’s presence in the west and east of the country. The militants seized the city in May 2015.
Syria/Da’esh – ISIS militants have captured the pilot of a Syrian warplane which crashed southeast of Damascus on the 22 Apr 16 a news agency affiliated to the militant group said. "The pilot, called Azzam Eid, from Hama was captured after he fell by parachute near the site where his plane crashed east of Damascus," the news agency Amaq said. Citing a Syrian military source, Russian news agency Interfax said the plane belonged to the Syrian Air Force and crashed because of a technical fault. "The plane had recently undergone repairs... there was no attack from the ground. It crashed because of a technical fault. The pilot ejected," Interfax quoted the source as saying. Interfax said the plane was a Mig-23.
Syria – At least 35 people, including eight children and five rescue workers have been killed in the Syrian city of Aleppo and its outskirts in attacks carried out by the government forces and the rebels, a monitoring group said on the 26 Apr 16. The rebel shelling killed at least 19 people and the government air strikes killed at least 11 on the 26 Apr 16 the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Five civil defence workers - known as "White Helmets" - were also killed by the air strikes and a rocket attack on their centre in a separate incident in the rebel-held town of Atarib, on the outskirts of Aleppo. The observatory and civil defence officials said the attack appeared to have deliberately targeted them. "The targeting was very precise," Radi Saad, a civil defence worker said. "They were in the centre and ready to respond. When they heard warplanes in the area they did not think they would be the target." Two people were also seriously injured and ambulances and cars belonging to doctors were destroyed, another civil defence member, Ahmad Sheikho, said. It was unclear whether Syrian or Russian warplanes had launched the raids. There was no immediate comment from the Syrian government. "It is a messy situation," Zouhir Al Shimale, a journalistsaid. "From 0800 hrs the aircraft were flying low and the sounds were very loud. They were flying over the [rebel-held area] in Aleppo. There is a feeling among most people that they should stay inside their houses right now." The strikes came one day after rebel shelling killed at least 19 civilians and injured 120 in attacks on government-held parts of the city, the observatory and local activists said. On the 25 Apr 16 the observatory said that at least 60 people were killed between the 22 Apr /25 Apr 16 in tit-for-tat attacks between government forces and opposition groups in Aleppo. United Nations special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, estimated last week that more than 400,000 Syrians had been killed, though he said that number was not an official UN statistic. The opposition cited the dire humanitarian situation and ongoing Syrian army attacks when it walked out of negotiations in Geneva last week, saying it needed a "pause". The future of Assad also proved a major sticking point. The already shaky ceasefire between the government and some rebels has given way to renewed violence across the country, as government forces carried out air strikes in the Damascus countryside, Homs and other areas. US President Barack Obama said on Monday that he planned to send 250 more troops to Syria, a sharp increase in the number of Americans working with local Syrian forces.
Yemen/Peace Talks/Kuwait – Talks aimed at ending Yemen’s civil war opened in Kuwait on the 21 Apr 16 with Kuwait’s foreign minister appealing to both sides to “turn war into peace” after more than a year of conflict which has killed 6,200 people and caused a humanitarian crisis. The talks, bringing together the Houthi group and its General People’s Congress party allies with the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, were originally scheduled to start on the 18 Apr 16. They were delayed over alleged truce violations and disagreements over the agenda for the negotiations. Kuwait’s foreign minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah, in an opening speech, urged Yemenis to “turn war into peace and backwardness into development.” The talks are based on UN Security Council resolution 2216 which calls for the Houthis to withdraw from areas they seized since 2014 and hand heavy weapons back to the government, UN special envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said. “The choice today is one of two options: a safe homeland that ensures security for all of its citizens... or remnants of a land whose sons die every day,” Ould Cheikh Ahmed said in an opening speech. The talks are expected to focus on creating a more inclusive government and restoring state authority over the country, which is now divided between the Houthis and Hadi’s administration. The crisis began in September 2014 when the Iran-allied Houthis seized the capital Sanaa. A Saudi-led Arab alliance intervened last year, launching a campaign of mostly air strikes against the Houthis in support of Hadi’s forces. The Houthi group and the GPC had accused the Saudi-led coalition and Hadi supporters of failing to honour a truce that began on April 10, and refused to send their negotiators to Kuwait until the truce was consolidated. They agreed to join the talks following intervention by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.