Yemenis say little has changed in Hodeidah despite aid

Saudis have allowed humanitarian aid to flow into Yemen, but in a limited manner that is insufficient to meet the needs of a population in crisis.

    In Yemen, people say they’re continuing to suffer from a Saudi-led blockade.

    In recent weeks, the Saudis have allowed humanitarian aid to flow into the country, but in a limited manner that is insufficient to meet the needs of a population in crisis.

    In the port city of Hodeidah, people say little has changed.

    Al Jazeera’s Natasha Ghoneim reports.

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    Syrian refugees: Lebanon's camp conditions worsen in the cold

    The UN’s refugee agency says it’s not getting the money it needs to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon through another harsh winter.

      The UN’s refugee agency says it’s not getting the money it needs to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon through another harsh winter.

      The UNHCR requested $228m in 2017, but received less than 60 percent of that and life in the camps are getting worse.

      Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr reports from Bekaa valley, Lebanon.

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      Thousands turn out for pro-government rallies in Iran

      Officials say anti-government protests have died down, amid reports that dozens were arrested for involvement.

        Supporters of Iran’s government have taken to the streets for a third day to rally against the unrest that has gripped the country since late December.

        The protests in support of the government, which began after Friday prayers, followed the most significant anti-government outpouring since the 2009 protests against alleged election irregularities.

        Almost a week of sometimes violent protests, beginning in late December, left at least 22 people dead, with Iranian authorities accusing the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia of involvement. 

        Those protests started in the city of Mashhad on December 28 before spreading to other cities.

        Grievances seemed to revolve around Iran’s economic situation and its spending on groups in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza.

        On Tuesday, in his first public remarks since the rallies erupted, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed external “enemies” for the turmoil.

        Khamenei said that powers against Iran had allied and used various means, including “money, weapons, politics, and intelligence services”, to stir unrest.

        ‘Show of faith’

        Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi, reporting from Tehran, said the images of large-scale gatherings in support of the government were intended to show – both to Tehran’s rivals abroad and opponents inside the country – that there was significant support for the Iranian establishment.

        “People are pouring out onto the streets in a show of faith in the Iranian leadership and the current establishment,” he said.

        On Wednesday, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), declared the unrest was over.

        “Today we can announce the end of the sedition,” Jafari said in a quote on the IRGC’s website. “A large number of the troublemakers at the centre of the sedition, who received training from counter-revolutionaries … have been arrested and there will be firm action against them.”

        More than 40 student activists were arrested by the intelligence ministry between Saturday and Thursday, according to an Iranian human rights watchdog.

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        Asma, four, 'raped, strangled to death' in Mardan

        Body of girl named as Asma found in sugarcane field in northwest as country reels from rape and murder of Zainab Ansari.

          A four-year-old girl was raped before being strangled to death in northwest Pakistan, a district mayor and doctors have said.

          The body of the victim, who is being named as Asma, was found in a sugarcane field on Sunday in the Jandarpar Gujjar Garhi district of Mardan city, a day after she went missing.

          “I have seen the autopsy report of Asma and it clearly says that she was raped before being strangled to death,” district mayor Himayatullah Mayar told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

          “She comes from a very poor family, her father is a labour worker in Saudi Arabia. Asma was just playing outside of her house when she was kidnapped.”

          Doctors also told local media that the child had been raped.

          Police confirmed that the child died of asphyxiation and were investigating the claim of rape.

          “According to the forensic report, the girl was subjected to violence,” district police officer Mian Saeed told local media. “However, we cannot confirm if she was raped or not until we get the complete report.”

          The incident comes as the country reels from the recent rape and murder of seven-year-old Zainab Ansari, a case which ignited widespread protests and stirred uneasy conversations about the sexual abuse of children in a country where the issue is taboo.

          Zainab’s body was discovered in a heap of rubbish last week in the northeastern city of Kasur. She had disappeared on January 4 after leaving her house to go to a tuition centre.

          Protests calling for justice in various parts of Kasur turned violent, resulting in at least two deaths and several injuries.

          Local TV footage showed police officers shooting at protesters to disperse crowds.

          In 2017, at least 12 similar incidents were reported in the Kasur district alone, local media reported.

          In the first half of 2017, more than 1,750 cases of child abuse were reported across Pakistan, according to Sahil, a non-governmental organisation that works on the issue of child sexual abuse and exploitation.

          Of the cases in the first six months of last year, 65 percent took place in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

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          Iran unblocks Telegram messaging app as protests wane

          As protests in Iran die down, the government has unblocked a popular app activists were using to share information.

            Iran’s government has unblocked the popular social media app, Telegram.

            Activists had used it to share videos of anti-government protests not shown on state media.

            The government criticised the company for not filtering content that it said promoted violence.

            Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi reports from Tehran.

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            Saudi arrests 11 princes over economic protest: SPA

            Move comes as King Salman decrees a series of financial payouts to ease the cost of living.

              Saudi authorities have arrested 11 princes for staging a protest in the capital, Riyadh, against the kingdom’s austerity measures, according to state media.

              The announcement by SPA news agency late on Saturday came hours after Sabq, a Saudi website, said that the 11 princes were detained after gathering at al-Hakem palace to demonstrate against a government decision to make the country’s royalty pay their utility bills.

              Upon arrest, they were sent to a notorious maximum-security facility south of Riyadh in contrast to dozens of other high-profile figures who were detained in a luxury hotel last year during an anti-corruption drive.

              “They were arrested after they refused to leave the palace and were put in al-Ha’ir prison in preparation for their trial,” the statement said.

              The princes are expected to go on trial.

              “The 11 individuals officially were arrested because they were complaining about the fact that they had asked for subsidies for water and electricity, and for some reason they were denied,” said analyst Joseph Kechichian. 

              “Other reports say that in fact they were cousins of a prince who was executed in October 2016 and that they had come to ask for retribution,” he added. “It’s very conflicting at this point, we don’t know exactly what is going on.”

              Economic diversification

              Saudi Arabia recently introduced a raft of economic reforms, including a value-added tax (VAT) and a halt to state payments of water and electricity bills for royal family members.

              On Saturday, King Salman decreed a series of financial payouts to ease the cost of living. Each government employee will receive a monthly bonus of 1,000 riyals ($267) for the next year, while military personnel serving in Yemen will be paid a one-off fee of 5,000 riyals ($1,330).

              Students will have their allowances increased by 10 percent for the next year, while retirees and social security recipients will get a monthly stipend of 500 riyals ($133).

              The unemployment rate in Saudi Arabia surpassed 12 percent last year as the economy grappled with the fallout from low oil prices.

              Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been spearheading attempts to diversify the country’s oil-dependent economy.

              The VAT, implemented as of January 1, applies to a wide range of commodities, including food, clothes, entertainment, electronics, and telephone, water and electricity bills.

              Its imposition is part of a region-wide measure agreed upon by the six Gulf Cooperation Council member states in Riyadh in 2016. The International Monetary Fund has estimated it will raise additional revenues of 1.5 to three percent of non-oil gross domestic product, depending on the country.

              According to Saturday’s decree, the Saudi government will absorb the cost of the tax for citizens purchasing private healthcare and education, and for first-time homebuyers of properties valued at up to 850,000 riyals ($226,660).

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              Aid reaches Syrians stranded in desert

              A UN aid convoy has reached about 50,000 civilians stranded on the Syria-Jordan border – bringing the first aid the camp has received since January.

              The convoy was meant to arrive at Rukban camp on 27 October, but was postponed for security reasons.

              Syria’s army controls access to Rukban, which is near a US-backed rebels’ base. Jordan is also blocking aid supplies.

              There have been reports of children dying due to poor sanitary conditions and a lack of healthcare at the camp.

              A cluster of about 10,800 makeshift tents and mud huts, the camp has been called “one of the most desperate places in Syria”.

              The UN estimates that 80% of the people stranded at Rukban are women and children, while aid groups say that pregnant women at the camp have given birth without basic medical care.

              The aid convoy, operated jointly by the UN and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, arrived on Saturday.

              “Seventy-eight trucks are delivering 10,475 food parcels and flour bags, clothes for 18,000 children, 10,075 hygiene kits and plastic sheets, [and] newborn baby kits for 1,200 children,” the Syrian Arab Red Crescent said in a statement.

              The delivery is expected to take three to four days.

              “We are also conducting an emergency vaccination campaign to protect some 10,000 children against measles, polio and other deadly diseases,” UN humanitarian co-ordinator Ali Al-Za’tari said.

              The UN added that the overall humanitarian situation at the camp remained “at a critical stage, with reported shortages of basic commodities… and the death of several children who reportedly were unable to get further medical treatment.”

              Those at the camp began arriving in late 2015 after fleeing areas of Syria previously controlled by the militant Islamic State (IS) group.

              They wanted to cross into Jordan, which has taken in 670,000 Syrian refugees since the civil war began in 2011, but the kingdom sealed the crossing near Rukban in June 2016 after six soldiers were killed in a bomb attack claimed by IS.

              Jordan insisted the camp had to be supplied from Syria, but did allow occasional aid deliveries until January. Since then, residents have had to rely on what the UN has called a “trickle” of commercial deliveries.

              But even those dried up last month, when Syrian government forces reportedly blocked roads to the camp after the failure of a reconciliation deal with rebel groups in the area. Prices for food and basic supplies increased significantly.

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              Trade and security to dominate Macron visit to Tunisia

              French President Emmanuel Macron will be in Tunisia this week, but analysts say the visit is ‘just business as usual’.

                Emmanuel Macron will be in Tunisia this week where the French president is expected to address parliament, attend an economic summit, and hold discussions on trade and security cooperation between the two countries.

                But analysts say Macron’s visit is unlikely to have a meaningful impact on the challenges facing the Tunisian economy, a situation that pushed thousands of Tunisians onto the streets this month to call for an end to austerity measures.

                Macron’s visit on Wednesday and Thursday marks his first official trip to the country since he became France’s president in May 2017.

                “There will be a lot of words, but I don’t think we should expect any big revolutionary investments in the country,” said Youssef Cherif, a Tunisian political analyst.

                A former French colony until it gained independence in 1956, Tunisia views France as its “traditional and natural partner”, Cherif told Al Jazeera.

                The two countries share a common language – a legacy of French colonialism – and have maintained strong ties on trade, culture, security and political issues.

                Hundreds of thousands of Tunisians live, study and work in France, and tens of thousands of French citizens, many of whom are dual French-Tunisian nationals, also live in the North African nation.

                But “the relationship is not equal at all”, Cherif said.

                “We have France, a big and rich country, and Tunisia, a smaller and poorer country … and Tunisia would benefit from having strong partners other than France in order to diversify its ties.”

                France was the second-largest investor in Tunisia in 2016 behind the United Arab Emirates, and invested about $1.7bn into the country, the French foreign ministry said.

                France has also traditionally been Tunisia’s largest trading partner within the European Union.

                Tunisian exports to France totaled $4.3bn in 2016, or about one-third of all exports, while bilateral trade surpassed $9bn that year, the ministry said.

                But Tunisia’s debt to France is sizeable, amounting to $1.6bn in 2016.

                That accounted for 50 percent of Tunisia’s bilateral debt – direct debt between a single lender and a single borrower.

                Cherif said he believed Macron will convert some of that debt into investments this week.

                Trade and investments

                During his two-day visit, Macron is expected to speak in front of the Tunisian parliament and meet his counterpart, Beji Caid Essebsi.

                On Thursday, the French president – who will be accompanied by several businessmen and government ministers – will also attend the inaugural Tunisia-France Forum on economic relations.

                The Tunisian economy has been in the spotlight this month after anti-austerity protests broke out in cities across the country.

                Under the slogan Fech Nestannew (What are we waiting for?), protesters have called for the government to scrap a budget law for 2018 that raised the price of basic goods and value-added taxes on citizens.

                Many Tunisians are also calling for an end to corruption and privatisation and for young people to have greater access to public sector jobs. 

                Nejib Mohamed, communications director of the Tunisian-French Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which organised the economic forum, said Tunisian business leaders are hopeful Macron will announce new investments.

                Those can “create wealth” and lead to more local jobs, Mohamed told Al Jazeera.

                “If international groups invest in Tunisia, that’s a vote of confidence in the country,” he said.

                During a visit to Tunisia last October, Edouard Philippe, France’s prime minister, signed business deals worth more than $100m in several fields, including agriculture, renewable energy and education.

                Asked whether he believed Tunisian businesses were adequately helping the country deal with its current economic problems, Mohamed said companies “have a mission to contribute to the creation of wealth and jobs” in Tunisia.

                Security issues 

                Sarah Yerkes, a fellow in the Middle East programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said people should not have false hope that Macron will solve Tunisia’s economic problems.

                “There’s already this massive expectations gap problem in Tunisia; people have not gotten from the revolution what they’ve expected to,” she said.

                More than seven years after a popular revolution toppled longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, many Tunisians say the economy is worse than ever before.

                Unemployment sits at about 15 percent, and among youth around 30 percent.

                “That’s where I would be a little bit worried, if people think that Macron is going to come in and save the day and he doesn’t,” Yerkes said.

                She said she expected migration to be a point of focus during Macron’s visit, as well as security, including cooperation and training to secure the porous Libya-Tunisia border. “With Libya next door, I’m sure there will be some discussion about that kind of security cooperation.”

                Tasnim Abderrahim, a Tunisian researcher at the European Centre for Development Policy Management, told Al Jazeera the focus of Tunisia’s international partners has shifted strongly towards security since a string of violent attacks took place in the country in 2015.

                “In terms of security, you have the fight against terrorism, counter-radicalisation and then border security with Libya,” she said, explaining Libya has become a major focal point for France and the European Union, which are seeking to stem the flow of asylum seekers attempting to reach Europe.

                “The EU describes Tunisia as the exceptional experience, as the unique experience, as the democratic model, and then Tunisian officials say we want more concrete action to match this rhetoric,” Abderrahim said.

                EU blacklist

                The visit also comes after the EU removed Tunisia from a blacklist of countries it designated as tax havens.

                The country had been added to the list in early December for allegedly being host to “harmful preferential tax regimes”. The United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Bermuda and others were also taken off the list at the same time.

                But the EU did not explain what steps Tunisia or any of the other countries had undertaken since December to warrant their removal. Tunisia now figures on a grey list of tax havens.

                According to Cherif, being on the list has put “a lot of pressure on Tunisia” because of its current economic crisis, and as it is about to go back to negotiations over a free trade deal with the EU.

                “Putting Tunisia on that list gives Tunisia less power or less leverage in negotiating that free trade agreement with the EU,” he said.

                According to Abderrahim, the Tunisian government fears the designation will draw “away investments that Tunisia really needs for its economic recovery”.

                She said the government in Tunis wants support from France on its socioeconomic development, as well as at the EU level. It wants Tunisian citizens, especially young people, to get visas to European countries more easily.

                But while the Tunisian government has high expectations, most citizens do not. “What Tunisians want is more from their government and not much from their international partners,” Abderrahim said.

                For that reason, she said Macron’s visit will be “just business as usual”.

                “It will be conventional diplomacy and the official discourse and joint statements… I do not really see something extraordinary coming out of this visit.”

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                Israeli army shoots dead Palestinian teen in West Bank

                Layth Abu Naim, 16, was shot in the head with live ammunition during a confrontation with the Israeli army.

                  Israeli forces have shot dead a Palestinian teenager in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian Ministry of Health has confirmed. 

                  Layth Abu Naim, 16, was shot in the head with live ammunition during a confrontation with the Israeli army in the village of al-Mughayir, northeast of the occupied West Bank town of Ramallah. 

                  According to local media, Abu Naim – a high school student – was shot at point-blank range. The confrontations reportedly erupted after Israeli forces raided the village. 

                  The boy’s funeral is set to be held on Wednesday after midday prayers in his hometown. 

                  A spokeswoman for Israel’s military said “violent riots are taking place in this area and burning tires and stones were thrown at the soldiers,” according to Israeli media. 

                  The spokeswoman was “unable to confirm that any Palestinians had been hit by gunfire”. 

                  Increasing tensions 

                  Abu Naim is the sixth Palestinian to be killed by Israeli forces since the start of 2018. 

                  Tensions in the region have increased in recent weeks after US President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to name Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

                  Trump’s December 6 move prompted deadly protests in the Palestinian territories and mass rallies in solidarity with the Palestinians across the Muslim world.

                  US Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Israel and the region increased animosity among Palestinians towards the United States. His speech in the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on January 22 was laden with praise for Israel. 

                  On Tuesday, a group of Palestinians protested the arrival of an American delegation to the West Bank city of Bethlehem. The delegation was reportedly there to hold a training session on digital commerce, according to Israeli media. 

                  A video shared on social media showed protesters entering the meeting room holding signs and chanting against the US administration’s decision surrounding Jerusalem, after which the delegation packed up and left. 

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                  Iranian Satellite Launch Ends in Failure

                  TEHRAN — Iranian officials said on Tuesday that a satellite launch that had been condemned by the Trump administration failed when the carrier rocket could not reach orbit.

                  “I would have liked to make you happy with some good news, but sometimes life does not go as expected,” Iran’s minister of telecommunications, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, said in a Twitter post.

                  He said the rocket, a Safir, long used for satellite launches, had failed in the final stage, falling short of placing its payload into the correct orbit. He did not offer any explanation.

                  The United States, Israel and some European countries have criticized Iranian missile tests in the past, saying the launches pose a threat to the region. One of the reasons President Trump gave for withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal was its failure to address the threat of Iran’s ballistic missiles.

                  In January, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iran against launching spacecraft, describing the exercises as a pretext for testing missile technology that Tehran could one day use to carry a warhead to the United States or other nations. His statement appeared aimed at building a legal case for diplomatic, military or covert action against the Iranian missile program.

                  Mr. Pompeo’s words were something of a surprise, in that Iran has conducted modest space missions, mostly to deploy satellites, since 2005. A senior American official told The New York Times recently that the Pentagon and intelligence agencies disagreed with Mr. Pompeo’s interpretation of the threat posed by the satellite launches.

                  Iran says it needs rockets for its space program and missiles for self-defense, and that it has every right to conduct missile tests.

                  “Since we have no intentions to secretly or openly produce nuclear weapons, we believe we have the right to manufacture and develop satellites and rockets and missiles to launch them into orbit,” said Hamidreza Taraghi, a hard-line politician. “Other countries do not give us the satellites we need, nor do they launch them for us, so we have to do it ourselves.”

                  Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, had announced on Monday plans to launch two satellites, praising Iranian ingenuity. He said the satellites, called ‘‘Friendship’’ and ‘‘Message,’’ were intended to monitor weather, agriculture, water and forestry issues in the country.

                  It is unclear when Iran will try to launch the second satellite.

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