Yemen in Focus: Houthis introduce martyrdom lectures at school

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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - High school students in the northern governorate of Saada are made to watch daily video broadcasts from the rebel leader, who lectures them on the merits of martyrdom and fighting on the frontlines, local Almasdar Online reported.

The move to introduce the new syllabus was directed from the the Houthi-run Ministry of Education, conveniently headed by Abdulmalik's brother Yahya Al-Houthi.

Parents who spoke to the Yemen-based platform have slammed the move as "an attempt to (turn the children into) followers, and to throw them into their battles in accordance with the guidance of the Houthi leader and satisfy his desires to take over Yemenis and rule them."

Fears were cemented earlier this week when Saada's Houthi-appointed governor, Mohammed Jaber Al-Razhi, said the changes were a necessary move with the aim of safeguarding Yemen's youth from Saudi Arabia, the United States and Israel.

Parents have taken measures to avoid the changes, with some reportedly withdrawing their children from school altogether.

Both sides in Yemen's war have used child soldiers, including the Houthi rebels who control the capital Sanaa and other parts of northern Yemen.

32661d113e.jpg Parents have slammed the move as 'an attempt to (turn the children into) followers, and to throw them into their battles in accordance with the guidance of the Houthi leader and satisfy his desires to take over Yemenis and rule them' cb2eefd257.jpg

Last year, an Al-Jazeera report revealed how desperately poor children in Yemen are being used by the Saudi-led coalition to fight on the frontlines against Houthi rebels.

The Yemeni child soldiers are recruited from among poor families in Taiz and government-held areas in the south, before being sent over the Saudi border, to defend the kingdom from frequent Houthi attacks.

Recruiters and people traffickers often promise the teenagers work in kitchens with lucrative salaries, but the children end up at training camps and later engaged in battles with Houthi rebels, who are at war with the Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition.

"We went because we were told we would be working in a kitchen and making 3,000 Saudi riyals ($800)... so we believed them and got on the bus," 16-year-old Ahmad al-Naqib told Al-Jazeera.

They are then passed along a trafficking route across the war-torn country to the Saudi border, where they are given ID cards and spirited across the border to training camps in the kingdom.

Al-Jazeera called one trafficker asking to travel to a military camp in Saudi Arabia with three teenage boys, with the Yemani man agreeing to facilitate the journey.

"Don't worry, there are many just like them," he told the reporter, when he raised concerns they might be turned away from the border for being too young.

"This stuff isn't important to us. What is important is that they are good soldiers. Can they handle guns?" he was told during a follow-up call.

Ahmad said that people along the way told him they were only paid half their promised salaries every few months.

"They give you your gun and send you to the front lines," Ahmad was told.

The Saudi-led coalition has also been accused of recruiting child soldiers from Sudan's Darfur region to fight against the Houthi rebels.

Targeting minority groups

Meanwhile, the United States urged Yemen's Houthi rebels to drop charges targeting the Bahai community earlier this week, which said that 24 believers of the faith will face a new trial session on Tuesday.

Sam Brownback, the US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, voiced concern at reports that a court in Yemen's Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa is again summoning the Bahais who in 2018 were slapped with charges that include apostasy and espionage.

"We urge them to drop these allegations, release those arbitrarily detained, and respect religious freedom for all," he wrote on Twitter.

leftQuots.png The Bahais that are held in Sanaa are innocent and the physical and mental torture they are experiencing is designed to force them to admit to crimes they have not committed rightQuots.png

According to the Bahai community, one member among the 24 to be tried on Tuesday – five of whom are already detained – said that a prosecutor had made it clear that his arrest was due to his religion.

"The Bahais that are held in Sanaa are innocent and the physical and mental torture they are experiencing is designed to force them to admit to crimes they have not committed," Bani Dugal, principal representative of the Bahai International Community, said in a statement.

Read more: Yemenis face another year of war, and callous western silence

The Houthis are allied with Iran's clerical regime, which restricts the rights of Bahais despite allowing freedom of religion for Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians.

The Bahais consider the Baha'u'llah, born in 1817 in Iran, to be a prophet, a sharp contrast from the orthodox Islamic view that Muhammad was God's final messenger.

Several thousand Bahais are estimated to live in Yemen. Among them is Hamed bin Haydara, who was sentenced to execution in 2018 with appeals in his case under review.

Iranian weapons

The Pentagon also revealed reports that Iran has continued to deliver weapons to Yemen's Houthis, following a second interception in less than three months of what Washington claimed were Iranian arms destined for the Tehran-backed rebels. 

"The seizure is consistent with a historical pattern of Iranian smuggling of advanced weapons to the Houthis in Yemen," said Captain Bill Urban of US Central Command, which is responsible for US forces in the Middle East, during a briefing at the Pentagon on the latest interdiction.

This comes after a report released on Thursday suggested that drones used by the Houthis are becoming deadlier and more accurate over long ranges.

leftQuots.png Drones used by the Houthis are becoming deadlier and more accurate over long ranges rightQuots.png

The interceptions were in the Gulf region and involved dhow vessels that were sailing without a flag, the first occurring on November 25 and the second on February 9.

Captain Bill Urban said the weapons came from Iran and were intended for the Houthis.

In the latest seizure, the USS Normandy found 150 "Dhelavieh", Iranian-made copies of the Russian Kornet anti-tank guided missile and three Iranian-designed and manufactured "358" surface-to-air missiles, Urban said.

The weapons seized in November included the same type of projectiles, plus a large number of spare parts for cruise missiles.

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The United States assessed "with high confidence" that the weapons "were being illicitly smuggled to the Houthis in Yemen in contravention of multiple UN Security Council Resolutions," Urban added.

He did not say how the two dhows, which are small boats that circulate in large numbers in the region, had been spotted or where they were loaded.

The crew arrested in the latest shipment were Yemeni and were delivered to the Yemen coast guard, he said.

Iran has repeatedly denied providing military assistance to the Houthi rebels, who have seized much of the country's north and took control of Sanaa in 2014.

Saudi retaliation

The Pentagon's comments came as the Saudi-led coalition said it launched air raids targeting ballistic missile and drone depots in Yemen's capital on Sunday, two days after Houthi rebels fired missiles into the kingdom.

Turki al-Maliki, spokesman for the coalition fighting alongside Yemen's internationally-recognised government, said the strikes were in retaliation to ballistic missiles attacks on "civilian targets" in Saudi Arabia.

The coalition "carried out a unique military operation to destroy legitimate military targets for the capabilities of assembling and firing of Iranian ballistic missiles and drones in the capital Sanaa", he said, quoted by the Saudi state news agency SPA.

He said Sanaa had become "a Houthi militia assembly, installation and a launching hub for ballistic missiles that target the kingdom".

The attacks destroyed storage, assembly and firing sites in the districts of Faj Atan, the Al-Amad Camp and the Al-Nahdain mountain, he said.

On Friday, Riyadh said it had intercepted ballistic missiles fired by the Houthis in a "systematic, deliberate manner to target cities and civilians", in what it branded a breach of international law.

A Houthi spokesman said the group had targeted oil installations in the kingdom with a dozen Sammad-3 drones and ballistic missiles.

Read also: Yemen in Focus: Saudi forces target tribal fighters as Houthis reveal advanced anti-air capabilities

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly accused Iran of supplying sophisticated weapons to the Houthis, a charge Tehran denies.

leftQuots.png Saudi Arabia has repeatedly accused Iran of supplying sophisticated weapons to the Houthis, a charge Tehran denies rightQuots.png

Activities in the south

In the south of Yemen this week, Yemeni militants belonging to the Emirati-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) kidnapped a Saudi-appointed local official in the southern port city of Aden on Thursday, in the latest sign of tensions in the war-torn country between the two Gulf allies.

The gunmen stormed the home of Mohammed Taher, the head of the payroll committee of the Security Belt Forces  –  a paramilitary wing of the STC – and took him to an unknown destination, sources told Anadolu.

Taher had been appointed to his position by the Saudi-Emirati coalition as part of the implementation of the Riyadh accords, a power-sharing deal agreed between the UAE-backed separatists and the Saudi-backed government in November.

Local media reported that Taher had been taken to the headquarters of Security Belt Forces' counter-terrorism unit in the Gold Mohur area of Aden, however, this could not be verified.

Also this week, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has confirmed the death of its leader Qassim Al-Rimi and appointed a successor, weeks after the US said it had "eliminated" the militant chief in a strike in Yemen, according to media reports.

The announcement came in an audio speech delivered by AQAP religious official Hamid bin Hamoud Al-Tamimi, said the SITE intelligence monitoring group.

"In his speech, Tamimi spoke at length about Rimi and his jihadi journey and stated that Khalid bin Umar Batarfi is the new leader of AQAP," it said.

Batarfi had appeared in a number of AQAP videos over the past several years and appeared to have been Rimi's deputy and group spokesman.

This comes as US President Donald announced Rimi's death earlier this month, saying he had been killed in a US "counter-terrorism operation in Yemen".

That announcement came shortly after AQAP claimed responsibility for the December 6 mass shooting at a US naval base in Florida, in which a Saudi air force officer killed three American sailors.

Washington considers AQAP to be the worldwide network's most dangerous branch.

The extremist group thrived in the chaos of years of civil war between Yemen's Saudi-backed government and the Houthi rebels.

"Under Rimi, AQAP committed unconscionable violence against civilians in Yemen and sought to conduct and inspire numerous attacks against the United States and our forces," Trump said at the time of the strike.

"His death further degrades AQAP and the global al-Qaeda movement, and it brings us closer to eliminating the threats these groups pose to our national security."

Trump did not give any details about the circumstances or the timing of the operation, but the US has waged a long-running drone war against the leaders of the Yemen-based AQAP.

Rimi had himself succeeded Nasir Al-Wuhayshi, who was killed in a US drone strike in Yemen in June 2015.

AQAP has carried out operations against both the Houthis and government forces as well as sporadic attacks abroad, including on the offices of the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo in 2015.

But analysts say its abilities on the ground have dwindled, although it still inspires attacks carried out by "lone wolf" extremists or former operatives.

After years of lethal drone strikes, it is also running out of leadership material with name recognition or charisma, they said.

Yemen has been wracked by conflict since 2015 and since then a Saudi-led coalition has been warring with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels,.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, relief agencies say, and triggered what the United Nations terms as the "world's worst humanitarian crisis" with millions displaced and in need of aid.

Agencies contributed to this report

Yemen In Focus is a regular feature from The New Arab.

Sana Uqba is a journalist at The New Arab. 

Follow her on Twitter: @Sanasiino 

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