US military strikes Houthi-controlled site

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Saturday, 13th January 2024

The US military struck another Houthi-controlled site in Yemen that, it had determined, was putting commercial vessels in the Red Sea at risk, two US officials said. Associated Press journalists in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, heard one loud explosion. Reuters quotes the Houthi rebel movement’s TV channel, Al-Masirah, reporting the US and Britain were targeting Sanaa with raids early on Saturday.

Reuters also reported that Italy, Spain, and France stood out on Friday by not taking part in the strikes against the Houthi group in Yemen and not signing a statement put out by 10 countries justifying the attacks. The divergence highlights divisions in the West over how to deal with the Iranian-backed Houthis, who have been targeting civilian ships in the Red Sea for weeks in what they say is a protest against Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip.

The first day of strikes on Friday hit 28 locations and struck more than 60 targets. However, the US determined the additional location, a radar site, still presented a threat to maritime traffic, one official said. The latest strike came after the US Navy on Friday warned American-flagged vessels to steer clear of areas around Yemen in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden for the next 72 hours after the US and Britain launched multiple airstrikes targeting Houthi rebels.

The warning came as Yemen’s Houthis vowed fierce retaliation for the US-led strikes, further raising the prospect of a wider conflict in a region already beset by Israel’s war in Gaza. In a televised speech after Friday’s attack, the leader of Yemen’s Houthis, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, vowed that any American attack on the group would not go without response. The Houthis, who support the Palestinian group Hamas, called the attacks “barbaric” and warned they would continue to target ships heading towards Israel. The US-led bombardment killed at least five people and wounded six, the Houthis said. In Saada, the Houthis’ stronghold in northwest Yemen, hundreds gathered for a rally denouncing the US and Israel. Another drew thousands in Sanaa.

Photo: REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

It remained unclear how extensive the damage was from Friday’s strikes, though the Houthis said at least five sites, including airfields, had been attacked. The White House said the US military was still assessing the extent the militants’ capabilities might have been degraded. US Air Forces Central Command said the strikes focused on the Houthi’s command and control nodes, munition depots, launching systems, production facilities, and air defence radar systems. The UK said strikes hit a site in Bani allegedly used by the Houthis to launch drones and an airfield in Abbs used to launch cruise missiles and drones.

President Joe Biden had warned Friday that the Houthis could face further strikes. “These targeted strikes are a clear message that the United States and our partners will not tolerate attacks on our personnel or allow hostile actors to imperil freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most critical commercial routes,” Biden said in a statement. “We will make sure that we respond to the Houthis if they continue this outrageous behaviour along with our allies,” Biden told reporters during a stop in Emmaus, Pennsylvania. Asked if he believed the Houthis were a terrorist group, Biden said, “I think they are.” The President, in a later exchange with reporters during a stop in Allentown, said whether the Houthis are redesignated as such was “irrelevant”. Biden also pushed back against some lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, who said he should have sought Congressional authorisation before carrying out the strikes.

Biden said Iran had received a clear message. “I already delivered the message to Iran. They know not to do anything,” he said. Iran condemned Friday’s attack in a statement from Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani. “Arbitrary attacks will have no result other than fuelling insecurity and instability in the region,” he said. Russia condemned the strikes as “illegitimate from the point of view of international law”. In Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry called on nations not to escalate tensions in the Red Sea.

Fox News reports President Biden received a rude welcome from swing-state voters who mercilessly heckled him during a Friday trip to Pennsylvania. The 81-year-old commander-in-chief was met with shouts of “Go home, Joe!” and “You’re a loser!” by residents as he walked into a bicycle store. Hours later, protesters opposed to Biden’s support for the Israeli offensive against Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip vowed that he’d pay the price at the ballot box in November. “We will remember in November,” the group chanted near a firefighter training centre, also adding, “No vote for genocide Joe”.

Photo: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Major shipping companies stopped traversing the Suez Canal and Red Sea routes in early December, choosing to reroute through southern Africa instead. That has resulted in longer and more expensive journeys which pushed up ocean freight rates. Container shipping rates for key global routes have soared this week: the benchmark Shanghai Containerised Freight Index was up over 16% week-on-week to 2,206 points today. Rates on the Shanghai-Europe route rose 8.1% to $3,103 per 20-foot equivalent unit (TEU) on Friday from a week earlier, while the rate for containers to the US West Coast soared 43.2% to $3,974 per 40-foot-equivalent-unit (FEU) week on week, leading ship broker Clarksons said.

Oil prices rose after Britain and the United States carried out military strikes against targets in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, as tensions in the Red Sea mount further. Global benchmark Brent was trading around 4% higher on Friday, $80.55 a barrel, while the US West Texas Intermediate futures climbed 4.22% to $75.07 a barrel.

Arab nations will partner with US on Gaza if Israel gets on board

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is back home from a seven-day trip in the Middle East, where he visited nine countries to discuss the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas and the conflicts that threaten a wider regional war. According to his spokesperson, Matt Miller, the Arab nations are ready to partner with the US on short-term and long-term solutions for Palestinians in Gaza, but only if Israel is willing to get on board.

“We’ve travelled through to nine countries and met with leaders in each of those, and was able to secure agreements with all of these Arab partners, as well as with Turkey, that they were ready to coordinate with the United States and they were ready to take real steps to improve the lives of the Palestinian people in Gaza and to look at how to rebuild Gaza and establish Palestinian-led governance in Gaza,” Miller told MSNBC on Friday. “But they were only willing to do that if they had a partner on the other side in Israel and if Israel was ready to take real concrete steps to establish an independent Palestinian state,” Miller continued. Blinken travelled to Turkey, Greece, Jordan, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, and the West Bank to continue diplomatic discussions as tensions in the region have spiked surrounding the Israel-Hamas war. Blinken reportedly had a “very candid conversation” with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli government officials about the partners the country would gain in the Arab world if it were to agree on the future of Gaza.

Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

“Hostages in Gaza will receive medicine”

In the next few days, the Israeli hostages held in Gaza for over three months will be able to receive the medicines they need. This was announced by the office of Prime Minister Netanyahu, according to which this development – requested for some time by Israel – was made possible following agreements between the head of the Mossad David Barnea and Qatar. In the same context, other humanitarian aid is also expected to enter Gaza, Netanyahu’s office said. This announcement came after the Sabbath rest had begun in Israel, leading the media to deduce that a sudden development had taken place behind the scenes.

Photo: The Associated Press

Israel “punched holes” in South Africa’s allegations of genocide

Israel’s legal team in The Hague attacked the fundamental claims of South Africa’s genocide allegations in the International Court of Justice, and, according to The Times of Israel, “punched holes” in the accusations that Israel’s state organs have genocidal intent against the Palestinians in Gaza during the current conflict with Hamas.

Israel’s six legal representatives asserted that the ICJ has no jurisdiction over the complaints brought by South Africa since they relate to the laws of armed conflict, not genocide; argued that “random” inflammatory comments of Israeli politicians did not reflect policy determined in the state bodies making war policy; and insisted that the widespread harm to Palestinian civilians during the war was a result of Hamas’s massive use of civilian infrastructure for military purposes, and not genocidal acts.

They also underlined in depth the steps Israel has taken to warn civilians to evacuate from Israel Defence Forces operational areas and to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians, including facilitating the establishment of field hospitals in Gaza to aid Gazans and mitigate harm to them. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called South Africa’s case “completely unjustified and wrong” while Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicated he doesn’t back it, after the US branded it “meritless”.

Photo: International Court of Justice

Taiwan voting for new President

Voting is ongoing in Taiwan’s presidential and legislative elections in what is expected to be a tight race for the country’s top post and amid increasing tensions with China. Polling stations opened at 8am local time (1am in Malta) and more than 19.5 million people over the age of 20 are eligible to cast their vote until they close at 4pm, whereas the results could be announced later during the night.

This is the eighth presidential election in Taiwan since the completion of the democratic transition in 1996, and there are three contenders for the position – Vice-President William Lai (Lai Ching-te) of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, Kuomintang candidate Hou Yu-ih, and Taiwan People’s Party’s Ko Wen-je. The people will also elect representatives to the 113 seats in the Parliament. In the election for President, Lai is the favorite, with around 35% of the support, followed by Hou with 28%, and Ko with 24%, according to pre-poll surveys.

Photo: Alastair Pike/AFP/Getty Images

EU seeks to entice young people to vote in June elections

After the appeal made by the vice president of the European Commission Margaritis Schinas to Taylor Swift, an idea is taking shape in the Commission: to hire a veritable parade of European celebrities, including music stars, to bring citizens closer to the Union in view of the vote for the European Parliament in June.

According to Euronews, the Commission could hire stars such as the Spanish Rosalia, the Belgians Angele and Stromae, and even the Italians Maneskin. Other musical artists, as well as athletes and football players deemed sufficiently popular, will also be contacted through their media representatives, a European official explained, according to whom the selection of European-born celebrities will seek to have a geographical balance to reach the greatest number of citizens of the 27 Member States.

The selection of names revealed on Thursday is deliberately designed to appeal to young voters: Rosalía, Måneskin, Angèle and Stromae, are among the most popular artists of the moment, with strong social media followings that Brussels hopes it can use to spread awareness of the continental elections – also because in four countries (Malta, Austria, Belgium, and Germany) 16-year-olds will vote in the European elections.

Photo: Belga

Prince’s heirs in court for control over his legacy

Less than eight years after the death of singer Prince, his heirs are once again in court arguing with each other in the latest episode of a long legal battle over control of the singer’s vast legacy. The complaint, filed in a Delaware court, pits two former associates against four of Prince’s relatives for control of Prince Legacy LLC, one of two entities created in 2022 to manage the $156 million legacy.

Primary Wave Music, which owns the other half, is not involved in the dispute reported by Billboard. Prince died in 2016 of an opioid overdose without leaving a will. The uncertainty of the situation has opened a Pandora’s box of legal disputes that seemed to have been settled in 2022 with a 50/50 inheritance split. This was not the case: now L. Londell McMillan, who was briefly Prince’s manager in the 1990s, and Charles Spicer have sued four relatives – stepsisters Sharon Nelson and Norrine Nelson, niece Breanna Nelson, and nephew Allen Nelson – who, they say, are trying to oust them from the company by violating a previous agreement and causing enormous damage to efforts to “preserve and protect Prince’s legacy”.

The two allege that the half-sisters attempted to sell their shares to Primary Wave, thereby unbalancing the current equal split between the two entities. McMillan and Spicer say the Nelsons “lack any business or management expertise and have no experience in the music industry or how high-level deals are negotiated in the music industry.” The two former collaborators therefore fear “irreparable damage” to the company’s relationships and revenues, not to mention the fact that “the interference and intervention of the Nelsons is making it impossible to carry out the mandate of Prince Legacy”.

Photo: Getty Images

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