“After our distress call was made, a force from the Saudi Coast Guard came not to rescue but to arrest us. They took us to the Farzan Prison in Jizan on charges of reconnaissance.” — Yemeni fishing boat captain Hamad Ibrahim Abdo Majri
AL-MAHRAH, YEMEN — Adel Khaloufah, a Yemeni fisherman from Zabid city on Yemen’s western coastal plain, had a fishing boat he shared with three fishermen, but always preferred to stay home hungry rather than venture out on a fishing trip with known and dreaded consequences. Since 2015, when the Saudi war in Yemen began, the warships of the Saudi-led Coalition and their allies have been roaming the length and breadth of the Yemeni coasts. One day in May 2020, the fishermen got a chance for what seemed a safe and profitable trip. They had been hired by an international company, working in the field of maritime security and services, dubbed “Golden Star.” The mission was to return five company employees who had accompanied an Emirati merchant ship from al-Mahrah to the Suez Canal.
Contrary to expectations, the voyage turned out to be a nightmarish story about the war in the poorest country in the Middle East. The fishing boat crew with four Yemeni marine officers working for the company, which is accredited by both the Coalition and authorities of their local allies, were arrested by Saudi Coast Guard Forces in the Red Sea near a Yemeni island, accused of being in a “closed area” despite having obtained all the official permits from the Coalition.
“When we were on the return trip, our boat had stopped near a Yemeni island, having run out of fuel in the wake of very high winds,” Hamad Ibrahim Abdo Majri, the boat’s captain, said. “After the distress call was made, a force from the Saudi Coast Guard came not to rescue but to arrest us. They took us to the Farzan Prison in Jizan on charges of reconnaissance.”
An impossible life and brutal death
In the Farzan prison, the men were subjected to severe torture by Saudi officers. Adel, who opposed the Saudi presence in the Yemeni islands, died as a result and is buried on the island, according to his crewmates, though some reject that news and say Adel has been forcibly disappeared in Saudi prisons. Adel was one of thousands of Yemenis who are arrested in Yemeni waters under various pretexts, according to Yemeni human rights organizations.
The fishing sector in Yemen was the country’s second-largest economic sector after oil, producing about 450,000 tons of seafood annually. The industry provided a livelihood for over 2.5 million Yemenis who lived along the Red Sea coast and the Gulf of Aden in the southwest, many of them “old-styled” fishermen supplying a once-thriving industry that included canneries, factories and fish export businesses, according to Yemeni Studies. Now, life as a fisherman in Yemen has become almost impossible, as many of the country’s seas and islands have been restricted areas for Yemeni fishermen in the north since 2015, and sailing a few miles away from southern coasts can be hazardous.
Secret prisons and torture chambers
At such a desperate period of Yemen`s history, with 80% of the country’s population of 30 million in need of humanitarian aid, working under the umbrella of Saudi forces controlling the ground and seas is unavoidable for many to earn a livelihood — including the displaced fishermen who fled to coastal southern areas, where the restrictions are supposed to be looser compared to northern coasts like Hodeida. However, they are always subject to arrest and torture, sometimes simply for approaching the Yemeni islands, even by mistake. But mostly they are targeted for their opposition to Saudi and UAE policies in their homeland.
The Geneva-based human rights organization SAM, which is often quite light-handed in its criticism of Saudi Arabia, said in a recent report that thousands of Yemenis have been arrested and tortured in secret prisons inside the country, such as the prison of Alteenin in Seiyun and the Airport prison, located inside Al Ghaydah in Yemen’s Mahara Governorate. In Saudi Arabia, according to SAM, hundreds of Yemeni detainees are being tortured in the Air Force Prison, located in the Jizan region; State Security Investigation Prison in Riyadh; and the Dhahban detention facility, known as the “General Detective Prison in Dhahban,” located near the Dhahban district in Jeddah.
In al-Mahrah — Yemen’s easternmost governorate, butting up to Oman and Saudi Arabia — Riyadh has Saudized Yemen’s province by patient attrition. Recently, the Saudi forces stationed at Al-Ghaydah International Airport have built underground hangars and prisons containing more than 70 solitary cells, a local source told MintPress. “Saudi Arabia continues to bring terrorist elements to Qishn, Huswain and Al-Ghaydah in Mahra,” Sheikh Ali Salem al-Huraizi — head of the Peaceful Sit-in Committee of Mahrah, who is known for being fiercely opposed to foreign military presence in the province — said in April. Al-Huraizi claimed that 100 secret prisons have been built, supported by the U.S. and U.K. in a move aimed to turn the al-Mahrah homeland into a military headquarters brutalizing its residents. He added that “British drones constantly fly over valleys and cities, terrorizing children and women and deploying spies in the cities of Mahrah.”
Strategic islands and provinces
The Saudi crackdown comes at a time when both the UAE and Saudi Arabia, supported by Israel, have strongly entrenched their hold on the Yemeni islands, including Mayyun and Socotra, as well as al-Mocha, al-Mahrah, and Hadramout provinces in the eastern part of the country. On the ground, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh have consolidated strategic positions in a manner similar to Israel’s policy in Palestine. They adopt a program of demographic change through the displacement of the indigenous population, the purchase of land and houses, the naturalization of settlers, and changing the historical features of areas — while program opponents are either assassinated or imprisoned in secret prisons.
Al-Kharakhir is a Yemeni village located in the north of Yemen’s strategic and oil-rich Hadhramaut governorate and inhabited by more than 6,000 southern Yemenis who speak the al-Mahri language. It is a border area between South Yemen and Saudi Arabia according to the Jeddah Treaty of 2000. Saudi forces have prevented residents of a number of border areas such as Kharakhir and Thamud from building new homes, and offered them attractive sums to give up their existing homes and move to alternative homes prepared for them in a development in Saudi Arabia`s Najran, 120 km from their village.
Socotra, an island located at the mouth of the Gulf of Aden is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, is of particular strategic importance. Abu Dhabi, supported by TelAviv, has established military and intelligence centers on the island and the Emirati forces are intentionally changing the island’s demographics by housing foreigners on the island en masse, mirroring Israel’s policy in Palestine. Recently, the UAE has transported foreign persons, mostly Israelis, on flights from Abu Dhabi to different places on the island. This came less than nine months after the UAE established diplomatic relations with Israel in a deal brokered by former U.S. President Donald Trump. According to informed sources, dozens of Israeli tourists entered the strategic island of Socotra on visas granted to them by the UAE to spend their vacations there.
The Saudi-led Coalition acknowledged on Thursday, through the state-run Saudi Press Agency, having a military base on Yemen`s Perim Island (known as Mayyun in Arabic), a volcanic island in the Strait of Mandeb at the southern entrance to the Red Sea. The Saudi move came in the wake of a recent AP report of the construction of a 1.85 kilometer (6,070-foot) runway on the island belonging to the UAE. On September 10, 2020, MintPress News revealed that the UAE and Israel had already completed logistical operations to establish intelligence-gathering bases and new military facilities on Socotra and Mayyun in the first months since the normalization of ties between the two nations.
Supporters turn critics
The Saudi statement has sparked anger in many Yemenis, including some Saudi allies. Hamid Al-Ahmer, a 50-year-old billionaire and the most important political and tribal leader who supported the Coalition’s invasion of Yemen, said “The hand of the UAE tampering with Yemen and Yemenis, occupying the islands including Socotra and Mayun, is real, unleashed and no longer hidden.”
The Peaceful Revolution Youth Council in Yemen`s south, which also supported the Coalition’s invasion of Yemen, has expressed its dissatisfaction over the Emirati military on the islands of Socotra and Mayun, saying:
We follow with great concern the military movements of Saudi Arabia and UAE on the islands Socotra and Mayun… We’re very disappointed with the positions of the Yemeni government, the presidency and political parties [referring to ousted president Hadi and his government] regarding the Saudi-Emirati tampering in the Yemeni islands and their use for tourism, military and commercial purposes that do not serve the Yemeni interest and violate its sovereignty.”
The National Salvation Government in Houthi-controlled Sana’a has strongly denounced the occupation of its islands, including Mayyun and Socotra, by the Saudi-led Coalition, condemning the move as a blatant violation of international law. Yemen’s foreign minister, Hisham Sharaf Abdullah, warned the UAE that Yemen will not keep silent over such illegal measures by the Emiratis, saying “If you do not leave our lands and islands, the lava of fire will soon reach you.” A high-ranking military official told MintPress that vital and economic facilities in the UAE will be hit strongly soon, on a daily basis, similar to the retaliation attacks deep in Saudi Arabia, if Abu Dhabi continues with what he described as tampering with the Yemeni islands and allowing Israelis to enter these islands.
For its part, Ansar Allah said that Saudi and UAE efforts in the strategic Yemeni islands and coastal shipping waters function not only as a pre-emptive war against the Silk Line Project adopted by China, but also are aimed to prevent Yemenis from participation in the opportunities offered under Silk Line. The Yemeni ports were supposed to flourish thanks to the Chinese Silk Line Project and the Chinese protection provided, and enable the development of large projects from which the Yemenis could benefit, according to Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, member of the Supreme Political Council and one of the most important leaders in the Ansar Allah. According to Sana`a, the establishment of military bases on the Yemen Islands and Saudi`s New Enterprise Operating Model (NEOM) initiative, which will integrate Israel into the cross-border “smart” city project, not only aimed for geopolitical and strategic influence against some countries in the region but also aimed to disrupt the new China Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
One of the reasons for the war on Yemen is the rivalry between two projects, the Silk Line Project, which was supposed to incorporate Yemeni ports, and the NEOM project, which will connect and link the continent of Africa with Asia through a bridge extending from Neom to Egypt… There is competition to bring in funds and investments. And the Saudi-led Coalition has also launched preemptive war against the China project. The Saudis hasten to bomb Yemen and occupy islands to forbid Yemenis from projects provided by the Silk Road and the protection that China will provide for these areas. “
In fact, China supports inclusion of Yemen into its BRI and stated during a meeting with al-Houthi that it stands ready to participate in the economic reconstruction of Yemen, which acts as a bridge between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa.
In retaliation for developments in the country`s coast and islands and the lack of seriousness of the Saudis and the Biden administration in the negotiations to achieve peace, the Yemeni army commenced a massive aerial and ground operation in Saudi Arabia’s southwestern region of Jizan, where the Yemenis have driven more than 150 km deep into Saudi territory.
In this operation, the Yemeni army seized more than 40 military positions near to the Doud, Al-Rumaih and Jahfan mountains in Saudi Arabia’s southern Jizan province in a 48-hour period, killing more than 400 Saudi-Sudanese troops, and their allied mercenary forces. Saudi military equipment was seized and at least 100 armored vehicles were destroyed and burned.
The media bureau of Yemen’s Operations Command Center released footage on Saturday and Monday showing Saudi military locations in Jizan being overrun by Yemeni fighters. The footage, which sparked interest on social media, included the corpses of Saudi and Sudanese soldiers as well as Western weapons captured by Yemeni fighters. On Wednesday, footage showed the Yemeni Minister of Information touring Saudi military sites. Saudi Arabia has commented on the attacks and said it is all a media fabrication. A Houthi military source told MintPress that large-scale operations were already being prepared inside Saudi Arabia in case Riyadh continues to implement its plans.
Feature photo | 71-year-old Yemeni fisherman Ammar Ahmed, center, prepares his net before a fishing trip at the main fishing port, in Hodeida, Yemen. Hani Mohammed | AP
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist based in Sana’a. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.