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Saudi Arabia resumes oil exports through key strait

Coalition takes measures to ensure security – Houthis willing to attend UN talks

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia said yesterday that it was resuming oil shipments through the Bab al-Mandab Strait, ending a 10-day suspension triggered by rebel attacks off the coast of Yemen. The decision came after measures by a Saudi-led military coalition to “ensure the security of navigation in this strait and in the Red Sea”, said Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khaled Al-Falih, quoted by the official Saudi Press Agency. Measures had been taken “in coordination with the international community”, Falih added, without providing further details.

Bab al-Mandab is a crucial shipping lane between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, linking the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden. On July 26, Saudi Arabia said it was temporarily suspending oil shipments through Bab al-Mandab after two oil tankers operated by Saudi shipping group Bahri were attacked, slightly damaging one vessel. Saudi leads a coalition backing Yemen’s government in a war against Houthi rebels. The pro-Houthi Al-Masirah television said at the time that the rebels had targeted a Saudi warship named Al-Dammam, without providing further details. The Houthis are backed by Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran in Yemen’s conflict and retain control of the strategic Red Sea port of Hodeida.

On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Iran his country would join military action to stop Tehran if it attempted to block the strait. “If Iran tries to block the Bab al-Mandab, I am convinced that it will find itself facing a determined international coalition to prevent this. This coalition would also include the state of Israel and all its arms,” Netanyahu said. About 4.8 million barrels of oil and petroleum products pass through the strait every day, according to US government figures.

Separately, a member of the political wing of the Houthi rebels said yesterday the insurgents were willing to attend UN-brokered talks, although they had low expectations of a positive outcome. Salim Meghles said the Ansarullah (Supporters of God) political wing is “not opposed to such consultations” which are aimed at “reaching a general framework for negotiations”. “We are not opposed to travelling to any neutral country to take part in such consultations,” he told AFP.
The UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, on Thursday told the Security Council that the United Nations will invite Yemen’s warring sides for talks in Geneva on Sept 6 to discuss a framework for peace negotiations. Meghles cast doubt over the expected meeting saying he did not sense “any serious or real stance by the aggressors towards reaching a political solution”. He was referring to the Saudi-led coalition that has intervened in Yemen since 2015 to restore the internationally recognized government to power, which has been driven out of the capital Sanaa by the rebels.

A government official on Friday said the Saudi-backed government was ready to attend the Geneva talks. The war in the impoverished country has left nearly 10,000 people dead and unleashed what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. UN-brokered political talks on Yemen broke down in 2016 amid demands for a rebel withdrawal from key cities and power-sharing with the Saudi-backed government. – AFP

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