Representatives from Yemen's government and the Houthis tasked with monitoring a ceasefire brokered by the United Nations met on Wednesday on a ship on the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah.
An official of the military forces in Hodeidah told Xinhua on condition of anonymity that "representatives of the two-warring sides boarded a ship and jointly participated in a meeting chaired by General Abhijit Goha, head of the UN's mission in Hodeidah."
He said that a delegation of Yemen's government led by Major General Mohammed Aida attended the meeting with another delegation representing the Houthi rebels.
The source pointed out that "Wednesday's meeting is the seventh of its kind and held onboard a UN ship on the Red Sea due to the inability of the government delegation to enter the Houthi-controlled city of Hodeidah."
Another source of the government's delegation told Xinhua anonymously that "the meeting will continue for two days on the UN ship to discuss the second phase of the military redeployment and implementing the ceasefire deal in Hodeidah."
Discussing the opening of humanitarian corridors to deliver food aids to civilians in different war-torn areas of Hodeidah will be included in the meeting, he said.
In October, the United Nations started deploying cease-fire observers in Hodeidah, establishing five observation points near the military contact lines between the two warring parties.
The observation points are manned by liaison officers from both parties in accordance with the cease-fire agreement reached last year in Sweden that also called on both warring sides to move forces away from ports and parts of the strategic city.
However, sporadic exchange of gunfire and artillery shelling continued to rock the strategic port city despite the presence of the cease-fire observers.
As the main Yemeni port city along the coast of the Red Sea, Hodeidah is the key lifeline entry of most Yemen's commercial imports and humanitarian aid.
The grinding war of more than five years has pushed over 20 million people to the verge of starvation.
The Iran-allied Houthis control much of Hodeidah while the Saudi-backed government troops have advanced to its southeastern districts.
The cease-fire deal in Stockholm was seen as the first phase toward achieving a comprehensive political solution to the civil war.
A mob in Lebanon attacked the office of a Sunni Muslim religious leader in the northern city of Tripoli, smashing in windows early on Wednesday, reports said. The assailants then moved to one of the city's main squares and set fire to the municipality's Christmas tree.
The violence indicated that the tensions that recently gripped the Lebanese capital, Beirut, over an online video deemed offensive to the country's Shiites are spreading to Tripoli, the country's second-largest city. The state-run National News Agency reported that the military later detained four assailants in Tripoli but did not provide other details.
The military said a mob of men on motorcycles gathered outside the home of Sunni Mufti Sheik Malek al-Shaar and rioted, "used profanity" and smashed property. The mob then moved to the square and threw fire bombs at the Christmas tree, setting it on fire. The military said it arrested four men and confiscated their motorcycles.
On Tuesday, anger boiled over in Beirut after the offensive video was widely circulated online, showing a Sunni resident of Tripoli railing against the leaders of the country's two main Shiite groups, Hezbollah and Amal and religious Shiite figures and using expletives. Their supporters descended on a protest camp in Beirut as security forces intervened to push them back, setting off hours of pitched street battles.
Angry assailants also attacked protest camps in the northern district Hermel and in the southern Sidon and Nabatiyeh on Tuesday.
The violence threatened to plunge Lebanon further into chaos and ignite sectarian strife amid two months of anti-government protests and a spiraling financial crisis.
The daily An-Nahar said the assailants in Tripoli were angered because the Sunni mufti, al-Shaar, had called the powerful Shiite parliament speaker and head of Amal, Nabih Berri, to apologize for the video.
Supporters of the militant Hezbollah group and its close ally, the Amal movement, have been intolerant of the protesters' criticism of their leaders and have tried for days, even before the video emerged, to attack the protest camps.
The anti-government protests, which erupted in mid-October, have spared no Lebanese politician, accusing the ruling elite of corruption and mismanagement, and calling for a government of independents. They have largely been peaceful, sparked by an intensifying economic crisis
Berri, the parliament speaker, and outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri met on Tuesday and urged the Lebanese not to be "drawn toward strife" and adding that some parties they didn't name are working to incite violence in the country.
Supporters of Lebanon's two main Shiite groups Hezbollah and Amal clashed with security forces and set fires to cars in the capital early Tuesday, apparently angered by a video circulating online that showed a man insulting Shiite figures.
Police used tear gas and water cannons trying to disperse them.
It was the third consecutive night of violence, and came hours after Lebanon's president postponed talks on naming a new prime minister, further prolonging the turmoil and unrest in the Mediterranean country.
President Michel Aoun postponed the binding consultations with leaders of parliamentary blocs after the only candidate — caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri — failed to win the backing of the country's largest Christian groups amid a worsening economic and financial crisis.
The postponement followed a violent weekend in the small nation that saw the toughest crackdown on demonstrations in two months.
Lebanese security forces repeatedly fired tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse hundreds of protesters in downtown Beirut in the worst violence since demonstrations against the political elite erupted in mid-October.
On Monday night, a group of young men clashed with security forces in downtown Beirut after a video began circulating online in which a man insulted Shiite political and religious figures, heightening sectarian tensions. The group, apparently supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, set at least three cars on fire and hurled stones and firecrackers at riot police.
Police responded with tear gas and water cannons.
Aoun had been scheduled to meet with the heads of parliamentary blocs to discuss the naming of the new prime minister. Those consultations are binding, according to the constitution, and Hariri, who resigned under pressure Oct. 29, was widely expected to be renamed.
The presidential palace said the consultations would be held instead on Thursday, based on a request from Hariri.
The U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, had warned that because of the collapsing economy, such postponements are "a risky hazard both for the politicians but even more so" for the people.
Lebanon is enduring its worst economic and financial crisis in decades with a massive debt, widespread layoffs and unprecedented capital controls imposed by local banks amid a shortage in liquidity.
Hariri resigned after protests began earlier in October over widespread corruption and mismanagement. The palace said Hariri had asked Aoun to allow for more time for discussions among political groups before official consultations.
Earlier, the country's main Christian groups said they refused to back Hariri, who has served as premier three times.
His office said in a statement that he is keen for national accord, adding that had he been named to the post, it would have been "without the participation of any of the large Christian blocs."
Under Lebanon's power-sharing system, the prime minister has to be a Sunni Muslim, the president a Maronite Christian and the parliament speaker from the Shiite community. Hariri has emerged as the only candidate with enough backing for the job, but he is rejected by protesters who demand a Cabinet of independent technocrats and an independent head of government not affiliated with existing parties.
Although the protests had united all sectarian and ethnic groups against the ruling elite, tensions had surfaced from the start between protesters and supporters of the Shiite groups Hezbollah and Amal, after the latter rejected criticism of its leaders.
Hariri had asked the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank for help developing a reform plan to address the economic crisis.
Moody's Investors Service said that without technical support from the IMF, World Bank and international donors, it was increasingly likely that Lebanon could see "a scenario of extreme macroeconomic instability in which a debt restructuring occurs with an abrupt destabilization of the currency peg resulting in very large losses for private investors."
Its currency has been pegged at 1,507 Lebanese pounds to the dollar since 1997, but in recent weeks it has reached more than 2,000 in the black market. Lebanon's debt stands at $87 billion or 150 percent of GDP.
Israel became a major energy exporter for the first time on Monday after signing a permit to export natural gas to Egypt. The announcement comes just days before a lucrative Israeli gas field in the Mediterranean Sea is expected to go online.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz called the permit a "historic landmark" for Israel. He said it's the most significant economic cooperation project between the neighboring countries since they signed a peace deal in 1979.
The European Union, seeking to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, has encouraged the formation of new delivery routes, including through the eastern Mediterranean. These routes could also curtail Iranian ambitions to use Syria as a gateway to the Mediterranean.
"The natural gas revolution turns us into an energy power and affords us not just huge income for the country but also a dramatic decrease in air pollution," Steinitz said. Israel is planning to wean itself off coal, thanks to the expected gas boon.
But Israel's focus on its newfound gas reserves over the past decade has faced stiff domestic criticism from environmental and social welfare activists. They say the government has been too generous toward the gas tycoons behind the exploration, and that the massive investment has steered resources away from focusing on renewable energy sources.
More recently, local activists have been urging Israel's Delek Drilling and its U.S. partner, Noble Energy, to move a proposed shoreline treatment gas rig farther out to sea. The activists fear what they call the catastrophic consequences of spreading toxic water and air pollution toward their homes.
Delek, Noble and the Israeli government insist that the most stringent safety measures have been put in place, and accuse their critics of waging an irresponsible scare campaign.
Aside from the economic benefits, the promise of gas appears to have helped Israel grow closer to Arab governments and other Mediterranean countries.
Israel signed a $15 billion deal last year to provide Egypt with 64 billion cubic meters of gas over a 10-year period that will help transform both into regional energy players.
In January, Egypt hosted its first ever regional gas forum. The Israeli energy minister attended alongside several regional delegations, the first such visit by an Israeli Cabinet member since Egypt's 2011 Arab Spring uprising.
Although past economic agreements with Israel have been controversial in Egypt, where support for the Palestinians runs high, relations have been steadily warming.
Israel already delivers small quantities of gas to the Palestinians and to Jordan, with whom Delek and Noble signed their first export agreement in 2016.
The Leviathan reservoir was discovered in 2010 some 125 kilometers (75 miles) off the Israeli coast, and together with the discovery of the smaller Tamar field, ushered in a wave of optimism for a country that used to take an almost perverse pride in thriving with very few natural resources.
The Zohr gas field — discovered off the coast of Egypt in 2015 — has been touted as the largest ever in the Mediterranean.
Turkey has dispatched a surveillance and reconnaissance drone to the breakaway north of ethnically divided Cyprus amid tensions over offshore oil and gas exploration, Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency said Monday.
The news agency said the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone took off from an airbase in Dalaman, Turkey and touched down at the airport in Gecitkala — known as Lefkoniko in Greek.
Kudret Ozersay, foreign minister of the self-declared Turkish Cypriot state, told reporters Sunday that the Turkish deployment would be limited to unarmed drones as there was "no need" for armed ones.
Earlier, Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister Ersin Tatar said there was an "urgent need" to address the security concerns of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots in the eastern Mediterranean.
It's unclear what the drones will be specifically tasked to do on assigned missions. The Turkish government hasn't yet provided any details about the move.
Turkey's foreign minister. Mevlut Cavusoglu, said last week that Ankara could use its military forces to halt gas drilling in waters off Cyprus that it claims as its own.
Cavusoglu said Turkey "has the right to prevent" any unauthorized drilling in waters that it says fall within its own continental shelf.
Turkey doesn't recognize Cyprus as a state and asserts 44% of the island nation's exclusive economic zone are its own.
Part of the area that Turkey claims it has rights to are waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights and where companies including ExxonMobil, France's Total and Italy's Eni are licensed by the Cypriot government to jointly carry out drilling.
Cyprus' government spokesman Kyriakos Koushios told state broadcaster CyBC on Sunday that Turkish warships told an Israeli research vessel to leave "disputed" waters off Cyprus last month.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence in the north where it keeps more than 35,000 troops.
Earlier this year, Turkey dispatched warship-escorted drill ships to conduct exploratory gas drilling inside Cyprus' economic zone, including in an area where Eni and Total are licensed to drill. Ankara said it's acting to protect its interests and those of Turkish Cypriots to the area's energy reserves.
Last year, Turkish warships physically blocked a drill ship that was scheduled to carry out exploratory drilling on behalf of Eni in waters southeast of Cyprus.
The European Union has leveled sanctions against Turkey over its drilling activities off EU member Cyprus.
Last week, EU leaders rejected a deal Turkey signed with Libya's U.N.-recognized government that delineates the two countries' maritime borders which Ankara says gives it exclusive rights to a large swath of the eastern Mediterranean.