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Arabic press review: Houthis in secret talks with Saudi Arabia

Meanwhile, Iran is increasing its leverage in Syria, and the UAE reportedly has secret prisons in Yemen
Supporters of Yemen's Shia Houthi rebels chant slogans as they gather for a rally in support of the group in the Houthi-held capital Sanaa (AFP)

Secret talks between Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s Houthis 

The Houthi leadership in Yemen has been conducting secret talks with Saudi officials for the past several weeks, a source close to the group has revealed, according to the Arabi21 website.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the talks are ongoing and were prompted by mediation from several countries, including Oman.

A Saudi delegation, consisting mainly of military figures, arrived in the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa about two weeks ago, according to the source. 

The Houthis then sent a group of representatives to the kingdom as part of a delegation to continue with talks. 

According to the source, this round of talks has focused on “stopping the war” which has carried on for more than five years. The talks have stressed the fact that the Saudis have shown flexibility and a readiness to stop the war, and before they retreat they are offering a “one-year truce”. 

The Houthis have reportedly rejected the temporary truce and responded to Saudi Arabia by saying: "Either a comprehensive cessation of war or an all-out war."

After the initial delegation meetings, discussions have continued over video conference between the two sides.  

Iran widens influence in eastern Syria

Iran is pushing to increase its military, economic and social influence in Syria, especially in the eastern regions bordering Iraq, in order to secure a land passageway linking it through Iraq with Syria and Lebanon, according to a report published by Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

The Iranian army is rebuilding Imam Ali air base located on the Syrian-Iraqi border, its largest air base in Syria according to security experts. It is located about 320 kilometres away from the US military base al-Tanf at the Syrian-Jordanian-Iraqi border triangle.

The base will have 15 military posts, including 10 posts that contain several weapons depots and training facilities for fighters.

This is in addition to a number of military strongholds that are already run by Iranian-backed militias and members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Fatemiyoun Division and its Quds Force - which have been tasked to carry out the construction work. 

The base also includes five other points that contain highly-advanced rocket launchers, according to the London-based newspaper.

Iranian militia bases are concentrated in many cities and regions in Syria’s Deir Ezzor governorate, mainly on the strategic route where Iran is seeking to strengthen its presence to reach the Mediterranean Sea, according to the report.

Iranian militia have reportedly begun to implement plans to spread sectarian and cultural change in the Deir Ezzor governorate. 

According to the paper, the militia are doing this by purchasing real estate, using religious groups to spread study missions and with cultural centres. 

Assassinations and secret prisons in Yemen

The UAE is involved in carrying out large-scale assassinations and running secret prisons in the Yemeni interim capital Aden, according to an Al-Jazeera Arabic investigation. 

The investigation revealed that the head of the assassination gang in Aden - nicknamed "Abu Khalifa" - was working directly with the Emiratis. 

Elements of al-Qaeda carried out the assassinations under the guidance of Emirati officers, according to the Al Jazeera report. 

Marwan Latif, a detainee in an Aden prison, said he saw Emirati officers killing a man who refused to confess and then putting his body in a garbage bag.

Latif also said he was told by an Islamic State (IS) member also held in prison that "Emiratis were supplying oil to the organisation".

Mounir Talal, a journalist who used to work with the UAE Red Crescent, reportedly said in the Al Jazeera report that "the Red Crescent was a UAE intelligence tool". 

According to UN reports, between 2015 and 2019, southern Yemen has seen more than 100 targeted assassinations.

* Arabic press review is a digest of reports that are not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.