The National·The National Today

7 million on brink of starvation as Yemen marks 1,000 days of conflict

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories

Houthi militants in Sanaa, Yemen, take part in a parade Tuesday to mark 1,000 days of the Saudi-led military intervention in the Yemeni conflict. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

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Yemen's 1,000 days of suffering

Yemen's civil war reached a sobering milestone today — 1,000 days of fighting.

The struggle between Houthis militias and the army of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi has broadened into a regional conflict with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates backing the government, and Iran arming the rebels.

Houthi militants in Sanaa react to the death of Yemen's former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, on Dec. 4. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)
The violence, coupled with an air-, sea- and land-blockade enforced by the Saudis, have brought the country to its knees. There are some 17 million people — 70 per cent of the population — in need of immediate humanitarian assistance, and as many as 7 million on the brink of starvation.

Yet somehow, things continue to get worse.

Today, the Houthis claimed responsibility for a missile attack on the Saudi capital, Riyadh, saying they were targeting the al-Yamama Palace, the official residence of King Salman. The Saudis say their "Patriot" air defences shot down the rocket, and they issued a statement blaming Iran for its continued support of the "terrorists."

It was the third such attack in recent weeks.

The remains of a missile that the U.S. Department of Defense says was fired by Houthi rebels from Yemen into Saudi Arabia on July 22. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)
Meanwhile in Geneva, the UN Human Rights agency has catalogued a "surge" in civilian casualties since the Dec. 4 killing of Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, blaming Saudi-led coalition airstrikes for at least 136 deaths.

Among the UN-verified deaths:

  • 45 detainees at a prison in Sanna that was hit on seven separate occasions.
  • 14 children and six adults in a farmhouse in the Hodeidah region.
  • A mother and nine children returning from a wedding party in Marib.

Also today, 350 high-profile world figures released an open letter calling on the governments of the United States, France and the U.K. to "stop stoking the flames of war in Yemen," and use their diplomatic and economic might to bring an end to the conflict.

Houthis look for bodies of people killed by air strikes on a Houthi-run detention centre in Sanaa on Dec. 13. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)
The signatories include six Nobel peace prize laureates, academics, politicians, an ex-general, and celebrities like musician Peter Gabriel and actress Thandie Newton.

The war has turned "the Middle East's poorest country into the world's largest humanitarian crisis," says the letter. "Every 10 minutes, a child dies from hunger or disease."

Fight like a woman

Turkey's military wants women to fight its battles.

The country's Gendarmerie Command, a national police service that is in charge of the borders and internal security, announced plans yesterday to boost the proportion of women in its ranks from one to 10 per cent.

Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, watches a military parade during a graduation ceremony at the War Academy in Ankara on Nov. 23. (Associated Press)
Starting next year, a minimum of 10 out of every 100 recruits will have to be female, with an eventual target of adding 8,000 more women to the force. (There are currently 827 serving.)

The new female members will receive the same commando training as their male counterparts, and be added to front line units, including those engaged in the "struggle against terrorism," said Gendarmerie Commander Gen. Arif Çetin.

In Turkish terms that generally means operations against Kurdish separatist groups, like the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Members of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) gather near the coffins of fellow fighters killed during Turkish airstrikes on the headquarters of the YPG in Mount Karachok in April. (Rodi Said/Reuters)
Women have fought for Turkey before — Sabiha Gokcen trailblazed as the world's first female fighter pilot in the 1930s. But in recent years the military has marginalized its women, forcing them into clerical jobs.  

In contrast, the pro-feminist, socialist PKK, which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish government since 1984, has always made prominent use of female warriors. It's a practice that has been carried on by other Kurdish groups, such as the YPG, which has been fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq where women have played major combat roles in the battles to retake Kobani and Raqqa.

Iranian-Kurdish female fighters hold their weapons during a battle with Islamic State militants in Bashiqa, Iraq, in November 2016. (Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters)
The first, modern female fighters in the Middle East were members of the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary group that fought the British in Palestine and in Israel's War of Independence. Dr. Ruth Westheimer, best known as a TV sex therapist, was once a sniper in its ranks, until she was seriously wounded by an artillery shell.

As the Israeli Defence Force grew, it moved away from that tradition, but women were again allowed to take on combat roles in 2005. Now the IDF boasts three mixed-gender battalions, the Lions of the Jordan, Caracal and Bardelas (Hebrew for cheetah), some 2,500 front-line female troops. And last March it started a pilot program to train all-women tank crews.

A female Israeli soldier from the Haraam artillery battalion trains in Krav Maga, an Israeli self-defence technique. (Nir Elias/Reuters)
Canada, in comparison, had a total of 1,171 female regular forces and reservists designated as combat troops in February 2017. Overall, women make up about 15 per cent of the 66,000-strong full-time Canadian Forces.

The United States fully opened all combat roles to women at the beginning of 2016. Its active-duty force of 1.3 million is about 15 per cent female, but the numbers vary greatly by service — women make up 19 per cent of the Air Force, but just eight per cent of the Marines.

The NHL's nasty history

The National Hockey League is busy celebrating its centenary this week.

On the weekend, it was via a frigid Senators vs. Canadiens outdoor game in the nation's capital to commemorate one of the league's first two matches, which pitted the original Ottawa franchise against the Montreal Wanderers.

Children sit below a screen on Parliament Hill's west lawn showing the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens playing the NHL 100 Classic at nearby Landsdowne Park on Dec. 16. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)
Today, on the actual 100th anniversary, it will be an afternoon game in Toronto. It's dubbed the "Next Century Game," probably because the Leafs are inexplicably playing the Carolina Hurricanes.

What will be lost in the nostalgia and hoopla, however, is the best part of the NHL's origin story — how the league was born out of hatred for one man.

Eddie J. Livingstone was the scion of a wealthy printing family who bought one of the city's first pro hockey teams — the Toronto Ontarians — in 1914, renaming them the Shamrocks.

Over the next three years, and a lot of twists and turns, the pugnacious Livingstone managed to alienate his players — the great Lionel Conacher sued him for libel — fans, and above all his fellow owners. (As detailed in this wonderful blog piece.)  

An Ottawa Senators fan looks on as their team takes on the Montreal Canadiens at the NHL 100 Classic in Ottawa on Dec. 16. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
He made allegations of tampering, launched multiple lawsuits and publicly questioned the integrity of his partners. And then he bought a second Toronto team, the Blueshirts.

So when the demands of First World War military service depleted the NHA of many of its players during the winter of 1916-17, the other owners got together, figured out a way to suspend Livingstone's teams, and signed all of his remaining players.

Then on Nov. 26, 1917, they gathered again at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal and formed a new professional league — the NHL — without Livingstone.

Fireworks go off before the game between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens at the NHL 100 Classic in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
"We didn't throw Livingstone out," Sammy Lichtenhein, his chief rival and owner of the Montreal Wanderers, told a reporter at the time. "He's still got his franchise in the old National Hockey Association. He has his team, and we wish him well. The only problem is he's playing in a one-team league."

Toronto was granted a new franchise, the Arenas, which just happened to play in the same building as the Blueshirts and featured most of the same players.

Fun history. But someone else raised an important question this week: Was the NHL's birth the inspiration for a classic Simpson's episode?

Quote of the moment

"It's such a toxic drug that there is no second chance."

- Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, on the country's growing fentanyl crisis. At least 1,460 Canadians have died from opioid-related overdoses in the first half of 2017.

Dr. Theresa Tam poses in this undated handout. A top official of the Public Health Agency of Canada has been named to a special panel to advise the World Health Organization on the new MERS coronavirus.Dr. Theresa Tam has had years of experience with the public health agency, both in respiratory diseases and pandemic preparedness and more recently as branch head for the health security infrastructure branch. (Public Health Agency of Canada/Canadian Press)

What The National is reading

  • Yemeni rebels fire missile at Saudi royal palace. (CBC)
  • Ex-Ford execs on trial for allegedly helping Argentina's 1970s Junta torture their employees. (Deutsche Welle)
  • Derailed Amtrack train was travelling 80 km/h over the limit. (CBC)
  • Paradise Papers law firm sues, demands the return of its tax-haven documents. (Guardian)
  • Toronto lawyer accused in bat attack apologizes, granted bail. (CBC)
  • A mysterious act of mercy by the NYC subway bomb suspect. (NY Times)
  • Disney unveils Donald Trump's Hall of Presidents robot, gets savage reviews. (BBC)

Today in history

Dec. 19, 1962: How to carve a turkey.

Peter Whittall, CBC's Mr. Fix-It (and the inspiration for many an SCTV character) provides a step-by-step, 11-minute tutorial that only could have existed in a two-channel universe. Plus there's a poodle on a stool.

CBC's resident handyman, Mr. Fix-It, helps viewers bone up on their knife-sharpening and turkey-carving skills in 1962. 11:18

About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.