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Yemeni parliament votes to block drone attacks

February 10, 2014 at 10:14 am

The Yemeni parliament voted on Sunday evening on a bill that prohibits the use of drone attacks in the country. The vote was taken following an incident on Thursday during which a missile launched by a US drone resulted in dozens of civilian casualties, including 15 people killed as they were on their way to a wedding.

The state-owned Saba’a news said that the parliamentary decision will ban drones from using Yemeni airspace. “The symbolic vote reflects the public’s growing concern over America’s use of drones to fight Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen,” commented Saba’a. Laws approved by the Yemeni parliament are not binding and can be revoked by the president; the government views them as mere recommendations. According to Saba’a, the vote was taken not only to protect innocent Yemeni citizens from US missiles but also to maintain Yemen’s territorial integrity.

The parliamentary session began with a tribute to the victims of an attack carried out by a group linked to Al-Qaeda on December 5 against the Defence Ministry Headquarters in Sana’a, which left 56 people dead.

The United States has increased its use of drone attacks in Yemen as part of a campaign against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula which Washington speculates to be the organisation’s most active group. Yemeni stability is viewed as an international priority due to fears that unrest could lead to the dismantling of the state. Yemen has strategic importance since it shares borders with Saudi Arabia, the largest oil exporter in the world, and it overlooks key shipping channels between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.

The Obama administration insists that the drone programme has succeeded in liquidating Al-Qaeda members in several countries. Indeed, some Yemenis say that without the drones, Al-Qaeda would have control of even more territory in the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen’s Foreign Minister, Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi, told Reuters in September that the drone attacks are a necessary evil and are conducted in coordination with the government.

The programme’s critics, including some US politicians, claim that the attacks and the civilian casualties they cause increase sympathy with the terror group and resentment against the United States. Al-Qaeda in Yemen targets local police and security officials.