Fighting intensifies in Yemen despite informal talks in Tunis
SAN'AA- Both military and diplomatic efforts related to the 3-year-old war in Yemen are moving at a significantly fast pace at a time Iran-allied Houthi rebels are suffering considerable losses.
Forces fighting for the Saudi-led coalition are reportedly drawing close to the Houthi-controlled Red Sea port of Hodeidah. The strategic location is believed to be the main port used by the rebels to receive arms from Iran.
Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed al-Jaber, speaking May 1 during a forum on Yemen in Riyadh, said that coalition forces were 70km from Hodeidah.
With the Houthi rebels upgrading their military capabilities despite a UN-mandated arms embargo, the Yemeni Army and the Saudi-led coalition targeted suspected Houthi smuggling routes. Hodeidah is a main focus.
The Hodeidah offensive had been delayed over UN concerns about humanitarian effects. The Yemeni government and the coalition have called on the port to be put under control of international monitors.
At least 38 rebels, including the Houthis’ second-in-command, Saleh al-Sammad, were killed in a coalition air strike in late April. Houthi Deputy Interior Minister Abdulhakim al-Khaywani was injured in the attack.
Yemeni sources said increased military action by the coalition is an attempt to force the Houthis to the negotiation table.
The sources also said they expect the return of US military and technical coordination with the coalition, which had been reduced by the Obama administration.
Unofficial UN-sponsored Yemen peace talks have begun in Tunis, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported.
Representatives of various Yemeni factions, including the internationally recognised government led by President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi; the General People’s Congress Party, which was headed by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh; the separatist Southern Transitional Council; the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Al-Islah party and the Houthi rebels were said to have attended.
The publication said the informal talks were brokered by UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths to set “a road map for the Yemeni state’s future political environment.” The talks were considered “consultative,” not official negotiations.
Authorities in Yemen arrested a person described as a Qatari military officer as he was leaving Yemen. He was suspected of providing intelligence support to the Houthi militia, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV reported.
The report quoted sources within the internationally recognised government saying Muhsin al-Karbi was arrested in Yemeni territory on April 21 while trying to “escape” through a cargo port in Mahrah governorate, which links Yemen and Oman.
The Qatari Foreign Ministry, in a statement, acknowledged Karbi’s arrest by “Saudi authorities,” however it dismissed that he is a military officer and said he was in Yemen on a family visit.
Qatar was kicked out of the Saudi-led coalition backing Hadi last summer after a diplomatic row with other Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, over accusations that Doha supported Islamic groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as its ties to Iran.