Landmines slow anti-Houthi coalition in Yemen
LONDON - UN-sponsored Yemeni peace talks, expected to take place in November, appear to be in doubt as fighting between pro-government forces and Iran-allied Houthi rebels rages on.
Forces loyal to UN-recognised President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi launched a major offensive to retake the strategic city of Taiz, considered the final gateway to the capital Sana’a. The offensive comes after Hadi returned to the southern city of Aden in an attempt to galvanise his forces and supervise the Taiz campaign.
Taiz could be “the key for the liberation of other provinces, including Ibb and Baida” in central Yemen and opening the way to the north, including Sana’a, said Thabet Hussein Saleh, deputy director of the Yemen National Centre for Strategic Studies. Regaining Taiz would be of “strategic importance to secure the southern provinces” and Aden, he said.
According to official Yemeni sources, who spoke to The Arab Weekly on the condition of anonymity, fighting in Taiz has been intense. The Arab coalition has provided front-line fighters with new, sophisticated weaponry and they are progressing west of the city.
The difficulty in taking Taiz, the source said, was that Houthi rebels and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh established alliances with local fighters and set up military camps. The source said pro-government forces intend to take the city before the next round of UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva.
Mukhtar al-Rahbi, an official in Yemen’s presidency, said the first phase of the operation to liberate Taiz had started and “with the arrival of massive support from the coalition forces and the assignment of warplanes and Apache helicopters, the coming days will be difficult for the Houthis”.
However, a number of factors have hindered the anti-Houthi alliance’s progress in Taiz, mainly banned anti-personnel mines. General Fadhl al-Hasan, who is leading pro-government forces’ operations in Rahida, the province’s second-largest city, said landmines were hampering the progress of government forces and had caused casualties, and that one of his troops was killed by a landmine.
According to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) statement, landmines have killed at least 12 people and wounded more than nine in southern and eastern Yemeni governorates since September.
“The Houthis are killing and maiming civilians with landmines,” Stephen Goose, director at HRW’s Arms Division, said in a release. “Anti-personnel landmines are indiscriminate weapons that should not be used under any circumstances. Houthi forces should immediately stop using these horrific weapons and respect Yemen’s obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty.”
In a related development, the UAE’s foreign minister blamed Islamists for the delay in taking Taiz.
“Had it not been for the failure of Al-Islah and the Muslim Brotherhood to act,” Taiz would already have been “liberated”, said Anwar Gargash on his official Twitter account, while a military Yemeni source reaffirmed that the Taiz advance has been slowed down by the “betrayal of some Popular Resistance fighters”.
These fighters are mainly made up of members of the Al Islah party, which is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement designated a terrorist group in the UAE.
The latest developments come at a time a political solution to the almost eight-month conflict remains elusive.
UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed had been working on getting all parties to negotiate. However, a sticking point has been the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2216, which calls on the Houthis to withdraw from all areas captured during the latest conflict and relinquish arms seized from military and security institutions.
In October, the Houthis wrote to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon assuring him that they have accepted the resolution. But the rebel group has, in fact, escalated its military activities. The most recent set of UN-sponsored talks in June resulted in fisticuffs and the breakdown of negotiations.
Militarily speaking, the UN-recognised government remains confident. Vice-President Khaled Bahah, who recently returned to the Marib province, and was given a hero’s welcome, said during a meeting with government officials: “Soon we will be in Sana’a.”
At least 5,700 people have been killed since the start of military activities in late March in Yemen.