UN strives for Yemen peace talks, finds evidence of Iranian involvement
SANA'A - UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths has invited warring factions in Yemen to what would be the first peace talks in two years in the conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people.
Griffiths, who extended invitations to talks September 6 in Geneva on August 3, said on his Twitter account that the consultations “will provide the opportunity for the parties to discuss the framework for negotiations, relevant confidence-building measures and specific plans for moving the process forward.”
Diplomatic sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Griffiths is scrambling to build regional and international support for his plan. Its goal is to ease military confrontations to begin political and humanitarian measures that would lead to peace talks between the internationally recognised government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the Houthi rebels.
The plan calls for a large prisoner exchange and measures to ensure humanitarian access to areas of Yemen in need of urgent assistance.
The sources emphasised that these are meant to be confidence-building measures, which, through cooperation with the British Foreign Office, would include a preliminary meeting in London involving representatives of various Yemeni factions.
Griffiths said he was “greatly encouraged by the common desire of the parties to have prisoners of war released."
“I want to see this moving forward before we meet in Geneva,” he said.
On the battlefield, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has taken what it described as all “necessary” measures to ensure the flow of maritime traffic through the Red Sea’s Bab el Mandeb Strait. The Houthi militia also said it would suspend Red Sea attacks.
Saudi Arabia on July 25 suspended oil shipments through the Bab el Mandeb shipping lane between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa after Houthi rebels attacked two oil tankers, damaging one of them slightly, Saudi officials said.
Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki, at a news conference August 1, said the Saudi-led coalition, in coordination with the international community, has taken necessary steps to ensure the safe passage through the strait.
The developments come amid revelations that Iran was still arming the Houthi rebels. A UN panel provided the UN Security Council with a confidential report detailing Tehran’s military support for the rebels despite a UN ban.
The panel said that ballistic missiles and drones used by the militia in Yemen “show characteristics similar to weapons systems known to be produced in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The body’s 125-page report was obtained by Agence France-Presse.
The issue of Iran arming the Houthis is nothing new. A 2015 UN report said Iran’s military support dates to 2009, the early years of the insurgency.
In a related development, on July 28 the Saudi-funded Al Arabiya news channel quoted a high-ranking Yemeni military source as saying pro-government forces backed by the coalition had resumed an offensive to capture Hodeidah.
Claims by the Houthis’ media wing that about 50 people were killed August 2 in coalition air strikes in Hodeidah were dismissed by the pro-Yemeni government coalition.
Malki told Al Arabiya that the coalition didn’t carry out attacks on Hodeidah and blamed the attacks on the rebels. He said the coalition “follows a strict and transparent approach based on the rules of international law.”
"What happened today is a systematic and deliberate targeting of populated areas and civilians by Houthi militias," he added.