War moves to central Yemen, talks with rebels discounted
LONDON - The battle for Yemen’s future moved to the central part of the country, as anti-Houthi forces started ground operations to push rebels out of Marib and Jawf provinces.
More than 250 tanks and eight Apache helicopters from the Saudi-led coalition are deployed in the Marib battle, the Yemen Post quoted military sources as saying, emphasising that major preparations were under way to retake Sana’a from militants. Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV reported that in Marib, 29 Houthi militants were killed in coalition raids and in clashes with fighters loyal to the exiled government.
This comes as the Iran-allied Houthi rebels have been raiding the homes of political opponents and non-governmental workers in Sana’a under the pretence that people living there are members of the Islamic State (ISIS) or al-Qaeda. According to security officials, the Houthis have detained at least 20 people, one of whom works for the United Nations, near the presidential palace. The rebel group has not officially elaborated on the reasons for the arrests.
Rebels also stepped up the number of attacks along the Saudi border since the pro-government coalition regained control of the strategic port city of Aden in August. The Houthi border attacks have resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen Saudi soldiers and border guards since military operations began in March, which has led the kingdom to launch small incursions across the border in response.
“We don’t have the intention to go deep across the Yemeni border but sometimes because of difficult terrain, mountains or caves where they can hide, we have to find their positions, clear them and then get back to our positions,” Saudi Defence Ministry spokesman Brigadier-General Ahmed Asseri said.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Riad Yassin reaffirmed that the Hadi government is not in negotiations with the Houthis and that they and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s “militias must implement the UN resolution and surrender their weapons and only then the dialogue and political process can begin, with the participation of all Yemeni parties”. Yassin also told reporters in Cairo that the battle to retake Sana’a would be launched within two months.
In line with the Saudi-led coalition’s anti-Iran expansionism narrative, Yemen’s exiled President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi reiterated that the conflict in Yemen was to curtail “Iranian expansion”. Speaking during a brief visit to Sudan at a news conference with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Hadi said evidence of Iranian expansion was present in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and that the conflict in Yemen was aimed at stopping its regional expansion.
It’s worthy to note that Sudan had close ties with Tehran. However, in September 2014, Sudan shut Iran’s cultural centre in Khartoum and joined the anti-Houthi coalition in Yemen in March. Al-Bashir also promised at the news conference to continue assistance to Yemeni nationals studying in Khartoum. He said Sudanese doctors were in Yemen treating civilians wounded in the conflict.
The UN-recognised Hadi government declared the war-torn country’s most populated governorate, Taiz, a disaster zone, with the World Health Organization warning that “an extreme spike” in cases of dengue fever had been recorded in recent weeks. Only six of the 21 hospitals are operating. Most are unable to admit patients due to a lack of medical resources.
The Emirates Red Crescent launched a major humanitarian campaign in support of Yemenis affected by the conflict. Dubbed “Yemen: We care”, the month-long drive, which generated more than $10 million in donations within the first few days, aims to mobilise support for the UAE agency’s programmes and projects in Yemen.