Yemen truce fails to hold as fighting escalates

Friday 31/07/2015
Yemenis ride on a road linking Sana’a to north-western city of Amran

LONDON - After a five-day truce failed to hold, and with sig­nificant gains made by pro-government fighters, the situation in Yemen is about to escalate with anti-Houthi troops expanding their ground operations against the Iran-allied rebels. Forces loyal to exiled Presi­dent Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi have set their sights on the war-torn coun­try’s biggest military airfield, the strategic Al Anad airbase, about 48 kilometres north of Aden.
According to the United Nations, none of the warring factions in Yemen respected the latest attempt at a humanitarian pause. UN official Stephen O’Brien, a former British MP, accused both sides of failing to respect international law. “A human­itarian pause announced over the weekend has not been respected by any party to the conflict with air strikes and ground fighting reported in eight governorates,” O’Brien told the UN Security Council.
“Parties to the conflict continue to fail to meet their responsibilities under international humanitarian and international human rights laws,” he added.
O’Brien went on to say that the conflict in Yemen had brought appall­ing damage on an already suffering people. “We must redouble our efforts to secure a pause in the fighting which is adhered to by all parties, to reach all those in need with basic assistance and urgently to give time and space to seek to reach a more durable ceasefire and a political solution,” he said.
The latest attempt at a truce, which was requested by Hadi, came after Arab coalition forces retook the southern port city of Aden from the Houthis. Since then Saudi Arabia has flown in medical supplies and an estimated 20 tonnes of food, while the United Arab Emirates also sent medical supplies from the UAE Red Crescent.
This was the third attempt at a humanitarian break in fighting since the start of military activities in late March. In May, an attempt at a five-day truce was violated by clashes between the Houthis and Yemeni forces loyal to the president. An attempt at a United Nations-sponsored ceasefire earlier this month failed to materialise.
The deadliest air strikes by coali­tion forces since the start of military operations preceded the announce­ment of the failed truce. According to security and medical officials, the Saudi-led coalition strikes hit a residential area in the Red Sea town of Mokha, killing at least 120 people. The strikes highlight grow­ing concerns that the strikes are increasingly killing civilians as they continue to target the Houthis, but Houthi rebels have also been criti­cised by rights groups for causing civilian casualties. Houthis and their allies randomly shelled a town ear­lier this week outside of Aden after losing control of some of the port city’s neighbourhoods, killing nearly 100 people, according to Doctors Without Borders.
However, coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri denied coalition aircraft were respon­sible, describing a statement by Human Rights Watch as not credible.
“We know it is not coalition aircraft that bombarded civilian houses. We ask this kind of organisation to be careful before saying it was the coa­lition or anyone else,” Asseri told Reuters.
“From day one we announced loud and clear we had two restrictions: We don’t conduct operations in cit­ies among civilians. And we have an obligation to protect infrastruc­ture. We have done it, so why would we do it now? But the Houthis do this all the time,” he added.
A Saudi-led Arab coalition allied with southern secessionist fighters retook much of Aden last week in the first significant ground victory in their campaign to end Houthi control over much of Yemen. The reversal of fortunes for the Houthi rebels came as a result of a military drive prepared and funded by Gulf states, which trained and supplied Yemeni recruits especially for the task. Gulf Cooperation Council coun­tries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have deployed some of their own special forces and backed up the effort with hundreds of air strikes.
A day before the ceasefire was scheduled to start, a high-level com­mander of the Houthis was captured by southern secessionist forces allied to the Saudi-led coalition, according to a statement by the group on its official Twitter account.
According to the Southern Resist­ance movement, Houthi military commander Abdulkhaliq al-Houthi was captured on July 25th, who, according to reports, is the brother of Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi and was instrumental in the capture of Sana’a in September. The UN Security Council blacklisted Abdulkhaliq al-Houthi in November 2014 for allegedly threatening Yemen’s peace and stability and obstructing polit­ical reform efforts.