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Resurgence of violence as Saudi – Houthi talks collapse

Tehran Times – Informal talks between Saudi Arabia and the Houthi began last September but the resurgence of violence since January has shattered the calm. The United Nations has been trying to re-launch political negotiations between Saudi Arabia and the Houthi movement.

On March 1, Houthis confirmed they captured strategically important Al-Hazan city after heavy fighting. Al-Hazan is the capital of Al-Jawf province, bordering Saudi Arabia. The province is thought to have the largest oil reserves in Yemen, and Houthi success immediately led to Saudi airstrikes, which have not been able to translate to superiority on the ground. 

The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Monday that thousands of civilians have fled ongoing clashes to Marib in extremely tough conditions. “To alleviate their suffering, ICRC and Yemen Red Crescent distributed food and shelter aid for 70,000 displaced people,” ICRC tweeted. UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffith, met with the Secretary-General Nayef Al Hajrat of the PGCC in Riyadh on Saturday. At the weekend, Saudi-led coalition raided Houthi targets in the country’s port district of Salif.

The Houthi military advance

Earlier Griffith was in Houthi-controlled territories in the province of Marib (bordering Al-Jawf). He told reporters that Yemen “is in a critical juncture” and further “military adventurism and the quest for territorial gains are futile”. Last few weeks have seen Houthi military victories on the borders with Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi Tornado aircraft in Al-Jawf was downed in mid-February, reported the official Saudi press agency but did not specify fate of the crew or the cause of the crash. The Houthi al-Masirah television chancel said the jet was downed by the rebels using an advanced surface-to-air missile.

Earlier in January Houthi missile attack on Yemen’s UN-recognized President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi-led, Yemeni government forces killed at least 116. Ballistic missiles hit at an al-Estiqbal military camp in the central province of Ma’rib. The incident came amid a fall in violence across Yemen despite heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran after the assassination of Gen. Qassem Suleimani on January 3. Suleimani’s death prompted demonstrations against the U.S. in Iraq, Iran, India and many other parts of the Muslim world, including Sana’a, where Houthi describes killings of Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis as ‘clear attack on all Muslims’ and called for revenge, reports Anadolu Agency.

Raab visits Riyadh, Muscat

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, criticized by at home for British arms sales to Saudi Arabia, on his first visit to the Persian Gulf visited Riyadh on March 2, where he met Saudi king, foreign minister and deputy defense minister. Raab also held talks with Hadi to negotiate an end to the war. After meetings, he told Reuters “2020 could be a year of change for Yemen.”

On the same day Raab, appointed foreign secretary last July, proceeded to Oman where he met with Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said in Muscat reportedly to discuss the role of any mediation talks in Yemen. 
Oman has played a central role in diplomatic efforts in staving off a regional conflict. Muscat has made efforts in the past to broker indirect negotiations between Houthi rebels and Saudi-led coalition. So far no results have been announced about Raab’s talks with Riyadh and Muscat.

In a recent interview with the Tehran Times Dr. Foad Izadi, of the Faculty of World Studies at the University of Tehran, said “It is a decision the two sides [Yemen and Saudi led coalition] have to make. Iran has a four-step proposal: 
1. Seize hostilities; 2. Humanitarian aid; 3. Establishing Yemeni-Yemeni dialogue without external interference; and 4. Reaching a political solution in regards to the Yemen war.”

Court martial

Saudi-led coalition said it has launched the first court-martial proceedings against its military personnel suspected of breaches of international laws, Spokesperson Colonel Turki al-Maliki said in a briefing in London, Saudi news agency said on February 14. The proceedings are related to three airstrikes:

First was an attack on a hospital supported by the French health charity Medicins Sans Frontiers on Aug. 15, 2016. 16 people died, according to MSF with Saudi coalition claiming an error had occurred. Second, a strike on a wedding ceremony in Bani Qayis in April 2018 that left 20 dead. Saudi coalition’s joint incident action team found that an error had occurred breaching rules of engagement. Third, the incident was a strike in August 2018 on a civilian bus in Dahyan that left more than 40 schoolchildren dead, most of them under 10.
So far there is no news of any proceedings or outcome of the court-martial.

War crimes against Houthi

Last year a UN panel of experts accused the alliance, led by Saudi Arabia and UAE, for possible war crimes saying the coalition had killed civilians in airstrikes and deliberately denied people food in a country facing famine. Saudi Arabia dominated the arms market in the past five years, increasing its purchases of combat aircraft, missiles and guided bombs by 130 percent, supplied mainly from America and Britain, reports The Times.

According to new data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) international transfers of major arms during the five-year period, 2015-19 increased by 5.5 percent, with Saudi Arabia being the world’s largest importer. The jump took place despite alarm over the use of fighter bombers and guided munitions in the Saudi-led assault on Yemen in which tens of thousands of civilians have died. The UK government was forced to suspend new arms export licenses to Saudi Arabia last year after a Court of Appeal ruling that the selling of weapons for attacks on Yemen was unlawful.

by Salman Parviz

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