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Yemen rivals battle on despite end of Arab offensive

 
 

Rival forces fought on in Yemen on
Wednesday despite a declared halt to a
Saudi-led bombing campaign, showing how
tough it may be to find a political solution to
a war stirring animosities between rival Gulf
powers Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Tuesday’s announcement by Riyadh that it
would end almost a month of air strikes
against the Iranian-allied Houthis drew
positive responses from both the White
House and Tehran, as well as fresh calls for
peace talks and for urgent deliveries of
humanitarian aid.
But hours later, Houthi fighters captured an
army brigade base loyal to the government
in Yemen’s central city of Taiz following
heavy fighting. A Saudi air strike hit the
brigade headquarters shortly afterwards,
residents said.
The brigade, along with several other army
units, had declared its loyalty to exiled
president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Pro-Hadi militiamen fought clashes on
Wednesday throughout southern Yemen
against the Houthis and their army allies
loyal to powerful ex-president Ali Abdullah
Saleh, and residents in the main port city of
Aden reported heavy tank shelling and
bursts of automatic gunfire in several
neighborhoods.
Yemen’s south has been the bulwark of
resistance against the Houthi advance and
locals expressed dismay at the end to Saudi
strikes, which had supported their forces.
“The decision was strange and totally
unexpected. Our fighters had made gains but
needed more Saudi air support, now we hear
the Houthis and Saleh’s people are
advancing in many places,” said Aden
resident Saleh Salem Ba Aqeel.
But residents of the capital Sanaa slept
through a quiet night, a respite from almost
nightly raids since the campaign began on
March 26.
Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in
Yemen shows that the Sunni monarchy will
stand up to Iran and that Arab states can
protect their interests without US leadership,
the kingdom’s ambassador to Britain, Prince
Mohammed bin Nawaf, told Reuters in an
interview.
Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it would
end its campaign cast doubt over its next
moves against its Houthi enemies, whose
seizure of swathes of Yemen in recent
months stirred Saudi fears that Iran is
acquiring decisive influence in a country
Riyadh sees as its backyard.
A Gulf official told Reuters that the new
phase would see a downscaling of military
activity by the Saudi-led coalition with no
further bombing of fixed military targets.
On the political front, the official said, there
was movement toward a dialogue, and that
both Saleh’s followers and the Houthis
should have a voice in the discussions.
Saleh welcomed the Saudi announcement
and called for talks, while the Houthis have
yet to react beyond calling for mass protests
against the Saudi “aggression” for Thursday.
A Yemeni official told Reuters that the
warring parties were discussing a seven-
point peace plan offered by neighboring
Oman, which has stayed neutral in the
conflict, involving the reinstatement of
Hadi’s government and a Houthi withdrawal
from leading cities – previously non-starters
for the group.
The White House on Wednesday said Yemen
remained unstable and much more work
needed to be done in the region on a
diplomatic solution, despite the declared
halt to the Saudi-led bombing.
“RESTORING HOPE”
Saudi Arabia said a new phase called
“Operation Restoring Hope” would now begin
in which political, diplomatic and military
action would be combined but the main
focus would be on the political process and
aid efforts.
The conflict has created severe shortages of
food and other supplies by closing sea and
airports. The World Health Organization
said on Tuesday that 944 people were
reported killed and 3,487 wounded in Yemen
in the month up to Friday.
The United States said on Monday an
aircraft carrier and guided-missile cruiser
had gone to waters off Yemen to join seven
other US warships already in the area.
The Pentagon said the ships were there to
ensure freedom of navigation through the
area, which is vital to oil shipping and
controls approaches to the Red Sea and the
Suez Canal.
It said the ships were also watching a
flotilla of Iranian cargo vessels that had
approached Yemen. The UN Security Council
has imposed an arms embargo on the
Houthis, and the Saudi navy has imposed a
naval and air blockade around the country
that it says it will maintain in the coming
phase.
President Barack Obama warned Iran on
Tuesday not to send weapons to Yemen that
could be used to threaten shipping traffic in
the region.
Iran called for all sides in Yemen’s conflict
to start negotiations, saying long-term
peace was possible.
“History has demonstrated that military
intervention is not a proper response to
these crises and will instead exacerbate the
situation,” Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani
said at an Asian-African conference in
Jakarta.
The United States and Saudi Arabia have
accused Shi’ite Iran of arming the Houthis, a
claim Iran denies.
“Fear of Iran is part of a Saudi-American
plan to bury Yemen’s revolution which
rejected their hegemony,” top Houthi leader
Saleh al-Sammad told Reuters. “There are no
Iranian weapons here.”

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