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December 1, 2015
The return of ousted Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi last week has bolstered the pro-government forces in their fight against rebel Houthi militias. Actively aided by the Saudis and other Gulf countries, Mr. Hadi’s forces have made steady progress, but it is clear to everyone involved that real sustainable peace is only possible through political negotiation. Many hope that the return of the exiled president to Yemen will speed up that process and bring an end to the violence and suffering in the country.
According to reports on Yemen Post, even though Saudi-backed forces have made some progress, fighting is still ongoing for control of major cities in Yemen: “Battles between the pro-government forces backed by the popular resistance and the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi militants continued in several Yemeni provinces including Baidha and Taiz on Monday. Local sources said pro-government fighters raided positions of the Houthis in the town of Rada'a, Baidha, sparking fierce battles all the day....A week ago, the Yemen forces with support from the coalition launched an offensive to drive the Houthis of Taiz. In downtown and western parts, battles have been raging with hundreds of fighters from both sides killed and injured. Lately, battles have also erupted in the province of Ibb where the pro-government fighters are still tightening their grip on most parts. The Saudi-led coalition has been striking the militants in support of the government forces since March. In the past 24 hours, it resumed airstrikes against Houthi military camps and weapons depots in the capital city of Sanaa.”
The growing number of civilian casualties and the involvement of foreign troops in support of one side or the other has drawn the attention of human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, which, according to National Yemen’s Fakhri Al-Arashi, has been especially critical of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia: “Amnesty has called for the UK to immediately suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia where there is a risk that the weapons could be used to commit human rights abuses in Yemen. Amnesty is insisting that, rather than apparently relying on Saudi Arabia to conduct its own investigation, the UK should conduct its own rigorous investigation into how weapons supplied to Riyadh have been used in Yemen....Last month Amnesty published evidence of war crimes by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in a 40-page report which examined 13 coalition airstrikes in the city of Sa’da in north-eastern Yemen between May and July this year, attacks which killed some 100 civilians, including 59 children.”
The Saudi forces have come under special scrutiny by the Iranian daily Press TV, which communicates Iranian government’s unhappiness with the Saudi involvement in the conflict: “Saudi fighter jets have carried out a new round of attacks on residential areas in four provinces in northern Yemen, killing more than a dozen people. Yemen’s al-Masirah TV said on Monday that Saudi fighter jets launched attacks on various districts in two provinces of Jawf and Sa’ada, killing 15 people....Yemen has been witnessing relentless airstrikes by Saudi Arabia since March 26. The military aggression is meant to undermine the Ansarullah movement and bring back to power fugitive former President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi. The Yemeni Civil Coalition, which monitors the crimes committed during the Saudi aggression against Yemen, says nearly 7,500 people have lost their lives in the Saudi raids.”
But there are signs that the domestic population is chafing under the burden of the Iran-backed Houthi militia, with a recent Yemen Online article reporting that “Dozens of Yemeni high school students in Sana’a attacked a senior member of the Al Houthi militia and sang the Yemeni anthem, a Yemeni website said on Monday. ‘The students of Kuwait High School in the Yemeni capital Sana’a threw stones at the head of the Revolutionary Committee of Al Houthi rebels, Mohammad Al Houthi,’ said YemenOnline.info....A video clip posted online shows dozens of students at a gathering. However, the poor sound quality made it impossible to recognize what they were saying. The students called for the expulsion of Al Houthis from the school. However, the school principal with some other teachers used sticks to beat the students in a move ‘to please the Al Houthi rebel commander.’”
Meanwhile, the UAE based Gulf Today commented on news that pro-government forces are making progress both in the training of indigenous forces and in solidifying control in the liberated governorates: “The UAE Armed Forces have concluded the rehabilitation and training of a new batch of members of the Yemeni resistance to join the armed forces in Yemen, affiliated with the legitimacy, after having undergone intensive training by UAE Armed Forces’ trainers in various disciplines....The graduation ceremony was attended by the commander of the forth governorate in Aden, Major-General Ahmed Saif Al Yafei, along with a number of officers from the armed forces of the two countries. Meanwhile, Vice President and Prime Minister of Yemen, Khaled Bahah, has said that his government would continue to move in the governorates liberated by the legitimate government to establish its authority over them.”
There is, however, much to be done. The Khaleej Times editorial notes that upon his return, President Hadi has found a country torn apart by tribal and religious divisions which are unlikely to be overcome soon: “The conflict in Yemen has taken a new turn with the return of exiled President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. The fact that he chose to fly back to Aden to apparently lead a new offensive against the Houthi rebels reflects his position of strength in the changing geopolitical scenario. Efforts to reinstall him back in power have seen Saudi Arabia-led coalition launching air strikes in March, followed by ground offensive. The ensuing war has literally Balkanised the country and led to displacement of millions of Yemenis. The country is in tatters and there is no central government at work. Thus, it would be a tough task for Hadi to call the shots, and it remains to be seen what will be his strategy in choreographing his strife-torn country towards a permanent ceasefire, and subsequent nation building....An instant ceasefire between Iran-backed Houthis and other elements fighting in Yemen is the way to go ahead. Hadi, who enjoys international and regional recognition, should play his cards in a statesmanship manner. Only then Yemen will be able to see peace and stability.”
Those divisions, argues the Peninsula staff in a recent editorial, are likely to make Mr. Hadi’s task that much tougher in the coming days, but there is hope that his return might at least put an end to the humanitarian crisis in the country: “The return of Yemeni President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi from Saudi Arabia to the southern Yemeni city of Aden yesterday indicates the progress the Saudi-led coalition is making in their fight against the Houthi rebels....The campaign has been making steady headway and the Iranian-backed Houthis are in retreat after the collective onslaught of the government forces and the Gulf countries. The return of Hadi will further embolden the government forces....The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has been identified by the United Nations as one of the world’s worst, with 80 percent of the country’s population on the brink of famine. Peace and stability must return to the country, which is possible only through reinstating the government of Hadi. The rebels must withdraw from their seized territory, as demanded by the Gulf countries, and must let the legitimate government govern.”
But it is clear to most observers, including The National’s Hussein Ibish, that only a political solution can bring lasting peace: “On balance, the Arab states and their Yemeni government allies are moving towards their goals. Yet the conflict will ultimately not be resolved on the battlefield. It will instead require finding a workable political solution that can restore stability....An all-out assault on key areas of the north, especially Sanaa, is therefore a very dangerous proposition for government and allied forces on two counts. It would be much more difficult to prevail under the current circumstances, and the civilian costs would be very high. The Yemeni and international political price of such an assault would probably be seen as prohibitive. The key to a Yemeni conflict remains, as it has been from the beginning, a political solution. And the crucial factor in achieving that remains breaking the decisive Houthi-Saleh alliance.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.