The conflict has killed more than 3,000 people. Envoy Ahmed said: "For the humanitarian pause, we are going to start tomorrow evening and we have assurances from all the parties, and we are quite optimistic it will be respected.We have agreed to go ahead, based on two major points. The first is the commitment of all parties not to violate this ceasefire, this humanitarian pause. The second is that humanitarian assistance can reach all parts of Yemen". Ahmed had just completed talks with the Houthis in Sanaa.
Earlier attempts to agree to a cease fired had foundered due to the government in exile of President Hadi insisting that the Houthis withdraw from key cities that they had occupied as a condition of any ceasefire. No doubt the Saudis and other allies told Hadi to agree to a cease fire without any conditions as appears to have happened. Relief agencies claim that more than 80 per cent of the 23 million Yemenis need emergency aid. Those who are able have fled the country. The Saudi blockade and allied militias often block aid to Houthi areas but the Houthis too have tried to disrupt aid or block aid to areas they do not control. At least the humanitarian pause is a step in the right direction. It may also allow time for more discussions between competing groups. However, AQAP will no doubt continue fighting the Houthis whether there is a cease fire or not. The group fought against the government of Hadi when it had control as well.
"UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien described the situation confronting the population of the Arab world’s poorest country as “catastrophic,” placing much of the blame on the Saudi-led air strikes that have devastated Yemeni cities, and Saudi Arabia’s blockade of Yemen’s ports, which have prevented not only the arrival of emergency relief supplies but also the basic flow of goods that existed before the war.
“The blockade means it’s impossible to bring anything into the country,” Nuha Abdul Jaber, Oxfam’s humanitarian program director in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa told the Guardian newspaper. “There are lots of ships, with basic things like flour, that are not allowed to approach. The situation is deteriorating, hospitals are now shutting down, without diesel. People are dying of simple diseases. It is becoming almost impossible to survive.”
Earlier attempts at peace talks failed when the Hadi government in exile demanded concessions from the Houthi rebels as a condition of attending. This time, there are no preconditions. Dahllallah a-Shami, a senior member of the political wing of the Houthi rebels said the group would not accept preconditions set by other parties: We accepted the invitation of the United Nations to go to the negotiating table in Geneva without preconditions," said Daifallah al-Shami, a senior member of the rebels' political wing. Ezzedine al-Isbahi, information minister of the Saudi-backed Hadi government reported from Ryadh, the Saudi capital. that it would also send representatives to the talks in Geneva. Al-Isbahi said that the meeting would involve "consultations on implementing Resolution 2216" of the UN Security Council that was passed in April. This resolution imposed an arms embargo on the Houthis and demanded they relinquish seized territory. According to diplomats who attended a closed-door Security Council meeting the meeting will discuss a ceasefire, increased deliveries of humanitarian aid, and agreement on a Houthi withdrawal plan.
There may be difficulties negotiating the withdrawal of the Houthis from territory they have captured unless the Saudis are willing to offer the Houthis a government that they find acceptable. The new vice-president appointed by Hadi may be acceptable to the Houthis as the leader of a unity government but the Houthis took power because earlier negotiations sponsored by the UN had failed to reach agreement on a government acceptable to all sides. Of course, AQAP remains outside any negotiations. The Southern Movement separatists will no doubt demand increased autonomy at the very least as a condition of their agreeing to any proposed government. At present they are fighting against the Houthis. The group wants a separate state of South Yemen as existed in the past.
Strikes appear to be escalating ahead of a humanitarian ceasefire scheduled to begin on May 12 and to last five days. However, Houthi officials claim that they have received no formal notice of the ceasefire and could not respond until they do so. Since the Saudi air strikes began at least 1,200 people have been killed over half civilians according to the UN. Over 300,000 have been displaced and many have fled the country altogether. The crisis began when negotiations for a new government with the Houthi rebels, who had extended their area of control to the capital and west last year, broke down. The president, Mansour Hadi, resigned but later escaped house arrest and fled to Aden where he claimed to be president and tried to set up a government to rival the regime created by the Houthis in Sanaa. He was attacked and fled to Saudi Arabia to the safety of the capital Ryadh where he claims to still be the legitimate president. He has strong supporters including the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saudi Arabia, and also the United States. He allowed drone strikes and was a strong supporter of the US war on terror against groups such as Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP).
AQAP are enemies not just of Hadi and his government but of the Houthis as well, since the Houthi are a Shia sect and AQAP radical Sunnis. AQAP has taken advantage of the chaos in Yemen to greatly extend their reach and power often in league with local Sunni tribes. They have over-run a number of army bases easily and captured huge amounts of weapons. They now control the province of Hadramawt and its capital Mukalla, a port city.
The US supports a humanitarian pause to deliver aid to conflict areas and US Secretary of State John Kerry has been pressing the Saudis to agree to a temporary ceasefire. A huge problem for the aid effort is that the Saudis insist that they control the distribution of aid. This is totally inconsistent with the UN position that aid should never be delivered by one of the parties to the conflict. If Saudi Arabia distributes the aid it would ensure that aid went only to the areas supporting or under control of their supporters. It would also ensure that Houthis would not agree to a ceasefire.
UN officials have been quite critical of the Saudi-led blockade of Yemeni ports, designed to prevent any weapons from reaching the Houthis. The searches have created huge delays in delivery of fuel and food particular in areas controlled by Houthis. Johannes Van Der Klaauw, UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen said: “We urgently need a resumption of commercial imports of critical goods, such as fuel, medical supplies and food. Without resumption of commercial imports, all basic services and markets will close down shortly.” In order to prevent an Iranian cargo plane from landing at an airport in the capital Sanaa, the Saudis bombed the runway making it unusable and preventing any aid being delivered using the airport.
Critics claim that there will be no ceasefire and that the Saudi announcement was all meant as a show for Secretary of State Kerry. The "pause" in the Saudi-led operations was never likely to happen in any event because the Saudi foreign ministry made it conditional upon the Houthis disarming which they know will not happen. The Russians earlier called for a ceasefire in the UN Security Council but this was rejected. No doubt the US wants Saudi Arabia to at least make a gesture towards alleviating the humanitarian situation. Since April 21st Operation Restoring Hope which would shift attention to the political process rather than military operations and also protect the people is supposed to be in progress. The bombing never stopped and military operations have escalated with even some special forces now operating in Aden.
There is no sign yet of any political breakthrough.
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Ken is a retired philosophy professor living in the boondocks of Manitoba, Canada, with his Filipina wife. He enjoys reading the news and writing articles. Politically Ken is on the far left of the political spectrum on many issues.
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