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.