Reports on attacks and rearmament: Yemen before new round of war

Both the Saudi-backed government and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels are preparing to end the ceasefire.

A man stands up and between rubble in front of a car that was also destroyed.

A Yemeni man in a house bombed by Saudi Arabia in Sanaa in January 2022 Photo: Photo: Hani Al-Ansi/dpa

SANAA taz | A ceasefire has been in place in Yemen since April 2 between the Iran-backed Houthi rebel group and the Saudi-backed interim government. It envisages the release of all prisoners from all parties to the conflict, the opening of the international airport in the capital Sanaa for civil and commercial flights – the city is controlled by the Houthis, the government has therefore prevented air traffic – and the reopening of roads between rebel and government areas.

The latter applies in particular Taiz – the city has been under the Houthi blockade since 2015 – and the port of Hodeidah on the Red Sea, which is important for supplying the Houthi region, which is repeatedly blocked by Saudi warships in particular.

But now the balance sheet looks bleak. The internationally recognized government states that it has fulfilled all the conditions of the ceasefire; thus the international airport of Sana’a was opened for civil and commercial flights. So far, however, only a few flights have operated, the most common route is to Amman in Jordan, where negotiations between the Houthis and the government took place from May.

The main roads between rebel and government areas are still closed, Taiz cut off from the outside world. The opening of the roads had been a main topic in the negotiations in Amman.

Controversy over the opening of roads

In the first round of negotiations, the Houthi delegation proposed that instead of opening the main roads – which they categorically refused to open – only the secondary roads to Taiz should be opened. The government delegation refused.

Abdal-Karim Shaiban, head of the government delegation in the negotiations, is now warning of a return to war. He says: “The road that the Houthis have offered to open is inappropriate. They cannot pass cars. That means the siege continues. We also hold the UN envoy Hans Grundberg responsible for this.”

Since the beginning of the year, the Houthis have doubled the number of earthen barriers cutting through the main road between the city of Taiz and Hawban district, satellite images show. Nadir Abdullah, who lives in the Hawban area, says: “A few days after the ceasefire announcement, people associated with the Houthis planted mines on the main road that should have been opened after the ceasefire agreement.”

On June 26, the Houthis announced the collapse of negotiations in Jordan. After that, they tried to mobilize and supply their fronts with fighters and weapons.

mutual threats

On July 4, Hussein al-Ezzi, the Houthi government’s deputy foreign minister, tweeted that he would take military action in the government-held governorate of Marib, east of Sana’a.

Many Yemenis take this as a sign of the return of war and the end of the ceasefire. At a meeting with army leaders in Taiz governorate, Brigadier General Tariq Saleh, deputy in the Council of Presidents of the internationally recognized government, called for the armed forces to increase their combat readiness and prepare for any Houthi violation of the ceasefire.

Map of Yemen showing the regions controlled by the government and the Houthi rebels respectively.

Photo: infotext

Mosleh Mohammed, a retired major general in the Yemeni army, is skeptical about the ceasefire. It is only an opportunity for the warring factions to regroup and consider their plans for resuming military operations.

“The ceasefire cannot lead to a final solution because Saudi Arabia will not allow the presence of pro-Iranian militias on its southern borders,” he says.

Mutual accusations

The Houthis would also try to resume fighting. The ceasefire, he says, only came about because the international actors were busy with the war in Ukraine.

Shawqi al-Qadi, member of the Yemeni parliament, said: “The continuation of the ceasefire means that the Houthi group remains a de facto authority controlling the areas it controls.” This means that the war continues.

The Houthis return the allegations. On July 6, the Supreme Political Council, the Houthi government’s highest authority, accused coalition and government forces of failing to honor the terms of the ceasefire. The government side is obstructing the opening of roads to Taiz. He announced a unilateral initiative to open a side street, the so-called Sixty Street Road.

Abdullah al-Mamari, a journalist and human rights activist in Taiz, says: “The Houthis’ motives are military, not humanitarian. This street has no direct connection to the city. The road leads past an air defense camp, I think the Houthis want to check that.” The fact that they announced that they would open this road now of all times is also an attempt to evade responsibility by accommodating the demand a little.

Attacks, new fortifications and troop reinforcements

Grundberg explained to the UN Security Council last Monday that there were reports from both sides about shelling, drone strikes, reconnaissance flights, troop reinforcements and the construction of new fortifications.

“In recent weeks we have seen worrying, escalating rhetoric by the parties questioning the usefulness of the ceasefire,” he said, warning that the alternative to the ceasefire is a return to war “with all the foreseeable consequences for Yemeni civilians and… regional security”.

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