Amidst fierce battle between the Saudi-led coalition forces and the Houthi rebels in the port city of Hodeidah in southern Yemen; a new hope for peace has arisen after both sides have ensured their participation in the UN-led talks in Sweden by the end of the year. There had been complete deadlock between both sides for the last two years. There was very little hope in the proposed December talks too, given the past record and intense factionalism among all the stake holders. Both sides would be sitting face to face for the first time in the presence of a new UN envoy to Yemen, Mr. Martin Griffith, after the last Kuwait Meet of 2016 that had failed to make any headway.
In the latest fight this month; more than 150 Houthi fighters along with civilians have been reportedly killed in an unabated air strike by Saudi-led forces against the Houthis who have full control over the port town of Hodeidah. In retaliation, the Houthi rebels have carried out missiles attacks on Saudi-held territories. Recently they had attacked two petroleum laden Saudi ships in the Red Sea. The southern port town of Hodeidah has a total population of 600,000. Several thousands are reportedly fleeing the town every day fearing death or being dragged into the war forcefully to be used as shields. In recent weeks, the UNSC has met twice to discuss the Hodeida crisis and pressed both sides to allow the supply of food and other humanitarian assistance through the port as it is the only route for bringing supplies to the war-torn nation. Earlier, the Houthis had expressed their willingness to give control of the port to the UN but were not ready to leave the city. This was rejected by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the two major players in the Yemen war.
Though a temporary ceasefire was announced by the Saudi-led forces, it was not reciprocated by the Houthi side despite many countries, like US, France and Britain having called for it even before the proposed peace talks. It may also be recalled that the three Western nations are strategic allies of Saudi Arabia and offer logistic and intelligence support to the ongoing operation in Yemen.
Today, Yemen’s capital Sana’a, southern city of Aden and the port town of Hodeidah apart from other strategic locations are under the control of Houthis. The globally recognized government of President Abd’r Rabou Mansour Hadi is in exile. It is more than three years since Saudi Arabia, UAE and other coalition partners launched operation ‘al-Hazam’ to dislodge the Houthis. Around 18,000 air strikes have been carried out by Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners. One-third of these airstrikes have targeted non-military sites like hospitals, schools, water and electricity plants and markets.
However, a report submitted by the UN Secretary General to the Security Council says that the Houthis have been firing Iranian-made missiles into Saudi territory. The report is unsure whether the missiles belong to banned categories or are placed under UN sanctions.
UN humanitarian operations too are facing hindrances because of the battle in Hodeidah. In Yemen, more than fourteen million people out of its 26 million populations are at risk of starvation due to lack of food and medical services. Children are the biggest victims of the war as one third of civilians (around 60,000) killed in the war are children. The medical infrastructure in the war torn country is in complete shambles. Though, the new UN envoy has expressed optimism about the forthcoming dialogue, one does not know if the negotiations will bring peace to the ravaged country.
India has been providing humanitarian assistance to the beleaguered country by sending food stuff, medicines and other relief material. Some Indian medical personnel have also stayed back in Yemen to help the local population. India hopes for peace to return. All the regional players should ensure that Yemen does not become a failed state.
Script: Dr. Fazzur Rehman Siddiqui, Strategic Analyst On Middle East