SAADA, YEMEN — Thousands of Yemenis rallied on the streets of Yemen’s northern governorate of Saada to commemorate Victims Day on Friday, in remembrance of those killed by the Saudi-led coalition since it began its war on Yemen in 2015. Protesters also expressed support for residents of Yemen’s port city of Hodeida, many saying that they are fully prepared to respond to any act against Hodeida by Saudi Arabia.
The demonstrators stressed their willingness to counter the Saudi-led coalition’s occupation of Yemen and American policies in the region, chanting slogans such as “We shall remain loyal to our martyrs” and “We will not abandon our principles” as they marched, and condemning those who had “betrayed the nation” — referring to local Yemeni mercenaries who have fought on behalf of the Saudi coalition.
AbdulMalik al-Houthi, the leader of the Houthi Ansarullah movement, said in a televised speech broadcast live on Thursday evening that “the honorable people of Yemen have decided to stand against the coalition” and called upon Yemenis from all social strata to remain resilient in the face of “existing challenges.” “We will continue to be steadfast until the aggression against us ceases. The enemy is doing its utmost because it is extremely frustrated after its failure to occupy our country,” he declared.
Al-Houthi went on to say that the Saudi-led coalition supported by the United States has launched an economic war against the poorest country in the Middle East in a bid to exert the maximum level of pressure but it could not break the will of the people. He added, “our armed forces have built great military capabilities at all levels — land, sea and air.”
Despite a ceasefire agreement brokered by the United Nations in Sweden in December, the Saudi-led coalition has continued its devastating bombing campaign across the country. On Thursday, heavy clashes broke out throughout the city of Hodeida following a Saudi attack on the city. The fighting, which went on for a day, is thought to be the biggest breach yet of the fragile ceasefire. Saudi Arabia employed heavy weapons, including mortars, against the besieged city and is believed to be bringing in reinforcements.
Concerns remain that the truce could effectively act for the coalition as a useful respite from fighting rather than as a stepping stone towards peace. The coalition is still operating on the premise that capturing Hodeida would be an economic and military blow to the Houthis and would ultimately weaken the Yemeni resistance.
Calling for Cammaert’s replacement
The latest fighting took place one day after UN Envoy Martin Griffiths left Yemen along with Dutch Major General Patrick Cammaert, following a two-day visit in which Griffiths sought to salvage the Hodeida truce, which includes the withdrawal of forces of both sides from the Red Sea port city.
A high-ranking Houthi official told MintPress News that Griffiths promised to replace Cammaert — who is leading a UN joint committee tasked with overseeing a truce in Hodeida, a conduit for the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid — in order to save the fragile truce after the Houthis accused Cammaert of pursuing alternative agendas.
Earlier, the Houthis objected to a UN-led ceasefire-monitoring team in Hodeida, accusing Cammaert of kowtowing to the Saudi coalition. Mohammed Abdulsalam, the Houthis’ chief negotiator, asserted on Sunday that Cammaert “seems to be pursuing an alternative agenda,” adding, “it seems that his [Cammaert’s] tasks are greater than his capabilities.”
A source on the negotiating committee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told MintPress News that Cammaert requested that Houthi forces withdraw eight kilometers outside of Hodeida while asking Saudi coalition forces to withdraw only half a kilometer, giving the coalition an opportunity to quickly reoccupy Hodeida unopposed.
On Thursday, the UN finally announced that Cammaert will step down next month and will be replaced with a yet unnamed Danish official.
Over the past four years, the UN has restricted its role to pushing the parties to the negotiating table or leading peace talks in different venues, including Kuwait, Geneva and Sweden. Two former UN envoys to Yemen resigned from their posts after several failed endeavors to bring Yemen’s quagmire to an end. The decision to replace Cammaert could give Griffith a chance to succeed, according to Yemeni political analysts who spoke to MintPress.
Prisoner-exchange, aid-access negotiations move forward
Another component of the UN-brokered ceasefire agreement would facilitate a prisoner exchange between the Houthis and the Saudi coalition. Delegates from both parties are expected to agree on the terms of the exchange within the next 10 days. “We expect that in 10 days time the final signing will have happened,” the head of coalition representatives to the prisoner exchange talks, Hadi Haig, told Reuters by telephone on Wednesday.
Last week, representatives from the coalition and the Houthis held a round of UN-brokered negotiations in the Jordanian capital city of Amman to hammer out details of the prisoner exchange. The two sides met separately with the mediators and submitted lists of prisoners they wanted to be released.
If an agreement is reached between the two sides, the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will oversee the process. Prisoners would then be transferred via the Sana’a airport and the Saudi-held Sayun airport, allowing for the reunification of thousands of family members split by the war.
Meanwhile, the United Nations announced that the warring parties in Yemen agreed to allow aid agencies to reach the Red Sea Mills food warehouses in Hodeida, a move that could help provide enough food to 3.5 million people for at least one month.
The provision of aid to millions of Yemenis, if realized, would be a positive move. Much work remains, however, as Yemeni infrastructure is largely destroyed and it is enduring multiple serious health epidemics, including cholera and, more recently, an outbreak of the Swine Flu. If a resolution to the Saudi coalition war on Yemen is not found, 2019 could be another deadly year for millions of Yemenis.
Top Photo | Demonstrators who have taken the streets of Yemen’s northern governorate of Saada to commemorate Victims Day, January 25, 2019. Credit | Ali Al Shrqbi
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.