Amid mounting losses, international pressure and a departure of Malaysian troops from the conflict, the UAE announced a ceasefire on Sunday to allow UN-brokered peace talks in Yemen, by Monday they were carrying out fresh airstrikes.
HODEIDA, YEMEN — The United Arab Emirates Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, announced on Sunday a pause in the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led attacks against Yemen’s port city of Hodeida. He claimed the halt is intended to allow United Nations efforts to resolve the conflict to take place.
Despite the announcement, however, the Saudi-led coalition is, in fact, escalating its attacks on various regions in the Hodeida governorate. Warplanes launched more than 70 airstrikes on the Directorate of Tahiti, south of Hodeida, on Saturday and on Monday, the Hodeida International Airport was targeted by two airstrikes, and a separate Saudi airstrike targeted a mosque in the Zabid directorate.
Mohammed Abdul-Salam, spokesman for the Ansarullah (Houthi) government, said in a statement carried by Yemen’s local media Sunday that the UAE’s attack against Hodeida had not been stopped, stressing that its recent claim of a halt in the offensive has only been made in an attempt to “deceive public opinion and try to obstruct the UN efforts…” Abdul-Salam added:
We believe that Gargash’s [statement] is an attempt to prepare for a new battle and to cover up the military, political and media failures. They were reassuring that they would control Hodeidah and that the Eid prayer would be there.”
Gargash`s announcement came just one day after Malaysia announced it was withdrawing troops from the Saudi-led military coalition. “The Cabinet made the decision [to bring soldiers home] last week. We are waiting for the preparations carried out by the armed forces,” Malaysia’s Defense Minister Mohamad Sabu told journalists at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.
Earlier, United Nations envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths said the warring sides had announced readiness to engage in the renewed peace initiative. “Both parties have confirmed to me their willingness to come to the table to restart negotiations. I think it’s long overdue that that should take place. It’s been about two years since the last talks on Yemen,” Griffiths said in an interview.
Mahdi Al Mashat — President of the Supreme Political Council, the highest political authority in Sana’a — said in a meeting with Peter Semneby, envoy of the Kingdom of Sweden to Yemen and Libya, that the U.S. and other countries supporting the aggression in Yemen do not want to stop exporting weapons and stem the huge flow of funds coming from the Gulf. Al Mashat added:
We have taken initiatives to block the propaganda and lies launched by aggressing and occupying countries. We discussed the Hodeida port extensively with UN envoy Martin Griffith and this meeting is evidence of that. We hope that his efforts succeed.”
A role proposed for the UN
The main aim of the potential UN-hosted talks on Yemen would be to discuss a proposal for UN forces to take control of the port of Hodeida. The Houthi government, which controls the port city and surrounding regions, has offered to allow the UN a leading role in managing the port in exchange for an overall ceasefire in the Hodeida governorate.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Ansarullah spokesman Abdul-Salam said that although Ansarullah accepted the UN’s technical and managerial roles in Hodeida, it would not accept the world body’s administrative or operational role in the city:
Claims that weapons are being smuggled into the port are used as justification for the war against Hodeida. Therefore, we do not mind a UN technical supervisory role — not an administrative, operational or security supervision role — to ensure that the goods entering are civilian goods and not weapons, because this is a lie and they know that it is a lie, because the country is besieged and ships are being searched every day.”
Frustrated Saudi coalition bombs and starves but can’t advance
The Saudi-led coalition has made little progress in its attempts to wrest control of the port city. Instead it has resorted to an unrelenting campaign of airstrikes, often targeting populated areas. On Wednesday evening, Saudi jets conducted airstrikes against al-Rabasah, located 150 kilometers southwest of the capital Sana’a, leaving seven people dead and four injured.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s ground forces have also been unable to capture the Hodeida Airport, despite receiving substantial support in the form of Saudi and UAE airstrikes. Local residents along with Houthi forces have closed all roads leading to the airport from the south, and have dug a number of ditches to prevent the advance of coalition ground forces.
On Friday, sandal-clad residents of Hodeida and Houthi fighters alike — dressed in a mix of military fatigues and Futah, the wraparound skirt traditionally worn by Yemeni men — stood in loose formation around burned-out armored vehicles belonging to the coalition inside of the Hodeida Airport.
At a Saturday press conference, the Ministry of Human Rights said that the Saudi-led coalition is still resorting to starvation as a means of war — systematically targeting stores of food, as well as agricultural fields, silos, farms, livestock and fishing boats — tactics prohibited by international law.
Top Photo | The moment a Saudi airstrike targeted a funeral ceremony in Sanaa, Yemen on April 28, 2018. Photo | MintPress News.
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.