The Biden administration sparked a sense of hope around the world that the war on Yemen could finally be over. For those on the ground though, the bombs keep falling, food is scarce and hope is in short supply.
SANA’A, YEMEN — Seated next to his 13-year-old daughter Hakimah’s bed in al-Thawra Hospital, S. al-Hanishi watches a breaking news report on a small TV screen announcing that the president of the United States has announced an end to U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war on his country.
But al-Hanishi took the news with skepticism. “[Biden] said he’ll end support to Mohammed Bin Salman but will help Saudi Arabia to defend her herself… Come on!” S. al-Hanishi, who asked that only his first initial and tribal surname be used for fear of reprisal, said in dismay.
Al-Hanishi now lives in Dubuea village in Yemen’s Nihm district about 25 miles east of Sana’a after living for years as an internally displaced person in the country’s capital. He remembers the moment that the war on his country was first announced from a podium in Washington D.C. by Adel al-Jubeir, the former Saudi ambassador to the United States, and he believes just as it began in Washington, the war can only end from there.
Despite recent talk of the U.S. ending support for the war, the Saudi-led Coalition has only intensified military maneuvers in Yemen in recent weeks. Saudi warplanes are seen regularly above highly populated urban areas in the north of the country, dropping hundreds of tons of weapons, most supplied by the United States.
In the oil-rich Marib province, which lies adjacent to Yemen’s Houthi-led capital of Sana’a, Saudi warplanes are trying to prevent local militant groups and militias once allied with the Saudi-led coalition to yield territory to quickly advancing Houthi-led troops. Saudi warplanes now target not only Houthi troops but the retreating fighters that once faced them.
Since February 3, when the Biden administration announced it would end support for offensive Saudi military action against Yemen, the Saudi-led Coalition has also doubled down on its blockade of the country, preventing oil ships and even materials used to dispose of unexploded ordnance, including cluster bombs, from entering the country.
In Sadaa, Hajjah, and the oil-rich Marib province, more than 150 airstrikes using the U.S- made bombs, including MK 81-82-83-84 cluster bombs, have been carried out according to the Yemeni Executive Mine Action Center (YEMAC), an organization backed by the United Nations.
These attacks, according to the Houthi-led government in Sana’a, could not happen without a green light from the U.S. government, and all the talk about peace and an end to support for Riyadh are little more than talk for the sake of diplomatic consumption.
Last week, Hakimah al-Hanishi lost her left hand to an unexploded ordnance. She was playing with her younger brother when they came upon an unusual looking object they thought looked like a toy. But it was no toy, it was an unexploded cluster munition dropped by a Saudi jet.
Ali Safra, the director-general of the Yemen Executive Mine Action Center (YEMAC) said that the civilian casualties from unexploded ordnances far exceed 1,000, most are women and children from agricultural and grazing areas. Safra says that Saudi-led Coalition has dropped 3,179 cluster bombs on Yemen, including the BLU 61-63-97 A/B, the M71, the BLO 108, and BLU 77. All U.S.-made cluster bombs. Safra says that European and Latin American cluster bombs, such as the British BMLT 1/2, the French ZP 39, and the Brazilian S-A-2, have also been used.
All together, YEMAC has identified at least 13 different types of cluster bombs, all dropped by warplanes, most often supplied by the United States, and often on hospitals, schools, markets, mosques, farms, factories, bridges, and power and water treatment plants.
“Over there, they are talking about peace, but here, we hear nothing but the roar of American-made warplanes over our heads and the sounds of explosions from their bombs,” one father told MintPress. His 13-year-old son Ra’ad and two other children, 13-year-old Raghad Salah al-Shawl and 10-year-old Najwa Ali Matari are being treated for serious injuries at al-Thawrah Hospital after they were struck by a cluster bomb as they were grazing their sheep in al-Gafrah in nearby Sana’a province. “We need an end to the airstrikes and a lifting of the blockade, not deceptive statements,” Ra’ad’s father added angrily.
The Houthi-led Ansar Allah movement and its allies initially welcomed Biden’s statements about bringing peace to Yemen with cautious optimism, promising to act as a good faith partner in any negotiated settlement to end the war. Yet that optimism has quickly waned in the face of continued Saudi violence, as did the overwhelming conviction of most Yemenis that the United States is not serious about peace nor that it will halt the sale of lethal weapons, intelligence sharing, or even training to Saudi Arabia.
There is an overwhelming sense among Houthi leadership that if a settlement will be reached, they will not have a seat at the table. Last Thursday, Houthi forces targeted a Saudi Air Base and the Kingdom’s Abha Airport near the Yemeni border with ballistic missiles and drones. And while a statement from the group claims that the attacks came in retaliation for Saudi airstrikes and to pressure Saudi Arabia to reopen Yemen’s airports and other ports of entry, Yemeni political analysts told MintPress that the attack was meant to send a message to the United States that a solution to the war could only be found in Sana’a, not in neighboring Tehran or Muscat.
The Houthi attacks coincided with a visit to Tehran by Martin Griffiths, UN Secretary-General Special Envoy for Yemen, and visits to Saudi Arabia and Oman by Timothy Lenderking, the new U.S. envoy to Yemen. Much to the Houthis’ dismay, neither Griffiths nor Lenderking met any Houthi officials in Sana’a.
Biden’s announcement to end support to Saudi Arabia did little to alleviate Yemenis’ concerns. It lacked clarity or specificity as to what policies would be introduced to effect that change. It did not mention the blockade on Yemen and it reiterated Washington’s support for Saudi Arabia’s right to defend itself. That statement left many Yemenis feeling that Biden was expressing sympathy towards Saudi Arabia and ignoring the plight of Yemenis, who have been much harder hit by the war.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s announcement that Ansar Allah would be delisted as a terrorist organization did little to help, as it came with renewed efforts from Washington to apply pressure on the leadership of Yemen’s popular movement.
Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the highest-ranking Houthi official said “peace is not made with invitations but by signed agreements. And any sentiment that we do not see applied on the ground is an expression of feeling only. We will exchange practical steps with the stopping of aggression and lifting of the blockade with simultaneous steps if agreed upon and signed.”
The onslaught rages on
Doctors struggling to keep 13-year-old Hakimah alive say she must travel abroad for treatment as al-Thawra Hospital, like most in Yemen, is suffering from a shortage of medical equipment, medicine, and lack of fuel to run generators. ”I can not evacuate her, the airport is closed. What am I supposed to do?” Hakimah’s father asked MintPress.
The ongoing blockade on Sana’a International Airport imposed by the Saudi-led Coalition and supported by the United States has caused the deaths of more than 80,000 medical patients. More than 450,000 patients still need to travel abroad to receive treatment according to the Director General of the Sana’a International Airport, Khaled Al-Shayef as well as a number of civil society organizations that participated in a joint press conference last Sunday.
According to the Yemeni Ministry of Health, over 3,000 patients registered with the Ministry suffer from cardiac abnormalities and urgently need to travel abroad for treatment. Over 12,000 patients with kidney failure need urgent transplants, and more than 65 cases of cancer risk death if they are unable to get treatment outside of Yemen. He confirmed that the airport is completely safe and in complete technical readiness to receive flights, indicating that the only obstacle to reopening the airport and lifting the ban is the intransigence of the coalition countries and the complicity of the United Nations.
The United States has not only been complicit in supporting Saudi attacks which have killed more than a quarter of a million people, destroyed infrastructure, and left Yemen one of the most heavily contaminated countries in the world, it has directly assisted in the enforcement of a blockade that has caused Yemen’s complete economic collapse.
Yemenis are now left with the stark reality that Biden’s statements have changed little on the ground. People are still suffering from cholera, malnutrition, and starvation; from horrific atrocities and indiscriminate bombing and shelling; from the destruction of infrastructure and the economy. Hundreds of thousands have perished, millions are displaced, and tens of millions have been left impoverished. The long-term effects of malnutrition and trauma on an entire generation of young Yemenis ensure the costs of this war will continue for decades to come.
Just as the war was announced from Washington, the only likely end to the war will be announced from Washington.
Feature photo | A nurse holds a malnourished girl at a malnutrition treatment ward of the al-Sabeen hospital in Sana’a, Yemen, October 27, 2020. Khaled Abdullah | Reuters
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.