Yemen: The Oman track

Ahmed Eleiba , Friday 9 Feb 2018

While efforts are underway to push towards a national solution to the Yemen crisis, tensions and competing interests on the ground continue to present obstacles

Yemeni soldiers
Yemeni soldiers allied to the country's internationally recognized government drive a tank on the outskirts of Sanaa,Yemen on Friday, February. 2, 2018 (Photo: AP)

A Yemeni political source in Riyadh has revealed that a new initiative for resolving the Yemeni crisis is in the process of being formulated. It involves resuscitating the Muscat track. The UN, through its deputy to the special envoy for Yemen, Maain Shuraim, is spearheading this effort which has yet to coalesce into a final form.

Two weeks ago, a delegation from the Ansar Allah “Houthi” movement travelled to the Omani capital in order to explore the possibility of reviving this track that had come to a dead end about a year ago with the end of the Obama administration in the US. Former secretary of state John Kerry had proposed a peace plan, using Oman as a venue, after an earlier negotiating effort broke down in Kuwait.

“In the event this track matures and follows the ‘Kerry 2’ plan, which will be overseen by current US Secretary of State Tillerson, this course will probably lead to the treatment of the Yemeni crisis as a whole and not just the crisis of the Houthi rebellion,” the Yemeni source told Al-Ahram Weekly.

However, a London-based observer of the Yemeni crisis told the Weekly, “we should not be too hasty in building our hopes on that vision. That track is riddled with obstacles. Even if it makes some progress, regional understandings will need to be reached first, between the regional parties to that conflict (signifying Riyadh and Tehran). Then arrangements will have to be put into place domestically where the crisis has extended to the south, which had been relatively stable.

In addition, there are groups that take part in the negotiations on the presumption that they should be present at the table, but they have not yet settled their own affairs. An example is the General People’s Congress which is split into three groups — one in Riyadh, one in Abu Dhabi and one in Cairo — and each seeing itself as the heir to the party following the assassination of its leader former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Therefore, there remains the initial challenges of forming the [negotiating] teams. So talk of this track is still pure fantasy up to now.”

On the battlegrounds in Yemen, the Saudi-led Arab coalition forces continue their push northwards along the western coast towards Hodeida. In the middle of week, they entered the Heis directorate in the south of Hudaibiya province, according to a report on the progress of the military campaign in the north released by the Arab Coalition to Restore Legitimacy.

In addition, Brigadier General Saleh Quraish, commander of the 5th Regiment of the Frontier Corps at the Alab front, announced that a military plan had been drawn up to continue the battle to liberate areas in northern Saada and to tighten the siege against Houthi militias.

The coalition recently relocated the centre of operations from Nahem, northeast of Sanaa to the west, in order to gain control of the coastal areas that coalition officials claim are being used to smuggle arms to the rebel militias.

“The purpose of developing the operations on the Saada front is to make progress in tightening the stranglehold on the [Houthi] militia and to weaken morale, given the symbolic value of Saada as a stronghold for that movement,” a Yemeni government source told the Weekly, adding: “But basically, it is a process to ensure security against missile fire. The Houthis’ missile depots are in Saada and most of the missile operations come from that front. That activity must be stopped.”

On Monday, the Arab Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki Al-Maliki released an official communique stating that Saudi defence forces had intercepted a ballistic missile that day aimed at Khamis Mushait in the Saudi Arabian Asir province. He indicated that the missile had been fired from Saada.

In southern Yemen, on the Aden front, the situation has begun to cool down following a flareup in tensions between forces affiliated with the Southern Interim Council and forces affiliated with the internationally recognised government, while Saudi-supported forces have reinforced their presence in the areas around government buildings.

A Yemeni source from Aden told the Weekly by phone that calm prevails in Aden and its environs and that stability was restored following Saudi-brokered talks between the two sides. Arrangements are now being made to ensure the stability of the legitimate government in its temporary capital of Aden.

Nevertheless, Yemeni political analyst Abdel-Hakim Mahmoud observed: “This calm is clearly temporary in view of the lack of any concrete manifestations of the government and comprehensive government control over Aden. There are political forces that have interests that conflict with the outlooks of other parties and forces, and the situation is still volatile because it has not yet been handled in a radical manner. Also, the squabbles between the military forces on both sides are clearly escalating in the press, rhetoric and grassroots mobilisation.”

Many sources speak of two aspects to the resurgent tensions in Aden. One has to do with the government’s attitude towards the south. As Abdel-Hakim noted, southerners feel that the government, as long as it is based in the south, should devote efforts to remedying the deteriorating living conditions in the south, instead of just using Aden as a fortress in order to give the impression that the government is present in Yemen, not abroad.

The second aspect is corruption. “The corruption with which the government is charged is familiar to all,” said Abdel-Hakim. “However, there are some major exaggerations in this respect. It basically has to do with political dimensions at the level of local forces or at the coalition level.”

In Taizz to the north of Aden, Yemeni national forces claim progress against Houthi fighters. Coalition sources in Yemen reported that 15 Houthi militiamen were killed, including “Abu Othman”, the Houthi operations commander in Taizz.

Abdel-Aziz Al-Madjidi, editor-in-chief of Al-Shahid newspaper, told the Weekly by phone from Taizz that the fighting is taking place on several fronts in order to end the blockade that the Houthi militia imposed there at the beginning of the war. Al-Majidi added that some people in Taizz are now worried by the prospect of a repetition of the security belt experiment there as this could give rise to a conflict scenario similar to that in Aden.

*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly  

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