From Sanaa to Vienna

Ahmed Mostafa , Tuesday 7 Dec 2021

Fighting in Yemen between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the internationally recognised government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition has intensified, reports Ahmed Mostafa

From Sanaa to Vienna
People inspect the site of airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition on a workshop, in Sanaa (photo: AP)

An escalation in the fighting in Yemen coincided with the resumption of the Vienna talks between Iran and world powers on reviving the Iran nuclear deal. The Houthis stepped up their military campaign, active for almost a year now, to recapture energy-rich Marib. For its part the Saudi-led Coalition scaled up air raids on Houthi targets around Marib and in the capital Sanaa, to help government forces fend off Houthi attacks.

Houthi rebels escalated their attempts to attack southern Saudi cities and towns, launching bomb-laden drones and ballistic missiles across the border. According to the Arab Coalition, these attacks take place on an almost daily basis. Saudi air defences destroyed Houthi drones targeting the kingdom this Monday; the same had taken place on Sunday. In one day last week, the Arab Coalition announced that about a dozen drones and missiles directed at southern Saudi Arabia were intercepted and destroyed in Yemeni airspace, before they reached the border. In the last few weeks, as these failed attack on Saudi territories increased and the fighting in Marib intensified, airstrikes by the coalition intensified too. Coalition forces announced they had been eliminating militia assets in recent weeks, including weapons and personnel.

On Tuesday last week, Saudi state TV reported that air raids were launched on “legitimate” Houthi military targets in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, including a “secret” site belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. At the time, the coalition asked civilians not to gather round or approach potential targets. But the Iran-aligned Houthi’s main channel, Al-Masirah TV, said three air strikes by the coalition had hit Sanaa Airport, while a fourth raid targeted a park.

On Sunday this week, three Yemeni civilians were wounded when four Houthi missiles landed in residential areas in Marib. Large-scale explosions rocked the city after the four missiles hit Al-Shareka and Rawdha neighbourhoods as well as the airport, according to residents’ accounts.

The escalation in Yemen shows no sign of slowing down, as no serious outcome is expected from the Vienna talks regarding the US re-joining the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. All international efforts to start a political process in Yemen and end the seven-year-long war have reached a stalemate. Even earlier talk of Omani mediation could yield no tangible results.

The rebels seem determined to capture Marib, encouraged by internal disputes in the legitimate government that now includes the Muslim Brotherhood party, Al-Islah, of which the Southern Transitional Council – also part of the legitimate government – is wary.

At a forum held in Italy last week, Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmad Awad Bin Mubarak warned that the Houthi occupation of Marib would bring an end to the political process in Yemen, and that it would have a huge impact on the humanitarian crisis there. “Marib is a cornerstone. If the fighting continues in Marib and the Houthis think they can achieve military victory... this will collapse the entire peace process and it will have a negative impact on everything,” Bin Mubarak said.

But the ongoing war and its escalation is adding to the misery of millions of ordinary Yemenis. More than two thirds of the country’s 30-million population lives on humanitarian aid and charitable assistance. The war is exacerbating famine in a country that was already suffering from it when it broke out. This week, a UN report predicted that the death toll from war in Yemen will reach 377,000 by the end of the year.

The United Nations Development Programme said 60 per cent of the anticipated deaths would be from hunger and preventable disease, with the remaining caused by direct combat and violence. If the conflict continues through to 2030, the UN report estimates that Yemen’s death toll could swell drastically — to 1.3 million lives lost.

To make things even worse, the legitimate government is unable to face the rising deterioration in living conditions of Yemenis in areas under its control. The Yemeni riyal, tumbled to a new low, with a single US dollar now costing 1700 riyals. That prompted demonstrations in the cities of Aden, Taiz and Mukalla in southern Yemen to protest against the government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Protesters condemned the widespread poverty and the deterioration of public services within areas controlled by the Saudi-backed government.

The president asked Saudi Arabia for urgent financial help. His foreign minister urged international donors to help the government in Aden address the country’s economic problems, including the rapid devolution of the Yemeni riyal.

Diplomatic efforts by regional players to find a way to stop the war in Yemen are ongoing. The Saudi Crown Prince started a tour of the Gulf with a visit to Oman on Monday this week. On the same day, an Emirati national security adviser was visiting Tehran to meet with Iranian leaders. But such efforts may not bear fruit before the end of the year, and ordinary Yemenis must brace for another year of conflict and misery.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 December, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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