SANA’A, YEMEN — Despite hope that coming talks expected to take place on December 5 near Sweden’s capital, Stockholm, will bring an end to the more than three years of war that have ravaged Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition continues to escalate its military offensives across the country.
On Tuesday, the coalition and its allies launched a fresh military campaign against the Nihm District, 40 km (25 miles) east of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. The attack came just hours after a Houthi delegation left Sana’a for Sweden to join UN-sponsored peace talks. Martin Griffiths, the UN’s envoy to Yemen, arrived in Sana’a on Monday to escort the Houthi delegation to the talks.
Fierce battles are ongoing in Nihm and the coalition has resorted to heavy bombing of the city in order to pave the way for the advance of heavily armored mechanized ground units. The noise of Apache helicopters, artillery and gunfire has echoed through the city since last night, according to the local residents of the Bani Hushiesh district, the nearest residential area to Nihm.
Brigadier General Yahya Sari, spokesman of the Yemen Armed Forces said in a press conference on Monday that the Saudi-led coalition did not respond to the calls for a ceasefire, saying that warplanes launched 350 airstrikes, mostly focused in Sa’ada and Hodeida, over the past 10 days.
Coalition warplanes have launched over 25 airstrikes on Nihm’s Hawl district residential area, and in the Negeil Ben Gillan district — including attacks on its highways. The airstrikes were accompanied by intensive artillery and missile fire. Houthi military sites in al Qarn and Ayyash, as well as other nearby areas, were also targeted.
Before the assault on Nihm, the Saudi-led coalition sent a full brigade to the city’s frontline, complete with tanks and other military vehicles commanded by Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a deeply controversial figure who was a one-time ally of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, but parted ways with his regime in 2011.
Mohsen is an influential player in the network of tribal and Sunni Islamist groups that operate under the banner of the Islah Party, widely but inaccurately known as Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood. He also stands accused of helping to cultivate the groups that ultimately morphed into al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
The leaders of Mohsen’s forces share the same Wahhabi ideology as radical Islamist organizations in the region, such as AQAP and the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). Wahhabism is also the extremist branch of Sunni Islam adopted as the official state religion by Saudi Arabia.
As in Hodeida, hundreds of volunteer fighters — comprised mostly of Houthi fighters, local residents and local tribal members — have flocked to Nihm to defend the district. According to a Houthi military source, additional volunteers are on standby.
On November 26, Houthi forces targeted a gathering of coalition forces in Nihm with a Badr P-1 missile, reportedly inflicting casualties and causing material damage to the military site.
The Sana’a delegation, which includes Houthi negotiators and members of Yemen’s General People’s Congress Party, left Sana’a on a Kuwaiti plane on Tuesday afternoon en route to Sweden to attend the U.N.-sponsored peace talks. The delegation was accompanied by UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, along with Kuwait’s Ambassador to Yemen, Fahd Saad Almeie.
On Monday, a UN-chartered plane carrying 50 wounded Houthi fighters and three Yemeni doctors left Sana’a for Oman’s capital, Muscat, for treatment. The plane took off just a few hours after the UN envoy arrived in Sana’a. The Saudi-led coalition agreed to facilitate the medical evacuations at the request of Griffiths as a confidence-building measure.
Abdul Qader al-Murtaza, chairman of the Houthi-run Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs, said that the Houthis also signed a UN-brokered deal for a prisoner exchange with Saudi coalition mercenaries on Monday. The agreement marks the first step towards resolving the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
Last week Mohammed AbdulSalam, chief negotiator for the Houthi political wing Ansar Allah, said that the coalition’s failure to reopen the Sana’a Airport to commercial air traffic, the refusal to release prisoners and detainees, and the failure to remove sanctions, along with other confidence-building measures — was making Yemenis lose confidence in the United Nations ability to broker a resolution to the conflict.
Numerous negotiations between Yemen’s Ansar Allah and the Saudi coalition — backed by the United States and other Western powers – have failed. Efforts to launch peace talks in Switzerland earlier this year failed spectacularly after the Saudi-led coalition refused to allow the evacuation of wounded Houthi personnel for treatment abroad. Previous talks also broke down in 2016, when 108 days of negotiations in Kuwait failed to yield a deal.
Top Photo | Wounded Houthi fighters wait at the Sanaa airport in Ymen ahead of a flight to Oman for treatment, December 3, 2018. Mohamed al-Sayaghi | Reuters
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.
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