Intense Arab and International Moves: Is Sanaa Close to a Ceasefire?

Analytics

Fri, 11-06-2021 06:34:29 Evening, Aden Time

 Jacob AL-Sufyani (South24)

After the failure of a series of negotiation rounds between the Iran-backed Houthis, the American and UN Envoys to Yemen, and many international and regional parties, there are now looming signs of a possible breakthrough enhanced by the presence of Muscat in Sanaa through a royal delegation that holds meetings with Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi and others.

In light of these indicators, some Houthi activists, as well as local and international media outlets close to Houthis, talk about a possible imminent resumption of work in both Sanaa Airport and Al Hudaydah Port after many years of closure due to the Houthi control of the Yemeni capital.

They pointed to “three UN flights’ that landed in Sanaa Airport during the last two weeks for the first time in years.

One of those flights carried on board the UN Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths while another one carried the Omani royal delegation.
The Omani capital, Muscat, has embraced frequent negotiations to reach “a national comprehensive ceasefire”.

Although those negotiations seemed like an attempt to stop the war in the northern governorate Marib, the last bastion of the Yemeni government, they failed and frustrated the UN Envoy as well as pushing the United States to impose sanctions against some Houthi field leaders.
In the wake of his return to Washington, the US. Envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking said that the Houthis bear a large part of the blame relevant to the refusal of a ceasefire or taking steps towards solving the conflict.

The American pressure and a growing Omani role

Recently, Oman’s involvement in the Yemeni crisis has increased due to the mounting American pressure on the Sultanate to play a bigger role in the crisis more than being a “facilitator”.

A delegation from the Palace Office, an independent Omani governmental intelligence body, arrived in Sanaa on June 3 and met with the Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi and others.

Some reputable sources told “South24” that the US. put a lot of pressure on Oman to adopt a stronger stance towards Houthis who have enjoyed a lot of logistical and diplomatic Omani support.

The sources revealed that the discussions between Washington and Muscat looked more strict and tense as the Americans asked the Omanis not to just play “the facilitator role”.


With the presence of the Omani delegation in Sanaa, there are great chances of achieving progress in the efforts to calm down the situation and put an end to the war, at least in Marib.

Ahmed Bin Mubarak, the Foreign Minister in the 50-50 Yemeni government told the Omani News Agency, following a brief visit to Muscat last Monday, that “any governmental concessions are in the interest of the Yemenis”.

He emphasized that they “bet on the Omani role in converging the views of all relevant parties”.

Marib, the cornerstone

Seven years after the fall of Sanaa in the hands of the Houthis, Marib battlement has become the basis of the crisis and the conflict in North Yemen.

The Houthis continue their military crawl to control Marib and to end the last real presence of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi’’s government.

The international community fears a “humanitarian disaster” caused by the continuous conflict and fighting, besides displacing hundreds of thousands of Yemenis and creating a new reality bloated with complexities that make it hard to reach a political solution.

Over the past period, the UN and the international efforts set their sights towards reaching a cease-fire and stopping the war, basically in Marib, as a step that paves the way for negotiations among the conflicting parties to reach a comprehensive political solution.

This requires the presence of new active parties, unlike the previous negotiations that were confined to the Houthis and the former Hadi government.

Indeed, Marib is the cornerstone of any efforts to reach a ceasefire in North. The Houthis know this fact well, so they attempt to put pressure by continuing their military advance towards it to achieve political gains and concessions.

However, Marib is not the cornerstone for a national and comprehensive ceasefire, at least in the eyes of The Southern transitional Council (STC), which has the upper hand in South. This represents a different and semi-detached reality in comparison to Marib and North Yemen.

How will the Houthis respond?

The Houthis insist on imposing several conditions and demands under a category called “humanitarian rights” and achieving that “immediately” before any agreement.


“The opening of Sanaa Airport and Al Hudaydah Port and lifting their siege” is one of such demands that Houthis stuck to in their last negotiations and meeting with the UN and the international parties.

In a statement issued by the Supreme Political Council (SPC), the Houthis stressed that this demand is “a humanitarian entitlement and not a favor”.

Responding to such demands would be a new incentive for the Houthis to continue their attacks and expansive war, as opening these air and seaports will free them of a lot of pressure, boost their economy and strengthen their position.

Despite being under siege due to the closure of the ports, the Houthis showed their readiness to continue the war and escalate the internal situation against the Yemeni parties, and on the external scene against Saudi Arabia. 

Consequently, the reopening of such ports will surely enhance their readiness.

Despite those who have the hope of reaching an agreement, the Houthis continued bombing Marib with ballistic rockets hitting a fuel station a few days ago killing 17 civilians.

The government blamed the Houthis who admitted their responsibility for the attack claiming that they targeted a nearby military base.

Thursday evening, some local and international media outlets said that Houthi rockets targeted Marib while Sky News Arabia said that the attacks killed 5 people and injured dozens.

The political doctrine of the Houthis is based upon religious grounds called “the Divine Right to rule and control” which makes them more detached from the political understanding and concessions required to achieve peace.

The Houthis have engaged in several examples of exploiting negotiations and international agreements to achieve other goals, or to reduce pressure on the ground.

One example of such behavior is the Stockholm Agreement in 2018 which ended the war in the governorate of Al Hudaydah.

Therefore, cloning another Stockholm Agreement in Marib without reaching a comprehensive ceasefire deal will allow the Houthis to open other fronts.

Although it is unlikely that the Houthis will accept ending the war in Marib because of their military advantage there compared to “the National Army Forces” and the tribes affiliated to the Yemeni government.

In contrast, the Houthis were the weaker side in Al Hudaydah and the Western Coast battles in the face of Giant Brigades” which consist of Southerners and enjoy the support of the “Arab Coalition” as well as the local  “Tihamah Resistance” and “Republic Guards”.

The Houthis reap the failure of the inaction and the passivity of the Islah party, the strongest party in the Yemeni government, and the National Army loyal to it. 

Today, the group appears to be more powerful in North despite the great support and air supplies provided by the Arab coalition countries to the government forces and their fronts.

Equivocation?

Despite the recent apparent Houthi optimism about the opening of the Sanaa Airport, and Al Hudaydah port, it is uncertain whether there is an actual intention for this to happen, at least for the Arab coalition led by Riyadh.

The Houthis are trying to "humanize" their demands to open sea and airports, to impose their conditions for a ceasefire. This threatens to prolong the war if Saudi Arabia and the international parties respond to that.

On Thursday afternoon, Yemeni media outlets claimed that Arab coalition fighters had targeted the headquarters of the “First Armored Division” (a military division led by the current Yemeni Vice President Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar before he fled Riyadh in 2015) and the vicinity of Sanaa Airport. 

These allegations were immediately denied by the coalition spokesman, Brigadier General Turki Al-Maliki.

He confirmed that the coalition had not recently carried out "any operation within and around Sanaa to pave the way for a Yemeni peaceful track” according to the Saudi Press Agency, "SPA".

Although the Houthis or their media outlets did not mention an attack by the coalition on Sanaa, local sources there confirmed to South24 that several explosions were heard, and activists circulated pictures that showed smoke rising in the city.

On the one hand, The Arab coalition’s denial of the attack indicates Saudi Arabia’s keenness not to thwart any international efforts to reach an agreement, and on the other hand to block the way for the Houthi group to exploit any pretexts aiming at obstructing the prevailing positive movement, according to well-informed experts who spoke with SOUTH24.

It is worth mentioning that all these events coincide with the resumption of talks in the Saudi capital, aiming at "completing the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement" between the STC on the one hand, and the government loyal to the Yemeni presidency on the other.

Meanwhile, Western and Middle Eastern capitals are witnessing an intense movement, seemingly to ensure the success of the Omani delegation's efforts in Sanaa.

The Omani foreign minister arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday carrying a message from the Sultan of Oman; apparently to brief the Saudi leadership in light of what is happening in Sanaa.

The UN envoy Martin Griffiths concluded his second visit to Iran, whose proxies in Yemen are represented by the Houthis. He met with the Iranian Foreign Minister and senior officials, according to Griffiths' office in Amman.

Griffiths reiterated that solving the conflict in Yemen will be achieved “through a comprehensive political settlement.

In Washington, the US envoy to Yemen, Linderking, met with the Swiss ambassador to Iran, with whom he discussed the threats of the continuation of the conflict in Yemen, and the need to agree on a ceasefire in the country.

Meanwhile, the Yemeni Foreign Minister, Ahmed bin Mubarak, is visiting the European Union capital, Brussels.

There is no doubt that any efforts to put an end to the Yemeni war are broadly welcomed on the international, regional, and local levels. 

However, even in case of agreeing on a ceasefire and the opening of the transit ports, peace is still far away in Yemen, especially since any future agreement would give the Houthis a recognition of de-facto authority, dashing hopes of restoring the Yemeni state in Sanaa and widening the divisions between South and North.

A Journalist and a reporter at South24 Center for News and Studies

- Photo from Griffiths' meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister Wednesday in Tehran (Iranian media)

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