Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1277, (7 - 13 January 2016)
Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Issue 1277, (7 - 13 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Yemen talks stall

Insecurity has returned to Aden amid Houthi/Saleh alliance calls for Russian intervention in Yemen, writes Ahmed Eleiba

Al-Ahram Weekly

Escalation of the war in Yemenis is almost certain to prevail over progress toward a political settlement. Prospects for a settlement appear to have receded again following the talks in Geneva that began last month, which produced only mutual declarations of animosity. An indication of the enmity was the vow of Houthi/Saleh negotiators vowed to “burn Taiz.”

Two factors lend weight to this conclusion. The first is the deterioration in Saudi-Iranian relations that have reached their lowest point since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The two countries just broke off diplomatic relations and it looks unlikely that they will restore them any time soon in the wake of the burning of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad.

Riyadh has charged that these incidents were engineered by the Basij and directly instigated by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The second factor relates to political and military developments in two countries’ proxy wars for power and influence in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Saudi Arabia has opened an embassy in Iraq and helped produce a qualitative shift in the Vienna negotiations on the Syrian crisis, although the Geneva talks on Yemen failed to fulfil hopes.

SETBACK IN ADEN, TAIZ: The state of security has deteriorated again in Aden. Abdel Hakim Mahmoud, a Yemeni researcher from Aden, told Al-Ahram Weekly that fighting erupted in the district of Mualla on Sunday and Monday, carrying with it the spectre of a return to the situation that prevailed in Yemen’s southern capital when it was occupied by Houthi/Saleh fighters.

The governor of Aden, Aidrous Al-Zobeidi, imposed a night-long curfew to restore security to the city. He said that gunmen had attempted to attack government buildings and facilities, including the governorate building and the main port.

More ominously, Mahmoud claimed that Al-Qaeda had a role in these developments. He said that officials responsible for administration of the port were connected with Al-Qaeda and refused to hand over the port to security forces. It took a four-hour battle for security forces to seize control of the port.

Mahmoud explained that last week the command of the Southern Resistance in Aden announced that resistance committees will be dismantled and their positions handed over to the legitimate authorities.

However, some factions rejected this decision and refused to hand over their positions. According to local news channels, four of the factions belong to Al-Qaeda and refused to obey directives from the Southern Resistance command.

Outside of Aden, in the vicinity of the governorate, developments are equally grim. As the fighting flared in Mualla and the port, Houth/Saleh forces seized strategic positions in Jebel Al-Qasha that overlook Al-Anad Air Force base in Lahij. In response, the resistance in the southern governorate created four regiments made up of former soldiers, official armed forces and popular resistance fighters.

Abdel Aziz Al-Majidi is the editor-in-chief of Al-Shahed newspaper. Speaking to the Weekly by phone from Taiz, he said that the growing severity of the Houthi/Saleh siege on that city has made life unsustainable for the people.

The Houthi/Saleh militias, “in an anti-humanitarian act against the people of Taiz”, prevented food caravans from the World Health Organisation from reaching the city and then seized the shipments for themselves, according to Al-Majidi.

He added that the UN had failed to adequately condemn such actions. He also reported that militias have mined mountain roads, making it extremely hazardous to go into or out of the city.

TALKS LEFT UNCERTAIN: With regard to political setbacks, the Yemeni presidency announced from its headquarters abroad that the Geneva II talks had failed, just as the truce that was negotiated in Geneva had failed to hold.

Nevertheless, Mukhtar Al-Rahabi, the presidential press secretary, stressed that the government was still committed to the agenda for talks, the next session of which is scheduled for the middle of this month.

He added that while the presidency expected that forthcoming rounds would also fail, it was determined to continue with them in order to expose the other side to the international community for its lack of commitment to what was decided at the talks.

In this context, Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi announced that he has formed a technical committee to prepare the agenda for discussion with the Houthis and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in talks that are due to be held as part of implementation of the UN Security Council resolution on the resumption of negotiations and the completion of the national reconciliation processes.

The committee has held two meetings in Riyadh with UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ould Cheikh Ahmed to discuss preparations for the talks.

In the opinion of Al-Majidi, it is unlikely that the talks will have a tangible effect on the ground. Perhaps, however, the purpose is to expose the Houthi/Saleh mask and, simultaneously, to respond to Saleh’s insistence on talking directly with Saudi Arabia.

He added: “I do not think that the moment has come for the relief of Taiz, or for a breakthrough in the settlement process to the Yemeni crisis in general. On the contrary, things will grow more complicated.”

RUSSIA’S ENTRY: Perhaps the Yemeni question will take a new turn with the Russian entry at the request of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who appealed to Moscow to “demand a halt to the aggression against Yemen.” In the opinion of sources in Yemen, Russia wants to take advantage of this intervention for the purposes of negotiations on the Syrian question that are scheduled for 25 January.

This, they say, could complicate the crisis, especially in light of problems in the relationship between Moscow and Riyadh that have arisen due to developments on the ground in Syria after Russian intervention there.

Former President Saleh has hinted that he might not send a delegation to the forthcoming round of talks. “The next dialogue will be between us and the Saudis, face to face with Russia and the UN’s sponsorship,” he said.

In a similar vein, Mohamed Ali Al-Houthi, commander of the Houthi revolutionary committees, called for Russia’s intervention in the settlement process. The US hampers negotiations and creates obstacles, whereas the Russian presence could solve the crisis, he said.

Yemeni observers believe that there is an Iranian gambit being carried out by the Houthi/Saleh side to reproduce the Syrian scenario in Yemen by involving Russia not just in the political track, but militarily as well.

This is another sign that the current political and military setbacks in the Yemeni crisis are merely the latest turns in a long and winding road, with many unforeseeable twists ahead.

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