Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Storm of Resolve nears an end?

Tabled talks in Kuwait give hope that the conflict in Yemen could reach a negotiated resolution, though significant distance remains between the warring parties, writes Ahmed Eleiba

Al-Ahram Weekly

In a new political development on the Yemeni front, Kuwait will host a fresh round of negotiations between the adversaries in the war. It comes after nine months of inactivity in the negotiating process that began in Muscat and Geneva last June.

An Omani-brokered visit made by Houthi leader Mohamed Abdel Salam to the Saudi town of Abha three weeks ago for talks with Saudi officials appears to have restarted the talks.

The parties welcomed a new round of talks in Kuwait under UN sponsorship, according to the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. His announcement of the new venue for talks followed his visit to Sanaa earlier this week, where he met with former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, members of the General People’s Congress and Houthi representatives. The UN envoy was characteristically optimistic.

“There are promising signs on the political horizon this time. These signs are strengthened by the blessings inside Yemen and abroad,” he wrote on his Facebook page. He called on all parties to work toward the realisation of a rapid resolution, which “is the wish of all”.

The Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry issued a statement welcoming the agreement of the concerned parties in choosing Kuwait to host the “Yemeni-Yemeni” talks. The ministry noted that it had expressed its desire to host talks on previous occasions in order to bring an end to the war in Yemen.

Before his visit to Sanaa, Ould Cheikh Ahmed met with Yemeni officials in Riyadh, most notably, Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. At a press conference afterwards, Hadi said that he looks forward to helping the next round in talks succeed. He then officially announced from Riyadh that a government delegation will take part in the talks in Kuwait and that this will be the same delegation, headed by Foreign Minister Abdel Malek Al-Makhlaf, that took part in the talks in Geneva last year.

As local, regional and international attention turns towards Kuwait, heartened by the desire of the Yemeni and regional parties to return to talks, sources close to the two sides — the Saleh-Houthi alliance and the Hadi government — maintain that there is still a significant distance between them over an agenda for a dialogue that could pave the way to a political solution and an end to the ongoing hostilities.

Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly by phone from Riyadh, a source from political circles close to President Hadi said that he believes that Hadi has no desire for an interim phase in which Saleh, himself, and the Houthis appear. Their continued presence would complicate the political scene and any share they have in the process would jeopardise the talks. But others were more optimistic.

“It appears that all parties are moving toward the settlement process,” Khaled Alian, a journalist in the presidential affairs bureau, told the Weekly. He pointed to the calm along the Yemeni-Saudi border as an indication of Houthi commitment to demonstrate good intentions. He added: “There is a new change at the level of media and political rhetoric from the Houthi-Saleh side. The Houthis now speak of Saudi Arabia as the ‘elder sister’. Salah, for his part, is basing his calculations on the premise that the war is near an end.”

Alian predicts that the Houthi-Saleh alliance will not last much longer and that it will collapse when negotiations get deeper. “Both [Saleh and the Houthis] are flirting with Riyadh more than necessary and are acting as though the other partner is the problem. Also, Saleh is having more and more separate meetings with this party without a Houthi presence. At the same time, the Houthi leadership is devoting more attention to its own group and rallying it together while not giving the Saleh group the attention it had in the past.”

He added that both sides have called for rallies on Friday but that Saleh’s will be held on 70 Street while the Houthi rally will be held on Al-Matar Street. Each side wants to prove to the other and to observers abroad that it can muster greater numbers of supporters on the day that marks the first anniversary of the start of the war in Yemen.

In the opinion of a source from circles close to Saleh, hope for a settlement rests more on rapprochement with Saudi Arabia than on Hadi, as it is unlikely that he will play a major role in the coming interim phase, even if he is formally recognised as president. The source added that the outputs of the national dialogue that took place in 2013 and 2014 would be brought up again. Hadi does not want to reopen that file, which would entail proceeding on the basis of the rules it established.

“In this regard, Saleh is banking on a return to the political rule regarding who governs in Sanaa; namely, that the ruler is produced by the same formula that gave rise to Saleh — an army man, supported by the tribes and on good terms with Riyadh. If even part of this is put into effect, the person who rules in Sanaa cannot be a southerner. He [Saleh] knows this better than anyone and thinks ‘What is the point of a settlement?’”

The source, set to take part in the talks in Kuwait, added: “I think we still have a long way to go.”

It appears that the talks may proceed even without a comprehensive ceasefire, as hostilities on some fronts continue, as is the case in Taiz. Abdel Aziz Al-Majidi, an opposition politician from Taiz told the Weekly, “The Taiz front is still flaring. The insurgents have launched a push to regain control of the ground they lost in the city due to the advances of the resistance. They are not withdrawing.”

Al-Majidi accused the “forces of legitimacy” (referring to pro-Hadi forces) of being “deliberately slow” in sending sufficient military reinforcements to the Taiz front, as though its fate is to remain mired in battle while everyone is at the negotiating table. He even suspects a tacit agreement to see Taiz destroyed so that it does not stand in the way of any settlement deals involving the north and the south.

Taiz was the cradle of the revolution against the Saleh regime and the strongest bastion of resistance against the Houthis. It is now the governorate that is paying the highest price in the war. The Houthis are removing the mines they planted along the borders with Saudi Arabia but no one cares about the thousands of mines they planted in Taiz, Al-Majidi said.

According to Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri, advisor to the Saudi defence minister and spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, major military operations will soon cease, which Yemeni analysts take another sign of the desire to clear the way for a new round of talks. However, aerial bombardments that struck the Thursday market in Hajja province raised questions.

Asiri said an investigation will be launched into the “incident” that killed, according to official estimates, 107 civilians, including women and children, and which was vehemently condemned by UN officials.

The civil/regional war in Yemen will end its first year this week, which marks the beginning of the Saudi-led “Operation Storm of Resolve” a year ago. The operation was launched by a coalition of Arab and Islamic states with the purpose of “restoring legitimacy” in Yemen.

Clearly one of the most important dimensions of that war involved a settling of scores in the regional conflict with Iran, which extended its reach into the Saudi backyard in Yemen. Official circles in Riyadh regarded this as a high-level threat due to what they see as Tehran’s bid to surround Saudi Arabia from all sides and directly threaten the Saudi interior.

Marking the end of this year of conflict in a different way, UN reports relate that more than 6,000 people have been killed since “Storm of Resolve” was unleashed in March 2015, and that at least half of these were civilians. A Security Council committee has advised launching an investigation into possible crimes against humanity perpetrated during the war.

On top of the large civilian death toll, Jamie McGoldrick, UN resident humanitarian affairs coordinator for Yemen, told a press conference in Muscat earlier this month that 14 million Yemenis need essential and urgent relief and assistance due to the current conflict, and that humanitarian relief efforts in Yemen will require $1.8 billion in 2016.

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