Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Civilian deaths, political setbacks

The unclaimed attack on a community hall in Sanaa, killing 140, has upturned any prospects of progress in negotiations on a peace deal for Yemen, writes Ahmed Eleiba

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Two incidents during the past two weeks have brought the Yemeni conflict to a new turning point that will impact on the prospects of resuming settlement negotiations through the talks currently taking place in Muscat. The first was the attack against an Emirati HSV-2 Swift. The second was the bombardment of a community hall in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, killing at least 140 people, among whom were security and military officials in the Houthi-Saleh alliance.

The international community condemned the Houthi attack against the Emirati ship off the coast of Mocha. The UAE claimed that the ship was carrying humanitarian relief. Military spokesman for the Houthi-Saleh alliance Sharaf Loman countered that the HSV-2 Swift is a military vessel and therefore a legitimate target as would be the case with any alien military vessels that entered Yemeni territorial waters.

The Yemeni Foreign Ministry (of the government of Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi) charged, in an official statement, that the attack against the UAE naval vessel was an act of “terrorism supported regionally by parties that do not wish to achieve regional peace and security.” The statement described the attack as “a flagrant challenge to international agreements and conventions and a threat to the freedom of navigation in the Bab Al-Mandeb.”

In retaliation, the Saudi-led coalition intensified bombardment of parts of northern Yemen last week, focussing on four strategic areas, among which were areas along the coast and other military locations such as the military academy in Sanaa. Coalition spokesman General Ahmed Amiri vowed that the coalition “will not allow the Houthi movement to remain as a militia in Yemen in the event of any settlement”.

The attack against the HSV-2 Swift occurred just as conflicting parties were to resume talks in the Omani capital. Then, once again, just as it appeared that the wheels of talks and mediation would start moving again, missiles tore through the Sala Al-Kubra ceremonies hall where thousands of mourners were taking part in funeral ceremonies for Jalal Al-Ruweishan, the father of the Houthi-Saleh government’s minister of interior.

The incident triggered a far greater outcry among the international community than the attack against the Swift. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon immediately condemned the bombardment and said that the initial evidence points to the Saudi-led coalition. Coalition spokesman Amiri issued a denial, saying that the coalition did not undertake any aerial sorties over Sanaa on that Saturday and did not target that location. He added that the coalition was prepared to conduct an investigation in collaboration with the US to prove this, to which Ban Ki-moon responded that he would wait for the report.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayraul urged the UN secretary general and UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to produce the report and publicise its findings as soon as possible. He also called for renewed efforts to boost the political process aimed at resolving the Yemeni crisis. Ould Cheikh, drawing a link between the incident and the talks taking place in Muscat, which he described as “making progress”, urged a quick return to negotiations. A peaceful solution to the Yemeni crisis needed to be produced quickly in order to save Yemen, he said.

From the Houthi-Saleh coalition, the most salient reaction came from former president Ali Abdullah Saleh who called for an attack against Saudi borders in retaliation against the Saudi aggression. There followed intensive missile fire from Yemen towards the Saudi border. In like manner, the Houthi leader, Sayed Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi, urged the Khawlan tribe (a powerful eastern tribe that supports Saleh) to exact revenge and he urged Yemeni youth to mobilise against Saudi Arabia. “The army and the people’s committees amass along the interior fronts as well as fronts beyond the borders, in particular, in order to exact retribution from the regime of Al-Saud,” Al-Houthi said. “We must mobilise at all levels. We must avenge ourselves in order to be free men.”

The Houthi leader also directly accused the US of colluding in the planning of the bombardment of the community hall. In a televised speech broadcast on the Houthi-run Al-Masira TV station, Al-Sayed Al-Houthi said: “This appalling crime— in every sense of the word — is so horrendous that it has caused embarrassment, above all for the American enemy, which is trying to cast itself as an independent party, in spite of the fact that it participated in, planned and directed the aggression.” He added that the aggressor in its local guise initially boasted of this crime, but when the US declared its discomfort they tried to deny their responsibility, especially after they began to sense the extent of the repercussions of the crime on them. Some observers have interpreted this as the signal to fire a barrage of missiles at the US destroyer Mason off the Yemeni coast.

The foregoing developments have plunged the Yemeni negotiating process into a “dark tunnel”, said Yemeni researcher Hossam Radman. Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, he said: “I believe that the negotiations have become more complicated than ever before in view of the recent developments.” He noted that Sanaa is convinced that the funeral ceremony was struck by missiles fired from an aircraft and that the conviction is based on eyewitness and other documentation of the aerial assault. He added that the dynamics of revenge will only make matters more fraught.

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