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Middle East

Yemeni government rejects ceasefire deal with Houthi opposition

The Yemeni government has dismissed a ceasefire deal with the Houthi opposition. What are the reasons behind the rejection and does the Yemeni conflict have any end in sight?

The deal, which had been proposed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to Oman earlier this week, was expected to begin Thursday November 17. The Yemeni government had claimed that it cannot negotiate with the Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran. The Houthis said on Wednesday that they were ready to stop fighting and join a national unity government.

Major Ahmed Assiri, a spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition that backs the Yemeni government in the war, told Agence France Press: "Until now there is no demand from the legitimate Yemeni government to observe a ceasefire.” The Yemeni government and its Gulf Arab supporters were absent from the negotiations in Oman which Kerry held with the Houthi opposition.

Khaled Batarfy, a Saudi commentator and political analyst, claimed Thursday evening on Saudi television that the ceasefire was "a service to Iran” and that it "exposes a relationship between America and the Houthi rebels.”

Shiiten Jemen Houthis (picture-alliance/AP Photo/H.Mohammed)

Shia Houthi rebels

The war began in February 2015, when the Houthi rebels, funded by Iran, seized the palace of Yemeni president Abdrubbah Monsour Hadi in the country's capital Sanaa, and held him under house arrest. He fled the capital to the southern city of Aden as Houthi rebels managed to take control of Sanaa. In March 2015, the Saudi Arabian government began to bomb the Houthi rebels in an attempt to protect the Hadi government and to keep the rebels from encroaching on the rest of country.         

Proxy War

The war symbolizes the power struggle between the Middle East's most prominent regional actors - Saudi Arabia and Iran. The two countries' rivalry has intensified over the course of the conflict.     

On Friday the Saudi-led Organization of Islamic Cooperation Member States held a meeting to condemn the Houthi rebels for firing a ballistic missile towards Mecca. The Houthis "fired a ballistic missile toward the direction of Muslims and the cradle of revelation on Thursday evening, October 27.” and that it is an "insult to all Muslims” declared the organization.  Iranian representatives did not show up for the meeting.

The Iranian-backed Houthis have been accused of war crimes by rights groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW.) In May 2015, only months after the war began, HRW published a report claiming the Houthis used child soldiers in their operations. HRW had interviewed 14 and 15 year old boys who were on the front lines of the fighting. There have also been reports of the alleged use of torture by Houthi fighters to silence dissent in the areas they control.     

Saudi-Arabien stellt Reformplan Vision 2030 in Riad vor (Reuters/Saudi Press Agency)

Saudi Arabia intends to stop the Houthi rebels by all means, in order to curb Iranian influence in the region

Iranian officials frequently point out that Saudi Arabia, which assists the Yemeni government by using targeted airstrikes against the Houthis, is engaged in war crimes of its own. The airstrikes have resulted in many civilian casualities. In October, for example, an Saudi airstrike on a funeral killed over 140 and injured 525 people according the United Nations. On Friday, airstrikes killed 20 people in Taiz, one of the hardest-hit cities in the civil war.  

Saudi Arabia and Iran cut off diplomatic relations in January after Iranian protesters ransacked Saudi embassies in Tehran and Mashhad. The protests were after Saudi Arabia executed Shia Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr, which caused outrage in predominately Shia Iran.   

Humanitarian crisis

Yemen was considered to be the poorest Arab country even before the civil war broke out in 2015. The country has a high fertility rate, more than one-third of the population is illiterate and the healthcare infrastructure is dealing with an outbreak of cholera as well as other diseases. The civil war has exacerbated all of these factors. Hospitals have been damaged by airstrikes and a blockade by the Saudi-led coalition has made it harder to import certain raw materials to make medicine. 

USA UN-Sicherheitsrat (picture-alliance/ZUMA Press/A. Lohr-Jones)

US Secretary of State Kerry's efforts to bring an end to the conflict have stalled, so the UN now has to take action

This month, UN aid chief Stephan O'Brian declared that "Yemen is one step from famine. The UN World Food Programme has repeatedly urged for international aid to the country.

UN responsibility

Now that the Kerry ceasefire agreement has failed, the Obama administration has passed the responsibility to the United Nations. The United Nations announced on Friday in a press conference in Geneva that it would begin to work with Saudi Arabia and the rebels to quell the violence.   

The UN hopes to finally put an end to a conflict that, since March 2015, has left tens of thousands dead and millions displaced.   

 

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