The suffering in Yemen | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 05.08.2016
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Middle East

The suffering in Yemen

For almost 18 months, Houthi rebels and government troops backed by an international coalition have been warring in Yemen. Al Qaeda is also on the ground. Civilians are suffering most.

It borders one of the busiest waterways in the world - yet it is a country that rarely makes its way into the headlines. Parties involved in the ongoing conflict in Yemen are using that fact to their advantage, finds a confidential United Nations report that has recently become public.

Fighter jets from the Saudi-led military coalition, for instance, intentionally bombarded a house in the south of the country in late May. Six people were killed in the attack, among them, four children. The house was not believed to be a military target. The UN is currently investigating three further incidents in which civilians were killed in attacks carried out by coalition jets.

The UN has leveled serious allegations against the Houthis as well. The Shiite rebels are accused of intentionally positioning their fighters and military hardware in the vicinity of civilian facilities, and of using them as human shields. In doing so they have willingly placed civilians in harm's way. The UN estimates that around 6,400 people have been killed since the conflict began in March 2015, many of them civilians.

Jemen Sanaa Trümmer nach Saudi Bombenangriff

A house in Sanaa is left heavily damanged after a Saudi-led airstrike

No desire for peace

The warring parties themselves are wholly unimpressed by all of this. A week ago the government of Yemen, which is supported by the Saudi-led coalition, broke off peace talks with the Houthis. Beforehand, the rebels had announced the creation of a "Supreme Council" - a de facto counter-government that would have openly called into question the legitimacy of Yemen's elected governmental representation, led by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Around the same time, the Houthis also turned their backs on the negotiations, calling the UN organized agreement nothing more than a "media spectacle."

The talks, which are being held in Kuwait, are scheduled to resume this weekend, though it remains unclear what they will achieve.

Terror and ideological hardening

Meanwhile the country is suffering from continued violence. Wednesday, two car bombs exploded almost simultaneously near an army barracks, killing six soldiers and injuring 12 more. The government suspects "Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" (AQAP) of being behind the attacks. Two days earlier, a sixteenth-century mosque was blown up in the northern city of Taiz. Radical Salafists are suspected of having carried out the attack. It is as yet unclear to which group they are affiliated.

Jemen Doppelanschlag auf Militärbasis beim Flughafen Aden

Government troops secure a military base after twin car bombings

After roughly 18 months of war the country has, in part, also become ideologically stratified. For a time, residents in the northeastern region of Hadramawt joined ranks with AQAP fighters. Their movement became known under the name "Sons of Hadramawt" - a term that made it easier for regional leaders to ally with the jihadis. They were not solely motivated by religious affinities, but also by the aid that the terrorists sent to their region. Recently the alliance fell apart after AQAP fighters refused to share power with regional leaders.

A humanitarian catastrophe

The three-front war not only makes it difficult to attain political agreements, it also makes it unlikely that one party will emerge victorious militarily. "It is becoming ever clearer that none of the warring parties will be able to achieve total military victory," writes Amal Nasser, political analyst for "Al-Monitor," an online magazine. "The only losers in this war are the Yemeni people themselves.

A humanitarian catastrophe is indeed threatening Yemen. The World Bank warned of this in the spring. Imports and exports have essentially stopped. Gross domestic product has shrunk by a third, and inflation is around 30 percent. These developments are further crippling a country that is already one of the most impoverished in the Arab world. Some 40 percent of the population live below the poverty line, and 60 percent of children under five suffer from malnutrition; a third are underweight.

The already dramatic situation has only become worse with the war: More than 21 million Yemenis - about a fifth of the country's population - are dependent upon humanitarian aid. Fourteen million people live with no guarantee that they will receive supplies, and over 19 million people have no access to clean drinking water or sanitation.

Jemen Demonstration von Huthis in Sanaa

Houthi women demonstrate in Sanaa

Attacks with 'shortcomings'

All the while, a fight drags on over the interpretation of air assaults carried out last summer by the Arab coalition on a civilian neighborhood in the city of Mocha, on the Red Sea. The organization Human Rights Watch has called the attack an "obvious war crime." The coalition replied by assembling an investigative team, consisting mainly of representatives from coalition member states.

On Thursday, the commission declared that most attacks were conducted in accordance with international humanitarian law. Two of the eight attacks in question, however, were based on "imprecise information." Therefore, they concluded, there had been "shortcomings" in the operations.