Despite a weeks-long battle to take control of Al-Hudaydah Port, which is in the hands of the Houthis and their ally, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, the military situation is stagnant in Yeman, which makes it more difficult to reach peace.
Meanwhile, humanitarian conditions are deteriorating faster than the first days and months of the war, with almost 10,000 killed and 40,000 wounded, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen. Jamie McGoldrick, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, told the press these numbers are based on the lists of victims at healthcare facilities. However, the real number may be much higher, according to the British newspaper, The Independent.
This is the first time that a senior UN official confirms the number of victims of the war that began in March 2015.
The UN High Commission for Human Rights announced in October that 4,125 were killed, mostly in air strikes. “The wounded are a greater problem than the dead,” said Nabiha Al-Haydari, a journalist at Yemen’s official news agency SABA. “In a poor country like Yemen, the injured are the ones who truly suffer. There is no medicine or healthcare. The war has halted the import of all medical equipment and medicine, as well as food.”
Since the beginning of the war, Yemen has suffered from shortages. Many hospitals and healthcare clinics also closed down as a result of the war. Doctors Without Borders stated several times it cannot continue its work in several areas because of air strikes.
The UN also warned against famine in Yemen if the war continues, since an estimated 11 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian aid (food, medicine or even protection). This is almost half of the country’s population of 25 million. This reality has triggered more calls for reaching a peace agreement that would end the Yemeni tragedy, but this remains beyond reach.
Saudi Arabia wants a quick settlement “absolving it from this debilitating war” that will not be resolved militarily, according to Ahmed Abdel-Aziz, a Yemeni journalist close to southern separatists. “Saudi Arabia does not want to end this war without permanent arrangements that guarantee security on its southern border, and ensure that Iran is not present in Yemen.”
Abdel-Aziz added that “historically, Riyadh has never become embroiled in regional war. If it wasn’t out of fear of Iran taking control of Yemen through the Houthis, it would have never launched a war.”
Saudi army Spokesman General Ahmed Al-Esseri told Al-Arabiya news channel, which is owned by Saudi Arabians and broadcasts from the UAE, that “seeking a military victory in Yemen is not the goal. The goals of Operation Storm of Resolve are to protect the state of Yemen, limit threats to Yemenis and protect Saudi borders.”
Abdel-Aziz said that “so far, Houthis believe they are winning because the Saudi-led Arab coalition has not been able to restore the legitimate government to Sanaa. But this is only temporary. Everything can be reversed soon if the new US administration intervenes to prevent a blanket famine in the country.”
Russian and US newspapers reported that US President Donald Trump is planning to invade the strategic port of Al-Hudaydah to undermine Iranian influence in the region and enable the port to receive humanitarian vessels to prevent an imminent humanitarian catastrophe. However, such a move would increase indirect Russian and Iranian intervention in Yemen, which would make the situation worse and the famine could expand further.
On the other hand, Houthis wants to cut their losses and reach peace, but they do not want to compromise their achievements so far – namely expelling Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Yemen’s recognised president. They insist on choosing someone else who enjoys more consensus support.
UN envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Sheikh Ahmed presented a peace plan to both sides whereby each would agree on a person to whom Hadi would hand over power, but the president felt that would be rewarding the rebels.
“A consensus figure would form a nationalist unity government and end the conflict,” according to Al-Haydari. But finding a consensus figure is easier said than done since there are fractured alliances on both sides that are hostile to one another. In Hadi’s camp, the Southern Movement is demanding independence for South Yemen and a return to the time before Yemen unity in 1990. There is also the Reform Party, which is the Yemeni version of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is hostile to Shia Houthis. Meanwhile, Zidiya tribes that have no place with Houthis or Saleh. And each actor has their own vision of Yemen’s future.
“In this atmosphere, a consensus figure seems impossible,” said Abdel-Aziz. “Maintaining the status quo is even more difficult.”
Weapons are another issue. Who would collect the arms? The army loyal to Saleh (most of the Yemeni army) or Hadi’s forces or joint forces from both sides? “This is a real problem,” stated Al-Haydari. “Merging the two forces has serious obstacles. The two warring armies could never become a joint force overnight. And what about the militias loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood and southern separatists?”
Al-Haydari notes that some countries such as Sudan and Eritrea do not want the war to end because continued combat means more Gulf money to Khartoum and Asmara, and ending the isolation of these two countries. “These countries don’t care if the war ends or continues,” Abdel-Aziz said. “They are merely taking advantage of the situation.”
He added: “A serious problem that the war uncovered is that there are more supporters of dictatorship than democracy in our country, which is evident in the forces of Saleh, the Houthis, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis.”
No matter what the future of democracy will be, the war must end first and humanitarian aid must be delivered thereafter. This would be followed by building confidence that leads to serious consensus to guarantee a permanent peace in Yemen. But all this seems too difficult for the time being.