The war in Yemen is surging back to high levels of violence. Since peace talks failed in early August, ending a tenuous, four-month cease-fire, airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition have hit a hospital, school, and other civilian targets. The result has been two-fold: The military escalation is adding to the soaring death toll of Yemen’s 18-month conflict, which the United Nations last week revised up to 10,000, nearly doubling previous estimates.
And the surge of fighting has also made Yemen’s “forgotten war” a little less forgotten. That could make the conflict more susceptible, analysts say, to a renewed UN push for peace agreed to last week by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Persian Gulf states. The plan would include phased disarmament, withdrawals, and a unity government. Pressure is also coming from the US Congress, through a bid to block a $1.15 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia.
But whatever plans and pressures are brought to bear on the conflict, the key to success still lies with the Yemenis themselves. The Kerry proposal “addresses main concerns, breaks the stalemate, and has a good phased plan,” says Hisham al-Omeisy, a political analyst in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. “Unfortunately … parties involved trying to carve wiggle room may botch [the plan] in doing so.”
“The new proposal actually has good prospects if fully accepted by all parties and adhered to,” he says. “But Yemenis know that no matter how good a proposal is, it’s the various parties’ commitment that will define the success rate…. So to be honest, prospects are still grim.” In an interview published Friday, the Houthi leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi said a hurdle facing the talks is that “the other party wants to achieve through the talks what it wanted to achieve through war,” Reuters reported.
This week Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Reuters in China that the Houthis “will not be allowed to take over Yemen. Period.” The new push for peace may be a “last chance” for Yemen to avoid an even more dangerous downward spiral, says Adam Baron, a Yemen expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “The reason you are seeing more attention devoted to it now is simple: While the UN talks were going on, and while this tenuous cease-fire was in place, even when the situation was bad it was far better than it is now,” says Mr. Baron.
If the new peace attempt fails, the framework will require “radical reshaping,” says Baron. “If you see this escalation continuing one or two months from now, there really is going to be the question: What do we do now?” Into this mix, the US State Department on Aug. 8 notified Congress of a sale of tanks and other military equipment to Saudi Arabia, to partly offset losses in Yemen.
Some members of Congress have sought to delay the sale. The Saudi-led war “has had a deeply troubling impact on civilians,” they wrote this week, noting a June House vote to block the transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia. Amnesty International has documented “at least” 33 unlawful airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition that appeared to “deliberately” target civilians, which “may amount to war crimes,” wrote the 64 US lawmakers. “There’s an American imprint on every civilian life lost in Yemen,” Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, told CNN on Aug. 16.
According to a confidential May report by the World Bank and UN, described in August by Reuters, the war in Yemen has cost more than $14 billion, led to a surge in civilian mortality rates, and wrecked the country’s economy and schools. “Strikes are more indiscriminate, which is quite telling of growing Saudi impunity after being emboldened by the UN and international community’s lack of action and condemnation,” says Mr. Omeisy, the Sanaa analyst, about the new surge of strikes.
“Saudis are very sensitive about their public image…. If countries can’t stop selling of arms in short run, at least be honest enough to officially and publicly condemn,” he says. “Nothing irks Yemenis more than the world playing dumb amid flagrant humanitarian law violations.”
— Courtesy: The Christian Science Monitor