March 7-13: negotiations in Saudi Arabia, deadly clashes in Aden

Monday March 7The spokesperson for Missionaries of Charity confirmed on Monday that Father Tom Uzhunnalil, an Indian Catholic priest, was abducted by gunmen during the March 4th storming of Aden’s retirement home. Attackers handcuffed 16 victims, including four nuns, and shot them in the head before reportedly destroying the chapel and the center. The Indian embassy in Djibouti was trying to determine the whereabouts of the priest, saying that they would “spare no efforts” to rescue him.

Tuesday March 8 A Houthi-controlled administrative body confirmed on Tuesday that group officials were in Saudi Arabia for talks on ending Yemen’s war. The meeting, which reportedly followed a week of secret preparatory talks, was the first between the two warring parties since the conflict began a year ago.

A UNHCR press release on Tuesday stated that 2.4 million people in Yemen have been displaced as a result of the conflict and the situation is likely to worsen. The statement “implores all sides to allow humanitarian access to the hardest hit-areas, where most of the displaced are located,” while also reporting that only 2% of its $1.8 billion aid request has yet been funded.

Wednesday March 9 Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday that Yemeni tribal meditators facilitated the release of seven Yemenis held by the kingdom in exchange for a detained Saudi lieutenant. The report also said that the border was calm, signaling the first steps towards a possible peace since the beginning of the 11-month-long conflict.

Thursday March 10 A number of Saudi and pro-Houthi outlets reported that coalition forces launched airstrikes on Ta’iz, San’a governorate, and Amran on Thursday. The Saudi report claimed the killing of 30 “Houthi fighters,” while a pro-Houthi outlet says that the shelling resulted in extensive damage to residential buildings and stores.

The Guardian reported on Thursday that a UK cross party committee is launching a full-scale inquiry into British arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. A high court is also examining whether the government’s actions break the UK’s arms export laws, which state that export licenses cannot be granted if there is a clear risk the arms will be used to break international humanitarian law.

Friday March 11 To accompany a documentary recently aired on HBO, VICE published a piece on the Saudi-led coalition’s violations of humanitarian law and the complicity of the US and the UK. The piece explains why it is so difficult to assign responsibility for, let alone punish, these violations.

John Kerry held talks in Saudi Arabia on Friday with King Salman and Foreign Minister Adel el-Jubeir, among others, to “reassure officials of US-Saudi ties” while also stressing the need to end the conflicts in Yemen and Syria.

Saturday March 12 Pro-Hadi government forces reportedly reclaimed areas in the western and southern suburbs of Ta’iz on Saturday, reopening key roads and passages for humanitarian aid that the Houthis have been blocking for nine months. At least 48 people were killed and 120 wounded in the Ta’iz clashes.

Clashes between security forces and “unknown gunmen,” who were later reported to belong to al-Qaeda, broke out in Aden on Saturday. Mareb Press reported later that evening that coalition forces launched airstrikes on governmental buildings in the al-Mansurah district of Aden (for the first time since the temporary capital was “liberated”) in response to the clashes and the shooting by al-Qaeda militants of a coalition Apache helicopter. Over 20 people were reportedly killed in the fighting.

Sunday March 13 Human Rights Watch reported on Sunday that Houthi officials confiscated the passport of the executive director of the Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, Abdulrasheed al-Faqih, upon his arrival at San’a airport on March 4. Al-Faqih was returning from an international media conference in Amman when his passport was taken, preventing him from traveling outside Yemen. This is the second travel ban the Houthis have imposed on a rights advocate in the past six months.