May 19-26: UN talks postponed, reversal in al-Dhali', clashes along the border

The planned UN-sponsored peace conference on Yemen has dominated the local press coverage over the past week, along with the Saudi-led campaign and civil conflict in several of Yemen’s main cities. An escalation in artillery fire on the border with Saudi Arabia is also drawing attention. Early last week, after the three-day Riyadh conference was wrapped up, attention turned to the UN-sponsored peace effort, with talks slated to take place in Geneva on May 28. But by the end of the week, this conference was postponed indefinitely, days after President Abdu Rabbu Mansur Hadi—currently in exile Riyadh along with his government—met with the UN Envoy. Meanwhile, Hadi said that he will engage in Geneva talks only if the most recent UN Security Council Resolution is implemented, which requires the Houthis to hand over their arms and withdraw from the cities they took over. Earlier, the Houthi Movement’s leader, ‘Abd al-Malik al-Houthi, signaled in a televised speech his willingness to participate in the UN-sponsored conference.

But on Saturday, a group of Houthi delegates flew to Oman, “to discuss the Yemeni situation and get to know the Omani position.”

The airstrikes over the past week have heavily pounded pro-Houthi/Saleh military bases in several main cities, chiefly the capital, Sanʻa, where the explosions of weapons depots have become common scenes. Meanwhile, clashes between pro-Houthi/Saleh forces and their opponents were reported to have been dramatically intensified in at least ten areas, including Aden, Taʻiz, Marib, al-Jawf, Shabwah, al-Dhaliʻ, Abyan, and Lahj. The “popular resistance” fighters (i.e., anti-Houthi/Saleh forces) were reported to have gained control of some areas.

In the southern city of al-Dhaliʻ, local resistance regained control after two months of sporadic clashes against pro-Houthi/Saleh forces [editor’s note: the 33rd Armored Brigade, loyal to former president Saleh, has been waging a brutal campaign of repression and collective punishment against the population of al-Dhaliʻ since long before the start of this war. Although the international press reported the liberation of the town by “pro-Hadi fighters,” the local resistance is in fact aligned with the Southern independence movement, and has no allegiance whatsoever to Hadi. In fact, President Hadi infamously washed his hands of the conflict in al-Dhaliʻ last year, telling reporters that he had no influence over the 33rd Brigade and declining to intervene against it]. In the eastern province of Marib, local fighters took over a strategic mountain in western district of Sirwah after fierce clashes.

On the border with Saudi Arabia, pro-Houthi fighters have reportedly been trading artillery fire with Saudi troops over the past week. The Houthi-affiliated TV channel, al-Masirah, has broadcast several videos of clashes in the area. The Khamais Mushayt airbase in southern Saudi Arabia was reportedly hit by a Scud missile. On Tuesday, al-Masirah aired alleged footage of homemade missiles called “Piercing Stars” with target ranges of 45km / 75km and warheads of 50kgs / 75kgs.