June 13-19: Mass prisoner swap in Ta'iz, UAE wavers on ending war

Monday, June 13A suspected US drone strike in central Shabwa province killed three alleged Al-Qaeda fighters, according to Yemeni security officials. The officials also said that UAE and Saudi forces were simultaneously conducting raids on homes of suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Mukalla and reportedly detained 150 suspects.

Tuesday, June 14 Due to the ongoing intense fighting in Ta’iz, medical facilities run by Medecins Sans Frontieres have reportedly treated 1,624 people, including over 700 civilians, since the ceasefire began in April.

Will Turner, MSF head of mission, recalled seeing in an MSF emergency room “two young children lying in beds next to each other. The boy had been hit by a bullet in the neck as he left the mosque; the girl next to him had her stomach ripped open by a bullet as she waited to collect water.” Turner added that “Such tragic stories occur on a daily basis in Ta’iz. This is totally unacceptable.”

Saudi Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon requesting the sources that were used to create the report that initially listed the Saudi-led coalition as being responsible for the majority of child casualties in Yemen during the last year.

“Mouallimi's letter to Ban expressed ‘his sincere appreciation for the removal’ of the coalition from the blacklist and reaffirmed what he said was its respect for, and compliance with, international humanitarian and human rights law.”

UN officials said they did not believe it was possible to disclose sources used to create the report, but human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law by the coalition, including the targeting of schools and hospitals and indiscriminate bombing of residential areas, have been documented by a number of humanitarian organizations.

Wednesday, June 15 According to a tweet by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash had given a speech saying the “war [in Yemen] is over for our troops.”

The Arabic version of the same quote said that the war was over “for practical purposes.”

Yemeni security officials also reported on Wednesday that fighting between the Houthis and pro-government forces around Ta’iz and in Shabwa, Jawf, and Marib provinces killed at least 48 people and wounded 65 in the previous day.

The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released Yemen’s health overview for 2016. The report states that at least 50% of the country’s health facilities are not functioning properly or at all and only 30% of necessary medical supplies are being allowed to enter Yemen. The war is also disproportionately affecting pregnant women, people suffering from chronic diseases, and children under five (whose mortality rate has increased by 23% since the start of the conflict).

Of the $182.3 million in aid money that the UNOCHA needs immediately to assist victims of the conflict, only 16% has been funded.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric rejected the Saudi-led coalition’s request to view the sources of information used in the report on violations of children's rights during armed conflicts, which charged the coalition as being responsible for the majority of child deaths in Yemen in the past year.

"Protecting the sources of information that are used in this report, or any other report, is paramount, especially in a conflict area," Dujarric said. "But we obviously welcome any information that the Saudi-led coalition may want to share with us."

Thursday, June 16 The US House failed to pass a measure that would have banned the transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia. The vote was close, however, indicating a decrease in support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

The White House placed a hold last month on a transfer of CBU-105 cluster bombs, but a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), is trying to place a complete arms embargo on the kingdom until it stops deliberately targeting civilians in Yemen.

Friday, June 17 UAE Foreign Minister Gargash denied saying that the war in Yemen is over for UAE troops. Gargash later claimed that his statement, which was posted on Twitter by Deputy Supreme Commander of UAE forces and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed, was “taken out of context and misinterpreted for external agenda that seek to undermine the region and the GCC in particular.”

The US military is extending the deployment of anti-terrorism special forces units in Yemen for the foreseeable future. US officials said the team of about a dozen men, who were first deployed in April, would assist troops from the UAE in fighting Al-Qaeda around Mukalla.

Saturday, June 18 Nearly 200 prisoners were swapped in Ta’iz--118 Houthis exchanged for 76 pro-government fighters--in what is reportedly the largest swap to take place in the city since the beginning of the war. Like prior prisoner exchanges, it was arranged by local groups, not high-level officials in Kuwait.