November 14-20: Forty-eight hour ceasefire begins with accusations of violations on both sides

Monday, November 14US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Muscat, Oman for talks aimed at ending Yemen’s 20-month-long war. Oman News Agency reported that Kerry’s trip will last two days and will mark one of the secretary’s last visits to the country before President Obama’s term ends on January 20th.

Coalition airstrikes targeted fuel trucks in Ibb province, killing at least 14 people, including one soldier, and wounding 11 others. The casualties were reported by witnesses and medical staff. Spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asseri claimed that the truck was transporting ammunition to the Houthis near Ta’iz.

"It was so late at night that it was only the smugglers and the Houthi rebels around those vehicles," Asseri said.

An outbreak of cholera in Yemen, first announced on October 6th in Ta’iz and Aden governorates, rose to 2,070 cases by November 1st and by last Sunday that number rose to 4,119. Eight people have died in the outbreak, as well as 56 from acute diarrhea. The UN estimates that the caseload in Yemen could end up as high as 76,000.

The UK Foreign Office has concluded that there is no clear risk of violations committed by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, although it admits that defense personnel cannot  “form a complete understanding” as they “do not have access to all the information required”. This conclusion effectively ensures that UK weapons deals with Saudi Arabia will continue unencumbered.

While the UK government says its officers are involved in liaison and training work with the coalition, they “are not embedded personnel taking part in the Saudi Arabian-led operations and are not involved in carrying out strikes, directing or conducting operations in Yemen or selecting targets…”

The statement from the government claims that “Saudi Coalition members have the best insight into their own military procedures and will be able to conduct the most thorough and conclusive investigations. It will also allow the countries to really understand whether anything went wrong, apply lessons learned and take any follow up action.”

Tuesday, November 15 Following a meeting with the Houthis in Oman, Secretary Kerry announced that the rebels and the Saudi-led coalition have agreed on a ceasefire starting Thursday. Hadi’s exiled government, however, refused the cessation of hostilities on the basis of it being “unilateral”. The government’s objection to peace initiatives stems from concerns about the most recent UN proposal, which stipulates the formation of a new unity government following negotiations.

Hadi’s foreign minister Abdel Malik al-Mekhlafi wrote on Twitter that, “The government doesn’t know and is not concerned with what Kerry announced; this shows a desire to foil peace efforts by trying to reach a deal with Houthis away from the government.”

Oman News Agency quoted a foreign ministry official who said that peace talks will resume at the end of November on the basis of a plan presented by the UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

Al Omgy Brothers Money Exchange has been designated by the US Treasury Department as having provided financial services to a terrorist organization after the company continued to operate in southern Yemen, parts of which AQAP controlled for a year. Omgy, one of the only financial institutions in the area that remained open during that time, held accounts for the national oil company and disbursed salaries for the Yemeni government, but the owner admitted to also processing transactions for al-Qaeda.

“We had no other option but to comply with them,” Mr. Omgy said. “They were the rulers of the city.”

Wednesday, November 16 Executive vice president of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, and Former US ambassador to Yemen, Stephen Seche writes about Tuesday’s ceasefire announcement and long overdue efforts to find a political solution to Yemen’s war.

“...It is because Yemen’s war has not produced a massive wave of migration across Europe, and has remained largely contained since Saudi Arabia entered the conflict in March 2015, that the world has relegated the conflict – and the search for a solution – to second-tier status. And to be fair, masses of humanity fleeing the carnage in Syria tend to focus the mind in a way that a civil war contained for the most part to a land few can find on a map simply does not.”

Seche also warns that without a peace deal, the escalation in violence and instability could prompt a US intervention.

Al Jazeera’s Inside Story speaks with Yemen Post’s Editor-in-Chief Hakim al-Masmari and Yemen analysts Adam Baron and Sama’a al-Hamdani to talk about the proposed ceasefire and a future peace deal. Al-Masmari affirmed that Ali Abdullah Saleh will likely be a part of Yemen’s future government, as he is "one of the most powerful people in the country in terms of popularity." Al-Hamdani, however, says the future deal must require that Ali Abdullah Saleh step down in some form or another even though, in his absence, people in his circle could have a detrimental affect on the peace process.

The Houthis confirmed Kerry’s Tuesday statement, saying that they are willing to stop the fighting and join a unity government.

Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a member of the Houthi’s political council, told Reuters that their position “has been and still is with stopping the war and the establishment of a national unity government that incorporates all political components...The new thing is in the position of Saudi [Arabia], which has agreed in principle to stop the war as one of the parties to the conflict,"

Meanwhile, Yemen’s foreign minister Abdel Malik al-Mekhlafi continued in his criticism of Kerry’s announcement, telling Al Jazeera, "I believe the current US administration is incapable of providing any guarantees to any party and what Kerry has said is no more than a media bubble at our people's expense.”

Residents and officials in Ta’iz report that pro-government forces have pushed the Houthis out of the city’s presidential palace and military hospital. Medical officials say dozens of fighters were killed on both sides during the clashes.

Yemen’s journalists’ syndicate is calling for the release of former Al-Masdar Online editor Yusuf Ajlan, who was kidnapped from his home on October 15 by Houthi forces. The syndicate is also demanding the release of 15 other journalists currently detained by the Houthis, some or all of whom have been tortured and undergone harsh treatment.

The UNFPA reports an increase in child marriages in Yemen due to pressures from the ongoing war. Many families marry off their young daughters in an effort to reduce the family’s expenses and in the hopes that marriage will provide a better life for their daughters. However, many young brides experience abuse at the hands of their husbands and suffer from complications during pregnancy and birth that sometimes lead to death. Attempts to set 18 as the minimum marrying age in Yemen collapsed with the outbreak of the conflict last year.

AFP reports that government forces clashed with the Houthis while attempting to retake the towns of Midi and Haradh. Fifteen pro-government fighters and 23 Houthis forces were killed.

Thursday, November 17 Clashes leading up to Thursday’s ostensible ceasefire resulted in a total of 51 deaths, casting doubt on the planned truce. In an interview with Al Jazeera, foreign minister Abdel Malik al-Mekhlafi reaffirmed his government’s rejection of Kerry’s ceasefire proposal, saying there was no agreement but just "a declaration which means nothing".

Al-Mekhlafi added that the plan effectively rewards the Houthis for their coup.

Meanwhile, Yemen army Colonel Abdul Ghani al-Shubaili says that “military operations will continue until we push [the Houthis] out.”

Human Rights Watch released a report on arbitrary detention, torture, and forced disappearance carried out by the Houthis and pro-Saleh forces against opponents, dissidents, and journalists.

“Since August 2014, Human Rights Watch has documented the Sanaa-based authorities’ arbitrary or abusive detention of at least 61 people. The authorities have since released at least 26, but 24 remain in custody and two died during detention. Families have not been able to learn the whereabouts of nine more men, who have seemingly been forcibly disappeared. Many people appear to have been arrested because of their links to Islah, a Sunni opposition party, but students, journalists, activists, and members of the Baha’i community have also been arrested and detained for apparently politically motivated reasons.”

Fernando Carvajal’s recent post provides a good overview of the struggle for a resolution in Yemen by outlining the peace process, the various conflicts, and the country’s major players as each party struggles to maintain power.

More than 20 civilians were killed and 75 wounded during a shelling of a busy market in a rebel-held area of Ta’iz. An MSF aid worker was among those killed. It was not immediately clear who fired at the market.

Friday, November 18 Yemen’s Press Syndicate announced that young photographer Awab al-Zubairi was killed (link includes disturbing photos) while covering the destruction of districts seized by pro-government forces in eastern Ta’iz. He was reportedly killed after a mine exploded nearby.

Saturday, November 19 The ceasefire that was meant to begin on Thursday was declared by the Saudi-led coalition on Saturday and was set to last for 48 hours, ending midday on Monday. Airstrikes and an exchange of fire would theoretically be suspended, but the naval and air blockade imposed by the coalition would remain in place. Spokesman for forces allied to the Houthi rebels, Brigadier General Sharaf Luqman, confirmed that the rebels would abide by the ceasefire if the coalition did so as well.

The announcement comes after president Hadi requested a ceasefire, despite his government’s earlier objections to the proposed truce.

Violations of the ceasefire were reported on the same day, including coalition bombings east of San’a and Houthi shelling in Ta’iz. The coalition, however, denies breaking the truce.

An article in the New York Times provides an in-depth history of Saudi Arabia’s rivalry with Iran, including its roots in Iran’s revolution and its development following the US invasion of Iraq. The article also draws parallels between a Saudi-Iran proxy war and the ongoing war in Yemen, although some experts see this as a misrepresentation of the conflict.

The Pilot Online tells the story of two American private contractors who were sent to San’a in October 2015 and kidnapped by Houthi forces soon after. One of them was released, while the other was killed in detention.

Sunday, November 20 Foreign Minister Abdel Malik al-Mekhlafi sits down with Al Jazeera to discuss prospects for peace in Yemen and defend his government’s role in the war.

“This is a war. There is no such thing as a clean war. All wars have consequences. The question should be: Who opted for war? If we exaggerate and amplify the mistakes of the coalition, we will only be left with the option of surrendering. The consequences of caving in to a militia are much worse than war. Caving in will bring Yemen into a war that will last for many years to come. Now, we have accomplished the better part of our objectives, and we can accomplish the rest of them.”