November 28-December 4: Houthi formation of government elicits criticism, UN envoy struggles to restart talks

Monday, November 28A Houthi political council announced that it has unilaterally formed a new government, a surprise and unwelcome move that will stifle the efforts of the UN envoy to Yemen who has been working towards creating a unity government.

"The meeting stressed that the government, which was formed amid the difficult conditions experienced by the country, is tasked with putting in order the internal situation and confronting the (Saudi) aggression," Reuters quoted a Saba article as saying.

Rajeh Badi, a spokesperson for Hadi's government, was quoted by Reuters as saying that the announcement showed a “disregard not just for the Yemeni people but also for the international community.”

Meanwhile, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said the move was “clearly not conducive to achieving a lasting and comprehensive settlement.”

UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed set off on a tour of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Oman in the hopes of restarting peace talks. He reportedly arrived in Riyadh on Sunday, an hour after the departure of exiled president Hadi and his foreign minister Abdulmalik Al-Mekhlafi to Aden.

Tuesday, November 29 Human Rights Watch is calling on the US government to immediately suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia in light of numerous accounts of the Saudi-led coalition violating international humanitarian law. The organization sent a letter to President Barack Obama to express its “deep concern that the United States is contributing to violations of the laws of war and the humanitarian catastrophe” in Yemen.

Sarah Margon, Washington director at Human Rights Watch says that President Obama “has one final chance to change US policy on Saudi Arabia and Yemen for the better by stopping weapons’ transfers immediately and reviewing possible participation of US forces in the coalition’s many unlawful airstrikes.”

At least 4,125 civilians have been killed and 7,207 wounded in Yemen since the conflict began 20 months ago. The majority of the casualties were caused by Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes, according to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

UN Envoy Ould Cheikh Ahmed said in a statement that "the announcement by (the Houthi) Ansar Allah and the General People’s Congress on the formation of a new government in Sana’a represents a new and concerning obstacle to the peace process and does not serve the interests of the people of Yemen in these difficult times.”

"There is still a chance to pull Yemen back from the brink," he said, adding that all parties to the conflict should recommit to a cessation of hostilities.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that over 100,000 Ethiopians and Somalis have crossed the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea to Yemen in 2016 to avoid dire conditions at home, despite the devastating war in Yemen.

According to UNHCR spokesperson, William Spindler, ‘‘Many of those making sea crossing to Yemen may be deceived or ill informed on severity of the conflict there or hope to reach Gulf states.

A report by British-based organization Conflict Armament Research claims that multiple weapons deliveries intercepted in the Arabian Sea this year can be linked to Iran, further suggesting the country’s material support of the Houthis.

The report says that three dhows raided by Western navies in the Arabian Sea turned up arms that matched those taken from Houthi rebels in Yemen.

CAR’s analysis “suggests the existence of a weapon pipeline extending from Iran to Somalia and Yemen, which involves the transfer, by dhow, of significant quantities of Iranian-manufactured weapons and weapons that plausibly derive from Iranian stockpiles.”

Wednesday, November 30 UN Envoy to Yemen Ould Cheikh Ahmed posted on his Twitter account regarding the Houthis’ formation of a new government, saying that “such unilateral actions contradict the recent commitments provided to the UN and to United States Secretary of State John Kerry in Muscat.”

The Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan speaks to families in the Yemeni village of Bani Saifan, northwest of San’a, whose children are battling severe malnutrition.

“Every day children are perishing in rural Yemen, where two-thirds of the nation’s population lives. Parents are forced to decide between saving their sick children and preventing healthier ones from following the same perilous route.”

The UN’s Children’s Fund estimates that 370,000 Yemeni children are severely malnourished and facing death, and 2 million are in urgent need of help.

Human Rights Watch is calling for the Houthis to release Keyvan Qadari, a Baha’i man who was arbitrarily detained during mass arrests in August of this year.

“Qadari has not been charged, brought before a judge, or given access to a lawyer. The authorities have repeatedly refused to allow him to meet with his family, permitting only a single phone call in September,” the organization reports.

San’a-based authorities have previously detained members of the Baha’i community, including Hamed Kamal Muhammad bin Haydara, who has been in custody since December 2013 and is facing the death penalty, apparently for his religious beliefs.

Thursday, December 1 UN Envoy Ould Cheikh Ahmed traveled to Aden to meet with Hadi, who himself arrived in Aden for a visit on November 26th. The meeting was meant to promote a peace plan that was previously rejected by Hadi on the basis that it would require him to step down in exchange for the Houthis handing in their weapons and withdrawing from seized territory.

Turkey’s foreign ministry announced that it will not recognize the newly formed Houthi government.

"It is clear that this illegitimate structure will not contribute to the efforts to find a lasting political solution to the problem in Yemen through the United Nations," the statement read.

The BBC reports on daily life in Ta’iz, from the crippling siege imposed by Houthi forces to the abuses committed by their opponents.

“Residents who spoke to the BBC by phone described snipers shooting at ordinary citizens, landmines exploding under children's feet and shells falling, relentlessly and indiscriminately, on homes...Both sides, but particularly the Houthis, have been accused of using snipers against innocent civilians.”

Friday, December 2 China’s foreign ministry says it is concerned about the Houthis recent decision to form a government, releasing a statement saying, "We do not approve of any side in Yemen taking any unilateral actions that complicate the situation, and believe this is not beneficial to a political resolution of the Yemen issue.”

China has typically kept its distance from Middle East conflicts, but has recently been increasingly involved in the Syrian and Yemeni crises.

Saturday, December 3 NPR speaks with Muhannad Hadi, Middle East regional director for the World Food Program, about the humanitarian conditions in Yemen following his visit to San’a.

“We need unconditional access to reach the people where they are,” says Mr. Hadi. “I visited health centers. It was horrible...what I witnessed [with] my own eyes with the team is the worst thing I saw throughout my 25 years career with the World Food Program.”

Mr. Hadi implores politicians and the international community to find an end to this crisis and support humanitarian efforts to deliver supplies. “It's obvious now where there is food insecurity, there is no security.”

A pro-Hadi military official was quoted by AFP as saying that the government now aims to "push back the rebels away from the western coast and Bab al-Mandab, and to secure maritime navigation in the southern part of the Red Sea”. The military has reportedly sent forces backed by tanks, other armoured vehicles, and Katyusha rocket launchers to the coast.

Swiss authorities have uncovered stolen artifacts from Palmyra and Yemen in Geneva warehouses, where the pieces have been stored since 2009 or 2010. After the looting, the objects reportedly made their way from Qatar to Switzerland.

Mohammed Huwais, a photographer for AFP based in Yemen, writes about his experiences covering the war. The piece contains powerful photographs of both Yemen’s beauty and the horrific aftermath of mass-casualty airstrikes.

“We are experiencing a humanitarian disaster because of this war. Innocent people are dying. The heart bleeds when you think of all the tragedies. And the bombing of the funeral hall was the worst, it was one of the ugliest crimes that I have seen.”

Sunday, December 4 UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson says that he does not believe that a threshold has been crossed by Saudi Arabia in its bombardment of Yemen.

“So far we do not believe there has been a clear risk of breach of humanitarian law in respect of the use of those weapons,” adding that the "UK is supportive of Saudi Arabia."

Shawqi Awad Balzuhair, a 35-year-old Yemeni inmate at Guantanamo Bay detention center, has been released after the Periodic Review Board deemed him a “low-level fighter” who was “probably trying to get home to Yemen at the time of his Sept, 11, 2002, capture in Pakistan — not a would-be terrorist…”

Balzuhair has been imprisoned at Guantanamo for more than 14 years without charge.

His departure has lowered the number of prisoners to 59. Twenty of those remaining have been approved for release.

The UN is expected to launch its biggest ever appeal for aid (about $22 million) due to the growing crises in Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere. Much like last year, when the UN received just over half of what it requested, humanitarian workers are concerned that there will be another shortfall.

Laurence Hart, chief of mission in Afghanistan for the International Organisation for Migration, says that the current number of nations in crisis – coupled with the sheer scope of those crises – means that global resources and funding are in such great demand that one nation, even one crisis, is pitted against another.

In remarks at the Saban Forum in Washington, D.C., Secretary Kerry said, regarding Yemen, that “we just had a small breakthrough, I hope, yesterday with President Hadi. We got the Houthi and Saleh to sign on to an agreement to follow a comprehensive plan that we’ve put together with the UN in order to get a peace and a ceasefire in Yemen if things can work in the way that I hope they will. I know the Saudis and the Emiratis want to see this war concluded. They want to begin to focus on...building their economies, quieting down the region. I believe that we can make progress.”