October 17-23: Three-day ceasefire begins and ends, airstrikes resume

Monday, October 17Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir announced that the coalition is prepared for a ceasefire: "We would like to see a ceasefire yesterday...Everybody wants a ceasefire in Yemen, nobody more so than the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the coalition members," Jubeir told reporters in London, adding that he was skeptical that a truce would hold.

Houthi publications show evidence of Spanish-made weapons being used by the rebels in Yemen, including a C90 grenade launcher manufactured by Instalaza and a BMR-600 military vehicle made by the Spanish company Enasa. El Pais reports that the weapons likely found their way into Houthi hands via Saudi Arabia, Spain’s biggest arms purchaser outside of Europe.

PBS NewsHour interviewed former US ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine in a segment on last week’s repeated targeting of the USS Mason in the Red Sea. Bodine says that the failed attack was “probably a direct retaliation for the Saudi bombing of the funeral hall,” but to the US, it was a “narrow act of self-defense”.

Tuesday, October 18 UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed announced a 72-hour ceasefire for Yemen starting Wednesday night. The ceasefire is subject to renewal and there are hopes that it will be the first step to resuming peace talks. 

There are reports that Egypt’s air force has withdrawn from the coalition in Yemen, but no official statement has been made confirming this.

Laura Kasinof writes for Slate, explaining why the widespread portrayal of Yemen’s crisis as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran is misleading.

“The war in Yemen is more of an ongoing domestic power struggle that has spiraled out of control and was exacerbated by the political upheaval of the Arab Spring. When outside countries became involved militarily, Yemen was wedged into the pressure cooker of Middle East geopolitics, making it even harder to reach a modicum of peace.”

Wednesday, October 19 A 72-hour ceasefire began just before midnight on Wednesday following a day of intensified airstrikes on army barracks in the capital by the Saudi coalition. The coalition says it will respect the ceasefire if the Houthi forces do as well, and will allow humanitarian aid to be delivered.

The UN says it is ready to deliver aid as soon as ceasefire begins, but humanitarian coordinator for Yemen Jamie McGoldrick is calling for an extension to the ceasefire, emphasizing that three days is not nearly enough time to deliver the necessary aid.

Deutsche Welle provides an outline of Yemen’s conflict and the various players while presenting possible outcomes for this week’s ceasefire. Vincent Durac, Middle East expert at the School of Politics & International Relations in Dublin told DW, “...there is a certain fatigue on both sides, and that could lead each to the conclusion that continued fighting will not create new advantages.”

The press secretary for Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs attempted to assure the public that there is no reason to believe that Canadian weapons are not being used in the commission of war crimes by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, allowing the country’s billions of dollars worth of arms sales with the kingdom to continue.

Britain’s minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood says that Saudi Arabia did not authorize the October 8 attack on a funeral hall in San’a, saying that an individual deliberately “breached” procedure and will now be disciplined.

Speaking to BBC’s Daily Politics about criticism of the UK’s relationship with the kingdom, Ellwood said that, "We do sell arms to Saudi Arabia, this is a legitimate war that's taking place, endorsed by the UN resolution 2216.”

Prime Minister Theresa May was questioned by a member of parliament about the UK’s role in Saudi war crimes, but she declined to give assurances that British-made weapons have not been used by the coalition to target civilians. May claimed that “the Saudi Arabian government have properly investigated these issues,” adding that “we press for proper investigations into what has happened on those incidents before we reach a decision or a conclusion on what has happened in relation to those incidents. We do have a very strong relationship with Saudi Arabia that is important for this country – it is important in terms of dealing with counter terrorism and a number of other issues.”

Thursday, October 20 On the first day of the ceasefire, Saudi Arabia claimed that the Houthis committed dozens of violations of cross-border shelling, with one attack killing two Saudi citizens. Meanwhile, Houthi officials charged the coalition with launching an airstrike that killed three civilians.

Al Jazeera reports that a total of at least 11 people were killed in the first day of the ceasefire, undermining the truce that was meant to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid. Those killed include five pro-government fighters in Sa’dah and Hajjah provinces and three rebels who died in attacks in al-Hudaydah.

A number of American, Yemeni, and other officials told Reuters that Iran has stepped up its weapons shipments to the Houthis using smuggling routes in Oman. One US official said that they are bringing “anti-ship missiles, explosives... money and personnel.” None of the officials quoted, including an Iranian diplomat confirming the claims, were named.

Oman’s Foreign Minister Yousef bin Alwi said last week that there was "no truth" in the claim.

Meanwhile, spokesperson for the US Department of State John Kirby evaded a question about Oman allowing the smuggling of weapons, saying that “we’ve been very clear about our concerns with all of the partners in the region, including Oman, regarding the risks that these weapons used in these kinds of attacks pose to maritime traffic in the Red Sea, and also the risks that future incidents could inadvertently expand the conflict in Yemen.”

Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop has confirmed that Craig Bruce McAllister, a football coach working in San’a, has been kidnapped by an unnamed group. A video was released following his capture, showing McAllister saying he was kidnapped and that the group is demanding a ransom.

Friday, October 21 Accusations of ceasefire violations continue, with Saudi Arabia saying that the Houthis have fired rockets into Saudi territory and launched attacks inside Yemen, while the rebels claim that the coalition has struck a number of sites in the border region of Shad.

The UN sanctions monitors told the Security Council that the Saudi-led coalition violated international humanitarian law when it used a “double-tap” airstrike on a funeral gathering earlier this month, killing over 140 people.

"The second air strike, which occurred three to eight minutes after the first air strike, almost certainly resulted in more casualties to the already wounded and the first responders," the UN monitors said.

State department spokesperson John Kirby was repeatedly questioned at a press conference about the outcome of the US review of support for the Saudi-led coalition. Kirby did not reveal details of the the review, but claimed it is ongoing.

The US Department of Defense announced that military strikes in Yemen have killed eight alleged al-Qaeda operatives. The first strike, on October 6, killed two operatives, while another on October 16 killed six. Both strikes took place in Shabwah governorate in central Yemen.

Saturday, October 22 The UN is seeking an extension to the three day ceasefire, which was scheduled to end at midnight on Saturday. An extension of the truce seems unlikely amid accusations of violations by both sides. General Ahmed al-Asseri, spokesperson for the coalition and commander of the Saudi 4th Brigade on the border in Najran, told Reuters his forces were defending against an attack by the Houthis.

"The violation of the truce was not from our side. It was from the other side. We are continuing to thwart them," Asseri said. "In the last 48 hours there was an enormous push by the enemy against our territory."

The Liberal Democrat party revealed that the UK has been training the Saudi Air Force, adding another dimension of British support to the Saudi-led coalition’s campaign in Yemen. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the Royal Saudi Air Force was helped in order to “improve their targeting processes.”

Sunday, October 23 Coalition airstrikes and cross-border shelling by the Houthis resumed at dawn following the end of the ceasefire. Military sites in San’a in the Hafa camp to the east and in the Nahdein area in the south were targeted, along with radar positions in al-Hudaydah and in Ta’iz, residents reported.

UN humanitarian coordinator in Yemen Jamie McGoldrick commented on the ceasefire, saying that the UN, the Red Cross and MSF have, for the first time, had three straight days to provide food and health support to San’a without the threat of airstrikes.

Robert Fisk writes about the Saudi coalition’s intentional targeting of Yemen’s farmland and the destruction of rural livelihood.

“...there is substantial evidence emerging that the Saudis and their “coalition” allies...are deliberately targeting Yemen’s tiny agricultural sector in a campaign which, if successful, would lead a post-war Yemeni nation not just into starvation but total reliance on food imports for survival.”