October 3-9: Airstrike at San’a funeral kills 140; US and UAE vessels targeted in Red Sea

Monday, October 3French-Tunisian aid worker Nourane Houas, who was kidnapped last December outside San’a by unidentified armed men, has been released and transported to Oman. Houas was working with the International Committee of the Red Cross. The organization says it will not comment on the identity of the men who abducted her.

A senior State Department official commented anonymously to the Washington Post about criticism by lawmakers and human rights groups of coalition abuses in Yemen.

“It’s that offensive warfare that raises a lot of questions in policymakers’ minds. Does an ally have to give you a blank check for everything you’re doing in a war?”

“When we see civilian casualties, it puts us in an extremely awkward position, because Saudi Arabia is a close ally,” another US official remarked.

US officials also said that repeated Saudi strikes on civilians are “errors of capability or competence, not of malice.”

Tuesday, October 4 The Houthis have expressed their unwillingness to pursue a deal unless it includes “an agreement on the new presidential institution,” meaning the removal of exiled president Hadi from the political process.

"If the proposal does not include an agreement on the new presidential institution, then it [the UN peace plan] becomes merely a partial and incomplete vision, which cannot be a foundation for discussion,” the statement published by Saba news agency read.

Two articles in the Guardian this week describe the scenes of starvation and illness in San’a and al-Hudaydah. UN humanitarian aid chief, Stephen O’Brien, visited the Red Sea port city, where he met “very small children affected by malnutrition."

“It is of course absolutely devastating when you see such terrible malnutrition,” he said, warning of “very severe needs."

According to Unicef, there are 370,000 children in Yemen enduring severe malnutrition that weakens their immune system. One and a half million are going hungry and half of children under five are stunted because of chronic malnutrition.

One alleged al-Qaeda militant was killed and another wounded during a US drone strike in Baydah province on September 29, a week after another US attack in Baydah killed two other suspects.

Wednesday, October 5 UAE officials say that Houthi forces attacked a civilian ship off Yemen’s southwest coast in the Bab al-Mandeb Strait early on Saturday, October 1. UAE’s foreign ministry claimed the ship was carrying aid, wounded Yemenis, and passengers.

The UN and EU have condemned the attack on the vessel as “unacceptable” and called for “the respect of the freedom of movement and navigation security in the Bab Al-Mandeb Strait at all times in accordance with international law.”

Stephen O’Brien, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, traveled to Saudi Arabia and met with defense and foreign ministry officials to discuss the situation in Yemen and the facilitation of humanitarian access.

“We all agreed that the utmost must be done to save and protect lives in Yemen in accordance with international humanitarian law,” O’Brien told reporters.

The threat of famine in Yemen is growing, due in part to the freezing of the country’s trade system and an inability to process payments.

"We have begun to cancel our forward contracts - it's just impossible to trade when there is no financial system in place," said one source.

"The politicization of the central bank and attempts by the parties in the conflict to use it as a tool to hurt one another ... threaten to push the poorest over the edge," said Richard Stanforth, humanitarian policy adviser with Oxfam.

Thursday, October 6 A pro-government officer reports that four Houthi soldiers and three loyalist forces were killed in clashes between Lahj and Ta’iz provinces near the Bab al-Mandeb Strait.

Friday, October 7 Sudarsan Raghavan of the Washington Post interviews Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman five years after she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Raghavan asks her about Yemen’s current situation and what went wrong following the 2011 revolution.

“The first and foremost mistake is granting ousted president Saleh impunity against all crimes he committed in the past, and allowing him [to be involved] in political activities. . . . The other serious mistake is allowing the Houthi militia to expand control over other territories with force and oppression,” Karman said.

Following a meeting with Houthi representatives in Oman, UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said that he hopes to announce a 72-hour ceasefire within a few days. The envoy said that the Houthis “are convinced of the need for a ceasefire,” but he still needs to speak with Hadi.

Saturday, October 8 In one of the deadliest attacks since the war began, a Saudi-led coalition airstrike targeted a funeral in San’a, killing at least 140 and wounded a staggering 525 others. The funeral was being held for the father of Houthi interior minister Jalal al-Roweishan.

"The aggression continues to shed blood in an uncommon savagery and with international collusion that reaches the level of direct participation," Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam said in a statement.

The coalition is denying the strike, but eyewitnesses and UN humanitarian coordinator Jamie McGoldrick say the destruction was caused by airstrikes. A video of the attack corroborates these claims.

NSC Spokesperson Ned Price issued a White House statement on Saturday’s devastating airstrike saying, “U.S. security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank check. Even as we assist Saudi Arabia regarding the defense of their territorial integrity, we have and will continue to express our serious concerns about the conflict in Yemen and how it has been waged. In light of this and other recent incidents, we have initiated an immediate review of our already significantly reduced support to the Saudi-led Coalition and are prepared to adjust our support so as to better align with U.S. principles, values and interests, including achieving an immediate and durable end to Yemen's tragic conflict.”

An article in the Huffington Post argues that President Obama could end the war in Yemen at any moment by blocking the transfer of weapons and withdrawing strategic support from the Saudi-led coalition.

“There’s no question that American refueling, providing tankers, greatly enables the bombing of Yemen. If the Saudis had to do it without our tankers, the level of bombing would be enormously reduced, probably by a factor of three,” former Pentagon official Pierre Sprey said.

Unicef reports that a cholera outbreak has hit Yemen, with eight cases reported recently in one neighborhood of San’a.

"Children are at a particularly high risk if the current cholera outbreak is not urgently contained especially since the health system in Yemen is crumbling as the conflict continues."

Sunday, October 9 Although the Saudi-led coalition, as of Sunday, has not admitted responsibility for Saturday’s airstrike that killed at least 140, the coalition is launching an investigation into the attack, likely in an attempt to curb further criticism of the kingdom's military campaign.

Thousands of Yemenis marched in San'a to protest Saturday's airstrike. Meanwhile, Iran's foreign minister asked for the UN to arrange for an Iranian shipment of humanitarian aid to Yemen following what he described as the "horrendous and heinous attack" on mourners.

Two missiles were fired at American warship USS Mason while it was passing through the Red Sea for “routine operations in international waters.” The missiles, which were reportedly launched from Houthi-held territory, did not reach the ship. A spokesman for the Houthi forces denies targeting any warships. The incident comes eight days after Houthi forces were accused of attacking a UAE vessel in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

CNN interviews UN humanitarian coordinator Jamie McGoldrick and Chatham House’s Peter Salisbury about an apparent indifference of the international community and media outlets towards the crisis in Yemen. The lack of coverage may be attributed to the country’s inaccessibility and the absence of a clear narrative, but Salisbury adds that the US and the UK are happy to continue backing Saudi Arabia for political and financial reasons.

"There have been one or two occasions where the British arms industry wouldn't have been able to survive if it hadn't been for massive orders from Saudi Arabia," Salisbury said.

"Basically, policymakers in the West see the world as a giant game of Risk, and they see more value to maintaining their relationship with Saudi Arabia than getting rid of bad PR over Yemen."