April 4-10: Fighting continues in lead-up to Sunday ceasefire

Monday, April 4Following Hadi’s unexpected cabinet reshuffle on Sunday, a 10-member group of Yemeni politicians said in a statement that they “completely support” the appointments of General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar as the new vice president and Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr as the new prime minister, who are replacing Khaled Bahah in both posts. The signing parties included The Southern Movement and The General People's Congress.

Weapons reportedly being shipped from Iran to Yemen were seized on March 28, according to a US Navy statement released on Monday. The weapons were hidden on a small boat and included AK-47s, RPGs, and .50 caliber machine guns.   The seizure comes eight days after another cache of weapons heading to Somalia was confiscated by French authorities.

Tuesday, April 5 Yemen's former vice president and prime minister Bahah, who was sacked by Hadi on Sunday, says that his removal is a "coup against legitimacy" that undermines the cabinet and its efforts to end the war. An unnamed Yemeni government official also said the shake-up might undermine the peace talks scheduled to start in Kuwait on April 18.

According to AlAraby, the leaked Panama Papers reveal that a number of offshore companies used as tax havens were founded by the family of Yemen’s prominent businessman, and close friend of Saleh, Shaher Abdulhak.

Thursday, April 7 Human Rights Watch released a report on Thursday which revealed that remnants of US-supplied weapons were found at the site of the Saudi coalition’s March 15 attack on the Hajjah market, which killed 97 civilians, including 25 children. Evidence of US-supplied MK-84 2,000-pound bomb mated with a JDAM satellite guidance kit, also US-supplied, were found at the site. The attack was the war’s deadliest so far.

Al-Masirah and a number of other outlets in Yemen reported airstrikes on Thursday in San’a, Bayda, Ma’rib, and Hajjah. These strikes came three days before the ceasefire was set to begin.

Friday, April 8 In comments to Middle East Eye, Houthi sources explain why Hadi will never be accepted as Yemen’s leader or as part of the post-war government. Hadi’s recent dismissal of his former prime minister and vice president Bahah isolates Hadi further, as Bahah’s supporters see this move as an attempt by Hadi to cling to power at the expense of upcoming peace talks.

Reuters reports that al-Qaeda in Yemen is one of the main benefactors of the Saudi-led war. As a result of the country’s destabilization, the group has managed to establish an “economic empire” in the port city of Mukalla and has gained over $100 million in stolen bank deposits and revenue, earning $2 million per day from taxes on goods and fuel.

Saturday, April 9 At least 20 pro-Hadi government soldiers were kidnapped and executed and 17 others were injured in southern Yemen’s Abyan province on Saturday, according to local officials. A military source says the killings were carried out by al-Qaeda, but the group denies these accusations, claiming that a local armed gang led by a man named Ali Aqeel is responsible for the incident.

An American man held in San'a was reportedly released by the Houthis after Omani negotiators interceded on his behalf. The man was flown from San'a to Muscat, according to a statement by Oman's foreign ministry. No details about the man have yet been provided.

Sunday, April 10 Hours before the ceasefire was due to start, clashes between pro-Hadi forces and Houthi fighters broke out north of Sana’a, in Ta’iz, and in Bayda province, where 20 people were killed. The ceasefire was postponed, however, by 24 hours and began midnight on Monday.

December 1–7: Assassinations, intra-government squabbles, new peace talks

The past week in Yemen has seen an attempted Cabinet reshuffle, the seizure by al-Qaeda of two towns in Abyan Governorate and the 4th Military Region headquarters in Aden, and the assassination of Aden’s governor, an act which was quickly claimed by a local Islamic State affiliate. Meanwhile, airstrikes and ground combat have continued in central Yemen and beyond the borders with Saudi Arabia. On Monday, December 7, the UN special envoy for Yemen announced that a new round of peace talks will be held next week, beginning on December 15. A ceasefire is expected to be announced on the eve of the talks, although such announcements in the recent past have come to nothing. On December 1, President Abdu Rabbuh Mansur Hadi issued decrees appointing five ministers to the cabinet of PM/VP Khaled Bahah. The reshuffle exacerbated the lingering Hadi-Bahah dispute; PM/VP Bahah reportedly refused to recognize the new appointments, as the president has no legal authority to replace cabinet ministers. On December 2, AQAP militants captured the towns of Zinjibar and Jaʻar in Abyan, following a predawn swift attack that killed the brother of the commander of the local Popular Committees, which were formed to fight the militants.

Also on Tuesday, unidentified gunmen abducted a Tunisian staffer working for the  ICRC’s office in Sanʻa while on the way to work in the early morning. Her whereabouts remain unknown to date. Some 30 aid workers reportedly left Yemen within 48 afterwards, including 10 ICRC staffers.

While airstrikes continued over the last week to pound positions on several fronts across Yemen, Saudi-led warplanes have targeted residential areas in the northern provinces of Saʻdah and Hajjah, as well as the coastal western province of al-Hudaydah, where another fish market has been hit by airstrikes.

The battles in the central provinces of Marib and Taʻiz continue to intensify.

In Taʻiz the western and eastern fronts have seen clashes escalating amid heavy airstrikes. Near the Red Sea port town of Mokha, pro-Houthi forces have claimed to hit a sixth warship from the coalition navy. In Marib, this week’s fighting has mostly taken place in the western district of Kuwfal.

On Sunday, Aden’s governor, Gen. Jaʻfar Muhammad Saʻad, was killed along with several members of his entourage, as a vehicle packed with explosives collided with his car in the al-Tawahi district of Aden. Local self-proclaimed IS affiliates took responsibility for the attack. Saʻad was tapped by President Hadi in October to take over the governorate. He had lived in exile prior to that, having fought against the Saleh regime in Yemen’s 1994 civil war.

Is the international community about to ditch President Hadi?

Observers who keep a close eye on Yemeni affairs have understood for a while that President 'Abdu Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, the man touted by most of the international community as the "legitimate" head of the Yemeni state, does not enjoy the full confidence of his government-in-exile. His vice president/prime minister Khaled Bahah seems to command more respect and admiration, inside and outside Yemen, and the government--based between Aden, Riyadh, and Amman--has long been divided between the president and PM, according to knowledgeable sources. But while this intra-regime conflict has simmered behind closed doors, international officials and diplomats have, for the most part, maintained the fiction of the "legitimate" president's control over the "recognized" government of Yemen.* That facade took a few serious hits this week, as both the AFP and Reuters published articles acknowledging the Hadi-Bahah divide. The AFP's Tuesday piece deals with President Hadi's sudden replacement of several ministers and ambassadors. The crux of the maneuver, according to AFP, was Hadi's attempt to replace Foreign Minister Riyadh Yasin, whom Hadi plucked from obscurity to act (quite incompetently) as his chief diplomat back in late March, and whom Bahah has reportedly despised and refused to work with from day one. If Hadi hoped to repair the breach with his VP/PM by ditching Yasin, he seems to have failed: Reuters reported on Wednesday that Bahah had publicly "rejected" the reshuffle, because the president has no constitutional authority to appoint or dismiss cabinet members.

Also on Tuesday, Reuters put out a piece that was chock-full of quotes from anonymous Yemeni and foreign diplomats dumping on Hadi, and making it clear that no one in the international community is interested in propping up his presidency any longer than is absolutely necessary.

"Hadi has never been popular and it’s not in his interest that the war stop before complete victory. Diplomats know that Hadi is not a serious candidate, and a settlement means he’s out."

A second diplomat said there was now broad agreement that talks were the way forward because the war had reached a stalemate on the ground. But "a few dissenters" including in Hadi's camp were nonetheless holding out for a military victory.....

Western and regional officials have voiced support for Hadi's prime minister and vice president, Khaled Bahah, widely seen as a rival, who some describe as a more capable technocrat.

"The leadership between Bahah and Hadi is not in sync," the second diplomat said, offering praise for Bahah as a "healer" while describing Hadi as more self-interested.

Now, all of that has been conventional wisdom among full-time Yemen watchers for a while now. But when foreign diplomats start saying things like this to the press--especially going so far as to accuse an internationally-backed president of deliberately sabotaging peace talks--it's usually because they've been encouraged to leak by their superiors. While I doubt we'll see figures like John Kerry or UN special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed publicly disavowing Hadi, it would seem that the powers that legitimized his presidency are now getting ready to facilitate his exit. Stay tuned.

*Why all the quotation marks? Here's a quick summary of the precariousness of the Hadi-Bahah regime: Hadi was anointed as president of Yemen under the so-called GCC Initiative, an agreement signed by the ruling General Peoples' Congress coalition and the Joint Meeting Parties opposition bloc that eased long-time dictator 'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh out of power. That agreement stipulated that Hadi would govern for a two-year transitional period, with the help of a power-sharing government split between the GPC and JMP. But Hadi stayed in office far past the two-year mark, with no legal basis. He also reshuffled the cabinet, something neither the constitution nor the GCC Initiative gave him authority to do. In late 2014, after the Houthis began their slow-motion coup with the help of former president Saleh, a new government of ostensibly non-partisan technocrats was formed, with Bahah as PM. But most of that government's ministers resigned in January-February 2015, and President Hadi, after fleeing from Yemen to Saudi Arabia, unilaterally appointed new officials to make up for those who didn't join him in exile. So, when foreign officials or media outlets describe Hadi and/or his government as "legitimate," just know that the term is being applied arbitrarily, and with no legal basis.

September 8-17: Marib offensive heats up, PM returns to Aden

Following the breakdown of UN-backed talks in the Omani capital, Muscat, the envoy to Yemen has urged the warring parties to return to the table to end the six-month conflict. Exiled President Hadi and his government in Riyadh announced Sunday that they will not participate in the upcoming UN peace talks, although the UN Envoy Ould Sheikh Ahmed earlier welcomed the warring parties’ readiness.  

In a statement, Ahmed said that the Houthi and GPC representatives “have shown a great degree of flexibility” during the recent talks held for weeks in Muscat.

Hadi’s announcement came one day after the Saudi-led coalition’s own forces have mounted a fresh offensive in the oil-rich province of Marib, along with trained local tribal fighters.

It’s been five days now since the launch of Marib Offensive, although clashes have reportedly been taking place in the southeastern areas of Marib since last Tuesday, when the Hadi-allied forces along with dozens of armored vehicles were sent from the eastern area of Safer to the headquarters of the 3rd Military Region and an allied military base nearby.

The southern and western areas have seen attack-and-retreat fighting, with troops from the coalition forces trying to advance eastward to al-Jufaina and al-Fow areas, while others are trying to regain Dhat al-Ra’, where the tribal encampments of both Nakhla and al-Suahil are held by the pro-Houthi forces.  Pro-Houthi forces have been trying to fend off any advancement of their opponents, reportedly using BM-22 rocket launchers against coalition armored vehicles. They claim to have destroyed more than 20 armored vehicles in addition to killing and arresting several troops from the coalition forces.

The UAE government has officially announced that one Emirati soldier was killed in Marib fighting, days after it said that the death toll of its soldiers, who killed by the ballistic missile attack on September 4 in Marib had risen to 52 soldiers. While Qatar’s government has not yet commented officially, Houthi-affiliated media claim that a senior Qatari officer was killed.

The coalition’s fighter jets and Apache helicopters were providing air support/cover in Marib fighting and targeted any suspected movement by the pro-Houthi forces in areas located on the borderlines with Shabwa, al-Baydha and al-Jawf provinces. The warplanes also destroyed the road connecting Marib to the capital, San’a, after it was reportedly designated (by the Popular Resistance) as a military target.

The fighter jets also hit residential areas in several cities and towns, killing dozens of civilians, mostly children and women. On Tuesday alone, at least 10 cities were hit by airstrikes; over a hundred civilians were reportedly killed and wounded. The six-month war has killed more than 4,500 Yemenis and brought the country to the brink of famine.

Across the Saudi border, pro-Houthi units have killed several Saudi soldiers and captured military bases in Najran, Jaizan and Aseer cities. The Saudi government announced that five soldiers were killed in Najran.

Meanwhile, Vice President and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah arrived in Aden along with seven ministers from the government in exile. This second appearance since his first brief visit on the first of August comes as a step toward restoring a government after months of working from exile Riyadh. "Khaled Bahah and the ministers who arrived with him are in Aden to stay permanently," said exiled government spokesman Rajeh Badi.

Hadi and Government resign under Houthi pressure

After a week of surprisingly rapid developments in what had previously been a very slow-motion coup, the political situation in Yemen took another turn on Thursday. First, Yemen's prime minister, Khaled Bahah, delivered his resignation--and that of his government--to President Hadi. In a message later published by (former) Information Minister Nadia al-Sakkaf, Bahah said that while his technocratic government had done its best for the nation,

...we decided today to present our that we are not made party to what is going on and what will happen. We are not responsible for the actions of others, in front of God and in front of the Yemeni people. We regret that it has come to this, and we apologize to you the patient people of Yemen and pray that God will sail Yemen to stability and safety.

Shortly thereafter, official sources confirmed that President Hadi had delivered his own letter of resignation to Yemen's parliament (which, in case you've forgotten, hasn't faced an election since 2003. The current parliament's mandate was in effect extended indefinitely by decree of former president Saleh). According to the constitution (which still technically exists, but really, come on), parliament has to either accept or refuse the resignation by a majority vote, which will be held this Sunday.

Hadi's move was widely seen as a desperate rebuttal to 'Abd al-Malik al-Huthi's totally-not-a-coup. The resignation of Yemen's entire executive branch forces Ansar Allah to take direct responsibility for the situation it has caused. Maybe. This, after all, is Yemen. Doubtless there are more machinations going on behind the scenes, and some kind of negotiated settlement could emerge soon.

For an even better summary of Thursday's developments, read Gregory Johnsen's piece for Buzzfeed. Today, Friday, 'Abd al-Malik al-Huthi has called for public demonstrations in San'a in support of his "revolution" (and also against the anti-Muslim French magazine Charlie Hebdo, because 'Abd al-Malik loves to be relevant). Meanwhile, anti-coup protesters who tried to set up a tent at Change Square last night were reportedly beaten by Huthi gunmen. Can't wait to see what happens next.