Cyclone Chapala

October 20–November 2: New talks expected, fighting continues, cyclone takes a toll

The civil war entered its eighth month on October 26, as the airstrikes and ground combat continue to rage on, mostly in central Yemen. That day, Saudi-led airstrikes destroyed an MSF-supported hospital in the northern governorate of Saʻdah, leaving the entire governorate with only one health facility. “At least 200,000 people now have no access to lifesaving medical care,” said an MSF press release. A new round of UN-sponsored peace talks aiming to end the drawn-out conflict in Yemen is expected to take place in Geneva on November 15, after being postponed last month. Meanwhile, fighting on the Saudi side of the border continues to intensify in the areas of Najran, Jayzan and Asir. 

Last month, the UN envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, tried to talk the warring parties into holding a new round of talks based on a seven-point proposal put forth during previous talks in the Omani capital, Muscat. Both the Houthis and their ally former president Ali Abdullah Saleh have assented to the negotiated implementation of UNSC resolution 2216, which requires them to hand over their weapons and withdraw from occupied cities. Yemen’s Saudi-backed government-in-exile, however, has insisted since the peace talks began on the Houthis’ full implementation of 2216 as a precondition to talks. Now, after many quibbles over the time and place of this new session, the UN envoy expects the talks to be held in Geneva on November 15.

In the meantime, the frontlines in the central governorates of Taʻiz, Marib, al-Baydha, and Ibb have seen clashes intensifying as Saudi-led warplanes provide aerial support for local resistance fighters. Sporadic clashes are also taking place in the southern governorate of Lahj, just north of Aden.

In Taʻiz city, clashes between local resistance militias and pro-Houthi/Saleh forces escalated over the past two weeks. Coalition war planes have been targeting the positions of Houthi/Saleh forces and airdropping weapons to the resistance. Over the weekend, local resistance fighters were able to secure a route into Taʻiz through the Houthi blockade, and smuggle a number of armored vehicles into Taʻiz amid the weeks-long siege imposed by the pro-Houthi forces.

Also in Taʻiz, a group of salafi militants, calling themselves “Humat al-ʻAqidah” (Guardians of Faith), have recently emerged and are fighting alongside the local resistance fighters. While the expected “decisive operation” for liberating Yemen’s third-largest city hasn’t yet began, the city may soon witness even fiercer fighting.

In Marib city, fighting for control over the western district of Sirwah continues to intensify, although parts of this district have already been “liberated” by Maribi tribes and coalition forces. Early last week, clashes broke out all over again, when the coalition-trained Maribi forces along with local tribal fighters made a push further into Sirwah, a district seen as the key area leading to the capital, Sanʻa. They were able to gain another position in the Mashjaʻ area of Sirwah, as pro-Houthi forces retreated under heavy airstrikes and artillery barrages. However, clashes are still taking place in other parts of Marib.

In al-Baydha, intermittent clashes between pro-Houthi forces and local tribal fighters took place mainly in two areas of the governorate, while Saudi-led warplanes provided the local resistance with air support. Airstrikes hit the provincial security building in downtown al-Baydha, while others targeted a number of positions of the pro-Houthi forces on the outskirts of the city.

In Ibb city, clashes have escalating over the past two weeks, especially after the Saudi-led coalition decided to supply the local resistance fighters with arms and provide them aerial support. The fighting has been taking place in the eastern areas near al-Dhaliʻ governorate. Some local observers, however, opine that the “liberation” of the neighboring cities of Taʻiz and Ibb should begin simultaneously.

On Monday, November 2, Cyclone Chapala swept over the Yemeni island of Suqutra, killing three people and injuring many more. The storm, which meteorologists called the most powerful to hit Yemen in recent history, made landfall on Yemen's southern coast the following day, flooding the city of al-Mukalla and other coastal towns. Recent reports say that more than 40,000 citizens have been displaced by the storm, which has dropped as much as a decade's worth of rain on some parts of the country already. Emirati and Omani authorities have already dispatched aid to Suqutra; al-Mukalla, which has been under the control of al-Qaeda for several months, has yet to receive outside assistance.