November 25–30: Marib and Taʻiz still contested; UN demands peace talks

Yemen’s armed conflict has entered its ninth month with no end in sight: airstrikes and ground fighting across Yemen have thus far claimed the lives of more than 5700 people and pushed the country to the brink of famine, according to activist groups and aid agencies. A new report by Human Rights Watch details the failure of the Saudi-led coalition and its western backers to investigate unlawful airstrikes in Yemen, although “the evidence is everywhere.”  The UN special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is still pushing for new peace talks in Geneva. On November 25, Prime Minister/Vice President Khaled Bahah met with Ahmed in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. During the meeting, Bahah said that the delegates of his government aim to come back from the new Geneva talks with a solution that guarantees the restoration of peace and security in Yemen.

On Monday, President Abdu Rabbuh Mansor Hadi received a draft including notes on the agendas that have been proposed by the UN envoy for the proposed session of talks. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met with PM Bahah on the sidelines of this week’s climate talks in Paris; during the meeting, Ban called on Yemen’s warring parties to return to negotiations immediately and without preconditions. Thus far the Hadi-Bahah government has insisted that the Houthis and their allies must implement UN Security Council resolution 2216 before talks can begin.

Over the weekend, airstrikes in the capital, Sanʻa, targeted once again mountainous positions that have repeatedly been struck over the past months. The warplanes also knocked out the road connecting Dhamar, Ibb, and Taʻiz provinces with Sanʻa.

It’s been two weeks now since coalition and resistance forces launched a major operation to “liberate” Taʻiz Governorate. Justifications for the delay in liberating Taʻiz and Marib have started to appear in the media; while the field commander in charge says the operation is going according to plan, the local tribal resistance commander stated that 10 brigades of Houthi/Saleh forces are fighting to hold their positions in Taʻiz.

Coalition units intensified their efforts to take control of the western part of Taʻiz, near the Red Sea town of Mocha. The western and eastern fronts are reportedly seeing the fiercest clashes since the operation was launched. Pro-Houthi forces are holding their positions in al-Shurayjah and al-Rahidah on the road to the southern province of Lahj despite heavy airstrikes.

Likewise, Marib’s western district of Sirwah has not yet been liberated, despite months of fighting. On Sunday, Marib’s deputy governor said that landmines planted by Houthi/Saleh forces are the main reason behind that.

November 3–9: Fighting intensifies on multiple fronts as Geneva talks approach

With new peace talks fast approaching, the ground fighting continues to escalate rapidly on several fronts across Yemen and across the border with Saudi Arabia, while the Saudi-led coalition’s aircraft continue to provide local anti-Houthi fighters with aerial support and weapons. Ground fighting has been swiftly intensifying in or around six Yemeni cities since early last week, while the new round of UN-sponsored talks aiming to end the conflict in Yemen is just few days away. The new peace-talks session is expected to take place in Geneva on November 15. On Sunday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon flew to Riyadh to reinforce the push for a peaceful political settlement among the warring parties. Having finalized the initial negations ahead of the upcoming talks in Geneva, delegates from the Houthi Movement and the General People’s Congress party (GPC) returned from Muscat on Friday to brief their leadership in the Yemeni capital, Sanʻa. The exiled government in Riyadh has already assigned five representatives for the new Geneva talks. While the UN special envoy for Yemen appeared to be optimistic, several observers believe the talks are doomed to fail amid the escalated conflict on the ground.

In the central city of Taʻiz, clashes are taking place in downtown and intensifying in the eastern frontline, with both sides using heavy artillery and tanks. More than a dozen pro-Houthi/Saleh forces have been killed and wounded in an ambush; civilians have also reportedly been killed. While the pro-Houthi/Saleh forces surround the city from three sides, coalition airstrikes continue to target those forces. More reinforcement troops from the coalition, along with armored vehicles, have reached Taʻiz during the past week.

Near the Red Sea port of Mokha, pro-Houthi/Saleh forces claimed to hit a coalition warship, which they say is the fourth to be bombed.

In Ibb governorate, pro-Houthi/Saleh forces have taken control of Damt district near Dhaliʻ city, after fierce clashes with local resistance fighters left tens of dead on both sides. Although the coalition’s aircraft provided the resistance fighters with aerial support and weapons, the pro-Houthi/Saleh forces still control large parts of the district.

In Marib governorate, clashes erupted on new frontlines in the western districts amid airstrikes and artillery barrages. The local tribal fighters along with coalition forces are poised to capture al-Wakifah valley, some four kilometers outside the western district of Sirwah.

In the southern governorate of Lahj, near Aden city, fighting has escalated in what was seen as an attempt by pro-Houthi/Saleh forces to recapture Aden. On the other hand, 200 Sudanese and Gulf troops were reportedly seen leaving Aden, heading toward al-Anad airbase, where at least 400 coalition forces have been stationed.

Meanwhile, another Tropical Cyclone, Megh, battered Suqutra Island on Sunday, just days after Cyclone Chapala left at least three people dead and displaced hundreds from their homes on the island. One woman was reportedly killed while four other people were injured by the second storm.

June 23-29: No progress toward peace; Aden refinery destroyed

The Saudi-led aerial offensive and the civil conflict on the ground continue into a fourth month now. Over 2800 Yemenis have been killed and thousands of others injured, while over one million have been internally displaced.  Saudi Arabia’s stated goals haven’t yet been achieved: the pro-Houthi/Saleh forces keep on advancing, while President Hadi and his government are still in exile. The humanitarian situation has become more dire than ever: 8.6 million Yemenis need urgent medical help; 21.1 million need some form of humanitarian assistance, while half of Yemen’s population is food insecure.

Moreover, the health system has been virtually paralyzed, and Dengue fever on—top of Malaria—has rapidly spread, particularly in the coastal areas. In addition to a score of dengue fever cases registered in the port city of Mukalla in Hadramout province, 85 cases have been registered in the historical town of Hajarayn alone over the past week.

Last Monday, after the collapse of the Geneva talks, the Houthi-Saleh delegation headed to Oman, where they reportedly held talks with Southern Movement leaders. Flying back to Sanʻa Friday, the airplane carrying the delegates was prevented from landing in the Sana’a International Airport. After finally landing on Saturday, a delegate stated that the Houthis are mulling over the prospect of forming a partnership government, and that they have no plans to attend additional peace talks.

The Saudi-led airstrikes have been hitting several cities since the beginning of Ramadan, mainly where ground fighting is taking place, in Marib, al-Jawf, Aden, Taʻiz, Lahj, al-Baydha, and Shabwah. Other cities, including Hajjah, al-Hudaydah, and Raima were also hit by airstrikes over the past weeks.

Two historical sites in both Raima and Hajjah were struck, bringing to 25 the number of such sites that have been targeted by Saudi warplanes. In the southern city of Aden, Houthi fighters shelled the only oil refinery, destroying much of the city’s fuel reserves and releasing a massive cloud of oil smoke over residential areas.

Continuing their cross-border missile attacks, the pro-Houthi/Saleh fighters have targeted military sites near Jaizan city. Three Saudi soldiers along with an Emirati were reportedly killed.


June 16-22: Geneva talks fail, IS kills civilians in Sanʻa

News coverage over the past week has been dominated by the UN-sponsored talks in Geneva, which yielded no tangible results. Bombings attributed to local affiliates of the Islamic State have also drawn the attention. The failure of Geneva talks, which wrapped up on Friday, seemed to be well predicted in the local press coverage. On Tuesday, UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed opened the preliminary consultations with the conflicting parties after the Houthi-led delegates from Sanʻa were finally able to arrive in Geneva. But the delegates from Riyadh (representing the Hadi regime in exile) and Sanʻa refused to meet in one place; the talks were conducted with the two groups in separate rooms. In the end, mediators failed to come up with the hoped-for seven-point statement, which would have included a ceasefire during the holy month of Ramadan.

Meanwhile, the Saudi-led airstrikes continued to hit several cities across the country as the pro-Houthi/Saleh forces continued to advance in the adjacent governorates of Marib and al-Jawf.

On Saturday, hours after the Geneva talks came to an end, airstrikes hit the runways of Sanʻa International Airport and al-Dailami Airbase in the capital, which was seen as a way of preventing the Houthi-led delegates from returning to Sanʻa. On Sunday, Sirah Fortress in Aden and the Great Dam of Marib were both hit by Saudi airstrikes.

Although the airstrikes were providing air cover for the so-called “popular resistance” fighters over the past week, the pro-Houthi/Saleh forces claimed to have captured three tribal encampments—Nakhla, al-Suhail, and Labant—out of five spread alongside the capital city of the oil-rich province of Marib. Moreover, clashes continued to rage in the southern cities of Aden, al-Dhaliʻ and Lahj as well as the central cities of Taʻiz and al-Baydha.

Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed Sanʻa-based branch of the Islamic State has resurfaced, having been quiet since its devestating March attack on mosques frequented by Houthi loyalists (among others). On the eve of Ramadan (Wednesday), four car bombs simultaneously targeted two Sanʻa mosques, the Houthi Political Bureau, and the house of a leading member of Ansar Allah. On Saturday, the same group allegedly carried out another car bomb attack on a mosque in the Old City of Sanʻa, killing at least two people.

June 9–15: Geneva talks start without Houthis; Aden refinery shelled; airstrikes continue

As Yemen’s war continues, media coverage over the last week focused on UN-sponsored negotiations, originally set to begin on Sunday. The three-day talks in Geneva, billed as “preliminary inclusive consultations,” which aim at ending the months-long war in Yemen, began on Monday, June 15, following week-long quibbles over the representation and the mechanism for talks. But the talks were inaugurated with only delegates of the exiled government in Riyadh in attendance, while the Yemeni delegates from Sanʻa—representing the Houthi movement and its allies—were stranded in Djibouti for nearly 24 hours. The talks were supposed to start Sunday, but were postponed after the delegates did not board the UN airplane at the Sanʻa International Airport on Friday.

Although the talks between the conflicting political parties were delayed, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has already called for an immediate two-week ceasefire during the holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to begin on Thursday.

Over the past week, Saudi warplanes conducted airstrikes in at least 12 cities including the capital, Sanʻa, where both residential areas and pro-Houthi/Saleh figures were targeted.

On Friday, a neighborhood in the Old City of Sanʻa—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—was hit by airstrikes, flatting at least five houses and killing seven civilians. On Saturday, the home of former special forces commander Yahyah Mohammed Abdullah Saleh was hit along with other nearby houses of his relatives. Strikes continued past the official start of the Geneva talks; Sanʻa was reportedly struck by several airstrikes on Monday.

In cities where the civil conflict is intensifying, the Saudi-led airstrikes continue to provide air cover for the so-called “Popular Resistance.”

In the eastern city of Marib, two main tribal encampments, Nakhla and Suhail, were captured by the pro-Houthi/Saleh forces. In the neighboring Jawf province, these forces also captured the provincial city, Hazm, after weeks of heavy clashes. In southern city of Aden, the oil refinery was forced to halt operations, while fierce clashes took place in Maʻalla and Buraiqah areas. The central city of Taʻiz has seen the fiercest clashes in two months as mortar and tank shells have reportedly hit several downtown residential areas.

June 3-8: IDP count passes 1 million; Houthi missiles target KSA; Geneva talks confirmed

It’s been nearly two months and a half (74 days as of Monday, June 8) since the Saudi-led aerial offensive was launched to achieve the stated goals: the Houthis’ advancement has not yet been halted, nor has been restored to power the exiled government in Riyadh. Over the past week, both pro-Houthi fighters and pro-Saleh forces intensified their cross-border attacks, while the Saudi airstrikes continued to pound their bases and target their leading members in several cities, including the capital, Sanʻa.

On Friday, the Republican Guards, loyal to the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, failed to advance on the Saudi city of Jaizan, as Houthi fighters continued to attack the neighboring areas. On Saturday, pro-Houthi fighters fired a Scud missile targeting the Khamis Mushait airbase inside Saudi Arabia, but the Saudi Air Defense Forces intercepted the missile. Using such a ballistic missile in the battle, the Houthi spokesperson said, is like a “quantum leap” and a “warning message.”

As June 14 was finally set for the Geneva talks, the aerial and cross-border attacks intensified, and both sides have reinforced their positions. Such escalation of fighting is likely to undermine the UN-backed efforts, although the political parties, including the Houthis, have agreed to participate in the upcoming Geneva talks without preconditions. Meanwhile, Houthi delegates flew to the Russian capital, Moscow, for meetings with Kremlin officials, which follow their weeks-long talks with American and Iranian officials in the Omani capital, Muscat.

On the ground, combat continues to flare up largely in Aden, Taʻiz, Marib and al-Dhaliʻ cities as Saudi airstrikes serve as air cover for the so-called “popular resistance.”

As of May 31, over 2200 Yemenis had been killed across the country, half of them civilians, and 10,000 injured, while nearly 10,000 others have fled to Djibouti as refuges. The number of the IDPs has amounted to more than one million people; most of them are forced to live in public spaces and unhealthy conditions.