The five-day ceasefire in Yemen that entered into force on Tuesday 11 pm local time has been welcomed by humanitarian aid organizations, which have nevertheless defined it as too short a window to address a looming humanitarian disaster.
Among the biggest concerns is not only the distribution of food and medicine across the country, but the fuel shortages affecting most of the Yemeni territory. Without fuel, the water pumps used to supply cities with water and hospital generators are useless and food prices increase further. Destroyed infrastructure coupled with Houthi checkpoints on most main roads make the task of fuel re-supply even more challenging.
The Houthi’s violation of the ceasefire is hardly surprising. Time and again the movement’s leadership, dominated by its radical wing, has revealed its preference for a military solutionManuel Almeida
Before the current war, ignited by the country-wide military offensive led by the Houthi militias that overthrew the Yemeni government, estimates from different humanitarian aid organizations indicated that more than 15 million Yemenis were in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Today, that number is inevitably higher.
Pushing a political solution
Yet despite the criticism of the five-day truce as a meager offer in the face of an extremely serious humanitarian crisis, this period is almost certainly being used by all those parties seeking to push forward a political solution to the war to make further progress in the diplomatic contacts to achieve that goal.
There are indications this is indeed the case. The new U.N. special envoy, the Mauritanian diplomat Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, arrived at Yemen’s capital of Sanaa just a few hours before the ceasefire entered into force. The official mission of Ismail Ahmed’s first visit to Yemen as U.N. special envoy (he had plenty of Yemen experience while at UNDP) was to oversee the implementation of the humanitarian truce.
However, the U.N. special envoy was expected to use the opportunity to try push for a negotiated solution. He met with high profile members of the General People’s Congress (the party of Saleh and of President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi) and possibly tried to speak with some of the Houthi leaders based in Sanaa as well. Late on Tuesday, the U.N. Security Council issued a statement calling on the organization’s secretary-general to convene U.N.-led talks on Yemen.
A week before the ceasefire agreement, the GCP’s Deputy Secretary-General Ahmed Ubaid Bin Daghr had declared the party’s support for Yemen’s government in exile currently led by President Hadi. GPC cadres based in Yemen also conveyed the message via a delegation that visited Riyadh about their willingness to support a political solution that involves Saleh’s departure. Additionally, they declared their backing for U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216 that demands the Houthis leave all the areas they occupied.
A fractured front
A few days after Daghr’s declaration, a GPC spokesperson issued another statement claiming that Daghr’s did not represent the official position of the party. This second statement did not contradict all the points in Daghr’s statement, but claimed that talks could only be held once coalition airstrikes stopped and that Riyadh could not be the place to hold them. Although this is yet another sign of the longstanding split within the GPC, there seems to be a growing consensus around the necessity of abandoning Saleh.
When it comes to the implementation of the ceasefire, heavy fighting went on until just before the truce officially started. Since then, the record has been mixed at best. Pro-Houthi and Saleh forces continued to be involved in occasional armed clashes with tribes and local popular defense committees that have been resisting their advances in Aden, Marib, Taiz, Shabwah, Abyan and various other areas. Coalition airstrikes took place in Abyan province against a Houthi military convoy making its way to Aden.
The Houthi’s violation of the ceasefire is hardly surprising. Time and again the movement’s leadership, dominated by its radical wing, has revealed its preference for a military solution in the face of various opportunities to opt for dialogue. While many analysts and commentators continue to voice their outright opposition to the intervention by the Saudi-led coalition, it is difficult to see what other options remained to stop the Houthi-Saleh rampage of violence and force a negotiated solution.
Another aspect that continues to go largely unnoticed in most reporting and analysis on the current conflict is that those opposing the Houthis and Saleh do not necessarily do it because they support Hadi. Instead, the unwelcomed presence and brutality of the Houthi-Saleh forces, including the intentional targeting of civilian lives and property, has left many local groups with no choice but to fight back. This helps to explain why the ceasefire is proving impossible to hold.
If things were not complicated enough, Yemen’s economic and humanitarian predicament is a longstanding problem that never featured among Iran’s concerns, yet Iran’s intent to explore the crisis for its own benefit has again come on full display. According to various reports this week, an Iranian cargo ship allegedly carrying humanitarian aid and escorted by a couple of Iranian warships is destined to reach the Western Yemeni port of Hudaydah.
The Yemeni government has said that Iran will be responsible for any incident resulting from a refusal to allow the ship to be searched, while the U.S. has urged Iran to do re-direct the ship to the U.N. hub in Djibouti.
The good news is the rumors that the current five-day humanitarian truce may be extended and that all parties have agreed to resume political talks to be led by the U.N. at the end of this month.
Manuel Almeida is a writer, researcher and consultant on the Middle East. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the London of Economics and Political Science and was an editor at Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. He can be reached on @_ManuelAlmeida on Twitter.