Yemen’s crisis and the battle for Sanaa
Fighting in Sanaa represents an unprecedented development in the conflict
Sept. 21 was a major day for Yemen. The prime minister resigned, the interior minister advised against confronting Houthi rebels who seized strategic positions in the capital, and President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi announced a deal that seemed to have accepted their conditions.
The U.N.-sponsored agreement includes the president’s appointment of Houthi advisors and a prime minister. Advisors will nominate government members, while Hadi chooses the ministers of foreign affairs, interior, defense and finance, and the prime minister chooses other ministers.
However, witnesses at the signing ceremony said Houthi representatives refused to sign an annex to the accord calling for the state to take control of areas seized by the Houthis, and for them to return captured weapons.
Fighting in Sanaa represents an unprecedented development in the conflict, as the government and Houthis had been fighting since 2005 to seize northern areas. Using popular anger due to an increase in fuel prices, the Houthis were able to push the battle into the capital.
In an attempt to calm the situation, Hadi dismissed his government on Sept. 2, and suggested a national unity government and a 30% decrease in fuel prices. Houthis rejected the initiative, with thousands gathering on Sept. 5 in Sanaa to express support for their leader Abdel Malik al-Houthi. In response, thousands of army supporters gathered in the capital and other provinces to voice their rejection of Houthi threats.
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On Sept. 7, Houthis escalated their activities and set up tents blocking the road to Sanaa airport. According to a Houthi source, security forces used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters, killing one and injuring dozens. An Interior Ministry source said Houthi gunmen injured several soldiers. Houthis issued a statement holding the government responsible for its “aggression.” Meanwhile, governmental sources said warplanes shelled Houthi posts in Al-Jawf province and killed 13 fighters.
On Sept. 8, in response to dispersing the protest, Houthis announced the obstruction of police and army movements at all entrances to the capital, and threatened to escalate their actions until their demands were met. They were accused of attacking soldiers and state employees, and Hadi announced the dismissal of a top security chief.
On Sept. 11, a preliminary agreement failed due to mutual mistrust, but on Sept. 19 a final deal was announced, and Houthis agreed to stop fighting in Sanaa. However, they continued to militarily advance in the capital, seizing army and security posts, and shelling the state-run TV station. On Sept. 20, as fighting entered its third day, Houthis took over the state TV headquarters. Hadi accused them of a coup attempt, saying their advances in Sanaa were unjustified.
On Sept. 21, Houthis controlled the premiership and military headquarters in Sanaa, and seized large amounts of weapons. Prime Minister Mohammed Basindawa submitted his resignation, and Houthi representatives arrived in the capital to sign the agreement.
However, this does not spell the end of Yemen’s crises, including the Houthi rebellion. Sanaa accuses foreign parties of incitement, with Hadi naming Iran as one of the Houthis’ supporters. It seems that the mistrust between Sanaa and the Houthis will continue, especially since fighting is ongoing in the capital despite the agreement.
This unjustified escalation reflects a separatist tendency that threatens Yemen’s unity. Overcoming this crisis will need more than promises. Both parties’ commitment to dialogue as the only solution is a good start, but it requires mutual trust that in turn requires the Houthis to put Yemen before their sect.
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