Fighting between army and Houthis intensifies amid halted mediation [Archives:2008/1156/Front Page]

May 19 2008

SA'ADA, May 18 ) Fighting between the army and Houthi loyalists became fiercer in the various districts of the governorate and other densely populated areas between Sa'ada's Haidan district and Harf Sifyan district in Amran governorate, tribal sources said on Sunday, adding that the government authorities cut off communication services in the restive governorate.

The same sources went on to say that the government troops are using different kinds of heavy artillery in the clashes, the reasons for which remain unclear. Official media outlets launched a campaign against the Doha-brokered ceasefire agreement the government and Houthis signed last February, saying it insulted the authority and damaged its status and reputation.

This encouraged the government to be tough in implementing the first five terms of the agreement, such as releasing detainees, approving compensation for citizens whose property was damaged in the fighting, reinstating dismissed employees and reconstructing villages. The government also stepped up efforts with the aim of helping displaced families return home, and pulled its troops out of citizens' homes and farmlands.

The authority insisted that Term 7 of the agreement with regard to Houthis abandoning their mountaintop positions must be executed in order to help reinforce government rule and silence voices criticizing the government's performance in Sa'ada.

The bordering Kingdom of Saudi Arabia showed its support for Yemeni government, mainly by the Council of Ministers and Foreign Minister condemning the Houthis and praising the Yemeni government's pardon of Houthi followers.

Most importantly, the republican guards are involved in the Sa'ada fighting, which means further support for Commander of Northern Military Flank Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, a Salafi extremist, who calls for continuing the war and eliminating Houthis from the governorate. According to observers, the military leader opposes any reconciliation with Houthis.

Media reports said that most of the roads are still blocked due to escalating clashes, specifically on the Sana'a-Sa'ada Highway, adding that army personnel are launching offensives in the Matra area, the main Houthi stronghold, and the aftermath of which is still unclear. These offensives coincided with other attacks against Houthi supporters in Harf Sifyan district in Amran, as well as air strikes on Dhehian district, north of Sa'ada city.

The reports from the area claim that Houthis are preparing themselves for a long war in the Haidan district of Sa'ada, the starting point of the fighting, and added that the army is hunting down Houthis in Bani Hushaish area, east of Sana'a.

The official media said that Houthis may have connections with Thursday's clashes in Bani Hushaish, which claimed several lives and left others injured. According to the official media, Houthi field leader Abdulmalik Al-Houthi was quoted as saying by phone to his older brother Yahya who is currently living in Germany, that he would shift clashes to another area outside Sana'a.

So far, no casualties have been reported on either side. However, thousands of Sa'ada citizens are still displaced, while the Qatari mediation team has suspended its reconciliation efforts. The new presidential mediation committee chaired by Sheikh Hussein Al-Ahmar hasn't yet begun any effort to contain the escalating crisis.

Red Cross increases aid to Sa'ada

Renewed fighting in the northern Yemeni governorate has resulted in a further deterioration in living conditions, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said today. The humanitarian organization scaled up its aid in response to increasing needs in the restless governorate.

The ICRC has asked donors for an additional 8.5 million in Swiss francs for its Yemen budget to respond to the increasing needs caused by the fighting. These additional funds have more than doubled the original 2008 budget for operations in Yemen, raising it to 14 million Swiss francs.

“As a result of the latest confrontations in the north of the country, thousands of civilians are currently fleeing their homes to seek refuge where they can be assisted and cared for,” said Marcus Dolder, the ICRC delegation head in Yemen. “Our teams are working closely with the Yemen Red Crescent Society to provide these people with shelter and emergency assistance.”

The ICRC is concerned about the security and living conditions of civilians affected by the fighting and appealed to both sides to respect international humanitarian law. In particular, it urged them to distinguish at all times between civilians and people taking a direct part in hostilities, and to treat all casualties with humanity.

“The region has not yet recovered from four years of conflict. Even before the most recent fighting, more than 100,000 people had been directly affected, urgently requiring humanitarian aid,” said Dolder. “These people have also been hit hard by the steep increase in food prices over the recent months.”

The ICRC plans to use the additional funds to step up the provision of food, water, shelter, essential household items and medical supplies in all areas of Sa'ada governorate. It is also ready to provide life-saving surgical treatment for the wounded where required.

Over the past 14 months, ICRC staff has worked with the local branch of the Yemeni Red Crescent Society to distribute emergency aid to almost 120,000 people, and has facilitated access to clean drinking water for thousands of others.