Salafis plan to foil Qatar-brokered deal [Archives:2008/1126/Front Page]

February 4 2008

Mohammed Bin Sallam
SA'ADA, Feb. 3 ) The Yemeni government and Houthis signed on Friday a peace deal in Doha, containing procedures for implementing an agreement, reached by both parties last June, to end the war. However, reports indicate that Salafi groups are planning to foil the peace deal.

Qatari Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamed Al Thani attended the various peace deal proceedings.

Yemeni presidential political advisor Abdulkarim Al-Eryani signed the agreement on the Yemeni government's behalf, while Sheikh Saleh Ahmad Ali Habra represented Abdulmalik Al-Houthi and his supporters in the Doha deal. Habra flew to Qatar after the government insisted that he carry a written authorization from Houthi field leader Abdulmalik Al-Houthi.

In turn, the Houthis demanded that Northwest Military Flank Commander Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, who they believe is responsible for the ongoing fighting, attend the event. Accused of harboring extremist Salafis, Al-Ahmar then attended the proceedings, which was the first time for him to do so.

The event was also attended by Parliament member Yahya Al-Houthi, brother of slain Hussein Badraddin Al-Houthi, the founder of the 'Faithful Youth Organization' in Sa'ada. The MP, who came from Germany, is considered as the leader for the Houthis' political front abroad, in which he gained political support for his followers. He fled Yemen before Yemeni authorities could arrest him, after they took a series of firm procedures against him, revoking his parliamentary immunity and attempting to extradite him via Interpol.

The Qatari committee that supervised the first stages of the Doha Agreement withdrew from Sa'ada after failing to persuade the conflicting parties to abide by the agreement.

Media sources said the most recent agreement concentrated on specifying clear methods of applying the previous agreement and resolving humanitarian issues.

Other sources mentioned that the new deal did not include any new conditions from either side, which concentrated on humanitarian aspects of the crisis such as the release of detainees, providing aid to displaced families and compensating those whose property was damaged in the previous wars. The same sources indicated that Qatar worked tirelessly to persuade the conflicting parties to accept the peace deal.

According to observers, the time selected for ending the Sa'ada crisis coincides with the Second Consultative Meeting for donors, currently organized by the Yemeni government, Gulf Cooperation Council's General Secretariat and World Bank. They said the date assigned for signing the deal has political implications, as Yemen wants to confirm to donors that it is serious about providing an appropriate climate for the consultative meeting, as well as showing that Sana'a is still committed to donors' conditions with regard to enhancing stability, security and democracy.

“The Yemeni government and Houthis signed the Doha Agreement on Wednesday, while the Qatari government took charge of releasing the remaining $300 million of a grant pledged for Yemen's development projects allocated for its third Five-Year Plan (2006 – 2010),” noted international observers interested in Yemeni affairs.

Political writer Sa'eed Thabet said in a statement to some media outlets that he is pessimistic about the new deal's success. “The new deal between the government and Houthis will be short-lived, despite the Qatari government's efforts to make it a success. We hope the conflicting parties will cease bloodshed, end the Sa'ada fighting and restore safety and security to citizens of the war-torn governorate,” Thabet declared. “I fear that the deal may only be a short break for both parties to prepare themselves for a new war.”

The political writer said he didn't know whether the deal persuaded both parties to overcome any disputed points. He further questioned, “Did Houthis accept abandoning their strategic positions and laying down their arms, or did the government accept giving Houthis some entitlements in exchange for their journey to Doha via a neighboring country's airport instead of Sana'a Airport?”

Thabet labeled the government's news blackout regarding its deal with Houthis and keeping all representatives anonymous at the event as a 'big shame', particularly as Qatari sources revealed that Al-Eryani represented the government and Sheikh Habra the Houthis at the agreement. He added that neither delegation cares about citizens' lives.

Thabet commented that the recent deal is merely escapism from the current political, economic and security issues plaguing the country.

The journalist expressed his wish that the agreement would reach successful results and that life in the restive governorate would gradually return to normal. “We have to question those who signed the deal, as well as the powers and influence they enjoy in order to bring the conflicting parties together and help them reach a compromise,” he went on to say.

The Houthi representative, who flew to Qatar along with the government's delegation on Wednesday following coordination by the Qatari Ambassador in Sana'a, carried with him a large number of case files, 400 belonging to those detained over suspected connections with the Sa'ada fighting and displaced citizens. Additionally, Al-Houthi stated that some of the files contain legal violations committed by the government.

Media sources in Sa'ada reported on Sunday that a helicopter was shot down in Juma'a Bin Fadhel of Haidan district. Witnesses said they saw the helicopter on fire after being shot down by Houthis.

The Houthi field leader released a statement saying that a military detachment struck the Juma'a Bin Fadhel area with tanks and mortars on Wednesday, adding that the operation continued for more than seven hours.

The statement further claimed that Abdulaziz Al-Shihari, a Salafi extremist and commander of the 17th Military Detachment deployed in Haidan district, led a military campaign composed of nine trucks transporting soldiers to Al-Zerka area, where he started an operation in Juma'a Bin Fadhel area.

Al-Houthi lashed out against the military operations, which according to him undermined peace negotiations in Doha, accusing the government of not being serious about resolving the crisis peacefully.