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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

A rare window of opportunity for peace in Yemen should not be missed

Negotiations in Yemen cannot fall victim to the dilatory tactics of Houthi militia

Forces loyal to the Yemeni government, backed by the Saudi-led Arab coalition, have disrupted Houthi control of Hodeidah. But peace remains elusive. EPA
Forces loyal to the Yemeni government, backed by the Saudi-led Arab coalition, have disrupted Houthi control of Hodeidah. But peace remains elusive. EPA

When the Saudi-led coalition agreed to cease the offensive in Hodeidah at the beginning of this month, it was in support of UN attempts to secure a peaceful outcome to the Yemeni conflict.

That month-long ceasefire is now nearly at an end, during which time the Houthi rebels have shown no sign of abating their campaign of aggression, nor made concessions.

Instead, as Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled Al Yemany told The National, the militia were stalling for time to further entrench themselves in the Red Sea port city and deploy more fighters to in the hope of engaging the coalition in street warfare.

Yemen’s government and the coalition wanted talks to produce results; the Houthis simply want to prolong the pause so that they could rebuild their capacities behind the cloak of diplomacy.

The rebels, Mr Al Yemany said, were simply “buying time”. Succumbing to their temporising tactic, however, will have profoundly negative consequences for the ordinary people of Yemen.

Their interests can only be upheld if there is a concerted effort to ensure the three conditions outlined by UN envoy Martin Griffiths are met: for the Houthis to withdraw completely from Hodeidah, surrender commercial and government assets to the legitimate government and for mechanisms to be put in place to halt the smuggling of weapons from Iran.

Yet the Houthis are dragging their heels and trying to readjust the terms in a way that makes a mockery of the entire process.

Their proposal to withdraw from the port alone while retaining control of the city would effectively put them within a kilometre of the coast servicing a desperate population with aid and the majority of the country’s food supply, leaving a civilian populace they have terrorised for years at their mercy.

The Houthis know these terms are unrealistic and unacceptable; their objective is to frustrate the parties negotiating with them in good faith and lure them into an urban battle, dragging innocent civilians into combat.

This coldblooded calculation, bolstered by the weapons supplied by Iran and the Houthis’ recruitment and abuse of child soldiers and human shields, could seal their fate.

This is a rare and limited opportunity to negotiate a political solution, yet their insistence on putting up stumbling blocks means peace remains elusive.

It is incumbent upon the UN to insist they meet its terms and for Tehran to stop prolonging the suffering of Yemenis by continuing to arm and fund the rebels. The Yemeni people have been through enough.

A rare window of opportunity to end their suffering is about to close and should not be squandered.