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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Houthis must show willing in coalition pause in fighting

Tehran-backed rebels must make concessions as the battle for Yemen pauses

Houthis hold a gathering to recruit fighters in Hodeidah. Abdo Hyder / AFP
Houthis hold a gathering to recruit fighters in Hodeidah. Abdo Hyder / AFP

The battle to liberate Hodeidah from the violent, chaotic and mismanaged rule of Houthi rebels came after numerous attempts to seek a peaceful political solution.

Those attempts at negotiation were met and thwarted time and again with aggression and attacks from the Iran-backed militia.

After a week of fighting, in which the Saudi-led coalition secured the airport in the Yemeni city and edged ever closer to securing the port, so crucial to delivering food and aid to millions of beleaguered Yemenis, the coalition has pressed pause on the battle.

For the battle was never about military triumph or war trophies; it was a mere strand to a wider humanitarian effort to restore peace in a country riven by conflict for more than three years; to enable Yemen’s legitimate government to once again take control and, not least, to lift millions of starving Yemenis out of despair rather than leave them to their fate at the hands of a lawless, ragtag band of tribal warriors.

The week-long ceasefire comes in support of attempts by UN special envoy Martin Griffiths to secure a peaceful handover and withdrawal of the Houthis from Hodeidah.

But Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, was justifiably cautious in confirming the pause in fighting. “The international community has not pressed the Houthis hard enough on these violations. We continue to hope that it will do so,” he tweeted.

Let us not forget, these are the rebels who have not given hungry, destitute Yemenis a second thought while looting or drastically hiking up prices for supplies and aid coming through the port, a vital channel for up to 90 per cent of food to Yemenis.

They have used civilians as human shields to save themselves and forcibly conscripted 15,000 children. They have planted snipers and mines in civilian areas, without giving a care for who might be injured or maimed. They have starved prisoners who refused to fight their own proper government and cut off their power supplies. And when lorries arrived at prison to take inmates against their will to the frontline to serve the Houthis’ nefarious cause, they were shot dead for resisting.

At every turn, the Houthis have failed to show the basic, fundamental purpose of government: to protect the rights and humanity of its citizens.

They have limited time to prove they are willing to make concessions – and thus far, they have failed to do so.

The UN, in partnership with the coalition, expects a complete withdrawal from Hodeidah; as Dr Gargash said, it remains to be seen whether the rebels are genuine in wanting to end the war or using the pause as a tactic to buy time. If it turns out to be the latter, their own time will doubtless be up soon.