x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Failure of peace talks blamed on rebels

The Yemeni government says military offensives against al Houthi rebels in the north will continue, blaming the rebels for the collapse of efforts to reach a peace deal.

SANA'A // The Yemeni government said yesterday that military offensives against al Houthi rebels in the north will continue, blaming the rebels for the collapse of efforts to reach a peace deal. The state's top security committee said the rebels did not agree to the six conditions the government set earlier this month to end hostilities in the northern province of Sa'ada where fierce fighting between government troops and the rebels has been going on for more than two weeks.

"The political leadership and government have been keen to prevent bloodshed in the holy month of Ramadan and the terrorism and sabotage elements were informed that they should announce their commitment to the six items ... However, these terrorist elements did not respond to the calls of the political leadership," said the committee in a statement yesterday. The government conditions required the rebels withdraw from all districts, remove checkpoints they had set up in some places, clarify the fate of kidnapped foreigners, hand over those behind the kidnappings, return captured military and civilian equipment and refrain from intervening in the state's local affairs.

Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president, vowed on August 19 to crush and uproot the rebels, but two days later renewed his government's ceasefire conditions to end the fighting, which has been intermittently going on since 2004. On Wednesday, Mr Saleh was back on the offensive. "Now, we will cleanse all districts of Sa'ada. We will not allow [al Houthis] to mess around with the security and stability. They have horrified the citizens and slaughtered clerics and sheikhs," Mr Saleh said while addressing Badr military brigade staff members who will be deployed to Sa'ada soon.

Mr Saleh said additional military units would be commissioned to join the battle in Sa'ada and Harf Sifyan district in the neighbouring province of Amran. "We thought that they would respond to the call of logic and reason; they have burnt the farms, killed women and children ? Had they been an organised force, we would have crushed them in the first weeks of the battle," Mr Saleh said. "We are, however, facing a guerrilla war. We will change our tactics ? We are confident that we will able to cleanse all these areas in the coming weeks."

The ministry of defence said yesterday the army has been able to secure and open up a number of roads as well as inflict heavy damages on the rebels. "The air force was able to painfully hit the terrorism and rebellion elements in an area close to Dhahyan where there was a big pile of vehicles carrying weapons and supply; they were destroyed, leaving heavy damage among them. Antiterrorism team forced the rebels to leave their positions at Madha," a defence ministry statement said.

The rebels, however, denied reports that the army controlled Harf Sifyan city and al Malahidh in Sa'ada, accusing the government of announcing "phantom achievements". The office of Abdulmalik al Houthi, the rebel leader, sent an e-mail saying the rebels were able to repulse the army attacks and destroyed a tank and an armoured vehicle. Such reports, however, could not be independently verified as both Sa'ada and Harf Sifyan are closed to journalists.

The European Union on Wednesday called for an immediate end to the fighting. "While recognising the responsibility of the Government of Yemen to maintain peace and security within its territory, the European Union is concerned by the recent escalation of the fighting," the Swedish EU presidency said on Wednesday in a statement on behalf of the 27 member states. The EU statement voiced concern "about the impact of a further spread of the conflict to neighbouring Yemeni governorates and to the wider region".

"The European Union calls upon all parties to cease fighting immediately. The European Union considers that only a comprehensive political solution can achieve lasting peace," the statement said. The International Committee of the Red Cross said the ongoing fighting had complicated the delivery of humanitarian aid and restricted the movements of ICRC and Yemen Red Crescent personnel. "Thousands of people have fled the fighting to seek refuge in Sa'ada city and surrounding areas. They probably could not take much with them, and many are now left stranded without even a roof to protect them from the rain," said Jean-Nicolas Marti, ICRC's head of delegation in Yemen, in a press statement on Wednesday.

According to estimates by the ICRC and Yemeni Red Crescent Society, there are now more than 12,000 refugees in Sa'ada and 4,000 in Amran. With numbers increasing daily, "the capacities of existing camps for displaced people are being strained to the limit", the statement said. malqadhi@thenational.ae