Calls to stop war on Sa’ada as airstrikes continue

Fierce confrontations between the army and Houthi supporters are continuing throughout various districts of Sa’ada and Amran provinces, tribal sources from the war-torn province of Sa’ada said. This contradicts media reports that there is relative calm in the province.
Yemen Sa’ada

SA’ADA, Aug. 16 (YEMEN TIMES) Tribal sources said that Russian-made aircrafts continue striking Houthi positions, particularly those positions once used by the army, which were overtaken by Houthis on Saturday in Mahadhir area. The army, however, restored those positions easily on Sunday following airstrikes against Houthi gunmen in the area.

The same sources added that helicopters and fighter jets continue to bomb Houthi strongholds and villages both day and night. The army also fires heavy mortars and Katyusha missiles at Houthi-loyal villages.

A Sa’ada citizen, who declined to give his name, said that Sa’ada women and children are intimidated by fighter jets soaring over their homes around the clock.

According to various sources, military operations targeted Mahidher, Matra, Naqaa, Dhahian, Saqain, Haidan and Mirran areas, in addition to a popular market in Haidan, killing dozensof people and injuring hundreds.

Security sources revealed that the army hunts for supplies directed to the Houthis and cracks down on any gunmen loyal to Abdulmalik Al-Houthi, the Houthis’ field leader.

The Yemeni government announced a curfew around the governorate and cut off landlines and mobile telecommunication networks in all parts of the province. It also prevented journalists and correspondents from entering the province to cover the events.

Army personnel don’t engage in direct clashes with Houthi gunmen except in limited areas as they depend on fighter jets and heavy mortars in the fight against Houthi loyalists, the latest bout of which started last Tuesday. This has increased the sufferings of citizens, forcing nearly 120,000 people to flee homes and villages which are targeted by airstrikes.

Media war

A source at the Yemeni Defense Ministry denied reports by the Iranian Al-Alam Radio claiming that there was a direct intervention of Saudi aircraft in the military operations, saying they are only launched by Yemeni army and security forces.

According to the source, data reported by the radio are fabricated, baseless and lack accuracy and credibility. It confirmed that Yemen’s security and armed forces are more than able to do their constitutional duty in protecting the homeland and its interests, maintaining its security and stability and defeating the outlaws.

The Al-Alam Radio and other Iranian media outlets reported that Saudi aircraft are participating in the war waged by the Yemeni army against Houthi supporters in Sa’ada. The Saudi government didn’t react to these reports that accuse the kingdom of being involved in the war between the Yemeni government and Houthis.

Yemeni authorities have declared six conditions that need to be fulfilled in order to cease military operations against Sa’ada. The Supreme Security Committee, chaired by President Ali Abdullah Saleh, said the war may end if the Houthis accept these conditions. However, Abdulmalik Al-Houthi rejected the conditions, saying he remains committed to the Doha-brokered deal.

The conditions state that Houthi gunmen must abandon their mountaintop positions, remove all checkpoints they set up, reveal the names of those who killed foreigners, return military equipment and surrender those who kidnapped nine foreigners last June, as well as stop intervening in affairs of the local authority.

Well-informed sources in Sa’ada province said there are peaceful efforts to reconcile between both warring sides. The efforts are moderated by Chairman of Mediation Committee Sheikh Faris Manaa, who is also the Sa’ada Governor, and others in cooperation with Brigadier General. Abdulaziz Al-Dhahab in an attempt to persuade the Houthis to accept the six conditions.

The sources expected mediation efforts to fail, particularly as Houthi followers refuse to accept these conditions. Their leader meanwhile accused the government of a lack of seriousness in dealing with the issue.

“We are committed to the Doha-brokered deal,” Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdussalam told Aljazeera Satellite Channel. He indicated that there is a great possibility to cease the fighting and engage in peaceful negotiations over the status quo.

Other sources, on condition of anonymity, said that both warring parties are disagreeing over the sixth condition which is related to the abduction of foreign medical workers, adding that Houthi loyalists see it as nothing more than a charge directed against them by the government.

Well informed sources in Sa’ada believe it is likely that military operations would be stopped in the province when the holy month of Ramadan comes in order to pave the way for reconciliation efforts. However, they had misgivings that Ramadan may end without reaching a reconciliation that satisfies all parties, given the several previous attempts in this direction.

Following the abduction of the nine physicians working in Sa’ada Al-Jumhouri Hospital on June 12, 2009 in the area of Gharaz, the bodies of two German nurses and one South Korean teacher were found in Nashour area, two days after the incident. At that time, Al-Houthi announced that he had information that may help in the unraveling of the crime and lead to the perpetrators.

The Houthis accept the Doha Agreement but are displeased with the Security Committee’s conditions because they do not offer a solution to the Sa’ada issue. The Doha Agreement stipulates that the Houthis must hand over their heavy and midsized weapons to the state, something untouched by the Security Committee.

The same agreement also provides that Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi, Abdullah Aydhah Al-Rizami and Yahya Al-Houthi, the field commanders of the Houthis, must relocate to Doha and reside there for at least six months, during which time they must refrain from practicing any activity that may provoke the Yemeni authorities.

Echoes of a Sixth War

Regarding the sixth war in Sa’ada International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is alarmed “about the intensification of armed confrontations in the north of Yemen over the past two weeks” the ICRC said that thousands of persons have fled the fighting to take temporary refuge in Sa’ada and Amran governorates. “The ICRC is worried about the safety of internally displaced persons in general, particularly those sheltered in some camps in Sa’ada that are located in the vicinity of the fighting,” said its press release.

“The wounded and the sick must be allowed medical treatment, and everything must be done to insure that medical personnel, facilities, and vehicles are spared from the effects of the fighting” it added.

Moreover, the US expressed its concerns over the clashes in northern Yemen between the Yemeni armed forces and the Houthis.

“We are concerned over the reports we have seen regarding the return of fighting to Sa’ada in Yemen. We hope that both parties will comply with the ceasefire announced last year,” a US Department of State official told Asharq Al-Awsat on condition of anonymity. “We hope that both parties will be responsible for the protection of civilians,” he added.

He said that the 2007 agreement must be readopted, referring to an agreement coordinated by Qatar in which the insurgents were ordered to hand over their heavy weapons and withdraw from their hideouts.

The agreement also stipulated that prisoners must be released and that aid is given to villages for reconstruction and refugee repatriation. Qatar, at the time, showed its willingness to offer similar aid.

The Yemen Center for Human Rights expressed its utter condemnation of the renewal of war in Sa’ada and showed regret at the military alternative to solve the problems in the province.

“We are following with utmost concern the information coming from the province of Sa’ada which reports an overuse of power leading to many civilian deaths,” the center stated.

“What heightens concern is that the reports coincide with the disconnection of communication while a siege is staged on the province. This hobbles efforts aimed to relieve the civilian victims and providing proper care for them,” it added.

The International Tolerance Organization expressed its regret over the civilian deaths in the fighting in Sa’ada province between the government forces and the Houthi fighters.

“We are sorry about the innocent victims who fall as a result of the government forces’ use of heavy weapons and aircrafts,” the London-based organization said in a letter addressed to President Saleh.

The organization appealed to President Saleh to stop the violence and called upon him to find out alternative solutions, saying that he must “follow the peaceful ways and make use of experts’ opinions to solve this issue so that it is more compliant with the spirit of democracy and the Yemeni government’s commitments towards its people and peace in the region.”