Sana’a Strained as Saleh Loyalists Gather for People’s Congress Annual Ceremony

Cairo- Entering a third year in an alliance built on toppling the internationally-backed government in Yemen, the main two wings leading the coup have found themselves at political odds.

The rift was made public after ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose armed loyalists play a key part in the coup, felt marginalized by Iran-allied Houthis who make up for the coup’s second orchestrators.

Coup-run Sana’a, since the dispute erupted, found itself in an intense standoff as both insurgency parties took to media their differences.

All eyes turned to protests Saleh called on his allies and party members to join in memory of the 35th anniversary of the General People’s Congress, a political party he chairs.

However, the People’s Congress is more divided than ever as a part of its key political leaders, such as Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr, have decided to back the constitutionally elected government headed by President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.

Sky News in Arabic’s correspondent in Yemen reported that a crowd of at least 30,000 Saleh armed loyalists showing up to the event.

Media affiliated with both coup partners quoted each of the two speeches of Saleh and the Houthis’ leader Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi, the bulk of which fueled by heated anti-government rhetoric.

Despite their joint disagreement with the Hadi administration, both coup leaders still negatively referred to each other inching in closer towards excommunicating each other’s role in the coup’s leadership.

Saleh called on the Houthis to tame their “demons,” while Houthis accused the People’s Congress of rejoicing over the insurgency’s battlefield defeats.

More so, Houthis actively objected to Saleh calling on protests or marches to commemorate his party’s establishment in Sana’a. Houthis’ refusal for the Thursday event was without reasons.

But observers believe that the rejection is due to the widening rift between the two sides on a number of issues, especially after the disputes went public.

It is now seen that Houthis are seeking undisputed hegemony in areas of their control, an approach derived from their direct backer, Tehran.

Houthis continue to threaten preventing the pro-Saleh parade, and have deployed hundreds of militiamen at Sana’a gates in a move to stop Saleh’s supporters from entering the capital.

Saleh loyalists have begun to arrive from all Yemeni provinces and districts nearby the capital.

Increasing the chances of escalation, Saleh’s forces, in a counter move, stationed forces across the spectrum and ordered the usage of force if ‘necessary,’ informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Yemen: Concerns Over Changes in Educational Curricula on Confessional, Sectarian Bases

Aden – Yemen’s rebel groups are about to introduce core amendments to school programs on “confessional bases”, well-informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

The sources said that the Houthi rebels were attempting to amend school curricula to better reflect their own ideologies and distort the confessional and sectarian balance that prevailed in Yemen for many centuries.

According to the sources, the newly appointed minister of Education in the rebels’ government in Sana’a, Yehia Badruddine al-Houthi, is seeking to implement major changes in the educational programs by removing some religious texts (Prophets’ sayings) and replacing them with other texts that better expose Houthis’ beliefs.

Simultaneously, Prime Minister of Yemen’s legitimate government, Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr, ordered the printing of new copies of school books, after several years of halt in book printing, amid concerns over the future of the educational system in the wake of Houthis’ control over the Education Ministry’s administrative body.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Yemeni Minister of Education in the legitimate government, Dr. Abdullah Lamlas, said that the government would not amend any of its school programs, but would print new copies of books in March and November as usual for the first and second terms of each year.

The minister noted that amendments sought by the Houthis were based on confessional criteria, and did not benefit Yemeni students.

“Those changes are totally unacceptable”, he said.

Lamlas stressed that the educational books, which were printed in 2014, were the main books on which school programs would be based.

He added that the government was keen on developing the country’s educational program by introducing a comprehensive national vision, away from sectarian and confessional considerations.

In this regard, Lamlas said that a workshop was held in Aden last week in the presence of academics and schoolbooks writers to discuss the means to develop the educational program to keep pace with the fast educational progress worldwide.

Arms Sent from Aden to Houthis Confiscated

Aden, Jeddah- The Yemeni Popular Resistance seized on Monday a truck loaded with thermal rockets and RPG missiles on their way from Aden to Houthi rebels in the capital Sana’a.

The seizure of the weapons led to a controversy, after the man who transferred them said he had an official permit to carry out his mission.

Ibrahim Al-Halimi, commander of the military area where the arms were confiscated, said the truck contained anti-armored thermal missiles, several RPGs in addition to mortar rockets. The commander asserted that the truck was transferred to a safe area, refusing to give any details about the identities of the driver and his assistant.

The office of Yemeni Interior Minister Major General Mohammed bin Abdullah al-Qawsi denied on Monday the ministry had issued a permit for the truck to cross the checkpoints without being searched.

The ministry formed an investigating committee to look into the case of the loaded truck and to examine whether it actually carried arms, the party that facilitated its exit from Aden, in addition to the party that sent it.

Monday’s truck operation shed the light on the issue of arms smuggling in Yemen, especially that it involved areas controlled by the legitimate government.

The Commander of the Fourth Military Region, Major General Fadel Hassan, told Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday that Iran was still violating international laws and meddling in Yemen’s sovereignty through its repeated attempts to smuggle arms.

Hassan added that the Yemeni army was coordinating with the Arab Coalition to trace any smuggling attempt before arms enter the country.

He said Iran was benefiting from some militia-controlled ports, including al-Hudaydah port to smuggle arms and transfer them to frontlines with an attempt to strengthen the rebels’ military powers.

Hadi’s Advisor: We Did Not Ask Al-Houthi and Saleh to Leave

Yemen

Aden – A high-ranking Yemeni official said on Tuesday that his country’s government deals with the international community represented by the U.N. and the ambassadors of states sponsoring peace in Yemen in an official and positive way, adding that the Yemeni negotiating team has not received any information about the place and date of the new round of peace talks.

Yemeni presidential adviser Yasin Makkawi told Asharq Al-Awsat that the negotiating team which represents the recognized government has not yet received any information about a planned new round of peace talks on Yemen.

Makkawi showed resentment regarding the latest efforts made to solve the Yemeni crisis. “There are question marks on all efforts exerted outside the framework of the U.N. and those efforts are therefore considered as playing with wasted time particularly that the Yemeni government has not participated in them. Any plan that does not end the coup would not be accepted.”

The presidential advisor said that the Yemeni government had already offered a clear analysis of U.N. envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s roadmap. “At the same time, the government offered a substitute roadmap.”

Early this month, Yemen rejected a U.N. roadmap to end its civil war, saying it would create a “dangerous international precedent” by legitimizing Houthis against the country’s internationally recognized government.

On Monday, the Foreign Ministers of the Quartet meeting (U.S., U.K., Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.) affirmed in the joint statement following Riyadh’s meeting that the powers of the Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi will not be transferred until parties commence to execute the security and political steps mentioned in the U.N. roadmap.

Makkawi asserted that it was not enough today to speak about the references based on the Gulf initiative, outcomes of Yemeni national dialogue and the U.N. resolution 2216 and at the same time have some parties bypassing those three references.

The Yemeni advisor denied rumors saying Hadi had asked the U.N. envoy to include in his substitute plan a request to exile former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Houthi leader Abdel Malik al-Houthi to outside Yemen. “We did not speak about this and we refuse such request. We said that their presence is a threat and their departure is also a threat.”

Makkawi asked that both men be prosecuted for their involvement in the coup. “We ask that they be trialed as war criminals,” he said.

Makkawi uncovered that the recognized Yemeni government had received during the Kuwait talks several requests to facilitate the departure of Saleh and al-Houthi from Yemen, adding that the Yemeni government had refused such requests.

Yemen Presidential Advisor Says Coup Separatist Aspirations Are a Blowback to Negotiations

U.N. Secretary-General Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed opens with delegations from Sanaa at the Yemen peace talks in Switzerland December 15, 2015. REUTERS/UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferre

Aden- The coup militias’ establishment of a parallel government in Sanaa, Yemen is a clear terminus handed over to all U.N. efforts of conjuring up a political solution for the war-torn country, a Yemeni prominent politician said. The coup’s separatist aspirations have made a strong drawback in the area of political negotiations.

U.N. Special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed had recently presented a peace road map that seemingly received insurgency militias’ cooperation and will to sit for negotiations once again.

“The government’s preparedness to partake any negotiations is moral matter, in an inevitable effort spent to end the bloodshed and root out the insurgency through means of dialogue,” advisor to Yemen’s President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, Abdulaziz Muflhi told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“Nonetheless, any negotiation would only take place in light of three chief guidelines which are the Gulf initiative and its mechanisms, the outcome of national dialogue and U.N. Resolution 2216 along with other Security Council resolutions,” he added.

Ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Iran-aligned Houthi coup leader Abdul-Malik Badreddin– in other words, chief coup political figures- eventually need to exit Yemen’s future political platform in order for stability and security to be reinstated, Muflhi said.

“The Yemeni people staged a revolution against injustice and oppression, and therefore all these names must be left outside present and future political works,” he added.

The presidential advisor underlined that any political negotiation for resolving the Yemen crisis is bound by the aforementioned three references and turn in of paramilitary arms.

Muflhi explains that there can be no peace so long that militias take up arms outside state power.

“The current political situation and tumbling of diplomacy in reaching a settlement accompanied by the continued unilateral steps taken by putschists, leaves no choice before pro-government forces but to fight the coup until the end,” said Muflhi.

Yemen’s Ambassador to Washington: Recent U.N. Roadmap Creates New Crises

Yemen

Aden – Yemen’s Ambassador to Washington, Dr. Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, said that the new peace roadmap, which was presented by the U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen, “contains several details that were not approved” by the country’s different political factions.

In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, the ambassador said that the new roadmap did not offer any solutions to the Yemeni problems, but instead, would “generate more crises and further conflicts”.

He added that while his government was committed to the establishment of peace, it would not tolerate any “formal” solution that neither resolves the core problem nor guarantees the withdrawal of militias from the cities and the release of prisoners and detainees.

“We believe that there are many details that have been overlooked in the current peace roadmap,” the Yemeni ambassador said.

Asked whether the Yemeni government has received a response from U.N. Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed over its demands, the Yemeni official said that government’s delegation has submitted to the international envoy a comprehensive document that includes all its remarks and demands during his last visit to Aden.

“There is no use to hold new negotiations without the unconditional commitment to the outcome of national dialogue, the GCC Initiative and above all the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216,” he stated.

Asked about Washington’s position towards latest developments, the Yemeni ambassador said that the U.S. “clearly supports the legitimate government and works closely with it and with the international partners to bolster the efforts of the U.N. envoy to establish sustainable peace the war-torn country.”

He also stressed the importance of ongoing cooperation between the U.S. and Yemen in fighting terrorism in all its forms.

Commenting on the formation of a unilateral government by Houthi rebels, Bin Mubarak said that such step was a “clear disregard of all peace efforts”.

35 Survivors from Sinking Cargo Ship off Socotra

A ship carrying 60 people drowned off Yemen coast while sailing from Hadramout provincial capital, Mukalla, to Socotra Island.

Aden-Yemeni authorities, with the help of Arab Coalition forces, have rescued 35 passengers of a cargo vessel that sank off the island and the search is in progress to find more survivors.

A vessel carrying at least 60 people, including women and children, sank off the island’s Qalansiyah town on Monday.

The ship set sail Saturday from al-Mukalla, the coastal capital of Hadramout Province in southern Yemen, bound for the remote Arabian Sea island of Socotra.

“But soon after departing, the ship lost contact with authorities, according to Fahd Kavieen,” Yemen’s minister of fisheries and a Socotra native.

“We think that it capsized due to its overloaded cargo or a technical fault,” he said.

Officials said the ship disappeared about 25 miles from Socotra.

The internationally recognized government formed a committee of ministers and local officials to lead rescue and search operation and sent an appeal for helicopter help to the Saudi-led coalition and international navies fighting piracy in the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden.

Kavieen was hopeful that more could be found, but warned that the next few hours would be “very critical.”

He was optimistic about finding more survivors as fleeing passengers boarded 13 smaller rescue boats that were on board.

“The survivors told us that all the remaining passengers boarded the boats, but got lost at sea. The passengers must be hungry and thirsty since they have not had anything since Monday.”

Washington: Our Proposal for Yemen could be Amended

Yemen

London, Aden – U.S. diplomatic sources asserted on Tuesday that the U.S. does not oppose revising the proposal of Secretary of State John Kerry about an agreement to end the war in Yemen.

U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Mathew Tueller told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Kerry’s plan is not engraved on a stone, but could be amended except the hierarchy of the steps it includes.”

Last week, Tueller and U.S. Assistant Secretary Tim King had visited Yemeni President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi and handed him a letter sent from Kerry clarifying the U.S. Secretary of State’s comments about an agreement to stop hostilities in Yemen and to reach a durable settlement to the conflict, saying that Kerry had only made the deal with the Houthis.

Kerry had surprised observers early last week by announcing a bilateral agreement with Yemen’s rebels to stop the fighting and form a national unity government by the end of this year. The Yemeni government quickly rejected the move.

Tueller said on Tuesday that the proposal on Yemen was not “a peace agreement” but a chance for warring parties to return to the negotiation table. He said taking the lightest security measures would allow the government to safely return to Sana’a from where ministers could resume their work without fearing Houthi militias or others.

Asked about the Yemeni government’s attachment to the three references as a condition to solve the country’s crisis, Tueller said those references could serve as a document for a road-map used in later stages to solve Yemen’s ongoing problems. “Talks with U.N. Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed are based on the three references using constructive and operational methods.”

Meanwhile, President Hadi issued on Tuesday major changes at the Army command in line with the resumption of military operations at all fronts, after a truce to end fighting in Yemen ended.

The military changes included the appointment of Major General Ahmed Saif al-Yafei as Deputy Chief of General Staff, and Brigadier General Saleh Mohammed as first commander of the military district in Hadhramaut.

In a related development, Yemeni Prime Minister Dr. Ahmed Obeid Bin Dagher said on Tuesday he was pleased with the opening of a bureau for the U.N. Human and Relief Operations in the Yemeni interim capital of Aden.

Dagher spoke after he met with the U.N. assistant secretary general for humanitarian affairs Rasheed Khal Kov.

The Yemeni PM added that his government would call on all diplomatic missions and international organizations accredited to Yemen to operate from Aden.

Houthi-Staged Violations Rule out Chances of Extending Ceasefire

Aden- Coup militias continued staging loud violations for the second day of a recently announced ceasefire. Missile fires along with other transgressions have been reported, said Arab Coalition Spokesman Gen. Ahmad Asiri.

Countless violations were encountered in the last 48 hours of ceasefire, all of which were staged by coup militia chiefly composed of Iran-aligned Houthis and former Ali Abdullah Saleh loyalists.

Gen. Asiri added that the Saudi-led Arab Coalition has been documenting and conveying the current standing in Yemen to international parties, saying that forces under his command are responding to fire sources in an aim to protect civilian life. The truce most likely will not be extended, should the current violations persist, said Gen. Asiri.

Gen. Asiri said the Saudi-led coalition would abide by the two-day ceasefire, nonetheless, will not allow for civilian life to be targeted openly.

Gen. Asiri told Doha-based Al-Jazeera channel that at least 180 breaches of the truce, most of which took place in Taiz, had been registered since the cease-fire came into force at noon (0900 GMT).

The 48-hour cease-fire, which began on Saturday, came upon President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi’s request.

Similarly, the state-run Saba news agency said on Saturday that President Hadi rang army commanders in the city of Taiz and asked them to be on a “high alert” and respond to possible coup breaches.

He said there would be aerial surveillance around the clock to monitor the implementation of the ceasefire.

If there is a complete halt to coup-staged violations, there will be an extension. If they do not stop, this would be a direct violation of the cease-fire conditions, said Gen. Asiri.

The coalition’s air forces had intercepted three ballistic missiles on Saturday– added to previously thwarted missile attacks, there are a total of five ballistic missiles launched since the truce underwent implementation.

The missiles were launched by Houthis militants against Marib and were destroyed within the province’s airspace.

The media center of the Yemeni National Army has reported hundreds of violations of the truce by the Houthis.

Impoverished Yemen has been wracked by chaos since late 2014, when Houthi rebels overran the capital Sana’a and other parts of the country.

Kerry Holds Discussions with Houthi Officials in Muscat

houthis

Aden, Dammam – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Muscat on Monday to hold discussions with Houthi rebels, in a new attempt to reach a political solution to war-torn Yemen.

A high-ranking Yemeni official told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that Kerry’s visit to Oman was made to recover “lost time” in Yemen’s political negotiations.

The U.S. official is expected to meet with a delegation representing Houthi rebels, headed by Mohammed Abdul Salam. The visit falls within efforts by the outgoing U.S. Administration to reach a political compromise in Yemen, before the end of President Barack Obama’s term on January 20.

Meanwhile, Abdul Salam said the Houthi delegation will meet with the U.S. Secretary of State, adding that the latest road-map presented by U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, “could represent an adequate platform for serious discussions that would guarantee a solution” to the crisis.

In the same context, well-informed sources said that the meeting between Kerry and Houthis’ official spokesperson Abdul Salam will be held in the presence of Oman’s Foreign Affairs Minister Youssef bin Alawi.

For his part, Yemeni President’s Advisor Yassin Makawi said that Kerry would not bring any proposals to end the crisis, adding that there would be no compromise over the necessity to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216, the implementation mechanism of the Gulf Initiative and the outcome of the national dialogue.

He added that the U.S. official was seeking to score some achievements in the lost time, noting however that the Yemeni legitimate government “welcomes all efforts and attempts to establish peace in the country, away from the influence of armed militias.”

On the other hand, Yemen’s presidential advisor did not rule out the possibility to resort to military intervention to end the ongoing crisis, stressing that the “legitimate government was looking towards the achievement of comprehensive peace, in which armed militias would not have any role whatsoever.”