Yemen: Ground fighting continues despite ceasefire

Yemen’s President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi (C), Prime Minister and Vice President Khaled Bahah (R), and United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed (L) meet in the Saudi capital Riyadh, on July 26, 2015. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Yemen’s President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi (C), Prime Minister and Vice President Khaled Bahah (R), and United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed (L) meet in the Saudi capital Riyadh, on July 26, 2015. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Riyadh and Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Fighting on the ground in Yemen continued on Monday despite a five-day ceasefire declared by the Saudi-led coalition targeting the Houthis in Yemen, according to Houthi-affiliated media outlets.

The Saba news agency, which is controlled by the Houthis, said the group’s forces and allies loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh on Monday attacked areas in the Red Sea province of Jizan with rockets and shells.

A five-day humanitarian ceasefire was declared from 11:59 pm local time on Sunday evening by the Saudi-led coalition targeting the Houthis in Yemen. The ceasefire came following a request by Yemen’s internationally recognized President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdulaziz, in order to allow humanitarian aid to reach Yemenis caught up in the conflict.

A previous ceasefire offer from the Arab coalition was extended to the Houthis in May, but the group continued hostile activities even as the ceasefire began, leading the coalition to resume airstrikes.

The coalition said in a statement last week that it reserved the right to restart airstrikes should the Houthis fail to respect the current ceasefire. Unconfirmed reports suggest coalition jets resumed strikes on Houthi targets on Monday.

Meanwhile, on Sunday President Hadi met with UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed in the Saudi capital Riyadh. Hadi called on the UN envoy to visit the southern port city of Aden, recently liberated by Yemeni forces loyal to the president after the city was occupied by the Houthis for several months.

Some members of Yemen’s government-in-exile currently based in Riyadh have returned to Aden over the past week, where they hope to set up a rival power base to the capital Sana’a, which the Houthis have occupied since September 2014.

On Sunday Yemen’s Human Rights Minister Ezz Al-Din Al-Asbahi called called for Gulf diplomatic missions to return to the country and base operations in Aden. Several diplomatic missions were evacuated last year following the Houthi occupation of Sana’a.

Following his meeting with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) General Secretary Abdullatif Al-Zayani, Asbahi told Asharq Al-Awsat Zayani had reacted “positively” to the proposal to relocate Gulf embassies to Aden.

GCC countries are also ready to assist Yemen in delivering humanitarian aid to the country’s people, and will work with the government in Aden to distribute the aid to those in need, Asbahi added.

A Saudi ship carrying humanitarian supplies arrived at Aden’s main seaport on Sunday, in response to calls from Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdulaziz. Ra’fat Al-Sabagh, spokesman for the King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Works, said the ship was carrying 3, 540 tons of food and medical supplies.

Yemen’s current crisis began last year when the Houthis, backed by Iran and forces loyal to ex-president Saleh, occupied the capital Sana’a, taking over government, military, and media buildings and installations.

The group’s militias later spread to other parts of the country, also targeting civilians and Yemen’s oil installations—a vital source of national income for the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country.

The group launched a coup in February when it dissolved the government and put Hadi and members of the cabinet under house arrest. Hadi eventually escaped to Riyadh in March where he requested Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies intervene with military force in Yemen in order to restore political legitimacy in the country.

Arafat Madabish contributed additional reporting from Sana’a.

Yemen: Saudi-led coalition declares five-day ceasefire

A Saudi military cargo plane is seen at the international airport of Yemen's southern port city of Aden, on July 24, 2015. (Reuters/Faisal Al-Nasser)
A Saudi military cargo plane is seen at the international airport of Yemen’s southern port city of Aden, on July 24, 2015. (Reuters/Faisal Al-Nasser)

Riyadh, Sana’a and Aden, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Saudi-led coalition targeting the Houthi movement in Yemen declared a five-day humanitarian ceasefire on Saturday, according to a statement by the coalition.

The statement also said however that airstrikes would resume immediately if Houthi militias carried out any military action during the five-day truce period, due to begin shortly before midnight on Sunday.

The ceasefire comes as a result of a request by Yemen’s President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi to Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz, in order to allow humanitarian agencies to deliver much-needed aid to Yemenis caught up in the conflict.

The offer of a five-day humanitarian ceasefire was previously extended by the coalition to the Houthis in May, but airstrikes began immediately after the truce was declared due to Houthi transgressions and their targeting civilian areas.

The Houthis have not officially responded to the current ceasefire offer, but the group’s Twitter account on Sunday quoted leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi as saying “the battle goes on and the war is not over.” He also claimed the ceasefire would only benefit Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen.

The announcement of the ceasefire comes as forces loyal to President Hadi, known as the Popular Resistance, announced on Saturday they had recaptured the city of Sabr in the southern Lahj province from the Houthis and forces loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Local sources told Asharq Al-Awsat the Popular Resistance, aided by Saudi-led airstrikes, had succeeded in regaining control of the the provincial headquarters and other government buildings in the city from Houthi militias.

Meanwhile, fighting remains ongoing for control of the strategic Al-Anad airbase, Yemen’s largest, between the Popular Resistance on one side and the Houthis and Saleh-allied forces on the other.

The airbase, which has been under the control of the Houthis for months, lies some 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of the southern port city of Aden.

Aden was recently liberated from Houthi control by the Popular Resistance and last week members of Yemen’s government-in-exile began returning to the city in order to set up a rival power base to the Houthis’ in the capital Sana’a, which the group has controlled since September 2014.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone on Saturday, Aden’s governor Naif Al-Bakri said the government was officially resuming its duties from Aden on Sunday and that more members of the cabinet would be returning to the city on Monday via the main seaport.

A plan is already underway to “officially relocate the entire government to Aden,” he said. The government has taken up residence in the Saudi capital Riyadh since March.

The ministers will begin working to “rebuild public works and buildings, return life back to normal in Aden, and rebuild all that was damaged by the Houthis and forces loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh,” he said.

The crisis in Yemen began in September 2014, when the Houthis, backed by Iran and Saleh, took over the capital Sana’a and began spreading throughout other parts of the country.

The group launched a coup in February, holding President Hadi and members of the government under house arrest, forming an interim presidential council composed largely of Houthi members to run the affairs of the country.

Hadi and Prime Minister and Vice President Khaled Bahah eventually escaped house arrest and headed to Aden to form an alternative power base from the southern port city.

However, they were forced to flee again in March after Houthi militias besieged the city. Both then headed to Riyadh and Hadi requested Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies launch a military campaign in Yemen targeting the Houthis and aiming to restore political legitimacy in the country.

Arafat Madabish and Mohamed Ali Mohsen contributed additional reporting from Sana’a and Aden.

Yemen: First Saudi aid plane arrives in Aden

A Saudi military cargo plane is seen at the international airport of Yemen's southern port city of Aden on July 22, 2015. (REUTERS/Stringer)
A Saudi military cargo plane is seen at the international airport of Yemen’s southern port city of Aden on July 22, 2015. (REUTERS/Stringer)
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—A Saudi military plane loaded with aid arrived in Yemen’s Aden on Wednesday, the first since the city’s international airport reopened following four months of fighting between government loyalists and Houthi rebels.

The plane was carrying 20 tons of food, an airport official said, the first of several aid shipments dispatched by the King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Works in Saudi Arabia.

Aden has been the scene of violent clashes between Saudi-backed forces loyal to Yemen’s exiled President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and the Houthi rebels. Loyalists captured the southern city last week, in what was seen as the biggest setback for the Iran-backed rebels since they consolidated power across Yemen in September of 2014.

The arrival of the plane in Aden represents a positive step, Saudi military spokesman said, and comes as a result of Operation Restoring Hope.

The Kingdom officially announced the end of its aerial campaign, dubbed Operation Decisive Storm, against Houthis’ positions in Yemen in late April, and immediately launched a humanitarian campaign, codenamed Operation Restoring Hope.

However, Saudi Arabia did not rule out using force if Houthi militants continued their advance in Yemen.

Maj. Gen. Ahmed Asiri said Aden is safer than ever and reopening its international airport is a positive step.

The airport requires radical rehabilitation as a result of the Houthi bombardment, the spokesman told Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone.

According to Asiri, the next step for the Saudi-led coalition would be to secure the entire Aden city in order to act as a distribution point for aid across Yemen.

Nayef Al-Bakri, the newly appointed governor of Aden, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the arrival of the Saudi plane is “tantamount to a triumph for the [Popular] Resistance,” referring to the pro-Hadi forces.

Bakri said Aden’s airport and seaports are ready to receive aid and that the local government has formulated a plan aimed at restoring the city’s infrastructure.

Aden’s international airport closed in late March when a coalition of Houthis and followers of ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh advanced on the city, prompting Hadi to take refuge in neighboring Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia foils ISIS terror plots, arrests 431 suspects: officials

Interior Ministry spokesmen Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki (L) and Bassem Attia brief reporters during a press conference at the Ministry in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on July 18, 2015. (Saudi Press Agency)
Interior Ministry spokesmen Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki (L) and Bassem Attia brief reporters during a press conference at the Ministry in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on July 18, 2015. (Saudi Press Agency)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi security forces on Saturday arrested 431 people suspected of belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and carrying out a number of attacks in the Kingdom as well as plotting future operations, officials said.

Those arrested were planning to carry out attacks on seven mosques in the capital Riyadh and Dammam during Friday prayers in the coming weeks as well as attacks on security forces and government and diplomatic buildings, the Interior Ministry said.

Most of the suspects were Saudi nationals but also included foreigners from nine different countries including Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Nigeria, and Chad, Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki said at a news conference in Riyadh on Saturday.

He also revealed that the suspects were involved in several attacks in the Kingdom over the past months including a suicide bombing in May at the Ali Ibn Abi Talib Mosque in the eastern Qatif province, which killed at least 21 worshippers and injured 97.

The suspects had also been planning attacks in June during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to coincide with attacks which took place in Tunisia and Kuwait on June 27 and which were claimed by ISIS.

Weapons, ammunition, explosives, and laptops and hard drives containing information detailing the plans were seized during raids on homes the suspects were using, Turki said.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Ahmed Al-Muwakili, an expert on terrorist groups, said the Interior Ministry statement was “surprising,” not only with regard to the size of the ISIS cell in the Kingdom, but also the amount of operations they had planned.

He said the attacks were “a clear sign that ISIS wished to sow sectarian strife [in the Kingdom] . . . something we have also seen throughout other countries in the region.”

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Council of Senior Religious Scholars said on Saturday it would continue to condemn groups such as ISIS as well as issue clear fatwas (religious opinions) against the extremist ideology which fuels terrorism. It also called on families in the Kingdom to do more to protect their children from being radicalized online via social media websites.

Car bomb explodes near Saudi prison

Saudi security forces patrol Riyadh’s Al-Munissiyah district in 2006. (AFP)
Saudi security forces patrol Riyadh’s Al-Munissiyah district in 2006. (AFP)
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—A car bomb exploded at a police checkpoint near a high-security prison in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Thursday evening, killing the driver and injuring two security officers, the interior ministry said.

A security source told Asharq Al-Awsat the attacker had been identified as Abdullah Fahd Abdullah Al-Rasheed, a19-year-old Saudi national who had never traveled outside the Kingdom.

State television said the attacker was on the run after killing his uncle and stealing his car which he detonated at a police checkpoint close to the headquarters of Ha’er prison in southern Riyadh.

“While security officers were manning one of the security checkpoints on Ha’er Road in Riyadh, they directed the driver of a suspected car to stop. The driver initiated an explosion which led to his death,” Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour Turki said in a statement.

Two security officers were taken to hospital but their condition was stable, he added.

The attacker shot dead his maternal uncle in his house in Riyadh before sunset on Thursday and then ran off with his car which he used in the operation.

The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) named the dead uncle as Rashid Ibrahim Safyan who was a Saudi colonel.

Ha’er prison houses hundreds of detainees convicted of militant crimes.

In a statement posted online, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed the attack.

Saudi Arabia is a target of terrorist groups, including ISIS which claimed two suicide bombings at Shi’ite mosques in the Kingdom in May.

Houthis committed “massacres” during first day of truce: Yemen FM

Smoke rises after a Saudi-led airstrike in Sana’a, Yemen, on July 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
Smoke rises after a Saudi-led airstrike in Sana’a, Yemen, on July 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

Riyadh and Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Yemen’s internationally recognized government will in the coming days present evidence to the United Nations regarding crimes committed by Houthi rebels in the country immediately after the start of a UN-declared truce on Friday evening.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone on Saturday, Yemen’s Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin said the government will send a message would to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the UN Security Council informing them of “massacres” carried out by the group against civilians during Friday evening and the early hours of Saturday.

The message will contain evidence showing that the Houthis shelled civilian areas in the cities of Aden and Taiz using Katyusha rockets.

The attacks began almost immediately after the start of the ceasefire, Yassin said, adding that the government has received reports that local hospitals had been inundated with dead and injured following the attacks.

Local eyewitnesses from Taiz told Asharq Al-Awsat attacks by the Houthis began on Friday evening, just as the ceasefire was meant to go into effect.

The sources said this was immediately followed by airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition targeting the Houthis in Yemen.

The coalition said in a statement on Saturday it had not received any request from Yemen’s government to halt the strikes.

Meanwhile, Yassin said the government had not received confirmation from the UN that the Houthis would accept the conditions of the ceasefire and that the UN had simply gone ahead and declared the ceasefire without also receiving confirmation from the government.

Yemen’s President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi had days earlier sent a message to the UN secretary general which contained conditions for the government’s acceptance of a ceasefire with the Houthis, Yassin said.

The conditions included the government’s receiving confirmation from the UN that the Iran-backed Houthis had indeed accepted the ceasefire and the other conditions set by the government. These comprise the group’s ceasing hostile action against civilians and withdrawing from areas under its control—as well as allowing the delivery of humanitarian aid into those areas.

“But then we [the government] suddenly received a message [from the UN] announcing the ceasefire had been declared—and without any clear guarantees,” Yassin said.

Yassin maintained the government welcomed a humanitarian ceasefire in the country, but only under clear guarantees the Houthis would abide by the conditions.

“We insist that the ceasefire be a genuine one under certain rules and conditions, and without the rebels against legitimacy [the Houthis] exploiting the truce to redeploy their military units and block the delivery of humanitarian aid to those Yemenis most in need of it,” Yassin emphasized.

The government had previously requested UN Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to visit some of the areas in the country currently under Houthi control, especially in the south. Yassin said the government had evidence the group was not only shelling civilians but also blocking the delivery of humanitarian aid—subsequently seizing it for themselves.

Yassin said the government was in direct and continuous contact with the leadership of the Saudi-led coalition. He said the airstrikes were targeting Houthi positions only and that the coalition was not obstructing the delivery of humanitarian aid.

“The aid can really enter any place in Yemen—but only if this is allowed by the Houthis and the followers of Ali Abdullah Saleh,” he said. Yemen’s government, Saudi Arabia, and the UN all accuse Saleh—Yemen’s ousted former president—of aiding the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Yemeni Political sources speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat said they regarded the breaking of the ceasefire as “another failure” for UN envoy Ould Cheikh Ahmed, following last month’s breakdown in UN-sponsored talks between the government and the Houthis in Geneva.

“The Houthis have broken the ceasefire, despite saying they had agreed to it. There is obviously a conflicting position here from  . . . the Houthis and forces loyal to Saleh, as several large military units were deployed to Taiz and [the central province of] Ma’rib only hours before the ceasefire began,” one source said.

A five-day humanitarian ceasefire was offered to the Houthis by the Saudi-led coalition in May, which the group agreed to. However, as soon as the ceasefire started Houthi militias once again began shelling civilian areas, and airstrikes by the coalition continued.

Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies began their campaign against the Houthis after the group staged a coup against President Hadi and his government in February. Hadi and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah, as well as other members of the cabinet, were placed under house arrest. The Houthis had occupied the capital Sana’a since the September 2014.

However, Hadi eventually escaped and fled to Saudi Arabia where he requested the Kingdom intervene with military action in order to restore the government.

Arafat Madabish contributed additional reporting from Sana’a.

UN declares humanitarian truce in Yemen amid doubts over rebels’ commitment

Soldiers loyal to Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi stand near their vehicle at an army post in Al-Abr on Yemen's northeastern border with Saudi Arabia on July 9, 2015. (REUTERS/Stringer)
Soldiers loyal to Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi stand near their vehicle at an army post in Al-Abr on Yemen’s northeastern border with Saudi Arabia on July 9, 2015. (REUTERS/Stringer)
Riyadh and Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—The United Nations said that Yemen’s warring factions on Thursday accepted a truce to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians amid doubts by the government loyalists over Houthis’ commitment.

The UN has said it expects an unconditional humanitarian truce will begin in Yemen on Friday, lasting until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on July 17th.

“The Secretary-General [Ban Ki-moon] looks forward to the commitments of all parties to the conflict in Yemen to an unconditional humanitarian pause to start on Friday … until the end of Ramadan,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Thursday.

Yemen descended into crisis after Houthi militants, backed by Iran, overran the capital Sana’a in September, prompting the internationally recognized President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi to flee to Aden and then to the Saudi capital Riyadh.

In response to a call for intervention by Hadi, Saudi Arabia began an aerial campaign in Yemen in late March to drive back the Houthis and restore the beleaguered president to power.

A five-day humanitarian ceasefire, proposed by the Saudi-led coalition, took place in Yemen in May.

Riyadh Yassin, Yemen’s Foreign Minister, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the truce the UN declared “had been called for by the [international organization] rather than the Yemeni government.”

Yassin urged “warring factions on the ground, particularly the Houthis and their allies, to comply with the truce and refrain from obstructing the ceasefire [efforts].”

Hadi and Saudi Arabia accuse Yemen’s powerful former president Ali Abdullah Saleh of colluding with the Houthis who control large parts of the country.

The FM said he doubted the truce would be honored by the Houthis and Saleh’s followers, arguing that they gave “unclear” guarantees to the UN Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

“Today [Thursday] there was shelling with Katyusha rockets on the cities of Aden and Taiz by the Houthi militia and the followers of the ousted former president Saleh,” he said, adding that “the Popular Resistance is set to defend its lands.”

While the Saudi-led coalition has been targeting the Houthis from the air, pro-Hadi forces, known as the Popular Resistance, have engaged the rebels on the ground.

The exiled foreign minister said his government was not against a humanitarian pause in Yemen, but worried that the Houthis would take advantage of the truce to extend their reach.

The seven-day truce “could be extended if the Houthis and their allies showed seriousness,” Yassin added.

Pro-Hadi forces in Aden warned that unless the Houthis withdrew from the strategic city, they would not comply with the truce.

“The resistance’s demand is that the aggressors withdraw completely [from the city],” Ali Al-Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance force, said, referring to the Houthi militants.

Representatives of the tribes that support Hadi’s government said they would rather continue fighting than accept a truce that could result in more gains for the Houthis.

A senior tribal figure in the southern Shabwa province said: “Tribes are capable of holding out against Houthi insurgents and Saleh’s followers and they have won several battles, arresting hundreds of [insurgents].”

Meanwhile, informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Houthis and their allies plan to recruit more volunteers from the northern governorates as they intend to advance towards the strategic Ma’rib province.

Ma’rib is the country’s main oil and gas hub, and provides Yemen—the poorest country in the Arabian peninsula—with the bulk of its electricity and a sizable portion of its income.

Additional reporting contributed by Arafat Madabish from Sana’a.

Yemen: Hadi tells UN ready for “conditional” ceasefire

Smoke billows following airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition on a weapons depot at a military airport, currently controlled by Yemeni Shi'ite Houthi rebels, on July 7, 2015 in the capital Sana'a. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Huwais)
Smoke billows following airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition on a weapons depot at a military airport, currently controlled by Yemeni Shi’ite Houthi rebels, on July 7, 2015 in the capital Sana’a. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Huwais)

Riyadh, Jeddah and Al-Hudaydah, Asharq Al-Awsat—Yemen’s exiled government told the UN on Wednesday it would accept a temporary ceasefire to end more than three months of fighting if the Houthi rebels accepted certain conditions, including the release of prisoners and withdrawal from the areas under their control.

President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi has informed the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in writing of his agreement to implement a “conditional” humanitarian truce in some parts of Yemen as a prelude to expanding it to the rest of the country, Yemen’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.

The call comes within the framework of the government’s commitment to bring back peace and stability to Yemen, Riyadh Yassin told Asharq Al-Awsat over the phone.

“The humanitarian truce would begin in some provinces for a few days in order to ensure the seriousness of the Houthis and their allies before gradually expanding it to cover the rest of Yemen’s governorates,” Yassin said.

He added: “The truce would last for five days and could be extended . . . unless there were violations by the Houthis and their allies.”

The conditions include finding mechanisms to monitor the implementation of the truce by the UN, the release of prisoners loyal to Hadi, and the continuation of the air and sea embargo the Saudi-led coalition has imposed on Yemen.

Saudi Arabia and nine other Arab states have been bombing the positions of the Houthis and forces loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh since late March in a bid to restore President Hadi to power.

On the ground, pro-Hadi forces, known as the Popular Resistance, are fighting the Houthis in coordination with coalition warplanes.

Meanwhile, coalition airstrikes have halted a Houthi advance towards the southern city of Aden—a step the rebel group had intended to use to strengthen their position ahead of truce negotiations with the UN envoy to Yemen.

Saudi-led warplanes have in the last few days targeted military reinforcements, consisting of more than 2,000 heavily armed militants, heading to the Houthis on the route linking the southern provinces of Lahj and Aden, Asharq Al-Awsat has learned.

The Popular Resistance military council in Aden said it had intercepted calls between Houthis and Saleh loyalists in which they discussed plans to send military reinforcements to rebels trying to seize Aden.

The plan was for those military units to enter Aden before the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, according to the source.

“High-level coordination between the [pro-Hadi] resistance and the coalition forces has thwarted [Houthi] attempts to enter Aden,” Ali Al-Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance, told Asharq Al-Awsat.

After intercepting the calls, resistance forces “increased surveillance of the entrances of Aden and the nearby provinces before they noticed hundreds of Houthis, backed by military vehicles and weapons, moving towards Aden.”

Meanwhile, informed Yemeni sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Houthis have transferred dozens of detainees from a prison in the Ad-Dahi district of Al-Hudaydah to a military camp they control in the western governorate.

The move, the source added, has caused fears among the prisoners’ families. They are worried the Houthis will use the detainees as human shields against the coalition warplanes targeting military camps.

The families have appealed to Al-Hudaydah’s tribal sheikhs and notables to mediate the release of their jailed relatives.

Some of the captives are in critical health conditions, such as Khaled Khalil, the founder of the southern Al-Hirak movement.

“The Houthi armed group also transferred more than 20 captives from the Political Security [Yemen’s intelligence agency] prison in Al-Hudaydah to the intelligence headquarters in Sana’a at dawn on Wednesday without informing their families,” the source added.

Sa’ed Al-Abyadh and Wael Hazzam contributed additional reporting from Jeddah and Al-Hudaydah.

Yemeni government, Saudi-led coalition in talks with UN over ceasefire: source

Houthi followers hold mock missiles and their rifles as they shout slogans during a demonstration against the United Nations in Sana’a, Yemen, on July 5, 2015. (Reuters/Mohamed Al-Sayaghi)
Houthi followers hold mock missiles and their rifles as they shout slogans during a demonstration against the United Nations in Sana’a, Yemen, on July 5, 2015. (Reuters/Mohamed Al-Sayaghi)

Riyadh and Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Yemen’s internationally recognized government and members of the Saudi-led coalition targeting the Houthis in Yemen have begun consultations with the UN regarding a proposed ceasefire in the country, according to a Yemeni government spokesman.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday, Rajeh Badi said talks were underway between the UN and Yemen’s government, headed by President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and Prime Minister and Vice President Khaled Bahah, as well as the leaders of countries involved in the aerial campaign against the Houthis.

Badi said the proposed ceasefire would last until the end of the Muslim festival of Eid, which begins after July 17, and should be announced within the coming days.

The Yemeni government remains committed UN Security Resolution 2216 which demands the Houthis vacate all areas of the country currently under their control, Badi said.

As part of the current discussions, the government wants guarantees the Houthis will vacate four areas—Aden, Lahj, Taiz, and Al-Dalea—and hand over control of the country’s ports to authorities in Aden.

The government will also stick to Article 9 of the resolution, which stipulates allowing aid to be delivered to all Yemen’s cities and provinces. As another condition for the ceasefire, the government wants guarantees the Houthis will comply with Article 9.

Several sources, including those working for regional and international NGOs, have told Asharq Al-Awsat in recent weeks that the Shi’ite group has been blocking their entry into Yemen and stopping supplies from reaching those most in need.

Badi revealed the UN is currently in the process of forming a committee that will oversee the Houthis’ compliance with the terms of the ceasefire if an agreement is reached.

A five-day humanitarian ceasefire was offered in May to the Houthis by the Saudi-led coalition, with both sides agreeing to its conditions. However, the ceasefire did not hold and airstrikes by the coalition restarted due to the Houthis continuing to target civilians in the country—breaking one of the main conditions of the ceasefire.

This comes as UN Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed visits Sana’a to hold talks with the Houthis—one of several over the past month—and senior members of the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) party.

The GPC is headed by ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been accused by Yemen’s government, Saudi Arabia, and the UN of aiding the Houthis in the country since their takeover of Sana’a in September.

A Yemeni political source told Asharq Al-Awsat these talks were now “close to securing an agreement to the ceasefire” from the Houthis, Saleh, and the rest of the GPC leadership.

Adel Al-Shoja’, a member of the GPC’s politburo, echoed this optimism regarding an agreement being reached.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday the talks had been wide-ranging, with “the UN talking today about a humanitarian ceasefire, while the GPC is talking about stopping the fighting permanently before holding talks with other parties and political factions.”

“Without these talks with other factions, the ceasefire will become a mere temporary break, and the fighting will eventually restart,” he said.

Shoja’ insisted his party was committed to the talks and was “cooperating fully” with Ould Cheikh Ahmed and the UN.

He said the GPC was now seeking a “substantive political solution” to Yemen’s crisis through the talks.

After overrunning Sana’a last September—allegedly aided by members of the police and security services in the city still loyal to former president Saleh—the Houthis launched a coup in February of this year, holding President Hadi and other members of his cabinet including Bahah under house arrest.

Hadi eventually fled to Riyadh where he requested Saudi Arabia and its allies intervene in the country in order to restore political legitimacy. The Saudi-led aerial campaign targeting the group began in late March.

Arafat Madabish contributed additional reporting from Sana’a.

Yemen: Government calls for joint Arab force to monitor withdrawal of Houthis

UN's envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed (R), walks alongside Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin before their meeting in the Saudi capital Riyadh on July 1, 2015. (AFP PHOTO / FAYEZ NURELDINE)
UN’s envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed (R), walks alongside Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin before their meeting in the Saudi capital Riyadh on July 1, 2015. (AFP PHOTO / FAYEZ NURELDINE)
Riyadh and Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Yemen’s government-in-exile has called on the UN to form a joint Arab military force to oversee the withdrawal of Houthi rebels from the areas they control across Yemen, officials say.

The demand is part of a package of seven proposals the government submitted to the UN Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed in Riyadh this week to ensure the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 2216.

The resolution, adopted by the Security Council in April, stipulates Houthis and forces loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh withdraw from the towns and cities of Yemen and put down their weapons.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, a government official said the force would “monitor and supervise… the withdrawal of Houthi militants and forces loyal to [Yemen’s] ousted ex-president [Saleh] as well as take over control of arms depots.”

The force would finish its work “within a period of no more than two months from the date of its formation,” the official added.

UN-brokered talks between Yemen’s rivals ended in Geneva last month without producing a ceasefire deal with the exiled government blaming the rebels for halting progress towards peace.

Another proposal, the official said, demands that all Yemeni factions, particularly the Houthis and Saleh’s followers, publicly pledge to comply with the UN resolution with no conditions.

The government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi also called on the UN to hold an economic conference that can serve as a basis for a comprehensive plan aimed at returning the displaced civilians to their homes, the source said.

The deployment of an Arab peacekeeping force into Yemen was also proposed by Hadi’s government.

The peacekeeping force is intended to support Yemen’s army and security forces until Hadi’s government rebuilds the military and security establishments in accordance with the principles established by the Comprehensive National Dialogue, the source said.

Separately, Ould Cheikh Ahmed is expected to arrive in Sana’a on Sunday to hold talks with the Houthis and other political factions, including the Saleh-led General People’s Congress (GPC), Yemen’s ruling party.

Informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Houthis will submit to the UN envoy a proposal for forming a “national partnership” government backed by their allies within the southern Al-Hirak movement.

The Houthis, the source maintained, will assure the UN envoy that their proposed government will represent factions from across the political spectrum.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed will also visit the southern city of Aden which has recently witnessed heavy clashes between the Houthis and Hadi’s loyalists.

The current crisis in Yemen began in September when Houthi insurgents took control of Sana’a and started spreading across the country.

The group then staged a coup in February putting President Hadi and other members of the cabinet under house arrest.

Saudi Arabia launched an aerial campaign targeting the Houthis in Yemen in late March. This came following a request for military intervention by Hadi to Riyadh and its Arab partners, after he fled his house arrest and headed to the Saudi capital.

Additional reporting contributed by Arafat Madabish from Sana’a