No need for second Geneva conference on Yemen, says FM

A picture taken on April 1, 2015 shows Yemen's Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin talking to the press at the Yemeni embassy in the Saudi capital Riyadh. (AFP Photo/Stringer)
A picture taken on April 1, 2015 shows Yemen’s Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin talking to the press at the Yemeni embassy in the Saudi capital Riyadh. (AFP Photo/Stringer)
Riyadh and Al-Hudaydah, Asharq Al-Awsat—Yemen’s exiled Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin said there was no need for another round of talks with the Houthi movement in Geneva, maintaining that his government will start looking for ways to implement a UN Security Council resolution stipulating the rebels’ withdrawal from the areas they occupied in Yemen.

“I do not think there will be a second Geneva [conference] on Yemen,” Yassin said in an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat.

“Should the UN Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed wish to consult with the two sides… there is no need for the UN to host talks between the government and the armed militia,” he said, referring to Houthi insurgents.

UN-sponsored peace talks between the delegation of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and that of the Houthi movement ended in Geneva last week without producing a ceasefire deal with the government blaming the rebels for obstructing progress.

While Yemen’s government said it wanted Houthis to withdraw from the cities and towns of Yemen, the rebel group insisted that coalition-led airstrikes should end first.

Yassin said Ould Cheikh Ahmed could hold separate talks with “the government’s delegation in Riyadh and the Houthis in Sana’a.”

Hadi’s FM said Yemen’s government-in-exile will work with UN envoy and the international community to try to find a mechanism for implementing UN Security Council resolution 2216 that calls on the rebel group to put down weapons and pull out of areas under their control.

In late March, Saudi Arabia and Arab allies launched an aerial campaign against Houthi positions in Yemen with the aim of restoring Hadi to power.

Houthis overran large parts of Yemen in September and mounted a coup against President Hadi, prompting him to flee to Riyadh.

Yassin welcomed Oman’s peace efforts on Yemen, but said that the sultanate had confirmed to the Yemeni government that it did not intend to propose any peace initiative.

Yemen’s FM said that his Omani counterpart, Yusuf Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah, “confirmed to us during our meeting in Kuwait that there was no initiative on Yemen from his government’s side.”

The Houthi delegation headed to Muscat after leaving Geneva on Sunday, Yemen’s Human Rights Minister Ezz Al-Din Asbahi told Asharq Al-Awsat last week.

According to the minister, it was unclear what kind of talks the Houthis would hold in Muscat.

Eyewitnesses said violent clashes erupted between Houthis in the western city of Al-Hudaydah on Thursday following a dispute over the distribution of fuel they had stolen.

A senior Houthi leader and three local fishermen were killed and others injured in the fighting that broke out in the western seaport city.

Meanwhile, pro-Hadi forces, known as the Popular Resistance, stepped up attacks against the Houthis in Hudaydah on Thursday.

“[Pro-Hadi] militants fired two RPG rockets at a building in northern Hudaydah where a Houthi leader was thought to be staying,” eyewitnesses said.

The building was heavily damaged but it was unclear whether there were any casualties.

Wael Hazzam contributed reporting from Al-Hudaydah

Houthi Geneva delegation arrives in Muscat

Yemen’s Vice President and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah visits the King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Works in the Saudi capital Riyadh, on June 21, 2015. (Saudi Press Agency)
Yemen’s Vice President and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah visits the King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Works in the Saudi capital Riyadh, on June 21, 2015. (Saudi Press Agency)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Houthi delegation which attended last week’s peace conference in Geneva has now headed to Muscat, according to Yemen’s human rights minister.

The delegation, which also included members of the General People’s Congress (GPC) party headed by ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, left Geneva on Sunday morning for Muscat via a private plane provided by the UN, Ezz Al-Din Asbahi told Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone.

It is unclear what kind of talks the Houthis will be holding in Muscat, though the group did send a delegation to the Omani capital prior to attending the talks in Geneva.

Asbahi said the Houthi delegation had initially wanted to remain in Geneva after the end of the consultations on Friday in order to hold talks with other Yemeni political factions, but this was not possible since the UN had only agreed to host them during the period allotted for consultations with the government.

The consultations, which began last Monday, ended without an agreement being reached for a ceasefire deal. Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies are currently conducting an aerial campaign targeting the Iran-backed Houthis, who launched a coup in February deposing the country’s internationally recognized president and government. The Shi’ite group has also targeted civilians and refused international calls to abide by a UN Security Council resolution adopted in April.

Asbahi, who was part of the government’s delegation, criticized the Houthis for their behavior before, during and after the consultations. The group’s delegation missed a scheduled flight headed from Yemen’s capital Sana’a to Geneva due to last-minute squabbles over who should board the plane, which was provided by the UN.

Asbahi said without international monitors on the ground in Yemen the international community did not have an accurate idea of what the Houthis truly represented. However, he believed following the meetings in Geneva, diplomats, UN representatives, and other international actors had now become familiarized with the group’s reality.

“The picture is now clear for international organizations. They are dealing with an uncontrollable group [the Houthis] which doesn’t respect rules and regulations,” he said.

Meanwhile, Yemen’s Vice President and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah on Sunday visited the King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Works in the Saudi capital Riyadh. Bahah has been in the Kingdom since fleeing a Houth-imposed house arrest in Sana’a last March.

The center, dedicated to alleviating the suffering of people facing hardships around the world, opened on May 14 and immediately began delivering aid to Yemenis affected by the crisis that has gripped the country since September, when Houthi rebels overran Sana’a and began targeting civilians.

The center’s spokesman Ra’fat Al-Sabagh told reporters the center had already delivered 50,000 ready meals, 400,000 loaves of bread, and more than 100,000 containers of water for the Yemeni people—in addition to further efforts during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began on June 17.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdulaziz has already pledged a total of half a billion US dollars in aid in order to help Yemen’s people.

Houthis were not serious about Geneva peace talks: Yemeni FM

Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin (L) speaks with members of his delegation after a meeting during Yemen peace talks at the United Nations offices in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 19, 2015. (AFP Photo/Fabrice Coffrini)
Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin (L) speaks with members of his delegation after a meeting during Yemen peace talks at the United Nations offices in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 19, 2015. (AFP Photo/Fabrice Coffrini)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Houthi delegation which attended the UN-sponsored Geneva peace consultations on Yemen made little contribution to the talks, with most efforts coming from the country’s internationally recognized government, Yemen’s Foreign Minister Yassin Riyadh told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday.

The talks, which began last Monday, ended on Friday without an agreement being reached for a ceasefire, despite the UN’s encouragement. The government had said it would be open to the truce so long as the Houthis agreed to abide by the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2216 on Yemen stipulating the Houthis withdraw from Sana’a and other areas under their control.

A Saudi-led coalition of Arab partners is currently targeting the group in Yemen following a request by the government to restore political legitimacy to the country following the Iran-backed group’s coup in February.

Speaking via telephone from the Swiss city following the end of the talks, Yassin described the Houthi delegation as being like “ghosts” in the Swiss city, and added that the Shi’ite group’s “intransigence led to the failure of Resolution 2216 . . . on whose basis we agreed to the UN’s invitation to Geneva to attend the talks.”

The Houthis also did not follow UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s recommendation that the talks should in principle be viewed as being between two sides, the government and the Houthis. The UN previously said its role would be limited to bringing the two sides to the table.

“The consolations between the legitimate government [on one side] and the Houthis and their allies [on the other] did not reach a single point of agreement. We were not able to even exchange any ideas nor did we come any closer in terms of agreeing on the [basic] principles,” Yassin said.

“It seems the Geneva consultations were ‘consultative’ from one side only. UN Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed met with us [the government] and we discussed how we could implement Resolution 2216 as well as all the preparations we have made [to put the resolution into effect] since the invitation to Geneva was made.”

Yassin added that the government did not receive any new ideas for how the resolution could be put into practice from Ould Cheikh Ahmed, and “the UN were just listening [to suggestions] from one side only—that is, Yemen’s legitimate government.”

“We also did not hear anything from the other side [the Houthis], due to their lack of organization, not even having their papers in order, and generally not knowing what they wanted to get out of the Geneva conference—they were not even in agreement amongst themselves.”

The Houthis had arrived later than scheduled to the Swiss city following disagreements over who would be included in their delegation. An earlier plane meant to be carrying the Houthis to Geneva landed in the Swiss city empty.

Diplomatic sources told Asharq Al-Awsat the members of the Houthi delegation had had their passports confiscated on arrival in Geneva by the authorities since they had not arrived using the correct plane—taking a private jet from Djibouti instead—and had not obtained the necessary visas.

Since the UN had not received the final list of the delegates from the Houthis, it therefore could not inform the Swiss authorities of the names of those who should have special dispensation to enter the country. The delegation is due to leave Geneva for Djibouti, then heading to Sana’a, today. The sources said the Houthis would have their passports returned upon leaving the country.

Yassin said the government had advised the UN not to hold talks including the group outside Yemen, since they were “a mere gang of militias” without international legitimacy.

Yemen’s current crisis began in September 2014 when the Houthis’ militias occupied the capital Sana’a, also spreading to other areas in the country. The Iran-backed group then launched a coup in February, placing President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and members of the cabinet under house arrest.

Hadi escaped a month later heading to Riyadh, where he requested Saudi Arabia and its Arab partners to intervene militarily in Yemen in order to quell the Houthi coup and restore political legitimacy in the country.

Geneva peace talks between Yemen government, Houthis could be canceled: source

UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed (L) meets the Group of Sixteen Ambassadors during a preparatory meeting on the eve of the Geneva Consultations on Yemen at the European headquarters of the UN, in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 14, 2015. (EPA/Laurent Gillieron)
UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed (L) meets the Group of Sixteen Ambassadors during a preparatory meeting on the eve of the Geneva Consultations on Yemen at the European headquarters of the UN, in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 14, 2015. (EPA/Laurent Gillieron)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Disputes between the Houthi movement currently in control of large parts of Yemen and their ally, ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, are threatening to derail peace talks due to take place in Geneva on Monday between the Shi’ite movement and Yemen’s internationally recognized government, sources have said.

A plane meant to be carrying the Houthi delegation from Sana’a arrived empty to the Swiss city on Saturday, according to airport officials. A senior diplomatic source—speaking on condition of anonymity—told Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone that disputes between the Houthis on one side and Saleh and his General People’s Congress (GPC) party on the other had resulted in the Houthi delegation refusing to board.

According to the source, the Houthis are rejecting the current format of the UN-sponsored talks, which would see UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed hold individual meetings with each side, the Houthis and the government, before they sit down together for discussions.

Saleh, the GPC, and the Houthis also do not currently see eye-to-eye on the makeup of the Houthi delegation, with the Houthis refusing to accept UN Security Council Resolution 2216 as the main basis for the talks.

The resolution, adopted by the Security Council in April, stipulates the group’s militias vacate all areas in Yemen currently under their control and cease all hostile action against civilians.

But the source said the Houthis are insisting that the Peace and Partnership agreement signed with the government in late 2014 form the basis of the talks instead.

The talks have already been pushed back twice, having originally been scheduled for May 28 and then on Sunday—respectively due to the Houthis not agreeing to abide by Resolution 2216 and a disagreement among members of the group which arose over who would get on board the delegation’s Geneva-bound plane on Friday, according to sources.

Other sources have said the latest disputes are now threatening the talks taking place altogether.

The Yemeni government delegation, meanwhile, arrived in Geneva on Saturday as scheduled.

According to the sources, proposed members of the Houthi delegation have also refused to stay at the same hotel as their counterparts from the government and rejected an offer of a five-day humanitarian ceasefire from the Saudi-led coalition currently waging an aerial campaign against the group in Yemen.

Should the talks take place as scheduled on Monday, they would represent the first substantive meetings between the Houthis and Yemen’s internationally recognized government since the crisis in the country began last September.

Back then the Houthis occupied the capital Sana’a, taking over government, military and media buildings and facilities. They later spread throughout the country and eventually staged a coup in February, holding President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, Prime Minister Khaled Bahah, and other members of the cabinet under house arrest.

Both Hadi and Bahah later fled their house arrest in March, and Hadi then traveled to the Saudi capital Riyadh to request military intervention from Saudi Arabia and its Arab partners in order to restore political legitimacy in Yemen. The Saudi-led air campaign began on March 26.

Saudi Arabia, its Arab allies, and the international community have accused Iran and Saleh of aiding the Houthi coup and their advance across large parts of the country.

Yemen peace talks postponed to Monday, says UN

Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, walk on the tarmac of the Sanaa International Airport in Sanaa, Yemen, Saturday, March 28, 2015.  (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
Shi’ite rebels, known as Houthis, walk on the tarmac of the Sana’a international airport in Sana’a, Yemen, Saturday, March 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—UN-sponsored talks between Yemen’s government and Houthi rebels have been postponed to Monday, a UN statement said, citing “unforeseen circumstances” that caused one of the delegations to arrive late to Geneva.

“United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and his Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Chiekh Ahmed, will begin consultations with the Yemeni delegations on Monday morning,” said the statement.

Originally scheduled for June 14, the talks aim to broker a peace deal between the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and the Iran-backed Houthi movement.

A Yemen source said the UN plane tasked with flying the Houthi delegation from Sana’a to Geneva was delayed after a disagreement among members of the group arose over who would get on board first.

“Dozens of Houthis who had gathered at the international airport of Sana’a caused a stampede as they made their way to the plane,” the airport official said.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, a UN official said the Shi’ite group “has been fabricating minor logistic obstacles, such as insisting on staying in a hotel different from the one that would accommodate the government delegation.”

The rebel group, the New York-based official maintained, has also demanded that Ould Cheikh Ahmed meet with them separately before the government.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed is set to hold separate “proximity” talks with the two delegations before bringing them to the same table, the international body has announced.

The talks are expected to last for three days and each side will be represented by a seven-member delegation.

Yemen has been in turmoil since last September when Houthi rebels seized state buildings and facilities in the capital Sana’a, facing no resistance from government forces. The powerful group has continued to spread across the country.

Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia in March after escaping a Houthi house arrest. At Hadi’s request, Riyadh launched an aerial campaign on March 26, targeting the Houthis and forces loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh whom it accuses of facilitating the rebel power grab.

Heba Qudsi contributed reporting from Washington.

GCC says won’t end anti-Houthi campaign if Geneva talks fail

Foreign Ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states attend a meeting on June 11, 2015 in the Saudi capital Riyadh. (AFP PHOTO / FAYEZ NURELDINE)
Foreign Ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states attend a meeting on June 11, 2015 in the Saudi capital Riyadh. (AFP PHOTO / FAYEZ NURELDINE)
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) said it would continue targeting Houthi rebels in Yemen if the Geneva talks failed to implement UN resolutions that stipulate restoring President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi to power.

UN Security Council Resolution 2216 requires that Houthi militants withdraw from the areas under their control and put down their weapons.

Presiding over a meeting of the GCC foreign ministers in Riyadh on Thursday, Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid Bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah warned that the council would take necessary steps to maintain the national security of its member states if the UN-sponsored talks between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels failed to resolve the crisis in Yemen.

The peace talks are scheduled to begin on June 14.

All GCC members except Oman are part of the military campaign Saudi Arabia launched on March 26 in an effort to restore internationally recognized President Hadi to power and drive Houthi insurgents from the areas they have controlled in Yemen, including Sana’a.

Attiyah said the coalition would continue its operations in Yemen unless Houthi militants and forces loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh ended their power grab in compliance with the UN resolution.

The official said GCC member states would consider taking steps aimed at preserving their national and strategic interests in case participants in peace talks decided not to implement resolution 2216.

Attiyah said the GCC is capable of protecting its strategic interests.

“[The GCC] has all the capabilities to protect its strategic interests wherever they are,” he said.

The Qatari official said the Geneva talks constitute a Yemeni-Yemeni dialogue and that the GCC cannot impose its vision on its outcomes.

Attiyah added that the GCC has received assurances that the talks will not fall outside the framework of the recommendations of the national conference dialogue and the UN resolution 2216.

“Yemenis are capable of reaching results that can serve their interests and we, the Gulf states, support legitimacy and have offered everything possible to protect it,” he said.

A special UN plane will land in Sana’a on Friday to carry party leaders and political figures participating in the talks in Geneva, a Yemen source told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Yemen’s Permanent Representative to the UN Khaled Alyemany said that Vice President and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah will attend the opening session of the talks which will be chaired by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday.

Yemen’s government has submitted a list of its representatives to the office of the UN Secretary-General, Alyemany said.

Arafat Madabish contributed reporting from Sana’a

Iranian advisers to accompany Houthi delegation in Geneva meetings: sources

Rockets fly from a missile base which was hit by an airstrike in Yemen's capital Sana’a, in this April 21, 2015 file picture. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)
Rockets fly from a missile base which was hit by an airstrike in Yemen’s capital Sana’a, in this April 21, 2015 file picture. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iranian advisers will be accompanying the delegation which the Shi’ite Houthi movement will send to Geneva to hold talks with Yemen’s internationally recognized government, diplomatic sources told Asharq Al-Awsat on Wednesday.

“The Iranian advisers will be present during the meetings in Geneva in an indirect way, so they will not necessarily be present inside the main meeting room. But the Houthis will nonetheless be receiving directions from them regarding Iran’s political view regarding the current crisis in Yemen,” the sources said.

The advisers will comprise those from the military, political and legal fields, the sources said.

They will be seeking to help the Houthis delay the enactment of the outcomes of a UN Security Council resolution on Yemen which stipulates the group, which staged a coup in February against internationally recognized President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, vacate areas of the country under its control.

Yemen’s government has set compliance with the resolution as a precondition for attending the meetings and withdrew from a previous Geneva meeting with the Houthis, which was due on May 28, citing the group’s noncompliance with Resolution 2216.

UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has reportedly obtained promises from the Houthis they will abide by the outcomes of the resolution, though he has received no ironclad agreement from the group.

The sources said that along with Iran Russia has also been advising the Houthis, and both are seeking to gain international legitimacy for the group.

According to the sources, Moscow and Tehran have worked out a plan to help the Houthis ensure nothing concrete is agreed during the meetings in Geneva, due on June 14, and to force another round of meetings to take place in future.

The current crisis in Yemen began when the Houthis’ militias occupied Sana’a in September of 2014, taking over government, military and media buildings and facilities.

The group then began to spread across the country, and eventually placed President Hadi as well as Prime Minister Khaled Bahah under house arrest in Sana’a when they staged a coup in February.

Both Hadi and Bahah eventually escaped their house arrest, with Hadi heading to Riyadh in March to ask for military intervention from Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies in order to restore political legitimacy in the country.

The Saudi-led air campaign began on March 26. It officially ended a month later but airstrikes have continued due to the Houthis launching attacks near the Saudi border and continuing to target civilians.

Geneva peace talks on Yemen scheduled for June 14: UN

Fire and smoke rise after a Saudi-led airstrike hit a site believed to be one of the largest weapons depots on the outskirts of Yemen's capital, Sana’a, on June 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
Fire and smoke rise after a Saudi-led airstrike hit a site believed to be one of the largest weapons depots on the outskirts of Yemen's capital, Sana’a, on June 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

London and Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Peace talks between Yemen’s internationally recognized government and the Houthi movement currently in control of large parts of the country will begin in Geneva on June 14, the UN confirmed on Saturday.

The talks were originally scheduled for May 28, but the government withdrew due to the Houthis refusing to comply with the outcomes of a UN Security Council resolution adopted in April.

Resolution 2216 stipulates the Shi’ite group withdraw from Sana’a and other areas under their control and cease all hostile action against civilians. The government has set compliance with the resolution by the Houthis as a precondition for attending the meetings.

This comes after UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed last week held back-to-back meetings with the Houthis and Yemen’s internationally recognized President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in Sana’a and Riyadh, respectively.

He informed Hadi during their meetings he had obtained promises from the Iran-backed Houthis that they will comply with the UN resolution.

Meanwhile, UN sources—who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to brief the media—told Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone that among the delegation the government will send to will be officials the Houthi movement has held hostage since launching their coup in February.

They include Defense Minister Gen. Mahmoud Al-Subaihi, whom the group placed under house arrest in February.

He managed to escape in early March, fleeing to Aden, but was captured by Houthi militias again later in the month as they launched an assault on the southern port city.

Following their coup in February, the group also placed President Hadi and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah under house arrest. Both later escaped to Aden and then to the Saudi capital Riyadh.

The sources said it would be necessary for the Houthis to release Subaihi and the three other hostages which the government has selected to attend the meetings, in order to show their goodwill and seriousness to reach a conclusion to the crisis that has gripped the country since September of 2014.

Back then the Houthis’ militias occupied the capital Sana’a amid a complete security vacuum. They took over government, military and media buildings and facilities and then began to spread across the country.

Following his escape to Riyadh, President Hadi requested Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies intervene with military force in the country in order to restore political legitimacy.

The Saudi-led air campaign against the Houthis began on March 26 and, despite an officially declared willingness by the Arab coalition to end the campaign, has continued since then due to repeated acts of aggression by the Houthis, especially against the civilian population.

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia’s Defense Ministry announced it had shot down a Scud missile launched by the Houthi militias targeting the southwestern Saudi city of Khamis Mushait close to the Yemeni border—the first time the rebels have fired a Scud into Saudi Arabia since the conflict began, despite many attacks taking place on the border between them and Saudi border guards.

Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of backing the Shi’ite Houthis, supplying them with weapons and ammunition via planes landing from Iran at Sana’a airport. Following the coup, the Houthis and Tehran signed an agreement to increase two-way commercial flights between both capitals, with reports suggesting the planes have been used to supply weapons and personnel—including those with technical expertise—to the Houthis.

Yemen: Mediation efforts intensify as violence continues

United Nations envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed talks to reporters upon arrival at the international airport of Sana'a, Yemen, on May 29, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)
United Nations envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed talks to reporters upon arrival at the international airport of Sana’a, Yemen, on May 29, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—A crucial meeting between Yemen’s rival political forces to end the ongoing crisis in the Arabian Peninsula state is set to take place in Geneva within the next two weeks, informed Yemeni political sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The talks, which will be the first of their kind between Yemen’s legitimate government—headed by President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi—and representatives of the Shi’ite Houthi militia and ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, will be mediated by the UN.

The political sources, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said that the meeting would address a number of issues including the withdrawal of rebel forces from Yemen’s cities, a ceasefire and the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2216.

President Hadi and Vice-President Khaled Bahah have already held talks with UN Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to discuss the latest developments in the country, amid renewed efforts by the envoy to hold negotiations between the warring parties.

Neighboring Oman is also mediating talks between the Shi’ite Houthi movement and American officials in its capital Muscat. The talks have already led to Houthi forces freeing at least one of “several” US nationals in captivity in Yemen, according to the US state department.

In comments on Monday, US state department spokesperson Marie Harf confirmed the name of the freed American as Casey Coombs, a freelance journalist. She said he is in a “stable condition.”

“We are grateful to the government of Oman and personally to Sultan Qaboos for assisting with the safe passage of a US citizen to Oman,” Harf said.

In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Yemen’s Permanent Representative to the Arab League Mohamed Al-Haisami also praised the role that neighboring Sultanate of Oman is playing in seeking a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Yemen’s people are placing their highest hopes for a political solution to the ongoing crisis in their country on the Sultanate of Oman’s efforts, Haisami said.

“Our Omani brothers have stood with Yemen in its time of trouble and that is something that the Yemeni people will never forget,” he added.

However reports of violence continued to emerge despite the renewed push for dialogue, with local media reporting that 18 Houthi fighters had been killed in an ambush in Yemen’s central province of Ibb on Tuesday by armed tribesmen.

Saudi Arabia continued to carry out airstrikes on Houthi rebel positions, hitting a number of Houthi targets on Monday in the northern Saada province—a traditional Houthi stronghold.

The strikes were carried out in response to the rebels firing rockets into the Kingdom a day earlier.

Yemen: Riyadh dialogue calls for “safe zones” and joint Arab force

Yemeni Vice President Khaled Bahah (R), Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi (C) and GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif Al-Zayani at the Riyadh conference on Yemen in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 19, 2015. (SPA)
Yemeni Vice President Khaled Bahah (R), Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi (C) and GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif Al-Zayani at the Riyadh conference on Yemen in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 19, 2015. (SPA)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Riyadh conference on Yemen concluded on Tuesday with calls for the establishment of safe zones in the war-torn country to allow the legitimate government to resume its duties and the formation of a joint Arab force to help secure major cities from the Houthi rebel movement.

The three-day conference, chaired by Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz, was also attended by Yemen’s government in exile and a broad range of Yemeni political parties. The Iran-backed Shi’ite Houthi militia and political supporters of ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh refused to attend. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretary-General Abdullatif Al-Zayani also attended the meeting.

The conference emerged with a number of “aims” in what has been dubbed the Riyadh Document, which are intended to help resolve the ongoing conflict in the Arabian Peninsula state between supporters of legitimate President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and militias backing the Houthi-Saleh coup.

The Riyadh Document called for the “maintenance of security and stability in Yemen” and the “rejection of the coup and putting an end to its consequences.”

The document called for “safe zones” to be established within Yemeni territory as soon as possible to allow Yemen’s legitimate government to resume its duties in the country.

The document also called on the UN, GCC and Arab League to form a joint Arab military force to secure Yemen’s major cities and push back the Houthi-Saleh rebel forces.

The conference ended with a number of other decisions, including pledges for greater aid to relieve the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country.

Speaking at a press conference following the talks, Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi confirmed that his government is continuing to supporting the “resistance” against Houthi-Saleh rebel fighters, calling for faster delivery of logistical equipment and arms to pro-government forces.

Despite this, he acknowledged that there can be no military solution to the conflict, adding that the objective is to pressure the rebels into sitting down at the negotiating table.

“Dialogue is the only way to take Yemen out of its deadlock,” Hadi said, adding that any dialogue must take place according to UN Security Council Resolution 2216, which calls on the Houthis to lay down their arms and relinquish the territory they have seized.

In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, former Yemeni Prime Minister Hayder Abu Bakr Al-Attas praised the Riyadh conference while calling on ex-president Saleh to surrender.

“If he [Saleh] respected the Yemeni people, as he continually claims, he should surrender and leave the country, otherwise he will share the fate of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein or Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi,” he said.