Hadi calls for return of Gulf initiative as Riyadh conference on Yemen begins

Yemen's President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi (L) attends the opening of a conference on Yemen in the Saudi capital Riyadh, on May 17, 2015. (AFP Photo/Fayez Nureldine)
Yemen’s President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi (L) attends the opening of a conference on Yemen in the Saudi capital Riyadh, on May 17, 2015. (AFP Photo/Fayez Nureldine)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Legitimate Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi opened a conference on Yemen in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Sunday, urging for a return to the Gulf-backed initiative on the country’s post-Arab Spring future.

Hadi told those gathered at the three-day conference it was necessary to return to the outcomes of the initiative, which were finalized in January 2014, in order to rebuild the country after months of instability.

The current turmoil in Yemen began in September of 2014, eight months after the agreement on the Gulf initiative, after the takeover of the capital Sana’a by the Iran-backed Shi’ite Houthi movement.

The Houthis chose to boycott Sunday’s conference, which drew over 400 figures from Yemen’s different political factions, and Hadi said the initiative was taking place “in support of politics and community” and in “rejection” of the Houthi coup, which the movement forced in February.

Hadi urged the international community and the UN to help put an end to the fighting in Yemen which has seen the Houthis’ militias clash with volunteer forces on the ground loyal to Hadi and the advent of airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition of Arab partners.

The airstrikes began in March when Hadi fled the country after being held under house arrest by the Houthis. He then headed to Riyadh to urge Arab countries to intervene to restore political legitimacy to Yemen.

Also present at the conference were members of the General People’s Congress (GPC) party led by ousted former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who agreed to leave power after 33 years as the country’s president following the 2014 Gulf initiative. Saleh has been accused along with Iran of backing the Houthi coup.

The conference comes as a five-day humanitarian ceasefire proposed by the Saudi-led coalition is due to end on Sunday evening.

The truce is subject to renewal on the condition the Houthis cease aggressive action on the ground in Yemen.

The UN’s envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, told reporters on the sidelines of the conference on Sunday he was “hopeful” of an extension.

“All my first contacts indicate that we have a chance, but I am really calling on all parties to extend this for a minimum of five days,” Ould Cheikh Ahmed said, according to Reuters.

A senior Yemeni political figure told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday that “communications at various levels” remained ongoing to reach an agreement on extending the ceasefire.

Despite the truce, there have been continued reports of fighting in numerous cities across the country, including in Aden and Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city.

Sources say 12 people were killed and 51 injured in Taiz on Saturday after the Houthis launched an attack on a civilian area in the city using heavy weaponry.

Reports say the Houthis continue to receive support from Tehran, including weapons smuggled into the country, despite a land, sea and air blockade enforced by the Saudi-led coalition.

Yemen’s Foreign Minister Yassin Riyadh told Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone on Saturday that an Iranian ship, Iran Mashhad, had earlier attempted to dock at Yemen’s Al-Hudaydah port off the Red Sea, bypassing inspection.

The ship finally agreed to change course to Djibouti, where the coalition has ordered all ships attempting to enter Yemen’s waters to dock for inspection by UN monitors.

Yassin said the case was “suspicious” considering Tehran claimed the ship was carrying humanitarian supplies and was about to dock at Al-Hudaydah port when it changed course.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdulaziz on Wednesday doubled his country’s aid pledge to Yemen to around 500 million US dollars, also opening a humanitarian center to coordinate the delivery of aid to the country, the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest, on Thursday.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone from Djibouti, where many Yemenis caught up in the conflict have been transferred for care and treatment by the Saudi-led coalition, Dr. Saad Qirni, the head of the Riyadh-based Physicians Across Continents NGO, said over 700 tons of medical supplies had now been transferred to the African country.

He added that a large number of supplies had also been transferred into Yemen after coordination with health officials.

More than 1,300 Yemenis have now been transferred by the NGO to the port of Obock in Djibouti off the Gulf of Aden in order to receive treatment, he said.

“We are planning to transfer some of the wounded to other neighboring countries if the hospitals in Djibouti are not able to deal with the numbers,” Qirni said, adding that most of those receiving treatment had sustained “gunshot wounds to the head, face, neck, or chest.”

Fatah Al-Rahman Youssef contributed additional reporting from Riyadh.

Riyadh talks on Yemen to be followed by second round: document

Ismail Weld al-Sheikh, new UN special envoy to Yemen, center, arrives at the international airport in Sanaa, Yemen, Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
Ismail Weld al-Sheikh, new UN special envoy to Yemen, center, arrives at the international airport in Sanaa, Yemen, Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Gulf-sponsored talks on Yemen, set to begin in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Sunday, will be followed by a second round of meetings to monitor the implementation of its outcomes, Asharq Al-Awsat has learnt.

According to the conference’s draft agenda, which Asharq Al-Awsat obtained a copy of, Yemen’s political factions participating in the three-day talks will confirm their absolute support for legitimate President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and denounce the Houthi coup against his government.

Saudi Arabia has called on political factions in Yemen to attend the reconciliation talks to be hosted under the sponsorship of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) with the aim of ending the political crisis gripping its southern neighbor.

The Houthi movement and military units loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh remain opposed to the talks, demanding that they be hosted by a country other than Saudi Arabia and sponsored by the UN. A previous round of UN-sponsored talks failed to resolve the Yemen crisis that saw Houthis gain the upper hand and Hadi flee to Saudi Arabia.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity a Yemen official said: “The Houthis and Saleh’s followers are casting themselves as the main faction in Yemen to the new UN envoy to Yemen [Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed], claiming that they are still in control of Yemen’s territory, which shows that they do not want to abide by the UN resolution [2216] or the Gulf initiative.”

Following the wave of popular protests that swept Yemen in 2011, the GCC states proposed an initiative that saw the then-president Saleh step down in favor of his deputy Hadi.

The Riyadh conference will call for the hosting of another session, dubbed Riyadh II, to follow up on the implementation of the outcomes of Riyadh I.

The meeting will demand that all prisoners currently being held by the Houthi rebel group be released immediately. Hadi’s Defense Minister Mahmoud Al-Subaihi and political security chief and brother Nasser Mansur Hadi are among the detainees.

Meanwhile, the UN envoy to Yemen left Sana’a on Thursday, wrapping up a two-day visit during which he met with several political factions, including the powerful Houthi group and the Saleh-led General People’s Congress Party (GPC).

The Mauritanian diplomat has failed to produce any positive outcomes, a Sana’a source told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Ould Cheikh’s tour focused on two key issues, the humanitarian situation in Yemen and achieving a political settlement between rivals, according to the official.

The UN envoy urged all sides to “strictly respect a cessation of military operations . . . to allow the flow of aid,” and to spare infrastructure necessary for the smooth delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians.

While a truce between the Houthis and coalition forces held broadly in Yemen, clashes between the Shi’ite rebels and pro-Hadi volunteers continued over the past two days, prompting mass displacement of civilians in Sana’a and the country’s second city of Taiz.

Arafat Madabish contributed reporting from Sana’a.

Saudi Arabia doubles Yemen aid to half-billion dollars as truce holds

Yemenis purchase goods in the Sheikh Othman area, in the southern Yemeni port city of Aden, on May 13, 2015. (AFP Photo/Saleh Al-Obeidi)
Yemenis purchase goods in the Sheikh Othman area, in the southern Yemeni port city of Aden, on May 13, 2015. (AFP Photo/Saleh Al-Obeidi)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdulaziz increased his country’s aid commitment to Yemen to over 500 million US dollars on Wednesday as a humanitarian ceasefire between the Saudi-led coalition of Arab countries and Houthi rebels held in Yemen despite reported violations.

“We announce that we are setting aside 1 billion riyals for aid and humanitarian operations . . . in addition to the more than 1 billion riyals [274 million dollars] we have already pledged,” the monarch said in remarks carried by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

Saudi Arabia, which is spearheading a 10-country-strong military coalition against Houthi positions in Yemen, proposed a five-day humanitarian truce, which came into effect on Tuesday evening to secure delivery of aid to civilians in Yemen caught up in the fighting.

Since the Houthis launched a coup in the country in February, the movement’s militias have clashed with forces loyal to Yemen’s President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

International aid agencies have warned of a looming humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen since the crisis in the country erupted. Severe shortages in food, water, fuel, and medical supplies have been reported.

An Iranian-flagged ship that Tehran claims is carrying humanitarian aid intended for Yemen left the southern Iranian port of Bandar Abbas on Monday, raising the likelihood of a confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of backing the Houthi rebels, who are the target of the aerial campaign launched by the Kingdom and its allies on March 26 with the aim of restoring to power legitimate and internationally recognized President Hadi.

In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Yemen’s Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin said his government did not give authorization to the Iranian vessel to enter Yemen’s territorial waters.

Yassin, who has joined Hadi’s government-in-exile in Saudi Arabia, said that dozens of Iranian nationals and foreign activists aboard the vessel do not have visas to allow them to enter Yemen.

To ensure no weapons are smuggled into Yemen the Saudi-led coalition has set up a humanitarian hub in Djibouti where aid-laden vessels pass through for inspection on their way to the war-torn country.

“That the Iranian ship has moved towards Yemen without the permission of the Yemeni government or the coalition members is a clear provocation of the international community,” Yassin said.

“The identity of those on board the ship must be known as well as what their role is and whether or not they will all return,” he added.

Meanwhile, King Salman laid the foundation stone for the King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Works that aims to help distressed communities. The Center will begin its work by organizing the delivery of aid to the Yemeni people.

At the opening ceremony in Riyadh, King Salman said: “The center will be dedicated for relief and humanitarian work . . . to help relieve communities that suffer from disasters and ease their suffering.”

The center would be run in line with humanitarian motives only, emphasized the monarch.

New UN envoy to Yemen arrives in Sana’a as truce begins

The new UN envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed speaks to reporters upon his arrival at Sana'’a International Airport, Yemen, on May 12, 2015. (EPA/Yahya Arhab)
The new UN envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed speaks to reporters upon his arrival at Sana’’a International Airport, Yemen, on May 12, 2015. (EPA/Yahya Arhab)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—The new UN envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed arrived in Sana’a on Tuesday hours before a five-day ceasefire between the Houthi rebels and Arab coalition forces took effect.

The Mauritanian diplomat, who is visiting Yemen for the first time since he was appointed to the role of special envoy for Yemen in April, will be supervising the implementation of the humanitarian truce, Yemen’s exiled Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“We are convinced there is no solution to Yemen’s problem except through a dialogue, which must be Yemeni,” Houthi-controlled SABA news agency quoted the UN envoy as saying.

The Houthi movement earlier this week accepted a Saudi proposal for a five-day pause in hostilities aimed at securing the delivery of humanitarian aid to civilian areas blockaded by weeks of fighting.

Backed by Washington, Saudi Arabia has spearheaded a 10-strong coalition force that has been carrying out airstrikes against Houthi positions since March 26 with the aim of restoring to power the internationally recognized President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

Hadi, who has sought refuge in Saudi Arabia, has urged the Arab coalition to deploy ground forces in Yemen.

The truce may be extended depending on Houthi compliance, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir announced earlier.

Yassin told Asharq Al-Awsat via phone that there were concerns aid may not reach those who are most in need of it. The foreign minister urged the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to show restraint for the sake of the Yemeni people.

Humanitarian aid provided by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar has entered the country at the southern port city of Aden via Djibouti, Yassin said.

“It is hard to distribute aid in the cities of Yemen due to the fact that Houthi militias are in control of the roads where they have set up checkpoints, confiscating materials,” Yassin said.

“In Sana’a it is hard to distribute food and medicine stocked up by Yemenis, which is enough for three months, due to a ban on distribution by the [Houthi] militias and their allies.”

Yemen’s Vice-President Khaled Bahah on Monday concluded a tour in the Gulf aimed at mobilizing efforts to provide urgent humanitarian aid to civilians.

Prior to the truce that began on Tuesday evening, Saudi-led airstrikes continued against Houthi positions across Yemen as pro-Hadi volunteers clashed with rebels.

Eyewitness told Asharq Al-Awsat that airstrikes had hit military bases used by Saleh’s forces near the headquarters of the Ministry of Information in Sana’a. The airstrikes damaged military vehicles and equipment, and several vehicles were seen leaving the base.

Arafat Madabish contributed reporting from Sana’a.

Yemen ruling party to consider steps against Saleh: GPC official

People flee as smoke billows after airstrikes hit the house of Yemen's former president Saleh in Sana'a on May 10, 2015. (Reuters/Mohamed Al-Sayaghi)
People flee as smoke billows after airstrikes hit the house of Yemen’s former president Saleh in Sana’a on May 10, 2015.
(Reuters/Mohamed Al-Sayaghi)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—The General People’s Congress (GPC), Yemen’s ruling party, will discuss whether to withdraw backing for its leader Ali Abdullah Saleh following his declaration of support for the powerful Houthi rebel group, a leading GPC official told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Speaking via phone, the GPC’s second-in-command Ahmed Ben Dagher said Saleh’s declaration of support for the Houthi movement has shifted the balance within the party, whose members will be holding a meeting in Cairo to determine their stance on the former president.

In footage broadcast on Sunday by a pro-Saleh TV channel, the deposed president was shown announcing his backing for the rebels after Saudi-led coalition forces bombed his residence.

“I was not an ally of Ansar Allah,” he said, using an alternative moniker for the Houthis. “But today I am announcing from this place that Yemenis will be supportive of anyone who defends the nation’s resources,” Saleh said.

A Gulf-sponsored initiative adopted in 2012 in response to mass anti-government demonstrations in Yemen saw Saleh step down as president in favor of his deputy Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi while maintaining his position as party leader.

The former president previously denied accusations of links to the Houthis, the Shi’ite group that turned against Hadi in late 2014, and is now the target of an aerial campaign launched by a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia.

Signs of Saleh’s loosening grip on the GPC began to emerge after several party members reportedly visited Riyadh last week to negotiate participation in reconciliation talks called for by the Kingdom. The Houthis said they would not engage in peace talks until the bombing campaign ceased.

Ben Dagher last week turned against Saleh by demanding the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2216, which calls for Hadi’s restoration as president and the immediate withdrawal of Houthis from Sana’a.

The Cairo meeting will discuss ways to end the political crisis in Yemen, as well as the party’s position on peace talks scheduled to take place later this month in Riyadh, Ben Dagher said.

Preparations for the Riyadh talks are currently underway and arrangements have been made for the participation of 250 Yemeni political figures from across the spectrum, the chairman of the executive committee for the Riyadh talks, Abdullah Jabari, told Asharq Al-Awsat.

According to Jabari, the GPC will participate in the talks and the party will announce from Cairo its final stance on Saleh.

Saudi King Salman warns of Iranian influence in Arab world

(From L–R) Abdullatif Al-Zayani, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Kuwaiti Emir Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jabir Al-Sabah, Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, Sayyid Shihab Bin Tariq Al Sa’id, representative of Sultan Qaboos Bin Sa’id Al Sa’id of Oman, French President François Hollande, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, Bahraini King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, pose for a group photograph before the opening of the GCC advisory summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 5, 2015. (EPA/Christophe Ena/Pool)
(From L–R) Abdullatif Al-Zayani, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Kuwaiti Emir Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jabir Al-Sabah, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, Sayyid Shihab Bin Tariq Al Sa’id, representative of Sultan Qaboos Bin Sa’id Al Sa’id of Oman, French President François Hollande, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, Bahraini King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, pose for a group photograph before the opening of the GCC advisory summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 5, 2015. (EPA/Christophe Ena/Pool)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—In a clear reference to Iran, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdulaziz warned of the danger the Arab world faces from “foreign ambitions,” during his opening speech at the 15th Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) advisory summit in Riyadh on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman said such foreign powers were seeking to “spread their influence and impose their authority” on the region in order to “destabilize [its] security . . . and stability and spread sectarian strife,” in apparent reference to Iran’s backing of the Shi’ite Houthi movement in Yemen.

The Houthis launched a coup in Yemen in February, deposing legitimate and internationally recognized President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and placing him under house arrest in the capital Sana’a.

After fleeing to the southern port city of Aden a month later, Hadi then headed to Saudi Arabia to call on the Kingdom and its Arab allies to take military intervention in the country to restore the legitimate political authority, represented by Hadi and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and his cabinet.

This was followed by a month-long aerial campaign against the Houthis by a coalition of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia.

King Salman said on Tuesday it was necessary for the Saudi-led coalition to take military action after Hadi’s calls, especially since the Houthis refused all invitations from the Kingdom, the GCC, and the international community to return to the negotiating table and halt their takeover of Yemen and the spread of their militias throughout the country.

The King also announced the formation of a center, to be based in Riyadh, that will coordinate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen, in coordination with the United Nations.

Speaking again of Iran’s regional ambitions, King Salman warned of a “nuclear arms race” in the region that could threaten its stability as well as that of the international community.

Iran and the P5+1 countries—the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany—have agreed on a framework deal to scale down Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity in return for gradually phasing out international sanctions. A final deal is expected by June 30.

But King Salman warned the Western powers of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and asked them “to set stricter rules” on the deal that would “guarantee the region’s security and prevent it from plunging into a [nuclear] arms race.”

Also present at the meeting was French President François Hollande, who was the first Western leader to attend the summit since the formation of the GCC in 1981.

Hollande said that the “threats to the Gulf region were also threats to France, and the ongoing talks regarding Iran’s nuclear program require us [the P5+1 countries] to remain cautious and keep an eye on the Islamic Republic’s actions.”

“There are dangers and threats which your countries face and which we also face. I would like to reiterate that France will stand by your side and support you, not only because we can be called a friend and ally, but also because defending you means defending ourselves,” Hollande told the Gulf leaders during his speech at the summit.

Fahd Al-Zayabi contributed additional reporting from Riyadh.

Yemen’s GPC set to meet in Cairo to determine stance on Hadi: Official

French President Francois Hollande (L) attends with Saudi Arabia's King Salman (R) the Gulf cooperation council summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 05 May 2015. (EPA photos)
French President Francois Hollande (L) attends with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman (R) the Gulf cooperation council summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 05 May 2015. (EPA photos)
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Members from Yemen’s ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) party, who are mainly based in Europe and the Gulf, will hold a “last minute” meeting in Cairo to formulate a stance towards the legitimate President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a Yemeni official told Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity.

Cracks began to emerge within the GPC, led by former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, after the ruling party’s second-in-command announced his support of Hadi earlier this week.

Ahmed Ben Dagher, Saleh’s First Deputy, on Sunday called on the Houthi movement to immediately pull out of the areas they have seized since September and put down their weapons in response to the UN Security Council Resolution 2216.

The internationally-recognized President Hadi was forced to resign earlier this year after an undeclared alliance between Saleh and the Iranian-backed Houthi movement took over large parts of Yemen, including the capital Sana’a.

After concluding an almost four-week military campaign against Houthi positions in Yemen in late April, Saudi Arabia invited all of Yemen’s political factions, including the Shi’ite group, for reconciliation talks under the sponsorship of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh.

In a sign of Saleh’s flagging influence within the GPC, Yemen’s ruling party has dispatched a delegation to Riyadh to discuss participation in the talks that are set to launch in mid-May.

Several GPC figures have expressed their opposition to Saleh’s alliance with the Houthis, Abdullah Jabari, the Chairman of the Executive Committee for the Riyadh talks, told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Some GPC members, however, have demanded wider representation in the talks for certain factions as a condition for their participation in the GCC-sponsored conference, the official maintained. He dismissed such calls as an attempt by Saleh’s loyalists to delay or relocate the conference to another Arab capital.

“We welcome the participation of all the Yemeni political factions in a bid to rescue Yemen from sectarianism and infighting,” he added.

According to the official, the newly-appointed UN Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is set to visit Riyadh on Wednesday as part of the preparations for the talks.

He said: “[The UN official] will arrive to Riyadh on Wednesday where he will meet President Hadi and the GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif Al-Zayani.”

Yemen’s ruling party backs Hadi, Popular Resistance enters Aden

Smoke billows as supporters of exiled Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi clash with Shi’ite Houthi rebels on the outskirts of the Taiz province, Yemen, on May 3, 2015. (AFP Photo/Taha Saleh)
Smoke billows as supporters of exiled Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi clash with Shi’ite Houthi rebels on the outskirts of the Taiz province, Yemen, on May 3, 2015. (AFP Photo/Taha Saleh)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Yemen’s ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) party has announced it is backing the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, directing a powerful blow to his rival and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In a statement issued by the GPC’s second-in-command, the ruling party declared its support for President Hadi, calling on the Houthi movement to withdraw their militias from the areas they have controlled and put down their weapons in compliance with the UN Security Council Resolution 2216.

Saleh, who leads the GPC, has forged an undeclared alliance with the Iran-backed Houthi militia that last September seized state buildings and military bases across Yemen, including the capital Sana’a, driving into exile elected President Hadi, who has now sought refuge in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia, which in late April ended a month-long aerial campaign against the Houthis aimed at restoring Hadi to power, has invited all Yemeni political factions, including the Iran-backed group, for reconciliation talks under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh.

The talks are expected to launch later this month.

The GPC has called for the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 2216 calling for the immediate Houthi withdrawal and the reinstatement of Hadi, Abdullah Jabari, the chairman of the Executive Committee for the Riyadh talks, told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Speaking via telephone, Jabari said a number of GPC members have visited Riyadh under a mandate by the ruling party’s General Committee, the GPC’s highest authority.

The Executive Committee supervising the Riyadh talks is now waiting to receive the GPC’s decision over its participation in the conference within the next 24 hours, the officials said.

“We are certain that all GPC members will attend [the talks], particularly since a large number of them will be in Riyadh for the next few days,” he said.

Several GPC leading figures are opposed to Saleh’s recent actions and his alliance with the Houthis, Jabari maintained, adding that the former president no longer enjoys the same influence he once had within the ruling party.

He said: “The [Riyadh] talks’ Executive Committee supports the GPC’s decision to side with the legitimacy in Yemen and the implementation of the UN Security Council resolution.”

Meanwhile, military forces loyal to Hadi entered Aden in limited numbers on Sunday in a bid to liberate the country’s commercial and business hub from the Houthi militias and Saleh’s loyalists, a military source who requested anonymity told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Coalition warplanes provided cover for pro-Hadi militants who engaged in fierce clashes with Houthi fighters in the vicinity of Aden Airport. There have been reports ground troops from the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis have been involved in the fighting.

In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Saudi Defense Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri denied however that coalition forces had a presence on the ground in Aden, insisting that this was a role the coalition had assigned to the Yemeni Popular Resistance, a mainly civilian force of pro-Hadi volunteer militias.

“The coalition provides all kinds of support to the Popular Resistance who have now begun to achieve positive results in the vicinity of Aden International Airport, where a large number of Houthi fighters were evicted, as well as the Mualla district [in Aden].”

Asiri also added that the anti-Houthi Popular Resistance forces have no prior military experience and are in need of training, weapons and organization.

Arafat Madabish contributed reporting from Sana’a.

Riyadh conference on Yemen will seek to rebuild country’s army: sources

Jamal Benomar, the former UN special envoy to Yemen, speaks during a press conference in Sana’a, Yemen, on December 24, 2013. (AFP/Mohammed Huwais)
Jamal Benomar, the former UN special envoy to Yemen, speaks during a press conference in Sana’a, Yemen, on December 24, 2013. (AFP/Mohammed Huwais)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—The rebuilding of the beleaguered Yemeni armed forces will be among the top priorities during an upcoming conference on Yemen due to take place in the Saudi capital Riyadh later this month, sources told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday.

The sources, who requested anonymity, said that in addition to focusing on Yemen’s political future, the conference would discuss “forming a new Yemeni national army that can operate at a high level and [whose ranks] are united.”

The Yemeni armed forces have been heavily criticized recently for not being able to block the advance of militias belonging to the Iran-backed Shi’ite Houthi movement, who began their spread across Yemen in September of 2014.

Members of the armed forces were seemingly powerless to stop the Houthi advance or abandoned their posts entirely, allegedly after receiving orders from commanders loyal to Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who along with Iran is accused by Saudi Arabia, its Arab allies, and the UN of allying with the Houthis.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday, Abdulaziz Al-Jubari, the head of the committee tasked with organizing the Riyadh conference, said the list of attendees was close to being finalized and that the conference should encompass some 250 figures from Yemen’s different political factions.

He also revealed the conference would take place either on May 16 or 17.

Yemen’s Transport Minister Badr Baslama told Asharq Al-Awsat the conference would also discuss the formation of a wide political coalition involving as many of Yemen’s parties and factions as possible, as well as moves to put pressure on the Houthis to withdraw their militias from areas under their control.

He added that there have been ongoing discussions with members of former president Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) party to this effect, as well as moves to completely ban the Houthi militias in future.

Meanwhile, an aide of Jamal Benomar, the UN’s special adviser on Yemen, who led previous failed attempts to convince the Houthis to withdraw their militias, revealed on Saturday further details to Asharq Al-Awsat regarding allegations of Benomar’s bias toward the Houthis during negotiations with them.

The aide, who requested anonymity, said Benomar had used “20 units from the Houthis’ militias to accompany him and provide security” during his visits to Yemen. This came at the same time the militias had stormed the presidential palace in the capital Sana’a and put Yemen’s legitimate and internationally recognized President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi under house arrest.

The source also echoed previous allegations leveled at Benomar, saying the UN adviser was more concerned with securing any deal involving the Houthis without considering the long-term consequences for Yemen.

During the negotiations process Benomar also ignored envoys from Gulf states, preferring instead to meet with Iranian, US and British officials to discuss the crisis in Yemen, the source said, adding that the UN envoy completely eschewed the outcomes of the Gulf Initiative on Yemen, held the previous year, considering it “irrelevant” to the current circumstances in the country.

“Benomar’s reading of the situation was completely short-term and was not forward-looking. He was concerned only with securing a deal [with the Houthis] without considering the implications,” the source said, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone.

“He did not realize that Yemen represented a red line with respect to the Gulf countries, and therefore totally did not expect a Saudi-led military operation in Yemen including other Gulf and Arab countries. He was totally surprised by Operation Decisive Storm.”

Benomar was also allegedly highly critical of President Hadi, whom the UN regards as representing the legitimate political authority in the country.

“[Benomar] repeatedly asked his publicists to deny several reports about his meetings with political factions in Yemen that were leaked to the Yemeni press. They included reports of his stinging criticisms toward President Hadi made during a closed-door meeting with 10 political figures in Sana’a, during which he accused the president of not heeding [Benomar’s] advice, thinking only of himself, and waking up late every day at three in the afternoon.”

Nayef Al-Rasheed contributed additional reporting from Riyadh.

Yemen parties must reject Saleh to attend Riyadh talks: official

Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh talks during an interview with Reuters in the Yemeni capital Sana’a, Yemen, on May 21, 2014. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)
Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh talks during an interview with Reuters in the Yemeni capital Sana’a, Yemen, on May 21, 2014. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Yemeni political parties seeking to participate in the forthcoming Riyadh dialogue must announce their rejection of ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthi rebels in order to attend the talks aimed at finding a political solution to the crisis in Yemen, a Yemeni official told Asharq Al-Awsat.

This comes one day after three Saudi soldiers were killed in a major Houthi attack on border posts near the Saudi town of Najran. Saudi military and security forces were able to repel the attack, with “dozens” of Houthi rebels killed according to the state-owned Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

Supporters of ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh—including some military units and members of the General People’s Congress party—allied with the Iran-backed Shi’ite Houthi rebels to overthrow legitimate President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi earlier this year, sparking a major conflict across the southern Arabian peninsula state.

Riyadh launched Operation Decisive Storm, which saw 27 days of intense airstrikes targeting strategic Houthi positions across the country. On April 21, Saudi Arabia announced the launch of Operation Restoring Hope which has seen military airstrikes lessen alongside a renewed push to pressure Yemen’s parties to reach a political solution to the ongoing crisis. Negotiations are set to take place in Riyadh later this month, with many Yemeni parties already in the Saudi capital ahead of the talks.

However Riyadh and Yemen’s legitimate authorities have stipulated that any party that wishes to attend the negotiations must first acknowledge Hadi as Yemen’s legitimate president. The Yemeni official, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, called on the General People’s Congress to put forward a clear position on Saleh before the start of the dialogue.

Some of the supporters of the former president, who remains a popular figure in Yemen’s military and security forces, believe that Saleh could still play a role in any future Yemeni government.

A first consultative meeting ahead of the main talks has already taken place in Riyadh, attended by some of Saleh’s supporters including former telecommunication minister Ahmed Obaid Bin Daghr.

While some opposition parties believe Saleh could still play a role in Yemen’s political future, Hadi’s representatives have said that they will refuse to attend the talks unless Saleh’s supporters renounce him.