Houthi Militants Storm Coup-Established Foreign Ministry Offices in Sana’a

Houthis

Aden, Taiz – Armed militias backing ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh and Tehran-aligned Houthis returned to the cycle of tension after Houthi gunmen stormed the coup-established foreign ministry bureaus in the capital Sana’a.

Houthi militiamen then prevented the pro-Saleh foreign minister Hisham Sharaf from entering the ministry.

A source at the internationally-recognized government in Aden described what is going on as “settling scores and tightening the grip on Saleh by the Houthis.”

The source also stressed that “coup tactics are self-destructive” and that “what is happening is evidence of the hatred fellow coup members harbor towards each other—however, it absolves neither from legal or judicial responsibility or accountability.”

The number of raids by Houthi militias against ministerial buildings located in coup-held territory have increased.

Unlike the Houthis’ predominantly militarized role in the coup, most ministries are run by Saleh loyalists.

Only a week ago, gunmen stormed the health ministry offices and assaulted the minister in office.

Houthis continue to chase former politicians in Sana’a.

There have been repeated incursions and accounts of humiliation registered, which reached the point physical offenses carried out against coup ministers.

“Targeting Sharaf, one of the most efficient political assistants and foreign communications experts, suggests that the two coup partners disagree on the most sensitive point—which is opposing legitimate authorities and the Arab coalition,” said Yassine al-Tamimi, a Yemeni political analyst.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that what happened to Sharaf “is an episode in a longer series of targeting coup ministers affiliated with Saleh and who represent the political line of the General People’s Congress. This likely means that Houthis decided to deplete Saleh and his party, ousting them from the scene.”

Meanwhile, pro-government Yemeni army forces and the Popular Resistance announced on Sunday that they have officially restored their control over new strategic positions, which were controlled by insurgency militias in northeastern Al-Jawf province.

Steering the Battle Towards Saada

Houthis

Saada is the Yemeni governorate south of Saudi Arabia and home to the Iran-affiliated Houthi and Ansar Allah’s militias.

It is not an exaggeration to assume that through those militias, Iran wants to establish a presence on Saudi Arabia’s southern borders which poses a serious threat not only to the kingdom, but also to any authority that rules Sana’a.

Iran’s allies, the Houthis, fought five wars against the government forces during the presidential term of Ali Abdullah Saleh and they attacked Saudi Arabia in 2009. They undermined the UN-sponsored Yemeni agreement when their militias entered Sana’a and seized power in September 2014.

Saudi Arabia has two goals to achieve in Yemen: solidify legitimacy of its neighboring country given that stability and security in Yemen are vital, and protect its borders and territories from chaos, terrorism and smuggling.

The kingdom fears that Houthis are the Trojan Horse where Iranians hide to besiege Saudi Arabia.

Currently, they continue to attack the border and cities of Saudi Arabia. Had it not been for the kingdom’s advanced defense capabilities, missiles would have caused severe damage and panic in the southern cities and major ones like Jeddah, Mecca and Taif.

Now that over one third of Yemen’s territories have been liberated and are governed by legitimate forces under the Saudi-led coalition, Riyadh has good options. The first option is to continue with the war and fight hostile forces, as well as Saleh’s troops, Houthi militias and al-Qaeda in Yemen.

The second option is to settle with what has been achieved and resume military support of the legitimate government to strengthen its influence in areas under its control. The third option is to protect its territories and create a buffer zone, south of its borders, including Saada.

I believe that a full-scaled war may take a long time and is not necessary now that the legitimate government is in Aden, and especially since Sana’a no longer has any influence on the rest of the state.

The second option, completely giving up on the war, is not practical because parties like Iran and al-Qaeda will be empowered and legitimacy will weaken.

The third option of creating a buffer zone will unify all capabilities to attack the Houthis in their home.

If the campaign is a success, its results will serve Saudi Arabia and the rest of Yemen, because the Houthis are responsible for most of the crisis. By eliminating this rotten element from Yemen, stability will be achieved in the north and Saudi Arabia will be protected. After that, we can focus on Sana’a.

Houthis are a relatively small Yemeni component that does not exceed 3 percent of the country’s population and perhaps their supporters are double that due to their ideological, political and military activity.

We do not have reliable information about the number of their forces and deployment, but we know that they are a small armed and religiously extremist group that ideologically and politically follows Iran.

The Houthi threat can be better understood when compared to al-Qaeda, which it resembles a lot. The small number of Houthi followers does not make them any less dangerous In fact, they are committed ideologically and they glorify waging religious “jihad” according to their religious interpretations.

Therefore, without any siege imposed on Houthis, they will continue to pose a chronic and dangerous threat to everyone. It is possible to cooperate with Yemeni tribes in the north as they have always been Saudi Arabia’s allies and a source of stability there.

Houthis can be deterred in Saada, the headquarters of their tribal and military leadership, and then its militias in other conflict zones will be abolished.

When they retreat from Sana’a as a result of the Saada war, it will be easier for parties to agree on a peaceful solution for whoever is left in the city.

The situation as it is today suggests that Houthis and Saleh have failed miserably. Since the war began they failed to establish their own state and failed to prevent exiled legitimacy from returning to Yemen.

However, one cannot deny that even though they are militias, not armies, they are capable of engaging in further clashes. If Houthi power is crushed in their governorate, the rebellion might be completely extinguished.

Yemeni Minister Accuses Houthi Militias of Pushing Child Recruits to Drug Abuse

children

Jeddah – Human Rights Minister in the legitimate Yemeni government Dr. Mohammed Askar accused the Houthi insurgents of committing grave violations against children in the war-torn country.

Since they seized Sana’a in 2014, the violations have ranged from kidnapping to murder to recruitment for fighting. They have even reached the extent of forcing children into drug abuse, he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

He said that in the first month alone of the coup, back in 2014, the Houthis committed 37 violations against children.

He based his allegations on a report by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor that documented a series of violations against educational institutions in Sana’a that were committed during the coup.

One of these violations included the recruitment of child soldiers, under the age of 18, and their deployment at checkpoints throughout the capital.

The recruitment of children is barred by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989.

Askar revealed that 1,529 cases of child recruitment by Houthi militias were documented in 2017. The majority of these recruitment processes took place in poor areas.

As for pushing them to into drug abuse, he explained that children are given hallucinogenic drugs to deal with the violent acts that they are forced to commit.

Houthis Prepare to End Partnership with Yemen’s Saleh

Saleh

Riyadh – It appears that former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is nicknamed the “fox” due to his expertise in political maneuvering with his friends before his enemies, is approaching a new phase in his career, this time in regards to his ties with his allies, the Houthi insurgents.

The Houthis announced on Monday the termination of the reconciliation reached with Saleh in September 2014, marking the beginning of possibly one of the most dangerous chapters in the former president’s political career.

Informed Yemeni sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the situation in Sana’a has reached a boiling point and that the next 48 hours may witness “a heavy blow” dealt by one side to the other.

According to the obtained information, armed Houthis have come very close to Saleh’s al-Sabeen security zone, while pro-Saleh forces have started to depart Sana’a in anticipation of a possible siege against them.

These developments come at a time when a Yemeni source said that the Houthi militia decided to end its alliance with Saleh and prepare to implement a plan that will see his arrest and transfer to the Saada province.

No official information has been released to confirm this scenario.

Yemeni security and political researcher Mohammed al-Walas said that this information may have been deliberately leaked to test Saleh’s alliance.

What is certain however, he added is that Saleh’s arrest and transfer to Saada has become one of the main options for the Houthis in order to uncover the former president’s secret files that he still keeps to himself in regards to his local and foreign ties.

Walas said that Saleh is “now besieged in Sana’a.”

Arab Coalition Destroys Ballistic Missile Launchpad in Yemen’s Hajjah Governorate

Taiz- Arab Coalition air forces destroyed on Friday a ballistic missile launchpad in Yemen, reported the pan-Arab television news channel Al-Arabiya.

The launchpad was used and put together by Iran-allied militias in the war-torn country, and was in the Hajjah Governorate.

A military source stated that the coalition strike targeted the missile platform after it was spotted in a rural area between the Hiran administrative district and the northern border town of Hardh.

The coalition launched a number of airstrikes in the area that led to the destruction of heavy weaponry and vehicles belonging to the Houthi militias killing and injuring an unspecified number of militants.

The source further stated that the platform was used to fire a ballistic missile to the Saudi territories earlier. He said that the coalition forces located the platform and targeted it despite efforts to conceal its position.

The operation came at a time when the Yemenis welcomed the first day of Eid al-Adha holiday this year with untold grievances and suffering caused by the continued insurgency militias lead.

Iran-backed Houthi militiamen and armed loyalists backing ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh have led a national coup against the internationally backed and constitutionally elected government. In 2014, militiamen overran the capital Sana’a forcing the government headed by President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi to relocate to Aden.

Many Yemenis lived under militia bombardment as they exploit various weapons and stage infiltration attempts against national army positions in hopes of restoring positions lost in previous battles.

Over the past 48 hours, militia ranks suffered heavy casualties and material damage as a result of renewed confrontations on various fronts and raids by coalition fighters.

Putschist gunmen did not observe sanctity during Eid prayers and days, as they continued their crimes and violations against defenseless citizens by shelling mosques. Militias are responsible for the death of seven soldiers and wounding 11 others as a result of rocket shelling, said a field source.

The bombardment took place in east of Sana’a, during the Eid prayer, another local source said.

Yemen: Saleh Claims ‘Sedition’ as Coup Ranks Descend into Armed Conflict

London- Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Wednesday described infighting and widening rift among coup ranks in Sana’a an act of “sedition.”

Saleh, leading a party of armed loyalists partaking in a nation-wide insurgency, demanded that investigations be conducted over the killing of Officer Khaled Rida in clashes with Houthi militias last week.

Iran-allied Houthis are leading the coup against the internationally-backed government which relocated to the temporary capital, Aden.

In his first appearance after the skirmishes, Saleh said in a brief speech when he attended Radi’s funeral in Sana’a on Wednesday that he holds the self-declared political council and government of the coup responsible for the incident, reported the Popular Congress Party on its official website.

“Saleh’s speech was a covert reconciliation outreach to Houthi militias by urging the presidential council to intervene and contain the crisis that emerged after Radi’s death,” Bahraini political analyst Abdullah al-Junaid told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

At the same time, Saleh relayed Houthis another message by sending a shout out for vengeance, showing that a great tribal extension stands in favor of his party, Junaid added.

Sana’a now witnesses the calm before the storm, with the prospect of armed confrontations between Saleh loyalists and Houthis increasing—such an outbreak could lead to a series of kidnapping and assassinations taking place as the two major coup factions attempt to excommunicate each other.  

A security expert said Houthis were seeking to take over southern Sana’a gates in a power grab against the insurgency-held capital, thereon removing Saleh supporters from power.

On differences emerging between coup parties in Yemen, security and political expert Muhammad al-Walas said that Houthis “are now controlling Sana’a and have laid siege to some 70 percent of its territory, while restricting control of pro-Saleh fighters to the southern gates only.”

Guterres Calls for Aid Access in Coup-Held Sana’a, Hodeidah

A ship is docked at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah

Kuwait- UN Chief António Guterres urged Yemeni conflicting parties to agree on allowing the delivery of humanitarian aid to each of the Houthi controlled cities Sana’a and Hodeidah.

“I hope it will be possible for an agreement to be achieved between the parties to allow for Hodeida and Sana’a to be fully operational for the humanitarian needs of the Yemeni people who are suffering in such a terrible way.

“They deserve our solidarity and our commitment,” Guterres told reporters after meeting with Kuwait’s emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

The United Nations has tried to mediate between Yemeni warring parties to end the conflict but failed to do so.

Asked about plans to begin negotiations in Kuwait on the crisis in Yemen, the Secretary-General said the UN is doing its best to create the conditions for the present stalemate to be overcome.

“Kuwait has been very successful in the first conference that was organized. We will be working very closely with the [parties] to see when and how a new strong initiative will be possible,” he stressed.

To a question on getting aid through Sana’a airport or Hodeida port, Guterres said that his Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is pushing to create the conditions for both Hodeida and Sana’a to allow for an effective use, for humanitarian purposes, of these two very important infrastructures.

‘Al-Sabeen’ Gathering Shakes Balance of Power in Sana’a

London, Taez – A gathering of the General People’s Congress (GPC) supporters in Sana’a Thursday to celebrate the 35h anniversary of the party’s formation posed a threat to the balance of power in the Yemeni capital, which has been under the control of insurgents since Sept. 2014.

Worldwide news agencies estimated that “hundreds of thousands” of supporters from the GPC, which is led by former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, rallied at Al-Sabeen Square on Thursday.

In return, according to observers, barely “thousands” of Houthis attended four other rallies staged in the capital under the slogan of “mobilizing fighters,” but in reality they only aimed at causing “trouble to Al-Sabeen gathering.”

The crowd at the GPC rally chanted on Thursday slogans against the Houthis, saying: “No Houthis after today.”

Saleh’s second-in-command in the GPC, Aref al-Zouka, also accused the Houthis of financial mismanagement and corruption, calling on them to “fight corruption and hand over the salaries.”

At Al-Sabeen Square, Saleh appeared in person at the rally but gave a brief speech, claiming that “hundreds of thousands of fighters were ready to fight” against the legitimate government and the Coalition.

“We are political pioneers with a solid anchor, and we have been facing conspiracies against us since 2011,” he said.

During the rally, only limited skirmishes took place at checkpoints staged by the Houthi rebels, with no major security incidents between the two partners of the coup.

In the past weeks, tension has grown between Saleh and head of Ansar Allah group, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, who had both joined hands in 2014 and drove the legitimate government out of the capital.

“Saleh’s appearance at the rally means there is an opposition inside the coup,” Yemeni political analyst Yaseen al-Tamimi told Asharq Al-Awsat.

He said Saleh’s speech was not used to send a message of peace or to deliver a clear position from the latest efforts to reach a political agreement in the country. According to Al-Tamimi, Saleh sought to appease Houthis in his “short and unclear” speech by announcing his readiness to mobilize tens of thousands of fighters at the frontlines. 

On Tuesday, groups linked with Abdel-Malek al-Houthi declared a state of emergency in Houthi-controlled areas to face what they described as a “betrayal” from their ally Saleh.

Arab Coalition Supporting Yemen’s Legitimacy Asks UN to Operate Sana’a Airport

Sana'a

Riyadh – The Arab Coalition to Restore the Legitimate Government in Yemen asked on Thursday that the UN operate Sana’a airport. It revealed that it has followed up on reports published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen regarding banning commercial flights from and to Sana’a International Airport.

Official Spokesman of the coalition Colonel Turki al-Malki said that the Joint Forces Command had and is still working to its best efforts to ensure the safe arrival of all commercial, cargo and relief flights to all Yemeni airports in Sana’a, Aden, Hodeidah, Seiyun, Mukalla and Socotra through issuing proper flight permits for all incoming requests, and assigning Bisha National Airport for air traffic management in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 2216.

“Closing Sana’a airport and limiting it to relief efforts came as a precaution to ensure the safety of all inbound commercial and cargo flights, due to the Houthi armed militia’s attempts to smuggle arms into the country,” he said.

According to Al-Malki, the Coalition has assigned airports in liberated and secure cities as alternatives at the request of the Yemeni government, adding that the precautionary measures should not be stigmatized as a cause of suffering for the Yemeni people.

The Colonel also clarified that the number of flight permits issued to every Yemeni airport since the beginning of operations has reached 5,765 for commercial, cargo and humanitarian relief flights. The UN was asked to contribute in resuming flights from and to Sana’a airport through managing airport security and putting the legitimate Yemeni government fears to rest.

“Should airport management and security be conducted properly, ensuring the safety of all inbound flights and stopping arms smuggling, the Joint Forces Command is prepared to restore normal flight activity,” he said.

Meanwhile, Yemeni sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that fierce clashes erupted among Houthi militants in the Hodeidah province, leading to dozens of injuries and the escape of more than 70 conscripts from the area.

The clashes specifically erupted in the valleys located near the eastern port of the coastal city.

“Houthis are now stationed in positions near the port as they seek to prevent any party from controlling the area,” head of the Youth Union in the Tihamah district, Dr. Mataab al-Jabli told Asharq Al-Awsat.

There were several requests to place the port under UN supervision to facilitate the flow of humanitarian supplies to the Yemeni people, and end the use of the port for weapons smuggling and people trafficking.

Iran’s Elite Guards Reroute to Continue Arming Yemeni Insurgents

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have started using a new route across the Gulf to funnel covert arms shipments to their Houthi allies in Yemen’s civil war, sources familiar with the matter have told Reuters.

In March, regional and Western sources told Reuters that Iran was shipping weapons and military advisers to the Houthis either directly to Yemen or via Somalia. This route however risked contact with international naval vessels on patrol in the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.

For the last six months the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has begun using waters further up the Gulf between Kuwait and Iran as it looks for new ways to beat an embargo on arms shipments to the Houthi movement, Western and Iranian sources say.

Using this new route, Iranian ships transfer equipment to smaller vessels at the top of the Gulf, where they face less scrutiny. The transhipments take place in Kuwaiti waters and in nearby international shipping lanes, the sources said.

The official added that “what is especially smuggled recently, or to be precise in the past six months, are parts of missiles that cannot be produced in Yemen”.

Smuggled cash and drugs can be used to fund Houthi activities, the official said.

Yemen is more than two years into a civil war pitting the Houthis against the government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition. More than 10,000 people have died in fighting and a cholera epidemic has infected more than 300,000 in a country on the brink of famine.

Efforts to intercept military equipment by the coalition have had limited success, with no reported maritime seizures of weapons or ammunition during 2017 so far and only a few seizures on the main land route from the east of Yemen.

Independent UN investigators, who monitor Yemen sanctions, told the Security Council in their latest confidential report, which Reuters has seen, that they continue to investigate potential arms trafficking routes.

They said the United Arab Emirates – which is part of the coalition – had reported 11 attacks since September 2016 against its ground forces by Houthis using drones, or UAVs, armed with explosives.

“Although Houthi-aligned media announced that the Sanaa-based defense ministry could manufacture the UAV, in reality they are assembled from components supplied by an outside source and shipped into Yemen,” the report said.

The report added that the Houthis “will eventually deplete their limited stock of missiles.” This would force the Houthis to end a campaign of missile attacks against Saudi territory unless they are resupplied from external sources.

An earlier UN report in January said the Houthis needed to replenish stocks of anti-tank guided weapons.

The arms smuggling operation may not turn the tide of the conflict, but it will allow the Houthis receive stable supplies of equipment that is otherwise hard to obtain.

“The volume of the activity, I don’t call it a trade, is not very large. But it is a safe route,” a second senior Iranian official said.

“Smaller Iranian ports are being used for the activity as major ports might attract attention.”

Asked if the IRGC was involved, the second official said: “No activity goes ahead in the Gulf without the IRGC being involved. This activity involves a huge amount of money as well as transferring equipment to Iranian-backed groups in their fight against their enemies.”

A third senior Iranian official also confirmed the shipment activity and pointed to IRGC involvement.

The IRGC is Iran’s most powerful internal and external security force, with a sophisticated intelligence and surveillance network together with elite units which are playing a key role in the war in Syria in support of the regime.

The IRGC declined to comment on the arms shipments and Iranian foreign ministry officials could not immediately be reached.

Houthi officials were also not immediately available for comment but in March a Houthi leader, who declined to be identified, said accusations that Iran was smuggling weapons into Yemen were an attempt to cover up Saudi Arabia’s failure to prevail in the war there.

Kuwaiti officials did not respond to questions. A US Navy spokesman said he had no information on the matter.

“(The territorial waters of) Iran, Kuwait and Iraq in the northern Persian Gulf butt up against each other,” said Gerry Northwood, of maritime security firm MAST and a former British Royal Navy captain who has commanded warships in the region.

“There is still plenty of room for smugglers to operate. In fact the whole Persian Gulf is a hive of small boat activity. And this is in an area where one man’s illegitimate trade is another’s legitimate trade.”

Hundreds of ships sail through the Bab el-Mandeb and Strait of Hormuz every day – waterways which pass along the coasts of Yemen and Iran. Many are small dhows, which are hard to track.

Western shipping and security sources said that since March there had been an increase in suspicious activity involving Iranian-flagged ships in waters near Kuwait.

“Waters around Kuwait are being used by Iranians to funnel … equipment to Yemen,” said an international arms dealer based in the Mediterranean area with knowledge of the matter.

“Consignments are either transferred to other craft, such as small boats, or they are dropped near buoys to be picked up by passing ships.”

The arms dealer, who declined to be identified, said there were many coves and deserted bays in neighboring Iraq that also provided opportunities for this type of covert activity.

The Western sources said consignments were transported from smaller Iranian ports across the sea lanes near Kuwait, which is 100 nautical miles from Iran.

To avoid detection, the mainly Iranian-flagged vessels switch off their identification transponders, sometimes for days. They rendezvous with other ships or drop supplies close to buoys, so the consignments can be recovered for onward transport, the sources said.