Yemen in fear of escalated tensions

Sunday, 2018-06-10 15:00:34
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Workers inspect damage at the site of an air strike on the maintenance hub at the Hodeida port, Yemen, May 27, 2018. (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO – The international community is concerned about the escalating conflict in Yemen. The United Nations has warned against the risk of a serious humanitarian disaster if the Yemeni government forces, with the assistance of the Arab coalition, advance to the port city of Hodeida which is controlled by the Houthi rebels. The United States also left open the possibility of military intervention in the country on the Arabian Peninsula.

Under the support of the Arab coalition, the Yemen government forces approached the harbour city of Hodeida to prepare to recapture the city on the Red Sea from Houthis. The goal of the coalition is to cut off the arteries that the rebels are taking advantage of. In response, Houthis urged rebel fighters to gather in order to defend the western front, ready to discourage any coalition operation aimed at Hodeida.

Regional and international communities fear that if a major military operation takes place it will pose the threat of a new humanitarian crisis in Yemen, a country that is witnessing the worst humanitarian disaster in the world, with two-thirds of the population in need of relief. The UN warned that any military campaign aimed at this seaport would prevent humanitarian aid from being shipped to Yemen, as 70% of Yemen's imports are transported through Hodeida.

The Red Sea port city has become a fiercely competitive area since the Saudi-led coalition forces launched a military intervention in 2015 to counter the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The seaport is the largest recipient of aid in Yemen, where millions of people are on the brink of famine. Meanwhile, the coalition and the Yemeni pro-government forces said that the port is also the place where militants received arms from abroad, including ballistic missiles. By the end of 2017, the coalition announced a comprehensive plan to encircle Hodeida in response to a ballistic-strike against the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

With the coalition's determination to recapture Hodeida, the UN is concerned that a violent conflict could occur and threaten the lives of the 600,000 people in the city. According to a UN warning, if the military operation in Hodeida was to take place, the cost could amount to 250,000 civilian lives.

In support of the internationally recognised government of Yemen, in March 2015, Saudi-led military alliances intervened in the Yemeni civil war, launching of thousands of air strikes against the bases of the Houthi rebels. In response, Houthis has conducted hundreds of missile strikes against the cities of the neighbouring country.

A view of the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, Yemen, May 10, 2017. The UN has warned that an assault on the Yemeni port could cost 250,000 civilian lives. (Photo: Reuters)

The war and conflicts that lasted more than three years in Yemen killed over 10,000 people, while leaving tens of thousands injured and sending more than two million into exile, as well as destroying a lot of infrastructure, including the health system. More than 22 million out of the 25 million people in Yemen need humanitarian assistance, including 11.3 million people that require emergency relief. The recent escalation of conflict in Yemen has had a severe impact on humanitarian relief. The International Committee of the Red Cross has recently withdrawn 71 staff from Yemen due to security concerns.

In light of the developments in Yemen, the Pentagon recently said that it would be possible to deploy direct military assistance to the United Arab Emirates in a campaign aimed at taking control of the main harbour of Hodeida from the rebels. But Pentagon officials also expressed their concern over the consequences of a military operation in Hodeida as it is not entirely certain that the coalition would solve the problem quickly and avoid catastrophic consequences. The US has provided billions of dollars in support to the coalition from the outset of the war through the supply of arms, intelligence and logistics, but did not directly send troops to Yemen.

However, the US media has reported that, in late 2017, the Pentagon secretly deployed a task force to assist Saudi Arabia in identifying and destroying ballistic missile bases, as well as the locations of the launch pads that Houthi rebels used to attack Riyadh. The ability of the US direct intervention in Yemen shows the deteriorating security situation in the disadvantaged country on the Arabian Peninsula.

The UN is planning a new peace project for Yemen, calling on the Houthis to hand over ballistic missiles to facilitate a peaceful negotiated political settlement roadmap to end the conflict. However, many UN-mediated political talks have come to a standstill, and recent developments are raising concerns about a "wave of tsunamis" in the Red Sea that might entrench Yemen deeper into crisis.