Saudi-Omani delegation to hold ceasefire talks with Yemen’s Houthis in Sanaa

Context: A Saudi-Omani delegation is planning to travel to Yemen’s capital Sanaa next week to hash out a permanent ceasefire deal with Houthi officials and end the country’s eight-year-old conflict. The visit by Saudi officials to Sanaa is an indication of progress in Oman-mediated talks between the kingdom and the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, which run in parallel to U.N. peace efforts.

It is also a sign that regional rifts are easing after rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to restore relations last month after years of hostility and backing opposite sides in Middle Eastern conflicts, including Yemen.

The discussions are focused on a full reopening of Yemen’s ports and airports, payment of wages for public servants, a rebuilding process and a political transition, they added.

History of Crisis in Yemen

What is the Internal division of Yemen?

  • Yemen has long struggled with religious and cultural differences between its north and south and the legacy of European colonialism. 
  • The modern Yemeni state was formed in 1990 with the unification of the U.S.- and Saudi-backed Yemeni Arab Republic in the north, and the Soviet-backed People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, in the south. 
  • Ali Abdullah Saleh, a military officer who had ruled North Yemen since 1978, assumed leadership of the new country.

Crisis continues

  • Though just a few years after unification, southern separatists movement re-emerged in 2007 as the Southern Movement, which has continued to press for greater autonomy within Yemen.  Al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) an Islamist militant group, captured territory in the south and east. 
  • The Houthi movement on the other hand having base among the Zaydi Shiites of northern Yemen, rose up against Saleh’s government six times between 2004 and 2010.
  • It was alleged that Saleh ran a corrupt and autocratic government. As the popular protests of the 2011 Arab Spring spread to Yemen, the president’s political and military rivals jockeyed to oust him. While Yemeni security forces focused on putting down protests in urban areas, AQAP made gains in outlying regions.

Transfer of power

Under escalating domestic and International pressure, Saleh stepped aside in 2012 after receiving assurances of immunity from prosecution.

His vice president, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, assumed office as interim president in a transition brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and backed by the United States.

The crisis in 2014

The civil war began in Yemen began in 2014 when Houthi insurgents—Shiite rebels having links with Iran and a history of rising up against the Sunni government—took control of Yemen’s capital and largest city, Sana’a.

  1. Fuel price hikes: Under pressure from the International Monetary Fund, which had extended to Yemen a $550 million loan premised on promises of economic reforms, Hadi’s government lifted fuel subsidies in 2014. The Houthi movement, which had attracted support beyond its base with its criticisms of the UN transition, organized mass protests demanding lower fuel prices and a new government.
  2. Houthi takeover: The Houthis captured much of Sanaa by late 2014. Reneging on a UN peace deal, they consolidated control of the capital and continued their southward advance. Hadi’s government resigned under pressure in January 2015, and Hadi later fled to Saudi Arabia.
  3. Military division: Military units loyal to Saleh aligned themselves with the Houthis, contributing to their battlefield success. Other militias mobilized against the Houthi-Saleh forces, aligning with those in the military who had remained loyal to the Hadi government. Southern separatists ramped up their calls for secession.
  4. Failed negotiation: Despite of the rounds of negotiation, the negotiation failed and the rebels seized the presidential palace in 2015, leading President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his government to resign. But in the backdrop of popular support (from Saudi) Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi  rescinded his resignation and returned to Aden in September 2015, and fighting has continued since. There was a UN effort to broker peace talks between allied Houthi rebels and the internationally recognized Yemeni government stalled. Hadi has reportedly been residing in exile in Saudi Arabia.
  5. Saudi intervention:  In 2015, keeping in mind the geostrategic calculus of the Middle East, a coalition of Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia launched a campaign of economic isolation and air strikes against the Houthi insurgents having support from U.S. logistical and intelligence support with aim to restore the Hadi administration to Sanaa.
  6. Iranian intervention: Iran is the Houthis’ primary international backer and has reportedly provided them with military support, including weapons. Hadi’s government has also accused Hezbollah Iran’s Lebanese ally, of aiding the Houthis. Saudi Arabia’s perception that the Houthis are an Iranian Proxy rather than an indigenous movement has driven Riyadh’s military intervention.

Impact of Civil War and missing peace

  • Around three-quarters of its population lives in the property. Yemen has long been the Arab world’s poorest country, and its humanitarian crisis has been called one of the worst in the world. Disease runs rampant; suspected cholera cases passed two hundred thousand.
  • Many countries cut back on critical aid to Yemen amid the crush of the pandemic, leading the United Nations to reduce food rations for some eight million Yemenis in Three out of four Yemenis require humanitarian aid and protection, and four million are internally displaced 
  • The UN Development Program estimates that more than 370000 people have died as a result of the war, with indirect causes such as lack of food, water, and health services causing almost 60 percent of deaths.
  • In addition, the United Nations has found  that both Houthi and coalition forces have knowingly attacked civilian targets in violation of international law. 

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