Houthis warn of fur­ther drone at­tacks

The Guardian - - WORLD - Patrick Win­tour Diplo­matic ed­i­tor

Houthi rebels in Ye­men have threat­ened to launch more drone at­tacks after a deadly strike last week on a Ye­meni gov­ern­ment mil­i­tary pa­rade killed seven peo­ple, stok­ing ten­sion be­tween the war­ring par­ties and threat­en­ing UN ef­forts to bro­ker peace.

A Houthi spokesman, Yahya Sarea, said Thurs­day’s strike on a mil­i­tary base in La­haj prov­ince was a “le­git­i­mate op­er­a­tion against ag­gres­sion”.

He said the move­ment was build­ing a stock­pile of lo­cally man­u­fac­tured drones. “Soon there will be enough in the strate­gic stock­pile to launch more than one drone op­er­a­tion in mul­ti­ple bat­tle fronts at the same time,” Sarea said in the Houthi-held cap­i­tal, Sana’a.

Bri­tain said it was press­ing ahead in seek­ing an en­hanced man­date for a UN mis­sion to over­see a cease­fire in the port city re­gion of Hodei­dah, de­spite claims by the Saudi-backed Ye­meni gov­ern­ment that the Houthis were not im­ple­ment­ing the agree­ments struck in talks in Stock­holm last month.

The Ye­meni in­tel­li­gence chief, Brig Gen Saleh Tamah, died yes­ter­day from in­juries sus­tained in Thurs­day’s at­tack, which was out­side the cease­fire zone but which has been con­demned by the US as a breach of the spirit of the Stock­holm agree­ment.

Houthi ne­go­tia­tors boy­cotted a meet­ing of the UN’s cease­fire mon­i­tor­ing body, the Re­de­ploy­ment Co­or­di­na­tion Com­mit­tee, yes­ter­day, say­ing the UN spe­cial en­voy was us­ing it to pur­sue other agen­das.

Bri­tain plans to ta­ble a fresh se­cu­rity coun­cil res­o­lu­tion next week to give a UN team in Hodei­dah a new man­date after the cur­rent one ex­pires next Mon­day. It will give the UN mis­sion, over­seen by a re­tired Dutch gen­eral, Patrick Cam­maert, en­hanced pow­ers to mon­i­tor the cease­fire in Hodei­dah gover­norate and the re­de­ploy­ment of forces from Hodei­dah and the ports of Salif and Ras Isa.

The mis­sion will also dis­cuss with both sides how se­cu­rity in the city of Hodei­dah and the ports can be over­seen by “a new lo­cal se­cu­rity force in com­pli­ance with Ye­meni law”, a vague phrase in the Stock­holm agree­ment that has so far been in­ter­preted dif­fer­ently by the par­ties.

The Ye­meni gov­ern­ment claims the agree­ment means its forces can start polic­ing the city, some­thing the Houthis, cur­rently in con­trol of Hodei­dah, re­ject. The city is the life­line port for aid across Ye­men.

The fresh res­o­lu­tion is also likely to re­sult in an in­crease in the num­ber of UN mon­i­tors ca­pa­ble of over­see­ing breaches of the cease­fire, with a to­tal team of 75. The mon­i­tors may be drawn from other UN ex­ist­ing mis­sions in Ye­men or sent to the coun­try for this spe­cific pur­pose.

Both sides ac­cuse the other of re­peated cease­fire breaches, and pres­sure is be­ing ap­plied on the US by Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates to do more to con­demn the Houthis.

Key is­sues re­main ac­cess to hu­man­i­tar­ian sup­plies, the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Hodei­dah port, the pull­back of Houthi forces from the city and the com­po­si­tion of the new se­cu­rity force.

Few diplo­mats would deny that the agree­ment is be­ing only par­tially hon­oured, even if they would ar­gue the lev­els of vi­o­lence in the area have fallen.

Ox­fam is one of many aid groups that fear that the vague­ness of the cease­fire could lead to its col­lapse. Dina el-Mamoun, Ox­fam’s head of pol­icy and ad­vo­cacy in Sana’a, re­cently warned: “There is an is­sue with the ac­tual agree­ment, which is ac­tu­ally quite vague. The UN should have made clear these ba­sic is­sues that go to the heart of the agree­ment: who needs to hand over what and to whom.”

The For­eign Of­fice said: “As pen­holder on Ye­men in the UN se­cu­rity coun­cil, the UK is de­ter­mined to sup­port the im­por­tant agree­ments made in Stock­holm at the end of 2018. A new UN se­cu­rity coun­cil res­o­lu­tion to es­tab­lish a UN mis­sion mon­i­tor­ing the Hodei­dah cease­fire will be an­other step for­ward.

“This is a man­made con­flict and it will have man­made so­lu­tions. We are work­ing hard in sup­port of the UN spe­cial en­voy and urge all par­ties to main­tain their back­ing for the UN peace process.”

One dif­fi­culty is that the cease­fire is not na­tion­wide, so the Houthi at­tack on Al Anad air­base in Lahij was not tech­ni­cally in breach of the Stock­holm agree­ment, but it hardly helps en­hance trust be­tween the two sides.

The US state depart­ment con­demned the drone at­tack, say­ing it breached the spirit of the cease­fire, and adding: “We urge all sides to hon­our the com­mit­ments they made in Swe­den to their fel­low Ye­me­nis by re­frain­ing from vi­o­lence and provoca­tive acts.”

The US sec­re­tary of state, Mike Pom­peo, is cur­rently on a tour of the Gulf, where he is as­sess­ing the will­ing­ness of the Saudis to give the Stock­holm agree­ment fur­ther time to bed down.

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