ADEN: Saudi and Emirati envoys shuttled between Yemeni government forces and besieging southern separatists in second city Aden on Thursday in a bid to end a tense standoff after days of deadly infighting.
The Sunday assault on the embattled government’s headquarters by its former allies has opened up a new front in the devastating civil war that has created what the United Nations says is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the two major contributors to a military coalition that has backed President Abd-Rabbuh Mansur Hadi since he fled into exile in 2015.
But they have struggled to keep together the disparate alliance supporting him against Huthi Shiite rebels who control the capital Sanaa and much of the north.
South Yemen was an independent country until union with the north in 1990 and Hadi has relied heavily on a militia that supports its restoration.
Many of them have been recruited into special forces units trained by the UAE to fight Al-Qaeda, which has a large presence in parts of the south.
On Wednesday, those forces deployed across Aden bringing a lull in the deadly clashes that had forced a halt to the distribution of desperately needed relief supplies for days.
‘Abide by ceasefire’
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have not abandoned their support for Hadi, who lives in exile in Riyadh, but they have singularly failed to intervene militarily in support of Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher and other ministers who are holed up under siege in the presidential palace in Aden.
The two governments’ envoys “met with all concerned parties, stressing the need to abide by the ceasefire … and refocus efforts on the front lines against the Huthis”, the UAE’s official WAM news agency reported.
“The situation in Aden is stable and all parties have complied completely with the communique issued by the Arab coalition,” Major General Mohammed bin Saeed al-Mughaidi of Saudi Arabia told reporters in Aden.
“The kingdom and the United Arab Emirate have a common goal and the same vision and have no ambitions.”
UAE Major General Mohammed Matar al-Khyeli said: “Saudi Arabia and the UAE stand together with the Yemeni people and are leading reconciliation efforts between the Yemeni parties.”
The UAE has close ties to separatist Hani bin Breik, a leader in the Southern Transitional Council to which many of the forces now in control of Aden are loyal.
Both it and Saudi Arabia have urged Hadi’s government to heed the separatists’ grievances and called on all sides to show restraint.
At least 38 people have been killed and 222 wounded in Aden since Sunday, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The UN agency for humanitarian affairs reported a “cautious calm” in the city late on Wednesday but said aid ships were still unable to dock.
Even before the latest fighting, Yemen already faced the world’s most serious humanitarian crisis, with some 8.4 million of its 22.2 million populations at risk of famine, according to the UN.
Iran’s involvement in Yemen
Russia’s United Nations envoy said his country does not believe Washington has made a sufficient case that Iran has supplied missiles to Yemen’s Huthi rebels, indicating he would oppose increased sanctions against Tehran.
Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia made the comments on January 31 after travelling to Washington to examine evidence, including fragments of missiles that the United States says Iran gave to the Huthi rebels, who then fired them toward US ally Saudi Arabia in November.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on January 29 took her 14 Security Council colleagues to a military facility near Washington to examine the evidence.
When asked if there was a case against Iran at the UN, Nebenzia said, “No.”
Experts on the UN panel travelled to Saudi Arabia in November and December and examined remnants of missiles fired by the Huthis on several occasions.
The US administration has been pushing for the UN to hold Tehran accountable for supplying the weapons, while also threatening to pull out of a 2015 deal among world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief if the accord’s “disastrous flaws” are not remedied.
Asked about potential new sanctions, Nebenzia said that “we only heard some vague talk about some action.”
“If there is something [proposed] we will see. How can we pass judgment prematurely before we know what it is about?”
Sunni-led Saudi Arabia has been engaged in what has been labelled a proxy war with Shi’ite Iran in Yemen.
Iran has denied it has supplied its allies, the Huthis, with weapons.
Nebenzia said Yemen has been littered with a weapon from many conflicts over the years and that he could not determine “anything conclusive.”
“I am not an expert to judge,” he said.