The ceasefire has not even started yet, and it is already endangered. A day before the five-day ceasefire goes into effect, Saudi Arabian forces and Yemen’s Houthi fighters continued to trade heavy fire in border areas. This followed the news of a missing Moroccan F-16 jet which the Houthi militia claimed to have shot down.
The two sides agreed on a humanitarian ceasefire starting tomorrow, which would allow aid agencies to deliver food and medical supplies to the country. During the six weeks of the Saudi-led airstrikes, Yemen’s airports have been badly damaged and the Saudi Arabia led naval blockade has further hindered aid drops. The country is also facing a fuel shortage which has made it difficult for international aid agencies to operate within the country. Estimates by the United Nations claim that over 1,400 people have been killed and around 300,000 people have fled since the beginning of the airstrikes on March 26.
Background of the Civil War
Yemen has been a boiling cauldron since the unification of North and South Yemen in 1990. For the past 25 years, the Republic of Yemen has let wounds fester. The country is also not religiously homogenous, but has a majority Sunni Muslim population living in the southeast while the Shias, who make one-third of the total population, live in the northeast.
The Houthis are the rebel political group who took over Sanaa, the capital of Yemen and toppled the president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi late last year. They support his predecessor, Al-Abdullah Saleh, whom also they forced to step down in 2011. The group belongs to the Zaidi Shia sect and believes that they have a religious obligation to fight unjust rulers. Their shifting loyalties have changed the dynamics, but their slogan is “Death to America, death to Israel” and they are supported by Iran.
The main fighting started when the supporters of the ousted president clashed with the Houthis. President Hadi is supported by the Sunnis and their militia, Popular Resistance Committees. He also had the favor of the Saudi Arabia led coalition consisting of Sudan, Morocco, Egypt and Jordan. The alliance is also backed by the U.S.
Late in March, President Hadi fled the country. He had been under house arrest in Sanaa since January. Saudi then intervened and launched air strikes on Houthi locations and has threatened ground invasion.
As if This Was Not Enough
While Yemen is in the midst of a proxy war, it is also the hotbed of al-Qaeda activity. The al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is against the Houthis and has launched many attacks against them. AQAP is a Sunni group and is therefore hated by the Houthis. The Islamic State (IS) also has roots in Yemen with an affiliate group announcing its presence in late 2014. The IS is fighting against AQAP as they want to eclipse it and Yemen is just another battleground.
So What Now?
Yemen needs the ceasefire or its civilian casualties can rise and endangering it is not a good move as many international eyes are on the country. International aid groups already working in Yemen have said that a five-day truce is insufficient for proper relief work to be done. They demanded a permanent ceasefire. The country has been plagued with instability, corruption, weak governance and a poor economy since its inception. These were further exacerbated by the war.
Hospitals need power generators and medical supplies. They have run out of fuel for ambulances too. Public transportation has also come to a halt because of the fuel crises. Around 40 percent of the country faces food insecurity normally, but now food prices have sky-rocketed. Fresh water has dwindled in parts of the country which mainly relied on water trucks and pumps before the war. According to UNICEF, most of the water in Yemen is pumped using diesel generators and with the fuel shortage, those services are also coming to a stop.
Aid ships have been unable to come in because of high security risks and the naval embargo put in place by Saudi Arabia. On May 7, the coalition issued a threat to ships which dared to sail into Yemeni waters. There is also an aerial blockade in place with many of the airports having been destroyed outright.
Despite all these limitations and casualties in Yemen, there is no end in sight as the ceasefire was further endangered today. After the Houthis’ claimed responsibility for the downed F-16, the Saudi-led air strikes hit parts of Saada and Hajjah province. Fighting along the border also continued with the Houthis targeting Saudi frontier cities by firing off Katyusha rockets and mortars. Residents also reported an American drone strike in the southern port town of Mukalla. News channels also showed Saudi preparing for a prolonged border war as military trucks carrying tanks were seen making their way to the Yemeni border.
By Anugya Chitransh
Photo by Spc. Joshua Edwards of U.S. Army – Creativecommons Flickr License
Second photo by T.Deherman for European Commission DG ECHO – Creativecommons Flickr License