Yemen ceasefire on the cards?

A ceasefire may be on the way in the war between government forces and Houthi rebels in northern Yemen. NewsYemen saysa ceasefire was agreed verbally on Wednesday and that air strikes have halted though warplanes are still flying over Saada province.

A local official is quoted as saying there are efforts to halt the fighting but no order has yet been given to stop the military operations. The European Union yesterday added its voice to the earlier American call for a ceasefire.

It is very doubtful whether the fortnight-old government offensive known as Operation Scorched Earth has achieved much militarily. In a statement to Reuters yesterday the rebels claimed to have repulsed attacks in Haraf Sufyan (Amran province) and al-Minzala (Saada province). The government said the army had “taken a valley after losses on both sides in fierce fighting”.

More importantly, a government source told Reuters: "The main road connecting Saada to the capital (Sanaa) is still closed to supplies and military reinforcements because of mines and the gang warfare of the Houthis." This suggests the military have failed to achieve what ought to have been one of their primary objectives.

There have been further warnings from various UN agencies of the dire humanitarian situation in the conflict areas. The UNHCR said it was especially worried about Saada city which has been without water and electricity since 10 August.

Accusations of foreign meddling, which the Yemeni government has directed mainly against Iran, seem to be widening. A Salafist (Sunni) MP in Bahrain has accused the country’s Shia opposition bloc of having links with the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Although that claim may be politically motivated, the American Chronicle reports contacts between the Yemeni and Bahraini authorities about the issue.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 27 August 2009.